went with my friends today to zen2at alsittat in menshia to do some gift shopping only to discover that most retailers in alex are closed on sundays – so we patronized the handful of places that were open and did our business. more importantly, on the way back home, we took a cab, as goes our daily routine. but this cab driver is worth writing about. usually, we stay silent and don’t really talk to the cab driver – not because we want to, or i’ll speak for myself… i stay silent not because i want to but because after a few months here, i’ve had some pretty negative experiences where cab drivers will see that i’m a foreigner and they will proceed to do one or more or all of the following things:
– bring up swimming and the beauty of alexandria beaches which will then digress into leading questions about swimsuits and wearing a bikini and me being awkwardly silent counting the minutes until i finally get home
– asking me if i smoke cigarettes which will then digress into leading questions about smoking hash and other drugs and then me being awkwardly silent counting the minutes until i finally get home
– asking me if i go out with my friends which will then digress into leading questions about whether or not i have a boyfriend and then me being awkwardly silent counting the minutes until i finally get home
– asking me about my religion and when i say that i’m muslim, this digresses into a conversation about shi3as and iran and how they are trying to take over the world and then me being awkw– you know the rest.
but this guy, i had a good feeling about him. i’m going to visit my dear dear habibi my uncle in lebanon and he hasn’t been in egypt in a while, i want to bring him something that is particular to egypt, something he can’t find in lebanon and something that will either provoke a laugh or warm fuzzies about egypt. so i decided to ask the cab driver what his ideas were for this and he suggested bastirma and mulukhiya – both of which, in my humble opinion, are not only bountiful in lebanon but they are also fabulously delicious thanks to my armos in burj 7ammoud [holla @ mano & bedo!] (for the former) and my tata’s esteemed cooking (for the latter).
but then he started telling us about how he traveled to holland illegally in 1992 to find work with 8 of his friends. they first got a legal visa to russia and then got to warsaw, and then they met some polish mafia folks who smuggled them over to amsterdam. a contagious smile came upon his face as he recalled these stories. he said he took basterma with him because he was certain that he wouldn’t find it in europe. he then found a fellow egyptian who owned a dukkan in amsterdam who sold mulukhiya and basterma – the two items he thought he’d never find. he even remembered his name (i think he said it was magdy elsheikh). he said that no matter where arabs go, they know they’ll miss their food and their traditions so they take them along with them, hence magdy elsheikh’s shop.
we then started talking about racism, and i asked him if he experienced any racism in europe, as racism has increased institutionally and societally in the past decades. he said he didn’t at the time and that it was zay el ful. but then he said that after the terrorist attacks that have been happening on european and american soil, he can understand how white folks can be racist – which i can sympathize with ila 7ad el ma. we then traversed into political dardasha and he said there are two kinds of muslims – normal muslims and the extreme ones. he asked if i was muslim – i said yes. it took him a few seconds to allow that thought to sink in, because i don’t wear hijab. and then he said something that i’ve been thinking about for a while. here in egypt, religion is something you wear on your head – and he points to the mu7agabat in the streets as he says this – if you wear hijab, you’re muslim, and if you don’t, you’re christian. with these markers, even basic skirmishes and mu3akasat become religious. now, muslim women are targeted with harassment and mu3akasat on the daily. but by saying this, he really put his finger on it – political and religious conflicts that usually remain in the political sphere, on the news, over coffeeshop (كوفي شوب) conversations have now spilled over onto the street. this guy also said that he’s certain the two saints church bombing in alexandria came from egyptians – not imported bombers or ideas as the government and many egyptians like to think – and i agree with him. one of the biggest issues in the arab world, or egypt in specific, is that the government (and by extension and persistent persuasion and propaganda, the people) are reluctant to admit that terrorism can be homegrown, can come from here. whereas it indeed can, and it indeed has. but pointing the finger outside our own borders affords em the luxury of never having to deal with it. so they don’t.
this post doesn’t have too many insights or epiphanies, not that many of my posts do, but i really wanted to pay homage to this cab driver because not only did i feel comfortable, i felt very respected. and that don’t happen too often. (reasons and explanations abound re: poverty and sexual repression but let’s just leave it at that)