Homecoming

Helwan, Egypt

How many days had gone by since her return? She had spent the last fifteen years abroad and had only distant memories from back when she used to call this place home. She used to be a timorous little girl who wore her hair in braids. She had not only left the country on account of the area’s political and social unrest but also because she had needed to gain insight on how to deal with the world’s contradictions.

She never had the chance to break free from her mother’s vigilant eye back then, save for when she sprinted. Her mother chose to deck her out in short Sunday dresses so that it would look like she hadn’t gotten any older; she wanted her to come to the realization that she had become a woman as late as possible. Was her mother concerned about her welfare or maybe afraid of what she would actually become? That was yet another question she didn’t really want to know the answer to. She had her sanity to thank for the fact that she could come to terms with leaving questions such as those provisionally unanswered. ...Read more

Humanity, the Gist

Mosque at Al Moez Street, Cairo, Egypt

Lama was a very smart and curious nine-year-old girl, who despite her age was very cultured and knowledgeable about the world. Lately, the religious channels she watched on TV had been mentioning the word “humanity,” mostly apropos of charity work. She had also read the word on Facebook. It had been brought up in association with Daesh’s beheadings. Seeing it written and hearing people talk about it again and again made her ponder over the word’s meaning. She knew it implied something positive, but was there more to it?

She spent the rest of the day in a brown study, cudgeling her brain in an effort to crack the secret to what the word stood for, and before going to bed that night she went to her mother and asked her, “Mum, how would you define ‘humanity’ in a few words?”

Her mother smiled and replied, “That’s something that everyone has to figure out how to define for themselves. You know the meaning already. You just have to be reminded of it, like most of us nowadays. Think about what makes our country great and our ...Read more

The Yellow Building

1-4

It hadn’t changed much. The original yellow paint was peeling from its walls, which had gathered a lot of dust as of late. But, after all the paint had weathered over the years, it was well within its rights to decide to go into retirement.

Memories came flooding back as soon as I arrived at the school. I still remembered when I changed schools as a kid like it was yesterday. A government edict was issued that forced everybody to send their kids to the school closest to where they lived, and thus, since we had moved to a more rural area the year before, I had to transfer from my beloved old school to one that had recently been built around the block. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t thwart the plans for me to attend the new school.

From the outside, the new school looked a picture. It was in the center of the village and was situated amidst lush vegetation. However, the inside had been swallowed up by an arid desert. It had no trees, no flowers, no birds, and no soul—just a concrete playground that was covered in yellow sand ...Read more

The Palace

Faculty of Veterinary, Idfina, Egypt

Have you ever dreamed of swapping lives with a king? I realize it sounds childish. After all, everybody knows that the prince charming who cajoles a beautiful lady into marrying him and riding on his white horse is just a numbskull with a mop of blond curls who is featured in a cartoon. However, even though in some cases it might seem like ages ago, who hasn’t been a child? There is a palace here in Idfina. It was one of the many palaces that belonged to King Farouk, who reigned over Egypt and Sudan until the beginning of the 1950s.

My mother’s side of the family lived in Idfina, and every time we went to visit them when I was a kid, my uncle took me to his workplace: the palace. Back then, it housed the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. I reveled in the thought of one day discovering all the treasures that I was sure were hidden somewhere inside the building. First, my eyes always fell on the gates, which faced the rank-and-file houses. The path leading to them ran parallel to the Nile and ...Read more

The Farm: An Oasis of Calm

rsz_farm-at-ad-dilinjat-buheira-egypt-1024x768

I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like to spend time in the countryside. I love to see the greenery grow and watch the shadows cast by the haughty looking palm trees lengthen as the evening wears on. It’s my way of recharging my batteries, filling myself with positive energy and reaching the peace of mind I need in order to exude quality vibes when interacting with kindred spirits, to wit, other tender souls.

Indeed, I eventually bought a plot of land in poor condition, spruced it up, and planted some orange and lemon trees on it. Then a friend of mine got sick. After his recovery, I invited him and his family plus a few other friends to spend a day at the farm. But first I took several trips to the farm myself to ready it for their visit. I conducted a site inspection and figured out the shortest way to get there from the city.

