October 23, 2018


Last week was terrible.  Six days ago, at approximately 3 a.m. in the morning, my wife’s mother, Zeynep, died.  As soon as we heard that tragic news, I began to send texts and make calls to a variety of people so that I could stay home from work to tend to my wife and give vent to my own profound sadness.

Zeynep had been suffering from kidney disease for a couple of years or so.  Her treatment had primarily consisted of dialysis treatments that left her exhausted and depressed.  Then, about three months or so ago, something changed.  Her body—for whatever reason—began to reject treatment.  It became harder and harder for the doctors to administer dialysis and her medicine seemed to stop working.  As a result, my mother-in-law’s condition deteriorated which led to more depression which led to a worsening of her physical state.  It was a vicious circle that she’d become trapped in.

On the morning of Zeynep’s death, Azza, my wife, had trouble sleeping.  She tossed and turned in the bed next to me.  A few minutes before 3 a.m., she woke up and called her family in Cairo, Egypt, to make sure everything was Okay.  She started telephoning her brothers and sisters but none of them would answer.  Finally, she got someone on the line only to learn that her mother had just passed to the other side.  So, about the time my wife had had her premonition, her mother was breathing her last breath.

I cannot tell you how bad I feel for my wife.  I understand her loss completely.  I actually witnessed my grandfather—I man I was profoundly close to—die in his bed in his home.  That was the culmination of a long, debilitating illness.  And when he finally left us, it took weeks for many of us to fully recover from that devastating blow.

Death is so final.  That’s why it makes us feel devastated and sad and angry.  There is no one to complain to when it happens.  You can shake your fist and scream, but none of those actions will do any good.  Death cannot be reversed upon appeal.

From time to time, my wife turns to me, and with tears in her eyes, asks, “Is she really gone?”  To which I quietly answer, “Yes, she’s gone.”

I wish I could tell her that she’ll be back soon.  But that would be a lie.

We’re Moving

Our Stuff Boxed Up

My wife and I are leaving Egypt. This move has been in the planning stages for months now, but things got real yesterday when the shippers came, boxed up all our stuff, loaded it into the back of a truck, and then hauled it off to a warehouse belonging to Express International Group, a company that moves people hither and yon. In a few days, another eighteen-wheeler will transport our boxes to the port city of Alexandria. From there, they’ll be shoved into a container and then sent across the wide and wild Atlantic Ocean to Houston, Texas, where they will be x-rayed and ushered through customs. Yet another truck, this one driven by a Texan, will then transport them, via highway and byway, through the piney woods of East Texas to the Austin area, their ultimate destination. The next time we see our things, it will be in a totally different context.

These days my Egyptian wife needs nearly constant reassuring so I keep telling her that we’ll never entirely be separated from this part of North Africa. This is her birthplace and her becoming the owner of an American passport certainly will not change that fact. So we’ll always return. We’ll always be in contact. I will continue to learn the local language even when I don’t hear it being spoken as often as I do now.

Yesterday’s pack up was harder for my wife than it was for me. I am merely attached to this place via marriage and employment. Her roots run much deeper than that, and I sometimes worry about how well she’ll take to being pulled up and transplanted.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying yesterday was easy for me, not by any stretch of the imagination. Things felt very final as our house emptied out, box by box. And this place, more than some of the other countries I’ve lived in, has gotten inside me over the years. Egypt can do that to a person. Living here can be transformative. It certainly has changed me, in more ways than I can ever fully describe here.

I first came to Cairo in August of 2008, three plus years before Hosni Mubarak was unceremoniously kicked out of office. During the uprising against his regime, I stubbornly stayed on even though most foreigners were fleeing by the thousands. I saw and did things I never thought I’d see or do as those momentous historical events unfolded. After Mubarak’s departure, there was a brief period of euphoria. Egyptians felt like anything and everything was possible and they were celebrated, far and wide, as heroes.

That happy time was short lived. Things began to deteriorate after that. And they continue to do so to the point that I wonder when the final unraveling will take place. Some wishful thinkers see stability when they look around them. I see something entirely different. This place is certainly going to have to get much worse before it can get better, if that’s even possible. These last few years have made me very jaded and pessimistic. And now sadness and disappointment are the dominant emotions I feel when I look around.

All that sadness finally got to me. So we are pulling up stakes and about to start again. It certainly feels like it’s time for a new beginning. Please wish us luck…