SWIM : EGYPT with Justine Lackey of Good Cents Bookkeeping

  “The sky above me like a blue veil. Sunlight streaming down. That sky might have gone on forever- but as the palm tree fronds swayed on the edges of my eyesight, I was reminded that indeed, the sky does eventually end.
I lay there, releasing myself into the water. Allowing it to hold me suspended- much like the bits of stars and dust in the sun’s light. My mind was suspended too. Jetlag is a strange sort of intoxication.
I slipped under the water, delighted to dive into the deep blue, the sky and the water and me- one. As I sank into thought, I realized that thinking deeply seemed so perfectly appropriate in Egypt.
I had never been to Musr (Arabic for Egypt) before. Little did I know that this inaugural trip would eventually lead to me traveling back and forth to the country nearly twenty times in the next eight years. Traveling, like life, is always full of surprises.
I got out of the pool, making my way to the lounge chair where my friend was basking in the hot Egyptian sun. I stared out at the gardens that bordered the pool, and the palace beyond the flowers. Everything was so beautiful, so luxurious, such a privilege. I felt blessed.
I was staying on Zamalek, a small island in the middle of the Nile in Cairo. Our hotel had once been a palace, built in 1869 to entertain dignitaries. The ornate space was filled with traditional Arabian furniture- wood carvings stained the warmest chestnut brown, inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory*.
In that moment, fresh off a plane, with my best friend in a foreign land, water pearls on my skin after a swim, I didn’t think pool life could get any better. I had zero idea that for the next twelve days we were going to be adopted by a raucous gang of young, hilarious Egyptian men- traveling the country by their side.
Speeding down desert highways in black Mercedes’ with tinted windows and dancing until dawn at a rave was nowhere on my “see the pyramids” Egypt traveling agenda.
But life -like traveling-is always full of surprises.
Of course, we did all of the traditional stuff too. We went to Giza and took camel rides. We journeyed deep into the desert and toured Saqqara, the oldest pyramid in Egypt. (The pyramids really do feel intense- vibrationally different than any other place on the planet.)
We watched as merchants made papyrus for silly Americans like us. We took a nighttime boat ride down the Nile, staring at the glittering stars of Cairo. We smoked sheeshas in classic Egyptian cafes, taking puffs of tasty, strawberry flavored tobacco while listening to women trill melodic, traditional Arabic songs over fuzzy speakers.
And we found ourselves in the homes of our companions, sprawling apartments on Zamalek, and in neighborhoods like Mohandiseen and Garden City. These homes were gorgeous, but didn’t come close to the book-worthy villa we found ourselves at in the middle of the Egyptian desert.
And although I loved my first Egyptian swimming experience, it didn’t come close to the one I had at the villa.
After a long drive through Cairo traffic, then deep into the Egyptian desert, we arrived at spindly iron gates fastened to a brick wall. Two men in dusty garabayas, hidden by head wraps and the shade of towering palms trees, came to the gates and creaked them open. They kept their eyes lowered. Class distinctions are palatable in Egypt. Always.
The Mercedes navigated a long, winding driveway, past vast gardens and a tennis court. At the end of the driveway- a yellow ranch-style mansion. We spilled out of the car. My girlfriend and I wandered around, open mouthed, not quite processing our incredible luck. After a cup of tea with mint, we stepped out onto a patio with a massive, infinity pool. As a music lover, my heart fluttered when giant speakers were wheeled out and set around the perimeter of the pool.
I can’t tell you how many hours we spent there, or how nymph like I felt diving and swimming, pulling myself out of the water, resting, diving back in again.
I can’t tell you how magical it felt to listen to all my favorite dance mixes- that could be heard and felt under the water.
I can’t tell you how long I danced like no one was watching, alone beneath ribbons of Egyptian dusk light at the edges of the pool, while my friends wandered the grounds.
I can’t tell you how peacefully exhausted I was when we left the house, the stars shining in the night sky as we began the long drive back to Cairo.

But I can tell you that Egypt, beyond all the countries I have ever traveled to, burrowed its way deep into my heart. With all of its beeping and honking and bustling and thick, polluted air – Egypt became, over time, my second home.
And I can tell you that the palace hotel, the desert villa, and eventually my first snorkeling trip in the Red Sea, cradling my six-month old daughter in the Mediterranean waters off of Alexandria, Egypt during her first ocean swim, all hold my most amazing swimming memories.”
~Justine Lackey  

Justine Lackey is the owner of Good Cents Bookkeeping Inc, a financial management and consulting firm that caters to artists and creative professionals. 

*The author in NO WAY supports poaching of any kind. Notations on ivory are simply used descriptive language regarding the antiques in the story.

June 2014

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