This week Nadia El-Awady discusses some of the things she truly treasures about Egypt. You know, like shit-covered eggs and an ass-cleaning bathroom device.
There are certain things I, along with most Egyptians, miss when we travel abroad, especially if it’s for an extended period of time. Below is my list of fourteen things that I (and thus all Egyptians…I’m that vain) miss when they are living abroad:
14. Samna: I normally cook with olive oil, but every now and then I make a dish that simply cannot do without some proper yellow fat/ghee. None of this vegetable shortening crap. While it may be fine for some dishes, nothing can replace samna in others.
13. The sun: There is nothing like the warmth of the Egyptian sun. Nothing. Only the July/August sun is unbearable in Egypt. During the rest of the year, our sun is just perfect. I find it very hard to live in countries where there is an almost constant cloud cover. In Egypt, I don’t have to wonder whether the sun is out when I wake up. I KNOW it is. In so many other countries, you consider yourself lucky to wake up to a sunny morning. There’s a certain sense of comfort in waking up in the morning and knowing your sun is right there to make your day go well.
12. Eggs: I was making a pie the other day here in the UK and took an egg out of the egg carton. I looked at the egg and had a sudden and horrible pang of nostalgia. I thought, “Where are my Egyptian eggs that have chicken shit and feathers stuck all over them?” I wanted to cry. You tell me how I can trust an egg that looks like it’s been completely sterilized on the outside?? I don’t know what is wrong with these British folk. How do I know that this egg was inside a proper chicken and was laid in a proper hen house if it doesn’t have chicken shit and feathers all over it? I miss my shit-laden eggs from Egypt.
11. Having people promise you heaven if you vote yes and hell if you vote no: Life and the afterlife are just so simple in Egypt. All you need to do is vote a certain way in elections and you’re home free. I’ve been in the UK for two full months now and NO ONE has told me about a surefire way to get into heaven. NO ONE. Something is wrong with these people.
10. The sea: Egyptians are sea-going people. When I first got to know Egypt in the 1970s, there was an annual movement of Egyptians to Alexandria’s Mediterranean in the summer. Although many (too many) Egyptians still consider Alexandria their ultimate summer destination, they have also started spreading out over other areas on the north coast and down the Red Sea year-round. When an Egyptian needs a few days off from work, they will most probably go off to be by the sea. I’m a scuba diver and I usually go diving at least once every two months. No matter how cold it gets in the winter, the Red Sea is never too cold for a swim or a dive. No matter where an Egyptian lives, they usually won’t be more than a two-hour drive away from the sea. I miss being able to jump in my car whenever I want and into the water just a few hours later.
9. Joking with the guy standing in line next to you: This was the first thing that made me fall in love with Egypt. I’d be standing at a bus stop waiting to catch the bus and the person standing next to me would engage in discussion as if we were old friends. In most places around the world, people look at the person standing next to them with suspicion. Not in Egypt. Oh no. We’re all old friends over there. Friends who will assure you that you’re going to hell; but friends nevertheless.
8. Being able to honk and swear freely at fellow drivers: I’m sick of having to be polite to drivers here in the UK. I want to be able to get angry, wave my hands around in crude gestures, and even get out of the car every now and then and spit in another driver’s face. This politeness thing is not working for me.
7. Our fruit:My Scottish husband is sick and tired of me telling him how great our fruit is in Egypt. Our bananas are the best. Our oranges are the best. Our mangoes are the best. Our watermelons are the best. Even our strawberries are the best and we’re not even strawberry country!Of course, it’s Egyptian fruits and vegetables that gave my husband dysentery when he spent a month in Egypt last summer. But I tell my husband that dysentery is good for him because he needs to toughen up. I wonder if it’s our dysentery-causing amoeba that gives our fruits that special sweetness? Yummy!
