Will we ever really be ‘Welcome to Egybt’?

8 September 2012 § Leave a comment

Last weekend I dragged PG downtown to check out the showing of the top 10 films from the Beirut 48 Hour Film Project. It is no secret to anyone who knows me that if money were no object (oh, student loans how I loathe thee) and I weren’t such a chickenshit when it comes to really pursuing creative endeavors, I would endeavor to be a film maker. It is my deepest desire. And my crowing glory would be a film adaptation of Hanan al-Shaykh’s The Story of Zahra. A lot of people (read: my intellectual, literature type friends) think this novel is a whole lot of breathless drivel. But this novel is the one that got me to leave lifelong dreams of becoming an engineer (no, really) and instead go into studying Arabic literature and culture. So…you know. It’s important to me.

But all of the above is neither here nor there. This is a blog post about how being linked to PG in the Cairo public sphere has exacerbated a problem I have faced my whole life — being mistaken for a non-Egyptian and subsequently being greeted repeatedly on the streets of Cairo with the oft-heard phrase, ‘Welcome to Egypt!’

I dragged PG downtown to this film screening because I thought maybe I can start taking a step towards the above-mentioned goal of being a filmmaker by getting involved in the 48 Hour Film Project. The screening was being held in a location I’d never been to before, and though I’ve been on Adly Street many times in the past, I was confused as to how to get there from the Sadat metro station. And so we stopped several times on street corners to ask for directions. I would ask in Arabic, and inadvertently the reply would come in broken, incoherent English. One guy outside the Samsung store on Midan Talaat Harb kept insisting he explain to me in English what I wanted even though I persisted in speaking to him in Arabic. Another dude at a koshk started struggling to answer me in English when the lady sitting on the pavement next to his koshk said, ‘Ya 3am, heya bitifham 3raby!’ (Hey, man, she understands Arabic.) To which I replied, at this point in sweaty exasperation, ‘I don’t just understand Arabic, I am Egyptian.’ The koshk guy looked startled at the vehemence with which I’d made this proclamation, looked over at PG and then looked back at me and said, in Arabic praise be, ‘Ok, ok. Listen, this is how you get to Adly Street from here…’

We made it eventually, but after the third guy we stopped to ask for directions responded to me in English yet again, PG mumbled, ‘I’m sorry. Should I go stand far away the next time you ask for directions?’ I reassured him that this always happens to me, although, yes, of course being seen with him didn’t help matters.

I don’t know why it’s always been this way. One of my closest Egyptian friends growing up has blond hair and green eyes vs. my brown hair, brown eyedness. I remember one time when we were 12 or 13 we walked into the local Omda to order schawerma sandwiches and the guy at the counter looked at her and said, ’3yza eh?’ then looked at me and said, ‘What you like?’ I went home and asked my mom why she thought that had happened. Noora looks way more foreign than me with her coloring and her sort of fafi* ways. How did that guy single me out? How did he know that I didn’t live in Egypt full time? That I hadn’t from the age of 3? My mom tried to explain by saying it’s in the different ways we carry ourselves, but till this day I truly do not understand what happened.

***

Yesterday marked the first practice of a sporting group I have recently joined. It is founded by two foreign teachers in Cairo with the aim of ‘bringing feminism to Egypt through the sport of roller derby!’ Every time they talk about bringing feminism to Egypt it sets my teeth on edge. It just stinks of the white man swooping in to save the wayward brownie. But, I really like to skate and I’m often up for trying something new and so I stick with it, and in the meantime try to gently educate these khawagas on how offensive they come off.

In any case, our first practice was to be at Shababa Gezira. We arrived on Friday morning expecting the club would be free of the young men who usually crowd the fields and courts as this was a Friday before prayer — surely they’d all be tucked up in their beds?

But, no. They had instead been at the club since 5 am getting their football on until prayer time. I arrived to find the group of derby ladies and their husbands huddled at the gate arguing with the guy meant to sell them the entry tickets. Apparently they were being barred from going in because they were a large group of foreigners and they didn’t have permission to have a gathering in the club. I jumped into the fray and pointed to PG saying, ‘This guy has been meeting up with other foreigners at this club on Saturday afternoons for 5 years to play football. What’s the problem?’

