nostalgia

A love letter to Colombia, Part IV

eternally nostalgic
P1000240

Previously:  Return | Firsts | Memory | Solitude | Nostalgia | Graffiti | Needs | Narratives | Trauma | A love letter to Columbia, Part I | A love letter to Columbia, Part II

This was a summer of questions. I lived in them. I learned how to design and conduct qualitative research piece-by-piece.Inquiry became my home in Colombia. It was a summer of cómo and por qué?  I struggled with shifting from my previously service-based roles in conflict-affected areas to being here in an academic capacity, with asking questions without being able to immediate use the answers to implement an initiative that responds to needs. I asked myself what the service of academia is, and whether it is immediate enough and close enough to the source of the need for me to feel that it can be a true service. I watched my communities shift and the often-solitary-occasionally-lonely rhythms of academic fieldwork give way to a group of thinkers who would proofread my every word, assess the effectiveness and ethics of my every interview question, and give my Spanish translations their correct subjunctive forms. I will miss spelling my name on the phone. In Colombia, I am Rossan, as Roxanne is too untenable. I will miss the workers at Auros, my neighborhood copy-scan-fax store. They, too, are part of the routines of my research, and I can tell they are perplexed by the formalities of the process. I credit them with having taught me how to say 'stapler' in Spanish and with having helped assemble my every consent form.

And then I was silent. When the questions died down and the music quietened, I found myself sitting alone on the Cartagena city walls. Colombia can be uncomfortable with solitude, and Cartagena is a city that demands affection. It is a country of two and many, one in which you can always squeeze in an extra seat at the table or an extra person in the airport line to say goodbye. This summer has blurred the lines between solitude and loneliness, raised the cost of distance from loved ones, and lowered the barrier to entry into becoming a loved one in the first place. This country is full of loved ones, my loved ones. It is full of love.

I have felt small this summer. It is the kind of smallness I crave, the kind that emanates from being humbled and cannot be corrected by high heels. I have felt lighter too. I have laughed more easily, stumbled more confidently, made mistakes less shyly. When I'm abroad and alone, unshielded by familiarity or company, I say yes more. I dare more, especially after midnight when the words fall out of my mouth without fear of the Spanish subjunctive.

***

I sometimes feel about Colombia like a photographer who only wishes to capture her lover's dreamier side, all the while aware that another side exists, having pushed up her fingers right up against the underbelly. I cannot definitively reconcile my memories of Colombia, those of almonds and rainbows, with the memories Colombians have narrated to me. I know they exist side-by-side, almost unfolding in parallel universes. I understand that the differences in the hues of these narratives partly emerge out of my biased eyes: those of a Colombia-loving foreigner whose multiple layers of privilege circumvent many glass ceilings and shield her from some of the challenges of life and work here. I do not wish my fondness for this land to render me blind to its injustices or to push the many conflicts that continue to unfold away from the capital to the periphery of my own vision.

At the same time, I am hopeful -- not out of ignorance or bias, but by choice. I choose to be hopeful because I have met so many Colombians who are, who believe in Colombia, who have dedicated their life to peace. During one of my interviews, a human rights defender explained to me: "We push and ask questions, even when it feels as though the mountain is not moving. Why do we do it? Because every day when I get out of bed to do this work, when I see more of us committing to it, I can feel the space for impunity shrinking. That is enough, even if I can't see it. I believe it is there. I believe it is shrinking. When you believe, you have no choice but to keep working, to keep pushing."

P1010175

By the time you read these words, Roxanne has returned to Boston, which she (also) calls home. Her field notes from Colombia may have wrapped up, but her adventures will continue, in life and on this page.

A love letter to Colombia, Part III

eternally nostalgic
IMG_20130815_171851

Previously:  Return | Firsts | Memory | Solitude | Nostalgia | Graffiti | Needs | Narratives | Trauma | A love letter to Columbia, Part I | A love letter to Columbia, Part II

I worry about Bogotá's rigidity, about the -isms that come up in every interview: machismo, classismo. Most are born out of certain expectations that are etched into the lives of the few -- expectations of where to live, where to eat, where to go out. Not complying with them, or flagrantly defying them, is met with palpable indignation. Can empathy grow in sheltered spaces? Of what service can narrowness be, other than protecting the interests and lifestyles of the few?

