Sunday, 23 March 2008

Coach Nour of the Gym

It’s past midnight on one of Cairo’s unbearably hot summer days. There is no hope of any breeze to shake the light chiffon curtains. Lights are off, door has been left ajar to allow the corridor light to sneak in, and the fan on the ceiling has decided to stop working so they turn their clothes into fans. The poor bed always lovingly accommodates at least four and at times seven girls. After a lot of pushing, pinching, and bullying, they usually manage to fit their different sizes and shapes of feminine bodies into a talkative, laughing jigsaw puzzle.

‘Which one of you pigs has forgotten to wash her feet?’ their eldest and the only Egyptian cousin among them said.
‘SARAAAH!!’ two others shout.
‘I swear to God I’ve already washed them,... twice,’ she says with an unseen smile. She decides to go wash them again after her big sister shoves her off the bed. ‘Okay, buffalo, I’m going,’ she mutters.

‘Hmm .. busy night for you Egyptians, no?’
‘Yeah, it’s Thursday night.’
‘What do you mean? Stop it.’
‘No , this is a fact that we all know.’
‘And who are ‘we’?’
‘We Arabs!’
Begad? And I’m not Arab? I’m Egyptian, silly! Am I speaking Chinese now?’
‘I mean people who are not Egyptians know this about Egyptians. We know that your men make love to their women only on Thursday nights.’

One Palestinian, two Jordanians and one Egyptian. All five young ladies crack laughing out loud and express their total agreement with the rumor/information.

‘But these things don’t go by schedule, you know,’ the Egyptian tries to defend.
‘That’s what we think, not you. We Palestinians…, hmm, you can ask about us the whole Arab population and you’ll learn about the reputation of our men.’
'No, it's us, Jordaninas.'
'Jordanians are Palestinians originally, so it's the same.'
‘Oh, how about Uncle Ali’s son, I think he’s not that ... ...’
‘Well, he’s good at other things, you know!’
‘No.. but I still have to admit that Captain Nour of the gym is an exceptional case. God, that guy is a lamppost not a man!’
A long ohhhooo and laughter shake the bed and a loud whistle goes off.
‘You’ll never know. He looks something, but still he’s an Egyptian.’

Sarah heard the noise and came running back from the bathroom. ‘What are you laughing at? What have I missed?’
‘It’s Captain Nour.’
She pretended to have faint and threw her tall body across the other four. ‘Oh, Nour, my love,’ she sighs.
‘But you know what? Although I don’t believe it’s true, I still think they have the right to do it only once a week.’
‘Are you crazy? What about their women?’
‘Do you know how long most of them work everyday? They leave home around 6.30 in the morning, they may or may not come back for lunch and a quick nap then leave for their second job and stay out until around 12 am. What do you think they will do when they get home? ’
‘Probably drop dead.’
‘Yeah, and you blame them for a Thursday only.’
‘Oh poor guys, it’s good then there’s a Thursday even.’
‘Nooo, but not all of them.’
‘Why do you care anyway?’
‘Of course I do… I’m planning to get Nour for myself.’
‘No, he’s mine.’ ‘No, mine!’ ‘No, he's mine. He likes me.’

And they start pillow fighting without even realizing that Captain Nour of the gym works a double shift on Thursdays.

Thursday, 20 March 2008


The best time to see your family is when you don’t want to see them. You receive an invitation on a short notice and you know you’d rather be home relaxing. Yet, you decide to go and be with them, for how often do you phone them, visit them or talk to them? You are positive you’ll regret it by the end of the day and that doesn’t dissuade you.

A winter apartment overlooking Lake Timsaah, Suez Canal, Fayed Town. It’s not summer yet but the temperature reaches 85. In front of you is an amazing view of the lake that you can’t wish to enjoy with 20 adults, 5 teenagers and 4 kids around. Not a single moment of silence.

Not a single moment of being left alone. They might possibly leave you alone if you just got a divorce or broke up and they thought you had a good reason to take a walk on your own. Other than that they just don’t see why on earth you would rather be sitting alone enjoying the peacefulness.

The only girl in the gathering and the closest to my age was an 18-year-old Mayda who came with her mom and fiancĂ©. It was the first time to see her after the engagement and I was happy to say congratulations and give her a big warm hug. She’s a sweetheart. Oops, she’s not smiling and not sitting next to him. Hmm. “What’s up, Doodo? Where’s your man, girl?” I said teasingly. “No man, no shit. I don’t want to sit with him or talk to him,” she replied with a big smile brightening up her face and tears gleaming in her eyes.

