When the World is Too Far Away

I’m hemmed in the Midwest with snow and work. Now that China is done for the time being, and Paris is back across the ocean, and half my family is scattered to the corners of the country like so much chaff, I have to settle down and make enough money to pay for my student loans and miscellaneous bills. It strikes me as reassuring and also terrifying that my health insurance payments will never stop. It’s like I’m betting every month on the strength of my heart and obscurity of my appendix.

When all you have to look at are sleeping fields and trees, brown and quiet and solemn in their repose, the landscape starts to blur together and get smaller. The far horizon line might just as well be right in front of you, for all that everything looks the same. The internet is a poor companion for the world. It gives us information, yes, but nothing tactile or stimulating to the body as a whole. My Pinterest boards are stuffed with photos of locations and landscapes. My Facebook wall is full of lists like “45 places that Actually Exist!” and “20 pools you will never find unless you own a diamond!”

Aside: The use of “actually” is beginning to bother me. Why wouldn’t they actually exist? How many lists are out there of places that in no way exist in real life? I would probably click on “45 places that only exist in your mind” because that would be intriguing. Saying a place actually exists is like saying you found a dog that actually barks. Of course it does!

It’s a blessing to find a moment of connection. I was cleaning and de-cluttering the hosue when I found my link to my life of travel – an old, old VHS tape.


Belly dancing Slim Down – with Leena and Neena the twin belly dancers! Sensual music! Hip scarves with jingling bits of metal on them! Voiceovers that don’t quite match up with the actual choreography! I kicked off my sneakers, popped in the tape, and went back in time.

The ladies are good at what they do. I wish there was more narrative/guiding as to how I’m supposed to isolate my sternum, but the point is to have fun and so I do. As I shimmied and failed to be graceful, it put me in mind of my trip down the Nile. Again, since the goal of such a flimsy exercise tape is to escape for a little bit, I went back to Egypt. Before the campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a fascinating place. There were remnants of Communism and Imperialism everywhere with the antiquities, and the people were friendly and seemed to think I was far richer than I was.

It was the first time I saw true poverty, the first time I’d been in a plane that failed to land on the first approach. It was the first time I got violently ill drinking water by mistake, and the first time I’d ever had to haggle for things that I liked. I was nervous at times, because 9/11 was still very fresh and I had never been exposed to Middle Eastern culture, save for PBS and books. I was a high-school student trying to make sense of a sudden need for caution when before there had been none.

I remember sailing down the Nile, looking for crocodiles (There are none because of the dam). I stayed at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, where my room had a canopy bed. Agatha Christie set one of her novels at the Old Cataract Hotel, and the old building was brimming with character and mood. My strongest memories of Egypt were from Aswan and the Nile – sailing in the boats, watching the dervishes and dancers at night, and the way the canopy bed glowed in the daytime…


Then I trip over my feet because I forgot how to do the belly dancing hopping twist step, and I’m back in the cold sleep of the American Midwest. Outside my windows the birds are mobbing the feeders in a frenzy to stay fed, and the cats watch from the windows, tails twitching in frustration. I empathize with the tension of the window, which allows everyone to look, but not go.

And I dance.

Upon a tiny bit of research, I found that you can still buy Leena and Neena videos – upgraded to DVD!


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