When I’m having a hard time and need to be by myself – or when I’m surrounded by my responsibilities, my family, and my problems, I get the urge to stretch out. In Cairo, I feel like I’m going to bump into someone, and not just physically – it’s like my soul is expanding and leaving my body, but my astral projection is stuck in a long queue in Mogammaa with a thousand angry souls cutting in line and clamoring over who gets to pass into other dimensions first. That’s astral Cairo for you!
Switzerland is very spaced out; it has been spared Cairo’s density. When I’m stuck in Cairo’s brutal traffic for an hour, confined in a car, surrounded by a monochrome sea of sartorial uniformity and gray concrete filling the horizon, my mind immediately goes on fight-or-flight mode. When I can’t bear the thought of Cairo’s metropolitan air touching my skin or its toxins permeating my lungs, I think to myself, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be in Switzerland, talking a walk in Vevey!”
It was spring of 2016. I was visiting my brother in Vevey, Switzerland. Every day, I would wake up at 5 or 6 AM, and my vagabond shoes would be longing to stray. I would rise and my feet would take me to Lake Geneva. I would stroll along the banks, entranced by the breathtaking beauty of my surroundings, and the background against which everything sits: two mountains perching very close to each other, their bases almost touching. Usually, at that time of day, the sunrise would be very intense – it was an organge-ish, pinkish sky, and the trail would be paved with crushed red roses.
via Sara Ahmed
I’ve always found walking to be very therapeutic. Some people meditate; I walk. The perfect setting for a great walk is a natural landscape – trees, foliage, and water; that’s my sweet spot. I’d walk alone because my family would be sleeping. It would bring about a certain peace of mind. I don’t know what makes me want to walk there. I guess I long for beauty, I want to get distracted by the beauty of my surroundings. I’m very much myself when I do it. It’s not something that costs money and it’s not something that’s based on performance. It makes me transcend.
I have been travelling since I was a child, but this walkway is very memorable for me because I still walked it on the days that it was rainy. It would take on a different aspect; it would become grey, it would become wet, it’d become windy and empty, but it kept the same essence – the serenity that drew me to it in the first place.
If my life in Cairo was a painting, it would be that of a Mrs. Dalloway-esque figure wiggling her way out of her shackles.
Another reason these morning walks are etched in my memory is my reality. I’m an escapist living in the past. The fact that I’m always re-imaging the past in a way that’ll never match my present doesn’t help matters much. At the slightest urban inconvenience, my mind is prompted to play the happiest moments of my life like grainy, fragmented footage from a dusty reel.
Like many people in their mid-twenties, I fall at the intersection of so many things. I, too, was raised to believe that the world was my oyster. During my formative years, which were mostly spent in the West, glass ceilings were being shattered and social barriers were being torn down. On the other side of the world, on the home front, walls were being erected. I was a third culture kid without the foreign passport and the ‘developing world’ was now home. Adulthood was quite the rude awakening. When I was a child, the world seemed borderless – scratch that, the world was my backyard!
If my life in Cairo was a painting, it would be that of a Mrs. Dalloway-esque figure wiggling her way out of her shackles. I always feel like up-and-leaving, but as a third world human being, I too am tied by the labyrinth of logistics involving our movement – I too have to provide proof that I’m not going to blow up the plane and its precious, white cargo. “It’s not the 16th century anymore; I can’t just pull an Ibn Battouta,” I would tell myself when my vagabond shoes are longing to stray. Now, I have to figure out my budget and apply for a visa, and listen quizzically as Dinah Washington bellows, “…and airline tickets to romantic places, and still my heart has wings. These foolish things remind me of you…”
There, sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the grind couldn’t touch me. I was home safe, in nature, where we all belong.
Now, I have to sit back and answer the passport control lady’s racist questions and stand quietly as the TSA agent frisks me or risk being put in a chokehold. But most importantly, I have to take a deep breath and reevaluate how much I want to travel, rather than indulge my impulse to leave for a week of two, because, regardless of the financial blowback, logistics take the charm out of the whole experience. Like sex, travel is best when it’s spontaneous. Every time you plan it, a tiny part of you dies a slow, agonizing death.
There is a reason cities, least of all Cairo, are not planned with landscape in mind: because they’re centers of industry. They were not designed to contain our dreams, but rather to stifle them – because who will pick up the slack when we all turn away from the grind? Which explains my fascination with my walks by Lake Geneva. There, sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the grind couldn’t touch me. I was home safe, in nature, where we all belong. I was finally in a situation where I could observe life instead of living it and be mindful of the natural order of things. I had a front row seat to the miracle that is life – observing trees growing, leaves dying, the sun setting and rising. I was reminded that everything has its own life cycle – start and end and it goes through change, but, in a way, it’s very harmonious and there’s no disruption that’s brought to this flow.
via Sara Ahmed
I was watching things around me smoothly change and evolve without obstinacy, and it made me realize that there's no infighting in nature, just things passing along very serenely. I was reminded of how simple life can be by observing it from afar. It calms me down and makes me accept things I’m not likely to accept if I’m sat in my room, on my computer, reading horrible news.
Looking back at that moment, I realize that I’m not alone. My plight has more to do with the world I was reared in than it does my passport. It’s a time not a space conundrum. It’s about the myth of adulthood we were fed as children and my generation’s inability to live up to it – through no fault of our own.
I was a grown woman lamenting time’s forward progression instead of joining the march of progress because I was living in an unnatural realm where I was constantly rushed to ‘grow up’, and not just by checking the ‘grownup’ boxes – dream job (check!), great boyfriend (check!), graduate degree before turning 27 (CHECK!). Yet, I still felt incomplete, like an unfinished painting. If my walks by Lake Geneva taught me anything, it is that I’ll be, one day, in due time.
For the first time in my life, I could see my stunted growth reflected in my generation’s story. I could finally stop beating myself up for everything I was made to pursue but never really wanted. I found my place in the narrative and, for now, I’m less than a footnote and that’s okay, because maybe 30 is really the new 20!