Monday, November 05, 2018

Holding Lifelines

I've taken to waking up about 6:30 am each morning. A series of puppies who joined the pack and needed to go out and felt that they needed to play at an ungodly hour instigated the change but it has become habit now. I can't say that I like the call of Koko, the Amazon parrot, who begins his commentary on the day as the sun is rising. He sounds like a bad door hinge for much of his vocalisations. Sometimes I wonder if we could just teach him to whistle or do something socially more pleasing. On the other hand, I imagine that it all would mean something to another Amazon if we had one around.

The real attraction to the hour, however, is the quiet at the farm. Almost everyone is still asleep at home now, there is no one asking for my attention, other than the latest young dog, and I have the time to have a train of thought rather than the odd boxcar or caboose. I can write, plan the next batch of seed harvests, consider an exercise regime for our aging horse herd, and try not to think about an image of a world hurtling to disaster that assaults my mind every time I connect to the sources of the news that I use. We are all everywhere under this assault if we have the time and energy to connect to the world outside of our small domains, but sometimes I almost envy the villagers around me who don't have newspapers, who don't watch television news (and if they do, it is generally governmentally sponsored and designed not to rock any boats), and whose primary concerns are at the level of village politics, crops, and children. They are largely unwitting passengers on this terror-inducing ride that we all are sharing. They are, however, aware of how events in the country around them are affecting their small pockets of concern, such as the rising costs of electricity and fuels, the strange ways that the prices of foods increase while the amount of money they get for their crops does not increase, and the difficulties in getting medications for children and animals. Not being satisfied with the small picture of my neighbourhood, I know that I will connect to try to understand what the pattern of movement in the world in general is. This is what I began doing in 2011 when I could see that what was happening in Egypt was also happening in Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain, generally with equally unsatisfying outcomes although each has been different.

Sometimes, however, I try to have a day in my domain, leaving the world beyond the farm to careen as it will, whether I am aware of it or not. Yesterday we had no visitors booked at the farm, and there was time to catch up on some left over chores. We had harvested most of our karkade before the weekend and I had spent some time peeling the thick petals of the seed pods off to dry for tea, while saving the pods to dry to supply us with the next year's crop. This is peaceful work, albeit colourful, since the dark wine red petals stain my hands a burgundy hue as I work. I asked one of the guys to collect the rest of the pods from plants that had been growing along the driveway so that I could finish the job and hope that the purple thumbs would go away soon. I had forgotten that one of my young women friends was coming by to interrupt my morning collection of depressing news items for my timeline, so her arrival was very welcome. I also got a phone call from a Toronto number, which was a young woman visiting Cairo who called to see if she could come out to go horseback riding. I have no idea at all how she'd heard of us, but I suggested that she come, and I ended up with a couple of women to chat with during the day.

We sat outside at the big wooden table speaking of photography projects, Egyptology, what to visit in Cairo and why, canine pack behaviour, lost loves, friendship, the search for guidance and clues in navigating our lives...the usual sorts of things I suppose. Not at all usual, I suppose in one way. I have never been very good at inconsequential chatter, so the kind of topics that allow our hopes and fears to bounce off a shell don't often come up. It was our visitor's birthday and she had decided that downtown Cairo being rather intimidating, she wanted to spend it in a more natural, calming situation and found herself at the farm. Cairo is intimidating. It is fast, crowded, nonlinear, deep, profound, with layer upon layer of history both modern and incredibly ancient...layers that push up from under sidewalks for the casual visitor to stub one's toe on. As Cairenes (ex-Cairene in my case) we advised deciding on places to explore that would create ripples in questions in herself and encourage her journey. As it happens, she told us that she had worked in IT for years and was finding herself attracted for some reason the writings of Jungian psychologists.

Our visitor went out for a ride with my staff for a couple of hours, my friend and I continued our conversation about the twists and turns of life during a three month period when she had been traveling, and I found myself with an image in my head that was becoming clearer and stronger. I have often spoken with friends about a web of old women who, like spiders, feel the tugs and jerks of events and concerns in our planet, but who are not there to prey on victims but there to keep the web steady so that the younger folk can repair connections, and strengthen the threads. I can list many of these women and my heart blesses them daily that they simply have the strength and health to exist, while I notice younger women who are working their ways from the center to the edges where eventually they will take the places of those of us who will go on. I don't know why the image is of women; it simply is. I'm not going to question that although when I have talked about my image with a few other women, they do understand. I know men who are supportive of the web, and perhaps they have a web of their own that I am not a party to. I'm comfortable with that.

Part of the clarification of the image came just last week when a former yoga teacher of mine, Debra, appeared suddenly in Cairo accompanying her husband on a trip here. We hadn't seen each other for about fifteen years as she and her family had moved to South America in a work transfer for her husband. We haven't really been in touch, but she has been in my thoughts almost constantly, since she was the instigator, the catalyst, for enormous change in my life and in the lives of a number of my friends who were also her students. We studied yoga with her, but we also learned how to hold and protect our souls while changing our lives to be more expressive of who we all were. We didn't have much time together during her visit, but, to use an utterly mundane image, I felt like a battery that had been popped into a socket to recharge. She told me that she had been dreaming about me and felt a real need to see me in the flesh and see what I was doing. As it happened she and her husband showed up at the farm just in time for lunch and I waved my hand over the dishes proclaiming that "this is what I am doing much of the time", preparing and serving food to sustain and strengthen the body and soul hopefully. We both had a good laugh because my claim was both true and too simple and we both knew it.

