Cairo’s Khan el Khalili – Everything you want, even if you don’t know you want it

(Written May 2008) In addition to the pyramids of Giza (there are pyramids all over Egypt, so one must specify), which are less than 40 minutes by car from us, there is also “The Khan” as a major tourist draw. It’s officially called Khan el-Khalili, but us locals refer to it as “the Khan” (I’m trying to acclimate). So one day, my husband agreed to take me down to the Khan, just to experience it.

Our first adventure was taking the metro. Cairo has a metro system similar to Washington, DC’s in that they have the 3-4 colored lines. But in addition, the metro system here has “women only” cars. I’ve been told that the women's car could be in the front, middle or end of the train, so if I’m by myself, I should just look for a gaggle of women and go stand near them. It would be my suggestion that they just paint these cars pink, make it easier for everyone to locate them (though surprisingly, no one’s asked for my opinion yet).

After a few minutes the train arrived and we clambered aboard. It was very similar to older-style DC or NYC subways, hard plastic seats along the side, rails and poles to hang on to, straps dangling from the ceiling. The primary difference I’d say was the lack of air-conditioning, though on the day we rode it, it really wasn’t necessary. But I could see that in the summer it would be a whole different experience.

Men and women were riding in the car, so I don’t know how necessary the “women’s” car is, though I might feel different without my husband next to me. At one stop, as we were standing there, holding our straps, in front of the open doors, some boys walked by and waved at us. How nice; but I opted not to return the gesture. My husband told me later that he was ever-vigilant about making sure there wasn’t any casual touching, brushing, or basic grabbing on my persons. And there wasn’t.

So we exited at Sadat Station, right in Tahrir Square near the Egyptian Museum. Now, when I say exited, I should clarify that it was more of a mosh-pit like shove-down. I’ve been in subways and trains in Boston, DC, NY, London, Amsterdam, Italy, etc., but never have I experienced a mob-scene like that. I never felt afraid, per se, however I was gripping my purse and camera tightly and doing my best to move forward, hoping that my husband was one of the bodies pressing against me. We finally burst onto the platform and I turned to see him emerging from the fray. I just had to laugh. Apparently the concept of those entering the train standing to the side to allow those exiting to do so first, has not caught on here. Good to know. I’ll bring my battering ram or tazer next time.

Once outside, we headed to the line of taxis. Most were empty of drivers, who were sitting on a wall nearby. My husband leaned in to ask the one driver in his cab about going to the Khan, and we were immediately surrounded by lots of loud and fast Arabic. Apparently we needed to go to the first cab in line, regardless of the lack of driver. So despite our ignorance, we managed to make it all the way to the Khan without any further blunders. We exited the taxi and walked around the corner where it opened into a large grassy square, bracketed on one side by a huge beautiful mosque, draped in tiny lights. There was something almost Hollywood-like about the whole scene. Hundreds of people milling about, in all forms of dress, with every nationality present and tour buses coming through with great regularity. We summoned our perseverance and determination and dove into the chaos of the Khan. You know when you’re on an amusement ride, and you sit down, strap in, and the ride starts to move forward and you enter through doors into a dark or other-worldly place just before the car jettisons forward? Well, this was the same experience, minus the plastic sticky seats. We walked into a small alleyway crammed full of shops (not an experience for the claustrophobic or agoraphobic). It was a bombardment of sights, sounds, and all sensory sensations. There was tourist chachka as far as you could see, pyramid replicas in all shapes, sizes and materials (I think I saw a blow-up one), sphinx replicas, brass plates, bowls and pitchers, jewelry of all kinds (some wearable, some just to gawk at), t-shirts, keychains, everything a tourist would ever buy. In addition to the stuff, stuff, and stuff, there were hawkers everywhere at every turn, trying to get you into their store (which has the same stuff as the next guy’s store and the next after that). They are relentless, constantly yelling at you, offering a “free look,” or yelling, “I don’t know what you want, but I know that I have it.” For the t-shirt and gallibaya sellers (the traditional long shirt or dress worn here), they'd bellow out, “Gallibaya for the lady?” “Gallibaya for man?”, and my husband’s favorite was, “I have your size!” We laughed out loud the first time we heard these, but by the seventh, they had lost their humor. Most of these guys stop at physically dragging you into their shop; most of them. But if you make it through the first section, you find yourself in an equally Kafka-esque section, but now we get into the marginally less-touristy merchandise, and depending on your digging skills, some fun buys. The Khan is laid out like a labyrinth or a hedge-maze made out of shops. In addition to the crazy twists and turns of the narrow cobbled streets, there are stairways and alley off-shoots everywhere. This is probably one of a few places in the world where it’s relatively safe to allow a stranger to lead you down a dark alley; here you’ll end up at a tiny shop where gold jewelry is being made before your eyes, or appliqué wall-hangings are being sewn, or “genuine antiquities” are being sold just to you. At one point my husband led me, much to the excitement of the hawker on the street, up a narrow stone staircase. At the top we found ourselves in an open-air courtyard with more shops all around the edges. We wandered into a few here, as they were less crowded and the sellers were, well, less obnoxious. Here we could browse or actually “look for free” without constant yammering. We saw some interesting brass ware, from name plates, to bowls and pitchers, to basically anything that could be made out of brass, but didn't buy anything. In addition to the items you see for sale, most of these merchants can also make things to your specifications. Unlike the states, here you often buy directly from the artist or designer, or if they can’t do it, they know someone who can create what you want. It’s an exciting option to be able to requisition a piece of furniture or art or kitchenware, as opposed to buying the latest from China in a box with too much packaging. I’m sure we’ll partake of this option during our time here (though I’m not sure my husband fully understands that we’ll be partaking of this option…). The thing about the Khan is if you have the luxury of being able to visit a few times, and not be constrained to the tour bus slots, you can explore it first, peek at things here and there, get an idea of what you might be interested in (silver or gold jewelry, beads, gemstones, clothing, glassware, marble, brass, bronze, etc.), get recommendations from others, and then go back with a purpose. There are some fantastic shops wedged inside, and it just takes a little time, effort and determination to find them. But even if you’re only in Cairo for a few days, you have to at least attempt the gauntlet of the Khan. And don’t be shy; remember, they have your size!

