10 Ramadan 1440
After the cab driver loaded the trunk with my suitcases, I got in the car with Tant Faw and sat in the back seat.
I had no idea where we were going, but I was happy to be going somewhere — and I felt strangely safe. I only knew Modern Standard Arabic and very little Egyptian ammiyya, but I could tell Tant Faw was pleased with me. She thought I was cute and so very familiarly “Muslim;” I think I surprised her. She said something about my mom, habibti. She would look at my face and ask a few times if I was sure I wasn’t Egyptian.
We were on our way downtown to Tahrir Square. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I was right to think the airport could be far from the city center — where we were headed. As Tant Faw and I attempted to chat, with a mix of English and Arabic, the driver periodically turned around to chime in, Nawwarti Masr! Nawwarteena!
And Tant Faw would affirm, Munawwara! Welcome to Egypt!
Later, I would learn all sorts of flattering responses like “Allah yinawwar alayk” and “An-Nur nurik,” but at that moment, I could only muster up an excited “Shukran!”
Because I had never heard the phrase, I had no idea what it meant and why I was being addressed so effusively with what sounded like poetic language to my ears because my only point of reference to the words was Madina al-Munawwara. I had no idea that effusive, affectionate, dramatic language would quickly become my normal state of affairs.
As we approached the maydan, the roads were clear. It was late, there was little traffic, I was jet-lagged and hungry — and too shy and embarrassed to ask where I would eat and when I could sleep. At that moment, I had so many questions that I didn’t know how to ask in a polite way because I didn’t have the language skills.
I didn’t know if I was going home with Tant Faw — and in that case, I didn’t want to impose and be a burden on someone who had already done so much by revealing I was also tired and hungry.
I did manage to ask, Where are we going?
Tant Faw told me, I found you a family.
In my mind I thought, But you’re my family (kind of).
I also thought, Please don’t leave me …
We drove by the Mogamma and Mostafa Mahmoud Masjid — only I didn’t know that is what those buildings were called until several days and weeks later. At some point, we drove along the periphery of Maglis al-Sha’b and then pulled up to an apartment building. I can’t remember who emptied the trunk and brought up my bags, but I do remember walking into a dark hallway and up a dimly lit stair case.
When we reached the second floor, Tant Faw rang the bell and a short elderly woman opened the door to a dimly lit apartment where I met a towering elderly mustached-man in a galabiya and another elderly woman who I would learn was his sister.
I was in such a daze and so very tired, what happened next is very blurry. At some point, someone must have taken my bags to the bedroom I would sleep in and someone asked me to sit at the dinner table.
What I do clearly remember is that my first meal in Egypt, that evening, was spaghetti and steak milanesa with four elderly people — the married couple whose home I was in, the sister of the elderly man, and Tant Faw — about whom I knew nothing except that they watched me eat wondering how a pale pink hijab (from Syria), blue tunic (from Bangladesh), jeans (from Chicago) wearing, brown faced girl was an American. Like, straight from the United States, born and raised?
They also wondered, Are you sure she’s not Egyptian?
I learned to say often, Bangladeshi, aslan.
Somehow that made a little more sense.
After eating, I can’t remember what else happened. I’m sure I was shown the bathroom where I could wash up. I’m sure I was shown my bedroom where I’d eventually crash. I’m not sure if I changed my clothes when I did, although I do remember wearing fresh clothes in the morning. I’m not sure if I met the couple’s paraplegic son that evening or their lovely daughter who I would come to adore and who would visit quite often with her kids.
What I also do remember is that seventeen plus hours had passed, and I hadn’t called my family to let them know I had landed and that I was okay. They were on my mind. I needed to get a phone.
I also remember, after Tant Faw informed me that she would leave me for the night, the relief I felt when she said that she would return at 7:30 A.M. to take me to school and make sure I was properly registered — at the American University of Cairo.
(Day 9, family)