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Where I Call Home…

I trod on its sands, had my feet lapped by the sea of its shores, learned to ride a horse in its desert in the shadow of its heritage, heard a choral of calls to prayer and church bell rings beckoning people of similar faiths to worship God within its land.

I learned to commute to and from work in a language that often left me speechless, shared laughs with children I could barely communicate with, bought the most intensely tongue-tickling strawberries, mangos, melons and oranges, devouring them before my mind completed the process of comprehension of their deliciousness.

I had my feet rubbed in dust, walked past donkeys and horses as they aided the poorest in their trade, shopped, ate and drunk at the largest shopping mall in the whole of the Middle East.

I exchanged smiles with the toothless, drunk tea with intellectuals, was inspired by the thoughtful and even learned to appreciate the talents of Amr Diab.

I shouted with the repressed, sighed with tired protesters, gave water to the wounded, showed anger at the looters and guided an old lady who was afraid of the huge army tanks stationed along her path.

All in Egypt, the country I’ve grown to love. The country I miss dearly. The country I call home. God-willing, I will be back there soon. InshaAllah.

-The Londoner

In-ear Treatment

I could see her from the corner of my eyes, but I didn’t dare lock my gaze with hers. I saw her as she shifted on her feet: a slight step forward, and then a little shuffle back, followed by the placing of a foot in front of her, but then a decision that it wasn’t the best move. Slyly eyeing her hesitation was kinda fun, but I decided to turn my back in case she changed her mind and decided to actually approach me.

You see, this happened in a clothes store in Geneina Mall in Nasr City. It’s an okay sort of place, where you can get some decent stuff for not too much money… hey, they’ve even got a Clarks shoe store (ain’t decently priced in there!), so it’s not a down-in-the-rut kinda mall.

Anyway, my experience in this mall has always been like this:

– Walk into a shop
– Immediately trailed by a shop assistant (SA) who straightened up the minute I walk in
– See a skirt I like
– Take skirt off the railing
–  SA takes skirt out of my hand, assuming I want it
– My jaw drops from shock
– SA says ‘haga tani?’ (anything else?)

But last week, I flipped the script and had a plan… an in-ear plan, and so it happened like this:

– Walk into a shop with earphones visibly in ears (I wear a hijab, so I made sure I put them in from the outside, rather than under from the inside)
– Proceed to a clothes rail and finger through a load of clothes… nothing particularly interesting
– Eye SA shifting in hesitation
– Turn my back to her
– Find nothing interesting and walk back out

What’s the difference? I didn’t get stalked by a shop assistant! Happy days!

I’m telling you, SAs in Egypt have a totally different concept of customer service, which often entails them tailing you in a store, so close that you can almost feel their breath on the back of your neck (or in my case, you can see their breath causing the wave of my scarf)! It’s suffocating to feel that you’re being followed in this fashion, and although I totally understand that they’re trying to be hospitable and provide high-levelled service, taking a garment out of my hand before having the chance to inspect it makes me feel as though a degree of my purchasing power is being snatched too.

The over-enthusiastic even go the extra mile, picking out clothes for me, which are almost always hideous, and add an insulting “Hilwa, wallah!” Sorry? You’re swearing by God that it’s nice?

I can gladly say that I’ve put an end to this madness. My in-ear treatment worked marvellously, and I will never be stalked in Geneina Mall ever again… God-willing. *grin*

– A smug Londoner

The Bop

I’m going to start with a bit of family exposure here, and I apologise to my brother (well, one of them) for exposing him on my blog. (Don’t worry, bro, I’m not mentioning your name! :))

Okay, so one day my brother got out  of our dad’s car (I think he was meant to go into the house to get something) and all of a sudden I thought he was going to fall over, because there something odd going on with his legs as he walked.

It was a cross between a sway and a stagger and a bit of a wobble, and I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this dodgy walk, but the fact that our dad called out, “(brother’s name), is there something wrong with your legs?!” knocked some shock into my system. He was 13 (or maybe 14, I can’t remember now… I’m getting old!) and he’d caught the bop – the infamous weird walk that guys do, as though they’re being pinched in the behind!

(Yeah, my bro straightened up when our dad called out to him, but it didn’t stop him doing it when he wasn’t around!)

