Limbo Rock


Today I woke and found this in front of the gate to my villa in Gouna, Egypt.

It was a rather loud American machine, but I reckon they have to constantly pack the red clay sand that makes up many of the roads in this resort, as only the main roads are paved, and even then, sketchily.


Yesterday’s post in this travel diary listed 15 things that you should keep in mind if you are an American my age who is thinking of leaving America and doing the expat thing on the cheap by renting a villa for the winter in Africa.

It probably came across as a bit of a Gouna takedown, although I would argue it is a realistic take borne out of long experience; but I also said I would list the positives about living here.

gouna fly
Fly offed earlier today at the villa. What’s not to love?

So here goes.

There are lotsa things I miss about living in my house in Florida.

My wife is there, and I miss her a lot.  I also miss the rest of my family in America; they do not live in Florida, but are (obviously) much closer there than here.

What I miss about Florida is the proximity to so much reasonably pristine subtropical natural beauty, not just along the Atlantic coast, but also inland, in  places such as the Loxahatchtee River.

jupiter florida
Canoe at Loxahatchee River, around Jupiter, Florida. Bring a piece in case of gators, though.

This may seem trivial, but I also like being able to buy things like Listerine (the version with alcohol), which I view as crucial to gum and throat hygiene, and is a product you cannot find in Egypt for probably religious reasons.

Primo Publix version of Listerine in the middle, getting low low low, with the inferior, zero-alcohol, Italian-made-version Egyptian import up front

And if truth be told, I do miss getting those magnificent Eggplant Parm and Meatball Parm subs at Salerno Pizza. Yes, all that heart-attack-city caloric munificence, but also the great not-oversalted-tomato-sauce pizzas from Brooklyn Joe’s (with at least 3 toppings) did cause me gain a lot of weight, but hey, you only go round once,

salerno pizzaSo what do I like about being here in Gouna (outside of the beloved Sandy, of course)?

Well, it’s complicated.

I grew up in Egypt, but that was a long time ago, and the country has dramatically changed since then, so it’s not like I’ve gone back to the “old country” to relive the good old days, which now are more like the residual stench of a bellyfish that expired sometime around the time of a long dead dictator.

Rather, it is the simplistic idea that you are always more comfortable inside in your country of origin, despite the prisons and collective hangings, particularly if you have not done as well as you thought you would have in your adopted one.

So you come here (or anywhere for that matter where you might have grown up), and you feel comfortable in a way that is hard to describe:  mirtah fi baladuh in the Arabic phrase that comes to mind, which means relaxed in your own country., but which really means to be in tune with some concocted, yet deliciously contrapuntal illusion that of course never existed in the reality of when you lived there.

But the truth is, Egypt (or whatever your country of origin may be) is my country in name only:  for I have spent a lifetime in the US, and you do not dismiss half a century of living someplace, just like that, as if you were throwing salt over your shoulder, before plunging the dagger.

jeffreys decadence
This is the one to read, if you’re into Byzantium and Cavafy and all that

I’m going to enjoy the time I have left here, despite all the challenges I’ve outlined in previous posts, and work on the three essential but fairly innocuous positives that I have been able to establish here in Gouna:

  1. Being able to get fit and finally lose a lot of weight, but gradually, so I don’t have have to sweat about disgusting sagging rolls of skin;
  2. Being able to detox from the US mentally  over a period of six months, far away from the vile right-wing noise machine;
  3. Being able to enjoy slowly reading, in the shade under a desert’s cloudless, cobalt blue sky, various fictional as well as non fiction books (including the Jeffreys’ one, pictured above, which I intend to reread several times, and gaze meaningfully at the nearby mauve Eastern Desert mountains, after each culturally high register paragraph), many of which have something to do with Egypt or the immigrant experience or the post-9/11 literary response in general, without having to “deal” (if that is not too uncharitable a term) with the many distractions that are part and parcel of living in conjugal tight quarters in FLA.

In the end, I shall always be in limbo between different cultures, enjoying the best that each have to offer, but I no longer feel compelled to have to choose between them, whatever that really means, and however ambiguous it may sound.

leaving america


The paddler on the Loxahatchee inlet

I came to the place you see in these pictures this drizzly morning at 7am and found a group of mostly old men sitting on plastic chairs in a circle on the grass by the water.

I sat in an empty chair in their circle and waited for someone to speak. No one said anything for a while, and then a fellow in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt spoke up.

He talked about changes in his life, and when he was finished, another man spoke up. He was much older, and he talked about how he used to be an engineer and was good with IBM mainframe technology once but now found his new laptop deeply confusing.

Another man spoke about nearing retirement, and how he was watching protestors on TV march and throwing smoke bombs at the police. He said he was ashamed that he had wished the police would hit them on the head till they went away, and he said also there were so many changes going on and he did not how he was going to deal with them in retirement.

Another man said he had been doing well for a number of years but did not see the point of much of anything anymore, and then a woman spoke up, and she said that she’d been struggling too, and that she would pray for him that night.

There are so many changes going on in American society today, even here, in this sleepy, incurious Florida backwater, where golf and football and drinking beer and fishing and fine winter weather have been a good way of life for many, particularly those who are no longer young.

But now even those who voted a certain way because they did not like the changes they were seeing around them are beginning to wonder if they had been right about their choice. They wanted the world to stop changing so fast, but now they found themselves still at sea in it, still lost, and bewildered, the newly recharted course suddenly perilous and uncertain.

I do not know what the future is going to bring in this part of America.

All I can say is that I have never felt more calm and mentally alive and ready to engage in the next stage of my life.

I generally dislike guru speak, but I suppose the sanest thing to do is let go of the illusion of control over the powerful tides coming in through the inlet, but still navigate to some goal that seems worth pursuing — at least for a particular moment in time.

Just like that guy paddling in his canoe along the river, seemingly without a care in the world.