The descent into insecurity used to terrify Mouwafak Chourbagui. Now it amuses him.
In the age of Whatsapp and Messenger, nobody really sends you an SMS anymore. So when I receive one, I instantly know it’s from a marketing robot: exclusive offer, prime location, 5% down payment on a villa at an Italian sounding compound in the desert. You know that you are regarded as A class when the message is in English, the same way you realize you are in a high-end restaurant when the waiter announces and explains the menu in the language of Shakespeare.
I’m not sure what kind of information they have to determine my social status, but I presume that they know that I am an AUC alumnus. What they don’t know though is that my mother finished all her money on expensive handbags and my dad wasted his on expensive handjobs. When I read the numerous messages from real estate companies, my privileged upbringing clashes with my present reality as a nouveau pauvre.
The nouveau pauvre lives in a type of social purgatory, simultaneously enjoying the symbols and benefits of privilege (education, networking) while losing the tangibility of security (savings, assets): I live in an old rent flat in Zamalek, but the fridge is empty half the month, we have a driver but own no car, and I have relatives who live in Europe while we can barely afford a family vacation in Minya.
So thank you for your continued trust in me as a potential customer, Beverly Hills Egypt, but the life you are offering me is one I can no longer afford. The villa, the Mohamed Al Sagheer trophy wife, the chauffeur, the nanny, the private school education for my children and that chalet in Sahel are tempting ways to quell my existential angst, but my savings account is anorexic and I’m more likely to inherit debts than assets.
Granted, leaving the top floor is not an easy thing to do. Initially, I tried to keep up with my Kardashians by spending 400 EGP to attend a nightclub, pretending to like quinoa to save the planet and taking care of my mental and physical health by booking sessions at Nun or Bienêtre. But at some point, I had to accept the cold hard truth: I was an Kazaz living la vida Sequoia.
At first, I began to panic about my descent into insecurity: I had no medical insurance, no stable income and that sandwich at Gad was no longer a symbol of rapprochement with the people to appease a guilt-ridden conscience, but a necessary move of reconciliation with my wallet. Around me, friends were given apartments in their mid-twenties or had their eternal studies financed by their parents until they decided what to do with adulthood. I, meanwhile, was putting off an operation because I could only afford to do it in a public hospital.
I was devastated; I could no longer play the elite el adab game of barking about social injustice until it affected my individual privilege. It was vanishing on its own and I had to join the majority of humanity in building my own security and not rely on what is passed down from generation to generation.
The entitled believe the world owes them something, that they can spend years 'finding themselves' so they can make a living doing what they love. This is possible because they don’t have to feed themselves; only their ego and self-importance. Only those for who work isn’t a means of survival can utter prosperous phrases like “I am meant for greater things than a 9 to 5” or “I have to finding meaning in my job”.
So here I was, trying to reinvent myself mid-career to feed my future, angry that the wheels of aristocracy have stopped at my feet, face to face with a precarious economy, a severe devaluation and a country in decay. The only future possible, I thought, was the one sold to me by Beverly Hills Egypt, and it was out of my grasp.
I had to regain control of my life and security by slaving away in a multinational as a creative director of shampoo, an avant-garde copywriter for cheese or a consultant for Microsoft Powerpoints. No way was my future going to be shiny like those billboards if I continue to navigate between the cultural field and writing projects.
But then something happened. Suddenly, my fear was usurped by humorous catharsis. I began to find a discreet charm in the Poorgeoisie, a reminder in it about how fragile and futile life truly is; about how the accumulation of tangible and intangible things does not generate either meaning or fulfillment; about how security is ultimately an illusion. Beverly Hills was no longer the dream, it was the nightmare.
Coping with my mortality by believing, careering, cross-fitting, procreating and manufacturing meaning were no longer necessary illusions; they became needless trade-offs with the unknown. Meaninglessness was not only fine, it was liberating. When you let go of the weight of your existence, everything begins to feel lighter and anyone who takes themselves a bit too seriously becomes a fool.
Life is just small parentheses taking us out of the void into an absurd dance with noise and back into the void, but this imposed interval where nothingness suddenly becomes molded into inescapable flesh can be a delight if we drive our insignificance into the flickering light of derision.
Detached and disinterested from any form of meaning or expectation, the world transforms into an amusing satire: cigar-smoking executives who quote The Godfather; social justice warriors who believe that wearing gloves equates culturally appropriating the serial killer culture; people who think that the veil or the zebiba gets them closer to God or that drinking whisky or wearing a mini-skirt gets them closer to freedom; bourgeois brown people who travel abroad to do a masters in Decolonization in the country that colonized them, and expats who scold the lifestyle of the elite while stripping the young middle class in their host country of a phase of independence by gentrifying whole neighborhoods with their dollars and euros.
Back at home, in the solitude of my pre-sleep monologues, I do still wonder if I’ll end up as an Kazaz or a Sequoia in life, but I take solace in the fact that emptiness is found in both worlds. And in the morning, as I stumble into the only driver in Zamalek with no car, we smile to each other before starting our respective days of absurdity; our silence a tacit recognition that we do not need a car to know that life is just a ride.