Now I know how the rest of the day will go: men drinking tea, cracking pistachios, and talking politics… women gossiping, supervising work in the kitchen, and trying to get Doodo out of her misery! Tips on ‘the best way to treat your fiancĂ©’ kept flying around the poor girl for over an hour. 'You silly, go sit next to him!' 'Girl, go ask the man if he wants tea or coffee!' 'Oh, do you want him to feel neglected and open up for another woman?' 'You, loser, there are no men around no more!'

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I suggested. She nodded and followed me.

Finally! ... A quiet wooden pergola with white benches all around. We sat next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, eyes fixed ahead. The lake lay tranquil in front of us. Nothing in the horizon but a couple of cargo ships moving as slow as snails. A little pedal boat stood silently not disturbing the water. It all felt like a scene of our lives has been paused on purpose.

... silence.

“Do you love him?” I asked her ... Silence.


“Do you miss him sometimes?”

“No. He visits us everyday.” ... Silence.

“What’s the best thing you like about him?” No reply. “Ok. What do you talk about?”

“Nothing. He is always around and already knows what I’m doing. What shall I talk to him about? What made you suddenly decide to take off your veil?”

“I don’t know!” I replied with as astonishing speed ... Longer silence. “Listen. You're saying that your mom likes him. Ok then, let her marry him. You don’t love him, you don’t miss him, you don’t talk to him. Are you going to have kids with him using a remote control? Think carefully, girl. You’re still young.”

She smiles shyly and tells me what we both knew. Her mom is afraid there weren’t many men around these days and just wanted her to get married. At that moment I was glad I gave her my sincere advice. She started telling me an endless list of things he’d said and done. I listened to her with my eyes fixed on the three men in the pedal boat I could see through the rusty bars in front of us. I heard more than what she was saying. I heard her confused soul screaming for help. I heard her helpless heart calling for the right man to come and rescue her. I heard the mobile ring… they were telling us to come have lunch.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Left to right .. and right to left

… and here is the e-mail of someone who had a crush on me (no, it’s not you!). He had the honor of scribbling it himself on one of those yellow pages. My name in Thai. Contact details of Education Reform Program in Egypt which I never contacted. Hamza Yusuf: Women, Sharia, and Islam (2 CD’s $ 14). Monday Dec. 3rd: “It’s your personality. If it were that important, it’d have been mentioned clearly in Quran. You believe in the whole thing, don’t pick and choose”. Say ‘British’ don’t say ‘English’. Gym hours 6-8 pm. Never been yet. "Say: O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (39:53). Straight, take first right, building to your right, 3rd floor, apartment 9. A whole lesson is unified by theme and context. X said: “This is the smartest thing you’ve ever done”. I think you're right. Peterson’t college search. Go back to this when you have time. Why aren't women allowed to wear perfume just like men? Why is it a sin to wear it in public? Abdool Karim Soroush. March 2, 08 first audition in my life. Liberating, took off my face and put on the character's. Hadith lessons at mosque (Wed after noon prayer). How can I ever attend? Khaled Aboul Fadl: “all jurists agreed that a Muslim man or woman should not marry a mushrik (disbeliever who associates partners with God). Is this the right definition. Dentist next Wednesday. I love the nurse. Prof. X: “you won’t find any answers. Follow your mind and conscience”. How do you ever know you are right? Sheikh Imam's songs and Ahmed Fouad Nijm's poetry. Oh World. Smile, please. “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error.” (2:256). You are bellissima. March schedule, fully booked. Why did I let him write his email himself? Oh , I forgot I am not good at saying 'No'. Kite Runner coming soon at the Nile Tower movie theater.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Before you decide to become an Egyptian girl

If you are an Egyptian girl, I mean one of the ordinary majority, you can do whatever you want, anytime you want, wherever you want ... 'only' in your dreams :)This is one of the facts you should keep in mind if you are planning to become one. I don’t know how you can do that since receiving the honor of becoming an Egyptian citizen can’t happen even if you were born here, lived here all your life, gave all your fortune to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, or prayed to God every single day.

Depending on your family, you, as an Egyptian girl, shouldn’t , may not or can’t do any of the following.

- Don’t talk on your mobile in the street. If you have to answer the phone, make sure to look serious, and don’t laugh for obvious reasons. (Not obvious?)

