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Moghamarat Monica: The One With The Breakdown At The Supermarket

Sometimes quarter-life epiphanies hit you on an idle weekday evening as you peruse the cereal aisle, or is that just a Monica thing?

It's strangely amusing how often I find my life reflecting The Truman Show or, in most cases, a really bad episode of Friends. Shortly after my new apartment rental, I looked at my life and realised that you have one Monica Geller in one dusty and messy old apartment, while working a stressful job with demanding hours and, somehow, trying to put her touch on a new place, maintain a healthy relationship with her family, discover a new area, tidy her house, eat well, meet people, and - somewhere fel khetta el alfeya el rab3a - get laid. I may possibly have contemplated investing in stocks with my initials. Crazy and chaotic as anyone's mid-twenties may be, I don't recall there being an episode where Monica Geller breaks down crying in the middle of a supermarket over cereal. Clearly, I always like to put el touch bta3i.

By far the worst thing about Zamalek is that it doesn't have a Walmart or a Costco - heck, it doesn't even have a Carrefour! As someone new to the area, trying to figure out where to buy all of my groceries was surprisingly more difficult than I expected. There's Saad for fruits and vegetables and Hany for bread and an unhealthy amount of makhbuzaat, but where do I find chicken, laundry detergent, and a pan to cook anything in? A moment of silence in appreciation of Costco, please. After asking around, I learned that there was this magical place called Alfa Market in Zamalek that sells just about everything, included imported foods. Bingo! Having taken all of Zamalek on foot at some point, I navigated my way through its quaint streets until I found this magical market. Part of me wishes I hadn't even gone in.

One of the best things about technology is that it keeps me in touch with my family, who've put in a lot of effort to learn how to use certain features so we can connect more easily. This translates into Whatsapp messages and voice notes with my mother throughout the bulk of our waking hours, despite the fact that she thought me moving to Cairo would mean we would lose touch. Silly, silly mom - I even took her with me to Alfa Market! As I scoured the aisles in the food section – my eyes glazing over at the sight of Froot Loops, granola bars, and whole grain crackers – my eyes would pop out à la 90s cartoons when they quickly transitioned from staring at the product to staring at its price. It's cereal, you guys! Why the heck does it cost 55 LE? Sighing, I take pictures and send them to my mother, continuing to do this aisle after aisle as I look at things I often took for granted as 'commonplace items' found in my kitchen – things now labelled 'imported', stretching far beyond my budget after paying first and last month's rent. My mother, being… well… my mother, comforted me with the thought that she'll bring me cereal and granola bars next time she comes to Egypt – or, better yet, I could just move back to Canada. Having given up on the food section after picking up the week's necessities, I wandered upstairs to see what else the great Alfa Market had to offer. Aside from not being able to get my shopping cart upstairs properly because the elevators were closed off with crates, which an employee had to empty out for me, upstairs was sheer bliss. You know those cute little salt and pepper shakers that come in the form of stubby little chefs wearing chef's hats? Now, you know how just about any type of kitchen decor can come in the form of stubby little chefs wearing chef's hats? It took every fibre of my being not to pick all of them up and run away, binge-buying all things home decor and later returning my impulse purchases. I wanted the instant gratification of buying fun, appealing, aesthetically pleasing pieces of decor for my new apartment that was missing personal touches and had yet to feel like home. I wanted it to feel like home. Frantically messaging my mother photos of gorgeous things I wanted to buy, I was reminded of one of our favourite excursions – heading to a home furnishing store and perusing the aisles, picking out pieces for the house, and having a field day. Every photo of every piece I wanted to buy was quickly followed by an exasperated message about how expensive it is. My mother, amused on the other end, told me that I could wait and buy these things later – or, better yet, I could just move back to Canada. Heading back down to the food section on my way to the cashier, I paused in the middle of an aisle. Surrounded by such simple things I couldn't afford because they were imported, I looked at them and then down at my shopping cart, and proceeded to break down into a fit of tears over something seemingly trivial. Thankfully, the store was almost empty. I'm not an overly sentimental person – I don't cry too easily, and very rarely do I tear up in public. But, right there, in the middle of Alfa Market, the waterworks began. I can't afford cereal. I miss my mother. I don't feel at home. I'm overwhelmed and confused.

The cost of growing up is expensive. I've never felt like I can't afford things before, having worked since I was 14 and lived at home off the generous grace of my family for the bulk of my life. Sure, sometimes I just didn't make certain purchases, but I've always had the comfortable privilege of never needing to walk away from something so simple because it's too expensive. You don't realise how expensive it is to live alone until you're right there with your budget in one hand and cereal in the other. You miss going to Home Outfitters with your mother, picking out random fun things for the house, and returning 3/4 of them later after deciding what you actually want – or, maybe that was just my family. You miss not having to look at something from far away and walk away from it because you know you can't afford it. It seems both trivial and privileged of me, but I suddenly found myself in a reality so far removed from what I’ve been accustomed to. Rarely have I ever had this struggle; I suppose this is the cost of growing up.

Exactly a year ago, I had moved to California and my life had looked very different, yet I find that it had set me up for being where I am now. Much like now, I was walking around the strange yet familiar city of Pasadena, learning how to get by and find groceries and walk home and explore on foot. Living with someone other than my family taught me responsibilities and how to care for a home; it taught me how long it takes to make dinner and how fun grocery shopping can be when you make a game out of it with someone. But nothing ever taught me how hard it would be to do all these things alone.

This was a family favourite that we'd only find in stores at Christmastime. I'll pass, this year.

It takes a certain type of special to have a quarter-life epiphany in the middle of a supermarket, but I did it. In that moment, I learned a small part of the cost of growing up and a fraction of what it means to be an adult – all packaged in the brief realisation that I just can't afford salt and pepper shakers right now. Drying my tears, messaging my mother, and pulling up my big girl pants, I walked toward the cash register and left the store with six rather heavy grocery bags. Accustomed to walking most places when I'm not in Canada, I walked 20 minutes until I got home. Exhausted from the walk and my mind abuzz with introspection as I questioned where I stand in life and what my world now looks like, I arrived at my apartment and dropped all the bags. My hands bore the marks of heavy grocery bags and a long journey home, and every part of me was ready to collapse. I allowed it.

Collapsing into my bed, I processed my journey throughout the past year, beginning with the happenings of that very day. I had gone to my full-time job in my field, bought household necessities and some groceries from stores in an unfamiliar area, and walked home carrying the weight of my decisions – and purchases. A few days before, I had tried to install Internet and get a functioning phone line. Shortly before that, I had heckled a landlord too cheap to give me a functional fridge and rented an apartment on my own after a falling out with a friend/potential flatmate. In the past year, I had quit my job and moved to California, travelled, worked a fun part-time job, turned 25, ended a phase in my life I didn't want to end, found a job in Cairo that I'd always wanted, and got on a one-way flight to another country by myself without stopping to reassess my decisions. Now, I'm working a job I enjoy, making friends, living alone, going on misadventures, paying bills, and doing life on my own as I process and introspect, in search of who I am and how I define my sense of 'home'. Perhaps it's time to cut myself some slack and accept that it's okay to cry over cereal and salt shakers; I'm proud of myself for how far I've come and what I've managed to achieve. I'm doing a pretty good job growing up, even without the Froot Loops.