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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fuul on Safeya Zaghloul

I made my way home early on the morning of the 3rd, having been up for a good day and half trying to meet deadlines (NOT after-after-after-partying as some clever souls might infer). Exhausted and freezing to the point of misery I found a parking spot far from my building and walked through the throngs of civil servants making their way to work. I needed to eat but could bare neither the cold nor my too-heavy laptop bag much longer. I realised, though, that the special fuul place I always miss would be open. It would be good to get some food, especially fuul with zeit 7aar (linseed oil) and shatta (chilli powder).

I walked over and the little shop was buzzing and I dreaded having to wait so I just shouted my order repeatedly at one of the two guys behind the counter. He prepared a little dish and held it out towards me. I said 'what, me?' and he said 'yes, zeit 7aar and shatta, no?'. I said 'yes' and he said 'well here you go'. I stepped outside and found a clear spot on the makeshift table (a large board on a barrel top) among the empty plates, half-eaten onions, pickles and bits of bread. I asked a fellow diner where the bread was and he pointed behind me, to a palm-wood lattice on the sidewalk heaped with fresh baladi bread. I reached down and the first one I picked was warm and soft. I ate with gusto, reflecting on the significance of a person's fuul preference as I watched others bring their fresh aluminum bowls. The nice thing about such eateries is you get to see how everyone likes their dish: chilli or no, lemon or no, which oil, how much salt, how much tehina, whether they mash the beans, what they do with the salad, etc. Regardless of what a person's preference 'means', merely noting the particular tastes of strangers is somehow pleasantly intimate.

My eyes fixed on the eating hand of my neighbour to the left. His thumbnail was all dark and funky-looking. Being a connoisseur and frequenter of juice shops I remembered the disconcerting waterlogged (at best) look of the fingernails of juice professionals and wondered how people's nails get so unhealthy. Just then the man looked up and shook his head and said "homma el masreyeen keda: yeb2a oddamhom keteer weyet7asweko wemaye3gebhomsh 7aga, welamma mayeb2oosh la2yeen teshofhom yaklo ay 7aga oddamhom. bos wennabi, el 3eish da kollo zay el foll wallahi, zay foll, lessa tale3, we bos 3ammaleen yefa33aso weyrammo fee ezzay... mafeesh fayda..." (Its just like Egyptians to do this: when there's plenty they get all finicky and when things are scare you'll see them eat whatever crap they can find; just look, all this bread, i swear it's fine, it just left the oven, totally fine bread, and here they are poking at the loaves and tossing them around. There's no hope...) I tried to tell him it's ok, with a but-of-course-life-sucks/ the-sooner-there's-patience-the-better approach. He didn't respond and I wished him a happy meal and went back inside to pay.

It was still really crowded and there were two profoundly archetypal mowazzafat (civil servants) sparring , each unwaveringly insitent on footing their 2-pound bill. A colourful looking old man with a big beard and embroidered upright ta2eyya (scullcap) milled around the patrons as if waiting for his order and when he called to the fuul guy the guy responded "emshi ghoor men hena ya 3ammena, we khalli feloosak di" and threw his 5 pound note back at him (get the hell out of here old man, and keep your money). Just then I heard muffled screechy exclamations coming from deep within the snug mob to my left. I poked my head in and saw a petite cherub-faced white-haired mute protesting to a much taller man behind him. Seeing this, the fuul guy reached over the counter and gently knocked the mute's head, like he was knocking on a door. He turned around with a look of absolute incredulity and rage, only for the fuul guy to sate him with a "shhhhh!", gesturing the same and adding "matza3a2sh, seebak menhom we khaleek ma3aya. olli 3ayez eh." (Don't shout, forget about them, just stick with me. Now tell me what you want.)


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