Love

The Carriers

The souq was noisy and bustling. Sultry, sweltering, sun-stained women picked at gorging produce stands. Bananas. Mangoes. Guavas. Tomatoes. Potatoes. Zucchini.

It was her first time in a souq. She was a Foreigner. More like an interloper. An alien. As her image reflected in the people’s eyes told her. Confusion coupled with curiosity said their eyes. But she skipped to the beat of the bustle in the souq. She blended in as best she could. Their eyes followed her.

A bag of onions in one hand and a bag of tomatoes in the other. She balanced her scales like a seesaw. She wobbled through the streets teetering to this side then that. Women shoved passed the Foreigner. Nudging her into conical, knobby eggplants. Little shayal clamored to catch her bags.

These were little Carriers. Young boys tall and short, skinny and plump, ranging the various stages of boyhood. They worked in the souq. They picked fruits and vegetables, secured them in bags, placed them on their trolleys, and shuffled everything back to your house for a paltry sum. Little helpers, little elves working all day in the sun. Working and playing because for them, the two were interchangeable.

Poor miskeen little creatures she thought. Yes she would take one. The first to have caught her bags and her eye was a small prepubescent boy with a face caked in dirt. He had a red snub nose that sat squarely in the center of his baby face. His eyes. Emerald. Peeked through a forest of dark lashes. Yes. He would be her little Carrier.

The little Carrier took orders from the big Foreigner. He packed each plastic bag with its designated plant and stacked them high on his rusted steely trolley. He pushed his cart, weaving in and out unnoticed between legs of people. Like a mouse. Soon the mountain on his trolley towered over him. Another older Carrier took advantage. Kicked him in the gut and tried to commandeer his trolley. The boys struggled and wrestled as boys do.

“Stop it!” yelled the Foreigner in foreign Arabic. People stared with their ears. Both boys fell silent and straight, heads lowered in obeisance. Older Carrier gave little Carrier a residual pinch to the shoulder before scuttling away.

Little Carrier gathered an ample two week supply of fruits and vegetables. He finished, tying a sack of grapes and placing it atop the leaning tower of pisa. Yalla. Time to go. The Foreigner led her little Carrier down a narrow, winding street past tall, peeling buildings.

He lagged behind her tripping on the ends of his oversized pants. He labored under the weight of his trolley. Prodding and pushing, he pleaded with the produce. Don’t fall. She could see his exasperation float into the air like clouds above her head. Perhaps she should help him.

Why didn’t they push the trolley together in unison? It was much too cumbersome for a boy no older than six. He puffed out his chest and told her he was nine. He declined the help. Afraid she would reduce his pay.

She ignored his puerile pride and dispelled his fears. Let’s play a game. Let’s push the trolley together as fast as we can. Little Carrier forgot he was at work. Slid seamlessly into play. They pushed the bulky cart down the bumpy road, slowly gaining momentum. Faster and faster they ran, trolley first. Scarcely avoiding potholes. Taxis screamed their horns at them. They paid no mind. The wind lifted and rushed past their ears. The fruits and vegetables quivered inside their bags. Almost falling. Run. Run. Run. The Foreigner and her little Carrier ran. Onlookers cheered or shook their heads disapprovingly.

Suddenly stop. Back to reality. Her apartment building loomed overhead. The bawab stood puzzled by the entrance.

Little Carrier looked down at the ground expectantly. The Foreigner wanted to give him her wallet. Her entire purse. She wanted to give him her heart as a mother would her son. She wanted to clean him up and take him to school. Read him bedtime stories at night.

She reached into the cave of her bag and pulled out an appropriate sum. Then she added a little more. She instructed him to buy a coke. A bag of chipsy. Some helwayat.

He looked at her like she was stupid. A smile flashed across his face revealing two missing front teeth. He took the money. Sauntered down the road. Turned around the corner, trolley in tow.

