The Zamalekite

Posted on December 30, 2007


I could not have been more happy to wake up yesterday, knowing that I was going to catch a plane back to Cairo. Kuwait was really wearing on me and I thought fondly of the upcoming New Year celebrations and apartment-in-Zamalek living. Of course, the reality turned out to be a little different.

To begin with, my decade-long constipation was in overdrive in Kuwait (when food isn’t riddled with diseases as it is here, my body feels no obligation to expel it). Ultimately I took a laxative on the night before my flight, which promised to cause a smooth evacuation first thing in the morning.

Smooth indeed, but not first thing. I had neglected to recollect that my indisposition was of too entrenched an order to be affected in the same way as those of mere mortals. Thus, at 12:30 pm I was compelled to rush out of the airport Starbucks where I was having coffee with my parents to the bathroom. On my return they asked me how it went.

“Hot and splashy,” I said.

“Splashy is bad,” my dad said. “Caca should be one – or two – long, solid pieces, properly pinched at the ends.” He gestured with his hands descriptively.

“Yes, the texture, colour, smell and tactile sensation (!) of the caca has to be right,” said my mother. “There’s a woman at work who splashes caca all over the toilet bowl every time she uses it. Every time!”

“OK, OK. There’s no need to give me all these details!” I was forced to say. No one has ever heard me say this before. But a conversation publicly conducted in Arabic in an Arabic-speaking country need not, I feel, make mention of splashy faeces more than once. And people wonder how I got to be so graphic. In consideration of my feelings we moved on smoothly to discussing the habit of one of my father’s colleagues of peeing on the floor, not in the toilet, of their office bathroom and then hosing it down, on the pretext that this was the method of urinating mandated by the sunna. Apparently the good Muslim man, in this fellow’s belief, ought not to pee standing up into a urinal or western toilet, but must squat over an Arab toilet.

This was not to be the end of my sufferings. Fortunately when I got on the plane I discovered that the flight attendant had permitted a Kuwaiti youth to take my window seat, leaving me with his aisle seat, in order for him to sit with his friends (two goateed young men who proceeded to glue their eyes to their ipods for the duration of the flight, providing 41K with no amusement at all). The abdominal bubblings and frothings compelled me to leave said aisle seat before the plane even took off to visit the bathroom, and as this was a hair’s breadth away from my seat the four Kuwaiti youth in that row had no doubt as to the author of the squirting noises issuing from the bathroom.

When I sat back down, blushing, I was offered a minty candy by the flight attendants, who when I declined, loudly exclaimed that I must be fasting and wished me a Merry Christmas. I am sure he meant to be civil, but I found it a bit presumptuous. I am of course not fasting, but I guess I must look more Coptic than I thought. I then fell immediately asleep. I woke up to find two hairy male arms embracing me from behind, to my alarm (spare me the jokes about how this is the closest I’m going to get, etc). These turned out to belong to the flight attendant, who had spilled soda on my coat and was attempting to wipe it off before I noticed, apparently. I kept pointing to more spills while he insisted on repeating, “Khalas, that was it….tayeb, khalas, that was the last one, mashi…OK, kollo tamam keda…”.

On arriving at home I packed up a few more things and set off for the much-lauded new apartment in Zamalek, where I was distressed to discover that the previous tenant had taken the wireless router with her. I became very panicky at the prospect of a whole evening without the internet (see January’s Campus Magazine for more about my internet abuse issues). There is also no towel rack in the bathroom. And there’s only one socket in my entire room. The doorbell doesn’t work, and neither does the satellite TV. And this morning when I woke up, the hot water refused to work, which REALLY fucked me off. I hate it when there’s no hot water. I know, I’m whiny and privileged, and there are people out there who have never even seen a tap before, but I am just one of these people for whom creature comforts are more important than any other consideration. I can sacrifice pretty much everything (OK, short of limb use) for them – look how I moved away from a great future career and protection of my human rights to procure temperate weather and cheap taxis/services. I also have a cold which makes my head feel like a cheap polyester pillow and my nose like delicately tinted sandpaper, and diarrhea still, which contributes towards the lessening of my enjoyment in being here. Well, the landlord is coming round today and I’ll fight with him then. Can you believe the scheming bastard wants us to sign a contract (in Arabic, which Montana Mary cannot read) saying that in the event that we wish to leave the apartment before the expiry of the one-year lease, we are liable for the remaining amount of the rent for the term? Unheard of!

Posted in: Uncategorized