Thursday, June 09, 2005

Laying Ghosts

Five years ago, June 9 was a Friday. The school year was just about over, my son was home from his first year of college, and the children were sleeping late in the house in Maadi. Five years ago I decided to slip out of the house early to go take my favourite mare for a ramble in the countryside since the desert was going to be much too hot, so I got up early, stopped by Greco for a latte, and drove out to Morad's place where my horses were stabled then. Some of my neighbours had gone out into the desert (yes, mad dogs and horsemen!), and were meeting for breakfast at Morad's aunt and uncle's house down the road, so I let myself be distracted by good company and laughter over a leisurely breakfast with friends. A country breakfast of fava beans, boiled eggs, salty white cheese, bread and coffee can last for hours and by the time we'd finished the sun was fairly high in the sky. Magdy and Janie had people drop by and the morning moved on into afternoon as we sat in the shade in their garden gossiping, chatting over the news of the day, planning equestrian events, and doing autopsies on events just past.

Around 3 pm I decided that if I was going to ride, I'd better get busy and I walked back to the stables at Morad's to get Dory ready to go. We started out alone and headed north along the canal in the shade of the huge eucalyptus trees that line the road. The dusty road was almost empty at that hour on a Friday. Friday is the main day off work for people in Egypt, and 3 pm is prime siesta time on a Friday afternoon. Dory and I had the world to ourselves. The kingfishers divebombed fish in the canal while the cattle egrets and the white egrets looked up at us on the trail occasionally as they gulped down minnows and frogs from the banks. The crows only grumbled quietly in the tops of the eucalyptus trees. Even the birds were taking time off. Sleepy village dogs couldn't be bothered to jump up from their shady spots to bark at us and just barely lifted their heads to growl.

In the heat I chose a path that kept us in as much shade as possible so we worked our way north along the canal to the asphalt road that goes from Shubramint to the desert dump for Giza. Even on a Friday the enormous trucks were moving in and out of the desert carrying the waste for the city out and bringing sand and gravel for construction in. The intersection (if it can really be called that) of this road and the Mansoureya Road is always crowded with vehicles and workers. Some enterprising individuals have set up tea shops along the road under the trees where drivers can stop for a cup of the black baladi tea and something to eat while they stretch their legs out on the woven mats that mark the area of the "shop". Some horses would find making their way through the trucks and cars intimidating, but Dory doesn't find anything intimidating anymore. She does her own looking at oncoming traffic and responds to the slightest touch from me to adjust her path around these enormous vehicles trailing streams of sand and dust.

Just before we arrived at the intersection, I placed a call to Germany. My husband had flown his Beechcraft C90 there the day before and was planning on returning that evening. I caught him as he was on the tarmac in Augsberg doing a final check on the plane before taking off. We chatted, the usual sorts of things said between people who have been partners for about 25 years, and then I asked when he expected to arrive in Cairo. I was to have the driver go to the airport at about 11 pm unless I got a phone call from Greece where he might stop to refuel if necessary. Yes sir. No problem and have a good flight. Be careful. He'd been working much too hard lately and I was happy to hear that he'd slept late that morning. Dory and I negotiated the traffic as I finished my call to Germany, and we headed on down another shady dirt road on our rather indirect way home.

That was the last time I spoke to the man that I loved more than my own life. The next morning I was a widow facing challenges that I could not even imagine at the time and my children had lost their guide, their protector, their tyrant, their father. The greyness that I remember of the morning of June 10 might not have been there in reality but it was so much there in my being that the shreds of it linger today. Five years ago I had no idea that I would be plunged into financial and corporate chaos so horrific that I wouldn't even have a moment to consider what his loss meant to me as a woman. Five years later the chaos is down to mere confusion at times, I'm out of the corporate quagmire for the most part, and I've had time to consider my loss in the peace of my home in the country. That isn't really such a blessing, I guess.

I woke this morning to the calling of the parrots and the crowing of the rooster who shares the flight cages with his little harem of hens. One of the dogs was barking at someone passing by on his way to the fields and the sparrows were arguing as usual outside my bedroom window. I shoved a dog off my foot and recognised the enormous crater where my heart used to be, and I realised that I have to come to terms with my life alone. I've had to make a trade for the quiet of the country that I love for the excitement of never knowing what fascinating plan that man would come up with next. My life now is much calmer, less stressful, but I miss the electricity, I miss the confusion, I miss the anticipation that was so much a part of it before. I miss waking up next to a large warm body that isn't a Great Dane pup who has sneaked onto the bed at night.

My life goes on. Friends have asked after me and pointed out that I've been alone for five years. Isn't it enough? Have I thought of moving on, of finding a new partner? I've realised over the past few weeks as I've reflected on this anniversary that I haven't been ready for anyone new in my life. I still haven't said good-bye. When I finished my phone call to Germany, I said "I'll see you soon." I think I've been expecting to all this time, but I know now that it isn't going to happen. Yes, I need to finally say good-bye. I need to let it go and perhaps the empty place inside will fill again. But it is so terribly hard to say.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mad Dogs and California Women

Jog Dogs
Jog Dogs, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Tracy is a runner. I'm not. I let my horses do the running for me, and while she loves riding as well, she also really loves getting down and gritty and running in the sand herself. As she's correctly pointed out, it gives her a great perspective on what the horses go through working in the desert. When we went out to take some photos of her running in the desert, the dogs thought that this was a great idea and piled into the car to be able to go out and join her.

Koheila the Dalmation naturally ran with Tracy. Koheila, despite the fact that she has only three functional legs and one of the others tends to lose track of those on the lefthand side of her body, is also a runner. Morgana, the Dane puppy chased along for a while and then sat down to watch with Terra and Geo, who are both old enough at seven and six years old to know better than wear themselves out in the sun. Misu, one of my smallest Rat Terriers, thinks that the sun sets on Koheila's head and had to chase after The Spotted One and Tracy. Frankly, they were all exhausted in fairly short order in the heat of the summer desert.

Cross country running is not one of the things that my neighbours really understand. Most of them don't own cars, so if they go anywhere it's either on foot, by donkey, or hitchhiking. Most of them walk miles daily just going to their fields and returning, not to mention the walking involved in the work in the fields. Why anyone would go out and run in the desert is an utter mystery to them. But they give Tracy the privacy that she loves for her running, and this is the important point.

Most days Tracy slips a pair of long jogging pants on over her shorts and heads for the mango grove that gives us access to the desert. When she is sufficiently out in the desert to be alone, she slips off the long pants to run the hills along the wadi that heads into the plateau. After she's sufficiently run out, she heads back to the mango grove and, after putting the long pants back on, she comes home. Sometimes the kids on the road by the canal race her back to our gate and she plays along with them good naturedly.

Her behaviour is most decidedly odd by my neighbours' standards, but she's never been bothered by anyone. I suspect that in part this is because she is very respectful of their ideas in never going out on the street in her running shorts. I also suspect that there is a real respect for the kind of lunatic who can run up and down hills of sand in the desert for an hours or so. I know that the fact that she is a foreigner gives her a certain amount of leeway that an Egyptian might not be given, but for whatever reason her insanity is tolerated, we appreciate it.

I remember a male runner who used to train in the desert in our area. We would see him working his way across the dunes and up and down the hills between Sakkara Country Club and Abu Sir. He was always regarded with a certain mixture of humour and awe. No one ever bothered him and his solitary task was always respected. Maybe that's a lesson to us that if we attempt something sufficiently difficult and bizarre, the rest of the world will be content to sit back and watch in wonder.