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.
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.
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.
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……