Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bad Mexico Days

Perhaps a car horn blasts at just the wrong pitch. Or a careless step is taken on the way to work. A foot plunges into a puddle of unknown origin. So begins a 'bad Mexico day'.

It started in Mexico - Mexico which I love. Mexico which has morphed from the gritty truth to a perfect memory. We had days we called, 'bad Mexico days'. These were the days when absolutely, totally, undeniably, nothing went right. In fact it seemed that everything went terribly wrong. On these days the world, and Mexico in particular, was out to get us. We were sick; sometimes metaphorically, sometimes physically. We felt like everybody was against us, and we were against them. We were both exiles and invaders, lost and homeless.

On these days I could not speak Spanish. I could not even think clearly in English. A simple trip to the store to buy paper plates and I would wind up holding a bunch of paper mache bananas. This type of thing happened on good days too. But on 'bad Mexico days' it wasn't funny or cute. It was annoying and frustrating.

Somewhere in our six suitcases, in the recesses of our minds (where doubts and fears live) we packed and brought this tradition to Egypt. And so we continue to have 'bad Mexico days' seven thousand miles from Mexico, from Texas - from home.

Jenn can cry. The girls are reasonably proficient at crying too. I don't cry when I am frustrated. I save my tears for melancholy. In times of frustration I either become morose or furious. Sometimes I rage quietly. Other times, not so quietly. Most of the time I just feel like a sunken ship - held to the bottom of the ocean by countless millions of gallons of water, by unthinkable pressure.

I don't always know what brings on a bad Mexico day. The same screeching sound of tires, perhaps even the same car careening toward me that I laughed at yesterday, today might send me spinning into a hatred of all things Egyptian - roads, drivers, air, food. A dog sitting on a car hood, chewing on a piece of garbage may have been funny on Monday. On Tuesday it symbolizes everything that is wrong with this country, with me in this country.

Most of the time bad Mexico days start with an incident or conversation where I find myself feeling inept, confused, or just plain stupid. I tend to think of myself as being pretty sharp. The world does not always agree. Some days I feel like I have suffered a minor stroke. Everything is just slightly askew. For instance, they count floors to a building differently here. The ground floor is not considered the first floor. Rather it is always called the ground floor. So when you go up one flight of stairs you find yourself on the first floor, not the second. This is not a big deal, really. In fact, it makes quite a bit of sense in the same way that we count birthdays from a year after the day we are born. But by third floor (or is that second?), I am often stupidly confused and in the wrong place. Some days I just don't want to have to relearn how to count. I just want to get to the right place on time. Of course, I am almost certainly the only person who cares about being on time. That is another annoyance. It is troubling when things that were easy at home suddenly seem impossible.

Sometimes there is no defining incident, just a feeling I wake up with. Maybe I just did not get a great night sleep. It is important to remember that when I was in Texas, every day was not perfect either. Here there is at least the advantage that I can blame an entire nation for my low moods.

I live. I learn. Life here becomes easier as time passes. The idiosyncrasies are less daunting each day. I start to hit my stride and believe that I am the intelligent and able person I once was. And then, on my way to a meeting, I stop by the restroom. I reach down to flush the toilet and accidentally push the button for the bidet. A jet of water soaks the front of my pants. It is starting to look like this might be another bad, really bad Mexico day in Cairo.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wake Up, You're Dreaming

This morning my younger daughter told me that we are actually dreaming right now. She explained that we are really asleep, back home in San Marcos, and that this is just a dream. I was reading something on the computer at that moment. I stopped, looked up at her.


"We're dreaming, daddy."

Her suggestion that this is all a dream actually helped clear up a few things - not the least of which was that my four year old was suddenly talking like a stoned college student. But it also raised some provocative questions. I had to know. When exactly did we fall asleep?

This is the point in the dream when I expected her to turn into my third grade teacher, Mrs. French. Well, she would still be Luci, but she would also be my third grade teacher. And this would be an apartment in Cairo, but it would also be the student center at Southwest Texas State University. And I would be terribly late for something vague, yet important. Perhaps it is not that kind of dream.

It could be that her assertion that we are still in San Marcos is true. I have experienced dreams within dreams before. But I am a fairly light sleeper and can't imagine going quite this long without waking up.

There certainly are things that have not quite added up - sequences and chronologies that I ponder over. There are people who I remember seeing at events who could not possibly have been there because I had not met them yet. There are little glitches in time. Last week on a British Airways flight from Houston to London I asked for a Heineken. The flight attendant handed me the beer. I took a sip and realized, without even seeing the tell tale Arabic writing on the can, that this was one of the terrible Heineken knock offs that is brewed in Cairo. This was a connecting flight. The plane was not going anywhere near Cairo. Why the Egyptian beer? For a moment I thought that I had never left - had just dreamed my trip to Texas.

Maybe I have been asleep even longer. Maybe I am sleeping off some dangerous pozole in Guanajuato, or slumbering at the house where I lived in Houston. Could it be that I never left Egypt at all? I am sixteen years old and stuck in a dream where I grew up, got fat, and somehow found my way back to Egypt. Am I trying to wake up?

Am I really married, or did I dream that too? If that is the case, I don't actually have a daughter who asks freaky existential questions. Then, like a chill going through my soul, it occurred to me to ask her the really big question - the one that could either wake me up or possibly even snuff me out of existence as I know it.

"Uh Luci, is this your dream or mine?"