It happened to be the week when they were saying goodbye to the friends who were moving away from Cairo--either back to the States or they were embassy workers moving on to another post in another country. Every year there are changes as people move on. We felt a little out of place like we had crashed a party. Friends were saying goodbye to friends and it was quite emotional. We were impressed with the send-off they received.
Fast forward 1 year. The entire year we lived in Egypt, we weren't sure how long we would be there. Because of this we took every opportunity to make Egypt our home and not wait for friends to find us although many did because they weren't waiting either. We had people in our home for dinners--both coworkers of Todd's and branch members from church. We had dinner in their homes. We went on excursions to museums, the pyramids, leper colonies, camping, felucca rides on the Nile, swimming in the Red Sea, mosque tours, fabric souqs, Khan-el-Halili, etc. We were each others' support groups while we were in a foreign country far away from family. They became our family. Nancy Heiss explains it well here when she explains Cairo wasn't just a trip we took and we're glad to be back home. Cairo was our home. My kids too will still sometimes say they want to go back to their home in Cairo. We'll feel that way here in our new home too. But that doesn't make Cairo (or Jordan or Kuwait) any less of our home either.
In the late spring/early summer of 2010 we were searching out a new house. Cairo was still our home but we needed a different house closer to the kids' friends from church, closer to where our doctors' appointments were, etc. We had tentatively picked out a house in Maadi but then our plans quickly changed. For reasons I won't go into here, we decided it was best for our family to move back to the States. Within a matter of just a couple of days we were making our plans to move back to the States. It happened to be the "goodbye" week in the branch. When they announced our names as being one of the families moving away from Cairo it caught many people off guard because word hadn't spread yet that our plans had changed.
The branch members were so kind. As was tradition in the branch, they sent us off with a small gift of 3 vials filled with 3 important things from Egypt--1 with water, 1 with sand, and 1 with air. With them was a paper explaining the meaning of each. It said:
The Three Vials
You will surely Dive for this vile. This water will remind you of the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and most importantly the River Nile. Memories of deep sea diving or snorkeling will come to mind as well as relaxing rides down the Nile on a Felucca. You will also want to use this water sparingly to brush your teeth and to wash your fruits and vegetables once you get back home. It will give them that Cairo flavor. Flashes of days when the water was turned off will fill your mind when you are lonely and as you sit missing Egypt while you recall the days when you had to bathe the entire family with a half bottle of Baraka. Don't hesitate to sprinkle drops of this water into your salads or a drop or two into your drinking water. Within hours you will be running to the bathroom and then as you sit down . . . you can remember your Egypt days.
Dig into this vial. It contains precious soil from Egypt (actually from the Red Sea). You may want to sprinkle some of this on your garden before you plant to insure that your crops are plentiful and have the taste of Egypt. When you've gone for a month without dusting and your house is still spotless, just take this vial and sprinkle a little on the tabletops and cupboards. You may want to rub it on your shoes too! And don't forget your car. Then think of your Boab and all the days that he was out cleaning the dust off cars so you could drive off for the day to collect more dust. This sand will remind you of the constant layer that coated your complete house after the dust storms, yes those famous Khamaseens. You will always remember your desert home when you use the contents of this vial.
All of Egypt's smells are tucked into this vial. If you were lucky while you've been here, you have enjoyed the famous mummies and ancient treasures but now you have this vial loaded with precious smells to take home with you. Guard it carefully. Car exhaust, small and big dogs, donkeys, smiling camels, garbage carts, fried onions on koshery, salt water beach smells, mini buses, inside of the tunnels and on the metro smells and many more! All these smells have been captured and put into this vial. But wait, this vial has a bonus! Captured in the air of this vial is something very special for you. If you are very quiet, you can open it just a crack and hear the sounds also. Prayer calls, cars honking, donkeys braying, you'll hear some Arabic words like Maleesh, Insha Allah, Bokra, and Masalama.
Over the last few days I've been thinking a lot about our previous home. I've been thinking a lot about our friends who are still there. Many of them are now being evacuated. They are only allowed a limited amount of luggage and have to leave most of their possessions behind hoping the looters don't get to it. When they return, if they return, things will be different.
Word is trickling in from some of them. One of our friends and her daughter were in Switzerland on their way to her home country of France while her husband remains in Cairo. Another friend and her 5 children are on their way to Idaho today to stay with in-laws while her husband remains in Cairo. He just arrived back to Cairo yesterday after being in DC so she and the kids have gone through most of this by themselves. Another friend will be reuniting with her husband and 6 year old son in DC in a couple of days. Her husband and son have been in Cairo while she's been here in Utah waiting for medical clearance and a visa for her newborn baby so she, the baby, and another child could return to Cairo. Another friend's husband is for now staying in Cairo. She's here in the States recovering from foot surgery. We're still waiting to hear word from many other friends there and what their plans are. Their lives are turned upside down.
I wonder if they even got to say goodbye to each other. No matter how you look at it this certainly isn't the proper goodbye I'm sure they were expecting when they left their homes in Cairo. I hope someday they'll be able to get their vials.