The ter3a less travelled

Posted on September 18, 2007


Living in a collectivist society is on the whole very pleasant – at least when you’re used to it – but there’s no denying that one of the drawbacks of living in Egypt is that there just isn’t much individualism. Although this naturally depends largely on education and socio-economic status, you rarely see many people departing from the established mould. People are generally as alike as fetuses, practically interchangeable. Eccentricities are never permitted to develop, and are not easily accepted; original thoughts are as ephemeral as unicorns. I’ve heard many people blame Egypt’s varied social, economic, and political ills on the fact that rarely does anyone question the status quo, and if they do they are immediately stoppered-up by some religious platitude which they then murmur uncomprehendingly to others. I don’t entirely agree with this view, but the fact is, it’s hard to find someone who dares to do anything without the approval of society, however innocuous it is. It’s one of the reasons I find it hard to find female friends here, as women usually get the short end of society’s stick.

This uniformity is hard to reconcile with the various astonishing things that seem to take place here that would simply be unheard of anywhere else: like the time E and I nearly missed a goodbye party because we wanted to stay and gape at four people dragging an elephantine couch into our apartment via the simple means of tying a rope round it and hoisting it through the window, while feeble arms “pushed” it from below. No one else in the street found this in the least noteworthy, and in fact when we related the incident to others our story was topped by wall partitions pulled up twenty floors, humans dangling by their ankles, etc. However, the people are still lemmings; so it generally gives me great pleasure when in the course of daily living I see people who are pleasantly strange – for Egypt. Here are a few of the best:

There was the time a teenage boy rollerbladed across Adly St. while clutching a cat basket. No one rollerblades here, especially not downtown where even walking is an intricate art requiring armour to guard genitals and breasts. I’ve also never seen any kind of pet basket being publicly displayed, as most Egyptians don’t own pets and those who do whisk them around in Mercedes (what is the plural of this word?). So you can see how the combination thrilled me.

Another time I was in Seoudi supermarket in Zamalek when I clocked a rotund man advancing towards the checkout wearing a long purple dress with large red flowers on it. It wasn’t no ethnic gear: this was a dress. It was belted, and the deep v-neck allowed me a view of his simian chest hair and large gold chain, topped with a greasy pony tail and vaguely pubic-looking goatee. I hastened to stand behind him in the checkout line, but no one did the habitual Egyptian rude open-mouthed gape, which i attributed to the Zamalek locale and Gulfy tourist season. I contented myself instead with staring at his posterior which undulated powerfully under his dress in a manner made familiar to me by most of the women of Egypt (I myself have been burdened with only the Egyptian kirsh…the Piglet has the Egyptian behind. Well, I have the male Egyptian behind, i.e. one which continues straight down from my back to my legs with no perceptible protrusion).

But the incident which caused the warmest gurgliest feeling inside didn’t happen to me: it happened to M. obviously people feel freer to reveal themselves to foreigners, but I think he would have preferred if they didn’t. He was walking to the gym, when a young Egyptian guy stopped him just outside the AUC dorms and asked him if he had a lighter. When M said no the guy engaged him in conversation, asking him his name and where he’s from etc. Nothing I can say can dissuade M from thinking Egyptians are just “friendly” – so he answered, and the guy walked along with him. Then the man pointed at M’s mangy, cracked gym shoes and said, “Nice shoes.”

“Ha ha ha.” M thought he must be joking.

“Can I smell them?”

“Ha ha, my feet are smelly, ha…”

“No really, I am sure your feet smell nice. Let me smell them.”


“I like feet, let me smell them.”

“Are you crazy?”

“No, many people like feet!”

And then a typical M moment. His insatiable curiosity led him to ask, “If I did let you smell my feet, where would we do it? Here?” Referring, no doubt, to the street in front of the American Ambassador’s residence. M contends that he was just trying to distract him and change the subject. His next attempt to change the subject was the following:

“What is ‘may I smell your feet?’ in Arabic?”

“ ‘Momken ashemm regleik?’ ”

And then he resumed begging and M resumed shouting “No!” until they reached the gym, which is when M politely and imprudently extended his hand to shake the perv’s hand. The perv hung onto his hand and begged: “just one smell!” and “please!” until M whipped his hand away and sprinted into the gym. This isn’t his only gay pervy Egyptian stalker story, but it’s definitely the best, am I right?

Posted in: Egyptians, humour, nutjobs