Friday December 8th, 2023
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In Search of Home

Having grown up a foreigner in Canada, and feeling equally foreign as a Canadian in Egypt, Habzyz III quickly learned that to fit in is no easy feat. Years later, and in the throngs of Egypt's revolution, he finds out that home is something you earn.

Staff Writer

In a past life, I was a double agent living two lives; half a world apart still searching for home. The idea of finding a home seems like it would be an achievable mission, but despite my best efforts it always slips through my grasp, proving to be impossible.

Living in the confusion that is Cairo, I find myself often offering my blood on the streets as proof of my meya meya Egyptian heritage, but no matter what I offer, the shadowy cast of my Canadian-shaped brain becomes evident under the ancient desert sun. In Canada, I struggled dealing with discrimination even though I was told that I was living in multi-cultural mosaic that welcomes and encourages all backgrounds. However, after 9/11 it was hard to ignore the change in others' perception of me, especially those in positions of authority. At the time of the attacks I was in high school, and witnessed a change in a few of my teachers' attitude towards me, the worse example being my high school English teacher.

Without a history of bad behaviour and without provocation, I found myself being thrown out of class, or worse, humiliated for no real reason, on what seemed to be a routine basis. “Take your greasy, dirty face off your desk,” my teacher would often say, prior to finding yet another feeble excuse to dismiss me from her class. One day I decided that enough was enough, and that she needed to come face-to-face with her abusive nature.

We were to read Macbeth, a Shakespearean play, one that I had in fact performed one year prior and thus had it memorised. Instead of reading along with the class, I decided to write my feelings in a notebook, before coming to the realisation that chances are whatever I write will be taken by the teacher and read out to the class. Preempting this potentially embarrassing scenario, I decided to put the theory to the test, and chose two words to write over and over again as if I was already being punished. I settled on 'Listening Politely' and continued to write it until I reached to about 3/4 of a page.

With no warning, and surprising force, she ripped the paper from out of my fake kung fu grip, walked to the front of the class and was forced to face her racism. Her face instantly became devoid of colour, as she silently dealt with the fact that her hate was all too predictable. To save face, she dismissed the class except for me. I asked for my paper back so that I could bring into the principal as evidence, but upon my request she ripped it up. She finally addressed the fact that she has been hard on me, and she didn't know why, but that she will just try to ignore me from now. I took her for her word at the time, but not much changed. When it came time to move on to university, I decided maybe I was better suited to living in Egypt.

I remember thinking that it would be a lot easier to fit into Egypt; for the first time in my life I would be part of the visible majority instead of a victimised minority. I enrolled in medical school at the University of Cairo, and was determined to be reborn in what was supposed to be my homeland. To my surprise, I found myself more unpopular than a 25 piaster bill, constantly in a battle to find shade from the unrelenting sun on campus. Among the sea of black ninjas and the various gangs of shabbab, I found myself completely lost and unable to communicate, as I spoke no Arabic and was assured, over the phone, that it was an all English faculty. It became very clear to me that if I were to merely function here, let alone feel home, that I would have to learn the language fast.

I took on two Arabic teachers named Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez. To my ears, their songs were authentically Egyptian. Each word stretched to infinity and beyond, revealing each and every syllable and sound that would end up being my life preserver in this sea of grief. Using what I learnt, I attempted to make friends I could use for shade, but I quickly found out that telling people enta omry often leads to questions about my sexuality and results in a barrage of unique rhyming curses. I could have given up, but realising that everyone had their own nonsensical curses, I decided that if I was to be accepted I would have to come up with one of my own.

It took weeks to find a curse line that would work both in English and Arabic. The important part was finding one that somewhat rhymed leading everyone into a collective "Damn," before accepting me as an Egyptian. Armed and ready, I returned to university looking for a target that I felt comfortable enough to fight; a safety precaution just in case my bombshell was taken the wrong way.

Ready for anything I attempted to join a group of guys, and was immediately faced with "Sharmata marmata." That's when I pulled out my new weapon and unloaded with: “lalalala, shakly haatala3 zibby wa adeelak 3ala wishak.” The gang was shocked and after a brief second of stunned silence, they erupted into uncontrollable laughter. They loved it and when they were able to regain their breath they asked me my name, offered me their friendship, and ultimately granted me access to their shade.

I had long believed that no place can be called a home without good company. After spending some time with this group, it became clear my I'd be better off befriending a murder of crows. We had nothing to talk about as no one knew any of the movies, music, shows, or books I loved. Sometimes they would try to broach a subject that they thought I would like. Usually this would revolve around their love for Celine Dion and Nickleback, however, I have always considered these two as Canada's worst exports. I could only pretend to care about Celine Dion and how her heart will go on for so long before wishing her heart all sorts of diseases. After three years of what I would describe as some of the toughest of my life, I decided Egypt wouldn't be a home for me. Dejected, I returned to Canada, my first non-home, to actualise a dream of composing, singing and touring a musical about revolution.

I never thought I would return to Egypt, but after January 25th, I felt absolutely ridiculous singing about revolution, while a revolution was ongoing in my blood's homeland. I watched the live feed from Tahrir and witnessed the absurd crackdown on protestors. The amount of guilt was suffocating, but by the time I organsed my return, Mubarak was dethroned. Upon hearing about another revolution, on the 30th June, I made sure to be here, as the guilt of missing the first one still weighed heavy on my heart.

Upon my return, I was no longer concerned about the concept of home, and was more concerned with serving a purpose. I collected my camera and helmet and took to Tahrir, but alas, I felt that I was witnessing a festival and not a revolution. I still firmly believe that the revolution is unfinished, but when the time comes, I will be ready to do my part and let the world know what is actually happening here. Perhaps I am not entirely Egyptian or Canadian, but I have become comfortable simply being a global citizen, and if I can play any small part in reshaping this country, then I honestly believe I will have earned the right to finally call it a home.