And then I meet the people who break the mould. Last Friday, I was the only person with done-up nails and high heels in a room full of anthropologists. I have come to cherish both the irony and the awkwardness of this, surrounded by Colombians in jeans and Converse who were there to patiently walk me through the process of grave exhumations. Some of the most transformative moments of my research were the ones whose profundity extinguished all room for artifice. In many ways, these are the stories that cannot be told. They are not my stories, or this is not the medium for them, or it is not yet the time to tell them. Even in their untellability, I realize that allowing these narratives to cross my path continues to fuel my faith in humanity.

The responsibilities of storytelling were on my mind this summer, in terms of the responsibilities of the storyteller to the people to whom the story belongs and to the reader. I have watched my own role constantly shift, as the different capacities I have occupied in conflict-affected areas compete for attention: conflict manager, gender-based violence specialist, academic, researcher, listener, writer. Storyteller. It is an ever-evolving contract between multiple storytellers, and it requires finding my own place in the universe of intersecting narratives.

***

I will carry the contrasts in my heart, with appreciation for moments that fracture your expectations, for the moments in which appearance deviates from reality. There was the time I was followed by a policeman for five blocks near the Presidential Palace, only to learn that he wanted to find out if this señorita was married and, if not, would she go out with him? Or the time a whole group of policemen in Cali gave up their seats at the tienda for two sleepy gringas looking for coffee before the city had had the chance to wake up. Or the numerous instances I have walked past the sports bar, Locos por el Futbol, only to hear "A Total Eclipse of the Heart" or another 1990's sappy favorite bellowing from the speakers -- with more than one man singing along. Or that other time during my solo meal in Usaquén, when the table of brunching men behind me spent twenty minutes discussing baby showers. There are moments that insert cracks into an image such that you can no longer say "all of these kinds of people are _______" in Colombia. Colombia makes you fill in the blank, and question the 'all.' It requires nuance and texture.

And yet, the often heart-warming contrasts cannot allow me to forget about the shadow economy of fear, in which boundaries are overstepped or invisibilized. Many of my interviewees use 'invisibilize' as an active verb: to render invisible. 'To (forcibly) disappear' has been another active verb that has punctuated the narrative. The hierarchies of privilege that define other aspects of life here also determine fear, risk, and danger -- with human rights defenders often finding themselves at the bottom. I have been conscious of how my own layers of privilege color my experience and provide an extra layer of protection in most instances: I am a foreign, Western-educated woman who is affiliated with a US university and is not fully embedded in the realities of advocacy in Colombia. I am also conscious of how the human rights defenders I have interviewed rarely use the language of fear directly. They speak of 'risks', 'danger', 'threats', but rarely fear itself. I seek to learn from their example as I sift through trauma, both vicarious and my own. In the moments of human connection, of asking the questions and recording the answers, of finding beauty, of experiencing learning or vulnerability or hope, I, too, feel less afraid.

Next: Conclusions from biased eyes

A love letter to Colombia, Part II

Previously:  Return | Firsts | Memory | Solitude | Nostalgia | Graffiti | Needs | Narratives | Trauma | A love letter to Columbia, Part I  

I will miss the jasmine tree, whose scent transports me back to Jerusalem and to every home I have loved.

My favorite moments under the jasmine tree unfold around 7.30 PM each night, when the security guards of the K-9 teams allow the bomb-sniffing puppies to run around the park. For ten minutes, if you are lucky, you can catch dogs sniffing each others' butts and wagging their tail as a sign of affection, not violence. There are more such dogs now than during my last time in Colombia, or maybe I am more attuned to their presence. This realization makes me cherish the whimsical butt-sniffing even more. When the security guards notice me smiling, they will sometimes oblige and give their German shepherds a cuddle. I know they are performing for me, but in so doing, they unite my Colombian universes: a single gesture blends a reminder of the conflict with unbridled affection.

