In Search of Home: The Other Side of the Story (Part 1)

The events that transpired over the past year or so of my life are, in and of themselves, the makings of a peculiar narrative and a testament to the one who chose to script it. A year ago I was living in California for a few months, learning the ins and outs of living away from home and exploring the beauty that is the Californian landscape. While I love photography, no photos will ever do justice to waking up to the view of the San Gabriel mountains, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, or experiencing a world abuzz with life and creativity. However, the few years prior to that move left me grappling with the concept of 'home', and as soon as the Pasadena streets began to feel like home, I found myself back in Canada. A few months and another visit to California later, God chose to end the Californian chapter of my life and take me in a very different direction.  

San Diego Sunset

In September of 2015, after turning 25 while working a part-time food service job that took me to festivals across different cities around the GTA, I booked a flight to Egypt that I'd been holding off on for a while. I wasn't sure why I did it, but it felt like the right thing to do; nothing in life made sense at the time, anyway.

My first two weeks in Cairo consisted of catching up with family and friends, and meeting a few new people. It also consisted of taking myself seriously as a writer and freelancer, and printing myself a stack of business cards. With the amount of people asking me what I did for a living or what degree I graduated with, I developed a quick schpiel: "I graduated not too long ago with a degree in communication studies and I work with anything to do with the English language, but I was recently working a fun little part-time job until I got my website set up." I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single person I said this schpiel to gave me the exact same response: have you ever considered teaching English here in Egypt? The truth is, I had.

A few years ago, as very few people may know, something rather strange compelled me to believe that God wanted to send me to Egypt for a while, for a purpose far bigger than what I understood. I tried to head to Egypt at the time, the circumstances weren't welcoming and it wasn't going to work. With every person who suggested that I teach English in Egypt – some even finding me connections or potential job leads – I felt that faint memory of my purpose in Egypt becoming a far greater reality. 

Backstory: all of this comes a few months after my mother walked in as I was laying miserably in bed and, after a short conversation about why I seemed so miserable, suggested that I look for work in Dubai or elsewhere abroad. 

Throughout the final two weeks of my trip, I began actively searching for and applying to teaching jobs in Egypt, landing myself an interview and a few connections. I had somehow thought ahead and packed an outfit suitable for a formal interview, thinking I may end up meeting with potential freelance clients. Running with the momentum of these two weeks and convinced that I want to move back to Egypt and work there for a while, I returned to Canada to continue the weary job hunt. What I'd forgotten is that I had two more shifts left at my part-time gig, the first of which was two days after I'd arrived.

That bleak fall morning in October saw me sitting at work, where I was the eldest of almost all the employees, chatting with the head manager and discovering that even he was younger than me. Just a week before that I had been searching for teaching positions in Egypt and looking for work in my field; that day, I sat in a food truck counting the hours until it was over, which gave me a lot of time to do some much-needed introspection. Needless to say, I quit immediately. 

With job-hunting as my full-time job for the following two weeks, I sought solace at a friend's café where my scouring of Jobzella and Wuzzuf was punctuated by impromptu card games and long conversations lasting too far into the night. I grew weary and exhausted as my options dwindled, dreading the thought of returning to my bleak and confused reality. My heart, mind, and soul were a giant mess that words can't begin to explain; I struggled to find purpose or even create it.

After another long day of searching and playing cards, I found myself on the receiving end of an anecdote from a friend I'd made through our countless hours of sitting at Castle Lounge, face-à-screen. Resonating with my blatant exasperation as I did everything I could to make this dream a reality, he told me the story of when he was in university in Canada and was then told by his priest that he would go study in Egypt. Thinking nothing of the matter, but applying anyway to appease those pressuring him, he gladly hit a few roadblocks that would render him incapable of making the transition. Except, a day or so later, he got a call saying he was accepted into the program in Egypt and, four days later, he was on a one-way flight to the homeland. From here he went on to describe some of his encounters in Egypt and how, regardless of how much he didn't want to go through with this transition, he was able to recognize the incredible fruit that came from it and how God made things happen in a way beyond what he was able to recognize at the time. It was all a matter of God's timing, I was told.

Exhausted from searching for work and taking to Instagram to distract myself, I came across a CairoScene post that caught my eye – they were looking for a copy editor. My eyes lit up; this is exactly what I was looking for.

A few hours and a cleverly-written cover letter later, I sent an email and hoped for the best. In the meantime, my mother was aware that I was looking for work in Egypt and wasn't particularly excited about me going back to the motherland. We had both agreed to pray for whatever direction God wanted for me in this phase of my life, and to see how things would work out. I suppose it's often in our times of desperation that we remember that God created us for far greater things than complacency. It was also in these times that he began bringing together pieces of the narrative that I've only come to understand in hindsight. What happened over the span of the following eight days could by no means be scripted, which compelled me all the more to depend on the one scripting it and not on my own abilities to pull my life together. 