- Don’t smoke. Only your brother can. If you do, make sure it’s a female only trustworthy gathering where no one is going to report to your family. Don’t wear any wool because it'll keep the smell.

- Don’t have a boyfriend. If you have one, don’t tell your family unless you decide to marry. Needless to say that you can’t make or recieve a phone call when you are at home. Also, better not to receive too many text messages because it will sound suspicious. You’re brother, of course, can have a girl friend, go out with her, and talk to her on the house phone all night long. But this is none of your business. He's a man.

- Don’t have male friends. There’s not such a thing as a male-female platonic friendship.

- Don’t leave home with your hair wet!!

- Don’t tie your shoelaces in the middle of the street. You can do this only with your back to a wall. If you do it any other way, you may receive a touch, a hit or at least a dirty word. You’ll never know how tempting your behind may look when you bend over.

- Don’t try to fix anything that goes wrong with your car: 1) if you have a flat tire one morning, lose your job but never try to change it yourself as you’ll get your body into certain positions that passers-by would(n’t) like to watch, and 2) if for example you need to put water in the radiator, be sure to stand to the side and be conscious of your surroundings. What to do if you have either problem? Leave the car, go to a gas station, and get a guy to do it for you for the same reasons mentioned with the shoelaces.

- Don’t read on public transportation. It’s just not Egyptian. You’ll look stupid especially if you were glasses. And it doesn't even look sexy.

- Don’t argue with the taxi driver. Give him whatever he wants. And of course don’t sit in the passenger seat. Only back seat, please.

- Don’t walk into a lingerie shop if you are on your own. Better with one or two other females. On your own? Hmm … you’re too ‘bold’

- When you have guests or visiting someone, don’t sit next to a male. Sit next to a woman or a girl even if you know she’ll talk your ear off. Also sit with people you’re age as you’re not usually welcome into “big people’s” talk.

- When you get engaged, don't tell your fiance you ever had a boyfriend. Although he may not buy it, he'd rather think it's true than lose his sense of masculinity by getting engaged to a girl who has had a boyfriend before. It's not "and vice versa". His past is only his and can't be taken against him.

- If you are on the street and suddenly crave some ice-cream, don’t buy it in a cone. Go for a cup and a spoon if you're planning to eat it on the street!

- Don’t refuse offers of arranged marriages if you passed your mid-twenties. "You’ll regret it later," all wise family members say.

- Don’t stand at a corner if you’re waiting for someone. Find somewhere with lots of light and stand seriously without marching to and forth or you’ll have to deal with the many price offers you get.

- Don't run on the street for any reason, not even for sports. Maxmim is a fast-paced walk.

- If you have to phone a female friend from one of the many mobile shops around, try to you use a masculine pronoun talking to her. If you slip, at least don’t mention her name. The poor girl may suffer endless attempts of contact from the Ali of the kiosk you used.

- Don’t answer back if for any reason a guy on the street swears at you. You’ll never be able to match his unlimited list of vocabulary that you’ve never heard before. And you probably will end up screaming something like “Oh you dog! Donkey! Animal!” which, to him, are nothing but synonyms for his own name.

If you are an Egyptian girl, consider yourself lucky. You can still do many things that girls in Saudi Arabia can't even dream of.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A major realization

I'd decided to write about my experience of taking off my headscarf as soon as I have something to share. I have a lot to tell you actually: people's reactions, my own reflection on the decision, what it means to me to feel the wind in my hair, new things I've learned about myself, new things I've grown (un)interested in over the past two weeks.

But … really … what I'd like to share with you are details I've recently noticed about a long hidden part of me ... My hair!
No matter how hard you try to make it do what you want, it would still act the way it wishes. Even if you take it to the hairdresser's and force it to look the way you think is nicer, having made you happy for a while, it'll soon go back to the way it is. It can't stay fake for long.
Although it looks similar to most Egyptians' hair, it's just not the same.
It gets easily damaged by sun, humidity and wind. It'll stay strong but may get tired of being strong and then you'll usually have to be patient and pay a lot to treat it.
It may not look friendly to you on the outside, but deep inside it is. It's also happy, content, and thankful for whatever it is.
My hair is actually much wilder than it seems to be, that's why, for social reasons, a hair band is usually tied around it.

This all may be less important than the actual veil-off experience itself. But actually these findings have helped me come to an important realization of the interesting similarities between me and my hair.

After several painful attempts of pointless forced change, I've discovered the only way that could work with both of them: it's to accept them and love them the way they are... for they just wouldn't change!