Friday, October 22, 2010

Life Lessons Learned from a Dan Brown Novel

Okay, I admit it. I am a fan of Dan Brown novels. His action-packed stories with a clue around every corner keep me on the edge of my seat, and I can hardly put them down until I turn the last page. In fact, I just finished his latest The Lost Symbol in record time - a miracle considering how much time I spend taking care of my son.

But it occurred to me the other day that living life in Egypt is a lot like a Dan Brown novel. There are definitely some distinct parallels to my life.

Aside from the part where you're racing against time to decipher ancient symbols to keep some crazy lunatic from killing you...

But I think you get my point.

It's the details that matter. Robert Langdon, Brown's hero in several books, is a professor who specializes in ancient symbology. He usually finds himself somewhere in the thick of things, brought onboard the investigation either by fate (as in wrong place, wrong time) or by connection (friend, colleague, past history, etc.). And, for me, the interesting part of the story is how he discovers clues from the smallest of details. 

Life in Egypt is kind of like this. It's the little things that matter. 
  • It's buying that shampoo and conditioner when I happen to see it in the store because I know that when I run out of shampoo, that most likely the conditioner that goes with the shampoo I want won't be available. 
  • It's remembering to tell my husband to get meat (beef) for us from the butcher on Wednesday or Saturday because every other day of the week it won't be fresh or available.
  • It's getting small bills from the bank so that I have them on hand because when I get out of that taxi, I'm gonna need a 5 LE note to give the driver because he's not going to have change.
I know it sounds silly that some things are so insignificant and yet so significant at the same time, but it's true.

The enemy is who you least expect it to be. Without giving anything away (in case you haven't read his books yet), I am always shocked to find out who the bad guy is in just about every one of Brown's books.

There are lots of things in Egypt that I already know will be hard for me. The heat, the dust, the traffic, the craziness during Ramadan, the trying to find clothes that fit me, the trying to find ingredients for holiday cooking, these things I already expect to give me problems... so I plan accordingly.

But the most difficult moments are the things that catch me by surprise. These are my *enemies* because I am not really ready to face them. 
  • It's when the electricity goes off after dark for the 4th day a row, and I'm stuck trying to entertain my son out on our balcony in the dark in the summer heat when what he really needs is to take his bath and go to bed.
  • It's when I can't find the diapers we always buy in either one of the pharmacies near our house so I have to pay almost twice the cost at the only place I can find them in town. 
  • It's when we send our bowab (doorman) to buy red Cheddar for us only to discover when I go to add it to the recipe that it's not the imported type but rather the Egyptian kind that tastes like foot.
  • It's planning your whole day around something that suddenly gets cancelled so you're left wondering how you're ever going to reschedule that and what on earth you're going to do with the rest of your day.
I know that you're thinking that I have some sort of optimistic, go-get-'em attitude that will kick in to save the day (and me) at these times. But alas I wouldn't call these my "shining star moments" where I rise to the occasion to kick some culture-shock butt. Nope, these are usually the times when I kind of cry to myself (and to my husband, of course) and skulk off to feel sorry for myself.

Chocolate does me a lot of good then.

You might break a few rules. Professor Langdon always seems to be running away from the authorities in these books, whether they're on the good side or bad.

I'm not saying that I'm not a law-abiding citizen in Egypt. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I DO break a few rules that I would NEVER break in the States.
  • I ride in a taxi with my son in my lap and not buckled into a carseat.
  • I jaywalk like it's goin' outta style. This is a matter of survival of the fittest (and fastest).
  • I have on numerous occasions ridden in a car going the wrong way down a one way street.
  • I cut in line - especially if I ever ride the Cairo metro. The key is to pretend that no one else is there.
  • I'll walk into a store with my cup of Starbucks coffee and ignore the security guy trying to tell me I can't.
You laugh, but I'm looking at this list and feeling a little repentant.

What would Robert Langdon do at a time like this? Probably break the rules now and ask for forgiveness later.

Definitely should make this my new motto in Egypt.

Well, there you have it. My life according to Dan Brown.

Can't wait for his next book... in like two or three years.

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