Friday, April 03, 2020

Timelessness Isn't So Great

What day is it anyway? Without the Friday/Saturday family crowds, without the Tuesday clinics, it's too easy to forget where we are in the week. Currently the schedule for people living in Egypt is that we have a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am every day and then on Friday and Saturday any place one might want to visit is going to be closed and there are no public transport services. There is a rumor that the 7 pm curfew is going to be changed to 3 pm next week and then a possible 100% lockdown soon after. Maybe the idea has been to ease the population into this. Egyptians, like most people, are not keen on being told what they can and cannot do.

Christina and her girls discovered a gang of rats living under the aviary where we have poultry.

I've been keeping the guys who work here up to date on the news of how things are progressing because not knowing is much worse than knowing when things are not so great. I'm wondering how people are rationalising a complete lockdown in farming communities that are supplying food for people who are living in locked down cities. As well, much of Egypt depends on recyclers who are in personal contact with rubbish that may well be contaminated. The ramifications of this pandemic are mind-boggling. Still, we are living in relative comfort compared to so many.

The guys helped out on the day that everyone was making life hard for the farm rats.

The last time I spent this much time at home was in 2011, during the revolution. There was a saying that "this revolution will be tweeted" and I guess that this is going to be the same way.

Dahab schmoozing with a chick.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Isolation Updates

Like many governments all over the world, the Egyptians have been told to stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary to leave their  homes, schools have been closed and there is a 7 pm to 6 pm curfew every day. In addition public transport has been stopped on Friday and Saturday. In a country with so many people living in rural areas where there is no public transport, this poses some interesting issues.

How close is too close now?

For many in the rural areas, walking is the main means of transport unless one owns a donkey cart or something similar. But I have noticed some greater sense of social distance. I have a car at the farm and if I need milk here, someone has to go to buy it. The tetrapacks of milk are at a grocery store about 8 km away. There is no delivery. But there are not crowds entering and leaving the shop, and as I am parked outside (I am the chauffeur) people are not standing on top of each other. We buy our fruits and vegetables from a roadside stand that I have been using for almost 20 years. I can stand an easy 2 meters away and be given the items that I need. I ask the girl if anyone in the neighbourhood is sick and she says, "No. But people here are staying away from the city." This means that the virus will likely come more slowly to us. She also gives me her phone number and says that since she has to be closed over Friday and Saturday, if I need anything to call her and she will provide it from her home if I can send someone. I think that we will be ok.

Most of the "villages", which are simply small to medium cities without services, have water issues and in our area larger farms and homes have installed water filters that are attached to an outside wall to provide clean water to poorer neighbours. These water stations can be quite crowded at times. Since I'm hardly ever out of the farm I don't know how this is working out. Our water comes from our wells on the farm and the drinking water is filtered in the kitchen. Tests have showed that the water is clean but highly mineralised, which is really rough on electric kettles and such. That is the main reason for our filter. But we are self sufficient for water at least.

Here at the farm, the guys have work to do spread out over 3 feddans (acres) so again social distancing is being observed. My friend and her daughters are wandering around with their own projects or helping the guys, so they are also out of doors a lot. If anyone is inside much, it is me since keeping up with the news these days is almost a full time job. I'm spending a lot of time catching up with friends abroad, with events in the neighbourhood, with friends who are all going slowly mad in their homes and apartments in the cities. With a 7 pm curfew, the guys are here all day, go  home to their families, have a bite to eat, and everyone goes to bed pretty early. On the first night of the curfew, the police did arrive to shut down a couple of weddings in the area, and  no one has heard any more. Weddings out here in the reef are generally held out of doors so that all the neighbours can "enjoy" the music that is played at maximum decibels. There are some silver linings.

