Photo Credit: Courtesy of: Imani Bashir
Reading 'The Alchemist' Manifested Meeting My Husband In Cairo, Egypt
Moving to Egypt, back in 2015, was my last-ditch effort at reclaiming the rest of my 20’s and accepting that I needed to begin anew while heading into year-30, alone. I was starting my adult life completely over by choosing to live in a new country and beginning a new career because what else was there?
What wasn’t apparent in my spontaneity was the reality that, at some point, I was going to feel incredibly lonely. I was very active and made attempts at doing the typical things people tell you you’re supposed to do to cure loneliness like going out shopping, to the movies, and for me, I even signed up to get a scuba diving certification–twice.
But, I was at a standstill and constantly crying that I had made the worst decision ever because my new life brought about old feelings of not having anyone who was going to take this life’s journey with me.
I took the opportunity, while at my new job of teaching, to see if there was something, anything that could steer me away from the funk I had fallen into.
“What book are you reading with your class?”, I asked another teacher.
She told me that they were covering, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which interested me because earlier in the year I showed my 11th-grade literature class a motivational video with Will Smith who spoke highly of it.
At the same time, I was slightly ashamed that I had never cracked it open yet quickly shoved off the feeling and decided that it may have been time to give it my attention.
“We are actually finished with it this week and I can give you my copy if you’d like!”
Her response regurgitated as though she was in my thoughts and I was elated to be able to place myself in someone else’s story for the time being.
When I began the book, I was instantly captivated by the protagonist, Santiago, and his desire to really seek out life outside of his modest living as a sheepherder in Andalucia, Spain. He was ambitious, forward-thinking, and dauntless much like myself and I began to become very fond of where the book was taking his journey and my mind. The theme of “finding your personal legend”, as Paulo Coelho brilliantly wrote it, made its appearance in so many aspects of Santiago’s life as well as my own.
I began to see that I hadn’t made a mistake of doing a complete 180-degree turn and venturing into new territory because I, too, was in search of something. For Santiago, he was looking for a treasure that repetitively appeared to him in a dream. The treasure was supposedly located at the pyramids of Giza which made me chuckle at the fact that I was currently living in Cairo. It was a parallel that I drew as mere coincidence until the effect of the book made itself apparent in more ways than one.
As a former sports broadcaster, people knew that I had a genuine love for sports. Around the middle of reading The Alchemist and 6-months into living abroad, that love appeared in the form of a program called, “American Football Without Barriers” and they were coming to Cairo, Egypt. The program was a non-profit that travels around the world to teach disadvantaged youth the game of American football.
It was going to be a refreshing reminder of home and a career that I absolutely enjoyed before deciding to move abroad. I immediately invited some of my students to partake in the program, as a way for me to get into this closed event. The opportunity to see former NFL players including one of my favorites, Marshawn Lynch, brought about a feeling of nostalgia I hadn’t felt in months.
I met my husband on that day–March 3, 2016. He had been standing around watching the players while I watched him. I thought he probably worked for the non-profit or the NFL, so the idea of actually interacting wasn’t of interest to me. But, I did think he was handsome and enjoyed sending gazes in his direction since it had been a while that I had seen other Black Americans.
In the midst of a cooler night overtaking the warm afternoon, I began a search for some hot tea and ultimately diverted my attention from him and the rest of the program’s activities. I found an enclosed building on the school’s campus that was holding the event and decided I’d take a walk inside. Low and behold, no sooner than I grabbed a few sugars to sweeten my tea, my future came walking in the door.
He proceeded to ask where the bathroom was located to which I found myself stuck figuring out if I wanted to indulge in a sweet, but brief conversation or continue to add more sugar to my tea. I chose the tea–but quickly made my way over to where he had been standing to feed two birds with one seed.
He wasn’t working with the non-profit, but had been living and working in Cairo as the American football coach for the American University. It was his second-year coaching a team in Cairo, as he had been another university team’s coach the season prior.
His players were a part of the program and he came out for the evening to support them. I realized I struck gold when he proceeded to tell me that we lived in very close proximity to each other, but quickly turned into a lump of coal as he added that he was headed to China in the Fall.
“Just great!” My inner eye roll spoke as I thought about finally finding another Black American who lived near me that I could hang out with occasionally–yet he was only in Egypt temporarily. I had begun to build a life there and wasn’t planning on leaving within the year.
It was then that I blurted out, “You should give me your number!”
I figured if my treasure hadn’t shown up, the least I could do was enjoy the journey to finding it. As the cold progressed the remainder of the evening, he was excited to meet with his players and I headed home.
“It was nice meeting you!” I texted without expectation and nearly half-sleep.
Suddenly, I received a notification that he responded. He reciprocated the feeling of having met and enjoyed conversation, so to add to the general text I asked what he was doing the next day.
“Hopefully seeing you again.”
It was at this point my drooping eyes became very-much alert and fixated on my phone. I read the message over and over making attempts at decoding what he meant.
“Did he really enjoy my company? But, he didn’t seem interested. Besides, he’ll go to China soon so it’s probably unnecessary to think too much into this encounter.”
The next day we were to meet up at Cairo Festival City– a mega mall up the street from the both of us. As I awaited his late arrival, I pulled out my book. I had nothing else but time to kill and wanted to find out what was to come of Santiago’s journey.
At this point in the story Santiago is now traveling with a caravan from Spain to get to Egypt. He meets a girl named Fatima with whom he becomes very fond of and tells her of his journey and goal of finding his treasure. She tells him that if they are meant to be together they’d see each other again.
As my future husband approaches, I scold him for his tardiness and remind him that time is of the essence. We spend hours, precisely 12, between eating at a restaurant and walking around the mall before we come across a bookstore that has The Alchemist, for sale, in the window.
“Have you ever read this book? You have to read this book!” In my excitement I grabbed it off the shelf, placing it in his hands. Then in a knee-jerk reaction grabbed the book back to go pay for it and return it into his hands.
“You need to read this book, especially since you’re a traveler.” I continued.
As irony would have it, he had coached a team in Murcia, Spain —a city in the area of Andalusia where the character Santiago was from, prior to his first contract in Cairo. Again, it was merely coincidence and a laughable moment to me.
We would go on a few more dates which consisted mainly of eating at restaurants and just talking. We enjoyed the food culture in Egypt and it was an easier way to sit and chat without additional interruptions. We even talked about The Alchemist because he had actually began reading it and was enjoying it.
Since he was behind in the reading, it was great to hear his foreshadowing of where he thought Santiago’s journey was going to lead.
Approaching March 14th, he confided in me that this was the anniversary of his father’s passing. He was a bit melancholy but informed me that he started his own tradition of going to the pyramids on that date. He had been the year prior and wanted to go again the year we met and began dating.
When March 14th arrived, I remembered that I, too, was at the pyramids that same month the previous year, as a graduation trip, and decided to scroll through my iPad to see what the exact date was. My jaw dropped due to my absolute surprise and I hurried to screenshot the picture so that I could send it to him.
We had both been at the pyramids on the same day, at the same time one year prior to ever having actually met.
He replied, “You’re my Fatima!” To which I smiled and thought, “I have found my treasure.”