The other day one of my friends met a man named Flavian downtown. Flavian, of an ambiguous European ethnicity, was carrying a cat in a cage. My friend, who last week took in one of Cairo’s more emaciated street cats, was looking for a vet.

They had nothing in common, except they were both white and presumably both spoke English.

My friend: “Do you know where the closest vet is?”

Flavian: “Sure, follow me.”

Welcome to the Expat Fraternity.

Though not as much as in India, there is a certain measure of solidarity among all the Western expats in Cairo. The common experience – being far from home, getting consistently ripped off by cabbies – is enough to bond them. Many of them have been abroad so long that they don’t seem quite like they’re from their native country either. They’re caught precariously in some nether region of confused geography.

I’m not quite an expat, not by any stretch. I still know where I’m from, but there are times when I feel that so many things about America that are fading from my memory, so many smells, tastes and textures that I’ve forgotten.

I can even feel my English skills fading. There are times when an Arabic words seems much more appropriate, or even when I find myself – unconsciously, mind you – saying something horribly awkward in English that is a direct translation from its Arabic equivalent like, “I’m in the street coming.”

I met Flavian the other night at a dinner party. I never did figure out where he was from.

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On the way to Ramallah, written in big white block letters on the wall that separates Israeli spheres of control from Palestinian ones, is the phrase CTRL+ALT+DELETE.

Start over.

But from when and for what purpose?  That question is left up to the observer: from before the wall, before Camp David, before Oslo — one really can’t be sure.

The wall, the most visible sign of occupation in the West Bank, does not divide the West Bank from Israel proper; it is all built on land captured post 1967. It divides the West Bank from itself.

Around Jerusalem, some Palestinian suburbs are included inside the wall while others are not, leaving many of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents – all of whom have IDs that entitle them to Israeli citizenship – with a daily commute that requires them to pass through Kalandia checkpoint.

At the checkpoint, all people between ages 15-50 are required to get out of their vehicles and submit themselves to a search that – depending on the mood of the presiding army officers – can take a few minutes or a few hours. For those who endure the checks daily, it’s a frustrating and humiliating affair.

For Palestinians who only have West Bank IDs, even those with close family ties in Jerusalem, passing through is prohibited. Brothers and sisters, fathers and sons and grandparents and grandchildren  who have different IDs  are unable to see each other without obtaining special permission. And such requests are often denied. It was striking to witness this firsthand.

I think that every person and every nation has a right to security and dignity, but the wall isn’t offering Israel any greater security. All borders, even those that are closely guarded, are permeable. And the wall is surely stripping many Palestinians of their dignity.

As a person with some Palestinian ancestry but ultimately as an American citizen, I was struck by how this was the first time I had been on the opposite side of the power relationship, how for once in my life I saw why the rest of the world often views our security measures with suspicion and cynicism.

Now I understand why the world looks very different from the bottom.

I returned to Jordan a few days ago and will go to Egypt tomorrow, which I’m sure will add to my struggles to understand a region that for me – as for so many Americans – is shrouded in myth and misinformation.

In Jordan, I am my father’s son and that is enough.

That’s how I’m introduced to relatives I’ve never met before or don’t remember. An endless stream of people ask who I am and why they haven’t met me before.

The answer is always the same: “ibn Nabil min Amreeka.” Nabil’s son, from America.

It’s strange being here. I was born in Jordan and look more or less Arab, even though I’m only half.  Although I’ve learned Arabs look like everything, with an endless combination of hair and eye colors.

Every day, I’m approached by someone and asked something in Arabic. I fumble around searching for the appropriate phrases in a language I should already know, but that I’ve only started to learn in college. My usual fallback is to say “ana mish faahim.” I don’t understand.

I often catch myself thinking what might have happened had my parents not moved to the States when I was baby. I wonder what my life would have been like. What language would I think in – arabic or english? Would I even have the same personality, beliefs or tone of voice?

Everyone has the possibility to lead many different lives during the course of their own, but few people have as clear alternatives as I have.

My father told me that I should come here and try to get a better sense of who I am, where my roots are, but – honestly – all that my travels abroad have done are convince me how American I am. I walk like American, talk like an American and – most importantly – think like an American.

On Thursday, I leave here for Jerusalem and the West Bank. It’s a trip that should take about an hour but which, if nothing goes wrong, will take the better part of a day.