When you say the word “Egypt,” picturesque images of majestic pyramids, camels, pharaohs, and—most recently—protests come to mind.
But after living here for a few years, those images seem to have melted under the heat of the blistering sun.
According to many, I don’t qualify as a “proper” Egyptian, the reasons running from “you suck at Arabic,” to “your aura is different!” I am guessing by aura, they mean body odor!
When I first stepped foot on Egyptian soil, I smudged my shoes.
Shortly thereafter, I was greeted by two very Egyptian realities. The first is that we Egyptians are anything but helpful, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The chances you have of receiving the help you need from natives, are about the same chances my closet has of becoming organized… astronomically slim.
I was thirteen-years-old at the time, and I needed to make a phone to call my brother, who was supposed to pick me up. I ventured out and asked my fellow people for a favor, and this is what happened:
“Excuse me sir, may I use your phone? I need to make an urgent call.”
Man scans me, steps back, changes view angle and scans me again.
“Err… sir? Your phone?”_I extend my hand foolishly._
“Um, no, but thanks!” Man steps back slowly, reassuringly touching his phone.
So I tried my luck with others. 25 minutes/6 failed attempts later:
“Hey lady, I am not going to take your phone and run. I just need to—”
Woman clutches her purse tighter, takes a step back and says…
“May Allah guide you.” (A popular Arabic expression usually directed towards the mentally disturbed… by usually, I mean always.)
The second reality is that Egyptians are always late. Being late in Egypt begins twenty-five minutes after the agreed upon time, while being early begins ten minutes after the agreed upon time. The last Egyptian that prepared to arrive on time was on his way to build a pyramid. (He also happens to be the last Egyptian to do something cool.)
Had I known that that day was only a small indicator of how life in Egypt was going to be, I would have clung to my seatbelt on the plane and never let go.
My interaction with the general public remains limited to uncomfortable street encounters and unfortunate encounters with acquaintances.
Every day I catch the bus to college, and I can’t emphasize the word “catch” enough. Seeing how snarled traffic is in Cairo, you’d think that buses wouldn’t mind letting on passengers, but you’d be dead wrong. The only thing bus drivers like less than other cars on the road, are passengers. The following takes place five times a week:
I’m standing on the sidewalk… or whatever is left of a sidewalk that used to be there fifteen years ago. It can carry about one and a half female ballet dancers at a time… on their tiptoes.
The wind is having a serious argument with my hair, and I struggle to stay out of the way of moving vehicles. (You may wonder why, since I’m on the sidewalk, and the reason is simple: the vehicles are too.)
A speeding bulldozer (yes, they can speed) rushes past me, missing my nose by an inch. My vision is blurred by exhaust fumes coming out of the dangling pipes sticking out of microbuses, and the sun that apparently thinks it’s noon already. Then there is a lane of ten cars that all decided that driving in the opposite direction of traffic beats having to wait in it.
Fifteen minutes later, I see my bus crawling lazily through traffic. I wave frantically, hoping not to get ignored, which happens seven out of ten times. The bus driver makes eye contact, puzzles over whether or not to open the door, or perhaps a window, then shrugs and waves bye to me.
This is unexaggerated reality of daily life.
But it gets worse, much worse, for women, for they have the beauty salon, which has witnessed more pain and suffering than Egyptian prisons (where prisoners are routinely sodomized and periodically tortured).
Beauty salons exist for the sole purpose of committing hair genocide. They divide unibrows and gender-confusing mustaches via a process called threading, which requires only a thin thread, wielded by a mean, sadistic woman, who holds one end in her mouth and the other in her free hand.
This woman stands over the victim with a thin thread tied into a vicious knot. She uncomfortably pins the victim’s head down by lowering her heavy breasts onto the unsuspecting cheeks of the victim. Then with the spirit of a male ostrich and/or peacock in search for a mate she begins bobbing her head up and down, the knot tightening around each individual hair, uprooting it from its home.
The minute that thread comes in contact with human skin, the poor human’s nerve gets plucked out with the tiny hair, never to experience relief again. The ostrich/peacock woman tolerates zero movement, much less complaints. As one lies there, one can’t help but grind their teeth and shed silent tears of agony.
Eyelashes are often plucked out by mistake, but we all know it is a punishment for fidgeting.
And if you want a haircut, and you don’t specify exactly what kind you’d like, chances are you’ll walk out looking like you lost a fight with a chicken. And if you let them wash your hair, chances are you’ll lose two-thirds of your hair roots when they “massage” your scalp.
Other Egyptians refuse to acknowledge how painful it is.
Then comes hair genocide, part II: the terrorizing, horrifying, skin-burning nightmare edition. Halawa, otherwise known as Egyptian waxing, literally translates to “sweet,” but I assure you it is anything but!
The theory behind it is if we skin you alive, you won’t have skin, and by extension hair. And if that doesn’t work, then the sheer terror involved in the process should make your skin think twice before nurturing a hair follicle again. It is worse than childbirth.
Egyptian women don’t deny how painful it is, but insist that it’s important for the general satisfaction of the hairy men in their lives, with whom they share almost celibate relationships.
The social torment, however, is not just limited to traffic and beauty. It has penetrated to the very roots of society. For instance, going to historical places is to me akin to removing brain cells with Halawa because you’re consistently being bombarded by street vendors to buy cheap underwear, slippers and toys that will break the instant you touch them.
Imagine walking around in a 500-year-old city being followed by a fat, homeless woman named Khadra (Arabic word for green. Yup, named after the color, the degree of which she reached by years of not showering, I presume) with bras and lighters, “all for five dollars, miss!”
Sometimes I just can’t help but wish to Halawa everyone to death. That’s why I always look up and yell “YOU’RE MAKING A BIG MISTAKE!” whenever I see a plane about to land here.