To cut a long, frustrating Friday morning argument short, we discussed it back and forth for the next hour until the head of the club’s security came and said that we could use the parking lot on the other side to practice for today, but that next time we’d have to bring a letter and pay a fee to reserve the courts we wanted to practice in.

In addition to being supremely annoyed by the club supervisor on duty, I was also inwardly cringing because the derby ladies were convinced that they were being asses because we were a large group of foreign WOMEN HEAR US ROAR. The head of security assured me this was not the case, and I believe him because while we were waiting for the club director to show up so we could lodge our complaint with him, we witnessed him giving shit to a large group of young Egyptian men. It was annoying that my argument to the foreign ladies was, ‘Look, they’re not being assholes because you’re foreign and female. They’re just generally disposed to assholeishness.’

***

The point is, I struggle with the fact that even though my farangi has more Egyptian friends than foreign friends, and even though he is not one of ‘those expats’, the fact is that I spend enough time around khawagas, and I am married to a khawagi, that people often confuse me for being a khawaga. A foreigner in my own land. And they treat me accordingly. And yesterday when the derby team were setting my teeth on edge with their disparaging comments about Egyptian shabab and their clubs, I couldn’t help but wonder if they felt comfortable saying such awful shit in front of me because I myself hadn’t married an Egyptian and so, of course, I must implicitly agree.

It is a thought I struggle with sometimes, though not often because usually honey badget don’t give a shit. The clumsy analogy I make in my head is that it’s like a Black Panther marrying a white man in the 1960s. How can I prove that I am not a self-hating Egyptian when I went outside of the Egyptian sphere to marry? When I tied my future and my potential children’s future to an outsider? When there are weeks like this past one where my own countrymen insist on speaking to me in English, and where foreigners assume they can, basically, be racist because of how I look and the company I keep, I find myself cringing and wondering when I will stop being welcomed to Egypt.

* er, not that foreigness is synonymous with fafiness

The Farangi’s first visit to the fellahin

27 August 2012 § Leave a comment

Another Ramadan month has flown by without any of the spiritual awakening/cleansing I had hoped for. I am not the most religious of Muslims, but I do enjoy me a good Ramadan as a time to reflect and try and do better. The most recent Ramadans have been much better. Egged on by PG’s attempts to familiarize himself further with the religion (and a beautifully bound English version of the Quran which was a gift from his brother) I’ve found myself Ramadaning with more gusto than I’ve had since I was a borderline fundy pre-teen. Not so this year.

So it is that Eid rolled around and I was not surprised or bothered by the speed with which it did. I was happy it was Eid already, especially since this year we’d finally be taking PG to my father’s small village in the Nile Delta where we traditionally spend the first day of every Eid with my elderly aunts and their children.

My father was very nervous about my insistence that we take PG along. Babagyptian has come a long way from his humble upbringing and he is very protective of the village of his youth. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in the entire family there is only one uncle who went down the path of miscegenation, and despite their 20 year marriage, his European wife still marvels about the fact that he “came from this”. This being a village which has only one paved road and where the majority of houses are built with mudbrick and where the women still wash their clothes, dishes and discard of poultry entrails in the tir3a, the village canal. My father bristles at her verbalization of her fascination with my uncle’s and father’s origin story, not accepting that it comes from a good place, not one of condescension. I’ve tried to explain to my father numerous times that the reaction would be the same, if not worse, had he married an upper class Egyptian. This is no 3izba, this is the balad.




But PG is very different from my uncle’s wife in that he has actually lived in Egypt for a number of years, and he knows the score. In addition, his culinary tastes are much more baladi than mine, and really all you need to get along with my extended family is a love of all things batt, wiz and hamam.