I have more time available to observe the social interactions of the dog pack lately. We lost our alpha male, Finn, who formed our pack some 15 years ago, a few months back. He had taken some time to train JC, our wolfdog, and Calypso, a baladi who looks exactly like a Cane Corso and is my self-appointed personal assistant, to take over his job, but nevertheless actually doing the job has been a pretty steep learning curve for them. Finn generally just sort of cruised around watching and giving very subtle orders to the others. He did have to get a bit louder with the 6 month to 1 year age group, the teenagers who need to learn that there really are limits, since puppies under 6 months old are treated quite kindly. JC is only about 3 and Calypso is only 4 years old, so they are working on volume control when disciplining the teenagers. When we have school trips here, one of the most common questions about the dogs has always been, "Who is the boss?" and why. Is it size? In that case Bran our doofus Dane would be boss, but that is unlikely ever to  happen. Is it strength? That could be a real toss-up. I suspect that it is a combination of emotional intelligence, communications skills, and organisational intelligence. I could see Finn spending more time with JC and Calypso in the last months of his life, so it was clear to me that he was working at teaching them something, although I wasn't sure of what it was.

How am I doing? Well that depends. I am not bored. Not in the least. The planning and logistics work continues apace. We are replacing the crazy old yellow house in what we call Narieda's garden with a new house of two floors that will each have three bedrooms and bathrooms, a big living area for meetings or gatherings and an enormous kitchen that can be used for teaching, cooking, teaching cooking, first aid classes or whatever. So I have workmen pouring concrete and doing all that housebuilding stuff at the other end of the farm. The guys are working on the gardens and green house as well as the horses, goats, and sheep, since this is the time of year when ordinarily we would be making at least one trip to the plant fair in Orman Gardens... but of course those trips aren't  happening. I'm corresponding with a farrier in either Switzerland or India depending on his schedule and a vet professor in Italy. Bernard is currently in India but is quite isolated (he sent photos to prove it) and Sergio is laying low in Italy with success so far.

They were here earlier this winter and we are hoping to be able to set up a school for farriers and for veterinary paramedics if the stars align themselves in the coming year with the help of Giza University. And of course in my free time I'm supposed to be writing my book. I don't know whether the blog qualifies on cheating at that or preparation for it.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A New Meaning To Mindfulness

My morning started with a good friend of mine who lives with some pets in a house in a rural area and, when there are no viral shut downs, she's a teacher in an international school. Oddly enough, she and some other friends of mine, many of them connected with schools but not all, came down with a really nasty flu, for lack of better identification, that involved high fever, aching limbs, a dry cough, and no real respiratory symptoms...but this was in November/December before COVID-19 had even been identified as far as we know. For my friends a penny dropped with the symptom description, but as far as anyone knows, this virus hadn't been even identified in China at that point. Egypt does have a huge number of Chinese companies and workers, but there is no way that I know of to identify what this was in hindsight. And just for the record, all of them survived the experience or I would never have heard of it. But recently she had gone to another part of Cairo where she walked into a shop to buy a bagel (most other things were closed) which she ate while watching the Nile. Later a couple of her friends were very upset with her for doing this and she was wondering where the anger was coming from. I suggested that the vitriol that sometimes is spilling out into statements of what someone should or shouldn't be doing in this time of concern over disease is probably based in fear.

All of the people that I know, not just this group that got sick before, are sheltering in place, trying to avoid contact and possible contagion. For some people this carries a lot of emotional baggage and I do know people who are spending much of their days in a fog of anxiety and fear. I know people who have dogs in the city who have to go for walks furing which they encounter people who demand to know how they can be endangering others in this fashion, and I know dogs that have been dumped by people who can't deal with that. Two of my dogs recently brought home a lovely spayed, flea and tick-treated female dog who had been hanging around my front gate for a month. She is definitely a family dog down on her luck and no one identified her on the page for lost animals that I run here on Facebook. She's quite happy to have a home. I have horses who live in a 3/4 feddan (acre) paddock where they can run around, and dogs who have all of 3 feddans (acres) to run in, so I don't have to venture off my farm due to animal need pressures.

