of malaise, magic, and meaning making.
In the corner of my room, there is a pile of water bottles and soda cans and cardboard and scraps of paper. Eventually I’ll drag all of these things down to the bins in the dining hall, which they may or may not just empty into the regular trash anyway.
In the dining hall, hardly anybody sits alone. Sometimes, when I’m working on class readings over breakfast, someone I barely know will sit down next to me and attempt to strike up conversation. I smile politely and continue reading, while others join them. Suddenly I am surrounded by strangers who talk through me, gesticulating over my chocolate croissant. I am trapped both socially and physically. I miss New York.
On a Thursday night, one of the floors where men are not allowed hosts a party. Women who are usually covered in abayas or sheilas display short dresses and long tresses and dance to Azaelia Banks’ “212.” The room is full of sweat and giggles—pure, feminine glee.
The lobby doors stick, so that when someone is in a rush and opens the door too far, it stays open. At least four staff people stand around these doors regularly and still they stay open, leeching air conditioning into the 95 degree heat. On my way past, I yank them closed.
At a floor event, conversation naturally evolves into a discussion of peak oil and the relative benefits and detriments of various alternative energies. Nobody is bored. I am at home.
At the local grocery store, Al Safa, we hunt for apple sauce for a sick friend for 30 minutes. For reference, here it is called “apple mus.”
I teach my friend Noha the meaning of “every hour on the hour” and “fly kicks.” She always puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable, which is incredibly endearing. She teaches me “shukran,” which means thank you, and “habib(t)i,” which means something like sweetheart or darling. When she holds the door for me, I say “shukran habibti,” and she smiles wide.
The woman who comes to clean my bathroom is tiny and very polite. She disappears into my bathtub while I work in the morning, and after a while her coworker shouts “Grace!” I respond “yes?!” because that is my name. As it turns out, this is the name of the woman in my bathtub too. We all laugh about it, and now every Thursday I say “hello Grace” and “thank you Grace,” and I feel just a little less guilty about not scrubbing my own toilet.
Walking home from a shisha café, Usama and Peter discuss how many men it takes to slaughter various animals. I tell them I’ve never seen an animal slaughtered. “You Americans,” Peter says, “so removed from your food.”
Before I fall asleep at night, I look out the window and see starless midnight blue—exactly what I saw in New York at bedtime.