My dad is always hosting events at our house.
For example he arranges huge gatherings each Labor day weekend.
Lots of people I hardly know from all facets of his life come and park their cars in a field behind our house. Clients, old friends and classmates, acquaintances and others he invites on whim. Growing up my mother and sometimes grandmother would come too–especially significant because my parents are divorced.
Though a good time, I never fully understood his love for it. Why does he always offer to host things at our house? He works more than any person I know, shouldn’t he give himself a break and relax?
Years when lots of personal things were going on I’d ask if he was still having it. The answer was always yes.
I think here I’m starting to understand the sentiment behind his events.
As I go more places and meet more people I can’t help thinking how friends would interact together.
The 4th of July was an occasion to do this small scale. My different groups in Cairo congealed. International co-workers –Iraqi and other, Egyptians, Syonara, Samar, her children and Suleyman all gathered together at the park.
Seeing friends I hung out with this year and last and told about each other, bonding was surprisingly satisfying.
After eating, wandering the grounds and snapping shots, some of the Iraqi guys taught us a traditional Iraqi dance and we played a very intense Iraqi guessing game.
I asked the Egyptians to share some of their dancing too, but we agreed it probably belonged in a club with all the hip-shaking.
Fireworks you ask?
I saw some the next night out my window, presumably part of the moulid. Cairo is full of surprises.
Happy birthday from Cairo, America.
I hope one day my family and friends and home will have a chance to meet these people….
I relaxed in chair in an outdoor cafe in 6th of October and tried to coherently and sensitively express my thoughts.
Well, it’s just that, this is great we’re all having fun and learning so much from each other. I feel so lucky to be here. But we shouldn’t be here. None of us would be here if the United States, my country, had not invaded Iraq.
It was around 2 a.m. and our night was winding down with sheesha and drinks (fruit and coffee only!). The day had been a marathon of welcomes from our Iraqi co-workers and friends in 6th of October–a city 40 minutes outside Cairo, known for high immigrant populations.
Iraqi food was the named theme of the day. For lunch they treated us to a feast of grilled meat, tabouli, tahina, potatoes, eggplant , lamb, rice, and goza beans. Stomachs already full, we visited three more houses, where we were serenaded with delicious food and drink.
The first apartment was spacious, with exquisite new curtains matching sofas and tables. It was clear this family was well-off in Iraq and in there three years here, they had done their best to replicate.
The father family, an engineer who works as a translator in our office, drew our attention to a souvenirs given by friends from around the world and a family portrait. Lovingly displayed in a glass cabinet, they were the only personal things visible in the apartment. It was clear this place was a transit point.
The walls were bare.
In the other houses we enjoyed tea, deserts and conversational mix of English and Iraqi (to my dismay, very different from Egyptian) Arabic.
We were welcomed without reservation. Our thanks were met with thanks for our work and friendship.
In my three weeks working in the office no one has criticized my nationality. No one has asked me to justify America’s actions in Iraq. When I’ve brought it up there hasn’t been resentment, just a sense of we’re in this together.
What should we do now?
I don’t know.
I don’t know either.
One Iraqi suggested Americans put down the weapons and get to work rebuilding.
Wouldn’t they be targets? Would peace stick? I asked.
I don’t know.
In the cafe we do not spend time talking about things that did and do go on wrong. We accept the reality of the moments. We are here now. From Australia, American, Quebec, and Iraq.
We play ping-pong, enjoy food and each others’ company.
Momentum is toward the future. We are friends and co-workers, we have a lot of work at the moment, that is our focus.
Safely in a microbus zooming back toward Cairo, Rami calls us.
Our you safe? Are you almost there? You should be there by now?
We’re fine, we’re fine. We’ll be there soon, we tell him.
It is our responsibility to get our guests home safely too, he says.
Yet I still can’t help but wonder….
What if America policy lived by the same responsibility as our friends?
A couple days a go a few of us interviewed young women affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood for stories we are writing. One of the young woman Sondos, invited us out for dinner, along with her sister, Marwa.
