Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End

Yikes. Well, here I am, back in my "homeland." But no, it doesn't feel natural. When I boarded my British Airways flight to Egypt two years ago, I intended on remaining there long term, setting up camp and fully engaging my new life in my "new country." It wasn't long into my time there that I realized God had other plans. As I prayed through what to do, I struggled. I didn't want to uproot, but also knew I couldn't stay...however I was unsure as to exactly why. What was going on? Why was this not my "forever place?" I was perplexed...anxious...but willing to be obedient. At the end of two intense, yet incredible years of living in Egypt, I boarded yet another plane. This time, I was heading home, with no intentions of my return, at least not a permanent one. The fear and anxiety during this flight was significantly more vibrant this time. Coming home with many questions unanswered, and nothing but a load of faith, I couldn't help but fight the knots building in my stomach. Two weeks later, the stomach muscles are still tight, I can't seem to relax. I need to just chill, and trust that it's going to be okay...

At the airport...homecoming...the nieces and nephews
Haven't seen my sister Lindy in a year!

There's a lot of books, research, and all round chatter about major life changes in children, and how big shifts in their daily lives can have a severe effect on them long term. I fully believe that, but I hear little about what big changes like this can do in the mental and emotional development of an adult as well. Yes we have had our childhoods which "form us", defining key characteristics of who we become...but that does not indicate that big life shifts, even ones we choose, don't have detrimental effects on who we are on the other side. 

Here are some shots of me taken these past couple of weeks, where I spent a lot of time in my jammies. I am jetlagged, processing, enjoying family, but at the same time feeling pretty out of it.  

Christmas party with my family's closest friends....

                                             Apples to Apples with my brother in laws...

My poor attempt at baking...

Sister time...and getting to know my new niece Sophia
Some of the first cousins on the Seifert side. This is only about half...there's lots of us...quite the fertile family.
Making up a bit for lost time...

You can't just jump back in after two easy as it sounds, it's actually a pretty complicated process. Grieving what is lost, trying to connect with the present, attempting to meet different people's expectations, and find your place in the midst of a world that is used to your absence are all factors contributing to the scuffle of returning home.

I remember back to when I lived in Mexico. I was nineteen, and full of joy at the life God has brought me into in Latin America. I was learning independence, a new language, had a job, and was fitting in well to a culture that completely intoxicated me. I was blissfully smiling for 8 months straight. When my time came to an end and I returned to the States to begin college, I was mortified. I remember those months of returning home feeling empty...lost. It's not that people didn't want to hear about my "other world" it's just that they didn't know the right questions to ask, or to put it simply, they didn't understand. That wasn't their fault, it's just how it is. I think I went through a time of minor depression, and that was something I didn't understand as well. Visions of my transition out of Mexico have been playing in my mind these past few months...I was concerned I would have a similar experience transitioning out of Egypt.

Leaving behind daily tidbits is one of the strangest parts of closing down your life in one world and re entering another. It's the people that make a place...all sorts. And in my case, the faces I left behind in Egypt knew me so well, that I sometimes get the sense that the version of Christy they interacted with, won't be able to manifest herself the same way here. 

My fruit vendor is an example of someone who took pride in our relationship...he memorized my items, as well as the amounts, and how often I would pop in to see him. He made it a point to be exact with me, cheerful, practicing his his English of "Good morning" and "Thank you".  He consistently refused to let me tip him, and so I of course had to sneak a few coins here and there. I like to give to those that don't demand it from me...or lie and steal.  As I was leaving for the airport to move home, I took a card over to him as a thank you for his daily honesty and integrity, something I don't see in Egyptians on a regular basis. He chased me down the street with his hand over his heart telling me that he was thankful for the was a touching moment to connect with him in that way standing there on the side of the strings attached. He simply wanted me to know that he had connected with what I had written...and it spoke to him. I am so appreciative of his weekly blessing to me in how he served me well. Whenever I head back to Egypt to visit, he and his family will certainly be on my agenda, I look forward to that day.

My students know my mannerisms in a way that most do not, and can read me like a book. Why? They spent entire days with me...we really don't give kids enough credit with this one. They memorized and would recite random facts about my family accurately by saying things like, "Miss Christy, isn't this your sister that..." or "Isn't this your niece, named...who is the daughter of..." I would hear from the parents of my students things they would share at home...I was consistently taken by surprise at how personally they entered my world. They wanted to be part of it, and they were. I talked about them as well. It's impossible to spend that many hours with people and not form an emotional connection, at least it's impossible for me. Walking to the school on my last day in Cairo, to bid them farewell was strange...I don't shut off relationships with people easily, yet I have learned that children can be the most forgiving in circumstances such as these.  