Now, fast-forward to several years later, there’s me in a metro station (this evening), minding my own business with my headphones in my ears, as is my usual custom, and through the crowd of people on the platform I get a little deja-vu as I spot the bop… this time it was two Egyptian guys who were caught. And if they were young, I wouldn’t have chuckled to myself the way I did tonight, but they looked well into their late 20’s or even early 30’s.

Seeing a 13/14 year-old walk in what some people think is a ‘cool’ way, is one thing, but what are 30 year-olds trying to prove? A peculiar sight, I tell you.

From London to Egypt… there are some things you just can’t escape. Not even the bop.

– The Londoner

African Time vs. EgypTime

Let me start off by saying that I originate from west Africa, and as such we’re notorious for running on ‘African time’, a time scale that differs from everyone else. So, in London, telling us to get to a party for 8pm guaranteed an arrival time no earlier than 10pm. The term ‘on-time’ rarely makes its way into our dictionary of life – standard. There are obvious exceptions to the rule, but the rule is rarely broken.

Dealing with Egyptians, however, is a different story entirely! And despite Egypt being a part of the African map, they take the African time concept to a whole new level of ridiculousness. Yes, I said that; they run on EgypTime, which can be anything between 2-6 hours later than the time agreed.

You see, I had scheduled to view a flat a month ago, and the landlord and I agreed on 11am. When I informed him that I would be setting out at 10.30am to get there on-time, he interjected with, “How long have you been in Egypt?”

“Two months,” I replied.

“Ah,” he began, a wave of understanding evidently washing over him. “That’s why.”

I imagined that he was nodding and stroking his chin as it all became clear to him, but I did not understand at all.

“That’s why what?” I asked.

“That’s why you’re so accurate with the time,” (if only he knew!) “Once you’re here a little longer, you’ll know that we do things differently here.”

I must admit that Egyptians have successfully made a mockery of the concept of African time, and due to the odd sleeping patterns of people here (as in, when do they sleep?!), the definition of morning, afternoon and evening is vastly different from what I’ve known all my life.

Hence, when I called to make an enquiry about a flat at 1pm, the landlord told me to call back in the afternoon… at 7pm! Erm… isn’t that considered evening? Sure, it’s after noon, but it’s also after 6pm, which technically makes it evening time.

I wonder when he considers evening  to be. Actually, I’d rather not know; a 7pm afternoon is baffling enough.

– The Londoner

Past the Glass…

Today I had a session of people-watching in Starbucks in City Stars, one of Cairo’s largest malls – a westerner’s dream… or nightmare when the hiked prices slaps one’s face!

After some retail therapy in H&M (they had a sale on; the African in me couldn’t let that slide!) and flicking through books in Shorouk Bookstore, there was no better reward than a vanilla-laced mocha after so much work. *grin*

I loved sitting in their comfy armchair, sipping on my creamy hot beverage with my mind simmering with thoughts of nothing in particular as my eyes scanned people as they idly strolled past the glass…

… a Sudenese couple, arms interlocked in a knot of romance (say “ahhh!”), the woman tall and slender with thick black henna patterns stained on the sole of her feet that were slipped into high thin-heeled sandals that I would never have dared to attempt to walk in. They are married – this couple – her hennaed feet a sure sign that she was not available.

… a niqabi, elegantly adorned with her face covering, and a shield of black from head to toe. Despite only being able to see her eyes and her hands, beauty radiated from her and her measured steps alongside who I presumed to be her husband – a man who had a light patch of hair on his chin – not quite a beard, but not a goatee either. My guess is that he was Indonesian or possibly Malay; his distinct eyes gave it away.

… a group of what I call ‘rich kids’, who have parents who have more money than they know how to dispose of. Kids all kitted in gear that cost no less than 100LE a garment; carefree as they giggle, skip past and constantly tap away on their Blackberries.

City Stars dictates the sort of people I’d see there today; the vast majority of Cairo’s inhabitants can’t afford the luxury of purchasing goods from such ‘high-end’ stores, and it’s certainly not somewhere they’d choose to splash their cash. Yet, as I reached the sad end of my mocha, I wondered if – despite the money that can buy almost everything their heart desires materially – whether any of the people I saw today are truly happy.

– The Londoner