Archive for the ‘Journey Back Home’ Category

Part 21

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

There was a small group of friends that I was part of at the mosque, but only because the girl that I considered to be my best friend was at the head of it. When I wasn’t hanging out with them, I would be listening to reggae on my tape player. Lessons were pretty boring when the Chinese boy left, so I would hide the headphones under my scarf while I listened to music in class. The dynamic of our little group was a bit odd. It was basically just us with a bunch of my friend’s groupies that would hang around. She was pretty and popular. I was the muscle whenever it was needed and the one that carried out secret operations that required sneaking into forbidden areas like the men’s section.  It turned out that my friend lived on the same block as me so excursions to the park happened more often.

Morning TV shows before school became an obsession for me at that time since my father got us cable for the Arabic channels. Captain Planet, my early childhood favorite, wasn’t around anymore so I had to make due with Toonami. Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were necessary for me to start my day right as time went on. The moment I found out that those shows were adaptations of comics, I had to read them. Comics had always been one of my secret obsessions and the only book that we took with us to Egypt was the “Death of Superman” comic. By the time we returned the US, the poor comic was beaten from overuse and I needed new material badly. It eventually got to the point where I rejected the TV shows because I found the comics to be superior story-wise. Not to mention the artwork that was completely different from anything I had been exposed to before. Trips to Barnes and Noble would be begged for and, when I found out about Amazon, it was game over. We didn’t have a car so public transportation to Barnes and Noble in Hoboken became a bit tedious with the little ones. Sponsored time using dial-up internet through AOL was my portal to a more convenient way of getting my fix.

Chores also became a part of my daily routine and the one that I hated the most was cleaning dishes. It was like pulling teeth for my mother to get me to do them. Our domestic bliss had its had moments, as to be expected of any household. Once, I had gathered up my siblings to play computer games with me and my father stormed in yelling at us to get off. He accused us of doing nothing but goof around and I asked him what we did wrong. My line of questioning got him angrier and I my own anger rose with every accusation he shot our way. I ended up yelling at him, saying that we didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment. He went and got the broom and started to hit my siblings with it so I grabbed the handle and refused to let go. We had a short tug of war while maintaining eye contact with each other. He eventually let go and walked away with a smirk on his face.

There was a night where he continued to hound me about my weight. He called me fat and mocked me about it while he laid in bed with my mother. She told him to stop at one point, but he told her to be quiet and continued. Trying to get her in on it. Looking back at it, it was his way of trying to push me to be lose some of it, but at the time it just made me more depressed. I cried myself to sleep that night while my anxieties about starting high school grew deeper.

High school scared me, but New Jersey started to feel more and more like home.

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Part 15

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Our leave to Cairo was also another easy move. My grandmother was sick, but still functional. We had developed a bond by the time it was time to leave, but knew we would see each other again. My Sudanese friend was moving back to Sudan around the same time we had to leave. The third member of the group would be left behind, but she handled the parting well. The three of us made sure to make our last time hanging out together special. We left all furniture and non-essentials packed up in boxes in our apartment on the other side of town.

The business that my father decided to pick up was a dry-cleaning service. The apartment that he landed us was in a twenty-one story building in the middle of Cairo located on the seventeenth floor. They enrolled me in the Saint Fatima private school which was in walking distance from where we lived. Outside of my only friend at school, Basma, I had no friends. My days were spent at home or running errands for my mother. The freedom that I had in Shabeen El-Kom was taken away from me because my parents were scared of the rampant amount of child abductions happening on the streets of Cairo. Children would be picked up off the street and sold into sexual slavery, drug trafficking, and forced to sell cheap merchandise around the city.

So, I would spend my days out of school looking out over old Cairo, new Cairo, and the desert on the two apartment balconies. What fascinated me most was the large Coptic Orthodox church across the street from us and across from it the small squat, in comparison, mosque. The church was as tall as my building, but it was the most beautiful and intricately decorated building that I had ever seen. I would watch pigeons live out their lives in the arches and buttresses of the church. I was watched in deep fascination when the hawks would go on the hunt for their daily meals, the birds making beautiful patterns across the sky fighting for their lives around the church.

When I would come home from school, the first order of business would be trying to beat my mother at a game of chess. Then it would be homework, after which, I watch endless hours of Bollywood, American movies, and old Egyptian movies on TV. The building stairway was littered with violent territorial stray cats so I rarely took that rout. Instead, I opted for the old scary rope elevator that would stop moving when people opened an elevator door on any of the floors. Packs of stray dogs would roam the streets and follow people traveling alone who smelled like food. My walks home would be very hasty.

When we went to playgrounds and parks, it would be a different face to talk to at the swings every day. The mad cow disease hit hard and people resorted to other alternatives including camel meat. It was a quiet, boring, and peaceful time for us. One day, my father took me alone with him the to see the pyramids and we climbed up on the stones of the largest one. He would also take me to spend time at his business  to learn how to write our orders on tickets and answer the phone.

It was during this time that I was reminded of my place as a girl and an American more strongly than ever before. Society and family sought to drill that in.