Lessons From My Cat on Finding Home and Being Home

tumblr_ngo0dr80V21qj97r1o3_500

My cat follows me everywhere I go in our apartment, but he does it casually, so that it always looks like an accident that we both ended up in the same room. Ganoush spends a lot of time standing on me. I think he’s trying to comfort me. He’s a very affectionate cat. He cuddles with me when I’m lying down and purrs, making me feel like I am home even if I don’t necessarily have a home right now.

Now Ganoush is resting on my chest, which I’ve been told by friends and lovers alike is truly comfortable. I spent a lot of time asking my cat if he loves me. Ever since I’ve moved back in with my parents, Ganoush has become my only cuddle buddy. In my parents’ apartment, time moves very slowly. I spent a lot of time either sleeping or reading because there is nothing else to do. Most of the day I can be found sprawled out on one of the truly ugly couches that furnish their living room, strategically placing my limbs on the various couch cushions so I can cool down as much as possible in the ridiculous heat of the only room in the apartment that has wifi (and happens to also have a busted AC).

Ganoush has a particularly plaintive meow, which he sounds day and night, when he is bored, hungry, annoyed, wants attention, or just feeling talkative. He tumbles from room to room meowing at me and my sisters, or crouching under couches, beds, tables meowing at the family’s other cats, who are terrified of him. Every now and then I find myself marveling at Ganoush’s ability to acclimate to my parents’ place, something I haven’t been able to do yet. He rubs himself up against my mother’s legs and she complains about how fat he is. He curls up between my sister’s legs when she’s trying to sleep and she complains about how heavy and warm he is. He playfully lets himself be chased around the apartment by my brother. My brother complains about how Ganoush doesn’t like him. Everyone complains about Ganoush’s presence–which I think is just a way for them to complain about my presence without actually complaining about my presence- in my family’s habit of triangulation.

I feel like I have absorbed some Ganoush-like qualities since moving back in with my parents. Ganoush being, for all intents and purposes, my current best friend, in the sense that he is the being I spent most of my time with, the being I interact with physically and talk to on a regular basis, I have picked up on some of his habits. This is not to say I have started pooping in a litter box and licking my own genitals (wouldn’t that be an interesting talent?), but I find myself slowing down with him, lying down and curling up in bed when I feel the need. I reach out to friends when I need to, in the human equivalent of rubbing my head against someone’s leg or standing on someone’s chest for ten minutes contemplating the best way to cuddle up to them. I have always had trouble remembering that I am loved when the people who do the loving are physically far away from me, so I have been soaking up the knowledge that my cat feels some kind of love for me when he falls asleep with his head against my chest, or he when stands on my stomach for five excruciating minutes surveying the space around me and inevitably falls asleep with half his body resting on my arm.

Everything around me has slowed down to match the pace Ganoush and I have taken up to cope with the purgatory of done with college /don’t yet have a job. My phone lags, my computer is slow to open various applications, my Kindle protests to my tapping to sift through pages of ebooks. Every semester in college had been a sprint, and the time between semesters had been no time for rest as I psyched myself up to start another race, find an internship, read the ten books I’ve been meaning to read since before freshmen year, so on and so forth. College has been my greatest achievement, the only marathon I managed to run to the end line. Now I want to stretch, fill up my water bottle, and start running again, but the world seems to be telling me to breathe, take a moment, lie down with my cat in bed, and rest for a little bit.

Ganoush, my black tiger baby, has spent the last several months of being family torturing me. He chases me around the apartment, scratches my legs when he is bored, bites my hands if I pet him wrong, and meows incredibly loudly for no clear reason. And yet, Ganoush is what makes my parents’ place a home. Ganoush is what makes me a home. He curls up around me at night and becomes part of me. We need each other for comfort and for love. And because of Ganoush, I am fairly certain that I will survive the terrifying post-college world.

Rabha Ashry: The Different Ways I See Myself

10846132_10152861039939407_295739585868551648_nrabha ashry is an arab poet who is terrified that graduating university means that she will be sentenced to a life of housewife-misery just like her mother. she writes poetry to stay sane and remind herself how to breathe.

rabha ashry is mother to ganoush the cat. she lets him sleep in her bed every night although she wakes up with scratches on her feet every morning. she is scared of what that says about her deep need for affection and the destructive nature of the love she has in her life.

rabha ashry is the eldest of five and half-sibling to many. she is resentful towards her conservative parents, who make her feel trapped and small. she misses her chosen family, who don’t seem to miss her.

rabha ashry has been writing poems since she was nine. her first poem was about her family written in thinly veiled metaphors about star clusters. she has since abandoned metaphors for honesty because she hates censorship.

rabha ashry has spent the first 18 years of her life trying to catch up on American pop culture, realized in her 19th year that nothing other than being American can make her American, and wrote essays in her 21st year trying to explain how colonialism and assimilation politics and her very specific circumstances fashioned that desire in the first place.

rabha ashry is a newly-minted freelance writer with no idea about how life in the real world works. she wishes she could go back in time and do college right. she misses cuddling on the couch with her best friends and watching cult classics.

rabha ashry spends most of her time either reading or watching reruns of cancelled tv shows. when she was a kid she thought she was going to change the world, now she realizes the world will change her.