Within the hour that I sent my application, someone from CairoScene responded and told me to swing by the next day for an interview – I guess I didn't clarify that I lived halfway across the world. Having recently lost an interview with the AUC because they didn't want to Skype, I was afraid the same thing would happen again. A few emails later, we agreed on a Skype interview the following day. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond if offered the job, but something inside of me was confident that everything was going to work out. My mother, on the other hand, was not ecstatic. Technical issues the following day meant that I was online for an hour waiting for someone to arrive for my Skype interview and finding no one on the other side. I can't begin to tell you how nerve-wracking all of this was; I had spent several days waiting on responses that would determine whether I pack my bags and start life all over again in another country, or resign to what life was in the moment. In those moments, I echoed Coelho's Linda: "Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and the equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days.

A Skype interview became a phone interview and, on the spot that mid-October afternoon, I was offered a job as Senior/Copy Editor of CairoScene as of November 1st. I had no idea what to think after hanging up the phone; I suppose I wasn't aware of the adventure I was about to embark on, or the strange commitment I was making to myself in that moment. I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from that point on… Being in limbo isn't easy, neither is being on the path to making a huge decision and finding significant stumbles along the way. From my father's approval to some logistical work issues, I found myself overwhelmed and yet overcome by a strange peace that everything was going to work out.

Sitting with my mother at the breakfast table the day after I accepted the offer, we were looking at where the office was (Giza) and how much time it would take me to get there from Heliopolis – hint: a lot. Having mentioned in the past how I would love to live in Zamalek, I revived the conversation about how Zamalek would be perfect - it's close to work, it's close to family, it's a quaint and safe area. Our conversation was interrupted by a beeping of my phone and an email from one of the Mowafis (bossman at Scene); my mother joked that maybe they were revoking the offer and I wasn't going anywhere. Instead, it was an email saying that his co-worker and friend who lived in Zamalek was looking for a flatmate because hers was moving out at the end of the month; the flat was affordable, and he offered to get me connected with the girl. I read the email out loud to my mother, who had spent a few days worrying and fretting over my transition and this crazy decision I was making. She was baffled; I was thankful for the blatant interruption to remind us both that all of this was being scripted together and was in someone else's hands. 

Over the course of the following week, everything seemed surreal. I spent my time between purchasing and packing and planning, excited and unaware of the magnitude of the decision at hand. Roadblocks and hurdles still came my way, with hours spent waiting on emails, checking flights, and praying in confidence for my father's approval, because I wasn't going to travel without it. My transition to Egypt was going to happen, this much I was certain of, it was just constantly hanging on a thread. You could say I was caught in the adrenaline rush of having a week to pick up my life and say my goodbyes, but this was nothing new to me; I had travelled many times before and this was just another trip. I was doing my routine headless chicken dance that happens every time I travel. It hadn't quite hit me, and I didn't want it to.

All was well until the night before my flight. A few old friends came over to see my off, unsure of when I'd be back to visit or how long I planned on staying in the motherland. After sharing the story with them of how this all came to be, I realized the magnitude of what I was doing and how much had been going on behind the scenes. It hit me straight in the gut when my mother started tearing up at the mention of me moving away. I didn't realize I was moving away; to me, it played out as an elongated trip to Egypt. Clearly, that wasn't the case. After one long night of tears, prayers, hugs, and playing Tetris with suitcases, it was time to hop on a plane. Spontaneously hopping on planes is a bit of trademark move of mine, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for saying goodbyes to my family. Hugs and tears and reassurances that technology will make things better and that I'll be back soon; I loaded my suitcases into the car and drove off to the airport with my mother and a good friend. I'm not used to being walked to the gate, but they walked me through and, as I was heading off to security, the waterworks began. 

Trying her best to look me in the eye as we were about to part ways, my mother said something I'll never forget. "Enti mafeesh 7aga mraya7aki," she said between sobs. "You're looking for something to make you feel at peace and you can't seem to find it anywhere. I hope you find it." I hoped so, too, even though I didn't know what that something was. Disgruntled and hopping on a plane, slightly unaware of what I was doing, I messaged a friend "…holy crap" while providing absolutely no context. I suppose this is why we're friends, because his immediate response was "get on that plane." I did. Weary and confused, but knowing that something far bigger than me is at play in this moment, I got on the plane.  

That was just the beginning...