I remember what loving in Egypt felt like: dusty, furtive, tasting of ‘shai’ and ‘asir faroula’ and ‘sheesha toufach’, with the strong Arabic ‘ch’ at the end that I could never quite muster. It felt clumsy and young and shy and full of wondering and wandering.
It was the love of owning exactly one sheet, and not even having it cover the whole bed, resulting in one of us always ending up on the bare mattress by the morning. It was a love backlit by Cairo and feeling present and exhilaratingly young and jumping up and down in that apartment with the chandeliers and Egyptian flags while singing our hearts out to Queen and Beirut and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Uganda was for solitude and emails – shy, like the love from which they had been born. Emails typed into a Word Document, while the battery and electricity lasted, and sent days later. Uganda was ‘boda glow’ to me: the orange tint of thrill and dust that one inadvertently adopted after riding the motorcycle taxis to the IDP camps. It was the birthplace of telling stories about love, of trying to find words to describe what happened, and looking for words in the present and the future – shyly – not just past tenses.
Colombia felt like red hair. The Middle Eastern and East African darkness did not survive the equator and suddenly I was the red-headed girl in Bogota. Colombia was for relearning: relearning how to shed layers and show skin, shed walls and call everyone a ‘princesa’ – because they were, because they inspired affection. Colombia meant counting steps and swaying hips on slippery floors and mouthing words to songs I did not know with the comfort of knowing that they were, more often than not, about ‘el amor.’ It was the place at which to fall in love with work, and with love itself. Its terraces inspired throwing plans to the wind, in favor of drinking coffee and playing the guitar and convincing oneself earnestly, perhaps for the first time in life, that where there is love – love for work, for humans, for yourself – everything else will work itself out. It was not a bum-like love, the kind that was once reserved for hippies; on the contrary, my Colombia was steeped in stories of trauma and ghosts of violence. And yet, when I think about Colombia, I remember love. It is a testament to the soul of a place that it can be remembered for love and light and lightness, even when these co-exist alongside gut-wrenching horror.
Guatemala was for not knowing. There was Cafe No Se – literally, Cafe I Don’t Know. Days and days of silence, and wondering, and diving heart-first into work that assails the most resilient of hearts. It was nostalgic and reflective and full of volcanoes and lakes and waterfalls that quieten a mind with their magnitude. It was for admitting to the stories I loved, and to my attachment to stories and their process of creation. Guatemala looks like a tiny jade ring I bought myself to remember a year of firsts, of open hearts and conviction that I was in the right place(s), doing what felt right to me, doing what time would show is, in fact, my life’s work. I have worn that ring every day since it came into my life, as – in Mary Oliver’s words – “a bride married to amazement.”
Jerusalem was a love on the floor. Neither of us can remember exactly when we decided that we could live without furniture, but we did. It turns out, a couch-less love is still love. It unfolded on tile floors in the evening, between plans and dreams of a future that felt elusive. It tasted like my falafel stand, his kebab stand, my lemon popsicles, his potato bourekas. It spoke in yet another foreign language, it gestured vividly, it shrugged when it couldn’t find the words. It was blessed with beautiful light and with thousands of steps. It was a love of hundreds of walks.
“I wish I could pack you in my suitcase.”
It is the most uttered sentence of farewells. As we found, love packs clumsily and unwieldingly. The most grounding pieces of it, the anchoring memories, are outsized and unpackable. And should you be able to stuff them into a duffel and drag them across the world with you, just as you did with your earthly possessions for four years, know that when you put the suitcase away, the love will emerge wrinkly and in need of smoothening. It will need to be anchored in new memories. You have traded out the tile floors for wood, and the floor for – gasp – furniture. You have traded out falafel for burritos, arepas for burritos, everything for burritos. It sounds like Pandora and Spotify and infinite choice of ambiance now, not like the call to prayer or the Tito el Bambino bellowing out from taxis, or even like gunshots in the distance. You are developing a new palate, a new taste and sound and feel of love that suits the community in which it is now embedded.You let go of some pieces, long for others. And you carry other pieces with you: the tiny jade ring, the poem that was on that wall, the unquenched desire to always be feeling everything and forever be seeking something at which to marvel.
That Valentine’s Day in Colombia, you stumbled upon a horse-shoe on the street. 12 hours and an atrocious sunburn later, you would be giggling on a park bench, full of wine and mirth. A horse and carriage would stop in front of your messy selves and the man asks you if you need a ride. You know you cannot possibly afford a horse and carriage, not in Cartagena, not without vomiting. The horse and carriage man insists. You give in. The wine gives in. You ride home in horse and carriage. “Are you in love with her?,” he asks the person giggling next to you. “Of course I am,” he responds. “How could I not be?!” At the end of the ride, we paid the equivalent of a symbolic dollar because we were riding in a community in which love is a currency in itself. The details are fuzzy. I remember insisting that no, sir, you cannot treat us to a horse-and-carriage ride, not here, not on Valentine’s Day, and I remember losing the argument, and I remember hearing the horse ride away.You let go of some pieces, long for others. And you carry other pieces with you. The horse-shoe is hanging on the side of our Boston bedroom door, as an ode to that Valentine’s Day, those giggly selves, and to merriment.