So, this is Cairo?

(Written April 2008) When we first called home to let everyone know we'd arrived (finally), my sister-in-law asked me “What are your first impressions of Cairo?” Well, I'd been up for 31 hours, with fits and starts of sleep in various awkward positions, felt grimy, hungry, and so exhausted from stress that I was slightly slack-jawed, plus it was dark... so my impressions weren't too insightful. I think I told her that it initially reminded me of southern California, with the dirt/sand and the palm trees and the gentle warm breeze. Yeah, well in daylight and being bathed and awake, I don't think I'd say that again.

That first night, however, we did manage to see some classic Egyptian driving/pedestrian antics, such as a box truck careening along with an open door and a guy sitting on a milk crate siding around in the back. Not too unusual, except in Cairo they don't use traffic lights, but rather speed bumps, speed humps, and speed trenches (those will be explained later), so the likelihood of this guy being catapulted out of the truck was relatively high.

I saw people racing across highway-like roads as if they were being hazed into a frat; saw dilapidated ancient trucks puttering along, piled to the brim and over with every imaginable item and seemingly tied together with just twine and hope. There's an old Disney cartoon with Goofy or Mickey, where they're driving up a mountain with a car or truck piled high, like that which can only be done in a cartoon, or so I thought until the drive from the Cairo airport.

My primary impression of Cairo since the drive from the airport and some sleep: it's dirty. I mean really dirty. Not just sand/dirt, but trash, huge piles of it, and rubble, and rocks and concrete. But then throw in splashes of green bushy trees, and scraggly bushes, and amazing purple jacaranda trees, and palms, and bright colorful laundry hanging from windows and balconies everywhere. It's a city. A true, big, metropolis, bustling, ever-active, very much alive and organic city. Like NYC, with it's trash, rubbish, smelly alleys, rats and schmutz, there's an underlying life; a heartbeat that becomes infectious. What do most people, who like it, say about NYC? They love the energy. Well, I think the same can be said for Cairo. If you like calm, or serene environments, or peace and solitude, don't come to Cairo, or NYC for that matter.

There are horns blaring all the time, though we can't hear anything from our apartment. You also don't open windows here – the dust/dirt build-up would be fast enough for us to have to claim we had a sandbox in our living room. And yet the dust enters. In just five days, I could see a layer of it on the shampoo bottles. It seeps.

