Although friends were quite important in my life, the picture of my face reflected on the window of the car made my utmost company. Oh, yeah, I loved looking at my fading picture where my eyes shine through the glass and my lips go from side to side smiling at times, crying at others. The trees used to pass quickly behind my reflection. I used to smile for that, I could see the slight turn in my lips even when I was crying or upset and I then used to raise my head up to the sky to thank He who made me smile despite my depression. Hope. It was that powerful word that kept me going despite everything. Despite the gender discrimination I have suffered, despite my lack of self-esteem, despite the lack of understanding I had with all the male figures I met in life, I was still hopeful to find that male figure that would support and love me for who I was. He would come on his white horse running towards me, catch my hand lift me up from my waist and hide me in his chest from the world. I would smell no one but him, I would feel no one but the warmth beside him. And I relied on Him who created the universe to grant me my wish of the handsome prince to come and save the Barbie from the awful dragons.
That bond between me and Him was quite strange. The trust I had for Him was awkward at hard times when everything seemed blacker than black. For He had granted me all the good persons around me; each on time and that mattered the most to me.
I literally loved everyone in my life. I loved mama for her kind heart, strong will and struggle. I loved how she used to tell me of how poor he family was and how she was such a spendthrift on us because she didn’t want us to feel lacking. I loved her yummilicious food that she had to cook at 5 am so that we can have lunch around 1:30 pm. I loved how active and clever she was. I loved her smell. It wasn’t the best smell. It wasn’t of a perfume or an expensive fragrance lotion or soap. It was the smell of sweat. Sweat that had watered our soil over the years. Sweat that smelled foul but reaped the nicest of fragrances.
I loved baba. I saw myself in his features. Not in the strength and toughness of days that had carved its marks everyday in his features but in the kindness, generosity, love, tenderness and compassion that sowed itself in his eyes. I so very much respected his life journey and experiences.
I loved Khaled, he was my haven and challenge. I would run to him for help but I would stand against him in defiance as all females would stand against all males in the world and day ‘here we are’.
I loved Basma. She was now my new sister. The sister that mama didn’t give me. She is my secret keeper, buddy and life companion. She was the one I chat with in nights for hours. She was the one I cried with about a fight or a problem. She was my soul mate.
And I loved him. The one whom Allah would grant me some day. I knew him. I dreamed of him. I felt his hands. I smelled his perfume. I knew he had to be tender. I knew he had to be respectful. I knew he had to deserve me.
And one day, Allah who had granted me many to cherish took my grandma after a painful journey with disease. Again it was one of the vacations at KSA when the phone rang. Baba seemed to have expected that. She had been too sick lately to take any more of life. His eyes filled with tears. And he sobbed again. It was such a rare sight but one of the most powerful to impact me. I shivered and cried with him. For me, it meant nothing that my grandma died except that the walls of support had shaken around me.
We had to cut our vacation off and go back to Egypt. And I felt happy my grandma died. Her death, though devastating for baba, meant I had to spend more time with my friends.
Now thanks to late grandma, two hellish months of my life were broken not because of my pleas that I didn’t want to go to KSA but because we all had to return. I believed more in the proverb that said ‘the catastrophes of some people are merits for others’ … (evil grin).
Khaled on the other hand amused himself greatly in our absence. He would go all night with his gang of boys, sit in cafes and play soccer. He had as many friends as he wanted and mama never cared to know who they were; of course that wasn’t the case with me. When baba was in KSA, Khaled could return home any time at night; of course that wasn’t the case with me. I envied him. I wished at times to be a man. And with the passage of time, that feeling had grown more in me.
I was thirteen in that vacation when grandma died. We all returned back. We spent sometime in the countryside from where baba came because the deceased usually wished to be buried with their relatives. Baba’s house in the village was a two storey small house made of mud that smelled village like. That smell I could never describe. Was it of the mud? Was it of chickens (they usually had chicken coops on the roofs)? Was it of buffalos that passed by the doors with farmers in their way back and fro their farms? Was it of the delicious pies they baked with real butter? I could never tell. It was of all mixed with the kindness and poverty of the people who lived there.
