I have a serious case of preemptive nostalgia.
Our time in Egypt is coming to an end; we're leaving in just a few--so few!--short weeks for an indefinite time. There is no guarantee that we ever will come back, although both Jeff and I would like to return. We'll spend the summer on home leave in the United States, then move on to our next post (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) this fall. We're excited about our future in Cambodia ... but I'd just as soon not have to leave Egypt.
Some friends recently arrived for the beginning of their posting here. For the last week, my days and evenings have been filled with introductions as we take our friends to our favorite restaurants and shops, expose them to the pleasures of Cairene life, and generally try to help them settle in and thrive here. It's a happy time of reuniting with friends and sharing aspects of our life that I really didn't expect to be able to share with friends from home. But it's also a sad time.
Every time I introduce my friends to a restaurant, to a shop, to the joys of a sunset felucca ride, I'm acutely aware that it may be my last time to enjoy those pleasures myself.
We introduced them to MCC this Friday, and as I looked around at the familiar scene, it was like I was experiencing it again for the first time. I felt again the awe as I looked at this tiny slice of what heaven will look like, with people from so many different races, cultures, and denominational backgrounds. I admit it; I teared up a little as I thought of my impending departure. Even though I anticipate finding a similarly diverse international church in Cambodia, nothing ever will be quite the same as this, my first, international church.
We took our friends to the Khan el Khalili yesterday. We introduced them to our old favorites, to which we were introduced early in our tour here--Moustafa's glass and clothing shops; Gouzlan's jewelry shop; the Three Crazy Brothers metalwork shop; and Sunnyland, the world's best papyrus store. We took them by some of our own finds--the camel bone shop with the amazing figurines and chess sets, and the silver shop where you can purchase a necklace or bracelet customized with your name. They found their own shops to visit as well--a small jewelry shop, a large bookstore with historic photographs of Egypt. At each of my favorite shops, I looked around with longing at all the beautiful items that I had considered purchasing on previous trips but had decided against for one reason or another. This would be my last chance; was I sure I wanted to pass up these purchases? In the end, we made our planned purchases of some water glasses to match a pitcher we purchased a year or so ago, a couple of pajama sets for Alexa to grow into, a camel figurine carved from camel bone for my mother, and a commemorative spoon for her friend. We also purchased two wood inlay boxes--how have we been in Egypt for three years without purchasing one of those?; a couple of old locks to which Jeff took a fancy; and two large papyrus paintings by Ibrahim, the painter whose subject matter could almost step off the page and into the shop, but whose price tag matches the quality. We also were gifted with a small inlay box for Alexa and with two smaller papyrus paintings that the shopkeeper had seen me gazing at longingly--a beautiful Tree of Life and a nighttime pyramids and camels scene that inexplicably captivated both Jeff and me.
We still have more introductions we want to make. There are shops here in Maadi, the alabaster factory in Mokattum where we finally will purchase those lamps we've been talking about for three years, and the Asfour Crystal showroom, to name a few. We want to make a repeat visit to our favorite restaurant, Condetti. We want to introduce them to a few other restaurants here in Maadi. Maybe take another felucca ride. I'd love to introduce them to the pyramids, but the security situation there is just shy of stable enough for us to feel comfortable going there right now.
Each introduction will be a hello for them ... and a good-bye for us. I'm so grateful to have had this time in Egypt, both the pre-Revolution years to get to know the "Egypt that was" and most especially these short weeks since the evacuation was lifted, to meet the "Egypt that is becoming" and to say good-bye to my life here. The future holds wonderful things for us; I only hope it is not too selfish for me to hope that one of those wonderful things is the opportunity to return to Egypt one day and meet the "Egypt that will be."