There was an article in the New York Times recently that stated “After five years of study, scientists concluded that the average noise in Cairo from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. is 85 decibels, a bit louder than a freight train only 15 feet away.” So far, I have not found the noise to be an issue, or even especially noticeable. I have noticed that people are friendly and smile a lot, most speak English or a form of, the sun is out every day, and some people call me Miss Julia (which makes me feel a bit like a character in an American southern novel, but I hike up my hoopskirts and go with it).

Like the driving here, there is a level of chaos in practically everything. From the half-finished buildings, to the crumbling walls, to the no traffic lights (or when they do have them, they have to be manually turned red or green by a traffic copy standing there), to the no street signs (that's a fun one when you're lost), to the traffic cops who merely stand and watch the melee of cars, to the armed guards all over with machine guns who look like they're all 18 (the guards, the guns look new, though there's doubt as to whether they hold any ammo), to the lack of logic in everything, to the toothless woman trying to sell you Kleenex packs through your car window, to the donkey carts pulling propane canisters down the Cornice (main road along the Nile) – I call these propane donkeys when we're driving and I'm yelling out things for my husband to avoid.

But, having said all that, and there will be more, there's a delight in the pure functionality of a city of such chaos. I smile when I realize that, while it may not run as I would design it or choose it to, this city runs regardless. And it has run far longer than most cities. So part of my time here will be adjusting my ideas of how things “should” be and trying to observe, maybe enjoy, or at least accept, things as they are and revel in the differences.

We Will Now Commence Boarding…

(Written April 2008) I was eventually able to stop sobbing and collect myself enough to exit the safety of the bathroom stall and return to my husband. There’s nothing that can terrify a grown man more than a weeping woman and my husband’s eyes looked at me as if I was Typhoid Mary. I squeezed his hand to assure him that I was doing okay, I was done crying and that I wouldn’t make him listen to my issues.

Within another 20 minutes, we finally made it on to the plane, wedged the kitties in their respective positions "under the seat in front of us," and settled in for our eight-hour flight to Frankfurt. After all my drama (and the two Valium I’d swallowed dry in the bathroom), I fell asleep before we took off and slept for probably over an hour, only to awaken to find out that we were still sitting on the runway. Due to the "severe rain," we managed to sit on that runway for three hours before ever taking off. This ensured that we were going to miss our connection in Frankfurt... and we did.

By the time we arrived in Frankfurt, it was 10am local time, and our connecting flight had left at 9am. My husband planted me and the kitties off to the side while he went and stood in line to discuss our options with Lufthansa. We had been told that everyone who missed their flight had been put on the next available flight. My husband confirmed this and got the gate number.

Since we now had five hours to wait, we decided to take the advice of a friend who had traveled with cats. We found a vacant handicapped bathroom stall, which was basically a large closet to itself, and went in, locked it and let the cats out to stretch their legs. I had brought a small bag of dry food and was just getting them a little cup of water when someone knocked on the door. We quickly shoved everyone back in their carriers, and opened the door to see one man standing there with no obvious handicap, other than the inability to go to the next door marked "Herren." We left regardless and trundled down to the gate where our flight was supposed to depart in less than four hours. I ran off to get some sandwiches for us, which we ate in stony-eyed silence, listening to the cats munch away on their snacks.

After an hour, we were asked to leave the area because it was going to be used for another departing flight, but we could return in an hour to sit and wait again if we so chose. We chose instead to grab some seats in the middle of the airport where I proceeded to sit-n-shop for a new carry-on bag -- one with wheels as I'm tired of carrying around laptops on my shoulder everywhere I go -- and my husband proceeded to do his head-bobbing dozing act in which he actually hallucinated that I had let Chuckles out to wander the airport hallway. Exhaustion, sleep-deprivation and stress were leading us down the garden path like the poppies in Oz, and all we wanted to do was sleep.

We finally were able to check in on our Egypt Air flight, only to find out that Lufthansa had never actually booked us or our luggage on the flight. Luckily we were able to grab the seemingly last two seats on a crowded flight, and the Egypt Air ticket agent was also able to get our bags on it (we truly didn't think we'd see those for days). One note here is that at no point did they ever ask us to remove the cats from the carriers, see any paperwork for them, or even peek to confirm we were carrying cats. My appreciation was palpable.

