January is such a great time to dream big dreams about the life we want in the coming year. Did you write all those birthdays on your new calendar? Set those resolutions? Dream big dreams?
Here at Vitalmommy headquarters, it’s a big year. We will leave Peru for Washington DC and a year of preparation before returning to Cairo! We are excited – both about a year home, and about our next adventure.
Instead of a long list of resolutions, I made just three goals this year: one for me, one for my family, and goal for my business. Of course, many things have to happen to achieve any one goal, but I think having these three goals memorized and ready will act as a great filter when making decisions on how to spend my time, energy, and resources.
Another great filter is to choose a word for your year. This year, mine is “margin.” I want to have more white space on my to-do list, more margin in our home life and finances, and more margin to do what is truly important to me in business. Oh, and of course I’d love a little margin when it comes to packing time and our ever-looming weight restrictions!
For many years I set my goals based on a few questions, one of which was “what made me crazy last year?” In previous years it has been everything from not knowing what’s for dinner, to my chaotic closet, to lego everywhere, to the paper the mailbox seems to discharge all over my house daily.
Since I’m sure you struggle with some of the same things, I thought it would be fun to take you on my journey for the next few months as I simplify and get organized for our upcoming move. I’ll share resources, how I have conquered (or am conquering) this obstacle, and maybe even a few checklists or worksheets you may find handy. I hope it will help you in your journey as well!
Now I have a question for you! What is it that made you crazy last year? Is it moving year in your expat life? Tell me about it; I’d love to know how I can help you out! Send me an email here, and I promise I’ll respond to each one!
Here’s wishing you lots of white space to have beauty and joy in your life this year.
I’m unpacking boxes.
Here’s the frequent buyer card from my favorite coffee shop on Road 9. Here’s a phone number for a parent at my son’s school, scribbled on a piece of giftwrap from the birthday party we attended the afternoon before the evacuation.
Every box is an Egyptian artifact, an archeological clue to a life left behind in a rush. Here are needles and thread in a box filled with toys from my boys’ playroom where I sat down to fix the shirt he wanted to wear to the birthday party. Here’s the note on what I wanted to write in a friend’s going away message. Here’s a box filled with random make-up and perfume – all still open and messy – from getting ready for the party we were at when the call came to leave.
It’s not the archeology of Egypt – tombs and paintings, the book of the dead, all carefully prepared. It is the archeology of Pompeii. Caught in the act of living.
Here are the kids’ school bags, labeled with their names in elegant Arabic script. These bags, and their school shoes, were picked up by our nanny after we left. I asked for their portfolios – those have not shown. There is no proof of the year my children spent in the most amazing Montessori school, playing with friends from the UK, Australia, the Netherlands, and Egypt. Speaking words from three languages – all jumbled together.
Here’s my desk – my calendar filled with play date plans, the menu for a coffee morning, ideas for a ladies wine night, suggestions for the next book club book. Business cards with a phone number long forgotten. Resumes and job applications, acceptance letters for a job never started.
The chronology of that last day in Cairo is simple:
- 5 AM The boys are in the playroom, and I get the cheerios.
- 9 AM. Brunch at the American club – awful food, great friends, and bacon.
- 11 AM Boys in the pool, adults talk about the protests, and home leave for summer.
- Noon. We walk home, the kids nap. I walk to road 9 to get pictures printed. I take it to my friend S’ house to get included in friend A’s farewell book. S, one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, was harassed again. We’re angry, but shrug our shoulders. It happens too often.
- 2 PM. We get an email about a possible voluntary evacuation. If there was a voluntary evacuation, would we go? We must respond by 4PM.
- 3 PM. We head to a birthday party for embassy friends’ daughter. The kids are at home: they know the place; they know each other. Hushed conversation for the adults: What about the dog? Are you going?
- 8 PM We head to A’s farewell party. My husband is off in a corner of the garden on his blackberry. I’m with my tribe – these women I have come to love like family. I drink too much white wine and dance like a lunatic, watching him from the corner of my eye the whole time.
- Midnight. The call comes – we’ll be picked up in two hours to evacuate for 10 days. Do you want to stay in Frankfurt or go to the States?. I start saying cryptic goodbyes. Should we leave, people ask. We are instructed not to get anyone panicked. How do you answer when you don’t know?
- 1:45 AM I’m packed (one bag only) and wake the boys. We are going to grandma’s house, I whisper to them as I get them dressed.
- 2 AM We are picked up in convoy.
- 5 AM We are at the airport. I say goodbye to my husband.
The last picture of have of my son in Cairo is this:
It is dusk, and the picture is blurry. My guy is dressed as a pirate – white linen shirt, ragged shorts, a red sash around his waist. His hat is missing. He is dancing with or hugging his little friend Runi. We should leave to get ready for the next party, but we don’t. My son is happy here, and we don’t know what’s next.
St Georges Cathedral, Coptic Cairo
We are not returning to Cairo. Our next post will likely be announced in the coming month, but in the meantime, we are here in Arlington, trying to get ready for what comes next, and trying to make peace with the goodbyes we won’t get to say.
