At our goodbye party in Egypt, fifteen years ago, we gave out tiny bottles filled with water from the Nile River. Written on the front of the bottle were the words of an Egyptian proverb:
Once you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return
Cairo is a city that gets into your blood, under your skin, becomes a part of your DNA and every other phrase you can imagine to describe the connection that is Cairo. For all it’s dirt and chaos, our family loves this city. I think it’s because we are like the city. We’re loud, we’re chaotic, and we’re complicated; we can’t be put in a box.
We arrived in Cairo in 1989, just a few months shy of my thirtieth birthday.We were fledglings, learning to walk, talk and live as a family. We were described as “that cute young couple with all those kids!” After seven years we were leaving to move to the United States. Amidst the chaos of five kids aged one to eleven we packed up a life in Cairo. We put seven years of memories, friendships, household goods, and stories (oh the stories!) into twenty-six suitcases. The chapter in the narrative of our life called “Cairo” had closed; there would only be epilogues but the chapter itself was edited and complete.
We had gone through our last everything. Our last felucca ride*, our last trip to Felfela restaurant, our last ride in taxis, and our last view of the city that had taken us in as that fledgling family and dealt with us kindly. It was a traumatic and necessary move, orchestrated by God and grudgingly accepted by the family.
The proverb has proved true for all of us at different points and times and today it proves itself once again. Five of us board a plane at New York’s JFK airport and fly non stop from New York to Cairo, joining our oldest for a Christmas celebration. The trip is a gift of grace. A lot of life has been lived since we left as a family. We are all older and our interactions more complex. Wrinkles light up our smiles and grey frosts the hair of me and my husband (well, not me-I take advantage of all the amazing products that guarantee my hair will look younger than my body!)
But despite being older and more complicated, minarets of mosques are awaiting our footsteps; fuul beans, hot from street restaurants are ready to be eaten; and favorite haunts are shouting at us to come relive our memories. We have drunk from the Nile and we are returning.
*A felucca is a large wooden sailboat. Felucca rides on the Nile are indescribably fun and relaxing – memorable experiences.