Christmas brings many things, including homecomings and conversations with old friends, family friends, family, and neighbors about what I’ve been up to over the past year or so. On the long commute back to North Carolina (CAI-FRA-IAD-CLT) all I did was sleep, grumble, and write this story about my explanation of choice this year for what, exactly, I’m still doing living abroad. The story features fashion politics, a desert photo shoot, and even a plan for peace in the Middle East (yep. It’s Christmas, so why not aim high?):
The street where my parents live is lined with trees and front porches. When I come back for the holidays, fresh from whichever corner of the Arab world I’m calling home, news travels fast. The Gauls’ daughter is back in town: everyone just saw so from their porch.
Small talk ensues (so, what’s Egypt like?) and before long, the inevitable question resurfaces: so remind me…what are you (still) doing over there?
Most people assume the answer has something to do with cross-cultural dialogue, or gender empowerment, or (heaven help us) national security. Over the years I’ve cycled through every high-minded reason there is to explain why I’ve spent the better part of a decade studying Arabic. Not one of them has managed to withstand the tests of time, cynicism, and postcolonial theory — that is, until yesterday at 2 am, when I found the truth literally staring me in the face:
I’m in it for the swag.
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