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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Reveries of a Fatalist

The old man flipped one floating ta’meyya patty after another, and when he finished he threw his pincers to the side of the frying station with a loud clang. He started humming and turned to the young man beside me, a neighbor no doubt who was waiting like me with an empty paper cone in one hand and a bag of hot fuul in the other. The old man motioned comically with his hand like Um Kulthoum, his eyebrows contorting for added effect. He then leaned back, arms flailing like a drunk belly-dancer, singing “Mabalash netkallim fil maady/ Dal maady da kan kollo geraa7…”*

“La Ilaha Illa Lah…matkhallasna ya 3am Yaseen,” said the young guy (for God’s sake, 3amm Yaseen, just get on with it).

The old man picked up his giant ladle-sieve and scooped a dozen patties from the dark crackling oil, carrying them over the counter behind him and depositing them by the sandwich man. He turned back and looked up to notice a smiling middle-aged passer-by coming his way. “Boss akheena da,” he shouted, (this guy, this guy right here,) pointing to the young man, “by2olli La Ilaha Illa lLah!” The visitor chuckled and threw the young man a bemused look.

“Wana3mellak eh ya 3amm Yaseen, manta mokhak fawwett khalaas,” the young guy replied (you’re losing it already, 3amm Yaseen, so don’t be giving me shit).

The old man turned to me, likely drawn by my presumptuously friendly smirk, “da K— omaha!” he snapped, before turning back to the young guy, his eyelids droopy and mouth still agape with the force of ‘omaha’. “K— om el donya di yabni…inta btitkallim f eh?!” (Fuck it, son... to hell with it all…what are you on about!”

The young guy grinned while the old man gave his friend a cool know-what-I'm-saying glance. The other man frowned like a clown, drew a large arc with his hand pointed like a pistol, and poked an assertive column of air hard into the ground, his pistol hand coming back up like a question mark: “taaaab3an yabni,” he said (of course, kid), eyes bulging, “we tedeeeeha bel bolgha 3ala dmagh-ha kamaan” (and smack it with a slipper on its frickin head, too) and then he mimed a vigorous smacking of some short being with a shoe from up high.

3amm Yaseen was back on the ta3meyya, swiping lime-green blobs of batter from a big bowl and tossing them into the hot oil, one after the other, his whole body gyrating with his arm’s back-and-forth. “Boss yabni,” he said (look, son,), “ana lamma dafant abooya tle3t ba3deeha 3al beit wetfaragt 3ala felm,” (when I laid my father to rest I went home afterwards and watched a movie). He then turned to me and added, looking wonderstruck and humbled at the same time, “we tle3t fo2 el dolaab,” (and I climbed on top of the cupboard).

“Tle3t fo2 el dulaab?” I asked, not quite satisfyed with the image of him curled into a ball, perched atop his cupboard grieving. I was, however, totally ready to accept the fact, but still thought it best to confirm what I’d heard.

“Aywa tle3t fo2 el dulaab,” said 3amm Yaseen, his eyes fixed on the froth of boiling oil kicked up by the new batch of ta'meyya.

“Mish fahim…ya3ni eh tle3t fo2 el dulab?” (I don’t understand, what do you mean you climbed on top of the cupboard?)

He looked to his friend and laughed, “maye3rafsh ya3ni eh tle3t fo2 el dulaab,” (he doesn’t know what ‘climb on top of the cupboard’ means), and he looked back at me, adding, “lamma tetgawwiz 7ate3raf,” (you’ll know when you get married). He laughed again as he threw his ladle-sieve onto the floating patties, sinking them deep into the oil. He lifted it, bounced it once against the edge of the pot to clear it of excess oil, and threw it noisily onto the aluminum counter beside him.

Eyebrows raised, I responded in the affirmative: “tle3t fo2 el dulaaaaab...”

Aaaaaywa,” he said, nodding with a now-we’re-talking grin. The young guy beside me seemed neither interested nor perturbed.

“Ah wallaahi, bakallemak gadd,” he continued, addressing his friend (I swear, man, seriously), “da 7atta M7amma 'Braheem geh w khabbat 3aleyya w2oltelo ‘emshi ana fo2 el dolaab’. 2alli ‘ya ragil 7araam 3aleik dana gayy ba2addi l-waagib, gayy a3azzeek.’ Oltelo ‘motshakereen awi bas ana mish 3ayez ashoof 7ad, ana fo2 el dolaab.’ Ah wallaahi.” (You know, even Mohammed Ibrahim passed by and I told him ‘go away I’m on top of the cupboard’. He said ‘come on, man, I came here to pay my respects’. I said ‘we thank you very much but I don’t want to see anyone, I’m on top of the cupboard.’ I swear, man.”

The ta'meyya was ready and 3amm Yaseen scooped it out and tossed it into the round, perforated aluminum tray. He took a deep breath, exhaled quick and closed his eyes. “Ha... 3ayez bekaam?” (Ok... how many do you want?)

*From a popular old Amr Diab song

Agouza Rooftops #2

Friday, November 25, 2005

Downtown Hints of Mortality

The other day I was walking up Talaat Harb mid-morning when I caught this scent, a very sweet, early nineties-smelling cologne, lots of it. I quickly determined the source--a middle-aged man in a suit, walking briskly before me and carrying a gift-wrapped dessert-platter (permed ribbons and the works). The sun shone and the air was cool and I inhaled for as long as I could, overwhelmed by the ecstasy of it all. I felt alive and followed him fast, darting through pedestrians and hanging desperately to his saccharine wake like the shameless fiend I am. Then out of nowhere I heard myself address him, 'you might die just like that and I'll still be here'. Of course, it followed that 'wow, I'm also going to die any moment, and this'll remain without me either'. I stopped walking and, just as randomly, stuck my head into an apartment building, scanning the aged and elegant brass plaques and nameplates that lined the entrance, marvelling from the bottom of my heart at my sheer insignificance.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Failed Tomato

Well-Lit Ear

Fake Sinai Bedouins

Agouza Rooftops #1

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Microprofile #5

"Stop your judgementalism man... open your eyes... khaleek fresh... kollena different... bas inshallah kollena peace..."

