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Out for a Walk

I pull the front door closed behind me and amble out into Sharia' Musadak. It's dark except for the glittering multi-colored Ramadan lamps hanging in every doorway. A mother in a black abaya and niqab waddles past, a dirty child clinging to each of her hands. Her eyes crinkle, almost disappearing, and I can tell that under her veil she is smiling, content after having just eaten iftar, the meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan, the breaking of the daily fast. A shopkeeper has placed chairs in the middle of the sidewalk, where he and his friends sit lazily chewing kanafeh, chatting amicably about this and that. Two teenage boys make their way down the road, each laden with a flexible woven basket filled to overflowing with small fireworks for Ramadan. Every now and then, there is a soft bang! and a colorful spark shoots a few inches off the pavement, quickly replaced by a cloud of smoke. Passers-by smile good-naturedly and keep moving; there are places to go: errands to run now that the sun is down and the shops are open, friends to visit and to wish a happy Ramadan.

I've slept most of the day- an easy way to keep the fast in a city where so many eating establishments are closed until sunset- but despite the fact that I've only been awake for a few hours, I'm suddenly fatigued. Conversations is hurried Arabic buzz around me, assaulting my eardrums; my brain is too overwhelmed to translate today. For the past few days I have kept myself isolated in the oasis of my dusty house: a place where the internet sites I visit and the TV shows I watch are in my native tongue, and while I am in that cocoon I nearly forget the strain of constantly translating everything I hear twice over in my mind: Egyptian Arabic to formal Arabic, formal Arabic to English. When I reach the kiosk that is my destination, I meekly place my purchases on the counter atop the displays of Twinkies and Chipsies. I can offer nothing more to the owner than a crisp one hundred pound note and a weak smile. Through the fog of my ennui I can only manage a feeble "shukran" for him today. I start the two block walk back to my house, faster than before, eager to reenter my bubble of comfort. A rickety black taxi clips my swinging arm as it edges down the street crowded with double rows of parallel-parked Peugeots and Fiats on both sides. I barely notice. I keep my eyes straight ahead as an oversized SUV slows down and the two teenagers inside call out to me in broken English, telling me I am beautiful. I don't feel beautiful in my baggy green Phi Mu t-shirt and wrinkly jeans.

The smell of freshly-grilled corn and overripe fruit fills my nostrils, wafting over from the corner of Ansar Street, manned by two old hijabi women who invariably greet me with disapproving looks day in and day out. I carefully step around a pile of rotting garbage and another of black sludge. Another bang! followed by a pop and raucous laughter from a group of teenage boys perennially perched on the hood of a car parked conveniently in front of a convenience shop, just in case any gastronomical needs should arise during the course of their laborious catcalling and generally innocent-enough hoodlum-ry. Finally I pass through the ancient gate of my apartment building, down a brightly lit alleyway, and fit the key into my comically tiny door. I walk inside and am greeted by the smell of stale cigarette smoke and the sound of Sublime lamenting their inability to remember what they did the previous night. I sigh contentedly and collapse into my armchair.

Tonight, I am happy to be alone in the calm clutter of my house. Tonight I will take a break from cultural sensitivity. Tonight I will listen to music sung in English and laugh at websites detailing the stupid antics of college kids. Tonight I will order Hardees and drink Coca Cola. Tomorrow I will get back to the mental strain of constant translation, of appreciating the culture and the history of this country.

But tonight, I'm content to idle.

1 "bhebek"s:

Emily Carol said...

I just read the past 3 of your blogs and oh man! We have a lot in common. I remember leaving my family for Africa (and now Texas) and my tiny little brother is now tall and hairy and muscly with a deep voice and I'm missing the little bits and pieces of seeing my teenage brother turn into a grownup and I hate it.

I also remember the nights in Africa of not wanting to leave the ship - not wanting to get proposed to in the Ghanaian port, not wanting to feel sweat drip in between your shoulder blades in a stupid market, etc. Embrace your comfy night and start over tomorrow. You live alone so you can BE alone.

I'm still jealous of your fantastic adventures and the fact that your writing voice is still alive and well. I'm also unbelievably proud of you.