Monday, March 15, 2010

Dancing on the Ladder

There is an Arabic saying which is transliterated as 'danced on the ladder' (ra'ast 'al sillim). The English equivalent would be 'straddled the fence'. I've often been told that this describes my Identity (with a capital I) situation aptly. I am neither from here nor there (I feel a Dr. Seuss rhyme coming along. Oh, oh wait... Nah, over it).

I do not fit in in Cairo. I do not fit in with the general population. I do not fit in with my social circles - not if we're being completely truthful. I get along with people; I am friendly and socially intelligent enough to know how to be in my society. That doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy it.

I remember hanging out with Roonies and here then-new (now-ex) boyfriend and his friends for the first time a few years ago. We went to some cafe and everyone sat around joking. As usual, I was the only Christian in the group. Inevitably, the best way to become the life of the party is to crack Christian jokes - how Christians are referred to as 'blue boned' ('adma zar'a) and 'four feathered' (arba'a reesha), etc... Little things that aren't exactly offensive but are unlikely to come out of a Christian's mouth in mixed company. And are certainly unlikely to come out of my 'Americanized' mouth as such phrases aren't commonly known the upper class.

On our way home Roonies applauded me on getting along with them so well and having such a good time. I explained to her that I in fact did not like her (repeated for current boyfriend's benefit: now-ex) boyfriend's friends and did not intend to repeat the outing. She found it strange that I could seem to have such a good time but not have actually enjoyed myself. I found it strange that she found it strange. What was wrong with me that I had to pretend to have a good time? I seem to do that very often.

I think differently to most Egyptians. I do not understand some of the social intricacies and have a bit of an elitist attitude (Roonies and Cheb Khaled would call this the understatement of the year). Fine. I'm a snob. I was brought up to believe, in Daddy's words, that 'we are a breed apart'. Copyright Eureka's Dad. Copyright underscored one million and nine times. He raised us to believe this wholeheartedly. And I do believe this. Purely based on the fact that I have not met anyone else who thinks or was raised quite like me.

This is doubly evidenced by the fact that I do not fit in abroad either. Hence the 'straddling' of the 'fence' and the 'dancing' on the 'ladder'. I don't see myself being a normal 23-year-old in NYC or London. I've spent enough time in major American and European cities with metropolitan peers to have a solid sense of their Identity (again, capital I). It isn't quite mine, either.

Even amongst my friends, I am told that I am not quite the same. Cheb Khaled says I'm an Excellance (stress placed on the second syllable for pronunciation). In Cheb Khaled vernacular, that means of nobility. Over dinner on Wednesday, an old school friend was assessing my tiny dating pool and declared that I had it much harder because I needed a specific type of person within a tiny Christian minority. So basically, I have 2 and a quarter people to choose from.

Oh, joy.

Hey, at least you folks got a blog post out of this. Maybe this straddling the fence business can be of use, after all.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thanking the Unsung Heroines

Couldn't have put it any better. Unfortunately, ours is a society that is not welcoming of such acts. I hope that changes. There are so many wonderful little lives looking to be loved.


I owe you more than a poem but this is one of my favourites and will have to tide you over until I can post properly.


For my son

The way a tired Chippewa woman
Who’s lost a child gathers up black feathers,
Black quills & leaves
That she wraps & swaddles in a little bale, a shag
Cocoon she carries with her & speaks to always
As if it were the child,
Until she knows the soul has grown fat & clever,
That the child can find its own way at last;
Well, I go everywhere
Picking the dust out of the dust, scraping the breezes
Up off the floor, & gather them into a doll
Of you, to touch at the nape of the neck, to slip
Under my shirt like a rag—the way
Another man’s wallet rides above his heart. As you
Cry out, as if calling to a father you conjure
In the paling light, the voice rises, instead, in me.
Nothing stops it, the crying. Not the clove of moon,
Not the woman raking my back with her words. Our letters
Close. Sometimes, you ask
About the world; sometimes, I answer back. Nights
Return you to me for a while, as sleep returns sleep
To a landscape ravaged
& familiar. The dark watermark of your absence, a hush.

- David St. John

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