I can hole up in my home, I can wander around and work in the gardens...for me this shut down is just fine, other than the fact that my animals still need to eat and I still need to pay for their food and my staff's salaries. I am one of the fortunate ones and I will never forget this fact. And for now I'm reading things online that are very thought provoking. Susan Sontag's Disease as a Metaphor  was published in the New York Review of Books in 1978 and is primarily concerned with how we use disease to define our personal and political world, as in "Communism is the exasperation of the bureaucratic cancer that has always wasted humanity. A German cancer, a product of the characteristic German preparationism. Every pedantic preparation is anti-human….".  However, what struck me as I was reading it was the automatic assumption that unless something from our environment like a bacteria or a virus attacks our bodies, we are somehow clean or healthy by default. In fact, research in science since she wrote this has indicated that every human body is a delicate balancing act involving billions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, as well our own tissues, and much of health is defined by keeping all of these things in balance. This is an entirely different world view. Yes, a virus or bacteria or fungus that throws off this balance can cause havoc as we are seeing with COVID-19, and some of the "risk factors" mentioned with regards to who is getting very ill as opposed to who is just sick, are in fact imbalances among the normal inhabitants of the human body.

Another article from the Atlantic that appeared in my timeline is more recent.  The Pattern That Epidemics Always Follow is one of the most rational articles that I've read regarding the current situation in the world. Karl Taro Greenfeld was the editor of Time Asia and was based in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in 2002. This was an outbreak that was quite similar to the current problem. It was also a product of the wet markets for wild animals but it was spread quite differently, which meant that the "solution" to the problem was different as well. Where Sontag was looking at social and political systems that have been described as medical problems, Greenfeld is much more pragmatic and is discussing how people react to epidemics.  

"Which brings us to the last stage of epidemic grief: rational response. After denial, panic, and fear, we can finally get down to the business of basic sanitary measures and infection protocols. At Time Asia, we urged better hygiene. We reminded anyone with a fever to stay home. We looked on as the medical establishment formalized the clinical response, determined diagnostic criteria, and isolated the virus."

Greenfeld reminds us that epidemics are inherently terrifying for people because they are larger than people. It is only recently that we have identified the tiny culprits, the bacterias, viruses, molds, and fungi, that instigate the epidemic, but still we are frightened because the imbalance in our families, communities and social structure is enormous and debilitating. When we take a deep breath and look at the data from the World Health Organisation we will see that there are 189 countries reporting cases of COVID-19, there are 267,013 reported cases of it worldwide, and that there have been 11,201 confirmed deaths worldwide. If we look at the numbers of deaths from road accidents alone in Egypt as reported by the same organisation we will see that there are generally around 12,ooo each year with the figure rising slowly but surely. There were more deaths from traffic accidents in Egypt last year than there have been deaths all over the world from COVID-19.

It is easy to say that this comparison is unfair. The figure for traffic deaths is for an entire year and we are looking at a few months for COVID. This is true. But  again, this is only for one country. What if we looked at the worldwide figure for traffic deaths in a year? This is currently 1.3 million people. Cars and driving, especially when combined with alcohol, are still vastly more endangering. Will COVID-19 turn out to be worse? It is possible, but I don't think that any medical person would predict this.

What is so disconcerting to all of us is the sudden imbalance in the availability of medical assistance when many people need the services but hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed by a rush of demand for their help, the lack of transparency on the parts of many governments who refuse to acknowledge that any problem even exists (which adds a great deal to the general stress and anxiety), and the fear that each of us could be a target for some tiny thing that might make us ill in varying degrees...or that we might pass on to our loved ones. So it's time to take a deep breath and look at all of this rationally. 

What do we do in this situation? COVID is spread by contact with a virus in fluids that can remain on surfaces or contact us directly. Staying as far apart as possible is a good idea. Isolating ourselves if we feel at all unwell or if the risks to us if we become sick are much higher than for other people is also a good idea. It isn't possible for some people to stay home from work, starting with medical staff, but also for people who have to transport our food from fields to markets, for people who work in the sources of our food such as markets and shops, for people who work in banks or other services, for the people who are in police forces or ambulance personnel , for the people who collect the refuse, for the people who work in gas stations, for farmers, for transport drivers (cabs, buses, metros and so on), for people who simply cannot afford not to work for fear that their families will have nothing to eat, for many more people than we have even thought about for many years. This is a good time to look at our links to our communities and consider how those links can teach us to care for each other.

