April 25, 2020

How I Travel the World During Quarantine.

Relephant read: Elephant’s Continually updated Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


Five weeks into quarantine.

I sit on my grey couch, that one that our kitten likes to scratch when she’s happy we’ve returned home or angry at us for trying to hug her, and recall all the beauty that I have seen beyond my hometown.

All the sunsets I’ve watched and the jazz bars I’ve been to. All the sandy beaches I’ve dug my feet into and the chocolate I’ve tasted.

The memories come and go, like waves on the beach: 

Rio glowed with joy like no other place. As I sat on Ipanema beach, a guy passed by selling fresh coconut water and Pao de Queijo (Brazilian bread with cheese).

I slowly sipped my Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, fresh and limey, and watched women in pretty bikinis and men with shaved chests, skillfully pass the ball to each other as they played beach football.

I stared in awe at Cristo Redentor, against Rio’s blue skies and bright green hills, and the row houses held within its favelas and wished I can stay there forever.

I walked through the Tijuca Forest, wearing stockings underneath my loose colorful Indian pants, a white shirt, and a cowboy hat—in a failed attempt to not get bitten by the hungry mosquitoes.

I indulged in the homemade coconut yogurt that I had daily for breakfast at that B&B owned by a Frenchman in Paraty, a small town in the southernmost of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Climbing up a little hill wearing Ipanema slippers with a pink bicycle drawing on each pair, I twisted my ankle, not feeling the pain until the next day when I found myself unable to walk through the historic alleys of Paraty without limping. I ended up staying in bed for two days at that pretty B&B, making occasional bathroom visits mainly to smell the citrus-verbena-scented soap. When I finally felt better, I walked to a nearby restaurant that played Brazilian Bossa Nova in the background, and felt nothing short of complete gratitude.

Rio, may you be well and safe.

I watched the moon above in the Piazza di Santa Maria as I took a sip of my Meursault blanc (I don’t like it red) and a slow bite of my cheese-free Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico and watched two young lovers sitting on the stairs of the Piazza—the girl leaning over to kiss the boy’s lips.

I walked down the narrow streets behind the Piazza one late evening, in a black dress and my hair in a high bun, breathing in the endless beauty that is Rome.

I carefully listened to the sound of Italian language, like I am listening to a Bach symphony—timeless, beautiful, and free-flowing, thinking to myself “I am learning that language as soon as I am back home!”

I meditated in the sacredness of the Vatican, under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, feeling the endless love and light contained within this city.

I tasted that dark-chocolate-roasted-whole-hazelnut gelato, indulging in scoop after scoop, not counting calories, for I had endless walking to do to see every corner of that city. And honestly, the only thing I really cared about at that moment, was that gelato.

Rome, may you be well and safe.

I walked through the narrow, charming streets, green and dusty, and as random as can be. That morning, I decided to go for a walk in Maadi (despite it being a 40-minute drive from where I live) as it is a quiet suburb—15 minutes away from Tahrir square in downtown Cairo—and is one of the few places where I feel a solitary walk is possible.

I watched all the kind faces that pass me by, the doorman reading the morning newspaper, the young woman walking her baladi dog (local breed), and the old gentleman on his way back from a local food store with his Friday groceries packed in a white bag with leaves of lettuce overflowing.

I finished my walk and drove to my father’s house in bustling downtown Cairo. Climbing the stairs of his building, I frequently paused for breaks. He lives on the fourth floor of a historic building that was built in the early 1900s, and these stairs are really tiring to get up. I rang the bell on the side of his blue front door—one that looks quite different from the rest of the building’s doors.

We decided to go for a walk through downtown and Abdeen. This was quite exciting as I’ve lived in this city for years but never quite explored it fully.

We walked through the busy cozy streets of Cairo, passing through Elmoski, an area where clothes are hung up on stalls and sold for relatively cheap prices. I watched women and men as they negotiated prices of jeans and T-shirts (some labels read “H&M”)—no idea how those ended up there.

We passed by Elhorreyya (Freedom, in Arabic) a classic local bar that looks more like a humble cafeteria and gets quite packed at night. “This is where your grandfather used to meet his friends for tawla (backgammon) every evening after work,” my father told me.

As my father explained the history of each block, each building, and every neighborhood to me, I felt as grateful as can be, and thought to myself that we should make our walks more regular.

Cairo, my home, may you be well and safe.

It is 6 p.m. I get off the couch and look out of my window in Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb that is close to the airport, and see a few guys having a little pre-curfew gathering. I feel judgy as I think they should be home physically distancing. I watch them as I sip my turmeric hot chocolate that smells like a warm winter’s night and feel nothing short of endless gratitude for being home during these challenging times.

While I do remember all the places I’ve been to with dreamy love and joy, there is no where else that I’d rather be today other than my own home. In my humble abode, I make my own food, pick my own coriander leaves, and indulge in beautiful Italian pasta made thousands of miles away from the Piazza di Santa Maria. I listen to Latin jazz and it takes me back to those nights I spent on the Copacabana beach listening to local musicians as they tuned into my heart.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that I sit with myself, and fall in love with it, little by little. I find peace in solitude, while learning to sit with difficult emotions. I sit with my home—and for the first time in a long time, I clean my abandoned balcony, move a cheap old bean bag with a green-blue mandala drawing, and sit there at night.

I see an older couple who live in the building right across from ours quietly enjoy each others’ company every night on their balcony, and at that very moment, I don’t long to be anywhere else.

Today I made my first proper guacamole (without excluding coriander because I am too lazy or too busy to get it), and didn’t catch myself wishing I was eating it anywhere else other than my own worn out armchair.

I send out a little prayer of peace to every place that I’ve seen, every place that I am yet to see, and every place that I will never get to see.

And, I send out a prayer of gratitude to my home.



Relephant Reads for this Moment: 

How to Enjoy Life Amidst the Coronavirus Fear: Your Go-To Guide from Books to Podcasts & Wellness Practices.
The Metta of Mask-Wearing.
What if the Coronavirus is the Ultimate Pause & Reset Button? 

Stop Romanticizing Lockdown—It’s a Mental Health Crisis in the Making.
What I wish I had known when I first got COVID-19. 



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