There are so many things we didn’t get to do while we were there. “We are here for three years” we’d say. “We can come back.” When seeing things I wanted: “I want to shop around first,” I’d say. Except that I will never get the Bedouin tent for the kids, or the brass table with the folding wooden legs. Or the metalwork lamps I wanted made into a chandelier. Maybe we could go back to Cairo some day, but it won’t be soon, I’m sure.
I’ll miss my Cairo friends, I’ll miss my beautiful apartment. I never got to the Egyptian Museum, or the Dashur pyramids. My husband never even got to go to the Giza pyramids with the boys – I took them on a weekday.
Future expats, pay attention. Here’s some things I did wrong, and I’m telling you so you don’t make my mistakes.
- It took me a long time to make friends. I didn’t go to the baby groups or the coffee mornings because I was working. I should have taken advantage of my flexible schedule more often. When I finally started making friends I met the most incredible group of women you can imagine. They became my tribe, and made hardship easier, fun funnier, and life better all around.
- I didn’t explore the city. Cairo has much to offer, but I was always nervous going places by myself. I should have taken advantage of more opportunities with local groups, or even arranged tour guides on my own instead of waiting for my husband to have more free time. Be a tourist in your city. And don’t wait until the month before you leave.
- Buyer’s remorse is real. And for a deliberate shopper like me, the regret is almost always that I didn’t buy. If you see something unique, don’t wait. You don’t know that you’ll be back or that it will still be there when you come back.
- I didn’t share our experiences here in this space. I always thought I would have a chance to show you the amazing things we saw and experienced. Luckily, I keep a journal, and this is one regret I can still fix. I’ll do a few “retroactive” Egypt posts for your reading and viewing pleasure.
I’m trying to learn my lessons and enjoy our time here in DC as a tourist in the city where I lived for 10 years. And for our next assignment, I’m making a bucket list and will start checking that list the minute we are wheels down.
Now is real, now is today, and ultimately now is all we have. Carpe diem friends.
We are officially homeless. Our apartment in Cairo has been packed, and we do not have an onward assignment yet.
It is unsettling. I am reading about schools, housing, and career prospects in different countries. The more I read, the more I miss our spacious and beautiful Cairo apartment, and our open plan Montessori-like school.
I remind myself that I had similar worries about Cairo before we went. We made lovely friends, many of whom I think will be lifelong friends. We loved the school my boys went to, despite its quirks. We loved our second apartment. I got to know the veggie guy, the fish guy, the policemen on our block, and so many other people. We walked everywhere. I learned to like koshary. I even learned enough Arabic to give directions to taxi drivers and buy fruit from the ever present donkey cars.
How I miss that life. How I wish we could be settled in (somewhere, anywhere) again.
Expat friends, what advice do you have for these transitions?
It has been tough to blog in the last two months. I have written so many posts, only to leave them as drafts or delete them entirely. It seems pretty pointless to ignore what is going on in Egypt right now, and yet, I do not want this space to become a political discussion. In this space I tell the truth, but right now, it is hard to know what that truth is.
Here is what I know: we loved our time in Egypt. When people say “you must be so happy to be in the US” I smile a very fake smile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatically hapy that we are all safe, and I have done my share of damage at Target. But I miss our home. I miss our friends. I worry about the Egyptians we have come to know and love – the three generations of men who own my favorite veg shop. My sons’ teachers. Friends. My husband’s colleagues. The driver who took me to the airport so many times.
I’m heartbroken to see the direction this is all going, especially for all the young Egyptians who are so optimistic and energized for the better future they fought for. I don’t know what the solution is. I only know that this is not it.
We may still go back. We can be on evacuation status for six month before we have to curtail our time in Egypt. Even if we go back though, it can never be the same.
There are plenty of silver linings to this evacuation. Plenty. But still, I grieve for the life we left behind.
I carried two small boys, their carseats on wheels, their faces excited about grandma, grandpa, and airplanes despite the 3 am wakeup.
I carried a 60 pound bag stuffed full of kids clothes and toys, but none for momma.
I carried their favorite duplo, carefully packed by Daddy to fit as much as possible in the bin.
I carried a backpack stuffed with my jewelry, camera equipment, laptop, our back-up drives.
I carried two diaper bags, filled to the brim with diapers, snacks, a few toys, and too few clean outfits.
The little guy carried his Elmo pack, filled with Elmo and some curious George books.
I carried fear for my husband’s safety.
I carried worries about getting the pup home.
I carried gratitude for all the incredible people on Evac Team Cairo who ensured our evacuation went smoothly.
I carried longing for my friends, our life, the home we have made in Egypt.
I carried pride in my husband. His willingness to answer the call, despite the cost.
A few days later, my husband carried what I forgot: sunglasses, the charger for my camera.
He carried pictures of our Cairo apartment, of our artwork, of the belongings we had to leave behind.
He carried the bread pan my great grandmother made out of a parafin tin.
He carried the handwritten cookbook my grandmother gave me when I moved out of my parents’ home.
He carried his work clothes to get back to the job he loves as soon as possible.
I don’t know what he carried in his heart, but I wish I was there to help him bear the burden.
We carry relief at being home safely.
We carry intense joy at every American flag we see flying high this Fourth.
We carry our love for Egypt.
We carry a deep sense of displacement.
We carry our hope for the future.