They showed us unbelievable kindness and welcome, put up with endless questions (this was not supposed to be an interview!) showed us how to tied headscarves and encouraged a photo shoot. To be fair, they asked their fair share of questions in return. These are the types of friendships which truly lead to cultural understanding. Marwa puts the hijab (headscarf on Rachel). Headscarves are a sign of modesty. They are also a huge part of the culture. Most Muslim women in Egypt where them out of choice. At least here, it’s as much a fashion statement as a profession of religiosity.
Thanks Marwa and Sondos! I look forward to seeing you when I return to Egypt.
Football, aka American soccer, is the primary sport of interest in Cairo, and really most of the world beyond the United States. Yesterday the majority of our group, 23 students and Carlene, arrived at Cairo soccer stadium escorted by multiple security officers to watch Egypt play Angola.
We walked into the stadium, security forces lining the way on either side, hustled up a winding staircase and, behold–a brilliantly green field brightly lit brightly stretched before us.
If you’ve ever attended a sport event with me, you know I go for the conversation and atmosphere, not the plays. In this case, I got what I was looking for.
When we were warned we would draw attention at the game I expected mobs rushing toward us or boys whistling and staring. With our trusty van drivers (one of whom brought his adorable daughter) and security guards at our sides we got nothing more than friendly smiles, waves and curious glances as we took our seats.
Part-way through the game, adorned with large red-flags (James trumped us all and bought the humongous size), team hats (Rachel and Asha) and face-paint (John) the cameras started zoning in from all angles.
Most obvious, the stadium camera turned its large lens toward us soon after the game was underway. Abdu and our hotel staff were among those who enjoyed our faces on their TV screens.
A few minutes later my attention was drawn to a middle-aged man behind me. He had out his camera phone (yes, these are just as popular here as in the United States) and was video-taping my friends and I as we laughed our way through the game. I pointed the taping out to Rachel and Asha sitting next to me. They turned and looked to–though I’m pretty sure our looks were those of annoyance,, the man only smiled– unabashedly continuing his filming.
“Lematha?” (Why?) I asked pointing at him.
“Good luck,” he said.
His daughter sitting next to him smiled shyly before slipping between the seats and plopping down next to me.
One of the benefits of sitting on the end?
She told me her name was Abar and she was 8-years-old. She didn’t speak English so my limited Arabic and gestures defined our interaction. She shared salty seeds ( Like pumpkin, but I haven’t seen those here) with me (it’s impolite to refuse drinks and food) I showed her pictures I have of my brother Grayson and sister Cady and she operated my camera like a pro, zooming in and out to take pictures of the soccer players, my friends and I and her brother.
Her Dad, who spoke no more English than she did, intermittently whipped out his camera-phone in an apparent attempt to seal his “good-luck.”
I searched in my bag for some token to give her but didn’t have anything. I considered giving her U.S. coins but was afraid she or her family might take that the wrong way (any thoughts?) She didn’t want the gum I offered.
As the game came to a close (Did you even see any of the goals!?! My friends, considerably more into the game teased me) I gave Abar (pronounced Abiir) my notepad and asked her to write her name. Her dad took it and scrawled in perfect English Abar Emnad along with their phone number the words “Good Luck,” and E Youat–possibly a family name or his?
How do you know that? I asked surprised. He didn’t have the words to explain. A helpful guy a few seats a way chimed in to tell me he learned at school. After trying to have a conversation in English and Arabic with this second man–younger and dressed in a Western-style business suite, I discovered school was one the few English words he knew.
When we left the father handed me yet another slip of paper with his name and number. Was a middle-aged man lusting after me in front of his teenage son and daughter? I’d prefer to think he was just offering friendship in a overcrowded metropolis of 18 million plus. (No one worry, I’ll never call).
Back in our hotel room a few hours later, Asha and I fell asleep composing Arabic sentences out-loud in our beds. Next time insha‘allah (God willing –used by everyone in every context here) I’ll be able to ask a few more questions.