One of the most special and difficult parts of my farewell process was walking away from those I worked with. There was no question that I loved my job...always looked forward to a new week, and part of that was due to the warm smiles and laughter that always met me at the door each day.
Some of my Egyptian co-workers :)

My co workers can detect my moods, know my crazy stories, what makes me stressed, how to cheer me up, what makes me laugh, what I pack for lunch, as well as little quirks about me like that I am always freezing, am rarely seen without a scarf, have a "kid voice" that I do, a teaching voice, a telling stories voice, sometimes snort when I laugh, love McDonald's delivery, get my ADHD hair caught on EVERTHING, make awkward mistakes with my Arabic,  always need change for taxis, am freaked out of Egyptian mice, only drink water with crystal light packets, can't do math, don't understand computers, love to imitate little Korean children, and always find myself in classic awkward situations. We pick up on one another's expressions, know who would appreciate which jokes,  and how to love on one another in a way that meets each others needs. All that is to say those people know the daily Christy. Shutting that off is more difficult to process than people realize. My co workers were at the top of my list of my favorites in Egypt. They played a key role in my daily smiles. They loved me well. 

This is a family I had the privilege of working with for two years...

Coming home, you quickly learn how much gets lost in distance. Family will always be family, and although they know me to a depth that others don't, they also reap the consequences of not knowing who I am on a daily do I in regards to them. It's tough with family, but at the same time, there is a certain element of grace that goes along with them. I am fortunate to have a close family, who makes it a point to know me...I know what a gift this is...especially in times like this one.

 Another hard factor leaving Egypt after 2 years, is dealing with the gross prejudice of the western mindset toward Muslims. The fact that the majority of Americans are uneducated on this topic produces severe consequences. I was not ready to fight this battle with people...but at the same time, I knew it was coming. Egyptians are ignorant about many things...but most Americans are ignorant about Islam and Muslims, and the worst part is many they don't care.

So where does all this leave me? I don't know. I am not sure where to go from here, not feeling pulled in any direction...mourning the loss of some very special elements to my life which are no longer a reality to me, yet sensing a very real presence of our sovereign God. Do I believe Him? Not do I believe IN HIM, but do I believe Him? Yes.

When circumstances change? When those closest to me don't understand? When my heart feels hallow? When I don't know what to pray? When hopes crumble? When my sin slaps me in the face? When friends fail me? When my world transforms? When I am lost with what choice to make? When my heart is torn? When I can't find the words? When I don't know why? Yes. I believe Him.

I believe that the same God who took me out of North Carolina, moved me to Egypt, and now brought me home to Washington, is intricately working the plans out for a story that He wrote, directed, and is producing daily through His lense...according to His calendar...and on His divine terms. It's not painless, but it is bearable. It has to be. Sheesh.  Once again, it's so not about me. It's the moments that I lose sight of this that my heart rate sky rockets and my stomach head wants to explode. But as I have been challenged these past two years, and still struggle with believing, His ways are indeed higher, more meaningful, full of His grace and abundant wisdom. I am safest there.

I am so incredibly thankful for Egypt, and the way it served me these past two years...below are some pics of me "on the job"...I hope you enjoy looking back over my time in Cairo with me...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Leaving the Mediterranean

It’s here…closing off bits of my life in Egypt and looking forward. But oh my goodness it is rough.  Change hurts. 

This morning I boarded my train, leaving behind the Mediterranean city of Alexandria for the last time, bound for my home in Cairo. Alexandria is a  quaint city of six million people and is built along the Mediterranean Sea…a calming effect after the intensity of Cairo, a city of over twenty five million.  
Alexandria, Egypt

This fall, life has remained pretty hectic as I have been traveling between my two jobs, one in Alexandria and the other in Cairo.  It's certainly true to say that the train quickly became my second home...I know it, the stations, and some of the workers well. It blows me away that even that after all this time, I still get butterflies at what I witness as I gaze through the train windows. Some people have described it as like riding through a National Geographic magazine set into live motion…and that’s completely accurate in its description.

Now I know that when most people think of Egypt, they think of miles of desert…and that is true…to a point. But that’s not Egypt anymore than Hollywood depicts life in America. My train ride through the Delta consists of quite a lush abundance of countryside adorned in vibrant shades of green. We have beautiful glimpses of canals, rivers, and fields of crops. Typical sights I see on a weekly basis from the train would be: families working in the fields, villages bustling with donkey carts, face veiled women carrying large trays of bread on their heads, children riding donkeys down the dirt rodes along the canal, busy fruit markets, women washing clothes in the river…or just sitting under a tree visiting with one another, men and children canoeing through the canal...etc. It's difficult to get these shots because the train is moving quickly...but can you picture it?