rabha ashry is mother to a team of misfit artists who have all moved away to pursue more successful careers than she could hope to have. she finally understands how much her mother struggles with empty nest syndrome.

rabha ashry spent the first six years of her life confused about her last name because her father abandoned her and her stepdad raised her. now her father is dead and her stepdad won’t talk to her. she’s not sure where she went wrong exactly.

rabha ashry is a lapsed muslim living in conservative sharjah. she worries that sleeveless shirts and smoking cigarettes outside during daytime in ramadan will get her arrested. she hasn’t prayed in three years and secretly hopes that god won’t mind so much.

rabha ashry is a writer. she hopes to make a career out of her experimental poetry and her no sugar coating allowed feminism. she can’t conceive of a life in which she is not a writer.

Love Letter to College and my Chosen Family

I graduated college two weeks ago and I find myself already lost. The place I have called home for the past four years has shut its doors to me and I’m left outside hyperventilating under the hot Middle East sun.

This sounds dire, and to me, it is. Four years ago I started school at New York University Abu Dhabi; two years ago I came out, and one year ago I found my family of strange, amazing friends, all equal parts cynical and optimistic; all beautiful, all a little bit broken.

I’m not going to sing the praises of the university, its world-class education, its generous financial aid, or its cosmopolitan student body—at least not here. This is a piece about what made this university exceptional for me. NYU AD was exceptional in that within its air-conditioned hallways and pristine classrooms, tucked away in Saadiyat Island, a half hour away from Abu Dhabi, there existed a community of misfit students, allies, feminists, activists, and artists. The university allowed me—an Egyptian girl raised in Abu Dhabi with extremely conservative parents — to find people who were not insulted by my identity. It allowed me to find a family, to come home to people I loved, to share a cigarette with people whose hearts ached the same way mine did. More importantly, it allowed me to do these things in the home I grew up in, in Abu Dhabi.

The school is not without its problems, of course.  Micro-aggressions, homophobia, and frustrating bureaucracy are as much a part of the university as any other university, but NYU AD, in the middle of the UAE was, for me, an actual dream come true. In the middle of a heterosexist, transmisogynist, deeply homophobic culture ruled by tradition and deeply ingrained gender roles, NYU AD, with its monochrome buildings and over-watered dying grass, held deep inside it groups of all manners of students, coming together in cluttered dorm rooms, making art in the strangely sterile art center, baking in the well-equipped student lounges, and smoking by the pavement, getting chased away by security guards.

Over the past year I have been blessed with this family, with impromptu dance parties, late night movie screenings, and a tad too much wine. I have been blessed with an audience for my poetry, with people I could make art with, with loved ones I could curl up next to at the end of a long day and share a cigarette with. I have been blessed with friends that walked into my room with a twirl, their whole being bursting with song, with friends that stumbled in with their hair held up with pencils, leaning against my wall and making accidental doodles with their unconscious gestures. I have been blessed with gorgeous friends, passionate about boxing, passionate about theater, well versed in light design, friends who could design beautiful clothes and tailor them in a matter of days, and friends who recited their poetry with their voices wavering with vulnerability and unexpected strength.

But I graduated college. I lost the home that was my dorm room, I lost the family that was my friends, and I lost the respect that my hard work and writing won me among my professors and peers. I have moved back with my conservative parents who don’t understand that the past four years have simultaneously been the best and worst of my life. Here I am, wondering if girls from families like mine get married out of boredom, or just to escape the constant scrutiny and judgment of their parents. Here I am, leading the script-less life. Being an Egyptian Muslim, as far as my family is concerned, means I should be engaged by now, planning a wedding, thinking up baby names. Walking off the graduation stage was like walking off a cliff poised over a black hole. Everyone was getting sucked away, my family, my friends, the people who had become my home.

This is a struggle not only I face, of course. But this is a struggle made more bitter with the heavy expectation of living life like the adult my parents envisioned me to be, a heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual man going to Friday prayers and sacrificing sheep for our son’s first week of existence in this world. This is a struggle weighed down with the abrupt loss of my support system. This is a struggle made heavy with having to move back in with controlling, abusive parents.

My chosen family is spread around the world, back to their respective homes, living in places as far and as varied as the US, Serbia, and Ethiopia. I am living the purgatory that countless recent graduates are experiencing, the awful in-between place between graduation and finding a job. I have traded my beautifully buzzed nights of spontaneous dance parties to empty nights updating my résumé and writing cover letters with my headphones firmly in place to avoid the noises of my too-big family.

In the space of the week since I’ve moved back my knuckles ache, not from random boxing sessions I had with my roommate, or writing too many notes and straining my fingers, but from punching a mirror out of frustration at my mother’s incessant badgering, and from my stepfather slamming my laptop shut on my hand when I refused to respond to his mean comments the way he had wanted me to. Instead of rolling my eyes at the overt displays of heterosexuality that suffuse the culture I live in and making offhand jokes with my friends, I have to look down and nod when my parents talk to me about my marriage prospects. Certainly things will get better, but for now I yearn for my carefree college years, and my wonderful friends, and having a strong support system.