About me…

The current me: passionate nomad, big dreamer, mom, wanna-be writer, avid reader, world traveler, English teacher, lover of Middle East culture, restless soul, hopeless romantic.

On the steps of our apartment in Muquttum on our first day of class at Al Azhar

The past me: quilter, jewelry-maker, horse-lover, writer of short stories and one very long unedited novel, party girl, member of the fabulous foursome, and suburban housewife.

About a year ago, I was at a place called Tarbouch in Arlington, VA and an Iraqi guy and a Syrian woman told me, as we smoked apple-flavored tobacco in a hookah, about the ancient Middle Eastern art of coffee cup reading.  The Iraqi said he had the ability to read cups.  He told me to drink all my coffee and turn my cup over on the saucer and let it dry.  I did as he instructed, and he proceeded to read my cup.  What surprised me is that when I looked at the cup with him, I could see very clearly two people walking forward.  A larger person with an Arab headdress was in the front.  Behind this person was a smaller, slighter, more delicate person.  The Iraqi expressed surprise, as did I, at the clearness of the picture.  He said it was an Arab man and a woman of unidentified nationality; his belief was that it was me following behind an Arab nomad, walking in his footsteps.  It was very odd; that image has stayed with me for a year now.

At the Pyramids ~ July 2007

I didn’t know a thing about Islam or Middle Eastern culture until I started reading voraciously about the Arab world following the September 11 terrorist attacks.  A domino effect followed.  I started writing a novel and felt compelled to make one of the characters an Egyptian man.  I had never in my life met a single Egyptian, so I decided to study Arabic in the hope of learning more about the culture, mainly to make my character more realistic.  Then I took some international relations classes at community college and I loved them so much I applied for a Master’s program at George Mason University in International Commerce & Policy.  In the summer between the two-year program, a Muslim friend of mine gave me information about a program to study Arabic in Egypt for one month.  I went there and studied Arabic at Al Azhar University in Cairo in July 2007.  I fell in love with Egypt, though it made me incredibly sad to see all the poverty there.

Camels walking along the desert border in Cairo

So began this love affair with a culture I barely know.  I can’t really explain why I am drawn to it.  I know I find the call to prayer calming and mysteriously mesmerizing.  I am fascinated by Muslim women in hijabs and the close fraternity of men.  The love of family, the total dedication to the Quran, the lively arguments about the Quran’s perfection.  I love Arab music, the desert, the Nile, the dusty, crowded & chaotic streets of Cairo.  Khan al Khalili, the Virginian Cafe on the clifftop of Muquttum, the felucca on the Nile at sunset, the pyramids, the grass at the edge of the desert, the camels.

I am teaching English in Korea and one of the things I wanted to do was to take advantage of the proximity to Asia to travel.  However, when my two-week summer vacation beckoned, I couldn’t get excited about China or Japan, try as I might.  I originally wanted to go back to Egypt, but several things turned me off to it.  The idea of Istanbul kept pulling at my heart.  Various things happened which only reinforced that calling to a place with such rich history, a place that is Muslim yet European, a place that straddles Asia and Europe.  When it came time to buy my plane ticket, I was still debating, but the price was right for Turkey.  So, off I will go, to the former Constantinople……

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 18:05:06

    Have you read any of Naguib Mahfouz’s books? I bought three of his books at a used book store about two or three years ago and have every intention of reading them this fall!

    Reply

    • catbirdinkorea
      Aug 08, 2010 @ 13:54:01

      Hey Tom, for some reason your comments showed up as Spam in my blog. I hopefully fixed it. I have started reading one of Naguib Mahfouz’s books, Palace Walk, but I haven’t finished it. Right now, I’m struggling through Orham Pamuk’s The Black Book. It’s quite dense. Even the Turks I met said it is one of his most difficult books. You should read Mahfouz though.

      Reply

  2. Myrna Chicas
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 08:30:23

    WOW! Cathy… I enjoyed this one too. That was SOOO interesting the reading of the cup.

    Reply

  3. Neeraj Sabharwal
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 12:23:49

    Wonderful work and thanks for sharing your life with us 🙂

    Reply

  4. idha2908
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 14:50:35

    Wonderful adventures, I am going to follow your next adventures and thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

    Reply

  5. Kat Fallon
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 23:45:59

    I love this! The first time I ever left the US, I jumped in head-first by going to Cairo, and I fell in love. I had studied Arabic for a year before Cairo, but just the intense life of the city made me switch into a Middle Eastern studies major and spend a year in Syria as well. I feel exactly the same when you say “So I began a love affair with a culture I barely knew.”

    Reply

    • catbirdinoman
      Jun 26, 2012 @ 08:31:55

      I know, Kat! I too love the intense chaotic atmosphere in Cairo and I really want to get back there. I would love to live and work there! Where are you now? Are you still in the Middle East?

      I don’t really write anything new on my Turkey blog because I’m now living and working in Oman. If you’d like to follow me there, I’m at http://www.catbirdinoman.wordpress.com

      Reply

    • catbirdinoman
      Jun 26, 2012 @ 08:46:23

      I know, Kat! I too love the intense chaotic atmosphere in Cairo and I really want to get back there. I would love to live and work there! I see you are now in Rwanda. I just found your blog and I look forward to following your fascinating life!

      I don’t really write anything new on my Turkey blog because I’m now living and working in Oman. If you’d like to follow me there, I’m at http://www.catbirdinoman.wordpress.com

      Look forward to hearing more from you….

      Reply

  6. rebells
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 23:49:17

    hi, i want to ask a quesion. i wanna go to istanbul and i booked a room from emmasaray and i ve already paid but i saw some comments about that hotel and they were not good comments. You stayed there and can you tell me how emmasaray hotel is? i hope you ll reply me i nearest time:)

    Reply

  7. austinvividphotography
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 05:40:07

    Love what you are doing here!

    Reply

  8. Hodan Ibrahim
    Jan 07, 2013 @ 21:49:46

    Amazing. Loved the read and your blog. I lived in both Cairo and Alexandria for a bit. I still prefer the Mediterranean breeze to Cairo’s chaos :), but none the less– beautiful country. My heart is with you–Istanbul is pulling me…all the way from Canada.

    Cheers!

    Reply

    • catbirdinoman
      Jan 09, 2013 @ 17:10:40

      Hi Hodan! Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you will travel to Turkey. It’s one of my favorite countries ever!! I adored it there. I love Cairo’s chaos, but I definitely do prefer the Mediterranean breezes north of the Mediterranean. I visited Greece this past September, which was also lovely!

      Reply

  9. Trackback: introducing new members of the blogging community ~ my esl advanced writing workshop | nomad, interrupted
  10. Zia Vanger
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 13:28:43

    You seem to live in my dream. The worse part is that I don’t live in that dream.
    I envy you.

    Reply

    • catbirdineurope
      Oct 29, 2013 @ 14:53:27

      You are kind to say that, Zia. I’m not even living my dream anymore. Best to do it while young, before you have attachments. I had to come home and curtail my travels for a while because of missing my family. 🙂

      Reply

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