The Roommate Annals: 2000-2001

Posted on April 6, 2006

7


As a triumphant second year at the YWCA “Youth Hostel”, I was entitled to choose both my room and my roommate. I hadn’t planned on returning so M, my previous roommate, had found someone else. But I had to and so I chose a nice spacious room on the 2nd floor so I would have to climb stairs, that didn’t have a sink. I really grew to miss that sink. But at least there was room for two girls.
The reason I was able to obtain this huge room was that the second floor was traditionally reserved for Muslim girls, and I was the only Christian one who would agree to live amongst them. The director of the hellhole took me into her office to discuss roommate choices. She asked if I was happy with the girl assigned to me, since she had heard that I might not want to live in the same room as a Muslim girl. I was disgusted with her lying, and assured her she had heard no such thing. I’m the last person to say anything like that. Later on that day I was hanging out in the room of some friends of mine when I met their cousin, C, who was also looking for a roommate. We immediately hit it off and decided to share a room.
The reason we thought we’d do well together was because we were both Gulfies, girls who’d grown up in a Gulf country in privileged international schools. We both talked English more often than not, listened to R & B, and had gone out with actual boys. She didn’t mind being in close contact with Muslims either. She was in dentistry, and even more sheltered than I, if possible. Each of us had a 3amoud, basically a set of stackable tin containers with a handle of the sort that peasants take to the fields. I was never home for lunch so she would fill mine for me with molokhiya, rice and chicken. Everyone was perpetually fasting so she often had to battle to get me a share of “Muslim” meat. We had a plastic tabliya, a low table used by Egyptian peasants for eating. We had a lot of peasant gear, frankly – man, I will never forgive my parents for the travesty that was the YWCA. My roommate would use the tabliyya to fashion teeth out of wax and dissect the occasional rodent, while I read antique novels from the untouched colonial-time library downstairs. They had some good first edition shit in there.
Now and then she would make a spirited attempt to convert me into Coptic Orthodoxy, which I staunchly resisted. In a worry over my heathen state, she overcame her antipathy towards protestant churches and dragged my ass to one by force, in the hopes that
something would take. It didn’t, but she had a good time marvelling at how much time we spent sitting down and the little cupholders they have for communion cups. She took the mixed gender seating manfully.
She said I reminded her of a gremlin, from the movie of the same name. I haven’t seen the movie, but she said that the snuggling sleep gurgles and squeals I make when I get into bed were just like the noises they make.
Every weekend I would go home to my grandma. One day as I headed back down the alley, I met her coming out looking visibly shaken. She said, “Look, I’m sorry, but I set our room on fire”. It transpired that during one of downtown’s numerous power outages, C lit a candle in our room and then took off upstairs for some giggling in the dark, guided by the light of her cellphone. The candle burned down and set fire to our wooden dresser. Our neighbour across the hall saw the smoke coming from underneath the door and broke out into a series of “Yalahwi! Ya kharabi! El bint marmeya gowa!” Apparently we had been wise to cultivate the friendship of our Muslim neighbours. Everyone gathered and they broke the door down (I don’t think it was even locked) because they thought she was in there passed out from smoke inhalation. When she came down to find wet towels being flung about (no fire truck could have entered the alley) she was greeted with an emotional scene. The upshot was, all of my cosmetics and hair products had melted together in a plastic lump, while my mirror had broken. That side of the room was black. I was pretty upset about my stuff as they didn’t sell those brands in Egypt, but she owed me big for the rest of the semester and I got custody of the floor fan, an invaluable resource. She said I would catch cold from laying in front of it topless but I know she wanted it for herself.

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Posted in: humour, religion, roommate