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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Hit of Crack for Egypt

Suzanne kissed Mohammed and she and Nazif waved their flags. I had been going nuts on the reload button, forced to follow the game on Filgoal.com because we don’t get the terrestrial stations or ART at home in Alex. Extra time had neared its end and I couldn’t bear not seeing the action so I threw on a jacket and ran to the supermarket downstairs. As I approached I heard noise and saw the cashier and an older patron do arthritic jumping-jacks in the middle of the shop, their eyes fixed to the TV screen perched atop the Fairuz fridge, the cashier shouting “Khalas khelset! Khelset keda khalas!” (It’s over, it’s all over!) I lept in and looked to the screen, only to see Abo Treika dash past the goal, his arms spread in jubilation, a mild roar emanating from inside the TV and from everywhere around us.
The cameras switched to a cascading choppy sea of red, black and white, the throngs at the stadium writhing, leaping and waving in celebration. “Da rez2 el nas el ghalaaba dol elli raa7o el stad… 3ashan mayrawwa7oosh ma2horeen.” (This is all the bounty of those poor folk who went to the stadium, so they wouldn’t go home sad.)
The old man responded “Ya 3am dol khanafes Masr, dil taskara bi toltomeet geneih. El naas barra fil shaware3. Di gamaheer sakka ya raagel.” (What are you talking about? These are Egypt’s hippie-kids/brats, the tickets cost 300 pounds. The people are out on the streets, not in there. These fans suck.)
A middle-aged woman entered the shop; she might have been a maid or a bawwab’s wife, judging by her dress and demeanor. She was holding a pack of Chipsy, asking the cashier whether it was spicy, “7arraa2 da? Ma2darsh akhod 7arraa2. 3andak eih mish 7arraa2? Ma2darsh akol ay 7aga 7arra2a…” She settled on a packet and paid and as she walked out she asked “3amalna eih?” (How did we do?). “Kesebna,” said the cashier (we won). “El 7amdullah,” she replied, “wel sood kesbo 7aga?” (and did the blacks win anything?). “No,” said the cashier. “El 7amdolla ya Rab,” she said, walking off (praise be to God).
I looked at the cashier who was now back behind the counter and he chuckled. The old man was watching the TV, following the celebrations taking place on and around the pitch. It was Al Jazeera and they were interviewing Abo Treika and a teary-eyed assistant coach who’d carried the African cup as a player many years ago. The cashier amusedly said ‘did you hear what she said, she asked if the blacks won anything and when I told her no she say el 7amdollah ya Rab.’ The old man shook his head once and kept his eyes on the TV while the cashier leaned over to pick up a mobile that had just beeped with a message alert.
“Mobinil ba3etlak resaala. Bet2ool mabrook lemasr,” he said, with an ain’t-that-nice but also a if-it-isn't-frickin-Mobinil smirk (Mobinil sent you a message, it says Congratulations Egypt). “Rodd 3aleih we2ollo Allah yebarek feek. We kheff 3aleina fel 7esaab shwayya.” (Reply and tell him congratulations indeed… and tell him to go easy on us with the bills.”
I was resting on the counter, scribbling dialogue into a little notebook with the cashier’s pen. “Inta btekteb el natayeg?” he asked (are you writing the results?). I wasn’t, and I wasn’t prepared enough to lie or play along, so I said a simple no, finished writing the sentence and put away the notebook. I couldn’t just tell him that I’d been recording snippets of conversation, that I was writing about him. I pointed to the TV and mentioned how funny it was that Egyptians were celebrating everywhere. (Al Jazeera had three little windows onscreen with live feeds of street scenes from Cairo, Doha and Alex.) The cashier nodded, concurring with a toneless “aah”. It was clear from the slight pinch of his lower eyelids that he was unconvinced by my words and bit jarred. Nobody likes a voyeur, but the severely afflicted rarely care. Shame is a better deterrent.
Presence, as in feeling really present, is generally a good thing. Presence is lucidity, connectedness, “eternity in an instant” and an overall freshness of being. The football these past two weeks made me feel very present on more than one occasion. Or, more precisely, it made for a present-ness outside of me that I saw, felt and eventually connected to. It was like the entire country had come out for a debutantes’ ball, like everyone had crawled out of their little dens and stepped wholly into something that was wholly public, and that this new public realm—the stadium, the forecasting, the gossip, the flag and hat sellers, the TV ads, the merchandising and the names and faces of our players—belonged to everyone and was knowable to everyone. We were all somewhere together, somewhere new, somewhere exciting and glorious, and then we won. And as we nurse the throats that we scoured with all the chanting and cheering and honking and waving, there remains an unsatisfactory aftertaste of proverbial wafers.
Any occasion to congratulate strangers is nice. But what does it mean to congratulate, and why are we so happy? Our team isn’t really that good, at the end of the day. Granted, they truly did work hard and for that they deserve much praise indeed. But what does that have to do with us, the Egyptians? We haven’t actually earned much; it could have been any other team, any one of the many teams that played better than we did. But there is no justice in football, especially when the refereeing is such shit as was the case in this tournament. Our joy does not match our ‘achievement’. Instead, it stands on a crust-like title(s)—Winner of the African Cup, Guardian Uncle of Arabia, Land of the Pharaohs. Of course, loving and getting excited for one’s team is integral to football, and I, for one, totally relate to that. But is it not tragic, the hollowness of this rampant national joy? This is to say nothing of the knee-jerk (situational) appreciation for the president and for all things State, or of the note-worthy, if not all-out embarrassing contrast between our own painted-cheek, flag-waving, co-ed mobs and those of Lebanon’s cedar revolution. Would so many Egyptians speak out together with such vigor for such a cause as justice or democracy? Because only then would this sweet break from the shittiness of things be truly welcome. Till then, we would do well to confront ourselves politely and let our disapproval simmer. Excuse this. Who am I kidding? Doom is nigh and salvation lies in the details, of which there are plenty. Forget Us for now, wa a3oozobelLah men kelmet Me.

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