Landing in Egypt 1996
In the airplane, Egypt looked like some brownish blocks stacked together. The air when I came out of the plane was warm, cozy and friendly. Driving in the streets was the same as driving in the fun city or knitting with the needle or maybe filling in the blank spaces. There were no rules at all on high ways. And in normal streets, we would have no option too because of the crowdedness; so it is either go as a horse or slow as a turtle. No traffic lights. No street marks. But it was still alive.
I used to travel to Egypt each year around 45 days which made baba’s and mama’s vacation. We stayed in our small house, paid visits to my grandma, uncles and aunts. I had two girl neighbors who were near my age and we played most of the days together. In the 45 days, Egypt always smelled of dust and warmth.
Afterwards my parents took the decision that mama, Khaled and I were to come back and live in Egypt where baba would stay in Saudi to make more money for our welfare. We had a new house this time; one of our own. It had three storeys, we occupied the one in the middle. The other two were supposed to be Khaled’s and mine. The house was much more spacious than our previous one. There were three bed rooms; one for my parents, one for Khaled and one for me. I didn’t like mine. I liked Khaled’s better because it had a window in the centre of the wall, it was wider too. Mine had a window, two doors (one leading to a corridor and the other leading to baba and mama bed room) and a balcony, which meant all the walls in my room had holes. I tried to convince my mom that I want the other room or to wall the door leading to their bedroom. But none of my choices were listened to. The explanation for that was awkward; they said that Khaled’s window oversaw the neighbors’ windows and they could peek through and see the only young lady in the house. And although our neighbors never opened their windows; for they too had girls and certainly the same mentality, no one got to enjoy the windows, or rooms in my case.
The rest of the house was a big reception; all rooms open to each other. The furniture was like a salad mix of a golden salon (a classic must in Egyptian houses), a black wood sitting room that was forged with copper (it was my best, I loved the contrast made by the black and copper colors), a modern kind of living room where our big Sony TV lied and mama’s old dining room. Our house was one to boost about amongst others; 170 meters house was such a rare thing. But I still didn’t like my own room.
I enrolled in a governmental girls school. We went to school mainly to learn (a minor thing), play and talk about ‘menstruation, circumcision, sex and boys’. How old was I then? I was just 11.
When I was still in Saudi Arabia, my only Egyptian friend, Rasha, once whispered to me ‘mom gets sick every month, she has blood, she has to take a bath before each prayer’. I did not understand from where the blood came or why she had to have a bath five times a day. I felt pity for her and shy to ask. In the many years that came after, I learnt that this was the menstruation and that Islam has exempted women from praying and fasting in those days. I wished I could get back in time to tell Rasha her mom shouldn’t have prayed or taken five showers a day.
In one of the girls’ circles we had regularly, a girl called Amany, who had such inordinate imagination, whispered to me ‘know what Nadia, I had a friend who had her menstruation so badly that the blood went trickling down her bench and on the floor’, my eyes stretched to their utmost and I asked ‘was the teacher a man?!’ I don’t know why I didn’t care for the girl’s health; I only remember I cared that the male teacher wouldn’t observe she had the menstruation. What a shame!!
I heard sentences like ‘this girl had her menstruation at the age of 9, oh, her body is blooming’, ‘I didn’t have the menstruation yet’, and for some reason, I sensed that the menstruation was a dream for the girls at school.
Back home, I asked mama about it. She smiled and said ‘Nadia, this is just girls jibber jabber. Menstruation comes to a girl when she is ready and everyone’s body is different’. She sensed I wanted to learn more and the same mother who refused to give me the wider room for embarrassment reasons started explaining ‘you have a womb inside you, it is one of your organs, each month it awaits a baby and when the baby doesn’t come it weeps. the tears are blood.’
And as if girls had nothing at school to talk about but vaginal aspects, the menstruation talk occasionally shifted to a circumcision one. ‘I am circumcised of course’ Amany the girl with the imagination said proudly. Most girls I knew had been circumcised proudly. Mom said she didn’t do this. But all the girls seemed to boost about it so I too was circumcised, I lied.
Sometimes, I got bored of the gossip and talk. I started to think of how to make a shift. Oh, yeah, I did, now the shift was about boys!
There was a theatre group in the school. Given my love to role play, I was so eager on taking part in the classes. Plus that attending the theatre classes meant I would skip some of the boring classes. Taghreed Abdul Rahman was the first friend I had in school, the first one who encouraged me to the theatre thing and the one whom all girls talked about as having a bad reputation. Shshshsh, she had male friends!