The affection is unavoidable here. Desire is one of Colombia's many currencies. This is a country that touches and stares and whispers 'belleza' as you walk down the street. This is a country of princesas, and preciocas, and amorcitas. All these epithets are gendered in ways I cannot bear to ignore and, in the same breath, I cannot be cynical about calling someone mi vida. My life. When my assessment of the culture of affection becomes too rosy for my Colombian friends, they remind me of how fleeting and broken love can be here. They remind me of the men who are perros -- literally, dogs -- and of the men who cheat and of the women who cheat and of the ones who don't call and of the ones who call you princesa for two weeks before they disappear into thin air. They speak of rigid expectations, often crushed, that define the reality of a challenging love, that render longevity in romance difficult. On a rosy day, I will remind them that these quandaries of life and love are not confined to this land.

On a keenly aware day, I, too, feel choked by the rigid conceptions of masculinity and femininity. This is one of the countries in which I most notice the performativity of gender and how narrow the expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman can be. On a flight to Cali, I noticed every single woman had her nails done. On the same flight, a passenger asked me if this is my natural hair color. When I nodded yes, she asked me why I don't like to go to the hair salon to get 'this beautiful hair' straightened. Sometimes, I feel as though I provide Bogotá with its only messy curls. Sit at Juan Valdez long enough and you will observe there is a uniform for women here, one of many: leggings, tucked into boots, topped off with a leather jacket. And straight hair, of course. I am torn between finding these expectations suffocating and appreciative of a type of beauty, between finding them endearing and superficial.

I worry about Bogotá's rigidity, about the -isms that come up in every interview: machismo, classismo. Most are born out of certain expectations that are etched into the lives of the few -- expectations of where to live, where to eat, where to go out. Not complying with them, or flagrantly defying them, is met with palpable indignation. Can empathy grow in sheltered spaces? Of what service can narrowness be, other than protecting the interests and lifestyles of the few?

Next: Wherein, amidst the rigid expectations, I find hope.

Slippery words of another tongue

eternally nostalgic

Every so often an article catalogues untranslatable words from around the world. For example, as this Matador Network piece tells me, mamihlapinatapei means "the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start" in Yagan, an indigenous language of the Tierra del Fuego. According to the same article, the word 'tartle' in Scottish refers to "the act of hesitating when introducing someone because you have forgotten their name." And then there is my personal favorite: saudade. Not quite nostalgia, not quite longing or yearning, not a blend of both. There is more to saudade---and perhaps its magical grip lies in that untranslatable space the other words do not quite capture. I grew up in a word-loving family, with Greek as my mother tongue. Tallying up the score of Scrabble games with my father exposed me to double-digit addition and to the perennial "is that a word?" any game of Scrabble inspires. Studying for the SATs as part of the process of admission to an English-speaking university in the United States exposed me to a whole other family of potential Scrabble words. While I excelled at the questions that required knowledge of words with a Greek root, I struggled with the ones that required test-takers to pair an animal and their young. What do you call a young lamb in English? What do you call many doves flying together? The kind of knowledge that one acquires in her childhood when English is her native tongue was foreign to me. And so at the age of 16, I scribbled on flashcards: "An ewe is a baby lamb." "A calf is a baby cow." "A constitution is a group of doves, a pride is a group of lions, a pack is a group of wolves."

The realization of my own English fluency sank in when I began to dream in English, when the English words started seeping into my subconscious, displacing the Greek ones. When I started learning Spanish, or German, or even fledgling Arabic and Hebrew, I noticed that there came a moment when the precious few words I had mustered would find their way into my dreams---or, indeed, my nightmares, as that one night in Bogotá when I dreamed that I could no longer speak a word of Spanish in front of a room of 750 ex-combatants would attest to. I still maintain my connection to my mother tongue and actively try to cultivate it, even when there are few people with whom I can speak Greek in my daily life at present. I read the Greek news, and I return to my favorite book of Greek poetry by Odysseas Elytis when I am homesick for Greece or hunting for inspiration. And still---I can feel the words slipping away as soon as the language of my dreams shifts away from Greek.

