So begins this year’s attempt to get skin like old leather

Posted on April 6, 2007


Apologies to my gracious readers for not having blogged for a while – I was out of town over the long weekend and have been mired in work ever since, regrettably outside my office, away from the comforting arms of the internet.

One of the greatest things about living in Egypt is the plethora of long weekends. When you add up all the Muslim holidays, past military “triumphs”, and in my case Christian holidays, it comes out to quite a good chunk of the year – and the weather obligingly allows for going away and beach-laying during most of those times. Next weekend is Easter and Spring Equinox. Apparently I was also entitled to take Maundy Thursday off – a day I have not commemorated in any way over the past score of years, but tried to embrace wholeheartedly this year. I figured I would be met with much eye-rolling in my office should I now choose to adopt a devout guise, but I brazened it out (not really, too much work to do).

Last long weekend was definitely a particularly gratifying one. The kick-off was Thursday night, which saw two weeks of effort come to fruition in a party of elaborate proportions. This was a rather belated celebration of my and three of my friends’ birthdays (I promise this will really be the last time that occasion is mentioned this year), March being a big birthday month for the Shabab. The Party took place on a Nile cruiser with the unfortunate appellation of Mamy Ro7. Preparation for the party involved the labours of four or five persons, and ranged from copious email threads, hourly spreadsheet updates courtesy of Dreamy Brown Man (spreadsheets are the light of his eyes), negotiations with boat managements, the creation of Facebook events, and the purchase and preparation of food and drink. Drink, in particular. Also, in my case, I thought it time to sweep eyebrow hair out of my eyes and get my nails done. The girl who did my nails informed me that it was time I saw a psychiatrist for the admittedly nuts-ass way I chew my cuticles.

M, the W, the Source, another friend and I eventually made our way to the boat dock, not without traversing hitherto unsuspected parts of Zamalek that could easily set the scene for a crime thriller. Most friends were already assembled, dressed resplendently, on board along with an amount of alcohol so staggering that commemorative pictures were taken alongside it. Negotiations were also immediately conducted with the boat captain on the possibility of smoking hash on board, which was acceded to in return for alcohol.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, if the pictures are any indication (memory does not, predictably, serve as well). Titanic moments, were, however, deplorably re-enacted. I myself am quite capable of not leaping onto the prow of a ship and flapping my arms about with some guy behind me, but I fear others were unable to resist the temptation. Also, it seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen (if this were not Egypt) to permit drinking on board a ship with narrow ladders, low rails, and various high doorsteps. In fact, the fifth time I tripped over one such doorstep, 15 people erupted into vociferous clapping that embarrassed me so much I nearly imploded. The captain also chose to leave the controls unmanned, simply exhorting bystanders not to press the red button marked STOP. Boats also have a number of other drawbacks: a bottle of precious Black Label can, and did, slide off the bar and shatter onto the floor, causing our resident alcohol guardian and provider of all that is potent and liquid, “The Party”, to weep and lament over its remains. Moreover, people who are individually friends with me and not part of my group, including my sister, declined to come on the grounds that they did not want to be stuck on a boat for hours with people they don’t know. Meeting new people does not, to me, seem like an undue hardship; indeed, it seems like a natural state of affairs not to know all of a friend’s other friends, and to get to know them, but such does not appear to be a commonly held view. So, next time, I will have my birthday in a place where people can drop by and then leave when they become obliged to speak to human beings that are not already known to them. I did manage to “persuade” Amnesiac to remain, despite her dislike of large social occasions, by dint of appearing likely to take lifelong offence. Judging from her extremely agile dancing afterwards I think it was a successful move. Other attendees included the freshly released Droubi, who seemed none the worse for wear for being essentially kidnapped and thrown into the desert; Homer; Will E; and the W (who apparently had an ulterior motive for coming, ahem).

The pictures reveal me to be much fatter than I had thought, which has since prompted furious haphazard dieting. However, I didn’t see the pictures in time prevent me from packing my bikini to depart at 7 am to Ras Shitan to join the Mouse, with whom hostilities have been interrupted for the purposes of vacationing (my break-ups rarely take, and besides I think we have actually exhausted every possible topic of dispute). He was kind enough to wake me up, chuckling to himself at the Seinfeldian classicism of my am/pm alarm blunder. On the interminable bus ride I was amused by Chi; an Iraqi man who sat next to me and relentlessly milked me for free legal advice before giving me his card (as if!); and a sign that actually employed the words “keeb out”.

The bulk of my time at Ras Shitan was spent trying on different outfits, playing backgammon, and speculating on other guests’ lives. The vast majority of my blood was, however, involuntarily donated to the mosquito population of Sinai. One in particular, a veritable Metusaleh of mosquitoes, hung around in the hut for the entire weekend, magically locating my ears under covers and buzzing tauntingly into them. The Mouse (who, by the way, I have realized can accurately be nicknamed Big Red, being both Big and Red. I don’t think I am likely to find another Egyptian who can answer to this, and so am considering changing the nickname) named the mosquito Mosqueery. And he says I have the imagination of an old sock.

Having utterly run out of conversation one evening in the main hut (although I can talk for Egypt, I still run out of things to say) we listened in on the conversation of our neighbours, a bunch of slamdunk AUCians. They were playing Boggle, and being a word geek, I prevailed on them to let us play. I’m not actually all that good at word games myself, not having the requisite visual skills; but the Mouse was in far worse shape, English being his third language (in fact, in describing him I need not go any further than the words Jesuit graduate; I trust that clears everything about him up for my Egyptian readership). He kept writing down words he thought might be valid, and words he could almost find (spelling being trivial) and demanding half points for close calls. Teaching has sunk into his soul. Meanwhile, I was facing off against the group’s reigning champion, an Armenian-Egyptian with cool Craig David facial stylings. He was admittedly very skilled and kicked my ass, but he also insisted that “sog” and “queery” were words.

“Hey, it makes grammatical sense. Any noun can become an adjective,” said Armenian Craig in reasonable tones.

“Queer is an adjective!” I shouted. Everyone looked scared, and the Mouse mortified. I get obstreperous about most things, so I apologised and backed off. The boy’s friends took up my cause by torturing him mercilessly and audibly over the next few days: “I think I feel a bit….queery. Do you feel queery?” and “Sog off!” were popular. I wanted to gather them unto my bosom. I also confided to them that word games are popular amongst my friends, prompting them to ask in wonderment how come AUC had no “cool and smart” people like us anymore. “We all graduated in 2003-2004,” I said both smugly and empathetically. They nodded sadly, understanding. “2004 is when we started! Damn!”

Returning home I found my apartment resplendent with signs of paternal habitation. These are: a quarter of roumi cheese and green chillies in the refrigerator; clocks all set to the right time and with batteries; a box of Moulid sweets allegedly purchased for the Tweet and I but clearly for parental consumption (I myself have always wondered why people who eat neither sesame seeds nor halawa tehiniya should be expected to eat a combination of the two and call it candy); seventeen pens; and two extra telephones right next to the one that was already there. He also brought the Tweet and I gifts!