Thursday, March 08, 2007
Riddle of the Sphinx
I eyeballed my light-blue, penguin-print, flannel pajamas across the bedroom. I shivered under the covers without them, having washed them yesterday and left them out drying overnight.
"If I can make it to my pajamas and slippers, I might have a shot of getting to the office before noon."
Birds chirped outside my window in the early morning sun. Horns beeped in the distance, and planes few high above, but I filtered these out. The Chinese ambassador has a serene garden right next door to my Cairo apartment, a tiny oasis of green amongst the madness. I've never seen anyone in it. It's the nicest, most underpopulated part of China that I've ever seen.
I stuck a hand out from under the camel-hair blanket and hit the "On" button on my iBook. One strategy I use to get out of bed in the morning is to read email until I'm alert, then suddenly realize I don't need to go back to sleep.
The pajamas taunted me from across the room.
It's only a second of cold. And it's not like it's snowing here. The weather is beautiful.
Once, I'd have gotten the pajamas, made pancakes (with the baking soda I scoured Cairo supermarkets to acquire) and coffee, and eagerly rushed out past the calm of the Chinese garden, past the somewhat pleasant blocks of Zamalek, to throw myself into the middle of Egyptian life.
Once, I'd have chosen to go around the world in the most inconvenient method possible in order to experience the world at ground level, to sink deep into it on the buses and ferries with "the people."
And today, one reason I hate to go to work is that it's in Cairo. And that means transporting myself just a few miles is aggravating.
In the past, I'd have delighted in the challenge of the daily commute. An opportunity to learn about the taxi driver's family! Or better, a chance to follow a crowd to the minibus stop and see how they decipher which bus goes where.
Now, I just decide my penguin-print pajamas are too far away, my emails too boring to stay awake for, and I burrow down into the camel-hair blanket, the sounds of nature reminding me briefly of burrowing down into cheap blankets under the mosquito net above the Murchison Nile, of sleeping through the morning cacophony of bird noises in rural New South Wales. Of lying awake in my tent in Ethiopia, while curious locals murmur just outside, waiting for the faranji to emerge.
Before I was lazy with... disappointment? Disillusionment? Or is it just age?
And before the camel-hair claims me, my last thought before I fall back to sleep is "What have you done with the author of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik and who do I talk to about negotiating her release?"
But no answers drift up from the Chinese garden. Just warm camel hair, cheerful penguins against sky blue, and goldfish swimming in a pond that never freezes.
An hour later, I get up, find the baking soda, make perfect pancakes, put on long sleeves, and head out to brave Cairo's rush hour.