Nostalgic Lozah

Dear Vancouver,

 I know I haven’t visited in a while, but I just wanted to let you know that I really miss you. I miss the wonderfulChildhoodInVan childhood and memories you’ve given me. I miss trees that are so gigantic you can walk around inside them. I miss being surrounded by nature wherever you go. I miss my brother, who is blessed to still live such a beautiful city. I miss walking to Trafalgar School with him everyday. God, I miss Trafalgar! Daycare was my favourite time of day. I used to play “house” with a boy named Doug. I think he was Asian…can’t quite remember though. I wonder what Doug is up to these days. The boy who sat next to me in class was called Dean. One day he farted out loud in the middle of class and we laughed about it for weeks. I miss Natalie and Madame Vinet, my class teachers.

 I remember my first best friend, Emily. We became friends during day care. Emily and I shared an obsession with Michael Jackson and we used to co-choreograph dance routines to his songs – especially Black & White. Emily, Destry, and I were like the three musketeers. I recently found them both through facebook (God bless), it was nice to see their faces again. I remember when Stephen – a kid in my class – fell off the fireman’s pole we had on our school playground; he broke his leg. During the winter, the school would give us sleds (or maybe they were just sleeping bags that we pretended were sleds) and we’d all slide down the snowy hills behind our school. In the summer, we climbed trees. I miss the house I grew up in! We had a great backyard where I turned on the sprinklers during the summer and created my own private little water-park, and where I made snowmen and snow angels in the winter. I learned to ride my bike in the alleys behind my house. I learned to roller-skate and then rollerblade in the alleys behind my house. I learned how to have good old fashioned fun in the alleys behind my house.

Strangely, I miss how it felt to come to Egypt in the summer. Back then, Egypt was to me that sunny place where I did a lot of swimming and running around during the summer – mainly associated with Maraqya and the other Sahel resorts existing at the time. I hated Cairo. Absolutely hated it. It was ugly, hot, crowded, noisy, uncomfortable and generally unpleasant. It’s strange to think back about how much I hated Cairo as a child and how much I love it now – despite the fact that Cairo has only become uglier, hotter, more crowded and polluted, and more uncomfortable than one could ever imagine tolerating. And yet, as Egyptians, we adapt, we learn new ways, new techniques, and we are a sentimental and emotional people. We become attached to houses that are no longer homes, and we refuse to abandon spaces that have long shunned us.

 Nostalgia really is one of the funnier human emotions – its propensity for breeding selective memory is at once comforting and misleading when one is finally reunited with the object of one’s longing. The longing builds up and turns into almost euphoria on the plane ride back, and then you step off the plane and it hits you like a ton of bricks. Then there’s depression and asking yourself why the hell you came back. And then you just get used to it; the unusual becomes normal and everything gels and makes sense again. Strange how nostalgia is such a universal experience that a Latin American author writing in the 80s about the Caribbean can describe these exact sentiments so well:

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. But when he stood at the railing of the ship and saw the white promontory of the colonial district again, the motionless buzzards on the roofs, the washing of the poor hung out to dry on the balconies, only then did he understand to what extent he had been an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia.

…A short while later…he could no longer endure the unmerciful reality that came pouring in through the window. The ocean looked like ashes, the old palaces of the marquises were about to succumb to a proliferation of beggars and it was impossible to discern the ardent scent of jasmine behind the vapours of death from the open sewers. Everything seemed smaller to him than when he left, poorer and sadder…he found nothing that seemed worthy of his nostalgia. …he did not have the heart to live another day in his rubble-strewn homeland.

But in time the affection of his family…mitigated the bitterness of his first impression. Little by little he grew accustomed to the sultry heat of October, to the excessive odours, to the hasty judgment of his friends, to the “we’ll see tomorrow, Doctor, don’t worry”, and at last he gave in to the spell of habit. It did not take him long to invent an easy justification for his surrender.

This was his world, he said to himself, the sad, oppressive world that God had provided for him, and he was responsible to it.

 (from Gabriel Garcia Marguez, Love in the Time of Cholera, p.106.)


A lot of the time it sounds like he’s describing Cairo, especially the part about the excessive odours (I’m only half-kidding); and “we’ll see tomorrow, don’t worry” should really become the official mantra of Egyptian culture (just add an inshallah and you’d be describing Egypt). Has anyone every noticed how Egyptians love to use inshallah as an answer to any question? Taxi, can you take me to Heliopolis? Inshallah. Hi, are you the person in charge here? Inshallah. Is your name Abbas? Inshallah. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Inshallah.

 I’m sure that just as Cairo always seems glorious and majestic and quirky while I’m in Vancouver, Vancouver can’t be as wonderful as it seems now as I’m reminiscing about it in Cairo. Still, if I close my eyes and concentrate hard, sometimes I can actually feel like I’m walking down Robson Street sipping a frappucino on my way to meet a friend on the stairs in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery – and I just feel content.

 Sigh…Will I ever visit Vancouver again? I guess, being Egyptian, all I can say is…Inshallah.


May 12, 2009 - Posted by | Personal

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