Egypt—The People behind the Pamphlets


(Photo Source: Reuters)

Iridescent in its own little way, his smile shows off a set of– well, mainly yellow teeth. I’m not sure which have been colored by the turmeric in the rice his family eats and which are yellow by neglect. He looks strongly into my eyes, still. His little hands crease more and more every day across his fingers, a daily engraving gift from the job he works at the corner store.

He is not a picture on those brochures of smiling little kids: “Come visit Egypt, we have pyramids, camels, and everything to please you O wonderful white colonialist.”

Perhaps, we should dress our harem in clothes to better fit your Muslim fantasy. Forgive me, the boy’s mother walks ten miles to work everyday and carries sacks of rice to her family to feed her family the same way her ancestors carried bricks for the picturesque pyramids. She shouldn’t complain, I’ll tell her to wear her kohl, her black eyeliner to hide the tears that well up in the pyramids next to her eyes– she has to look good for the pamphlet pictures.

Abu Amr, her husband, is worried about his son. Abu Amr is a superintendent of sorts. The term superintendent would imply that he is perhaps superior to the tenants or respected for his efforts– but we don’t know polite lies in Egypt, so he is a Bawab. He called me on my phone once, the sound of his South Egyptian twang bombarded by sounds of bread line chaos. Bread prices have gone up again. He laughs and tells me that soon his family will miss eating bread as much as they miss eating chicken and meat. I can’t really laugh. I was eating hummus with soft, chewy pita. He hangs up after asking me for the 1000th time if I could get him a green card. It’s not Uno, I always joke back. And yes, us Egyptians love puns. I promise him that if he stops smoking, I’ll teach both his older kids English.

You see, as much as I am critical, I write this from the comfort of my home in America, where people make more money as hot dog mascots than doctors make in Egypt. Where people have nervous breakdowns over the whipped cream to cinnamon ratio in their drink. Where people sit and judge other countries for their child labor, unaware of their realities. While not realizing that until 1938 you could work as a child. Even though I want the amenities of America for Abu Amr and his family, I hate those who sit in air conditioned high-rise NYC buildings and type up fodder about how barbaric they are. I hate nouveau tourists, minions of a colonialist mentality, fuelled by centuries of science (like the creation of race), literature (like Othello, the dark, dumb, angry Moor), and missionary schools set up across not-English places to educate the heathen. So it’s hard to love this country. Still, God Bless America for blessing the rest of us.

-Bara Elhag



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