The property has two entrances. One leads through a tree-lined path. Halfway on the route, one comes across a well and a sprinkler ...Read more

Hope Lane

Cairo Egypt

It’s almost 4 a.m. and I am lying on my bed unable to doze off. I rarely suffer from insomnia. My bed is my favorite place to be, but now it feels uncomfortable, as if it has shrunken all of a sudden. I walk out of my room and head for the house’s large balcony to gulp down some fresh air. I am hoping it’ll help me conquer my anxiety, my sorrow, and eventually, my insomnia.

A perfect peace has settled over the city, and it is only faintly disturbed by the occasional honk of a car driving along one of the neighborhood streets. The image of the street from the balcony will stay etched in my mind for as long as I live, because I have known it since I was old enough to remember. The street itself has witnessed much of what I have been confronted with in my own life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I then decide to brew a fresh pot of tea. I bring water to a boil and add three cloves and a spoonful of honey to ...Read more

Home Sweet Home

desouk kafr ibrahim Egypt

After my stay abroad, I returned to my hometown, which I had missed sorely, and everything seemed even more splendorous than prior to my departure. The trees were tall and their flowers had bloomed. The birds warbled beautifully. The air was pure to such an indescribable extent that it served as a cure to several respiratory diseases. I had spent the better part of my halcyon youth and probably the best days of my life in this small town. While away, I had hankered to go back so strongly that I ended up having to bust a gut just to enjoy my stay abroad after a fashion. On top of that, one day I learned that my mother had fallen ill. There is nothing like knowing your doting mother is suffering while you are far away from her to make you feel less than enthusiastic about embarking on new adventures. I had just been offered a position as a physician in my hometown, and my new priority was to make certain that every resident received the best medical attention ...Read more

Eager to Die

Bridge Qasr al-Nil, Cairo

Mustafa was in his twenties. He had gone to university, where he had met Hayam as a freshman. She had been a classmate of his. He proposed as soon as he graduated and went to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Hayam’s father was a prominent civil servant and didn’t welcome the idea of Mustafa marrying his daughter since he didn’t have a job. However, at his daughter’s insistent bidding, he finally consented to their engagement.

Months passed, but the situation remained the same. Mustafa had been looking for a job but hadn’t gotten lucky so far.

One rainy night, his fiancée called him on the phone and told him that her father was intent on breaking their engagement. She also told him that she had no choice but to accept her father’s decision, because he had tried to strangle her.

Mustafa hung up, frothing at the mouth and feeling desperate. His fiancée was the only one who cared for him and supported him. He knew that she couldn’t just run away, because then she’d have to spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder. He ...Read more

Mercy Street

Khorshid_awaed Rd, Al Khodrah, Markaz Kafr El-Dawar, El Beheira Governorate

After the service was over at al-Hamd Mosque, I headed out into the street. I couldn’t bring myself to recall the subject the sermon had touched on. It had not only been long and repetitive, but also atrociously rendered to boot. However, it had at least allowed me time to psych myself up for my upcoming appointment.

I crossed the paved road that ran parallel to the Mahmoudiyah Canal and arrived at the beginning of Mercy Street. In 500 meters, I would have to overcome what had kept me away from him for 35 years. He used to glare daggers at me, to the point where I began dreading the very idea of stumbling across him. It was only natural that all these years later I cringed at the thought of seeing him again, especially after estimating the amount of rage that must have welled up inside him over time. I walked gingerly, minding the gap between the train and the platform. After all, time does not pass in vain, ...Read more

Nostalgia

El Qanater el Khayreyya, Egypt

On the morning of the Sham Ennisim holiday, peace reigned in our town, save for our house, which had been set in motion at the crack of dawn. I had been the first to jump out of bed and had then scurried from room to room to wake up my parents, my sister, and my brothers.

“Hurry up, it’s time to go!”

I packed a whole rucksack with sandwiches and put Pepsi and water bottles in plastic bags while waiting for the rest of my family to fully dress and primp themselves. Finally, my father finished using the john and we stepped out of the house, closing the door behind us.

At noon, we arrived at a bustling city. We left the car close to a long bridge whose piers lay underwater. I looked at my dad and asked him, “Are these the Benevolent Bridges?” He replied in the affirmative.

We stopped to contemplate the clear waters of the river and the bridge’s arches, which looked like doorposts with water flowing through them. Afterward, we crossed ...Read more