Haga helwa wa haga wahesh. Good things and bad things.
That’s the one phrase I know how to say that somewhat describes to Egyptians both Amreeka (the U.S.) and my experience in Egypt. My first response to “how do you like Egypt?” is of course bahibla! (love it!), but in conversing longer, I admit to some of the hard things.
Haga helwa (Good things):
– Recklessly ignoring the warnings about eating salad, I snarf down cucumbers and tomatoes whenever offered. Hibiscus tea, felfales, Egyptian-pancakes, moussaka, and piles of gooey sweets whose names I immediately forget upon tasting. It’s a delight each morning to weave through streets overloaded with the hubbub of people, donkeys, micro buses, cats and trash only to spot whole blocks filled with little fruit or bean stands. Bread is a staple at every meal and I spot young men on bicycles with wooden racks balanced on their heads, piled high with loaves upon loaves of aaish.
– I’ve happened upon a trick to help me initiate conversation with strangers. Meeting Muslims is more challenging than I thought it would be. So, I sit on the Metro for at least 40 minutes each direction to go to class and pull out my Arabic homework. My baby-level Arabic is enough for some brave women to attempt to speak to me. One ardently offered me her phone number, inviting me to visit her in her home. Laughter is my go-to for situations where all I can say is mish-Arfa, “I don’t know!”
– There’s more helwa than I can mention here—the history of Egypt; the grandeur of the Nile; the joking and relaxed way of most Egyptians. The hidden treasures I find when exploring downtown Cairo.
Haga wahesh (Bad things):
– Pollution to the nth degree, not being able to walk or run in public (I scared myself the other day when I realized I was out of breath slightly after just four flights of stairs – unusual for my active self).
– Especially as a single woman, constant constant attention, although I’ve begun to venture out by myself and find that I have less harassment this way than with a group from my SST. Perhaps I walk with more purpose and sternness, which is a good thing.
While there are bad things, I can honestly say I’m grateful to be here. What an ironic position of privilege I have, to be able to choose to come to this country and live among the poor.
Jesus is the light of the world, and I try to remind myself each day to look for that light amidst the dust that fogs my vision. So far, my experience has been one of beautiful chaos.