Story and Photo by Sydney Wise, Co-op
As I write this, I’m sitting at Vintage Vibe, a cafe overlooking the Nile River. It’s part of The Platform, a stretch of Egyptian, Lebanese and “international” (i.e., Italian or American) restaurants situated on the Maadi neighborhood corniche, where expats and trendy Egyptians enjoy a meal while admiring one of Egypt’s crown jewels. After two months of living in Egypt, the river never fails to stun me.
The sun has almost completed its descent behind the grove of palm trees on the other side of the Nile, and Vintage Vibe has turned on the fairy lights that adorn the trees and encircle the patio. The water, clung to by the last rays of Saturday’s sun, reminds me of my favorite skirt. I look at the miniature light refractions and see myself at LIT Boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street, sipping my iced coffee and lingering by a dressing room. As my fingers grew wet with condensation, my good friend Sasha — whose employee discount I planned to use — hustled over to me with armfuls of clothes that threatened to spill her own iced drink.
I remember closing the dressing room curtain and zipping up the teal satin, the skirt’s hem falling asymmetrically below my knees. I poked my leg out the slit on the right side and assessed myself in the mirror.
My mind then takes me to Lake Chalet, the restaurant I went to last summer while visiting my friend, Sade, in Oakland. That was where my skirt first made its debut. We begged the waitstaff to let us sit on the pier that was supposed to be closed after six, and when they assented, I ordered salmon and a Lemon Drop. Even more vivid is the memory of the last time I wore it, on a night out in Madrid exactly one week ago, where I visited with friends for spring break. That skirt now hangs in my closet in Cairo. This piece of fabric has followed me around the world; now, I see it reflected in the water in front of me.
As the sun fades, women take pictures with each other on the boardwalk that separates the line of cafes from the river. Some men even hand off their phones to their friends so that they can pose while the light is still amiable. The view has already been featured on my own social media. I could be at Stephanie’s on Newbury right now, the atmosphere is so familiar (the exception, of course, being the longest river in the world in the background).
It’s amazing the things that remind you of home. In Cairo, there are other things as well: the Baskin Robbins on Street 9 by my apartment; my favorite yoga studio, Osana Wellness; and watching the Bachelor on Tuesday nights with my American friends (sadly, being seven hours ahead means that we have to avoid a lot of spoilers).
The four cities that I’ve mentioned couldn’t be more different. Madrid is an incredibly young, hip art town with more gin and tonic bars than I’ve ever seen. Cairo is a sprawling maze of humanity and history with an ethos wholly different from the one I grew up with. Boston is an academic fulcrum with its own historical symbolism. The University of California, Berkeley campus that I stayed on in Oakland presented the city as an ultra-chill counterweight to my high-strung East Coast existence.
Through all the languages, religions and time zones I’ve traveled through, the common denominator of my teal skirt (not to go all “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” on you) reminds me of the one constant throughout my trips: me. When I feel lost — when my Arabic isn’t getting across in the way I want it to, my K-8 Spanish instruction completely fails me or my international cell plan refuses to cooperate — it allows me to swap that feeling for one of pride. The point isn’t that I encountered challenges in traveling, but that I anticipated them and chose to persevere anyway. That realization makes me feel resilient.
This realization empowers me to continue to push my boundaries. In everything that seems foreign, I can find some reflection of myself — whether I see a satin skirt in the ripples of the Nile or my friends from home in the faces of the Egyptian twenty-somethings laughing at The Platform. These little gems of comfort make me more confident in striking up a conversation or trying something new; they bridge some intangible gap, bring a global humanity to the surface and make me feel like I can belong anywhere.