For the past day or so the internet in our apartment hasn’t been working. Predictably, as soon as there was urgent news from home it became difficult to make contact.
My grandmother fell a few days ago and hit her head. I last heard that she appears to be stable and in less pain than she was immediately following the accident. Right now it’s unclear how fully she will be able to recover. While my friends in Egypt and around the world have been supportive, there is nothing like being physically present with others who share a common sorrow. Right now I am as homesick as I was when I first arrived in Egypt.
Before I heard the news I had made plans to go to my friend Allison’s aunt’s house here in Cairo for lunch. Knowing that sitting around the house fretting would do me no good I went along.
Allison’s aunt, Auntie ‘Irfa, is a very kindly Egyptian lady living in a part of Cairo called Ein Shams. It’s a poorer district of Cairo, noticable in its active street life. Maadi and Zamalek have grocery stores so they don’t need vegetable carts selling fresh produce brought in every day from the fields around Cairo. They have fancy foreign coffee shops instead of local juice bars where they will crush you strawberries, oranges, or sugar cane on demand. They have fast-food restaurants that will deliver in the middle of the night; they don’t need little furnaces on carts roasting sweet potatoes for a pound. (Actually I’ve gotten those in Zamalek as well.) Forgive me for romanticising, but I do wish we had more vegetable carts in Zamalek. If I buy fruit from the grocery store it’s always wrapped in plastic.
Anyway, we arrived late due to Cairo traffic and Auntie ‘Irfa (this means cinnamon; chosen for the cinnamon tea she made) greeted us brightly at the door to her flat. As soon as we got inside she began piling dishes of food on the table. And I do mean piling; there were three of us there to eat and she had made food for at least a dozen people!
Allison had brought her roommate Otilie along as well as myself. Otilie and I don’t speak very good Arabic and Auntie ‘Irfa speaks only a smattering of words in English. Nevertheless we were able to sustain a conversation throughout our four-hour visit, largely through the translational skills of Allison. Auntie ‘Irfa was also extremely patient with us and very good at breaking down complicated sentences into simpler Arabic if we found ourselves lost. She was very impressed that I knew how to say everything was delicious, which was the absolute truth.
Covering the table to the point of collapse were dishes of stuffed grape leaves, potatoes stuffed with ground beef, beef in a sort of onion sauce, chicken, fresh green salad, a paste made of beans and parsley, soup made from turnips (or something similar), a flat pancake-like thing that was stuffed with meat but wasn’t a fiteer…the list goes on. We ate until we couldn’t sit up straight anymore, then went into the living room to wait quietly for an attack of gout. Auntie ‘Irfa beamed with pride at our somnolence. She then made us some guava milkshakes and brought out an enormous box of cookies also made in her very own kitchen.
After a while the television was switched on. Eventually Auntie ‘Irfa changed the channel to a music video station, whereupon Allison turned to her and explained that I can dance. There was an immediate demand to see my skills, which I promptly demonstrated despite the food sloshing around in my tummy. ‘Irfa complimented my dancing and I was truly delighted. I was also experiencing stomach cramps from the food, so I sat down again forthwith.
Eventually we managed to work up the energy to drag ourselves from ‘Irfa’s home, though not before getting invited back both specifically for the upcoming ‘eid (holiday) and generally for any time, because we are all far too skinny and need fattening up. I shall have to practice my pronunciation of the word ‘delicious.’
Allison and I went on to the City Starz mall to see the new James Bond film. I was all excited to see it while reclining in the fancy seats, but then I discovered serveral serious flaws in the film: for one they’d censored all the sex scenes. Equally importantly, I’m no longer impressed by any automobile-related stunts in movies because driving around in Cairo is like being in a car chase every single day! We did enjoy roundly bad-mouthing the movie while careening around corners and speeding over bridges, tires squealing, on our way back to Zamalek.
I’m currently sitting on the couch to write this entry, the internet having sorted itself out for the time being. I feel grateful that I’m not so cut off from the news from home any more. We are all still in a state of limbo waiting to see how my grandmother’s injury will resolve itself, but now I am not waiting alone.