13 Ramadan 1440
True to her word, Tant Faw returned early morning the next day to see me.
When I walked out the building with her, it was the first time I saw Cairo in daylight — awake, alive, hustling.
Husayn Hegazi Street, which was quiet and tranquil the night before, had cars and carts taking turns honking and ringing bells as they moved alongside pedestrians walking around them. The shops lining the street that were closed and locked up the previous night when I had arrived were now open with people moving in, moving out, forming lines, breaking them.
Facing the street, Tant Faw told me, We will walk to AUC now. I will show you how.
And she did.
She walked with a limp, so her pace was slow but steady. I walked with her, and in my mind, she held my hand — but it could be that she only did so figuratively.
It turns out the American University of Cairo — the original Tahrir campus — was about a 10 to 15 minute stroll from where we were standing.
Tant Faw mentioned when she learned I was coming to Cairo to study that she hoped I would be able to live somewhere that was in walking distance of the university.
I had the same hope.
During that morning with Tant Faw, it had never occurred to me that it was going to be the first of many mornings I would walk up and down a bustling Husayn Hegazi Street, make a right once I reached Qasr al-Ayni, and continue all the way past Maglis al-Sha’b towards Tahrir Square until I reached the AUC campus. It had not occurred to me that where I slept the night before was going to be my home for the next two academic years. I was still unsure about whose home I had slept in and how they were related to Tant Faw. I was not sure if my being there was a temporary arrangement until I had found a place to live like my other colleagues in the program.
That morning, we walked past the shops where I would later regularly drop by to buy my phone cards, water, chipsies, and endome noodles (mostly curry flavored).
When we could see the AUC gates, Tant Faw stopped and informed me, Now we walk back to the apartment. I will show you how.
I was a little confused about why we didn’t just continue but followed Tant Faw’s lead.
She turned around to walk along the exact path we came from back to the apartment building on Husayn Hegazi Street.
Once we reached the building where we had started, Tant Faw said, Now, you show me how to go to AUC.
I realized she was teaching me and that this was my first lesson in Cairo. She was a good teacher — and I was a diligent student who knew how to follow directions.
The second time around, I led the way walking up Husayn Hegazi, along Qasr al-Ayni, all the way to campus.
Again, after we could see the AUC gates, Tant Faw said, Now show me how to go back.
I did again as I was told. For a second time, we returned to Husayn Hegazi along the same path we took to get to AUC.
Tant Faw was satisfied. She then said we should return to AUC.
So for a third and final time, we walked back to AUC together. Only this time, we entered the gates.
After Tant Faw inquired where I should go to register and I mentioned I was a CASA Fellow, I was directed upstairs to an office where I would be received by administrators who would help me get my student ID card and walk me through what I needed to do next.
Tant Faw was satisfied. She knew I was at the right place. She knew I would be taken care of. She knew I knew how to walk to AUC and back to the apartment where I had slept the night before and which would eventually become my home for two academic years and that I wouldn’t get lost on my own on the first day. She must have asked herself if she fulfilled whatever promise she had made regarding me and had faith I would be okay.
I imagine Tant Faw looked at my face a few times in order to read and decipher my emotions. It was a gesture at least three other Egyptian friends and mentors I later met would also do — and they were often, although not always, right.
And after promising she would come by in the evening to see me again — which she subsequently did every evening of my first week — she left.
(Day 12, I’m with her)