So it was that we set off on the first day of Eid in two cars in order to give my brother, PG and I the flexibility to leave earlier than my parents, who spend a little more time visiting with my dad’s extensive extended family. Our first stop was my 3mitu’s house — the second eldest sibling in my father’s family. (The eldest sister passed away in 2010.) There we were greeted by several of my female cousins, and plates of koshari — a meal that has become a tradition for my family on the first day of Eid. Knowing that PG was going to be there, my cousin had also prepared creme caramel for dessert. They all waited for PG to give his comment on the food. “You’re going to get me in trouble with my mother-in-law,” he finally proclaimed. “Your creme caramel is as good as hers!” (PG would later tell me this was not true, but he wanted to be kind.)

In short, everyone was tickled pink by his presence, his proclamation and his seeming comfort in the environment. We proceeded to visit my other cousins and be plied with even more food and drink (mahalabiya, termos, endless cups of tea). Finally, as we were leaving my dad’s cousin insisted that we visit her field and take some corn back with us to Cairo. So she piled into the car with her three children and took us into her field dressed in our Eid finest. (Note: black suede flats not the ideal footwear for tromping through just watered fields.) She picked about a dozen ears of corn for us, and then started cutting molokhia and peppers and I had to practically physically restrain her from picking not-yet-ripe figs from her tree. She was very insistent that we not leave empty-handed or with an empty car boot. She also cut off an aloe leaf for me when I expressed an interest in pure aloe to use in the “no ‘poo” regimen” I’ve been following for several months now. (Btw, aloe smells horrible.)

All in all, it was a nice day that went a long way to endearing the Farangi to the family. After, I was told that my dad asked my sister (who wasn’t even there) what PG had thought of the village. (Babagyptian is way too proud to ask anything directly.) When my sister told Babagyptian he had a nice time, I think he was relieved and pleased.

PG: +1000, Other Farangi family members: 0

 

On joining the club

13 May 2012 § Leave a comment

Soon after PG and I had our illustrious katb kitab at the Ministry of Justice, my father  set about the process of getting PG membership to the local nady — the neighborhood sporting club around which a lot of Egyptian social life revolves. For as long as I can remember we have been meeting with friends and family at the club — for lunch, to watch a football match or basketball game, for tea, whatever. A lot of social life in Egypt revolves around these clubs. This was especially the case back in the day when the number of cafes and restaurants in which young people could hang out was limited. I remember my bestie from school days — Mini — returning at the start of every school year and telling me all about her latest summer flirtations at the club with Ahmed or Alaa or whatever the name of the current boy of summer was.

All this is to explain my father’s keen interest in getting PG his nady membership as soon as possible — once he’d joined the club, it meant he had really joined the club.

The first step in doing this required that I separate from my family membership and become my own, working adult member (“a’dwa a’mila” ). Once that step was completed I could then add my spouse and, eventually, my children and they would not have to pay the current, exorbitant new member fees. We completed this step, eventually, after a lot of wrangling and yelling and even some veiled threats (more on that story some other time), and then completely forgot about getting PG his membership. Then we got married, moved to England, and there was no point.

So, since our return we’ve been meaning to get PG his membership. A month ago we finally started the process and two weeks later, PG finally had his membership card in hand — all for the low low price of $11 (including swimming members; $6 without).

In order to get his membership we needed the following documents:

For him

- Copy of a form of ID (in his case his passport; you will need to bring the original to look at)

- Copy of a degree or educational certificate (same applies about bring the original)

- Military service exemption (not applicable in PG’s case, of course but including this in case your spouse is Egyptian)

- Two passport photos

- $6, which must be paid in dollars not the EGP equivalent

For me

- Copy of our marriage certificate (bring along the original)

- Copy of my national ID

- Two passport photos

- EGP 256 (processing fee for issuing a new club membership card linking me to my spouse)

We took our documents to the Member Affairs office and were told to come back within a week to pay the above-mentioned fees. Once we paid the fees we were told to come back within 10 days to pick up the new membership cards. In the meantime, however, PG was issued a receipt which he was able to use to enter the club as a member until the card was issued. Aside from the first step (getting me separated from my family membership), the whole process was pretty easy peasy and surprisingly well-organized (minus having to go to three different offices to first pay the fee, get the receipt, obtain the card — typical Egyptian underemployment methods).

