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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Sunday, January 15, 2006

El 3eed Far7a, Hei! Heiii!

(3 encounters with children, Wa2fa Monday, Slaughter Tuesday)

***

K and I were heading for Maadi on Monday around lunchtime when, after seeing the big billboard on the Moneeb bridge, we decided (like sheep) to hit Carrefour instead. That neither of us had been to that one was a good enough reason to cancel plans for a lavish lunch at Dragon House on road 9. So we went to Carrefour and had lousy oily food at the food court, bumped into our friend 3emeira (lapsed student of Japanese literature we'd met and partied with in Tokyo) and weaved in and out of shops, giggling as we poked at whatever products struck our fancy.

I was in the Adidas shop by the hat and cap rack trying on gloves when I noticed this little kid inching towards me. "Law sama7t...law sama7t..." (excuse me) he said feebly, like he was about to tell me he was lost. I looked at him, not quite sure whether to smile like I do with adults or to affect some cool maternal smirk instead. "Howwa fee T-shirt Reyal Madreed 3ala ma2aasi?" (Is there a Real Madrid jersey that's my size?)

In my mind I thought "howwa mabda2eyyan fil ghaaleb mafeesh..." (well there probably isn't...). This kid was tiny and it was funny imagining him try to modify one of those little team jerseys that have suction cups and stick to car windows. Awkward as I am, I responded with a gentle "bas ana mish bashtaghal hena," (but I don't work here), only to be met with extreme stillness and a look of suspended despair. "Istanna," I said (wait), and looked up. There was a young guy running across the shop without lifting his feet from the ground, swinging a shoe-box back and forth as he ran. "Law sama7t!" I called out, and when the guy looked over I pointed to the kid then turned to the kid and told him "roo7 es2al da" (go ask that guy).

The kid walked over and stood beside the guy who was now noisily disemboweling a fresh shoe for a seated middle-aged woman. Ignored, the kid persited, "Law sama7t, fee T-shirt Reyal Madreed 3ala ma2aasi?" Gada3 yala, ew3a tseebo.

***

Driving back to Haram with K, we took a left off of 'Ba7r el A3zam and dove into 3omraneyya. There were few cars and we were driving slow. Pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes and animals littered the way as usual and there was no rush. We approached the flyover that would take us to Ter3et el 3omraneyya and about twenty meters before it there were three small scruffy-looking girls on the left side of the road waiting to cross. They looked like they were six or seven but of course they could have been fifteen, what with the malnutrition thing.

Their steps faltered as we slowed to a smooth halt. They began to cross and the one nearest to us was looking at me and shaking her hand back and forth in my direction, fingertips and thumb all touching, making a tulip shape, as if gesturing 'wait'. I could see that she was saying "ya kalb" (you dog) and when I rolled down my window I heard as much. She walked with aggressive slowness, waving her hand as she continued, "ya kalb ya ebn el kalb ya 7ayawaan ya ebn el kalb..." (you piece of shit son of a bitch animal son of a bitch...)

K was cracking up and I was enraged. I frantically rolled down my window and stuck my mouth out, shouting "beteshtemi leih ya 7ayawaana ya m3afenna ya sghannan-anti?!" (why are you swearing you little piece of shit?) She looked back and gave a snarling frowning tongue-out grimace and, with arms horizontal bellydancer-style, she shook her hips once, twice, before giving me her back, no doubt sharing with her friends another "ebn el kalb" and more obscenities.

***

K's brother (soon to be microprofiled) has a flat in the same building where K lives with his mother on Fatma Roushdy street (it connects Share3 el Haram to Khatem el Morsaleen). The flat had done well over the years, serving as a Shabab R&R Center par excellence, with its Ping-Pong table, fridge, liveable rooms, DVD player, kicking sound system and a key-locked little cupboard always rich with various nice things. I'd been bumming there for a longish while before I (recently) moved to my current place and I was back for Sunday and Monday night because my flat was being fumigated.