May everyone remain well.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Living our own Decamerons

When I was about ten years old or so I found a copy of Rats, Lice, and History in our local library. My mother had already made it clear that I was allowed to read anything at all that I wanted, so I checked it out and entered a fascination with the changes that epidemics can bring to society that continues to this day. In the process of reading about the medical history, the economic and political history, and all the updates to our knowledge in the past 60 years, I also read the Decameron, which was written by Boccaccio almost 500 years ago, although that came rather later. Essentially, the book is a series of short stories told by survivors of the Black Death in Italy, and the stories run the gamut to the extent that they are not entirely appropriate for ten year olds. Summaries of some of the Decameron tales 

Now every morning I open my computer to read the current stories from all over the world trying to cope with the situation of a virus run amok. It seems to me that there are a couple of generations of people who have had a lot of consistency in their environments, politics, and health. I'm one of those infamous Boomers, born in 1949 not long after World War II. While I doubt that there was any time at all while I was young in the US when the country was not involved in a war somewhere, there was little sense of danger or urgency for most of my childhood. We were fighting people in places like Korea, Vietnam and so on, and life continued happily. This was something of a golden time for many Americans when mothers could stay home to raise kids if they wanted because it was financially possible. I was probably part of the last group of young people to be able to work their way through college. I was part of the grand polio vaccination and remember some of  my friends' parents suffered with paralysis and had to spend time in iron lungs when I was in secondary school. But I don't recall there being a problem ever that involved closing down schools, shops, and life in general in such a scale as is happening now.

When the issue of self-isolation came up, I wasn't concerned. After all, I live out of an urban center. I'm not in the habit of spending time in the city or in crowds. Why would I be endangered? My children had other ideas and very quickly took me to task with lectures on why I need to stay on the farm as much as possible and why the farm has to be closed to guests. Reading the news over the past week has convinced me that my children were right. I don't believe that anyone outside of areas of central and west Africa have any experience with what the world is seeing now. Articles on the problems with ebola simply do not have the same impact as seeing Italy empty its streets.

What remains to be seen are the after effects in the world's economy and social structure. Will everything go back to where we all were at the beginning of November 2019? Will we see that a new path must be taken. The speed at which skies cleared of pollution has been heartening. We saw the same in the 18 days of 2011, but it didn't take any time at all for the streets to become even more crowded and the air to become even more polluted than it was before. Perhaps if there is a way to work through this virus and come out of it with something of a healthier environment and social consciousness, it will all be worth it. But I believe that for now we are mainly gathering and saving stories to tell.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, March 20, 2020

Starting Over

I began blogging in March 2003 because it seemed to be a good idea. I wasn't quite sure why it was such a good idea, but it surely appeared to be. I wanted to give friends of mine who were living everywhere other than Egypt, an idea about why I loved living here despite its eccentricities, oddities, and peculiarities. I continued writing regularly about my life in general in Egypt for the next about eight years, while I moved out of my home in Maadi in January 2004, built my farm, and became a fixture in my new rural neighbourhood.  I was quite settled out here about 45 minutes from Maadi when the revolution showed up in 2011 and my children, who were both living abroad called and insisted that I stop my blog at once. I wasn't writing about anything political, but why take any chances when everything in Egypt seemed to be up in the air? Instead, I began posting news articles to Facebook, the products of my research into just what was happening in Egypt and the Middle East. Gradually, I realised that the things that were happening in my part of the world were often mirrored in events elsewhere, for example the way that the Trump/Clinton in the US was almost a rerun of the Morsi/Shafiq election in Egypt bordered on frightening. As things got more complex, I moved the news service to another page on Facebook, The Peoples' News Group, which is a page where news items from all over the world can be shared. 

