Part 14

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

The move back to my grandmother’s apartment was a last minute decision. We had more furniture then and it was a much more comfortable living situation. Uncle M and his family moved to live in the fourth apartment beneath ours. Uncle A and his wife, Aunt N, had moved to the United States leaving that apartment free. It was said that they moved because Aunt N did not feel comfortable in Egypt and could not adapt. Aunt H, Uncle M’s wife, thought I was of age to help with food preparation and so I did. Cousin F and I handled smaller tasks while my mother, Aunt H, and her older daughter took care of the major steps.

The main meal in Egypt is lunch while breakfast and dinner are smaller affairs with not as much work put into them. People would go home if they could to have lunch, after which, they would have their daily nap then head back to work. The women who did not work in the family would spend most of the morning and afternoon preparing and cooking lunch.

Bread would be bought in the morning fresh from the local bakery which was basically just a bricked enclosure surrounding a large oven. Meat would be bought from the impromptu farmer’s market that consisted of local farmers from the surrounding area squatting on the main street. The animals are held in cages made of dried shaved sugarcane and it’s a spectacle to look at for those not accustomed to seeing their food alive prior to eating. Chickens, pigeons, guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, and sometimes Turkeys kept tame with thin rope. You would buy them live and kill them at home or, if you had money, see which ones would kill them for you for a fee. Vegetables, rice, spices, sugarcane, fresh cheese, flour, eggs, nuts, and fruit are common fare on the street too. Either in large sugarcane baskets, large reed baskets, large metal pans, or on wooden carts pulled by donkeys or horses. Fresh yogurt, fresh milk, fresh molasses, butter, dried processed pasta, dried apricot paste sheets, oil, tomato paste, tea, and candy could be bought from almost any corner store. Beef and lamb, when they had it, had to be bought from the local butcher’s shop. Only the rich bought them live and had them slaughtered by butchers for hire.

The milk had to be boiled before use, the rice had to be meticulously picked through to find any rocks then rinsed repeatedly with water to clean off the dirt and excess starch, and the flour shifted several times to catch anything that may be in it. There is a leafy vegetable called jew’s mallow in English that had to be minced with a rounded blade that had handles on a wooden cutting board before being cooked. Garlic and onions had to be peeled and cut not by choice, but by necessity. We had to grind most of our spices and make our own blends using a pestle and mortar. Most of the ingredients were bought the day of the meal after the head female of the household chose what the menu would be.

It was a labor intensive process  and the entire family sat around a wooden or plastic low round table covered with old newspaper. Each side of the table shared a large plate or bowl of the food served while the main dish sat in the middle of the table in a pot. Most of the time, one of the men of the house would divide the meat between family members, but sometimes the woman would. Although Aunt H herself worked at an electronic company, she would go home a little early to help prepare lunch.

We still played outside and, like a typical child, I would try to avoid having my younger siblings tag along. That changed quickly over time and I took it upon myself to protect them. A few months later, my father had decided that it was time for him to start his own business in Cairo. We made preparations to move there soon after he bought an apartment and set-up the business.

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