Tag Archives: Egypt

The apartment

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Because living in Cairo is like balancing an open bottle of gasoline on your nose while holding a lit match in your mouth (exhilarating and pointlessly dangerous), because everyone has had nightmare stories of their bawabs and neighbours, because I’ve left this place and hopefully my neighbours will ever  find me (ever, ever) again, I’ve decided to write this very stereotypical account of my beloved, decrepit apartment in Zamalek over the past five years.

Every morning we’d wake up to the sound of children screaming in the school courtyard, as the headmaster yelled into the mic: ‘Yalla ya 7omar enta we howa, tay7a el gomhoreya!’*

Followed by a bizarre medley of ‘Boshret Kheir/National Anthem’, ‘S&M’, ‘Sexy and I know it’ and ‘Sexy Bitch’, to which the kids did their morning aerobics. This was quite possibly the only sex education they got.

Every night we’d fall asleep to the sound of drunken shishifoufou idiots arguing with the parking attendants of the bar next door, or with each other, or – on one occasion – a wall, screaming ‘Ana mesh sakran yabn el a7ba!’. Wall did not respond, so drunk Foufou peed on it. Or that one time, someone took a gun and fired it into the air because of the following dialogue:

‘A7a, tesada2 ennak 3*rs?’

‘Ana mesh 3*rs yabn el m*tn*ka!’

‘La2 enta 3*rs!’

‘Bet2ool 3aleya 3*rs? A7a’. Takes gun out. Shoots. Logical conclusion.

Every time I’d try to park, I couldn’t, because even double parking in Zamalek is a luxury, and the only spot free on the entire street was where CrayCray parked. CrayCray is the old woman next door who would park her car between the first and second row, thus taking up two whole spots. If you tried to, she’d throw things on your car roof, then affectionately call you a sharm**t as you tried to flee the rain of rubbish she’d throw at you. Every morning at 7AM, without fail, she would then rev up the car engine and push on the gas incessantly till the entire neighbourhood woke up. Then she’d go back to sleep.

One night, after two desperate drives around the street with no parking spot in sight, I decided to take my chances and parked next to her car. I figured – since it was 2AM, she’d be fast asleep and I’d be safe. Nope.

A bucketful of ice landed on my car roof and window to the high-pitched, hyena-like screams of ‘YA SHARM**TA YA BENT EL WESKHA BETA3MELY EH YA MAAAMAAAA?’

I got out of the car and stared at her, and in then in a moment of inspiration, decided to respond in a language she understood. So I started singing at her:

She’s crazy and she likes it/Loca Loca Loca!’ and then ran for cover as her screams pierced the winter air.

Then there was that unfortunate incident when I met my second-floor neighbour, who seemed attractive and had several friends in common, and asked me out on a date. I made the mistake of giving him my number, only to receive the following messages after one brief coffee date:

‘Hello bunny rabbit’

‘Do you miss me, bunny rabbit?’

‘How is bunny rabbit today?’

‘BUNNY RABBIT ANSWER MEEEEEE’

‘Tayeb what about poodle? You like poodle, bunny rabbit?’

‘Hello?’

‘BUNNY WHY YOU NO CALL ME’

Thus, he became affectionately known as the bunny rabbit killer and I spent several months sneaking out of the building in sunglasses and a big hat to avoid running into him.

Then there was the glorious revolution, which Zamalek took to like salmon to the sea: the citizen checkpoint set up on my street with Molotov cocktails made of Chivaz and Smirnoff, where everyone suddenly had their grandfather’s collector samurai sword/hunting rifles/designer golf clubs/full-on leather outfits that looked more David Beckham circa Gucci phase than dangerous thug.

My favourite was the checkpoint at Gezirah Club, where we were stopped once by a middle-age crisis man fully decked in Harley Davidson gear and a walkie talkie worth one  year’s rent. With his legs practically spread-eagled across the road, he demanded our IDs, sniffed at our Alexandrian home addresses, and refused entry because we weren’t Zamalek enough. We proceeded to hurl keywords at him: lido, coffee bean, the Pub, Tante Foufette, Sami El Adl, Uncle Ramzi, ay haga, and he let us in after a 15-minute rant about his stocks and shares that would change the world .