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A Simple Binary

A girl in the woods,
She takes note of the sun’s charm,
Peeking through a lattice shroud,
A canopy of trees,
And she is reminded of Beauty.
Beauty in all her salient forms,
Of rapture, desire, and joy,
Why she in relation to infinite glory,
Should be reduced to,
A girl in the woods.

Reduced to a simple binary,
Like black and white,
The battered black slave,
Fettered to the yoke of,
Rabid white supremacy,
Pierces the air with his silent screams,
But only the wisp,
Of Nature’s sensual smile,
Hastens to respond,
Despondent wails of a simple binary.

Male and female,
Love and hate,
Compassion and lust,
Life and death,
She is neither.
She is the subtleties and nuances,
Of silent leaves,
As they spiral amidst,
Modern pandemonium.
She loses her egoism in the leaves,
And in a troth of self-abnegation,
She bows to Beauty,
For that is where all existence,
Becomes an afterthought.

Why configure herself in the cosmic order of the world?
For when she bites the bitter bone of fiery anger,
She wishes for harm, hatred flashes across her eyes,
Then does she feel the seed of love,
Blossom deep within her loins.
When heartbreak fractures her psyche,
Her love has abandoned her; the ultimate rejection,
And solitude of the mind threatens murder,
Then does the surge of relief drown her soul in mercy,
She is rejected and she is liberated,
Why reduce her to a simple binary,
A girl in the woods.

She is the bookkeeper of Nature’s secrets,
She commits her thoughts to scrolls of trees,
Where she is best understood,
The novelty of Nature beguiles and enchants,
The curiosity of man,
But she is not his plaything.
In one sultry act,
She makes love to the earth,
Burying her secrets deep within its folds,
Deep within herself,
Deep within the earth,
Outlines of her body blur into the trees,
Breaking the binary,
She is one and the same,
Alike with Nature,
Her kindred spirit,
A girl in the woods.

You Know You’re Living in Egypt When…

I want to preface this entry by emphasizing my deep and unbridled love for Egypt. But as within every loving relationship, there are certain trade-offs.

 

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1. You start singing Celine Dion because you heard it in a taxi, at a grocery store, in a cafe…

2. Toilet paper is a hot commodity

3. The electricity goes out conveniently while you’re using the bathroom

4. You want to create a homeless shelter for homeless street cats

5. You order Pizza Hut once a week

6. You get hit on wearing normal clothing

7. You get hit on wearing a headscarf

8. You get hit on wearing a face veil

9. You get hit on wearing a garbage bag over your head

10. One hundred ghena seems like one hundred dollars

11. The bawab (doorman) takes a deep interest in your personal life

12. Everyone eats fuul (beans) for breakfast even though this may pose problems later in the day

13. At least once a day, someone asks where you’re from, except in this manner: “from where?” (tilts head, makes emphatic hand gesture)

14. You ask someone on the street for directions, they ignore your question and ask where you’re from

15. You wake up to construction sounds in the middle of the night…

16. There’s Arabic coffee everywhere, but somehow it will never match up to American brewed coffee

17. There are 3-4 pharmacies on every street, you know just in case of emergency

18. You have serious anxieties that your building is going to collapse

19. If you could win a ghena for the number of times you’ve killed a roach, you’d have a lotta ghena

20. There’s always traffic but rush-hour is at 2 pm, you know when the work day ends

21. Thursday is the new Friday

22. You substitute Arabic words for English words you no longer remember

23. You light your oven with an incense stick

24. Random Egyptians add you on Facebook. You might have 1 mutual friend which of course means you were destined to become friends

25. People stare at you constantly

26. You hear your neighbor’s children playing happily at 3 in the morning

27. Random people call you by mistake, when you tell them they have the wrong number, they keep calling…and calling

28. There are multiple cafes on every street corner

29. You meet an Egyptian in a microbus. You become pals for the rest of the year

30. Macaroni is the main dish of Egypt

31. Your newsfeed is all in Arabic

32. No need to go to the mosque on jummah. The Friday sermon is connected to loud speakers in your bedroom

33. There are only 3 religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism (although no one has ever spotted a real Jew)