It is not just the words that slip; it is also the fundamental functionalities. For a long time, I spoke 'professional Spanish.' You could ask me to lead a conflict management training and I would produce polysyllables comfortably. Put me in a bar surrounded by Spanish speakers and I would be effectively mute. The casual rhythms of a language often lag for me. I long for familiarity with those words that break the stiffness. When I aspire to fluency in another language, I hope for those words of wit and smiles, the teasing words or casual words you only learn by living somewhere and listening closely for motifs and idioms. The more of those I accumulate in a language other than my mother tongue, be it in English or in Spanish or otherwise, the more the informal Greek slips away from me. Put me in a bar in the Greece of 2013 and I would struggle with not having the ease of conversing naturally like a young person who knows she can find the word that best describes what she wants to express---the perfect word for saudade or mamihlapinatapei.

When I first arrived in the United States as a college student, I felt the impact of words in Greek. "I'm sorry" was a concept I understood by relating it to its Greek iteration: συγνώμη. "I love you" was Σ' αγαπώ. It was as though I experienced the full weight of those words only if I uttered them in my mother tongue. "I love you" did not feel intimidating in the way that saying 'Σ' αγαπώ' for the first time did---because I associated the nerves of young, unuttered love with Σ' αγαπώ and not with "I love you." Saying 'I love you' in English initially felt like performing in that way that speaking a second language often does, thus robbing the words of their full power which only existed in Greek in my mind at the time. After living in Guatemala and Colombia, I became conscious of the many linguistic iterations of "I love you", of the difference between Te deseo and Te quiero and Te amo. Despite the beauty and benefits of multi-lingualism, I never quite want the impact of αγάπη to fade---I never want the Greek iteration of words to feel more foreign or distant to me than the English word 'love.'

Every time I arrive at a new country for my job, there are words I am immediately curious to learn how to say. Empathy is one such concept, as are the words that express gratitude or respect or compassion. English is the default language in which I think now; every new word learned in a foreign language gets translated in my head to English before it's fully comprehended. And much as I celebrate fluency and linguistic curiosity, a little part of me grieves for the Greek words that quietly slip away.

*If you have a moment, look up my favorite untranslatable Greek word: filotimo -- φιλότιμο, as telling of my mother tongue as it is of my people.

The homes that inspire nostalgia

eternally nostalgic

We first met when I was on the cusp of nomadism and she was on her return voyage. I was about to embark on my first true field work in conflict management. I did not know it then, but that year would hold memories of Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, and Guatemala. Her journey stretched from Liberia to Indonesia and Boston to the Hague. We both swam in the pool of conflict management professionals, spoke with our hands, loved every baked good we met, and shared a passion for wander and wonder. In many ways, she inspired my own path with her courage, whimsy, curiosity, and attachment to service and to making impact. Meeting her kindled my faith in humanity---and sparked my consequent overuse of the term.

We are now sitting at her dining table in Washington, DC, five years later. She and her loved one built the bench atop which I am perched, and everything else in the house too. Even if she hadn't given me her house number, I would have picked it out among its companions. It is the most colorful house in the street. Everything in it is a colorful product of love too, carved with care out of wood, nailed together, splashed with the hues that matched their personalities. "We built the bed in which you are sleeping," she says smiling. People dream better in home-made beds. They ought to.

She is a different kind of adult than I am, I think to myself. A whole other league of adulthood, the kind that comes with one's own photographs hanging from her walls (in frames, I should clarify, since my own amateur photos hang frameless and in disorder). I scratch her cat's belly, as we talk about the conversations we used to have when we first met. We are still connected by those same threads, by conflict management and service, by a wanderlust for Iceland and the Bolivian salt flats alike. We joke about our loved ones' addiction to cycling, we revisit talks about neuroses that field work in some of the world's most active conflict zones could not mitigate. Peeking into her life makes me nostalgic for permanence and leaves me longing to caress wooden surfaces with an appreciation for the art that transforms them.

