Two days ago, I looked around the Nile Hilton and wrinkled my nose. It seemed so dowdy.
It hadn't changed much since I'd stumbled through its doors in 2001, after having battled it out with a groping taxi driver when I'd just gotten off the train from Aswan after my night on the Sudan Ferry with a certain Bavarian. But somehow, the Nile Hilton had seemed so opulent then, when I'd stopped in to ask for directions. Later, I'd had tea there with Monica, my partner-in-crime in the Ethiopian truck accident. We'd both been dazzled but the seeming luxury. Too many nights in tents in Ethiopia for her, too many nights spent vomiting in Khartoum budget hotel rooms for me.
Egypt then had seemed so glamorous. Wow, reliable electricity! Lots of people have cars! The golden arches--hadn't seen those since South Africa! Sidewalks and Pizza Huts! Long-distance coaches with schedules!
But it is all in your frame of reference. Coming from Manhattan, where we have sidewalks, (mostly) reliable electricity, double-parking with unwritten rules of conduct, and yes, even Egyptians, the once luxurious is now pedestrian. I did the touristy stuff before, in 1999, with Yancey and Mark. And I've lived in the Middle East before, and in Africa before. I've even done this particular job for over a decade, and for the same company for a year.
Had a change of scenery quit giving me the kick I need? Travel once supercharged me, and battling wits with taxi drivers made me think on my feet and kept my edges sharp. Now, I'm as tired here as I'd be sitting at home coloring comics.
Matt suggested it was culture shock. I pooh-poohed the notion.
"Culture shock? This is relatively posh compared to lots of places I've lived. I'm just tired and depressed from a series of tragic romances and from too much work mixed with too little success."
Then I thought What if he was right? It isn't traditional culture shock, because Egypt isn't shocking, but I didn't particularly want to come here.
Then an Omani pal from the Kuwait office flew in (for keeps). And made me laugh for about an hour. Then I went home, and the landlord, K, showed up to work on installing ADSL, and he made me laugh some too. And I realized later that I kind of flirted with both of them.
You know you're feeling better when you start flirting with 30-year-old designers and 40-year-old rich landlords.
Could this be the start of some kind of recovery? Or Marie-of-old coming back and not being jaded and exhausted?
I hope so. I was getting sick of me. I want to go see the pyramids and be amazed. I want to enjoy the chaos of ancient taxis honking incessantly at each other, to hear the wailing of competing mosques and think "Cool, I'm in Egypt," and feel alive again, like I haven't felt since I left Uganda under a non-evaporating cloud in November of 2005.
I want to walk into the Nile Hilton and be glad for it.