24 October 2009
It all went down in Maadi, see?
I was nearing the end of my stay in Cairo, trying to get in as much class time as possible. That day, my friend told me to meet her at the Maadi Cilantro. You know, the one near the metro stop?
We were supposed to go over aHkam al-nikaH wa l-talaq.
She was running unusually late, so I ran the usual errands–went to the bank, exchanged dollars for Egyptian pounds, bought a phone card.
I stood outside the Cilantro, which was bustling with customers, and gave her a phone call. “I’m here. Inti fayn?” She informed me she would give me a ring as soon as she was in the area.
Soon after I got off the phone, a very thin, dark man with somewhat disheveled hair and clothes approached with a wide smile. “Are you Egyptian?”
Considering I was in Maadi where Westerners abound, English was spoken aplenty, and lattes passed over kitchen counters more frequently than ful and ta’miya, I said: “No. Mish masriyya.”
“You speak Arabic…you live here?”
“Yes,” and I added, “I live with my family.”
“Aaah…ahlik? Wonderful! What is your name?”
“What is YOUR name?”
“I am Ayman, kharreeg min kulliyat tigaara. From Cairo University.”
Over the two years I was in Cairo, I found the time lapse between my hearing and understanding Arabic became shorter…but there was still a time lapse. I often relied on my mu’addab stance—because nothing takes you further than adab—smiling and nodding to substitute for the time between kalam wa fahm.
In short, sometimes my ambition to have a substantive conversation in Arabic led to me digging holes for myself.
“Ma sha Allah! That’s wonderful! It’s such a ni’ma to have an education!”
“I also have a shaqqa mafroosha in Doqqi!”
“Education wa shaqqa! Bismillah masha Allah! That is truly a fadl min rabbee!”
(So, no, Mona, it was not a car.)
I quickly considered all those articles we read in CASA and discussions on radio programs, Bayt Baytik and ‘Ashara Masa’an about unemployment, young men unable to afford apartments, etc.–hence, my impulse to respond in congratulatory fashion.
“And you,” he said, “you are…murtabita?”
I considered the literal meaning.
Then I considered the figurative meaning.
“YES!” Dear Lord. “YES, I am TOTALLY murtabita. Alhamdulillah!”
“Oh…he is from your country?”
“Oh, YES of course. He is far far away. In MY country. Which is, uh, FAAAAR away, alhamdulillah!”
“Well, I’d like to meet your family!”
“I just told you I’m murtabita.”
“Oh, that is okay.”
“Uh…That is NOT okay.” In my mind, I wondered why I continued with this language exercise. The smile on my face stiffened, masking my discomfort.
My mind raced: Did he follow me from the bank? Did he hear me speaking English earlier? Oh, stop being so paranoid.
“Oh…am I scaring you? I just thought shaklik bint saliha wa wishik munaw…”
“Yes, YES you are scaring me.”
“Oh, I don’t want to scare you bas if you are interested…”
“I am NOT interested.”
And then he did it. He pulled out a carefully torn slip of paper. “Here is my information.”
There was something very sad about it all. The makeshift business card I immediately crumpled in my hand. The disheveled look. My delayed reactions.
At that point, my friend called: “Come to Beanos, instead.”
I reiterated, “I am NOT interested and must go.” As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder a few times.
My friend found a seat in the Beanos patio, under a tree, and gestured for me to join her. Before beginning our lesson, I reprimanded her first and then told her I had a new story. I opened my fists to show her the crumpled piece of paper, which I found included a phone number and two email addresses – firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
That’s right. MR LOVER MAN LOVER.
(I nearly coughed up my Beanos cocktail “frrrresh” with laughter every time I thought of it. You really couldn’t remain angry with a gentleman of such an awesome alias.)
Then my friend opened up her sharH of matn Abi Shuja’a and began going over where we left off from aHkam al-nikaH—the clear and direct khitba.
I interjected, pleased that I had an example to illustrate the daily applicability of fiqh:
“Zay khitba mrlovermanlover?? Hal yu’tabar SariH am la?”
“Wa huwa kadhalik.”
Wa ba’dayn, I reflected on the fawa’id of keeping a growling mahram along when traveling for long periods of time.