- Karim B.
Former successful thespian and submersible sewage-pump merchant; currently interned at a self-defense school in China

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dionysus in Qena

A bell rings deep and the sound of shuffling feet trickles in through a broken-glass window. They charge the door and some dig their heels loitering, setting up. A fleeing hooded wild-eyed boy collides with carried bags and warm beige aprons at the door and bounces back indifferent, howling with joy through desks and fallen chairs, he is agile and indiscriminate like a kicked rubber ball. The mass by the door thins and the boy shoots out into the cold kicked-dust air.

A yard strewn with milling fiends, an ever-morphing matrix of standing-room, room for fighting and running and playing anything with anything. Running nowhere at speed is a joy in itself and many run, smiling, alone. Alone like the docile wanderers, comb-haired doe-eyed retainers of common sense, their bags on their backs they walk in the sun nibbling at thin-cheese tongues of bread, delighting in the crystalline timbre of the gibberish they dribble at prayer-volume, inching entranced along shaded walls, skipping and striding half-cautious through the mire, its shouts and screams.

In corners boys gyrate snatching prize empty bottles and sharp splintery sticks, they are rackets and batons and swords and clubs, and pacifiers for the stupefied when consciousness recoils. They thumb their noses at the nightmares of adults while their deference to the laws of other worlds keeps the swinging bottles from noses and brick walls and the sharp ends from their eyes.

A boy stands pondering engaged, on his shoulder a small mate perched like a wooden beam huffing protest. They are blindsided by a chuckling deliberate hot-limbed tumbler who tumbles on, still fiending for marrow, his trip on this day. Slapstick violence and curious torment, colored sugars sticking teeth and tempering the frenzy. A boy crashes, shoulder and temple to the ground, a kicked rock stopped before the goal.

Girls giggle crammed in a breezy dim corner like ducks, one lunges to whack a dissenter with love, come here. The loner turns her eyes shooting daggers, nyeh nyeh nyeh. She is punished. A circle is drawn with her steps, another girl its center and outstretched arms the diameter hands locked on the clever girl's dress, they swing her round till vengeance is had. Enemies and brethren are one, and crying not an issue. Compassion abounds. Cry alone and they might find you and avenge your pain, anyone.

A bell rings and men with long sticks billow, swoop and strike, sweeping chatter from the yard and into spent-air holes, but one or two remain. Kicking a ball into the calm. Running, drinking Fanta.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Microprofile This

- Gayyash A.
Half-hearted blogger

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I am Donkey

I was near the back gate of the Balloon Theater in Agouza, on a narrow street that leads onto Gam’et el Dowal, when I came face to face with a donkey-drawn cart that had turned off of Gam’et el Dowal and onto the narrow street. Yaadi-n-neela, I veered to the right and prepared to smile at the ‘arbagy as he passed me by. He had a woman and small child seated next to him and there was something behind them on the cart but I couldn’t tell what. Looked like a bunch of empty sacks.

The guy approached with the reins on his donkey all slack and when my eyes shifted to his cargo I saw what appeared to be testicles and a tail, a donkey’s tail. Damn. Horizontal donkey, could only mean one thing, the National Circus a block away, lions. When I used to live nearby I would often see cartloads of bloody bones, donkey-sized bones, leaving the back gate of the circus grounds. And from my balcony I could see the small pen in the corner of the grounds where there were always a few donkeys, taking it easy, eating, milling about in the shade. At night and at dawn you would hear lions roar. Guests would always freak out. It was great.

Years ago my father had the honor of meeting the man behind Qaryet el Asad, Lion’s Village, that restaurant with the massive tower advertising specialty meats on the Cairo-Alex desert road about 60 kilometers from Alex. His story with lions started when he worked in his youth at a circus in Mansoura. My father asked him what they fed the lions, and what he fed his own at the Village. “7emeer kasr ya doktor, a7san 7aaga” (‘defective’ donkeys). Apparently, there are men who collect old, sick and injured donkeys from around the Delta and sell them to the region’s circuses. He said they cost about 20 pounds each. Damaged horses, about 40 pounds. (This was in 2000 so they probably cost more these days.) He also said that the lions didn’t get their feed live, that it had to be butchered first by circus employees.

The donkey’s hips were bony and chafed; it looked emaciated all over. I shivered when I wondered if it was already dead. It might have been, it had a funny color, lots of purple stains, it was probably that variant of microchrome. Poor beast must have been covered in sores by the time his owner threw in the towel.

My car inching forward, I arrived at the donkey’s face and braced myself for the sight of closed eyes, maybe a long tongue hanging from the side of a mouth. I looked at the eyes and the donkey looked back and blinked several times. Big beautiful ebony glass eyes and quick blinks bursting with vitality. With no body to serve, the donkey’s great spirit seemed distilled and fully present in that gaze. I’d never before seen a donkey with such a look of concern. In my mind I heard it speak: “eih ya 3amm, da,” (what the hell, man).

Friday, November 04, 2005

Microprofile #4

"Bedengan qua mesa2a3a...it's...SO good."

- Ahmed A.
Exiled, enraptured Cairene built for quieter, less modern times; one of the greatest phenomenologists to come out of Dokki