Archive for the ‘Another World’ Category

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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Part 8

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

The pretense for our journey to Egypt was a lie, like many things turned out to be. Learning Arabic was something I was not particularly good at and that frustrated my father. He told me one day when we were arguing about the move that the reason for it was because of my inability to learn the language. We held a huge garage sale and sold everything we had to fund the move. Looking for buyers of the house was a long ordeal that I didn’t particularly enjoy.

My rebellion came out in odd ways like the time I used a permanent marker to write every vulgar word I knew on my white sneakers. Normally, that wouldn’t of gotten me in trouble, but I happened to be wearing the sneakers when a buyer came by to see the house. My mother didn’t notice what I was wearing until the prospective buyer left. In a fit of rage, she broke two wooden spoons on me for it and I was sent to my father to ride around with him looking for buyers of his old van. It wasn’t easy to do, the ride or the sale, since the inside was completely stripped down. The ride was a long and bumpy one so he got me a bucket to sit on eventually. Vulgar sneakers and all, being lectured along the way, until we found someone willing to take the van off our hands.

Our eventual buyer for the house was a Jamaican family of four. Packing was quick and the only memorable part was the taxi ride to the airport because of how boring it was. Our destination was Cairo and, from there, a then small town in the Menofia Governorate called Shabeen El Kom. It’s about a two hour drive in small buses or vans filled to the brim with passengers. These vehicles sit waiting in droves at locally designated stations for people and each have, most of the time, a guy that walks around reeling people in to board based on their destinations. Some of the stations are official and some are informal gatherings that everyone happens to know about. Either before, or when seated, you give your exact destination and fare money to the driver or the person that reeled you in. It’s always a given that you can haggle your way out of a pricey fare, but in the rare event of them not budging, you have no other choice aside from leaving. Chances are that you can find someone who is willing to work on the price with you if you choose to leave. If not, you have to wait awhile for a returning vehicle.

Legend has it that my grandfather was one of the first people to build a building more than two to three stories tall in the town. Standing five stories tall, plus the roof, it towered over most buildings in the old sector of town. After my grandfather’s death when my father was a teenager, my grandmother inherited the property. The first two floors have been rented out for decades, and still are, to tenants who have not seen a raise in rent since the day they moved in. The third floor was where my grandmother lived and the fourth floor was where one of my uncles lived. That left us the fifth floor.

A new world and new family. Our lives of seclusion was personally deepened and socially broken all in one move.