Saturday, October 14, 2006
Egypt on my mind
I love this shop’s name, makes me laugh every time I pass it. No clear idea what it sells, though it appears to be filled with incense, spiritual guides and the other assorted crap found in hippy shops. Needless to say it has nothing to do with Egyptians or modern Egypt, but rather is some kind of Nubian/Pharonic/spirituality/roots trip.
Anyway Egypt is also on my mind, as I’ll be back there on Thursday. Virtually all my friends, family and acquaintances are inevitably advising against going back, citing impending Islamic revolution, gradual economic collapse, pervasive corruption (Egyptian ex-pat friends) and a smaller range of hair conditioners (Mother) as factors advising against such a foolhardy move. Unsolicited advice was also proffered by the travel agent girl who looked aghast when I informed her I wouldn’t need the return half of my ticket, and urged me not to forget to take the pills. I assumed she meant an anti-malarial preparation, though she may have been talking about anti-depressives.
Like a battered wife I unfortunately love Egypt and keep going back - no matter how many times it punches me in the face. I think it must be the knowledge that I can leave which allows me to enjoy it, because the single-nationality Egyptians I know in Egypt mostly regard it with a mixture of contempt, despair and nostalgia at what has been lost. Egypt-love seems particularly unfashionable at the moment, in Ramadan, when tempers are short and hem-lines have to be extra-long. Egypt’s faults have been comprehensively documented at some length in the blog world and in UN human rights reports, and anyone who needs a reminder of them can also consult Umm Amnesiac who will tell you about the glory days when Dokki was allegedly a village, and will remind you of the difficulties of life in a country which does not have a branch of Marks & Spencer in it. To extol Egypt’s virtues would make me sound like a deluded fool, so I wont do that. And in any case, individual economic conditions, background and situation dictate and shape each individual’s unique experience of Egypt to such an extent that my droning on about my own version of Egypt – good and bad - is ultimately pointless.
Aside: can anyone tell me why it is so easy to identify men of a certain age in Diaspora as Egyptian? Is it the high trouser waist bands? Or the small gentlemen’s handbags? I was reminded of this on two occasions recently; Firstly, as I walked behind a bloke whose belt was somewhere in the region between his belly button and his nipples (and who lo-and-behold I encountered ten minutes later in the travel agent buying a ticket to Cairo), and secondly, when my Mum and I were at a market stall which sells gorgeous Kashmiri shawls and kaftans etc. No sooner had I caught a glimpse of the gentleman’s handbag then I heard a woman’s voice asking ‘eih da???’ and the handbag owner responding ‘galabeyya ya3ni’ with dismissive contempt as they both looked scornfully at a particularly exquisite example of Kashmiri embroidery. Not that it didn’t look like a galabeyya, mind.