The virtuous teet teet of N's SMS had me up at 0650, Tuesday morning. I washed, prayed, had a yoghurt, took some chest medicine and donned my scarf and shoes before heading for the neighborhood mosque nearby. I stepped out of the flat and found a groggy-looking 5 year old (middle class...probably better fed...easier age estimation) standing bundled up beside the elevator door. I said "Koll sana winta tayyeb". His response was slurred and looked painful. A tall, big-headed moustachioed man (presumably the kid's father) emerged from the flat at the other end of the hall. I said "Saba7 el kheir, koll sana w 7adretak tayyeb," (good morning, happy Eid). He said "3aleikom el salam wa ra7matullah, koll sana winta tayyeb". Rabbena yehdeeni, I thought to myself. We descended in silence.

After the prayer I walked back to the building and decided to take the stairs. When I got to my floor I found the little kid standing by the elevator again, this time looking much more animated. He was struggling with a toy gun and whimpered as he fiddled with it, all agitated. He turned to me and said "Law sama7t ya 3ammo momken te3ammarly el mosaddas?" (can you please load the gun for me?) I took the gun and pulled back the top part till I heard a click. It felt really good and for a second I wondered what would happen if I just ran off with the gun and played with it for a while and brought it back later. (There are/were kids who actually do that.)

I handed back the loaded gun and the kid let out a gurgly sinister chuckle that seem to originate in his notably large gut. He raised his arm and pointed the pistol at my face and said "ana hamawwetak, pchew pchew pchew..." (I'm going to kill you, bang bang bang...) and stuck the gun-barrel to my chin with each pretend shot. Shit. I like guns when I hold them but really hate them when others do. I thought it was likely that some idiot had given this kid one of those plastic pellet-firing pistols for Eid and the prospect of his firing a pellet into my eye or my nostril was making me very uncomfortable. I pushed the gun away and said "la2 la2 balash t7ot el mosadas fwesh 7ad" (no no, don't point the gun at someone's face), not letting go of the gun till he desisted.

There was a moment of silence and before I could turn to put my key to the door, the kid looked up with droopy eyelids and a wide toothless smile and asked "Sallet-ha?" (Did you pray it?)
"Aah, Sallet-ha." (Yes, I prayed it)
"Gameela," he said (it's beautiful), shaking his head in a it's-really-something-isn't-it way.
"Aah, gameela tab3an," (Yes, it truly is)
"Bass khallooha za7ma," he added, squinting with nostalgic disapproval. (But they've let it get all crowded)
"Bas ana byethayya2li kanet dayman za7ma. Tab mal gom3a bteb2a za7ma bardo." (I think it's always been crowded...look at Friday prayers, they're always crowded.)
"Maho koll yom za7ma," he said, flicking his head in a to-hell-with-it gesture (every frickin day it's crowded), "welly byeshtaghal byeshtaghal, welly bya3mel bya3mel, wahei mashya..." (and whoever's working works and whoever's doing does, and I guess it just goes on..."

The kid spoke with the kind of aloofness and muffled disgust one might expect of very old and very disgruntled cab drivers in very rickety greasy cabs, not a relatively affluent young child on the first day of Eid. Also his gestures were eerily in sync with his words. I didn't quite know how to respond and couldn't at that moment forsee any benefit in standing there and talking to this kid. It could only get weirder. I nodded "Aah, aah," smilingly said Kol sana wenta tayyeb, and turned away to let myself into the flat. I didn't look out the peep-hole once inside, but I should have.

