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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Izzayik? Mish Kuwayisa." --A vignette.

Cairo is a strange place. It's a massive, bustling city, teeming with millions upon millions of people, and yet somehow, everybody knows you. You can visit a random little shop one day and be entreated by the owner to "Come back tomorrow, no problem," on your way out. You can completely forget about said shop for weeks and weeks, then walk by it again completely by chance. It doesn't matter if the shop sells tameyya or anubis-headed lighters, it doesn't matter that you are wearing different clothes, walking with different people, or even speaking a different language (I've conducted a number of transactions here in espaƱol, suprisingly), the shopkeeper will recognize you.

"Come in to my shop, my sister," he will say. "I just give you my business card, no funny business. You like perfume? No problem." And what do you do? Well, unless you particularly enjoy spending twice as much money as you might have to at Khan al-Khalili for perfume you don't want anyway... you flee.

It's almost worse on campus. For no reason that I can yet define, it's embarrassing and irritating to be recognized, even if there's nothing but sincere pleasantry behind it, like overtures of friendliness from Achmed, who is the head of the Egyptology club and "The Guy in the Peach Pants," as Bob describes him. Or the shy smile and the mumbled "Happy Valentine's Day" from the security guard at the campus book shop who knows me as that weirdly-dressed, clumsy crazy girl who comes into the book shop at least 10 times a day because she forgets things.

Of all the things I miss most about the U.S. so far, it's not Mexican food, or even potable tap water--it's being anonymous, or at least being allowed to pretend like I am.


Anonymous -craig said...

getting to know the townspeople must have its perks too though, eh? think it'd be nice to not be so insulated all the time. people here usually don't even look you in the eye.

4:53 PM

Blogger Kat said...

it can be nice, but i think i'd prefer it if i could find a happier medium--you know, one where i felt like i had SOME kind of personal space...

9:01 AM

Anonymous tricia said...

Successful merchants are really good at apprearing to be your long lost friends and relatives. Remember the lady in Beijing who sold us some artworks and used her patter skills to figure out where you are from, your hometown, etc.
Caveat emptor.

3:27 PM

Blogger Kat said...

Since my first day here I've tried to have nothing at all to do with these "friendly" vendors if I can help it, but what do you expect? There are 10 or more on every block downtown, and it's not as if they can't pick me out as a non-native. Heck, if I could find a way to make them not want to approach me, I'd be a lot happier.

It's not as if I'm trying to "make friends" with these guys. They're sharks.

10:49 PM


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