Monday, March 9, 2009

Cairo Cairo Cairo

The streets are jammed with cars. Some shiny and new; lots old, almost falling apart. Black and white taxis with drivers that call you "ya bett" and donkey pulled carts driven by old men that call out for old fridges and washing machines. Or for junk in general.

"Rubibeckia, beckia!"

Skinny guys on bicycles balancing huge trays of fresh bread. Boys on motorcycles playing Arabic pop songs. KFC, Pizza King, Cook Door delivery bikes.

I've been staying in Faysal, which is in Haram, the area where the Pyramids are. This is an area in which I feel enough at home to be comfortable, but not enough to feel at home, if that makes sense. I mean, it's close enough to my cultural background so that I can easily adjust as long as I get to be the foreign girl who can get away with coming home a little later and wearing a little less clothes than the others. But not close enough for me to feel at home.

I'm different. I walk down the little street that leads out to the main road, pulling my bag along, trying to avoid the biggest bumps and sandiest parts. It's 24 degrees Celsius, perhaps, and I'm wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, a light cardigan and a scarf around my neck that is partly just an accessory and partly something to cover up so that my white bra doesn't shine through my t-shirt. People look at me. I walk past a group of veiled women on their way home from shopping. Nobody really says anything. I feel too white, too scantily dressed, and too dolled up. All eyes are on me. I concentrate on avoiding the puddles of car wash water and walk out to the nearest taxi on Faysal Street.

"Mohandeseen?" I ask the taxi driver. The area where I feel enough at home to feel at home, but enough away from home to feel that I fit in. Which also doesn't make sense, perhaps. But this is the thing... when you never really fit in in the culture you grow up in, then you have to look for the place that is different enough so that it feels more at home than home... which is a little confusing, and also the reason why I haven't really figured out exactly where I belong. Mohandeseen comes close, but I have a feeling there might be other places that are even more at home for me, it's just that I haven't found them yet.

Or at least, that's what I hope.

In any event, the taxi driver nods and gets out of his car to open the trunk. I make a motion to lift up my bag into the trunk of his car.

"Seebha ya bett," he goes, and takes the bag from my hand and puts it in the trunk. "Let go of the bag, girl." Naturally, I'm not supposed to lift it. I already dragged it all the way out to the road, which is odd for anybody in a country where there's always help to get for everything, and especially odd for a girl. Because girls are basically spoiled rotten when it comes to certain things in this country. If I wanted to, I could take advantage of it and live like a princess.

I don't.

I sit in the back of the taxi, and look out on the other cars, the people, read the signs above the shops. I read fast enough these days and I can make out most names going past them. I remember when these were just squiggly lines and little dots to me. I hold my hair so that it doesn't blow into my face as we drive with all windows down.

"Feen fe el Mohandeseen?" the taxi driver goes. "Where in Mohandeseen."

I answer in Arabic and think to myself that I clearly fit in enough, even here in Faysal, so that the taxi driver takes for granted that I speak Arabic. I could be from Mohandeseen, where girls dress more like me.

Mohandeseen. I used to live here. Now I'm just staying at a friend's house, sitting in his studio, waiting for the hours to pass until our bus leaves for Sharm el Sheikh. He will come with me for a short vacation, some sun and some time away from his music.

Moustaphaaaaaaa. He's sleeping on the studio floor.

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