Setting aside the possibility of genius or sainthood, I'd say the kid didn't actually genuinely sense an ultimate sadness of things, contrary to what his words implied. It is a given rule of thumb for adults to mind their language and their mannerisms around young children. Of course, what the kid said wasn't rude or inappropriate as such, but his words, as well as the spirit with which he spoke them, seemed to come directly from adults. How much of that shit had he been exposed to, to make him fluent as he was? Having a young cousin myself, I've also learned about the dangers of giving young kids free access to fuckin tamseleyyat (TV soaps). Now those things are very much sources of rudeness and inappropriateness, as such (the tamseleyyat). Could it be that the presence of a stranger (me) is what triggered the kid's affectation? Or is he one of many compulsive little talk-the-talkers? There was this show on TV the year before last in Ramadan called 3aalam Doreid where the Syrian comedian Doreid La7am would interview these young children from different Arab countries. There was this one Egyptian girl who was, well, moseeba, radda7a, fedee7a, m3allema (catty and gangster-like). Aside from the things she actual revealed about herself and her family, her demeanor was incredible, in a bad way that is. Imagine Sherihan in her meanest, most coquettish role. This girl talked something like that.

Critics of schooling ask: does a child really have more to learn by spending half his day in a room with 20 (let alone 100... 3amaar ya Masr) of his peers than he does out in society where he engages with children as well as adults, adolescents and people of old age in a variety of situations? When he/she is removed from the world of adults in this way (school), and comes to see adults primarily as wielders of power, what does this do to his/her understanding of himself as an adult-in-the-making, as something he already is and needn't pretend to be? Critics also hold that contemporary schooling practices delay maturity. (Consider the eminent leaders and thinkers of pre-modern times and note the ages at which they began doing things of value...pick just about anyone ...and contrast that to the tepid existential crises of 22 year-old university graduates today...'who am I? what do I like? what am I good at? what is my role in the world?...tfoo!). I shudder to think of kids who've gotten so good at parroting the resolve of adulthood that they end up missing the very process that confers it. Imagine pandemic immaturity. Wilkam Wilkam.

10 Comments:

  • that was really good and funny, putting in mind that this the first time I read you or any body for that matter. I m new in this blogging stuff and I started to enjoy it. keep me posted.

    By Blogger nmoustafa, at Mon Jan 16, 01:43:00 PM GMT+2  

  • hi nmoustafa. thanks for your comment. and welcome to the blogosphere. you might already know this but if you go to manalaa.net, there are bars on the right hand side of the page that show that latest posts on (registered) egyptian blogs. it's a good way of following who's blogging about what. happy cruising.

    By Blogger Gayyash, at Mon Jan 16, 02:04:00 PM GMT+2  

  • He said my teets are virtous...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 16, 11:45:00 PM GMT+2  

  • only because they got me up for eid prayers. otherwise they're just regular teets, man.

    By Blogger Gayyash, at Tue Jan 17, 12:18:00 AM GMT+2  

  • more of that last paragraph stuff man !
    quite good!

    By Blogger oyzz, at Tue Jan 17, 10:30:00 AM GMT+2  

  • I love the Ebn-el-kalb little girl. In real life, well, she deserves a real life, actually. In blogosphere life, she deserves to be the main character in a novel. An Ahmad al-Aydi novel, for instance. Or a Gayyash novel, even better. Your attention to details, your listening to people is admirable.

    By Anonymous Sakakini Pacha, at Sun Jan 22, 12:55:00 PM GMT+2  

  • S Pacha, thanks for stopping by and for your highly encouraging comment. checked out your blog and was disappointed to find that it's mostly french. more arabic posts for the non-francophiles please.

    By Blogger Gayyash, at Mon Jan 23, 03:54:00 PM GMT+2  

  • Non-francophile ? Does this mean "francophobic" ? Or do you mean "non-francophone" ?
    There's another post in Arabic, oct7, 2005. Though I'm not sure readers of Arabic would want to read anything of that sort...

    By Anonymous Sakakini Pacha, at Tue Jan 24, 12:28:00 PM GMT+2  

  • no, not francophobic at all. my misuse of the word. i meant non-francophone. i see what you mean about your arabic post. but i imagine blogosphere readers to be more laid back and open than most.

    By Blogger Gayyash, at Tue Jan 24, 12:43:00 PM GMT+2  

  • am engulfed in homesickness! which is really what i read ur blog for. i miss rude kids. i think the word "arch" is how books describe them.

    By Blogger forsoothsayer, at Tue Jan 24, 10:41:00 PM GMT+2  

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