The Egypt Air flight was yet another experience in-and-of itself. Along with being packed, it was also a very very tight squeeze to get the cats under the seat. The woman sitting next to me at the window, seeing I was struggling with getting the bags under the seat, said in very fast German something about overhead bins being "frei" at the back of the plane. Mustering all of my high school German lessons, I smiled at her and said, pointing to the carriers, "Katzen." She looked at me quizzically, "Katzen?" "Ya," I said. (And I thought I'd never use my German again.) She laughed and I continued to wedge them under. It was so squished that my husband and I had to figure out where to place our feet in the remaining six square inches we had to share.

The flight itself was fine, but I did find the service amusing. It started out with a round of soft drinks and juices as usual. Then came a dinner offering of beef or fish (since I wasn’t able to request a vegetarian meal beforehand, I nibbled at my husband's bread roll). Then, sodas and juice again, then coffee, then tea, then coffee, coffee, tea, tea, tea. All the while, no one was removing the ever-growing pile of trash on everyone's minuscule tray. They finally did remove all the trash, but it was only after another few rounds of tea and coffee. My husband and I chatted cryptically with the woman from Heidelberg next to us, collaborating with our basic German vocabulary and opting not to ask some questions because we couldn't remember the words needed. But we did learn that she was visiting her husband of 50 years outside of Cairo, and she had two kids, and maybe a dog or cat, I can't really remember. She seemed to be amused by us and gave us her card to visit her in Heidelberg when we next visit Germany.

At 9pm, Cairo time, we landed in Cairo and were met by someone from my husband’s job and an expeditor. The expeditor took our passports and the cats’ rabies and health certificates, and ran around the airport, literally, while we stood there trying to pretend we didn't feel like zombies with the flu. By 9:30pm we were all in a car, including our five bags of luggage, two cat carriers, and four computers, and were heading to our new home in Cairo.

From the point we left Robin's house the day before, it had been a very long 27 hours for us and the ever-patient felines. I was certain there would be hairballs in our shoes for weeks to come.

How to Pack Up a Life (and don't forget the cupcake wrappers)

It will be five years ago this coming April that we made that fateful move to Cairo. When my husband’s job offered him the chance to move overseas for a year, he was more than happy to leap at the offer. For the rest of the family, it meant vast uncertainty. However, at least the cats were traveling to a land where cats were revered; Pharaohs even considered them worthy of mummification. Okay, maybe not a point to stress. But still, they would be going from one house full of cat food, toys and treats, to another house that would have the same cat food, toys and treats. I, on the other hand, was leaving a career, friends and family behind for a land of foreignness beyond my imagination. What could Cairo, Egypt offer me? A few months after our decision to move, I found myself perched in the far corner of our very small kitchen in Maryland directing the movers as to what goes in which shipment. We had a certain amount allotted for a small fast shipment (which meant it might arrive 4-6 weeks after we did), and the rest would arrive within a few months. So I had to decide carefully.

I did not. In hindsight, pillows, sheets, blankets, toiletries and kitchenware would have been the smartest and most-useful items. Instead, I somehow managed to choose twenty-five pounds of loose tea, spices, cupcake wrappers and those little drink twizzlers. To say I was in the right frame of mind at this point would be an outright lie.

I had never moved my life on a scale such as this. When I moved from Ohio to Washington, DC decades earlier for an internship, my belongings fit in a 1980 Toyota Corolla hatchback. During those intervening years, I had acquired a lot of stuff, including most recently a husband, who had even more stuff. We had stuff pouring out everywhere. We joked that every day was the “Square game” in our little two-bedroom apartment. In order to move from one square to the next, you had to either move a box, a person, or a cat to an adjacent vacant square, or you had to reverse and let the obstruction move out of your way. We were newly married and in love, so we thought it was funny. That would change.

The movers took two-and-a-half days. First they tackled our storage unit, which started off on a slight unsteady foot. The movers, whom I’ll affectionately call Larry, Darryl and Darryl, had apparently never done an international move and didn’t realize that they had to actually pack things for safe travel. We got through that initial confusion and my husband and I did our best to stay out of their way while we watched the process.

Among the items in our storage unit, were my husband's collection of ouds (Arabic lutes), two of which were in hard cases, but one was in a soft case and he expressly asked the movers to pack it carefully. A little while later he saw one of the Darryls coming off the elevator with a pallet piled high and his soft-case oud wedged under the pile. He pulled it out, and took it to Larry (the foreman), reiterating his concern. Larry promised he would pack it himself. A little later on as they were loading some boxes onto the truck I watched with great amusement a box being loaded that was labeled with our name and number and in large purple letters the word, "Loot." Then, as our luck grew, another box was loaded marked "Loot." So regardless of how our luck proceeds, we should at least be receiving two boxes of loot. I can't wait!

