Tuesday, January 7, 2014

cairo calling, the decision

Vigilant armored tank "protecting" the entrance of Maadi Degla,
which was my home for two months. When I first noticed them,
my friend commented that I should feel safe...hmmm...

August-September, 2013. A month before there was a second revolution in Egypt.

It’s all over CNN, BBC, international newspapers. Despite my efforts at being disconnected from most media—I am guilty of falling into the category of person who generally opt out from being negatively influenced by the news by ignoring it altogether—I cannot ignore the current events. My family and friends won’t let me alone. My students in Osaka are worried too. “Are you still going to Egypt?” they all ask repeatedly. And I don’t have the answer.

At this point, I cannot reach my friend Iman Elsherbiny, who invited me to teach her classes from end of October to December while she herself studies with our teacher Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. I worry about her—that is, until I see her beautiful sun-drenched photos in Mar Salam on Instagram.

Still, my mother is unrelenting in her nagging. My friend James, who was supposed to teach with me the first two weeks in Egypt, bows out gracefully. One student in Japan is quick to point out news items, he actually shows me the newspaper. When Iman and I finally talk, I cannot help but ask her, considering the political instability, should we continue with plans or cancel my trip?

I will always remember what Iman, known as Amy to her friends in Egypt, said to me over that Skype conversation in September. She had just arrived in Cairo after teaching in the South for some of the summer. “Babe, I think everything is going to be ok. But I can’t guarantee that things won’t happen. What you can be sure of is this: that, if you come, you will have friends and family here who will take care of you.” (I may be paraphrasing a little here…)

Something about what Amy said, how she said it really helped me settle into the idea of going. It felt right to go to Egypt, to teach in Cairo. The world, I knew, particularly in that region, would be whirling, that was a given. But I also felt that there was this great potential for connection.

What Amy said that day could not have been more spot on. When I left Egypt three days ago, saying goodbye to students and to the people I’d gotten to know (some over a couple of months, some over a couple of days even) was indeed like saying goodbye to dear family and friends.

What I recognize now is this: I’d been falling in love—only with dozens of people at the same time! Through them, through the heart connections we’d made, through the beautiful interactions, the solid sharings, my relationship with Egypt itself has deepened into a great and complicated love. 

And like many great love stories, Egypt doesn’t feel like it has a beginning for me, and it doesn’t feel like it has an end. I can only say that my love for it will always be there, that there will always be some part of me that will long for it, that will be pulled by its energy, that will crave for its musicality, for its warmth, and for its spontaneity.   

There's an Egyptian proverb that says once you drink from the Nile you are destined to return to Cairo. I have a feeling that this is true, that while I have drunk my fill, my thirst for it will not abate. 


I have so wanted to write about my time in Cairo and more recently in Aswan and in Sinai.

Some of my observations have come through the yoga practice. This I’ve shared on my work site kazcastilloyoga.com. But the personal stuff, I haven’t really touched on…

It’s been an intense two and a half months. I can only say that living it has been more important than writing it, though am feeling the need now to put it down, to process in this crazy public way that I do. I hope there will be time now to slowly, slowly write, to shine a lovely light on the place and its people, and to personally understand the gift, the experience it has given me. 

So, even though I am in now in Barcelona (I arrived here three days ago and will start teaching tomorrow), more on Cairo to come...