Coming back to Cairo this week feels like starting all over again. Although the culture shock I felt upon arriving at the end of a scorching hot August night isn’t present, the feelings of loneliness seem even more present. Sebastian and I were constantly surrounded by friends and family, as well as having Ali home from work, for three weeks. Now that we are back in Cairo, the house echos with emptiness, except for the usual sounds of the neighbours living their daily lives. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep that comes from having a 7 month old who is having a difficult time adjusting to Cairo time (it’s 7 hours ahead of Michigan). Maybe it’s trying to get back into a schedule. Maybe it’s working through big things. Maybe it’s experiencing too much all at once. Maybe it’s the day that I had today.
Late this morning, I woke Sebastian up, myself having woken to the alarm. We both wanted to sleep more but we had an appointment at the LRC. I scrambled to get ourselves together and headed out the door. At the end of our street we were greeted by a taxi driver that had taken us previously so he knew they way. Things were looking good. We only arrived ten minutes late (not so good) but I thought we could just have a shorter session. Turns out the Dr. we had an appointment with didn’t even have us scheduled in, although we had made the appointment prior to leaving for our extended holiday. I was visibly frustrated — Sebastian and I could still be sleeping! But I kept my cool as this is the place we spend the most of our time outside of our home, so I couldn’t get all ridiculous on anyone. I rescheduled for next week and asked to be called if she had any cancellations. I then took the long way home for a bit of a walk.
It was lunch time, so I fed Sebastian some cereal and then the maid arrived. Yes, we have a maid. She comes once a week to do the dusting and mopping. Since we live in an area surrounded by desert and none of our windows are sealed, we have lots of dust come into our home and after being gone for three weeks, it was caked on the tables and floors. I’m thankful that we are able to have some help as I barely find the time to unpack (we are still unpacking) or wash the dishes. Some days Sebastian’s naps are sporadic and I don’t get any cleaning done, other days, I just need some time to myself. Today, Sebastian and I went for a walk to get some lunch while she was cleaning. Our walk home was what really made my day.
Of course there is the usual traffic. Horns honking. Taxis flagging me down. Looking for a space to cross the street, gauging whether the cars will stop or go around us. We crossed and as I decided which side of the street to walk on I looked up and in front of me was a woman. Walking proudly down the street. No head covering. Her face made up with bright rouge on her cheeks with a matching lipstick. Her eyebrows were painted neatly in dark brown arches over her deep brown eyes. Her lips pursed as she clutched her bag to her side and crossed the street in front of me. She looks straight ahead, not noticing the stares or those that look away. Her face is scarred. Burned. Reminiscent of pictures of I have seen in articles about women being burned by battery acid by suitors denied. A wave of sadness came over me and I felt tears well in my eyes. Immediately after her a woman in a full black chador crossed in front of me, only her eyes visible. I wondered why this other woman had not chosen to cover herself, but immediately felt guilty for this thought. Why should she have to hide the injustice done to her? I felt proud of her and wanted to go up and tell her so. I tried to form the words in my mind which I would speak to her. Oh, right. I don’t speak Arabic. I said a silent prayer for her and her strength and continued on home.
Just ahead of me was a boy of about ten or eleven. Maybe twelve. As he said hello, I noticed a bit of peach fuzz growing over his upper lip. He must have felt proud of his impending manhood. He asked my name and Sebastian’s, very typical here. Everyone loves Sebastian. I tried to ask how old he was but he didn’t speak much English and my Arabic is limited to counting at the moment. I smiled and said good bye and crossed over so Sebastian and I could continue home. We were both headed the same direction and I tried to quicken my pace, but he crossed over and followed us. I tried to think that it was nothing, he could have been one of my students in the past. He tried to say good bye again and reached out to touch Sebastian on the hand, also something that is very typical here. While touching Sebastian, he grabbed my breast and gave it a squeeze. It was all I could to do restrain myself from shouting and shoving this kid to the ground. I held my composure; after all, I was holding Sebastian to my chest in the sling. I looked right at this kid and I said through gritted teeth, very slowly and quietly, “That is not ok. You cannot do that. Get away from me now.” I wanted to scream. I wanted to kick. I wanted to spit in his face (I didn’t) and wipe that cheshire grin that he had as he grabbed me off his face. I put my hand up and out in a gesture to push him away. Of course he was immediately apologetic. He even went so far as to look at his hand as if it had been cursed and had caused him to do such a monstrosity. I struggled not to cry and crossed the street, stopping before turning down my road so as too keep our destination secret. He called out an apology once more, but I didn’t look back.
A lot was going through my mind as I hugged Sebastian close and walked up the three steps into our building. Here I was in Cairo. Where taxis honk at you and come close to running you down. Where appointments are made but not kept. Where the dust gets into your nostrils and makes you sneeze or cough. Where coffee shops have two non-smoking tables in a sea of smoking tables and I can barely stand to make my order. Where some women face the chance of being burned by battery acid because they don’t love their suitor back. Where some women are invisible in the night with their black chadors, making them shadows during the day. Where boys are children acting like crude men.
Yeah, sure. Tomorrow is bound to be better.
***Ali just got home. With him is the Baby Bjorn we had my mom Fedex to us from Michigan since we walk everywhere with Sebastian and cannot live without it and unfortunately left it behind. It cost $100 to send it. Then Egyptian customs charged Fedex another $90 to deliver it to us. That’s nearly $200. We could have each had our own Bjorn. Except you can’t get them here. Just a little cherry on top of the sundae of life in Cairo.