Can anyone tell Hassan what's going on?
Surely I’m not the only that has no idea what is going on around them in Cairo. Confusion can be attributed to many things. The endless chaos for one. The thought that maybe, as a people, we have rendered logic void. Maybe it’s the notion that Egyptian society stalled somewhere between 1952 and 1976. It might just be the fact that there are 80 million of us. It makes me dizzy thinking of the sheer volume of it all. If only 10% of the population of Egypt were clinically insane that would mean there were 8 million crazy people. 8 Million Psychos. And most of them probably live in Cairo. I would try to do it with a more accurate number like 70-80%, but that would be super intense maths. Also, I shudder at the thought of so many psychos in such close proximity. I am quite adept at dealing with psychos, mainly when I can communicate with them. Communicating with psychos in a different language is an entirely different story. Since my Arabic is very malnourished, my English miscommunications makes crazy even crazier.
I blame my miseducation (yes like Lauryn Hill) with my mother tongue on my mother. Arabic is a touchy subject in our relationship. As is our fat gene. Basically she enrolled me in the non-native speakers classes in my school, because Arabic was optional. I suspect it was because it was a later class and she would have more time to herself. So I was taught Arabic using English letters. It really doesn’t make sense at all, but it was the 80s in Saudi Arabia, so I try to not judge. They didn’t have internet. By the time my mother cottoned on, the damage was done and I was officially an Arabic cripple. I always complain to my mother that she should have forced me into native classes, to which she says cryptic things like, “You’re right, I shouldn’t have raised you with a personality.” Or the even more cryptic “You? You think Icould get you to do anything?” These are usually the points where I demand to know how she let me get fat and if I could borrow some money. In English.
Most of the time Cairo feels like I’ve been trapped in a movie with no subtitles. It might be my utter confusion and complete stupidity when it comes to language, but I have always harboured a slight fetish for translations. This fetish reached it’s peak when I discovered Polish channels airing American movies that were dubbed over in Polish. You have no idea what I’m talking about do you? It used to be my favourite thing to do when we were visiting Cairo in summers. Staying up really late and finding one of those random channels that somehow made it to Egypt from Europe (and yes, I was totally looking for porn. Remember, no internet). It basically consisted of major blockbusters dubbed over in Polish. I was obsessed with the way the English was audible at the very beginning of a sentence and then some weird language would drown it out. I was even more confused that the whole movie was narrated by one man in Warsaw. He was Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. At the same time. Not only was he every celebrity, he was supremely bored by whatever was happening in the movie. It was always exactly the same voice speaking with the same tired monotone. He never expressed emotion, telling a story in the same deadpan and plaintive voice. Every movie was a suicide note. It was even stranger in sex scenes or when actors would whisper sweet nothings. I kept expecting him to moan over Sharon Stone’s orgasm (he never did). This made me wonder about the Poles. Could they not read subtitles? Did they speak over each other in real life? Why would they ruin every movie like that? Was it just the one man? Did they have a dubbing school? Did this one school teach them to speak in exactly the same bored voice?
Nowadays I often want this Polish man with me at all times. Only he would be speaking over me in Arabic (he could still be Polish, but I doubt they even know what Arabic is). He would also be covering the grunts and moans of the general Egyptian public with swift and easy English translations. It would be even more useful when after a while he just started responding with the things I would say. Eventually he would just do things for me while I slept in (I’m all about the training process). Like take the dog to the vet and score.
I have spent a very long time not caring about my less than perfect skills. After all it was a miracle I could speak at all. Blind rage brings out my roots and I can cuss like the best of them. Mostly I just smile and nod a lot, laughing at the right times and happy finding comfort in the fact that not understanding things makes them a lot easier to ignore. