Intolerants Rant: Weightlifting, Wanderlust + Vicissitude – The Heart as a Muscle

Goodbyes never get easier, or perhaps they do if you say them often enough. There are times when I think I’ve figured out how to deal with people who bemoan my departure long before I’m even gone. Ultimately, I know the flippant comments, curious questions and heartfelt sentiments have nothing to do with me. They’re about people finding a way to cope with the various changes that come to all of us. Yet, while I might be aware of this reality I can’t help but bristle with each “I’ll miss you” thrown in my direction.

These are the times when I think the heart just might be a muscle.


Thwack is the sound my palm makes, carrying the weight of compressed fury behind it. I’m barely able to get my body out of the way before the car breaks and another flesh-on-metal collision is avoided. I clutch a heap of dry cleaning against my chest as I push off the steel and cast-iron beast, shooting the driver a withering look of contempt. In that instant I’m reminded of all the countless near-impacts and crushing harassment over the years and so I conjure up as much filthy Arabic as I can.

“Are you stupid?” the man yells in broken English, his right hand on the wheel as the left presses his Blackberry against his ear.

Tozafeek 3ars I’m trying to cross the road! What part of that did you miss?” Hitting the hood again I stomp down the street and wave my arms in the air. Another woman gone mad, muttering ibn el mitnaka the whole way home.

Fuck yeah. The heart is a muscle.

the intolerants

Here. There. Everywhere. Nowhere. I live between spaces, trying on places and sprinkle little pieces of myself – in the spirit of Gretel – along every step of the way. From Beirut to Berlin or Brussels to Bangkok, there are times I can’t figure out whether I’m coming or going. I sometimes feel I’m residing in the pockets between moments, the pregnant pauses that feed memory and give substance to this thing called life. I carry the marks of each place I’ve been, their outlines (all blurred around the edges) resting heavy and like nuclear imprints they leave long shadows that creep down the wall.

Reminders that are radioactive to the touch.

The heart is perhaps something between an organ and a muscle.

the intolerants

Cairo. I may not like her that much, but I’ve become familiar with her persona. I know the sound of her voice and the way her bosom heaves under the weight of expectations. I know how she tastes (astringent and salty). I’m quite aware of how she looks (grainy and textured). I’m well acquainted with her demeanor (highly mercurial and schizophrenic) and I know she smells like sandstorms and dustbins slightly tinged with desperation.

I sit for a long time on the floor of my empty flat. Every movement echoes, with vibrations rippling down the corridor of my ears and lapping against shores of soft membrane and hidden cartilage. The sound is cold and alien, suggestive of yearning and absence. It wasn’t so long ago that my flat was stuffed with trinkets, furniture and people. With reminders and memory, and all that other stuff home is made of.


I find it amusing in that moment that it took less than two hours for movers to compress my life into a stack of marked boxes. It’s strange in some ways, but really it’s not, because everything has come full circle. We’re at the cusp of another beginning. I arrived in Cairo empty, but now I am full again. What started as a newly occupied apartment is vacant once more.

Cairo’s long shadow has marked me, there’s no way I can forget her now. And with that, I stand up and brush off my jeans. I wipe the dust from my face, because I know every fresh start needs an ending to arise from.

That’s how new adventures begin.

Thud. Clunk. Lurch. Moan.

The heart is much more than a muscle.

*Originally written for Empress Teaan experimental and creative group blog that acts as an artistic outlet to inspire and encourage participation from talented women from across the globe. 


  1. Love, love, love this heartfelt & honest post JoAnna. Best wishes to you & your partner as you say good bye to Cairo and hello to the next step in this journey.

    1. Thanks very much Jay, I always appreciate your lovely comments! Hope you’re doing well and make sure to let me know if you pop by NYC!

  2. There is always a sense of cleansing that ties in with moving to a new place . This feels ten fold when you move countries . Embrace it! It’s happening for a reason and I can’t wait to see how your new chapter unfolds 🙂

    1. You’re very right Tash, thanks for your comment. 🙂 I think my confusion comes from my misguided notion that moving would get easier. Yet, 11 years and at least 8 moves later…well…here I am still. Hands up for new chapters though, let’s get a move on!

  3. A thing for every season….and then, a new adventure.

  4. Love the tape-ripping audio! Apparently that is the universal sound of moving.
    Evocative post, much more fun than getting ready for work. I’ll need to come back and read it again, I think it is worthy of several reads. 🙂

    1. Thanks TC! Come back as often as you’d like, even if it’s for the tape-ripping audio. 😉 Have a nice weekend…

  5. Daki Marouf · · Reply

    Poetic! Perhaps on top of having marked cartons full of clunking accumulations as well as a once again empty space which has been witness to such good times, you are moving on with so much love from the people you’ve known during your Cairo-time :p WE LOVE YOU!!

    1. A lovely comment, I’m getting all sniffy again. Rest assured there’s always love headed your way. Lots of it and always. 😉

      Now, when are you getting your fabulous self to NYC?

  6. This post really made my day. I can absolutely relate to it! And like you said, no matter how many times you do it, it never gets easier.

  7. Wonderful poetic post! Where are you going?

    1. Heading to NYC in a month’s time…slightly nervous, but looking forward to it.

      1. Wow! Have you ever been? Where are you from? I love NYC! It is a fabulous city but will definitely be a culture shock after Egypt!

      2. I’ve been, but a long, LONG, time ago. It will indeed be a huge culture shock from Egypt. I’m from Canada, just across the border…

      3. Cool! Well I’m excited to hear how things go for you there in NYC. I think it would be wonderful to live there. I lived in Chicago in my twenties and it was so much fun. I love the city life! 🙂 But now, Minneapolis is good especially for raising kids.

  8. We move so so much that I truly believe that home is where I currently reside and that home is where my heart currently is. Moving around has been good for us as a family and has allowed us to see many places. Good luck to you and your next home! For us our home for now is San Diego which has been awesome. Cheers to you.

    1. Thanks Segmation for your comment! I, like you, am of the belief that home is wherever I physically am on the geographic grid, though I always thought moving would get a bit easier with time. The joke is on me I suppose. 😉

      Enjoy San Diego, I imagine the weather is lovely year round!

      1. I do not think the joke is on you at all. It seems you know your boundaries which is a good thing. You are right San Diego is a great place.

  9. Nice Post to read at last! Wish you all the best! :mrgreen:

      1. You are most welcome 🙂

      2. you are most welcome! 🙂

  10. Great post!! It’s always tricky moving.. Cheers,Sam

    1. It is, indeed. Thanks for your comment whysamiam. 🙂

  11. Joanna, What a wonderful, powerful piece! I’m totally with you on the 8 moves in 11 years – been there, done that. We made a move similar to yours – after 2 years in Khartoum, Sudan we went to London. I was still swearing in Arabic. Congratulation on the FP – so well deserved. Wishing you all the best and looking forward to your next chapter, ~Terri

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Terry. I can only imagine how tricky it was to move from Sudan to the UK and find ways to overcome your reverse culture shock. I’m muddling through that now: grocery shopping still remains highly overwhelming (so much selection and I still have that “lack” state of mind) as does speaking a Euro language without having Arabic slip in. The number of weird looks I’ve gotten has been good fun…

  12. This post is really well written, you truly expressed what it means to travel or to make home in different parts of the world.

    1. Thanks Frances! PS – I think you can write just fine 😉

  13. Hey. How did you put that Intolerants song in the middle of your post?

    1. With Soundcloud!

  14. Your words transport me. I really enjoyed reading this.

    1. Thank you BrownGal!

  15. Lovely post. Travelling is one of my passions (I’m going to spend 3 months in Egypt this summer and can’t wait!). I think that in order to find your home, you have to travel and see and experience as many different places as you can. Only then can you know were you belong, where you are ‘at home’. “Home is were the heart is”, but where is your heart? that’s what you have to find out.

    1. I hope you have a lovely time in Egypt this summer, where do you plan on staying? I agree with you in that the more places we see/visit/experience, the more likely we are to find that place that resonates with us and we can refer to as “home” (at least in the literal sense). Thanks for your comment!

  16. Thanks, I am sure I will. I’m going as an au-pair to Giza.

    1. Sounds like you’re going to have a good time. Enjoy your adventure!

  17. Reblogged this on I'mfoeveryours and commented:

  18. Well your post caught my eye because I didn’t know what ” vicissitude” meant. Hell I still don’t! 🙂 Well written and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Got to go to Google now and look up “vicissi…..”

    p.s. I’m the only honest one here. nobody else knows it ! 🙂

    1. Ha! Thanks deepthinker52, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Hey, honesty is always the best policy, no? 😉

  19. Wow beautifully written, love your voice.

    1. Thanks very much MM. I enjoy your blog by the way, please keep up with it!

  20. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  21. shanesbookblog · · Reply

    Enjoy your journey! And you are correct being intolerant is never a bad thing unless your Iran haha! Love the Blog i shall subscribe…… indeed i shall >=|

    1. Thanks SBB! I also have a feeling that you might be right about being intolerant in Iran (and a few other places actually)…

  22. I love this, especially your choice in wording.

    1. Many thanks, for your comment and for reading.

  23. […] This piece was touching and heart wrenching and I felt a strong connection to her situation. The heart really is a muscle that can help you stand back up when you don’t think you […]

  24. MarieVDA · · Reply

    Really expressing what we all feel when we leave a place, getting somewhere else,… It’s never easier but somehow we find a way of dealing with it…

    Your forgotten friend 🙂 (could that also be a result of us moving too much… loosing contacts/friends in the move?) Maybe we ll meet in NYC

    1. Marie, my dear, thanks for your comment! You’re right that it never gets easier to move, but perhaps it just gets easier to accept the reality of the situation? I don’t know. I’m still figuring all of that out.

      PS – good friends are never forgotten. See you in NYC. 😉

  25. Take me with you. 😉

  26. I just got back from cairo business trip, it was quite hectic and I only saw the city from the car when moving from hotel to studio, and then through some night walks in zamalek street (hotel was near by). You feel city energy all the time – this dust of history mixed with current active and chaotic live, breathtaking colonial style buildings, catholic churches and mosques, and slums – all mixed up. Inded “Cairo’s long shadow has marked me”, you could not say it better. Once lived there, you have a mark of its poisoning, yet hypnotizing power.
    This time, when observing Cairo – I thought that there has to be a poetry dedicated to this city!! and just few days after I found your ode, so meaningful and so honest.
    JoAnne, I cannot express how much I missed you during that trip, especially when passing by Didos and remembering your place.
    I am sure your are safe and sound at your new home – exploring new environment and people around, beautiful, curious and energetic, as you always are.
    Wish you all the best and meet soon anywhere xx

    1. My dearest Olga, what a lovely reply. Thank you 1) for reading and 2) for being the fabulous person that you are. I hope you are well, though I have no doubt you are thriving. I look forward to meeting with you soon…somewhere. Our paths will cross soon enough, I have no doubt about that. x

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