Then there was the fact while all of Cairo was under curfew, Zamalek’s pubs and bars were open and bursting with revellers ordering cocktails a la ‘Monhara fil Tahrir’, as helicopters circulated overhead and you could hear the roaring sound of Tahrir protestors over the Nile, and gunshots firing in Imbaba and Shobra, yet somehow people were drinking and laughing their way through this terrifying reality via their own shishi coping mechanism.

Or that time when I woke up one morning to find a stranger making pancakes in my kitchen. Some foreigners had been kicked out of the Hilton and Safir Hotels, and Pancake man was taking refuge in our flat till he found a safe hotel. So I had pancakes and went to Tahrir. Later that day, the bawab knocked to say – rather embarrassedly – that the neighbours had complained that we were harbouring foreigners.

I looked at him. He looked at me.

I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, we have no foreigners here’, as pancake man passed behind me and cheerfully yelled out ‘Sabah El Kheir!’

Bawab looked at me. I looked at him. He shrugged and left.

Or that time I was supposed to join my friends in Tahrir, but rumours had circulated that food was running out in Cairo, so I went to Alfa Market to stock up (what on earth do you buy?) amidst the many, panicking Zamalekites piling their trolleys high with Perrier, Saumon Fumee and Belgian biscuits. I came home with five bags of fuul tins and flour (I have no idea), only to find my family and friends staring at the TV with their mouths open.

‘Wait, was that a camel?’ one of them asked. And I realised my friends were in Tahrir surrounded by camels. I’d missed the camel battle by minutes as I was shopping for fuul tins. Shit you can’t make up.

Then there was the night Mubarak stood down, and my father and mother stood around the TV screaming and crying, I grabbed my shoes to run off to Tahrir before my father drew me into a hug and said, ‘Thank you for doing what my generation never could’ and cried. That quote became a tweet that ended up in a book that is the sole claim to fame I have.

There were nights of gas masks and graffiti spray cans, of Libyan activists making long distance calls to Benghazi as it fell to the revolutionaries, of the Gaza doctor who’d smuggled a water bottle filled with Vodka back from Rafah, left it in the fridge and had forgotten to warn me, the balcony that held up to fifteen people who sang so loud, neighbours three streets down could hear us. There was food and laughter, lights suddenly being turned off as gunshots fired too close to the house, of watching the plain clothes mokhabarat shred and bury a pile of documents in the backyard across from my balcony, of sleepless nights of crying and convulsing from the aftershock of nerve gas and watching grown men die, but never ever any stillness.

Then there was that night before Morsi won and the bar nearby threw a gallabeya party, and the day the results were announced I was accosted by a terrified neighbour who was moving her entire family to the coast because ‘If Shafiq wins, the Ikhwan will come and KILL US IN OUR SLEEP!’

‘How do you know this?’ I asked as I tried to dislocate her clenched wrists from around my neck.

‘MY PLUMBER TOLD ME, HE SAID THEY ARE COMING FOR THE RICH. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIEEEEEEE.’

When the news broke, I walked to the club, the streets deserted and a pregnant quiet hanging over the heavy trees. And then shouts of joy erupted, I watched a street sweeper hug a restaurant waiter and congratulate him, as the tantes and uncles slumped in their seats and cried quietly into their lemon mint juices from FBI.

Then there was that time I decided to kidnap my neighbours’ dog, which was chained outside in the communal hallway in a wooden crib, where he drank from a water bowl covered in faeces, and the welts and bruises in his skin showed that he’d been beaten repeatedly.

After days of sneaking clean food and milk into his bowl, I asked a friend if she knew of any animal activists who could help. I asked that I be kept anonymous. Somehow my message got posted on some underground forum of animal activists in Cairo. The following happened:

  1. Attempt nr.1: Sherif, who described himself as a dolphin activist – he’d stolen some dolphins from a hotel somewhere in the Red Sea (???!!!??), called me.

‘This is what we’re going to do, ok? I’m going to sneak this pill into his food, mashy? The pill stops his heart from beating for a few hours, ha? Ha. They find he’s dead and they throw his body out in the trash, ah walahi. I will go pick him up from the trash and then take him to a safe house. Tadaa.’

