In an earlier post, I mentioned my flatmate Laura, and the exciting and innovative ideas she brought to the flat, like watered down dish detergent and interesting/grim facts about plastic and microbeads. Together, we braved power outages and attempted to bake kale chips with frozen kale. But one of the especially cool things about Laura is her ability to draw people out of their comfort zones. Activities you might find fearful, Laura finds exciting.
You might reasonably suggest that diving with piranhas seems like a questionable idea, but Laura would chime in with something like, “No, it’s actually fun! I did it in the Amazon once, and here’s a photo of me underwater allowing them to eat buffalo wings out of my mouth.”
You might reasonably suggest that traveling to the Sinai after dozens of people have been kidnapped seems like a dangerous idea, and Laura would argue, “I’m sure the bedouins are just misunderstood. I bet they have some good stories to tell – we all have something in common in this crazy world.”
One of Laura’s hobbies is playing guitar. When I first met her, she stated very emphatically that she had only just begun to play, had taught herself, and was mediocre. Then she launched into a musical number worthy of the Grand Ole Opry.
“You seem to know about music,” I commented once, to which she replied, “Well, I was a classically trained pianist.” You know, no big deal. I took lessons with our church keyboardist. Does that count?
Laura is also a runner, or has recently become one. She arrived in Cairo with a desire to maybe get some time outdoors, go for a few walks. Then she went for a run with one of the running clubs and came home saying, “I’ve never run before, but I just did 6 miles. Crazy!” (Or was it ten?)
After running for a few months, she popped over to Italy for a weekend to run a marathon. No big deal.
I am fairly confident that if Laura were ever on a crashing airplane, she could glance at the controls and easily figure out how to land it all while calming the passengers with a rousing rendition of some Joni Mitchell tune.
Anyway, one Thursday night after work, Laura mentioned at the bar that she’d been asked to open up for a band playing at one of our expat clubs that weekend. The band members were mostly runners she’d met on the road, and they knew of her musical expertise, so they’d asked for a few acoustic numbers to kick off their set.
“Want to play some with me?” she asked me. Normally, I’d be reluctant. I hadn’t played guitar in public since high school, when some freak wave of confidence had dragged me up on stage and allowed me to sing and play for all of my classmates. But playing guitar with Laura during power outages, sipping some Chivas Regal, I’d regained some confidence. Whether it was from the whiskey (I swear, it is a vocal lubricant and my voice soars after a quick sip) or her repeated assurances that I didn’t sound entirely tone deaf, I agreed.
We spent the next afternoon – yes, a mere two or three hours – playing and re-playing Emmylou Harris’s cajun-flavored song “Leavin’ Louisiana” until we felt antsy and headed out to the club where the band was setting up on an outdoor stage.
Laura and I were both nervous. There weren’t a lot of people settled at the tables yet, but the atmosphere was buzzing. We went upstairs and took a shot of Chivas, then retreated back down to a grassy patch between a bush and the stage and started strumming some songs. Two of the band members joined us, one soloing on lead guitar and the other bringing out a cajon, a really cool four-sided drum box. It was about that time I shook my nerves.
We took the stage shortly after, played “Jolene” and “Leavin’ Louisiana” together, and scrambled down the steps, adrenaline-fueled and giddy with energy. Between that night and the end of the year, we’ve been asked to play again at the same place, and have been welcomed to a number of jam sessions organized by a slew of awesome musicians I’d never met before.
It’s cool. I’d forgotten how incredible it is to play music with a band, and in front of people. After their set, we all went upstairs to the inside bar and broke out our instruments for an improv acoustic set, randomly choosing songs we all seemed to know or learning ones we didn’t.
It was, without a doubt, the best night I had in Cairo – possibly all year. All thanks to my adventurous, Alaskan flatmate.