Tant Faw

6 Ramadan 1440

I didn’t attend my first or second masters graduation ceremonies. For the second one, I didn’t realize I could. For the first, I had to make a choice between attending a ceremony or being present for the very beginning of a fellowship program in Cairo for which I had studied hard to get admitted and felt so excited, honored, and grateful for my Arabic language professors when I did.

True to the nerd I was, I decided on missing graduation festivities so I didn’t have to miss any classes.

And true to the person my mother is, she already had made a connection in Cairo to make sure I was taken care of and not kidnapped, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked once I landed.

Because, if I’m honest, I am not the most street smart of her children.

My departure from Chicago was a rushed one. My flight was right after I had just finished my exams and submitted my MA thesis so I had little time to pack, little time to process the phase in my life I had just completed. My family came to my rescue from Florida to see me off and then move out my stuff from the apartment I had lived in for two years.

And then I had hours on the plane to think about what I had just done and where I was going.

Before I landed in Cairo, my mom told me I was to meet someone named Tant Faw, the aunt of my friend A—.

A— is an old friend who my mom and dad love and highly regard. My mom used to say she could tell A— comes from a wonderful family mostly because he would seek her out when he attended the mosque on Friday where she serves lunch and give her his salam. The Friday before I left the U.S., he happened to pray at the same mosque my parents attend. When he said salam to my mom, she jumped because she thought he was the answer to her prayers. She told him, most likely quite dramatically, You are Egyptian, right A—??? My daughter is going to Egypt. Please help her. You know Sahar. She doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t even know where she’s going to live.

He said my mom didn’t have to worry about a thing. He would take care of it. And then he told her about his aunt, Tant Faw, who would meet me at the airport.

So when I landed in Cairo for the first time ever, I met another student in the same program who was on the same flight at customs. We walked out together and saw a man holding a sign that said CASA — the name of our program. He told us he would be taking us to our hotel, so I told him, actually someone is supposed to be meeting me here.

Someone?

Yes.

He told me he couldn’t just leave me behind because he was supposed to pick up all the students. He asked who I was meeting and he would find her.

I said, Tant Faw.

Tant Faw??

Yes…I think that’s her name.

I realized it sounded suspect. He asked me for her “family name.” I pulled out the paper on which I had written her information down including a phone number and showed him. He told me to wait and walked out to the area where people were waiting for arrivals and started shouting,

Tant Faw! Tant Faw!

I could tell he was amused. He tried calling the number I gave him but couldn’t reach anyone.

He went back to the waiting area a second time. I watched him call out “Tant Faw!” again with no luck. I thought maybe I heard her name wrong.

When he returned, he said maybe it’s best if we went to the hotel and then I could meet her there. It then occurred to me — what if the airport is far from the city center? What if she’s here and travelled far only to not see me?

So I said — can we try one more time and if we don’t find her, I’ll come with you.

The third time, I walked out with him. I was wearing an embroidered blue and pink Bangladeshi tunic and a light pink headscarf and jeans. I thought maybe if she saw me, she might respond — even though we have never met. We both shouted, Tant Faw! Tant Faw!

And then, suddenly, I felt two arms reach out from the crowd of people waiting for arrivals, say my name, Sahar? Sahar? And then embrace and kiss me.

I looked at her face, and asked her, Tant Faw?

She said excitedly, Yes!

And then, Nawwarti masr! Welcome to Egypt! Ahlan ahlan! Munawwara!

I hugged her tightly. Other than another Chicago classmate who arrived on a different flight, I knew no one in the country except for this woman who was now somehow connected to my mother via my friend A—.

So she might as well be my mom.

At that point, the man who was sent to receive students spoke to her to ensure she was not some random, crazy person.

When he was satisfied — and he seemed to think I had found the most wonderful woman — he left me with her and the cab driver who was accompanying her and who appeared equally excited to see me.

(Day 5, guardian)

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