Much of my research was now public, political, and fairly unemotional, but I downloaded all of my blog entries and began reading them, which led to more personal and emotional thought. I had been writing my blog imagining myself describing and explaining life in Egypt to foreign friends, but I began writing it in the spring just before I decided to rent out our family home in Cairo, to sell our long unused-by-us family home in Toronto, and to buy land out near Abu Sir in the neighbourhood where I had kept my horses over 10 years, and which had proved to be a  haven during my years in Cairo. My move, my farm-building, my establishment of my own personal life as opposed to previous lives as "the wife of", or "the mother of" was a complex and subtle process. For the first six months that I lived out here, I would drive into Maadi at least four times a week, until one day I realised that the only thing that happened on most visits was that I would spend money that I really didn't need to spend. At this epiphany, my finances got a real break and I began spending more time working with my horses and gardens. I began a fairly successful equestrian tourism business that was built on a different model from most riding stables here. We were more National Geographic on horseback, taking riders from all over the world through farms and villages on horseback while talking with them about the environment, social issues, history, antiquities and so on. We invited friends and visitors to lunch after riding or just for fun and I remembered how much I love cooking and designing dishes that were economical, locally sourced and produced, and highly nutritious. In short, I was discovering who I was.

The abrupt involvement of all of Egypt in the questions of change, how to enable it,  how to thwart it, and just what on earth it really was brought many of us to a rather abrupt halt in 2011. We all endured at least four years of confusion, indecision, stagnation and all sorts of other quite unpleasant experiences. I saw friends of all ages leave Egypt in the hopes of finding better futures elsewhere. I watched other friends tentatively come home to try a new idea at home, offered suggestions, and often hugs and condolences when things didn't work out as anticipated. We gave up on equestrian tourism when a combination of increasingly stringent security measures in the deserts took many of our favourite desert trails and the decreasing interest in Cairo as a tourist destination saw our work lessen. We changed the farm's focus to education and service, offering field trips to schools, a venue for crafts, gardening, and a program to assist the local farmers with health care for their animals. Our work has grown exponentially, sort of like the spread of the virus that currently keeps me here on the farm maintaining a safe social distance.

These are odd times everywhere. The corona virus has governments at least encouraging people to stay home to avoid infection, and at the strongest authorizing complete lockdowns of cities and rural areas. However, you can’t really lock down agriculture because someone must do it so that everyone can eat. My farm isn’t one of the main providers of food for anyone but us, but still animals must be fed, plants cared for, and therefore my staff are being careful of everything they do but they are still coming in to work. At 71 with a history of bronchitis, everyone is telling me to stay on the farm away from the public, and as far as I can do this I will do so. It isn’t really a hardship since I’d rather be on the farm than anywhere else.

We had a massive rainstorm on Thursday and Friday just before they began muttering about having people stay home. A lot of us were expecting the announcement since we’d been watching the events in China, Italy and other places. But sadly the news in Egypt has been de-emphasizing the virus, which in turn undermines orders to avoid other people. You really can’t have people cajoled into feeling safe and at the same time get them to avoid social and physical interaction because it carries a danger. It’s totally impossible. I’ve gone for the warnings and explanations for my staff and a discussion of symptoms and how to handle them. The rainstorm’s main effect on the farm was to turn paddocks into quagmires of prime manure that had dried nicely and was about to be collected for renewing the earth in the gardens. That’s easy to do when it is dry, fluffy, and easy to spread. It isn’t quite so easy to do when it is thick, sticky and wet, but some of the lawns do have a nice layer of brown goo on them. Ordinarily, spreading manure around has to take into account the sensibilities of clients, but since there are no clients these days, we can just slather it on.