‘Or, OR, you DON’T give him the pill, you just cut the chain to his neck, pick him up and leave!’ I suggested.

Sherif disappeared and never contacted me again. I never found out about those dolphins.

  1. Attempt nr. 2 was Basma, a very kind-hearted bur rather naive soul who decided honesty was the best policy; so she knocked on the neighbour’s door, informing them she was a friend of mine, and lecturing them on how to take better care of the dog. They looked at her, and slammed the door. So Basma had not only failed but implicated me in the plot.
  2. The last attempt was by the even more intelligent Sarah, who told the neighbours she was my friend and a vet, and said that the dog had a contagious virus that could kill their children, and she offered to take the dog off them. They said they’d think about it, so she waited outside the building, talked to the bawab and every single resident in the building about her plans to kidnap the dog and how she was a friend of mine. Genius.

The good news was that she did take him later that night, and the vet who checked him said he was covered in tumours and diseases due to beating, malnutrition and general human shittiness. I never saw Sarah again but she said he was adopted by a decent family, and even though the neighbours suspected me, the doorman interrogated me (see conversation above) and decided that I was not involved. They tried to kidnap my cat, Shitface, but that lasted about two minutes till he stuck his claws cheerfully in their thighs and they quickly unkidnapped him. 7abeeb mama.

Then there was that time a giant rat sauntered into the house. Shitface took one look at him and said ‘Oh HELL no.’ Rat disappeared into the kitchen and I spent most of the night with my feet firmly perched on the couch, watching the shut kitchen door as it trembled from the impact of rat flinging body against it.

I put a rag rug under the door to stop him from escaping, only to find half of it chewed off (as well as part of the door) the next morning. It was then when I discovered that the measure of a man should be in how he deals with a rat. Every manly man I knew was suddenly out of town/sick/overwhelmed with work to come help, and my bawab’s idea of rescuing me was to shove a piece of cheese covered in glue (I honestly don’t know) into the kitchen before cowering behind me, and then hitting my washing machine with a big stick in the hope the rat would come out with its hands up in defeat.

This is the same bawab who stood guard every night against thieves and ‘possible ikhwans’ with a big stick, but a rat one tenth his size scared the life out of him.

This apartment pretty much sums up everything I loved and hated about Egypt. There’s much more but I won’t tell you.

*I’d translate all of this into English, but I’m too lazy.

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Filed under Dating Jungle, Life in Egypt

Daddy Issues

translation: Metwally driver, Ashraf the tall guy... etc

translation: Metwally driver, Ashraf the tall guy… etc

This is what happens when your Egyptian father gets a smartphone with a touch screen.

A kind friend pointed out that Tamales means Zamalek

A kind friend pointed out that Tamales means Zamalek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone pointed out that I clearly have Daddy issues since I’m always blogging about him. But seriously, look at these messages. The man is a comedic genius.

Whoops

Whoops

I know. I’m mean.

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Introducing Suzee Out of The City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The name started as a joke (as did Suzee in the City) but I figured that I should start a travel blog since I travel every time I make enough money to get me out of Cairo – which is neccessary therapy, trust me. I love traveling alone or with friends, and this blog will be my personal account of the most beautiful spots around Egypt, and some excellent adventures overseas. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll find someone I could persuade to pay for my trips around the world, and then I could die happy.

Check out Suzeeoutofthecity and let me know what you think!

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Filed under Itchy Feet Cause Perpetual Travelling

I’m an Egyptian Woman and I Like Being Sexually Harrassed

I wake up every morning looking forward to getting sexually harassed in Cairo. Because a day gone by without being whistled at like cattle or groped like a melon at a vegetable store is a day unlived in this city. Right?

I even dress according to how often I’d like to get harassed that day. Tight white t-shirt? That’s the number one sign that I’m asking for it. Skinny jeans are obviously worn to highlight my butt so men know what to grab (some short-sighted idiots completely miss and grab my hip instead, which is just plain insulting).

And since I don’t cover my hair, then obviously I know what shit I’m getting myself into by walking on the streets of the city I call home as an equal citizen to the men that lurk on corners, outside shops, dangling from microbuses, waiting happily.

