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A Heady Mix

I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighbourhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For the first time since I was in India, I just heard sirens from my abode. This is a wonderful, homey sound – the sound of sirens rushing down the road amid the honking and yelling and barking. I can hear it all - a heady mix of city and life and living – right from the street below to my balcony and into my hotel room at the Conrad Cairo.

I need not even turn on the television for background noise since I have this symphony of spontaneous song serendipitously floating into my space. In fact, today I even turned down the volume on the television so I could enjoy the din of the city below me.

I have the window open to air out the stale smoke smell of my room on the “Non-smoking” floor of the hotel. The curtains billow, flirtatiously – as if to say “catch me if you can” with their come-hither gauze. I find it a bit ironic, after traveling to both India and now Egypt, that I was so upset that Dubai is not the “third world” experience I imagined I would have this year. I obsessed over packing my own toilet paper for the trip to India as well as ruminating over the lack of hand soap in public places last December. Only one day into my trip to Cairo, I have mulled over and grumbled about the way in which cigarette smoke has inundated every public space and the very fabric of the hotel rooms – really no escape for your common non-smoker and especially your former smoker. So, if I had gone to one of the other countries, one of my closer matches – would I have gotten over or gotten used to the filthier aspects of said city the way I am forcing myself to get over and get used to the sterility of Dubai’s?

The fa├žade of the foreign, not foreign, city in which I live, of cleanliness and modernity is a bit too much for even the pickiest of germaphobes. I moved from Raleigh to Durham in North Carolina in order to live some place that was more "real" - gritty. Durham was more "third world" than Dubai - at least my side of Dubai - in fact many of the residents even considered themselves part of the fourth world in Durham, as gang members typically do. I do not necessarily feel that I need to reside near gang members in order to feel at home, but to experience the life and the living that occurs on the porches, in the streets, in the stores and in the the community to me is a luxury.

So when I left Mumbai and was surprisingly excited to return to Dubai, referring to it as "Home Sweet Dubai," and most importantly "home," I knew I had had a shift in perspective. When I arrived at the airport in Dubai and saw for the first time cleaning solution that individuals can apply themselves to the toilet seats, I laughed bemusedly. The city I had left with scorn I returned to with appreciation. I knew that as long as I remained in Al Barsha, I would never experience the true overseas, real-city-life experience I crave. But I also referred to the place with "my bathroom," "my bedroom," "my classroom" and "my drive to work" as home. I was satisfied with the transition.

I am now in Cairo. I love the noise, I love the crowds and I absolutely love the architecture. The tall windows with their shutters and the balconies on nearly every residential building take me to other cities on the water - New Orleans, Venice and many other places I have yet to visit. In my many searches for homes since my adult life began, I am continuously looking for the old and the unique in design and I want nothing to do with the new and the modern. Cairo satisfies this craving.

I am, however, reassured by the fact that next year I will move to Bur Dubai, the older part of the city. There I am at least assured to live among the people of the world and the heady mix of the city. It won't be Cairo, and it won't be Mumbai. It won't be Nairobi and it won't be Lusaka. But it will be home, and that's a rare thing for me to come by.

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