The whole process took about four hours, though we were both skeptical as to the condition we would find our stuff in once it arrived in Cairo (providing it arrived). But bottom line is, it's just stuff.

The rest of the day was spent racing back to the apartment, grabbing the cats, Chuckles and Ricky, and heading off to the vet for rabies and distemper shots, microchips and health certificates. Then back to the apartment, where my husband and I furiously continued to sort, purge, pack and identify everything in our apartment.

Having someone else technically move you sounds great, until you realize you have to look at every fork, tea bag, couch cushion, towel, book, CD, picture frame, and bookcase, and decide if you a) want to bring it in your suitcase, b) put it in storage, c) put it on the 3-4 week limited-weight shipment, or d) put it on the multi-month shipment. We collapsed about 1am, only to awake at 5:30am to resume the fun. At 7:30am we bundled up the cats again and transported them all to my friend Robin's house where they took over her bedroom for the day. We had heard stories of the movers being so fast and efficient, that if you said everything goes, truly everything goes, including a bag of trash or a snoozing feline. So we opted for that not to be a concern. However, we were a bit dubious after our interactions with Larry, Darryl and Darryl the previous day.

At 9:30am the team of movers arrived. Luckily we were not faced with Larry, Darryl and Darryl again, and all three guys had not only done international moves, but knew more than we did as to what could go and how to pack it. They arrived with a huge flatbed truck loaded with five towering wooden crates and lots of packing materials. They set about immediately and did not stop for the next 12 hours. We bought them lunch and dinner, and did our best to stay out of their way.

Apparently it’s unusual for these jobs to take 12 hours, but a week prior when the assessor had come by to assess our belongings he had done a far-from-adequate job. This wasn't really a surprise to us, as he had arrived three hours late, never apologized for it, and went through his checklist with robot-like enthusiasm, asking us such questions as, "Do you have a swing set? A sandbox? A canoe or kayak or boat? A hot tub? A rifle? Hand grenades? Ammunition? A yak?" (I added that last one, but the rest were true.)

While these guys were madly packing, my husband and I took turn running errands. I did various donation runs, including a huge bag of boodles (or packing peanuts, as some call them) to the local UPS store, three huge garbage-bags of clothing to the homeless shelter, and one garbage-bag and a pile of miscellaneous items to the thrift store. My husband then ran to the library with two boxes of books for their book sale, and the post office, where he mailed four boxes and one large trunk full of odds-n-ends of ours to Cairo -- including lots of t-shirts, some books, games, blankets, my slippers and the label maker. Need I mention that by this point our decision-making capabilities were severely lacking?

Nearing 8pm, when they were still furiously packing, I suggested my husband go and check us into the hotel we were staying in, while I ordered pizza for the guys. By this point I had moved from sitting in the grass, out of their way, to sitting in my car, trying not to fall asleep. And in the category of ironies, I had managed to get a little sunburn sitting in the grass outside the apartment. The irony is that I had made a concerted effort to find special "SPF" clothing, including hats and jackets, to wear in Cairo, as well as 70+ SPF sunscreen, all of which was diligently packed, and I go and get burned in Maryland.

At 8:30pm the team announced that they would have to return in the morning to finish. The couch wasn't going to fit on the truck. So my husband remained with them while they finished what they could and I raced over to Robin's to see the felines and thank her profusely (our requesting favors of her had only begun by this point), and head back to the hotel. The major hurdle of the move, as we saw it, was now over. But our exhaustion was so great that we really didn't care if we ever saw any of our possessions again.

Saturday involved my husband meeting the movers at the condo at 7:30am for them to get the couch and two remaining boxes and sign all the paperwork. The rest of our week involved such tasks as switching our home phone to Vonage, switching our homeowner's insurance to rental dwelling insurance, canceling our cell phones, getting our Egyptian visas and having way too many farewell dinners with friends.

I had been tasked with handing our new second-hand Jeep over to Bartholomew, the Russian tow-truck driver on Thursday. When he looked at our destination, he asked why we weren't just driving it to Alexandria. "It's only in Virginia," he said. When I pointed out it was Alexandria, Egypt, he laughed, and I realized he'd made a joke. I think I'd packed up my sense of humor with the cookie sheets.