As an Egyptian woman, I completely understand that my purpose in this life is to serve the sexually frustrated imaginations of these poor men who can’t get it up. My father and mother spent years of sweat, tears and hard-earned cash on educating me into an emancipated woman so that one day I become a walking piece of meat on the street. Obviously.

Then I discovered that all the hours I put into my hair and makeup make no difference whatsoever to my sexual predators; I could walk around with my uncombed hair and a gallabeya; hell, I could wear a black tent from head to toe and still, they’d find something sexual about me. Ever heard Egyptian men talk about how erotic the Niqab is? Yeah, apparently there’s nothing you can do or wear to incite harassment.

Just the plain fact that you have boobs and they don’t means you’re up for grabs, literally.

I could spend what’s left of my pea-sized woman’s brain wondering what I did to deserve this friendly male reception, or analyzing why society has continuously objectified us little women into pigeon-holes of either innocent, doe-eyed girls or rampant whores; but I won’t.It takes too much brain power, and me being the weaker sex, I should stick to what I do best, which according to these men, is nothing.

Which is why I should never talk back, or look back, or yell or ask for help; this is my fate, I must accept it. And not even the veil can protect me from my Muslim brothers.

So I play a little game in my head. It’s like walking through a videogame scene, where every man is a potential predator, and I keep my radar finely tuned, my walk fast and dontmesswithme, my eyes scanning every corner for attackers. Over the years, I’ve acquired a Robocop face that occasionally scares the living shit out of small children and animals, and my middle finger is my videogame weapon that I choose to shoot when the moment comes.

But I only keep it for those who really deserve it; I ask myself ‘Is this the worst line I’ve heard all day? Has he managed to completely annihilate my self-esteem?’ If so, then he gets the finger. If not, I just walk on.

And I defy what my well-intentioned mother and many other kind Egyptians have taught me, and I answer back. Why should men  get all the fun?

Him: Bsssst! Bsssssst! Bssssssst!!

Me: Bsssst dee teb2a ommak.

Him: WELKOM TO EEJIPT!

Me: SANK YOU!

Him: Wat Zis? Wat Zis? Wat Zis? WAT ZIS?

Me: Zis is etnayel yala.

Him: Matgeeb Bosa?

Me: Ma3ak Dettol?

Him: Oh MAI GODD!

Me: Ommak Ar3a.

And as fun as it is to talk back, I’m sure I’m not getting the same kick out of it that they are. And I know that it could only make things worse for me, my predator could easily attack me  in broad daylight or get his friends together to follow me like a pack of rabid dogs, and of course it will be my fault because I talked back, when I should ignore it and accept that this is the price you pay for being a woman in Egypt. Right?

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On Birthdays And Other Scary Things

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I hate my birthdays. Not in the cute Hollywood I-Will-Not-Be-Defined-By-My-Birthdate-I-Am-At-One-With-Nature-In-My-Flowing-White-Dress-And-Flowers-In-My-Hair-Along-The-Beach kind of way.

No, I’m talking the heaving, hyperventilating, curling into fetus position while mentally dictating my obituary under the bed covers type of hate.

Drama queen? A little, I suppose; yet for as long as I can remember I have always been a nervous wreck around the time of my birthday. Why? Perhaps we could trace it all the way back to when I was three and I had a fit about the pink dress my poor mother was trying to make me wear -yes, even then I had a sense of style and didn’t listen to my mother’s advice.

Mother: Put it on.

3-year-old Me: No.

Mother: Go on, it will look pretty on you.

3-year-old Me: No.

Mother: Your friends are all outside waiting for you and this pretty pink dress will look nice. Don’t you want to go out and play?

Me: (stubbornly) No.

Mother: There’s pink cake too. With sugar icing.

Me: (less confident) No.

Mother: Look, just try the thing on.

Me: It’s ITCHY.

Mother: (exasperatedly) How would you know? you haven’t tried it on!

Me: It LOOKS itchy.

Mother: (Losing it) Look, you either try on the dress now or I’ll put you to bed and your friends can have your cake without you.

Me: (sniffling). Ookay. (Put Dress on) Oooh, it’s prittee!

