I used to think that cities were awesome. I grew up in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, and I would dream of one day living somewhere awesomely urban like Manhattan. I'd have piles of money, a rooftop terrace, and live where everything was happening all the time. I even switched housing assignments in my college study abroad so I could live in Vienna's urban third district instead of the suburban thirteenth.
Then I lived in Cairo with children. Now my dreams are of eighty acres with a house plopped exactly in the middle. I don't see anyone, nobody can see me, and I can spot visitors coming a quarter mile off. The nearest stoplight would be at least twenty miles away.
That eighty acres, however, is only a dream and a retirement account for now, and cities are my reality for the next twenty years.
I can smell my northern neighbor's Chinese food cooking every lunch time, and my southern neighbor can watch the children play noisily in the courtyard. I can watch my back neighbors' wedding parties and they can watch me run every morning. And every single person who feels like it can ring my doorbell every time they walk by. The sound of cars (and trucks and motorbikes and scooters) comes through the front windows and I can hear children playing through the back ones. I hear when the milk man comes by and I can tell when the neighbor has his Harley-driving friend over. It's all very cozy.
The one thing I will miss, however, about living in cities is the convenience.
A few days ago I made black beans and rice for dinner. Every Monday I plan out the week's meals, make a shopping list, and give the shopping list to my housekeeper. And every week I forget at least one ingredient. This week it was sour cream. Last week it was carrots. And the week before it was onions. One day I'll just make up a basic shopping list, print off twenty or so and just check off what I need. Until then I'll just keep forgetting ingredients.
In America, this would mean that I would have to get in my car, drive to the store, park the car, walk in the store, walk through the store, wait in line to buy my one carton of sour cream, walk back out to the car, drive home, park the car, and go back to cooking dinner. I know this drill very well. Once, while living in Virginia, I went to Target three times in one day. It was very irritating.
In Dushanbe I just had to walk out the door, walk seven minutes to the store, get the sour cream from the refrigerator case twenty feet from the door, hand over my money, and walk back home. No cars (which is good because Brandon takes the car to work), no parking lots, no lines of angry 5:30 Target shoppers. Just a brisk walk on a nice spring afternoon. Maybe even soothing.
One day I won't smell anyone else's cooking or hear their friend with the Harley or listen to conversations through my bathroom wall. I'll only smell my own cooking, hear my own family, and listen to the birds. It will be very peaceful.
But I'd better make really really sure to have my shopping list in order when I finally drive those twenty miles to the closest stop light. Because my days of walking to the store will be over.