Archive for the ‘Travel’ Tag

A Five Year Old Blog Post

Friday, June 10th, 2016

I am naturally timid, stubborn and observant. Because I was first-born my father wanted to change that and sought to teach me how to think like a businessman from the streets. He is a first generation immigrant. When he met my mother he was working at a Greek dinner as the lead fry cook on the grill. A position he had to work up to and, consequently, deadened the nerves in his hands. My father was my mother’s first and only love. She was from a small rural town in Minnesota. When she decided to convert to Islam, her immediate family cut her off completely which was easy to do since she had moved to NY to be with my father. Around that time, he started working wholesale on Broadway. What that means is that he sold fake designer clothing and items which they produced themselves. He took pride in his work by adding his own signature to the designs and doing the best job that he can on them. My uncle and him held down all of Broadway during their prime. Instead of being on the sidewalk hustling their shit, they owned rooms in discreet buildings where they produced and sold their stuff. They had employees and partners. They got betrayed by many and were chased by the police often.

This is how he learned to think like a hustler and he sought to meld me into that image since I can remember. By all rights, within the Egyptian and Islamic culture, this meant that he raised me like he would a boy. He taught me to have free will and to stand up to anyone who tried to cut me down. Be tough and the only people that matter are family. Fuck the world. Nobody will care about you like we do.

So I stood up to teachers in Egypt when they would beat us for minor infractions with wooden sticks and rulers. When they called us miserable pieces of shits and everything else in the Arabic language for misspellings, I knew that what they thought did not matter but I felt bad for the others. Some would sit weeping in their seats. Back in the US, I stood up to bullies until high school years where I became even more introverted than before.

Empathy and kindness was missing. I was abused by a babysitter physically and verbally when I was three years old. It ended with her trying to drown me. Some of my oldest memories are of my father beating my mother and verbally abusing her for small insignificant matters like spaghetti not cooked to his liking. It was new to me so I would sit scared unable to move through most of it or lock myself up into my room (only child then) while my mother would cry. The concept of being kind and tolerant to others was not taught through example. This would manifest itself in many ways through my behavior back then. I would mutilate my Barbie dolls in fits of rage. I used to abuse my pet rabbit, the only contact with an animal that I was allowed during our time in Queens. One time, the children of the basement tenants wanted to play a master/slave game. I was chosen to be the master and I whipped them mercilessly with cold emotional detachment. After getting banned from their home and my rabbit running away, I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. Neither of my parents sat down and talked to me about either event.

I think my saving grace during that time (from three to about six years old) was the smaller things that I remember fondly. My mother’s Native American side of the family still kept contact. I remember her getting a laminated letter once and a stuffed rabbit along with it. It was the last letter she was to get from her great aunt who died and her mother did not tell her until four months after the fact. That was the day that she told me about the Cree and her memories with them only after I prodded for answers since she looked so sad. She read me the letters from her great aunt. The rabbit and letters were the only things that I had gotten from extended family of any kind. Through her letters, my distant relative showed much kindness and beauty of character. She had a grace that came across in the letters which made me wish that I had the chance to meet her at least once. I still have the stuffed rabbit.

My mother sat me down and created a quilt with me that was made just for me which I still have as well. My father would buy a bunch of mangoes and we would devour them together after dinner with our hands. He would fall asleep on the floor and I would lay on-top of him resting while listening to his heartbeat. Sometimes he would buy a bunch of crabs from China Town and we would cook them together. Once he took me with him to buy them. These are the things that taught me that there are different facets to humanity. The softer side.

These are the roots. More at a later date.

Part A

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Along the river of memory, there lies a village of song where the eyes of women meet in harmonized experience. Shared lives of duty, men, and children. But no matter who looks and pries within those encrypted hearts, they turn away or lash out in fear. Men who fall in love with the hushed tones of the wind cascading down fields of dead grass and the low pitched call of hawks competing with him for dinner. They tread through a world that they barely understand every night. Forever a visitor in a strange land. Seemingly delicate, thanks to youth, and nimble hands kneading primitive dough, she finds herself slipping along the currents of her own thoughts. In her innocence, unaware of leering gazes from the villagers following her every movement. What was once graceful fulfillment of her feminine duty becomes a lewd act. Traveling still, she finds herself wandering through back alleys entrenched with the permanent scent of the living. Beneath layers of filth, she senses the threat of scavengers and predators. There are stories left untold in the rustle of dirt encrusted sleeves and torn heavy duty khakis that have not seen the inside of an office in years adorned with more piss stains than a used cloth diaper. Uncertain steps transition into a slight sway of the hips as she readies the thin large round iron baking pan for eventual baking. But that is also a lie, she knows, as she lifts her gaze from the floor of the bus to catch a glimpse of the scene unfolding outside the window across from her.

The old man ambles down the block with the odd grace of those who wear another decade around their shoulders. It’s not just the old straw hat or the well-tailored dress jacket or the loosely fit slacks that gives it away. It’s the slight slump of the shoulders one gets when letting the mind wander too far into the past. Like a blanket the body tries to envelope itself with to block out the present that they resent so much. The ugliness of the world around them. They watch their descendants resort to drugs, alcohol, and an endless sea of faceless strangers on street corners and in abandoned buildings, inevitably becoming an active part of what they are trying so hard to forget. The young ones, they didn’t choose this existence but it chose them and it sinks its claws into their hearts with the tenacity of a rabid animal. We want to protect our children from the world, but sometimes what we want most is to protect them from ourselves.

The bus passes a woman sitting in her car checking for traffic before a right turn and she examines her face. How the artificial light illuminates her cheekbones and slides down each meeting at her lips. It dawns on her that this woman must belong to someone like most women here tend to. She imagines the woman’s face titled back against the car seat in pleasure for brief moment. Does her lover caress her neck with worship in his eyes and every feeling he holds within hanging on his breath as he runs his mouth over her ear? Does she reward him with a smile that is for his eyes only and so it will remain even if they do not? The passenger on the bus wonders and sighs to herself in resignation. The other woman’s lover does not do these things, she decides. Their love life is probably as boring and as passionless as the best porn flick that is available on tape. Fingering, blowjob, penetration, dirty talk, few position changes, and end. How she longs for passion as the bus rolls on past the woman in her car.

How she longs for life.

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.

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.