Of course, my favorite part of this whole story is the ending. When we finally went to pick up our new cards PG’s card read:

السيدة بج حرم السيدة نيوجبشن

In English: Mrs. “PG”, Wife of Mrs. “Newgyptian”

Primitive censorship skills

When the guy printing the cards handed it over he leaned across the counter and looking at the card with shifty eyes and said, “Um, you can get that changed right now. Just go over to the cashier and tell him to change it for you on the system.” At first I didn’t get what he was on about and so I said, “What? Change what?” And he pointed to the card. I barely stifled a smile and said, “Well, we have to renew our membership at the end of June anyway, right? We can just wait till then.” In one final desperate plea on behalf of my unintentionally emasculated spouse (a woman applying for membership on behalf of her husband?! impossible!) the guy said, “Well, you might forget! Why not just do it now. Save yourself the hassle later.” Then he looked at me, looked back at PG who was standing behind me and mumbled, “I mean, unless he doesn’t care. I’m just saying…”

At which point I thanked him and practically skipped out of the office. While PG had caught the gist of what was going on, I gleefully filled him in on the exchange on the way back to the car. Then I stopped and said, “Wait, unless you actually care and want to change it now.” To which he manfully replied, “Pfftt…who cares? We can change it later.”

The next day he emailed me a scan of the ID card knowing how desperately I would want to share this tiny moment of feminist hahaha with the world.

He’s the best wife a girl could ask for.

“You’ll always be 23/ Yet the train runs on and on”

18 March 2012 § Leave a comment

I don’t know when it is that this blog turned into a memorial site, but such has been my life for the last couple of years unfortunately. There has been a lot of death and sadness, and I’ve learned the hard way that – for me anyway – death is easier (but only slightly) when it’s drawn out and expected than when it comes suddenly. Like much of the country I spent the week or so after the terrible events of Port Said in a deep funk. I mean a couldn’t-get-off-my-couch-what’s-the-point-of-going-to-work funk. As I mentioned to my bestie from college Artemis – who was in town that week between Libya and Geneva – when she asked me if Jing’s death had changed me fundamentally, I told her yes, it had. It made me appreciate that sudden death is tragic and painful and that, for example, those kids who died in Port Said were not just numbers. They were somebody’s son, brother, husband, lover, best friend who had gone out to do something he loved and never came back. I can never think of death again neutrally just because I don’t know the person who died.

Today would have been Jing’s 33rd birthday. In the nearly two years since he’s died the lead up to this day has always been difficult for me. As I wrote in last year’s birthday post, Jing always signified life, movement, living. And so commemorating his birth makes a lot more sense to me than commemorating the day he died because Jing does not make sense to me in death, in stillness. This is how I think of him everyday. Moving, active, pushing, prodding. It was one of his most endearing and most annoying qualities. He could never accept inaction from those close to him. So he would egg you on, he would push you to do something, anything. “Hey Rooth [his random nickname for me], are you gonna do something about it? Or are you gonna be a pussy. Huh? HUH?” This was him. This quality was what often led people to find him annoying. But it’s also what helped him build a successful business in China from the ground up, through a lot of trials and tribulations.

On his memorial site on Facebook someone recently posted a Google Maps link of the place where he is thought to have lived his final moments. I often go back to that. Wonder what went through his mind during those final moments. Jing was liable to fall asleep just about anywhere. Did he even realize that he was suffering from heat stroke? That what was happening to him was that he was going into a coma? Or did he just think, “I’m going to close my eyes now for a bit. I’m going to just rest here for a while before I go on.” I wonder.

Almost all of my memories of Jing involve us doing things that we probably shouldn’t have been doing, or maybe just things that nobody else would have thought to do. This morning as I was riding the metro in to work I recalled the midnight trip we made on the Market-Frankford line in Philadelphia. Jing insisted that we ride the train to the very last stop and film passengers along the way. We got footage of a freestyle rap artist, a Black Muslim factory worker, a recently released convict. Unfortunately the footage from that night has been distorted, but I can still hear the sound. Still hear the conversation Jing and I had afterwards as we were on the night bus home from the Frankford stop, where I bitched about friends who had recently been unkind and he just ummed and ahhed and asked questions.

It made me want to ride the metro past my stop for work. Get off at the end of the line in Helwan and just walk around and talk to people.

Almost all of my memories involving Jing also involve music. He introduced me to so many artists from so many genres I had never considered. He could spend hours talking about why he loves  Stereophonics earlier albums (because of the small town stories, the real people), and why some Emo is actually okay. We would often put an album on repeat and spend the night painting and talking. Maybe this is why Stereophonics’ “Local Boy in the Photograph” will always remind me of him. I can still see him nodding his head in time to the music and then bursting into song during the chorus.  And in some ways, he will always be 23 to me, because that is the age he was when he first moved to China. When we had the first going away party for him. When our inseparability from the age of 18/19 was tested for the first time. (Turns out, we did pretty well, were always connected. Remained somehow inseparable despite the physical distance between us.)

And though he would come back to Philly for stretches of time before I myself left there at the age of 23 (when he and his brother and my dear friend Snefru took me to the airport, and waved me off as I cried my heart out because I was more or less being forced to move back to Egypt and I didn’t know when I’d see them again…), Jing will always be that slightly cocky, self-assured early 20-something who was smarter and wiser than most people twice his age, but not yet experienced in life enough to know to be humble about that.

I never thought I’d one day listen to this song in memory of Jing, because it never once crossed my mind that Jing would not outlive us all. That he would not still be that cocky, self-assured pusher well into his nineties. I always assumed we would grow old together. That someday we’d find a place to bring together both our families, and we’d live out our days together – one big, crazy, happy amalgamation of families.

Happy birthday, Jing. I love you and I miss you everyday.

بحبك قد الملح

13 March 2012 § Leave a comment

A king with three beautiful daughters asks them how much they love their father.

The eldest says, “I love you as bright as the sunshine.”
The second daughter says, “I love you as wide as the ocean.”
The youngest says, “Oh father, I love you as meat loves salt.”

The father, not satisfied with the youngest daughter’s reply has her thrown out of the palace. But one of the palace servants, an old woman, decides to keep her.

Months later, the king announces a banquet to be held in the palace. Learning of this, the youngest daughter requests that the old woman sees to it that no salt is placed in the meat that will be served at the banquet. The old woman has this done, and when the meat was served, the guests complained greatly about the way it tasted. The young daughter then appeared before her father. She explained to him that as meat is tasteless without salt, so too is her life without her father’s love. From that day she was once again treated like a princess.

***

On the same day that I attended the wonderful and inspiring “Laha” event honoring Egyptian women, I lost one of the greatest Egyptian women I have ever known. On Saturday, March 10th, we lost my grandmother, Soaad, or as we all called her “mama nena”. We lost the woman who used to tell us, when we asked her how much she loved us, “Bahebik 2ad el malh.” (I love you as much as salt.)

She was everything a woman, a person should be. She was strong, she was kind, she was clever and wise. She was generous and jolly. She was always on your side. She made a mean “bram bil lahma“. She was a mediator, but watch out if you messed with one of her own. She made everything better. Her home was a harbor for so many over the years. And even in her final years when she could barely speak or move, she was calm and she was peace.

My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005. We had started to notice some odd lapses in her behavior which started with an incident in her garden where she fell and broke her arm and it took months to heal. She kept forgetting why she had the cast on. Kept asking when she could get it off. Things steadily deteriorated from there and eventually a neurologist confirmed what most of us had already realized – she was in the first stage of Alzheimer’s.

My mother, God bless her, immediately set about reading everything she could about the disease printing out reams of articles from the internet, then translating the really relevant bits for her siblings. Initially, my grandmother lived in her home with my uncle and his family, but her four daughters wanted to take part in her care so eventually she would spend a few months at the homes of each of her daughters. At some point in 2006 – when the disease became less about her forgetfulness and more about her heightened stage of agitation, her insomnia and our complete emotional depletion in the face of the unexpected transformation of my jolly, loving, kind grandmother into an irritable, accusatory and mistrustful woman – my grandmother moved in with us. Our home was the best place to take care of her as we had the room and we had the manpower and it was very close to the hospital that my uncle manages.

Eventually though my grandmother moved back to her home, with her son, and in the summer of 2006 as the Israeli assault on southern Lebanon raged and I started to fall in love with PG (though it would be a very very long time before I would recognize that), my grandmother was admitted to the hospital when she stopped being able to swallow any food and had to have a feeding tube inserted directly into her stomach.

These are the things that popular media never tells us about Alzheimer’s and dementia – the forgetting is the easiest part. The aggression, the agitation, the desperation, the slow but steady shutting down of the body’s organs, the loss of the person you loved so dearly years before you lose them physically – these are the worst parts of Alzheimer’s.  These are why the family and loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients experience what is called prolonged bereavement.

But the last two years of my grandmother’s life were some of the best of her illness. We had figured out how to manage her moods with medication. We had a feeding system for her. We had created a hospice space in the home where she’d spent the last 30 odd years of her life.

One of my favorite and most endearing recent memories of PG occurred soon after we were engaged and he eagerly helped me make creme caramel for my grandmother. The easy texture, plus the protein from the eggs, calcium from the milk, and the sugar were all good things for her. And though she wasn’t supposed to eat through her mouth anymore, sometimes my mother would sneak her small spoonfuls, taking pleasure in the delighted look in my grandmother’s eyes as she remembered the long lost taste of food. PG never got to meet my grandmother, but I told her when we got engaged, when we got married the first time, and the second time, and I like to think that when she squeezed my hand (an action that had become more or less involuntary by that point) she was really giving us her blessing.

Though in those last two years, my grandmother was completely bedridden and barely spoke, she still had a strong presence in our lives. Her room, where the Quran radio transmission continuously played softly in the background, became a place of solace for us all. My mother used to say she saved up all her stress from the week for her two-day caretaking shift at her mother’s. In the calm of that room my mother would lose herself in caring for her mother and mulling over the problems of the day. She would get home from there physically exhausted but mentally prepared for the week ahead.

In the last month my grandmother came down with pneumonia, and my uncle and his siblings made the difficult decision not to risk moving her to the hospital. They did all they could for her in those last weeks – administering antibiotics and cold compresses, manually suctioning the fluid from her lungs, and so on. On Thursday, 8 March, during my mother’s shift she finally was able to sleep through the night for the first time in weeks. My mother thought the worst was over. By Saturday, she was gone. My uncle, the doctor, realizing that things were taking a turn for the worst called his sisters and told them to come. I rushed to my parents’ house from the Opera House and then my mother, sister and I piled into the car to go to my grandmother’s. My uncle called exactly 3 minutes before we pulled up to her house to tell us she had gone. When we arrived we joined my aunts and cousins around her bed, heads bowed in prayers and tears, saying goodbye to our last living grandparent. Saying goodbye to the woman we loved as much as salt.

In the days since she passed I have come to the calm realization that I do not feel sorrow for our loss as much as I feel gratitude that she was ours, that we got her for as long as we did. Alhamdullilah.

On moving (back) to Umm el Donya (pt. 1)

4 March 2012 § Leave a comment

When PG and I got married everyone from his father, to my father, to, well, everyone joked that I married him for his passport. The reason we could all make this joke is because I don’t need his stinking passport – I have two perfectly good ones thankyouverymuch, and when it comes to the western one I’m pretty sure King of the World trumps his poodle passport. (This is a probably-too-subtle reference to the former political relationship between George W. and Tony Blair.)

However, that is not to say that I didn’t take into consideration the idea that by marrying a Farangi I was in part ensuring that we wouldn’t always live in Egypt forever and ever amen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve always had my sights set on other places – India, for example. The Philippines. I dunno. In the words of Fieval Mousekewitz, “somewhere out there.”

So when PG’s contractual year with the English state school where he was teaching was almost up, I started pushing for him to apply for a job somewhere out there. When we got married we agreed that in the first couple years we’d go where his job took us because in the past we’d gone where my studies took me, and also because I had at least one job (translation) I could take with me anywhere I went. So he applied for jobs in Malaysia, Brunei, Malawi, etc.

