I am tired of fighting with people around me. I had a childhood dream to escape to a deep forest and live with birds and goats around me. I could have easily become a crazy cat lady and live happily ever after. I have a friend, a Latvian woman who, while witnessing urban expansion of my hometown Ogre, still struggles to make a living owning a small flock of goats. Every time I meet her, she repeats: “I love to talk to my goats more than to people”.
I need silence around me, a deep silence of a Latvian sunrise over the wheat fields. Just in this kind of silence I can hear my thoughts. Probably it is Egyptian constant fear of silence and empty places that makes living here so hard for a newcomer.
I tried to recreate a glimpse of my childhood memories by taking care of a ‘green corner’ on my balcony where I can lay down on the ground, watch plants blossoming and read a book alone. I can stay like that for days without leaving my flat.
As soon as I wake up and need to step out of my door, I gather my strength and put on armour as I know struggle awaits. When you are in a foreign country every small achievement requires an enormous effort.
You are required to define your identity and reassert it again and again. After spending two years, learning the language and getting married with an Egyptian am I still a foreigner or do I have the right to be treated as a local? Does going to souq, taking mashro3a and living in a popular neighbourhood makes me Egyptian enough? Or my blue-eyed look will always determine attitude towards me? To get over the tourist and khawaga prejudices is immensely hard and in some cases impossible, not to mention women issues in Egypt. Every moment in a public place, be it a coffee shop, workplace, or government authority, require a continuous ascertainment of patience, empathy and ability to distance yourself from the situation in order not to lose balance.
At this point I feel empathy for those Eastern European women married to Egyptians who have chosen a quiet family life at home with children n the name of love, desperation or fatigue. Its easy and comfortable. Hundred per cent security behind the husband’s reliable public figure. No need to face the complicated Egyptian reality of everyday life: to take a bus alone or challenge work supervisors.
I can even partly comprehend upper class Egyptians or foreigners living in fancy Cairo’s new neighbourhoods outside the city which are built around central shopping mall idol replicating Western consumerism values. After waking up in the morning, this man or woman prepares ‘continental breakfast’, gets into the newest model of German car with a private driver taking him/her to a multinational company and back home by ring road. These people are choosing ‘not to see’. Even if garbage piles, beggars and crowded markets are five-minute drive away, they remain out of their sight.
Probably I have chosen the uneasy way in life. I left Latvia to continue my education in Italy while my peers where getting hired in local media outlets or businesses. Then I decided to leave cosy student paradise Bologna as well and move to a crazy twenty million city ‘without rules’. I came without an organised ‘project’ or long-lasting financial resources. But I wanted more. I was thirsty for learning. I wanted to understand and feel empathy. I wanted to talk to people in their language, I wanted to read their books.
I am an individualist even in so-called ‘professional life’. In the past few years, I have come to a conclusion that I want to be an eternal freelancer. I can produce and create only when I feel ownership, can organise my time and see the point in what I am doing. I am not able to separate my personal and professional interests. How can this even be possible when I always tried to deepen my knowledge and experience in the fields I like and feel passion for?
My mind and body refuses meaningless orders. While practicing visual arts, I called it inspiration, when I began non-profit activities, I called it passion, when referring to other contexts, I might call it motivation. Still I cannot do anything without it. When I do have it, I can work day and night without sleeping or eating till I produce a result I am satisfied with. But when I don’t… a lethargic sleep overcomes me. Literary I can sleep for days and weeks. Without stimulus to my mind, my body hibernates. Then I know, I am a small step away from unhealthy behaviours or depression.
That is why when my efforts are not appreciated, I feel it as personal offence. When people surrounding me have different set of values and priorities, what can I do? I have never considered bragging about my ‘competitive advantages’. Works speak louder words. I despise empty phrases without meaning or action.
So on days like this one I lose hope and think: ‘What for’? Does all these everyday fights really make me stronger or it is a waste of time and energy which I could have devoted to self-development and creative action? Is changing place, country or people, as I have done before, a solution or an escape?