The house had one room downstairs as a reception/living/guests room/TV room. It had a small kitchen where the mud looked as grey as clay and as gloomy as a cave. The sink had no drainage pipe, so a bucket was placed underneath it and whenever it filled, women in the house took it outside and threw the water. Grandma had no expensive kitchen utensils of course; just some old pans, plastic and stainless steel dishes and spoons. The TV and the fridge that once existed were baba’s gifts for his mother. He brought her these technological presents as a confession for the mother who gave him birth and suffered for him. It was a feeling of gratitude as well as obligation. But he never knew she would have no time to use them.
Wood stairs then led to the second floor that was a roof along with two rooms. I used to love one; baba’s. It was usually dusty but it gave coziness to my heart. I used to sit on his desk, play with his old stethoscope and look at his old pictures in the army when his skin was tight and his countenance sharp. I opened all the old drawers over and over again searching for a memory of him, or maybe a memory of me when I was not yet born.
In funerals, blackness was the costume, screams were the melody. I had always known that screaming over the dead was ‘haram’ (forbidden) in Islam, but women believed that grief was most shown with the strongest sharpest screams. I didn’t spend any time with the mourners. I usually accompanied my cousins to play in the street. It was a sandy narrow street paved by the footprints of humans as well as animals. We used to run down those streets, play hide and seek behind the palm tree trunk broken and lying on the ground.
Although mama and Khaled never loved to go to the countryside with baba, this time they had to, it was a duty. I felt happy mama was beside me. I never liked that she didn’t share in some of the family occasions that concerned baba. It seemed like we were a broken family and that hurt me and gave me ultimate feelings of insecurity. A kind of insecurity that surpassed my insecurity inside my female body and mind.
I woke up one day in 1998 and decided I want to cover my hair. I wasn’t much of a religious girl. I should have prayed the five prayers every day, but I usually skipped three. I should have fasted all the days I broke in Ramadan, whether due to sickness or the period, right after the holly month was finished, but I usually found it hard to fast after Ramadan. I didn’t have coarse hair either. My hair was quite beautiful and silky. For the previous causes, everyone protested to and rather attacked my decision.
I stuck to my guns though. It was such a strange leap in my life. I was not the least prepared neither psychologically nor worldly. My closet was full of short sleeves shirts, miniskirts and tight trousers. The reasons for that decision seemed vague even to me. I knew that after menstruation, girls were ought to wear hijab and modest clothes as their bodies start to bloom. Ok, obeying religion was one reason. But it was more than covering my hair; it was about covering my body. I was still insecure in my feminine body that I wanted to cover it. I had a strange relation with my body. I loved and hated it. I found it beautiful but lacking. I wished I was smaller and shorter. I wished I had larger breasts. I wished I could wear bras like Rasha and Inas but what for? Thanks to the inventors of the soft bras, I found something to satisfy my overwhelming feminine need. I loved the shape of hands but wished they were tinier. I hated my feet, tremendously, they were big, not in shape, ugly, not the same as Barbie’s feet. I had one toe that was longer than the rest, I hated that toe! I still do …
Although I loved the female’s body with its bumps and curves, it gave me ultimate discomfort and insecurity. The curves, boops, hips, vagina, and all meant ‘I am a girl’ and girls don’t and don’t and don’t. Boys, less sexier and far uglier, do and do and do. So I covered it. I covered my female body for less gazes, harassments and more security.
When I decided to put the hijab on, Khaled was the only pro person for my decision. He took it of Eastern jealousy on his ‘ard’ ‘sharaf’ dignity. An Eastern man saw the women in his circle; including mother, sister, wife, cousin, as his own honor and pride that he had to take care of and rather dominate.
Baba saw it as an artificial thing and advised me to take care of my core and leave the superficialities. He wasn’t convinced but he didn’t object.
Mama felt her daughter was wearing down her most beautiful thing in her body; the crown, my hair. This way, I wasn’t going to attract suitors, I wasn’t going to be rendered beautiful amongst the beautiful girls who boost with their locks.
It didn’t really matter to me who thought what. I still wore my hijab waiting for what life would bring on.