I used to live here too once, but the girl I was when I lived in Washington is different from the girl who returned to it now. It was the before era: before field work, before I knew that a lot of my life would unfold on the road or in conflict zones, before I grew attached to cameras and stories, before I had discovered much of what I now consider my life's work---in many senses, before I experienced what I now consider my life's many blessings. When I left Washington, I left with excitement, not out of frustration with its admittedly elevated sense of self-importance, but out of a craving to leap to the next phase of life and the novelty it had in store. And much as my memories of Washington were full of light and merriment, I did not consider it the kind of home that would inspire nostalgia.

Teetering in heels outside the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, I recognize bits of the self I was then: I was an obsessive list-maker, and I still am. I was the kind of girl who could write down thirteen to-do items, and cross them all. Part of me still enjoys ticking the boxes, literally and allegorically. In other senses, I have shed layers of skin since I left Washington. I have embraced uncertainty and developed a new comfort for it. I have appreciated vulnerability; in brave moments, I have deliberately put myself in vulnerable places with an understanding of their merits. I have marveled, marveled ferociously, demanded marveling. I have made more room. I have not carved furniture, but I have carved out space for loving, dreaming, and marveling.

And now that I am back, this time for a career trip with fellow graduate students interested in conflict management, I am marveling at a home that inspired more nostalgia than I thought it could. In between career panels and site visits, I duck into my old neighborhood bookstore. I used to stop there every single day on my walk home from work, even if nothing in the shelves had changed. The bookstore was a ritual I kept, a nostalgia-inspiring ritual that planted the seeds of marveling. Between a lunch and an informational interview, I pop into Teaism, wanting bubble tea. I giggle when I remember that they call it 'pearl tea' here. My memory had edged this lexicon out. Taryn and I sit side-by-side at Hello Cupcake, devouring cream cheese frosting. Dan and I have breakfast at Busboys and Poets. Halle and I share an almond croissant and cappuccinos at Dolcezza, which was not there when I last was. Some of the women by my side have been constant presences, on email and in teahouses, at a distance or side-by-side. Some of them are new to this memory, having sprung from shared field experiences, correspondences, school orientations, or serendipity.

This marriage of the worlds feels less foreign than I had anticipated. I practiced nostalgic eating, nostalgic bookstore browsing, nostalgic walking, nostalgic subway riding. Life was not Instagrammed when I had left Washington; all of it looked less romantic. It was not yet possible, as Cheri Lucas would say, to "enhance the mundane", "to disguise the mediocre." Surprise nostalgia is a privilege because it is as though a former home springs from the depth of your memories to claim its place in your life, to demand to be remembered lovingly. Or, at the very least, to be remembered---which, in my life, is by definition a loving act.

When the universe winks [or: Wagon Wheel]

eternally nostalgic

There have been times in my work with communities affected by conflict when I have longed for a stronger belief in a supernatural deity. I have been compelled to pray, to hope that someone out there is listening. At this stage in my life, my imagination of that "supernatural something" that resides outside of ourselves does not take the form of a deity. Rather, my belief can be summarized in the following phrase: The universe is winking.

You know the moments I am describing: In the face of adversity or great irony, of what seems like undue strife, something happens to reassure you that you are not alone, that the world is not laughing in your face, that life unfolds on a continuum and the narratives of joy and heartbreak exist side-by-side. And, if recent experiences with fragility have been any indication, the universe winking at me comes with a soundtrack---Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel."

The song appeared in my life during a relationship that may never have happened had it not been for grief, fragility, and emotional confusion in the first place. As Joan Didion advises in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, "we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not" and, in that vein, I need to extend compassion to the self who thought she could drown grief in affection and be blind to the traits that would make the affection shallow and the grief immutable. He hated my music. That should have been a clue. Anyone who hates the company that Cat Power and Brandi Carlile and Rachael Yamagata keep, anyone who cannot reconcile himself with my army of women singer-songwriters, is dancing on a different sheet of music than the one in which I live. So he made me a CD. [Pause for nostalgic indulgence in the quaintness of making someone a CD, not a Spotify playlist.]