My husband and I also managed to do some last minute shopping, suddenly deciding we both needed more shoes and various toiletries. After our shopping trips we also realized our suitcases were too small, so we did some mad re-packing and took an additional five boxes to the post office to mail out some stuff. The customs forms listed such things as "phone, stationery supplies, cat toys, computer software, pink fuzzy slippers, books, file basket, tow rope, car mirrors, etc." All highly-necessary items, of course. I'm going to continue to claim exhaustion and the inability to think clearly.

Sunday morning, our day of departure, I grabbed coffee, breakfast and gassed up the rental car and raced back to the hotel for our last minute packing. Due to the amount of stuff, we decided to take a fifth bag and pay extra for it. We made it to Robin's by noon, where we scooped up Ricky and Chuckles, put their harnesses on, doused them with homeopathic “Calming Essence” and “Rescue Remedy” and crammed them into their new fancy soft-sided carriers. With tearful goodbyes at her door, we left Robin's for the airport. Other than being so tightly wound I could barely blink, we had the added stress of departing in a torrential rain. Which became exceedingly relevant as the day progressed.

At the airport, I dropped my husband off with our five suitcases, two cat carriers, and two carry-ons, then proceeded to return the rental car and grab the shuttle back to the airport. Check in was a bit frenetic as we had to madly repack two of the five suitcases to get them under 50 pounds. I was so stressed about the trip and the cats, that I think I started to take on the look of a crazed sweaty mad woman throwing around clothing and muttering under her breath. Not the glamorous poised impression I was hoping for. And it only got worse when we went through security.

This was the moment I'd been dreading the most for the whole trip/move/etc. Getting the cats through security. Sounds crazy, but I knew that we had to pull the cats out of the carriers in the middle of Dulles International Airport, surrounded by all other travelers, and "just carry" them through the metal detector while the empty carrier went through the x-ray machine. All I could imagine was a cat getting freaked out and loose in the airport.

I decided to take Chuckles as I figured he'd be the most difficult and Ricky adores my husband so much that I'm convinced he'd dance the Lambada if my husband asked him to. Chuckles was a little disconcerted, looking around with wide eyes, but I held him firmly and had his leash attached to his harness. I must have still had my crazed-sweaty-muttering-repacking look, because as I carried him through the metal detector the poor TSA personnel standing on the other side asked me if I could take off his harness "... since it has metal on it." I looked them straight in the eye and said, "Don't ask me to." And they let me walk through (and nothing set it off anyway).

At the other end I was waiting for his empty carrier to come through, as my husband and I had devised a plan to do Chuckles, all the computers (we had four) and then Ricky. But there was no carrier, and Chuckles was getting squirmy at this point. In addition to the sweating, crazy-eyed, muttering, I was now starting to shake. I screamed at the TSA lady to send the carrier through and she said, "He hasn't sent it through yet," indicating my husband. At this point a she-demon took over and I howled like I've never howled before and screamed at my husband to send it through. He did so quickly (he was dealing with laying out all the computers in their individual plastic bins, as required, and didn't see that the carrier was still sitting there). The carrier finally came through, I crammed Chuckles into it, and practically burst into tears. Now, in my own defense, I think this reaction was not just worry over the kitties, but a culmination of weeks and weeks of stress, extreme sadness at leaving my friends, angst over the next 10-15 hours of travel, and uncertainty about what lay ahead for us.

But I collected myself, started gathering up the computers as they came through (oh, the joy of being married to a techie), and I looked up just in time to see my husband jauntily walk through the metal detector carrying Ricky as if they were out for a Sunday stroll. I am willing to bet money that my husband could have placed Ricky on his shoulder and walked through with no issues. Ricky was looking around as if he did this daily and was hoping to see someone he knew.

When we made it to the gate, we dropped all our gear in a pile, placing the cats gently, of course, and collapsed into the chairs to await boarding. I was stressed, but the sweating and shaking had subsided and I felt okay about things. Until I got a text message from Robin to say she loved me and wished us safe travels. This unraveled me completely, and I ran to the bathroom. Somehow I never envisioned the first day of my new exciting life would find me sobbing in the stalls of the women’s bathroom outside gate 49 in Terminal 3 of Dulles International Airport. And yet, there I was.