Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011: A Revolutionary Year (or: Memories of Egypt)

First Tunisia, now Egypt. In the span of a mere month, the Arab world has been turned upside-down. Even as Egypt has descended into chaos (more than usual, I mean - heh, lame joke, I know. Sorry.), Yemen and Jordan are trying to use the events as a spur to their own civil revolutions. Many speculate that other countries in similar situations, such as Algeria and Syria, may well be next.

For myself, I have no deep thoughts or clear analyses of what's going on; I am, like the rest of you, a mere spectator. The only thing I have to offer are my memories of Egypt, which I left four months ago.
To be honest, my year-and-a-half long (almost) time in Egypt was not particularly great; mind you, it wasn't Egypt's fault so much as it was my own. I was miserably homesick and snarky, ungrateful, and unappreciative with it. I was unimpressed by the weather, the country, the people... it all irritated me and made me long for beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

Yet I do have some special once-in-a-lifetime memories of Egypt, that I wish I had recorded more fully when they had happened and thus appreciate all the more today. Now I must rely on my faulty memory to try and recapture those unique experiences.


I sailed on the Nile in a felucca at night, trying to control my rebellious stomach (I wasn't seasick; just suffering the usual abdominal instability that comes of leaving a sanitary country for an unsanitary one) enough to enjoy the sights and noise available at midnight in Cairo.

I visited the balad (rural town) of Qaha, and an 'izbah (village) five minutes away from it.
I've witnessed first-hand the shocking poverty that so many Egyptians come from, and continue to live in.
I met the oldest-living woman of the village and drank fresh, warm, and surprisingly sweet cow's milk (at least, I think it was cow's milk :/) from a tall glass of dubious hygiene.
I walked through a corn field and broke off fresh corn on the cob, which was then roasted over a fire made from the corn husks.
I ate rabbit, beef liver, and pigeon!
I watched my husband slaughter a sheep for 'Eid al-Adha on the roof of his second-cousin's home in the balad and had blood running around my lovely new shoes and 'abaayah (but I made sure to watch the whole thing and participated in packaging the meat itself)... and how they cut off the sheep's testicles and sent it downstairs to be cooked and eaten. (Needless to say, I abstained from that one.)
To my bemusement, the second-cousin's young daughters took an immediate liking to me and would natter on constantly while I sat helplessly ignorant and nodded politely and pretended to understand one word in ten.

I went on book-shopping sprees at the Dar us-Salaam bookstore in Madinat Nasr.
I dragged my husband the length of 'Abbas al-'Aqqad to go on a more traditional type of shopping spree :D
I made my husband get up every morning after Fajr to walk to, and around, the big park in Makram 'Obeid during the last two months of my pregnancy. I huffed, I puffed, I waddled, I got kicked around by the baby inside, but I persevered :)
I oohed and aahed over the really cool architecture of the Roxy shopping area, but was unable to get good pictures :(

I spent two Ramadhaans in Egypt, and prayed every single night in a large masjid over 100 years old (Masjid Qutuz) in Heliopolis, Masr Jadeedah. My husband was one of the imaams for taraweeh :)
(And they had a really cool marble fountain that was, once upon a time, used for making wudhu!)
I made friends whom I couldn't talk to, who loved my baby even though she'd only ever bawl hysterically upon seeing them.

I spent four days in Alexandria with my husband, his best friend, and his best friend's wife (and their baby). The majority of that time was spent in a dodgy broken-down apartment rented for an inordinate amount of money, wherein neither the bathroom nor the AC worked and the friends' baby would cry constantly or sleep, necessitating our confinement (apparently it was unthinkable that hubby and I could go out by ourselves).
We went on a paddle boat... with the baby in a sleeping basket that was completely unsecured (as in, neither parent actually held onto the baby or the basket... they just plonked the baby in the middle of the seat and seemed perfectly at ease. Even when the boat was being rocked madly by the baby's father!)
I ate beef liver from a stall that looked grubbier than a five-year-old who's had a mud bath and then jumped into a sandbox. It was shockingly delicious. And then did something to my appetite because I was consumed with hunger so powerful that I'd be eating every five minutes and STILL STARVING! This lasted for the duration of our trip in Alexandria.
I sat at the water's edge at night with my husband, trying (and failing) to say/ do anything romantic. Heh.

When in the car, we would be assailed with the Qur'an recitation of Mishary al-Afasy blaring from one side while our eardrums were in danger of being incapacitated by the Egyptian hip hop screaming from the other side.

I blinked in absolute disbelief as I witnessed bearded men reading aloud from pocket mus_hafs behind the lingerie counters (and Arab lingerie is possibly the raciest, tackiest, weirdest type of lingerie ever. I had never seen anything the like before. It made me long for the good taste of the XXX store display next to the gas station at home.).

I was routinely frustrated by the insistent hospitality of Egyptians as time and time again, we would be invited for tea (or even just pop by to pick something up) and forced to stay 'till 1am, when all I really wanted to do was go home and not have anything else shoved down my throat.

I grew to tolerate having my cheeks, arms, and ribs pinched and being told that I need to gain weight so that my husband will think I'm beautiful.

I discovered just how bad it is for a woman to have any kind of body hair. I also discovered how painful it is to have said body hair removed. And how many salons exist in such states of near-filth that it makes me wonder if there are any regulations for hygiene whatsoever in Egypt.

My one and only trip to the pyramids was overshadowed by family drama (my husband's maternal family), which was literally like an episode of a soap opera. In fact, the soap opera that Sittu (my husband's grandmother) settled down to watch later that day was totally tame compared to incident that took place earlier. Money, love, broken hearts, tears, screaming, ex-wives, estranged granddaughters (and foul, falafel, and koshary) were all elements of the real-life drama that took place in front of my eyes.

I went to an Egyptian wedding and emerged deaf (and wishing that I was blind; I saw stuff exposed that really shouldn't have been).

I met intelligent, charming, sweet girls of 13 who wore niqaab and completely destroyed every stereotype that one might have of young girls who wear niqaab. There are a lot of journalists whom I wish could meet these girls.

I have sat in apartments furnished with great taste (and lots of money); and climbed the steep, narrow, uneven clay stairs of a rickety three-story home that has no electricity or modern plumbing, which reeks of urine and decay. A family full of gaunt-faced children and haunted adults were waiting for us to deliver their monthly share of food staples.

The day we discovered the city of Rehab, my husband and I wandered around joyously, unable to believe that something close to civilization existed in Egypt. It touched our hearts to see parking lots and rules of the road being respected.


There is a great deal more which I have seen and experienced in Egypt, and I probably don't even remember it all. I have no one to blame but myself, but I do have Allah to thank for giving me the chance to live it.

May Allah protect the innocent Egyptians and bring some sort of sanity and stability back to their lives and to their country, ameen.


Anonymous said...

Hey P. R... I just finished reading this and realized I miss you. I feel like I just went on a quick recap of the time you spent, narrated in your trademark style! You should email me more, I still don't get a taste of the PR-ness even though I came back on FB just for you!!!

Anonymous said...

AssalamAlaikum! Ok, those are a lot of stories. :) But then again, one and a half year collects quite a bit.
Btw, Nile-riding sounds uber-cool! :)


C said...

Asalaamu Alaikum

Very interesting memories! I'm a Canadian blogger too.

Abu Yusuf said...

Is taraweeh a bid-ah?