I was just trying to get a quick shot from the train of the animals. 
Suddenly this woman walked into my picture. But I am glad she showed up...nice effect. 

I can’t help but find myself with a huge cheesy grin on my face, each time! I sit there, sipping my tea and thinking…WOW. Simplicity. I crave this. Now I know there is a scary dark side to life in the Delta as well, but that’s not the point of this blog entry…so I am not going to go there…I am hoping to focus on some of its charms. They are truly magical, and I appreciate this side of Egypt. Cairo lacks these elements, but certainly has its treasures as well.  

This morning as I was standing on the platform, waiting with a crowd of people for our train to arrive, I witnessed a gentle side of Egypt. Community. I have stated this before…Egypt could give America some lessons in how to live in community.

It’s pretty common to see women from the villages balancing large bags and tin pots on their heads while moving quickly to get all their items from one side of the tracks to the other, before the next train arrives. These women are fierce…strong…and determined. They have a system and they know what works. Watching these women in action contrasts severely from city girls in Egypt.  Women from the middle and upper classes in the cities tend to be more delicate. Village women are strong...crafty...resourceful. 

Once the train pulls away it’s like watching a relay counting down..."Ready? Set? GO!”. Several women appear with piles of bags and only a few moments to get these items safely transferred to the other side. Even young children are trained to move these huge bundles by adjusting them to balance evenly on their backs and keeping very focused in helping their mothers complete the task.

As these women were carrying items on their heads, trying not to trip on the tracks, some men came to help them retrieve the stuff in order to hurry the process along. Strangely, these women didn’t seem the least bit frightened that the train would suddenly appear, but these men were sort of freaking out, it was sweet. :) 

I was standing next to a family who appeared to be Sudanese, and we were all watching the race before us. Suddenly, all our heads turned to the right. Our attention was drawn to one of the bags dropped next to us, because it started moving…then the next one moved…WHAT?! So we looked closely and could see a duck was inside one of the small netted bags. Oh dear. Then, we noticed rabbits in the other bag.  The third bag was solid white, so we couldn't see inside, but it was bopping all over the platform...full of some mysterious little creatures.. I had to block the American mindset of animal rights from surfacing…these were pretty horrible conditions for these animals. But this isn’t America. There is no such thing as animal rights in Egypt. Just the night before, an Egyptian friend of mine was explaining that very thing to me...and he hates that about his country. 

Suddenly a man was shouting at a woman to hurry and jump up onto the platform…because the train was on its way. More men joined in... “The train is coming! Get up here!!”…but the pace of this woman did not increase. My heart rate rose.  “I can’t bear it if she gets hit” I thought. It was an intense minute.  She finally made her way onto the platform looking at us all like, “chill”.   HA! It was sorta funny to see her prove all those men wrong.

The reason this scenario caught my attention as so sweet, was to see men who were clearly from a higher class from these women, step out and offer a helping hand. Class distinction and the nasty treatment of the lower classes in this country is one of the things I have struggled with intensely. I can’t bear to see it. Witnessing first hand how the Sudanese refugees are also treated by Egyptians is enough to make you want to throw up. But it’s not just refugees treated horribly…it’s Egyptians against Egyptians. Honestly, it is a disgusting part of this society. And no, it is not something foreigners can address. It’s an internal issue on a national level. But don’t get me wrong…not all Egyptians behave this way. However, many do. I would say that unfortunately, it has become an acceptable thing to do. Think about this for a sec. This country is full of people who claim to love and respect God (Muslims and Christians), yet continually treat others this way. It's so sad. 

Now you can understand why this morning’s extravaganza on the train tracks was all the more beautiful to witness. I am thankful for the ways I am being reminded of how this country constantly surprises me...even til the very end. 

Please enjoy some shots taken of life in well as the work I was involved with there:

Just another day

Because Alexandria is on the Sea, it gets rain. But the streets
are not properly equipped to handle the water and they flood.

Due to the flooding (notice the bottoms of my jeans) , our home school group was cancelled this day.
So Lindsey and I decided to find other ways to entertain ourselves... :)

Field trip and fun cuddle time

Each week I did a variation of trainings with the mamas one day, and then evaluated the kids on teh other day. In this pic I am with a few of the moms.

Weekly evaluations

My weekly baby hit!

Saying Goodbye