Change in the Air

Suddenly, Alexandria was cold. The weather had been keeping a perfectly respectable mid 70’s pace, with light, occasionally gusty breezes that suited me just fine. Then, sitting in the Middlebury apartment working on final projects and exams, I was nearly thrown from my chair by a thunderous bang that split the air. Winter, it appeared, had just come in with a bang.

After the big bang the weather quickly went from bad to worse; serious rain ensued, flooding the drain-less streets, accompanied by hail that Egyptians call thelg, which incidentally also means snow. Since they never experience the latter no distinction is needed, although these icy pellets are a far cry from the friendly white powder Americans sing about come Christmas.

The most prominent agent of destruction recently assaulting Alexandria has been wind. Every door slams: taxi doors, front doors, even hallway doors in the dorms, creaking under the weight of changing air pressure. I woke up three times one night to close my windows, which kept flying open despite two layers of covers and clasps. In the morning, my entire path to school was strewn with fallen trees, forcing me to walk directly through the enormous puddles that flooded street and sidewalk. Wet feet are one of my least favorite sensations, but one I never expected to have to deal with in Alexandria, Egypt, where all the moisture has tended to stay in the humidity-laden air. But pernicious winds had rung out the air and drenched the streets, and the shocked Egyptians and Egyptianized Americans ran for cover.

And then it was over as soon as it began. Within two days the weather dried up and warmed up, as Egyptians might have predicted but I, with my Boston 5 month winter mentality, did not. As I headed out for one last outing with my roommate yesterday I insisted on bringing a jacket but she insisted on not bringing one. I ended up carrying my coat all day, the sun glinting off the calm ocean, teasing me. Winter had apparently decided that Egypt didn’t suit its style. I decided I knew very little about and Egypt, even after four months of living here.

Of course there is so much I do know. I know that the first call to prayer is around 5 in the morning and that the Library of Alexandria is only open from 3 to 7 on Fridays. I know how to pack five people into the back seat of a cab, how to give cab drivers directions to the girls dorms, how to decipher whether the cab driver will be good to talk to, creepy, or sullen. I know how to order fish grilled, fried or Egyptian-style, and I know a really good restaurant for fish.

But now I am leaving, and these acquired knowledges will fall by the wayside on my path to new countries. People are always leaving, moving on, picking up knowledge and putting it down. Having left over knowledge from a past place, phase, or age is part of the human experience. So what does one do with vestigial knowledge?  Store it? Toss it? File it neatly in a memory bin to be dusted off by some jarringly familiar smell or sound?

Moving tends to wreak confusion over my memory and rob it of a sense of time, which is a very crucial thing for memory. If I return to a well-worn memory of home, one I have often recalled, I feel as though time is a small pile I have just hopped over. But then a very particular memory from early in the semester will appear and stretch time, filling it with pasts and presents so it grows skinny and sags like silly-putty.

The anchors of the time spent are in the awkwardness of my English, newly freed from the language pledge, when I say things like “get off the car” and insert the Arabic pause word, ya’ani, rather than like into my speech. The anchors of time are in my clothes, worn and torn from the terrors of highly chlorinated water in washing machines. The anchors are on the bottoms of my callused feet, the skin gone elephantine from days of pounding the earth in dust ridden sandals. But my memory can’t seem to settle, tossing like a boat in the Alexandrian “winter” waters. Surely I have changed, but it will take another change of scene to tell just how, and how much.

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