Home is Where your Shell Is

It happened yesterday. You know, that feeling you get when you come home after a long visit somewhere else, and you walk in the door and all your plants and furniture and polished floors say ‘welcome.’ Of course, they don’t actually speak (except for the plants) but they do give off this hummmmmm of warmth and safety and rosy glowing homeyness. You are in your place, and it knows you.

I’d had a long day at work, my longest of the week. A full day’s teaching load, then a meeting after work, and then nearly an hour bus ride home. I was tired but happy because my students love me and I love them, and we have such a good time even though I had to mete out two detentions today. And it was Wednesday, which means tomorrow is Thursday and that is the Egyptian version of Friday. So I had that tomorrow-is-Friday feeling when I walked in the door of my apartment.

My housekeeper had been in and not only did the place appear neat and clean, it smelled nice. I went into the kitchen and cooked my easiest nutritious meal–rice, red lentils, and peas slathered with plenty of butter and lemon. I settled on the newly covered couch, and put my feet up on the coffee table where rest my blue handblown glass vase and white smooth rocks from Orkney. I rarely turn on the television because most of the channels are in Arabic. But I turned on France24 and listened to the English language news (why does France24 broadcast in English?) while I sat, eating, suffused in the warmth of perfect contentment.

It amazed me just a bit. This is Cairo where last night I had to wait a few minutes for a fight between a police officer, a young street urchin, and another man to subside before I could get to my door. After the screaming and crying and yelling and breaking bottles and some chasing petered out, I passed the crowding gawkers and entered my courtyard.

I live in a city where both donkeys and BMWs ride over potholed streets so dirty that walking on them is a health hazard. Poverty and opulence are neighbors, and the contrast is enough to make you cry.

And yet, when I walked into my apartment my heart said home.

It wasn’t until later that I noticed that my housekeeper, whose wife has semi-adopted me, had left a gift on the table, right next to the cactus he gave me last week and the blue egg-shaped stone I had picked up in Zamalek. A beautiful white, pearlescent clam shell with the top and bottom halves fitted together.

I gasped and then giggled in delight. It is my life. A shiny, imperfect, irregularly shaped cocoon that surrounds in protective defense, the warm, restful inner chamber of my soul.

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