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Not Just a State Of Mind

Small Things

Holding on to the last strands of sanity in the city is tough. Hassan Hassan shows us how. Kind of.

Recently I have found that I have entirely too many rules in my life. I cannot wear ripped jeans anymore (so nobody can give me their number and tell me to call them maybe), I wake up at 8:30am and I am restricted to one cigarette at my desk when I get to the office. This restriction is a result of my cell office mate’s “allergy” to cigarettes. This confuses me because, when I did light about 6 cigarettes in a row – in an effort to prove this allergy existed – he didn’t cough, he didn’t sneeze, he didn’t break out in a rash, he didn’t suddenly fall to the floor convulsing with seizures. There were no adverse reactions to my smoking. He winced slightly. But then again I wince slightly at a lot of things I’m not allergic to. This I feel is my karma because I have been lying about a slew of allergies for years. (‘I’m allergic to fish; we can’t go out for sushi.’ ‘I’m allergic to your cat, we can’t hang out.’ ‘I’m allergic to your polyester, I have to go.’) So I feel like God is playing some kind of joke, where I am now robbed of one of the few things that make my day tolerable. Generally, God is constantly making me the (cigarette) butt of his jokes. How else can I explain my face this morning?

I sent a few emails and did my best to focus on this. I needed a list of things to be happy about when forced to run outside and sit on the stairwell for a cigarette. I got as far as 2. alcohol (1. is cigarettes obviously) but couldn’t think further because a nagging thought I have been shoving in the back of my mind for about a year reared its ugly head. The Islamists are coming.

Illustration by Hassan Hassan

Now technically, the Islamists are here, but the particular brand of denial I adhere to makes it difficult for me to admit this. The increase of burkas and beards has been fueling my paranoia for the past few months, but I make myself feel better with dreams of being a refugee. I imagine myself with a very dark tan, standing in MoMA, holding a glass of champagne and regaling stories of my escape from Africa. I have concocted stories of the beating and pillaging I endured. I will say I learned to speak English by watching reruns of Friends in a dark corner of my pyramid and the camel I rode to work was named Rachel because of its striking resemblance to Jennifer Aniston.

According to politics and the news (two things I know very little of and generally do my best to avoid), the Muslims are taking over parliament and somebody named Morsi is the front runner for presidential elections. This worries me. But only slightly, and only when I think of internet privileges. And alcohol privileges. And generally everything.

Inebriation, though, is my main fear. I deal with my days in Cairo by looking forward to getting drunk, getting drunk or being drunk. They cannot however, ban my shot of Bailey’s for breakfast, wine at lunch and whiskey at night. They cannot ban Hajj Ibrahim, my beloved and treasured booze dealer, and all his irony. Because then I would have to live in Egypt sober. And that is a fate worse than death. That is the mother of all allergies. (Don’t even get me started on banning porn, but hey, fucking a corpse within six hours of death is acceptable.)

I shook it off and tried to think of more things for my happy list. Basically, what I was doing was writing up a list of things that would be taken away from me once we were all part of the Brotherhood. I would no longer be able to do anything. My miniscule happy list will be even shorter (kicking off my shoes and long showers were all I could come up with and I would have to do these things sober). Not to mention from a vocational perspective; everything I’m good at (drawing scantily clad women, encouraging women to buy not-so-demure clothing, writing about debauchery,etc.) is essentially haram. I will be stuck in the midst of beards and preachers stoning me for my ability to draw scantily clad women in hooker heels. I know I should be worried about things like poverty, education, women’s rights and health care, but don’t people do those things at bars?

Right now every little thing that makes life tolerable is tinged with the sense that it might be the last time I enjoy it. When I pick up French Vogue (that will be the first one to bite the dust, since there is literally a nipple on every other page), will this be the last time I will be able to pick up a magazine that isn’t sold in some black market, is scrawled in black marker or has picture of ninja women clad in black with scintillating headline like ‘Back to Black: The Basics of Burqas’? Although the idea of wearing a trench coat and a fedora (over my thobe obvs) to pick up an illicit copy of GQ at dawn in an abandoned alley does sound like fun.

In essence, the Egypt that I have begrudgingly lived in is set to get significantly worse. Then I tell myself to relax. Deal with what happens, as it happens and when it happens. Because apparently, whether I like it or not, Cairo and I are in this together through better or beards, sickness or salafis. I definitely needed a cigarette to ponder my fate. So I head to stairwell for cigarette number four and lo and behold, allergy boy standing with the smokers, laughing it up without a hint or mention of allergies or ailments. I decided to have my cigarette at my desk, finding comfort in the knowledge that in Cairo, above all else, rules are made to be broken.

 


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