These are odd times everywhere. The corona virus has governments at least encouraging people to stay home to avoid infection, and at the strongest authorizing complete lockdowns of cities and rural areas. However, you can’t really lock down agriculture because someone must do it so that everyone can eat. My farm isn’t one of the main providers of food for anyone but us, but still animals must be fed, plants cared for, and therefore my staff are being careful of everything they do but they are still coming in to work. At 71 with a history of bronchitis, everyone is telling me to stay on the farm away from the public, and as far as I can do this I will do so. It isn’t really a hardship since I’d rather be on the farm than anywhere else.

We had a massive rainstorm on Thursday and Friday just before they began muttering about having people stay home. A lot of us were expecting the announcement since we’d been watching the events in China, Italy and other places. But sadly the news in Egypt has been de-emphasizing the virus, which in turn undermines orders to avoid other people. You really can’t have people cajoled into feeling safe and at the same time get them to avoid social and physical interaction because it carries a danger. It’s totally impossible. I’ve gone for the warnings and explanations for my staff and a discussion of symptoms and how to handle them. The rainstorm’s main effect on the farm was to turn paddocks into quagmires of prime manure that had dried nicely and was about to be collected for renewing the earth in the gardens. That’s easy to do when it is dry, fluffy, and easy to spread. It isn’t quite so easy to do when it is thick, sticky and wet, but some of the lawns do have a nice layer of brown goo on them. Ordinarily, spreading manure around has to take into account the sensibilities of clients, but since there are no clients these days, we can just slather it on.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What Will I Be When I Grow Up?

Next month I am going to be 70 years old. I read that with a bit of shock because it truly doesn't seem quite real. I was just over 50 when my husband died and my world changed forever. Plenty of people at the time (mostly people who really didn't know me at all) told me not to worry, that I was "young and could still remarry". I just looked at them with disbelief because I was fairly certain that was NOT going to happen, although what was going to happen was not at all clear at the time. What did happen was that I had to deal with some pretty serious economic and psychological chaos, that I decided after about 4 years that I'd spent enough time on that and I bought the land for my farm, and just before that I began this blog. A year or so ago, I downloaded my blog posts, all of them... over about eight years worth, and I read them. It was an insight into my own life.

When I started writing the blog one of the sentences in the short bio I provided for it was something to the effect that I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometime between 2003 and 2011, that sentence disappeared. In reading the blog posts, I tried to figure out when, why, and how I removed it. I honestly have no idea at all. But I now realise that my blog chronicled my transition from one life to a totally new one. At some point I grew up and I became something, and for months I puzzled over just what that was. Prior to 2003 I was a wife and mother, a teacher, a writer, a lot of things. I was the chief logistics officer of the Gabbani family and after my husband died, I was the chief mess cleaner-upper. Realising that the stress of the clean up process was doing nothing to either make my current life more pleasant, nor to extend my life, I decided to go back to my personal roots of small town/village living and I created the farm. Almost immediately, I began seeing the health benefits. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels on tests went back to my normal low levels. I slept better and had no need for coffee to keep myself going. A cup of tea in the morning and I was good. But that didn't answer the question of what had I grown up to be.

From the time I was young I absolutely knew that I wanted to raise some children. I wanted to be a mother. Being something of an academic over-achiever, I was told that since I obviously had the smarts to be a doctor, lawyer, or fill-in-the-blank, I had some kind of obligation to do so. Being told this only irritated me, and I steadfastly bounced from possible career or study to another equally interesting.  Eventually, I did finish a university degree, and then another one, only to come to the conclusion before finishing a third one that my heart wasn't really in it. When my dean of graduate studies in the psychology department at the University of Waterloo asked me what I thought I might do next in my exit interview for leaving with my MA instead of a PhD, I told him that I might start a Mexican restaurant in Toronto. But I didn't do that. I did marry and have two marvelous kids, eventually about eight years on I moved to Egypt with my husband...and then I was just as multi-focussed as ever.

