My Mom Visits Cairo

Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
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Trip End Jun 02, 2006


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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

No day drags like a Monday with classes from 8:00am-4:00pm when you know that your mom is arriving in Cairo that night. We hadn't seen each other in four months and I was beyond antsy, I was excited not only about our reunion but also the prospect of three days in a hotel and trip to Malta. To make things worse, I was getting international calls on my cell phone all day, the loud ring tone interrupting my back to back classes. Eventually my dad contacted me and informed me that my mom had had a terrible Lufthansa experience and was arriving late. I then hatched my plan to surprise her at the airport, packed a bag quickly, and told the cab driver to step on it.


The airport was swarming with people, the crowd and the two separate international reception areas making the probability of spotting my mom rather small. But I was determined and elbowed my way to the front, to the surprise of many Muslim men. When I saw her I lost all composure, elbowed even more fiercely, and was hugging my mom before she could even recognize me.


Our conversation on the 45 minute ride back to Cairo was rather interesting, mom oscillated between the two subjects of her disastrous flight experience and the amazing success of Kristen's high school musical while I jumped in with quick explanations of the things we were passing. Already she had been exposed to Cairo's pollution and dust; she thought the planes on the tarmac were condemned because they were so dirty.


My mom's visit was going to be a vacation for me as well, and for the week we were escaping some of the more raw realities of the city. We were staying in the Marriott on the banks of the Nile. The security was tight; we couldn't pull in front of the reception until they had used mirrors to look under the taxi for bombs. But at this point, security is a daily part of my life. I pass through as much security just in my daily routine as I normally do in boarding a plane.


We spent the night talking over a delicious Italian meal. There was so much to discuss and to me it was so surreal to be speaking face to face with my mom, to talk with someone who "knew everyone back home." I had questions about all the members of our church and soon found out that my mom had been rather consumed with the musical and couldn't satiate my curiosity.


Khan-Al-Khalili: My mom the bargainer



The next morning I got up early and went to class while my mom slept in. When I got back we had an American breakfast at a "Texan" restaurant. I was more excited about the real coffee than the eggs. After that we headed out for Khan-Al-Khalili, a neighborhood in Cairo that is just one big market. There are mosques on every corner and the streets are covered with sheets to protect shoppers from the sun. You can buy almost anything on one of the narrow streets, from sheeshas to spices to Muslim headscarves. I wasn't sure I was going to take my mom into that kind of chaos but she insisted. For all my brothers squawking about her being too tentative for the third world, she was as adventurous and eager as any college student.


I was feeling cocky after having lived in Cairo for so long and I told my mom to let me handle the bargaining. For awhile she would just tell me when she saw something she liked and then I would try to impress her with the Arabic banter that followed. At one point though we were buying t-shirts and even though I had gotten the guy down to half his original price, my mom jumped in. She started talking about how her husband in America would be angry if she paid that much and on and on...like a pro. Next thing you know we were paying a fourth of what the man had asked.


After quickly exhausting our supply of pounds, we decided to head for the pyramids. To my great surprise, this ancient wonder closes at 5:00 and we had to take pictures outside of the gate. But it was all redeemed by a great dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. My mom is curious just like me and she was happy to listen to me chatter about the Middle East. Describing it all to her as we sat in a restaurant decorated with traditional Lebanese artifacts made it all come to life and I was dreaming a return to trip to Bazbina with my mom along for the ride.


A Visit from Home: The First Beckoning Back to America


Leaving Egypt has become a constant shadow in my life, my days in this country approach the single digits and I barely think about the departure to keep my sanity. I imagine being with my family, a Panera ham and Swiss sandwich, and organized traffic in America, but I've forbidden myself from dwelling too long on that moment of harsh severance that is arriving too quickly. Having my mom visit made me realize how much this place had become my friend, how so many things once baffling and strange are now familiar and daily parts of my life.



I try to remember what it is like to be in Cairo when you can't read the signs, when the conversations all around you are indecipherable. But now I can read almost any advertisement and successfully eavesdrop if I am really focused. When I slip into Arabic there is no longer any hesitation and I've found it easier occasion to talk to a hotel employee or a museum attendant in my broken Arabic rather than try to understand his accented English. Arabic peppers my English conversations with Americans and I found myself saying yannee, malesh, and mish qweis to my mom even though she responded only with blank looks. Being with my mom prepared me for the permanent shock that is awaiting me. It isn't normal for Americans to speak Arabic and I'll have to search hard to find conversation partners. I can already imagine myself checking out Blockbuster's foreign films from Morocco just to cope.


There are so many people to miss...not so much my friends but the ones that I exchanged brief greetings with every day. The Egyptian acquaintances I have mean more to me than I realized. I'm always grumpy on my way to Arabic at 7:30am until the three security guards break into grins and announce "The morning is bright! The morning is a flower! The morning is a rose!" as they perform a perfunctory search of my bag. Mona, the young housekeeper, is my most persistent language partner and I love our hysterical conversations where I just nod and smile to whatever Arabic phrase she pronounces at breakneck, colloquial speed. There is the juice man who can spot me in the doorway and is already putting my usual of aseer mango in the blender by the time I reach his stand.


The most delightful part of my mom's visit for me was when, spontaneously on our last together, she announced that she liked Cairo better than Malta. I turned to her shocked, thinking she was making a joke. Malta speaks English; it is clean and filled with green hills and chalky cliffs opposed to Egypt's interminable desert. And even though I wholeheartedly agreed with her statement, I was surprised she had come to this conclusion so quickly.


"Are you serious?" I asked.


"Yes, Egypt has culture and the people are so friendly. In Malta we had to beg everyone to do anything for us and it was so expensive. Here hospitality is a part of the culture, they have all gone out of their way so we could have a good time and they did it just because they wanted to."


"I know, the thing that bothered me the most about Malta is they have this amazing 7,000 year long history but there was no modern culture. No one is doing anything besides promoting tourism so the whole country has sort of a Disney World feel."


What my mom had said about the people clinched it for me. That's why I love Egypt. Forget the food, the beauties of the desert, and the thrill of living somewhere so extreme. Egypt is my second home because of Egyptians.
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