Amongst lots of the various things baba taught me in life was to NEVER judge persons by people’s talk. Taghreed Abdul Rahman who had dated boys each few months was the first true embodiment for the meaning of female insecurities. She was a beautiful girl with silky tall hair, wide black eyes, dainty small lips and a beautiful body. She could sing with a beautiful voice though not the bestest. She could act great scenes and shots though you could sense she was actually acting. She did marvelous belly dancing though you could sense something behind her dance; maybe that she was beautiful, sexy or desired. She had a humorous and light air. She was born to a mother (said to be a dancer) and a poor father. At one point she became an orphan and her mom brought her a step father whom she accused once of trying flirt with her. She was beaten by him and we were never too close to figure out the reasons behind his maltreatment. Alternatively, she searched for a male haven not give her love but to give her security. I felt pity for her and always sympathized with her circumstances.
Most of our company was to and fro theatre classes. I decided I wanted to be like her in the way she was devoted to theatre. Despite everything, she really loved what she did and aspired to be the best. The first thing in the theatre was a performance. A song was played in the background and we entered on stage in lines that met at one point. We should tap our feet in certain rhythm that went along with the music. Taghreed’s body was so agile in doing the moves while my body was so stiff and my feet buckled at each other. I tried hard but being brought up in Saudi Arabia with not much of a female acquaintance didn’t get me into much of the dancing, shaking and flexible community. I was much detached from gatherings where only ladies existed and every female showed off her belly wiggling skills. And although I wanted to have the skill, I did not like the gatherings idea. I did ok at the performance although I felt I was horrible.
The second theatre project was a play; three angels and three devils fighting over planet earth in a symbolic way. A boy and a girl representing the human race come out playing and we (I was chosen amongst the devils) tried to ruin their happiness. The angels (in whom Taghreed was chosen) came to save the boy and girl and fight us. Of course, we were defeated. When we did that on stage, Taghreed acted smart and improvised something to make the audience laugh. But the naïve girl who had just arrived from Saudi did not get how she could go out of the script and felt awkward; especially that my sentence was following hers. We were having a dialogue and by her joke, I was distracted. Our play was ranked top, everyone was happy. I was not. I felt I was horrible again.
In between the theatre training, we sat boys and girls together talking, laughing and chatting. I had no problem with that. I was a bit shy though. Ismail, one of the funniest in the boys’ gang, once sent me a word with Merihan, a friend of mine and a neighbor of his. Simple as this, he loved me. Ok, why not! Nothing shameful. I too loved him. We had fun times together. So, my word was sent as ‘I love you too’. Each other day, Merihan would come and tell me ‘Ismail sends you his greetings. He loves you so much’. I would blush and nod my head. But it seemed as Ismail, Merihan and love got me wrong. I was funny, shy and adorable but I am a Muslim and in Islam we don’t do things in the dark. I wasn’t going to meet him in secrecy, I wasn’t going to send him letters, I wasn’t going to touch or kiss him. When he and she got desperate, she came and told me ‘know what, he sang you a love song in the mic the other day’. I asked her this time ‘And?’ She said bluntly ‘Nadia, you’re so cold. You don’t feel the poor boy’, ‘ok, he wants to meet you. I said it was ok. Face to face in a narrow building enterance, he said ‘Nadia you don’t love me?’ I stammered feeling so hot ‘it isn’t how you think … When I said this … I didn’t mean …’ He approached me tried to hold my hand, I hunched myself down and slid from under his arm and went out of the door. And it was over, Ismail, Merihan, the theatre classes and Taghreed were all over to me. A series of insecurities from that day on chased after me. I feared men.
Apparently, I didn’t find myself in the theatre classes. I always felt terrible about them. But I felt I did great with words. Each day in school we had a morning assembly where we did some silly exercises, chanted the national anthem and attended the school radio. I used to make this school radio in my school in Saudi Arabia. My Arabic was so powerful, I had a strong voice, and I could articulate the letters in perfect sounds. I used to enjoy this. When I was back to Egypt, I noticed the Arabic and Islamic studies were not focused on and were not as strong as Saudi’s curricula for those subjects. In revers for the ‘hadith’, ‘fiqh’, ‘Quran’ and ‘tajweed’ books, there was only one book called ‘Islamic religion’ in Egypt. So, I could actually revise in Egypt what I have already taken in Saudi Arabia. That gave me a plus. But not such a big plus because I was plus in knowledge not in grades; weirdly, religion in Egypt wasn’t counted in the final score so no one actually paid attention to it. Everyone was eager to collect the highest score from the other subjects. It grew to my knowledge then that we had a considerable number of Christians in the school. Because their religion book (they too took one book) was said to be easier, it wouldn’t be fair to include religion in the final score. Religion was simply marginalized and has put the faintest lines of racism I thought.
When I could hear the echo of my sound in the clouds, I would cheer and feel my chest widens with brightness and joy. I did good in that except that sometimes my very neat Arabic was not very much appreciated at times and the girls in school did not like to bother themselves with listening to the morning radio, it was a bla bla for them. I could see we didn’t talk about sex, menstruation or boys in the radio.
I was in search for more friends after I took aside from my theatre ones. I was quite sociable on my outside but I always knew I was shy and can’t get along as a friend easily.