Handling a household with four different cultures in its makeup (my husband was Sudanese/Egyptian and I was American/Brit) was sort of normal in Canada, but we never really went back to Canada, and Egyptians, regardless of their wildly heterogenous cultural and genetic heritage, value homogeneity. There was a bit of a balancing act for all of us to manage. I taught English to French-speaking school students, did some writing during my first few years in Egypt, then I did supply teaching at the American school in Maadi for some years while my children were attending there, got into writing and editing for a magazine, but for the most part, logistics still took up the majority of my time. My husband was almost constantly traveling, so it was up to me to be the steady point in my kids' lives, and to make sure that the moving parts didn't slice off anyone's legs as our family members moved in and out of our mutual physical space. I recall a period when I was in my early 40's of wondering what the hell I was doing with my life and why I had needed a graduate degree in social psychology to do it. After beating myself around the head and shoulders with these questions for a few months, I finally decided that however lunatic my planning had been, I did have responsibilities that needed to be handled and that my life overall wasn't a terrible one, so I'd best just get on with it. And I did.

When the crash came, it was a big one. My kids were in their late teens when their father died, one in university in the US and the other about to join him. When they both were away at college, it was just me and the pack of lawyers, bankers, and businessmen who were disemboweling the businesses that had been my husband's life work. I looked on from a spot of relative safety and knew that there was no way in hell that I wanted to drop myself into that insanity, although I had no doubts about my ability to manage much of it. It is a very troubling situation to look at work that you know could could do better than a lot of other people who are doing it, but to want to walk away from it because it isn't your work to do and you feel that it would damage you to do it. It rather reminded me of how I felt at graduating from high school and being told about all the wonderful careers that I could have that I really didn't want. Very disconcerting.

Quite abruptly, I began writing my blog, the first writing I'd done since my husband had died, and I decided to move from Maadi to a rural area near Abu Sir. It was my offsprings' turn to be disconcerted. I rented out the family home and came to an area where I knew a lot of people and had friends living in the area, which somewhat reassured them, but what the hell was I doing building a farm and living in the back of beyond? My kids had only known their somewhat odd but urban mother. We all moved past the shock, my life began taking on a form of its own without my late  husband or children defining it in any way, and it was sometime in this period when I decided that I had grown up. But what was I? Again, like about 15 years previously, I spent some months worrying about how to answer this question, and again as during my previous time of fretting, I guess that I sort of decided that this question was too hard to answer. I got on with the building of the farm, exploring avenues for income, becoming proficient in equestrian tourism, and enjoying the fact that my job was what I wanted to do even if I had to pay to do it. Not bad.

About seven years down the road, the revolution took place in Egypt, another outrageously abrupt event that I had absolutely no intention of missing even though I was just a spectator from the safety of my home in the country. I had never been someone who speculated about politics before, but I suddenly noticed that while I might not have been interested in politics, politics were certainly affecting my life and the lives of people that I loved and respected. My life took on a new facet as I turned my attention to trying to comprehend what the crazy forces at work in the Middle East and North Africa had in store for my home, myself and all the people around me, rural and urban alike. While eventually it would seem that the revolution changed little politically, it did change the way that we all looked at our lives, our country, and ourselves. My farm community had to relinquish tourism and find other outlets for ourselves. There was a lot of learning, studying, trying things out, and the farm has evolved even further. My staff, most of them with me for the past ten years or so, have changed, learned new skills and taken on new roles in our working community.

So here I am at almost seventy, and what have I grown up to be? I've become me. It truly is only very recently that I have realised that I don't need a label to slap on my forehead to let people know who or what I am. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up because somehow I always assumed that it would be some kind of classification, something outside of me. But it simply isn't. I am me and I am very happy to exist as that. Perhaps much of the philosophical  advice we pick up in books and conversations points to that conclusion. I currently feel that our job in our lives is to perfect being ourselves, and the things that we build, invent, create, and pass on are just byproducts of that process. My husband left a legacy in infrastructure for the grain industry in Egypt, but he most certainly was not that legacy. I hope to have a legacy of sorts when I move on to wherever it is that we move, but I most assuredly will not merely be that legacy. It will be a byproduct of my being me. If all we have to perfect is our me-ness, life is so much simpler.

copyright 2019 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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