Mother: (rolling eyes) Oh, don’t you look pretty in that!

But no, that couldn’t be it; I cannot blame a lifelong neurosis on a pink dress and a toddler’s attitude problem.

It’s not that I hate birthday parties; on the contrary, I’ve had many wonderful celebrations full of food, music, games and the people  I love.

It’s never been about the gifts either: as much as I love the shiny, superficial things in life; the experiences are even more valuable, which is why one of my all-time favourite birthdays was when I travelled alone to the Red Sea coast for a long weekend. With just three CDs (Pink Floyd, Dave Mathews and a mixed CD) and the third part of Lord Of The Rings, I spent my days sunbathing and reading, and my nights writing and sleeping. It was simple and relaxed. It was awesome.

But back to my annoying dilemma (I say annoying only because I’ve noticed how my friends get increasingly  wary of me as my birthday approaches, and my parents gently inform me that they will call me in a few days once my wave of pre-birthday neurosis has ended and I’ve stopped yelling at the phone that has imbedded itself into the concrete wall after I threw it)-

Perhaps all this fear, panic and self-indulgent whining have something to do with that time when I was twelve and a strange man came up to me at a Christmas bazaar. Without a word, he took my palm, proceeded to readthe lines on my hand, and then told me that I was going to die at the age of twenty four.

I tried to shake his words off, after all; how would he know? But what if he was right and I only had life till I was 24? That gloomy prospect stayed in my mind until that dreaded birthday finally arrived twelve years later.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t die; but I did lose my best friend, a death that was quite difficult to bear and unfortunately not the last one to endure. I didn’t die at 23, nor did I die at 25 or even at 27, but that’s how old my friends were when I lost them. It’s always around my birthday when their deaths strike close to home again, when I remember their faces and wonder at the fact that I will never see them grow past those ages; and only they will remain forever young.

I also look back at my own life and question what exactly I’ve made of myself in all these years. I have yet to climb a mountain, yet to write a bestselling novel, yet to make a name of myself that will be remembered long after I’m gone. And when will I be gone? All these are tough questions to face on a day that should involve cake, balloons and glitter; which is probably why I retreat into my three-year-old skin every year and demand a loud party. Bring on the joy, laughter, and the pink icing cake. And my favourite meal of grilled chicken liver, peas and carrots and mashed potatoes; the same I’ve had every birthday since I was five.

This results in an argument with the same mother every year along the same lines:

Mother: I really don’t want to cook chicken liver this year. Can’t we just have a nice dinner at a civilized restaurant instead?

27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No.

Mother: (Sighing) Look, you’re too old to be this stubborn. Can’t I just take you to Abu El Sid and you order the liver there?

27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No. It’s my birthday. I want chicken liver. And pink icing cake.

Mother: Does it have to be pink? There’s no pink icing colour available at the supermarket. Can’t I just buy you a cake from Pumpkin?

Me: (lip trembling) Make some. Use rose petals. Or hibiscus flower. Be creative.

Mother: You know you don’t HAVE to have a pink birthday cake every single birthday.

Me: (stubbornly) Yes I do.

Mother: (sighs) I wish I’d had a boy.

Perhaps my fraught nerves stem from a fear of aging, which could probably explain the borderline fanatical obsession with my childhood traditions of pink birthday cakes, chicken liver meals and a big birthday party.

Lately, the aspect of aging has become a lot easier. I’ve begrudgingly come to accept that I will never look twelve again (though I occasionally act it), that cellulite and laugh lines are inevitable (in fact, i’m secretly rather pleased about the laugh lines appearing before the frown lines) and that turning thirty doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life: I have several friends who have survived the big 3-0 and are still cool; so it can’t be that bad.

I’ve also managed to cut back on the fetus-position/howling-at-the-moon-if-I-don’t-get-a-birthday-cake drama.

So, if you catch me scowling on my birthday or failing to smile when you burst into song or wish me a Happy Birthday; please don’t take it personally. I’m probably just fretting over the years of it raining on my birthday and resisting the urge to stamp my foot, have a tantrum and be sent to my room for acting all camp and drama queen-like. But then again, when the lip begins to tremble and the clouds threaten to cover the skies, I am comforted by the memory of that itchy pink dress that turned out to be a lot of fun, just like all of my birthdays and the years that I’ve lived through so far. So far, so good. No?