Of all the tracks on it, Wagon Wheel jumped out. Even after that budding relationship withered, Wagon Wheel lingered as the soundtrack to a segment of life for which I never quite found the words.

***

Second day in Cairo. I met the girls on an email list of foreigners in Egypt looking for roommates. I met the boys on a sailboat on the Nile the night before, on my first day. Coincidentally also the first day of Ramadan, the first of many firsts. We are in the boys' apartment and I am alive with the exhilaration of belonging, with the relief of how quickly one belongs when she is a foreigner among foreigners, a stranger among strangers---all of whom wish to throw out that label and slide over to best friends already. One of the boys picks up his guitar. Wagon Wheel is the first song he plays.

That song came with me to Uganda... Sudan... Colombia... Guatemala... Jerusalem. "Points South" of all that. Now Boston. So did the guitar. And so did the boy.

***

Katherine's birthday party. Budding friendship, united by parallel narratives which---defying all laws of geometry---intersect as they unravel. The kind of friendship that fills your sails with gratitude, that makes you feel like the universe can wink simply by putting someone in your path. Her friend brought his guitar. Barenaked Ladies. The Beatles. Leaving on a jet plane. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley.

And then, inevitably, Wagon Wheel. A room full of people singing the words along. The universe winked extra pointedly that night, to make sure I knew I was home.

***

My love for the song is immaterial. This is not the kind of song that one feels was written for her. I have never been to Johnson City, Tennessee, never picked a banjo. This is not a lyrical attachment. Rather, Wagon Wheel is my clue to pay attention. It is the way that I know that, even if I am trudging through the mud right now, somewhere out there the universe is winking. It is the music that plays, almost invisibly, to make sure that I am listening.

Telling a new story

eternally nostalgic

"Roxanne Krystalli is a gender-related development specialist in conflict and post-conflict areas."

What do you do when the first line in your biography no longer fits?

I am between stories at the moment, a process that involves consistently living off the top two layers of my still-packed suitcases, debating the merits of paint swatches, and confronting the reverse culture shock inherent in returning to what used to be a home with the task of sorting out the disorienting dance between the unfamiliar and the too familiar.

And the first line no longer fits. Having worked in conflict and post-conflict areas, I know not to confound conflict and war. Conflict, human pain and strife exist in Boston and Colombia and Guatemala and Jerusalem and I have called all these places home at some point along the journey. Yet, you would hardly call Boston a "conflict or post-conflict area."

You would hardly call me a specialist. I have grown wary of specialists and experts. The longer I have worked with women affected by conflict worldwide, the more I have uncovered the boundaries of my knowledge. The universe of concepts I do not understand and of life I cannot make sense of keeps expanding. It would be out of step for the titles and labels to keep narrowing. "Specialist" and "expert" do not fit. Do not even get me started on "guru."

As I fill out the paperwork for orientation at the graduate program that is anchoring my return to Boston, I notice everyone is grabbing for story. The prompts might as well read "Tell us who you are . . . in 250 words or less. In a paragraph. In 140 characters. In a text message without emoticons. With bells and whistles, without embellishment, with enough intrigue for us to want to be your friends, roommates, or mentors."

Life stories evolve, and so do their 140-character biographies. I am slowly realizing that a bio is not the story of "is", not exclusively the story of here and now. It is a journey between points, a question about the axis on which you are traveling. The story of "has lived and has worked", not of "lives and works." And, perhaps most thankfully, it is the story of beyond "lives and works." On Twitter, in her own blog, in the Admitted Students Handbook, Roxanne Krystalli is - still - a gender-related development specialist who works in conflict and post-conflict areas.