6. The street noises: I miss hearing the myriad of incomprehensible daily calls we hear on the streets of Cairo. I miss hearing the robabikya guy calling out from his donkey-drawn cart saying he buys anything used. I miss hearing the guy with the dirty bag and weird wheel machine calling out to people who need their knives sharpened. I miss hearing the creepy woman who eerily calls out to the people in their apartment buildings saying she reads palms. I miss hearing the limping, blind beggar man who, for the past 15 years, has been telling people how he has children’s mouths to feed. Every single time he manages to sound like he’s crying. And I miss the huge roar that comes out of every home in Cairo when Al-Ahly Football Club scores a goal.
5. Sitting in front of a late night talk show, knowing that most of Egypt is doing the same: I miss tweeting late at night about the things being discussed on the late night talk show. It’s like half of Egypt is online watching the show and discussing it together. I miss messaging my best friend in the middle of the night (talk shows go on until 2 am!): “Can you believe what so and so just said on TV??”
4. A good street fight: It’s the best entertainment around. When a street fight erupts, someone at home will end up yelling, “Fiiiiight!”, and we’ll all run to the balcony/windows to watch. So does everyone else in the area. I miss watching the women take off their slippers to hit men on their heads. I miss watching all the neighborhood men gather around, trying to prevent two guys from killing each other. I miss laughing at the random eight-year-old running around the periphery of the fight like a headless chicken with a huge stick in his hand. I miss being amused by the women pulling their hair out of their heads and screamingyalahwiteeeeeeeee.
3. Eating with my hands in restaurants: I hate going to a restaurant and having to eat all proper with a fork and knife. You can barely pick up small tidbits with forks! I want to be able to shovel food into my mouth. I want to have so much food in my mouth that my cheek muscles hurt from chewing on it. My only respite in the UK is when I go to an Indian restaurant. I feel at home in Indian restaurants. In Egypt, it hardly matters what kind of a restaurant you’re in; it’s always acceptable to use your hands while you eat.
2. Having people do my work for me: I miss my local neighborhood ironing man. I miss my doorman who I can call at any hour of the day or night to get me stuff from the local shops. He also comes when I need him to kill ugly creatures that have somehow managed to enter the apartment. Once he was summoned to get rid of two frogs that somehow found their way into my house. He’s also responsible for getting me the plumber and the electrician when their services are required AND standing with them until their work is done. I miss the lady who comes in twice a week to clean the house and to sometimes cook me food. I miss Mr. Garage Man who takes care of my car and makes sure it’s nice and clean every morning. I miss being able to call up the pharmacy or the local supermarket at 3 am just because I need some aspirin or some shit-laden eggs. I miss having people do stuff for me. Well…my husband has sort of taken on that role now while we’re in the UK. Poor man.
1. The shattafa: We may not have the cleanest streets in the world, but Egyptians take pride in how clean their bottoms are. The shattafa, for you non-Arabic readers out there, is a hose that we have next to or in our toilets that squirts water onto our butts on demand. We cannot go to the bathroom without the shattafa. We find it impossible to comprehend how anybody can go to the bathroom and then not thoroughly scrub their behind afterwards with water. When we find ourselves in situations where there is no shattafa, we physically cannot stand ourselves until we manage to get somewhere there is one. I do not understand how people who don’t use shattafas don’t have sore, itchy, inflamed behinds all the time. Most, if not all, Egyptians will carry a portable shattafa with them while traveling if they know they will be away for a few days. This is usually in the form of an empty plastic water bottle. I know some people who even carry squirt guns with them for this purpose. I get thoroughly agitated while traveling when the hotel cleaning lady throws away the empty water bottle I keep next to the toilet. When I’m traveling, that plastic water bottle becomes my most prized possession. I got so upset once that I started storing my plastic water bottle in the hotel room safety deposit box along with my passport and credit cards. That’s how precious it is to me. The one thought that goes through the heads of every single Egyptian when they set foot in their homes in Egypt after coming back from a trip outside of the Arab world is not, “It’s so good to be home again with the family.” It is, “Ahhhh. My shattafa at LAST!”