Read an Excerpt
Stop Being Mean to Yourself
Hurry," I told the taxi driver as we wound our way through the village of Giza.
He turned around to look at me. "Hurry?" he said, imitating the word with an Arabic accent. Obviously he didn't understand.
"Yes, hurry. Fast," I said, making a quick, sweeping gesture with my hand.
"Oh." He nodded in recognition. "Quickly!"
It had been a strange experience, spending the last three weeks in countries where few people spoke English and my best French was a "Bon soir, Pierre" that sounded as if I was parroting a cheap learn-to-speak-French tape. I turned around for a final look at the pyramids. Lit for the night shows, they glowed mystically on the desert skyline. I sank down into the seat and closed my eyes. Now, my driver was dutifully hurrying. I couldn't look. Cairo is a city with sixteen million people crammed into an area that would house a quarter of a million people in the United States. Riding in a car there is comparable to driving the 405 freeway in Los Angeles with no marked lanes and no highway patrol officers with quotas.
Many events and situations no longer surprise us, but we still don't become used to them. That's how I felt about the driving in the Middle East. It no longer surprised me, but I wasn't used to it. I felt relieved when we pulled into the parking lot at the Cairo Airport. I was a step closer to home. Just as I had felt convinced I was to come on this trip, despite the State Department's travel advisory warning against it, I was now equally convinced it was time to leave. I had felt almost panicky as I checked out of myhotel, then hailed a cab to the village of Giza to say good-bye to Essam before heading for the airport.
I had planned to stay here for several more weeks. I could tell Essam felt disappointed that I was leaving so soon. But he had respected my decision to leave, voicing no objections and asking only a few questions. Upon my arrival in Cairo, he had taught me the meaning of the Arabic phrase "Insha'a Allah."
He explained it to me one evening when I told his sister and aunt good-bye and they said they felt saddened to see me leave.
"Don't worry," I said. "I will be back soon. I promise."
"Don't say that," Essam corrected me. "Never say 'I will do this.' Instead say, 'I will do this Insha'a Allah.'"
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"If God wills it," he said.
My time in the Middle East had been a dream vacationwell, more like a codependent's dream vacation. But the same vortex that had propelled me here had taken me each place I needed to go to research this book. By now, researching the book had come
to mean researching a part of me and my life that needed to heal. There were times it felt more like an initiation than research.
It's a strange thing when we're in the middle of
a vortex. Outside a vortex, we watch and judge. Sometimes we don't even see or feel it. But the closer we get, the more we're drawn into it. Its power begins pulling on us as we get closer and closer. Then we're sucked into the middle of the experience with a chaotic rush of emotions until at the very center we find pure, absolute peacealthough if we're conscious, we know we're in a vortex. We know we're in the midst of something, learning something. Then, suddenly, it's time to leave. The energy weakens. We begin to get thrust outpushed outbut it's still necessary to pass through the whirling centrifugal force. Sometimes it spits us out; sometimes we extricate ourselves. But it's always a centrifugal, almost magnetic, push and pull. It's vortex energy. It's the way the forces of the universe work latelyDorothy showed us this a long time ago in The Wizard of Oz.
Vortexes don't just destroy, the way tornadoes sometimes do. Vortexes don't just suck us down under, like eddies in the sea. They heal, energize, teach, empower, cleanse, enlighten, and transpose. They lift us up and set us down in a new place. They bring new energy in. They discharge the old. We're never the same again after a vortex experience.
That's the way this trip had been. Each place the vortex had set me downfrom the museums in Paris, to the casbah in Rabat, to the terrorist-infested hills of Algiershad held a lesson, an important one. Each experience I'd been through had brought me closer to the missing piece I was searching for: stumbling, my thigh-high stockings bunched around my ankles, through the crowded Cairo souk at two in the morning; riding a donkey through the village of Giza; galloping on horseback across the desert to meditate inside a pyramid.
And just as elephants tummy-rumble, calling to each other about the mysteries of life, the people I met and learned from had called to meFateh and Nazil in Algiers, the women "locked in the box" in Cairo, and my new friend, Essam.
But now the vortex was spitting me out. It was time to go.
As we made our way to the airport, a quiet thought haunted me. It's not over yet. I ignored it. I wanted out; I wanted to go home.
I reached the entrance to the airport. At the Cairo terminal, the first security check is at the door. I put my luggage on the conveyor belt and walked into
the building. Three young men scurried to pull my suitcases off the belt. I thanked them. Each young man then stood with his hand out, waiting for a gratuity. I shoved a few Egyptian pounds in each palm, loaded my luggage on a cart, and started pushing the cart across the terminal. A fourth man rushed up to me.
"Me too," he said, grabbing money out of my pocket.
"Stop that. You're disgusting," I screamed under my breath, the way we scream when we're out in public and we don't want anyone to know we're screaming. "You didn't even touch my luggage. Now get away."