Monday, March 07, 2005


Dave and Michael in Los Padres
Dave and Michael in Los Padres, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I woke up early this morning knowing that I had to compose a business letter to be revised by my advisors for my airline. Not a nice way to start a day. Taking a bit of dry dog food out to the porch to distract the canine members of the household, I stepped out into a world of pearl mists clinging to the palms and a semi-warm stillness that took me back to schoolday mornings of my childhood in Ojai. Now a resort destination an hour or so north of Los Angeles, when I was growing up there, Ojai was still primarily an agricultural valley tucked into the mountains behind Ventura. With a massive population of perhaps five thousand in the entire valley, it was quintessentially rural. Massive oak trees grew in the middle of roads with impunity and the asphalt was lined with broad dirt shoulders for the equestrian traffic. My neighbours here have trouble imagining a place with so few people since the "villages" of Sakkara and Abu Sir contain a population of close to fifty thousand. There's rural and then there's another type of rural.

One thing that I've never talked about has been the fact that when you live on the other side of earth practically from family, you miss them. My brothers and half sister live in California, ten time zones away. One of my brothers still lives in the Ojai Valley and whenever I've been able to visit there, I'm struck by the beauty of the place that I grew up in. A rift valley surrounded by mountains covered with sage, cactus and the fragrance of the desert foliage, Ojai has preserved the wonderful oak trees, orange orchards, and parks of my childhood. There are times when I'm tempted to go home, but I don't think that it would work, and not just for financial reasons even though they are very strong. The home that my parents bought in Ojai in the early 60's for USD 18 thousand is still standing, a small California redwood bungalow, but it would sell for over half a million today.

One of the issues that I had to face when I chose to stay on in Egypt after Diaa's death was that of choosing to live so far away from my family (as opposed to his) and the friends that I'd accumulated over the years in Canada and the US. But the reality of the situation was such that even had I gone back to our home in Toronto, I would have been separated from my brothers and sisters. One of my sisters lives near Chicago, making her the closest geographically to Toronto, but the rest of my siblings live in California, which isn't close to Toronto however you measure it. In fact, I've been separated from my family a great deal since I moved from Vancouver on the west coast of Canada to Ontario in the middle of the country.

In Egypt it's almost impossible to separate from one's family in any serious way without leaving the country. While Egypt looks large enough on a map, the actuality of a narrow river valley in the Sahara desert means that there are 70 million people crammed into less space that there is in California, I would imagine. Irrigation and desert reclamation have expanded the inhabited area of the country in recent years, but most people still live within twenty kilometers of their siblings and parents. It isn't unusual for a countryside family to set aside a plot of land on which they build a house that ends up being the base of an apartment building with floors for the children and grandchildren. When you don't have the room to build out, you have to build up.

That doesn't get around the fact that I do miss my brothers and sisters. My parents have been dead for some years now as has my father's sister, my only relative on his side of the family. My mother's family in the UK is closer to me in Egypt than they were when I lived in North America, and they've found Egypt to be a lovely vacation destination, so I see them off and on. I have a fantasy that when I win the lottery or something I will invite my siblings over for a Nile cruise together. I've never been on one and I'm sort of saving the experience.

The younger generation, my nieces and nephews, have been to Egypt to visit. My brother Dave and his wife came with their children in the 90's for Christmas one year. We had a wonderful time together and Diaa took time off work to be in Luxor and Aswan with us. Dave's daughter Jennifer joined us for a summer when she was fifteen and needed a break from a destructive social scene in California, and then she came again on graduating from high school. Diaa and I paid for each of the kids to visit Egypt after graduation as our graduation present to them. Her brother Nick came one summer and my sister Sue's son JP was here the same summer as Jennifer and then again the following summer to work with Diaa briefly while on break from college. Both Jenn and JP are parents themselves now, so I guess I'd better start saving for the next batch of graduation presents.

I've been a wanderer for most of my life, moving from southern Calfornia to the San Francisco area and then on north to Vancouver. From there my path took me east to Toronto and further east to Egypt. There is always the bittersweet pang of leaving loved ones goodbye to be combined with the anticipation of new faces to be met. There will always be mornings in Sharm when the salt tang of the sea brings me back to the dawns that came every spring in Vancouver when you knew that winter was over because all of the streets smelled as though the sea had washed through them during the night. There will be nights when the velvet softness of a breeze off the desert brings back other desert nights from my childhood so far away. Like small jewels with sharp edges that can also cut, I tuck these moments away to treasure.

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