He got an interview with the school in Brunei, but when they found out he was married, and to a non-teacher at that, they told him that though they liked what they saw, they preferred to hire single teachers or teaching couples.

And then.

And then a job opened up at a good school in Cairo where PG’s Egyptian bff and mancrush also worked, and even though PG asked me if it was okay if he applied for the job here knowing that I hadn’t wanted to move back to Egypt “right away” I knew from that point on that it was a done deal.

Goodbye India. Goodbye Thailand. Hello familiarly busy streets (as opposed to unfamiliar busy streets), smoke and smog, noise and nosiness.

But also, hello to spending time with my family. Hello to a new old Egypt (kind of like the new old airport) and the old new Egypt, and hello to living outside the family home.

And hello to the stress of trying to move your most prized belongings (KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer in Boysenberry!) back to Egypt without paying double their value in customs.

Which is really what this post was meant to be about, but which will have to wait for another time when I’m not doped out on pain killers for my cracked rib (I am the essence of grace and athleticism) and about to fall asleep…

Chatty taxi

15 February 2012 § 1 Comment

Usually, I love nothing more than engaging in a long, meandering conversation about life, politics and everything after with a Cairo taxi driver. Many of my female friends here seem to eschew this, on the basis of some sort of belief that encouraging conversation will encourage other, less desirable behavior. I don’t know. I’ve always been lucky in this respect, as my cabbies always seem to just want to “fad fad” – get a few things off their chest and exchange ideas.

This morning, however, I got into my taxi to work with my finger stuck as a placeholder in my finally obtained copy of Love, Inshallah, and I wanted nothing more than for the cabby to be quiet so that I could finish the story in which I was currently enmeshed. (Remember when I posted the call on this here site nearly a year ago? And then I gamely submitted a piece thinking there’s no way I’d be selected? And then I was. Although, the more I read the book the more I wonder what the editors saw in my twee little tale. Readers of this blog (all one of you) will easily be able to pick out which piece is mine.)

Anyway, despite the fact that I was clearly not interested in talking this morning, the young cabby clearly had a lot on his mind, and dove right in with a series of invasive questions. “How are you this morning?” “Fine.” “You’re not Egyptian, are you?” “Yes, I am.” “But you have a funny accent. You must have lived abroad?” “Yes.” “It’s just that you talk so funny.” “Ok.” (Usually, this is where I provide a falsely cheery explanation of how I lived abroad until 7 years ago (wait, now 8!) and how I’ve worked as a translator so take that! And how I understand Arabic perfectly well, despite the fact that I sound like a khawaga when I speak. See? I am going to make a joke now, and we will laugh and you will realize that I’m a very awesome bint balad.) But this morning, I was not having it because I was too busy reading about the intricacies of “the dip”. (Get your hands on a copy of the book. You’ll understand.)

Despite my obvious disinterest the dude would not let up. And he insisted on talking to me about politics and the state of the country, and then randomly asked, “Are you married? Do you have children? Wait, why don’t you have children yet? You must be newly married. No? Rabina yihdiki.” “Is your husband Egyptian? Why didn’t you marry an Egyptian?” “Naseeb, ya akhi!

This is probably the point where I should have cut off conversation with a stern tone and gotten out of the taxi, but I was almost at the office by this point, and also by this point (6 months since moving back to Egypt), I have heard these comments about my marriage to a Farangi and my lack of children after *gasp* over a year of marriage that I’m just done with feeling anything about it. I mean, if I can survive my uncle asking – in front of the entire extended family, mind you – about my husband’s virility over some Eid kahk, and then playing the “your-father’s-dying-and-wants-to-hold-a-grandchild-in-his-arms-before-he-does” card, then incessant questions from nosy cabbies really ain’t no thang.

***

All this is to say – after a blissfully peaceful 10 months in England, we are back in Cairo and experiencing what it means to be a married couple here. And let me tell you it’s all fun and games until an old Salafi in Tahrir accuses your husband (dressed in his “I love Egypt” t-shirt) of being a “foreign journalist.”

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