Perhaps my image of crones holding the lifelines of the world is just a way of reassuring myself in frightening times. I'm not sure. I doubt that I will ever be sure in my lifetime. Our visitor from Toronto mentioned that one Jungian analyst from Canada who recently died had been saying that a pendulum has been swinging in the universe from a masculine to a feminine axis and that much of the misogyny, violence against women, and the attempts to roll back rights for women are stemming from the reactions to this change in orientation. Perhaps this is true. I don't know. But at the depths of my soul I can feel the need for balance among all the aspects of the world, human and nonhuman, and we will continue to try to protect this balance in my pocket of the world.

copyright 2018 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Putting Some Things Back Together

For about the past eight years, I have been posting news on Facebook, partly at the request of the offspring who worry about my well-being. There are all sorts of well-being, however, and I have found that I miss my blog. It never was about politics (although these days politics sadly infuse almost all aspects of our lives everywhere...and not in very gracious ways.) and I will continue that policy. But I needed to come back to Living In Egypt.

So where was I before I was so rudely interrupted? I was quite a bit younger, that much I know. I will be 70 this spring and I find it little short of amazing. I've outlived both of my parents and the inside me consistently finds the physical me annoying. I have to keep reminding myself that I can no longer do everything in the world, or even at the farm, myself. A recent visit to my mechanic (aka the orthopedic surgeon who has replaced my knees, revamped my shoulders, and put a plate in my right leg when I broke it with a stupid misstep) revealed that while my left shoulder has a better range of movement than my right, it also only has one muscle holding it together instead of the two gnarly ones in my right shoulder. What that meant was a stern warning to keep my hands no higher than my shoulders if possible, and this combined with the numbness in my right foot following the fall, has put paid to my horseback riding. Riding has been so much a part of my life and sanity that it is excruciating to read what I just wrote. I haven't even been able to write it because writing it made it real. I still have the horses who have a home with me until they move on to wherever all the creatures are waiting for me, but I can't ride. I can't ride. The pain of that sentence is something that can simply not be explained to anyone who hasn't had to give up their soul activity.

Riding to me was never about learning to do the perfect 20 meter circle, or about jumping a fence taller than I was, or about earning a blue ribbon in a show. It was about freedom and companionship. A horse can go just about anywhere a person on foot can, and they are much smarter than to waste their time walking around malls and shops. My earliest memories of heaven are the trail rides that the Balboa Park Stables (now long gone) used to reward the lesson kids with every couple of weeks. A string of horses ambling along under the eucalyptus trees with kids... I know that the stables were on their way out at the time. A freeway had cut through much of the trail area for the stables already. But my family moved from San Diego to Ojai where one was greeted by a large yellow "Yield To Horses" sign on the way into town. Here there were horses everywhere and most of the roads in the early 60's had wide dirt shoulders for riders. I had truly found heaven.

Riding is not just a pastime, however, it is a lifestyle and one that can be rather unforgiving, especially if you own your own horse. In a sense, I was lucky not to own one as a youngster. But nevertheless, the demands of university and the costs of riding in the US and Canada meant that from the end of high school I might have ridden about twenty times in as many years until I moved to Egypt. I was so busy with learning, marrying, living, having children and doing all of those normal things that I essentially forgot about riding, but everything came back when my husband came home one day in Alexandria to announce that I was now the owner of a young Arab mare. I'm sure he had no idea what a Pandora's box he opened in 1990. Ten years later when he died I had five horses to care for.

Within four years I had about fifteen horses as friends who were moving begged me to take horses from them to keep them from going to pyramids' stables, and I started an equestrian tourism operation here based on the concept of leisurely travel through the Egyptian countryside and desert rather than a frenzied dash near the Giza pyramids. I was exploring trails on horseback when I wasn't riding with clients and I decided that I needed to be living out in the same area where my horses were living and working. I bought the land to begin designing and building my farm while renting a small home and garden close by. It was a relief not to commute from Maadi, but there was more than enough work to keep me busy. There were many days when I was in the saddle between four and six hours a day with hours of supervising builders in what time remained. The revolution and subsequent drop in tourism tossed us into a new path of educating first my staff and later others. Now most of our work is in education in many aspects, but the horses are still here although others are riding them.

It's been a hard transition to make. The broken leg involved almost four months without being allowed to walk much, but the broken heart has taken much longer. I've avoided the horses, I realise now. My lovely grey gelding reminded me just the other day of this when I helped walk him with a young student from one of the schools visiting us. While I was telling her how Doobie and I had been partners for about 20 years, I caught his eye on me as if saying, "And where have you been lately?" It's time to put things back together.

copyright 2018 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani