Executive Summary

Posted on January 2, 2007


I had a seriously kickass new year at a friend’s place in Cairo, filled with raucous Copts and odiously drunk members of the Shabab (which is what W decided, one day, to call our friends, although this does not distinguish us from any other bunch of shabab in the country). W made a speech and kissed everyone twenty times; a drunken game of Broken Telephone was played with many genital allusions; people danced on tables; silly hats were worn; an ex-boyfriend of nearly decades past apologised for anything he might have done to hurt me (received with lots of laughter)…that sort of thing. However, I am for the first time ever considering ceasing to drink. Someone with as little control over her actions as I have should not partake of the mead. For example, I may have inadvertently told a friend’s new boyfriend that she was crazy. This is the truth; but luckily I did not go into any more detail. I still expect drama to ensue when I get back to Cairo.

I had to catch a 10 a.m. flight to Kuwait on January 1. This, obviously, ranks high in the schedule of child abuses, but the parental heart did not yield. I am fortunately the kind of person who wakes up the first time the alarm rings, but then I just lay there for 45 minutes, awake. I felt like a sack of mouldy shit when I woke up at 7:00 am. The Man of the Hour did me the kindness of also waking up at that stupendouly unreasonable hour (although he was unencumbered with a hangover) and drove a silent and be-spectacled me to the airport. There, I manfully struggled to quell nausea while being bossed around by check-in staff. My Egyptair flight was, as ever, occupied almost exclusively by sa3ayda (Upper Egyptians – people from the countryside) a-bristle with moustaches. Egyptair has improved their service in the following two ways: they now give you two pieces of that fake-looking, puzzlingly uniform bread, probably in response to complaints from the sa3ayda (and possibly my father); and they have actually managed to get people to stay seated until the plane comes to a stop, by shouting much more loudly than before and having staff run around slamming the overhead compartments shut on people’s fingers. What is the point of leaping up as soon as the plane hits the ground anyway? Inevitably people end up standing in the aisles in awkward silence for 15 minutes, lumbered with jars of aged cheese and plastic bags of Eid pastries, while people like myself remain in their seats reading until the doors actually open, lusting after the mish.

So now I am in the warm bosom of my family, enjoying development and consumerism. My sister and I went shopping today and I swear as soon as we entered the first store we experienced actual panic at how many beautiful things there were. My sister turned to me and said, “My heart is beating fast.” So was mine. Being cut off from life’s luxuries in Egypt has really made me appreciate the benefits of capitalism and consumerism. The Tweet, of course, is a business major and needed no such jolt. We bought acres of stuff…and it’s not nearly over.

There were additional pleasures, such as watching a sales guy ask a random African American if they still had the “beef”.

“What beef?” the man said.

“You know…East coast and West coast.”

“Um…not really,” said the guy in discomfort.

I also witnessed the following scene: I was standing in the checkout line when a Gulfi man to my left began demanding that a new line be formed for him because he refused to stand behind a bunch of women. He kept shouting that wasn’t going to stand behind women, as employees repeated that he just had to take his turn in the line. He never proffered any arguments as to why he couldn’t stand in that line; just kept repeating that he was not going to stand behind some women and telling employees to shut up. When I left the counter, he was still yelling and refusing to get in line. The unprecedented nature of his position was the most ridiculous part: in this country, men and women stand in the same lines. Perhaps he was Saudi? He was wearing the red-check ghutra instead of the Kuwaiti white.

As ever I am enjoying my family’s company. Yesterday we had a 20 minute conversation in the car about farts. This is a much-repeated refrain: someone farts. My dad accuses my mother of it, saying that he knows the smells of her farts (eggs) and could she please say something before she farts? My mother insists that her farts are only noisy, and not smelly, and whether she should clap, or what? My father responds that she should at least apologise and crack a window. My sister (or I) then farts and says, “I farted.” My dad says, “Aho keda. Momken ba3deeha, ma2bool bardo.” Then he will invariably go into vigrous head-bobbing exercises accompanied by moans of “a7oosh 3an bo22y ezzay bas!” and so on. If my dad is the one who farts first, one of us will say, “OH MY GOD! BABA! MISH KEDA KHALES! HAYOGHM 3ALEINA!” whereupon he will say in embarassment, “Ah sa7ee7 ya baba, kat we7sha fe3lan. Ma3lesh.” I spend a lot of my time around them literally falling sideways off chairs, helpless with mirth. After the conversation above, we had one about the correct method of wiping one’s ass to avoid urinary tract infections.

Later on I went to visit a Lebanese friend of mine who has just had a baby and her amusing German husband (yes, such a phenomenon does exist). He regaled me with stories of bands of American Marines who stay at his hotel, claiming to be Lebanese tourists. He asks them where in Lebanon they are from and they hum and haw before saying, with much rolling of r’s, “Beyroot”. I was pleased to discover that they both retained the ability to talk about things other than the bowel movements of their child – who was sinfully cute by the way – encompassing a range of topics such as politics, culture, and what I’ve been up to. I would have understood completely if they had gone on about their daughter endlessly – I mean, making your own people has got to be the shit. There was the occasional “well, the books I read said we should feed her 120 ml of milk,” but mostly they were as artlessly charming as ever. Interestingly, the husband said that in a year and a half of living in Kuwait and consorting daily with Muslims of every nationality, the overwhelming impression he has received is that the radical ones substantially outnumber the moderate ones. This is the Gulf, one of the most patriarchal societies in the world and the home of Islam, but searching my own experience…I can’t help but agree.