In life, Roxanne Krystalli is in transition, perpetual transition. Her heart is in gender advocacy and conflict management, in the Middle East and Latin America. This is the work that feeds her faith in humanity, a phrase she overuses, right up there with "the universe is winking." Her mind likes to wrap itself around the concepts of remembrance and forgetting, nostalgia and grief, of storytelling as a vehicle of empathy and, shyly, maybe even as a vehicle of peacebuilding. She sees the world, really sees, through the viewfinder of a camera. She loves panda bears, everything that smells like vanilla, and the art of loving in itself---as an art.

This is not the stuff of LinkedIn, of student handbooks, or maybe even not of Twitter. But it is the story of now, the biography of a journey from elsewhere and a past "then" to a future that has yet to be painted.

The trips that weren't

eternally nostalgic

What they do not tell you about the Pyramids is that, grand as the monuments may be, the surrounding area smells profoundly of camel piss. I arrived in Cairo ungrounded: no apartment, no friends, no Arabic, not even my own luggage. I was anchorless to the point of adrift---weightless to the point of exhilarated. Over time, Cairo became filled with the buoyancy of firsts and the gravity of love. It was the first place where I worked with the United Nations and, in many ways, where my passion for gender advocacy and conflict management came alive. Cairo marked my first attempt to live mindfully in the present, an endeavor that ran counter to my inclination to wander in the memory of the past or anticipation of the future. And on the first day of Ramadan that year, I met someone on a boat on the Nile in the kind of way that will make it impossible for me not to consider the river blessed, the city magical, and my time there transformative.

We drank strawberry juice in a street alley across from his apartment building. Pronouncing "Mumkin asir faroula?" became a small victory. The strawberry juice gave way to tea and to coffee and to domino and when we ran out of non-alcoholic drinks and board games, he would deposit me into a taxi and I would employ the only other Arabic I spoke at the time: "Five pounds. The fare is supposed to be five pounds." The driver would argue, I would say no emphatically, habiiiiibiiii would bellow from the radio, we'd run a red light or five, and my head would hit the pillow just as the first call to prayer of the day echoed from the nearby mosques. The realm for a public romance was limited and filled with mines, so our budding love was rife with the kind of companionship that prepares you well for retirement: conversation, domino and tea.

And I had yet to see the Pyramids.

This was a point of contention among my friends. It did not matter that I was filling their inboxes with the cautious enthusiasm of a young love. Everyone would write back asking how Cairo is and "have you seen the Pyramids yet?" "No, but there's this little alley that I love . . ." stopped cutting it as an answer.

Four months of alleys and domino later, I had eight hours before I had to be on a plane to Uganda. I asked the cab driver to take me to Giza for the trip that almost wasn't: the pilgrimage to the Pyramids. The postcards create an impression that the Pyramids exist in a vacuum. They do not tell you that there are apartment buildings poking the air around the area of the Pyramids. The guidebooks do not mention the all-piercing smell of camel piss.

They also do not mention that great memories are not always made in the shadow of historical grandeur. Future travelers should take note of the unmarked alley off the map (which, to be fair, also occasionally reeks of urine). After standing in awe in front of the Pyramids for a few minutes, and waving off the salesmen asking me to buy papyrus, I went back to my alley, for one last whiff of nargileh smoke, sip of strawberry juice, and exhale of gratitude for the memories that were.

In Guatemala, I failed to make it to Lake Atitlan. In Colombia, I never saw Villa de Leyva. In Uganda, I missed Murchison Falls. This was neither my criminal inability to traipse to remarkable places nor a snobbish rejection of the kinds of experiences that inspire universal awe. Rather, I learned in Cairo to allow myself to be attached to the alley---and, like Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale, to leave a trail of crumbs to come back to. "The trips that weren't" give me an anchor in a home that once was. They supply a reason to retrace the steps to a self I left behind. Seventeen conflict and post-conflict zones after Egypt, I favored the sites of memories over those in the Lonely Planet, saving the latter as collateral to the promise that I would return.