34. Projectfreetv is a godsend

35. You never use to eat McDonalds but the occasional Mickey D’s McFlurry is your new guilty pleasure

36. French fries and all fried foods are dank

37. You have preferences over bottled water brands: Hiyat, Baraka, Aqua Siwa, Dasani, Nestle…

38. Takeef (air-conditioning) water falls on you from buildings above

39. You find foreign objects in your food

40. You have severe necrophobia when riding an elevator

41. You have trouble lighting your water heater so you take ice cold showers

42. There’s a man outside your apartment building who yells talaaga (refrigerator) over and over while pushing a donkey cart

43. Pedestrians never have the right of way

44. You see more children than you do adults

45. Sleeping in until 2 pm is not uncommon. When you do so, you use the excuse of being culturally immersed

46. When you confront men who harass you, they say you are like their mother or sister…

47. All your P’s have evolved into mighty and powerful B’s like Bizza or Bancake

48. You’ve grown into a skilled bargainer

49. All modes of transportation are great but the 3 wheeled tuk tuk is your favorite

50. You carry hand sanitizer with you wherever you go

The Wonderful World of Egypt

Greetings ya’ll. I just want to start off by thanking everyone for all the love on recent blog posts. A lot has happened since my last post like…severe fuel shortages leading to ridiculous queues of vehicles blocking traffic (and making me late for everything), deadly Port Said riots culminating in the Egyptian fan club, Ultras Ahlawy, torching the Egyptian soccer headquarters (glad I’m not a soccer fan), and the usual occurrence of political oppression as the MB censures a U.N. document aiming to quell violence against women.

But in regards to my personal life, it’s hard to complain. Although lately, my roommates and I have felt as if we’ve reached a sort of lulling standstill. Our Arabic skills have properly ripened but classes are no longer intellectually stimulating (were they ever?) and more so, they aren’t pushing us to a higher language level. With two and a half months remaining, that’s two and a half months to leaving Egypt and its alternate reality world and returning to the States, the question of grad school, jobs, and just generally— “what the heck am I going to do with my life?” haunts us on a regular basis.  

This lull accompanied by our disenchantment with grandiose plans for the future, has left us searching for a new purpose; perhaps one that can carry us through the remaining months and show us something that we have left to find here.

In the meantime, I’ve taken to refining those skills which I know there is still possibility of improvement like my tajwid or Quran recitation, which might I add has always redirected me when I felt lost in Egypt. My Quran teacher, a friendly Arab baba in his own right, also happens to be the sixth best Quran reciter in the world, according to a yearly competition administered by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Jordan.

But really, all you have to do is listen to the man to know how good he is. Listen to him recite HERE.

His affecting singsong recitation, meditative focus, and perhaps most importantly, meticulous pronunciation of every Arabic syllable, sends shivers down my body every time. He often corrects me with the simple tap of his hand to the desk. Thankfully I’ve become accustomed to pinpointing my errors in elocution whenever he does so. Before that, I used to stare doe-eyed and dumb, waiting for an explanation.  

In addition to teaching me tajwid, Shaykh Ahmad Abdul Samad offers free mental health sessions as in he offers me motivating advice about how to overcome strife in life. Recently, he returned from umrah, bearing a gift for me—a handpicked black and white polka dot hijab. His motives weren’t subtle but they were sincere and this small gesture of kindness and concern really moved me.

It is definitely thoughtful personalities like these I will miss most about the wonderful world of Egypt. Much like the charming characters Elizabeth Gilbert encounters in Eat, Pray, Love, these people exude genuine concern about your wellbeing. Whether it be my eyebrow lady’s mother who has taken me on as her culinary apprentice, teaching me the art of stuffing grape leaves and zucchini, or the elderly lady who works in our Arabic department, providing tea and biscuits between classes, oh and free hugs whenever you’re feeling down, the sense of community and care is tangible and touching. As Millard Fuller once said, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”  

Anyway, I have to stop writing now because my kitten is purring incessantly in front of my face. She’s also demanding I pet her so until next time,

S