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The Question of Courage

If you know me well enough, then you know that I don’t take risks. I’m not exactly the brave, daredevil, bungee-jumping type of girl. I’m afraid of heights and flying- which is quite unfortunate, considering I love traveling. Thankfully I’ve come a long way since the summer of 2002, when I literally cried all the way from Cairo to London. The fact that I was howling and reading my Koran at the same time didn’t go down too well with the elderly British couple next to me.

I don’t eat exotic foods (if I can squish it with a flyswatter or make a leather handbag out of it, I’m not eating it), and I don’t dabble in recreational drugs, though I do have a worrying weakness for painkillers and cough syrup (ask me about Toplexil later), and several eyewitnesses can probably testify that they have pretty much the same effect on me as mind-altering substances.

I used to fear cockroaches, especially the flying ones, but if you’re in a family where two out of three will climb on a chair and scream at the cockroach below, someone has to step down and kill it with a slipper. That someone is usually me.

Nonetheless, it’s dawned on me lately that I’ve never been the one to shave my head, get a tattoo, jump off a cliff or dive into the deep unknown (I’m claustrophobic under water, so I don’t scuba dive). If anything, I’ve always been the kind of girl that plays it safe in a boring dependable way, which is sad when you look at my family.

In his youth, my father had quite the reputation for meeting confrontations head on. It’s not that he picked fights; it’s just that his large-as-a-cupboard frame, crushing handshake and could-make-DeNiro-cry glare tended to attract fights to him. Friends would call him for help whenever a fight was going on, and usually he would win. I’m sure he must have lost at least once or twice, but I have yet to meet anyone alive who will attest to that…. My dad’s friends love to tell me stories about him, while he sits blushing slightly, like the one about him playing a volleyball match and disagreeing with the referee, whereupon he slapped the referee so hard that the man went deaf in one ear (myth). Or the one where he got into a fight with a driver on Stanly Corniche, so to make a point he picked up the front of the driver’s car and dragged it for a bit (I’m sure this is a myth; I don’t care if two of his friends swear this happened). My dad had guts; he would literally dive into the deep end and save drowning swimmers from the deceptively strong tides of Agami. Sometimes, he would bring them back alive and other times he wouldn’t; but he had the guts to keep going back.

When she graduated from university, my mother took on a teaching job that took her to different parts of the world every year, from Prague to Belize to Egypt, all on her own with her family left behind. Growing up in a society where it’s completely normally to live with your family till you marry, my mother’s spontaneous adventures through Europe (driving to Greece with a friend in a beaten up car) or her Greyhound journey from the Grand Canyon to New York City with only $40 in her pocket is an adventure that most Egyptians will only dream of or watch in a Julia Roberts movie.

With parents like these, you’d expect me to be a tobacco-chewing, sailor-swearing hippy traveler, and yet I literally hide from confrontations and when I travel, I have an itinerary, budget and every meal, sight and expedition planned down to a T; so that absolutely nothing can go wrong. I am, as one friend called it, ‘an obsessively neat traveler.’

But now that I think about, maybe risks can be taken in different ways. Maybe I’ve never done anything reckless, crazy or highly adventurous before; but I do have courage (surviving breakup, moving across the world, independent woman of substance, blablabla.)

So now, I’m about to embark on a little adventure of my own. A trip to Barcelona and Paris, alone, unplanned, unmapped. Buy a camera, take photos, taste their tapas and cavas by the beach. Sit in La Segrada Familia in silence and sunbathe in the Gaudi Park. Finally make it to Paris; a dream I’ve had ever since I was twelve and watched An American in Paris. Tie a scarf around my neck like Syd Cherisse and sip café au lait by the Rive Gauche. Flirt and cuss in four languages. See the Tour Eiffel at night and walk through Montmartre.

It may be your average vacation, and you may have already been and done that several times before. But to be out of my comfort zone, without my friends, family, maps and itineraries to depend on, takes a lot of guts on my behalf. Perhaps adventures don’t happen to you if you sit around and wait all day. You make your adventures; and I am making mine.

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