Jerusalem was meant to be the last stop for a while. After my work there, I would fly across the ocean to the United States to return to an academic study of gender and conflict. I would unpack the bags and own what is gratuitous simply for the sake of not worrying about how to pack it for the next trip. I would own wine glasses and more than one pair of sheets and I would get excited about things like latte art and permanence. This time, I was not interested in leaving any item unchecked. A month before our departure, I made The List: walks, food, experiences to have before we leave. We ate nostalgia for four weeks, stuffing our stomachs with all the food we thought we would miss and our days with itineraries. I thought we did a good job this time, that we did so much and saw so much and felt so much that we would leave Jerusalem with a sense of satiation---as though that could vaccinate us against future nostalgia.

Two hours before we had to hail a cab to the airport, we lit a coal for our nargileh and breathed apple-flavored smoke into the street. We had recreated the alley. Everything else may have shifted, but it was still him and I and the apple-flavored smoke. We looked over The List and realized that "the trips that weren't" had become the trips that were. I was afraid that we had done it all, that there would be no more Jerusalem to discover in the future. We had crossed off the items.

All except one: The YMCA was his favorite building in town. It became mine as well. We never made it to the top.

When the bookmarks change

eternally nostalgic

Kalomoira is pregnant with twins.

I imagine you want to know who Kalomoira is. She was the winner of Fame Story, a Greek talent show that came into being long after American Idol had solidified itself into the American pop culture conscience. In the ten years that have passed since then, I had thought about Kalomoira maybe twice.

And now I know she is pregnant with twins.

***

In making homes away from Greece, be it in Colombia or Egypt, I relied on a ritualistic consumption of the news. I was determined to assimilate and to do that, I had to know. So I read the local papers every morning until I had memorized the layout of the page and could rhythmically find my way to my favorite columnist or to the sports section. I had a favorite columnist. Everywhere, from Guatemala to Jerusalem.

There was no better home for my news-guzzling obsession than Jerusalem. My favorite radio station interrupted the music every hour for a brief news report. Without the kind of command over Hebrew that allows one to understand fast-paced news segments over the radio, the hourly report became a game. I hunted for words I recognized and matched them to the English news I had read about the region earlier that morning. "Hebrew Hebrew Syria Hebrew Kofi Annan Hebrew peace," the announcer said, and I knew she was talking about the diplomatic attempts to broker peace in Syria. Jerusalem radio may not have supplied me with news of which I was previously unaware, but it did teach me how to say peacekeeping and failure in Hebrew -- and it made me long for the kind of news and linguistic comprehension that would allow me to dream of peaceful co-existence and success.

***

I left Jerusalem for my homeland, Greece, 39 days ago and my news scouring habits have changed. Days can pass without my realizing there was a stabbing in my old neighborhood. 39 days ago, I knew about car accidents on highways I had yet to even drive through.  Even though the web broadcast of my favorite radio station is bookmarked in my browser, I cannot bring myself to click through, guided by the fear that "Hebrew Hebrew Jerusalem Hebrew Hebrew film festival" will propel me into an ocean of nostalgia.

Instead, I know that a local pop star I have not brought to the forefront of my mind in a decade is now pregnant with twins. Not only I have migrated, but also my bookmarks are shifting with me. I have the kind of wandering eardrums that long for Colombian salsa in Kosovo and Greek music in Guatemala. I have the kind of fickle tastebuds that long for arepas in Uganda and falafel in Mexico. All of me is punctuated by a serial infidelity to place; enamored as I may be with where my feet are currently meeting the ground, I will let the senses wander to the other places they once called home.

And yet, it is at bookmarks that I draw the line. The very newsy trivialities that help foster my sense of home when I am new to a place cause me painful wanderlust as soon as I have booked the departing flight. It is as though my brain can only handle one pregnant-with-twins pop star at the time: the local one. Any more than that, any more soccer team updates or festival schedules or a repaving of a street on which I once used to live, and my heartstrings are stretched till they tear.

There is indigestible irony to the realization that someone who has dedicated her professional life to international development and conflict management and aspires to understand notions that are far larger than herself needs to shrink her world to the news cycle of Here and Now, lest her feet want to carry her to all the Elsewheres she has loved.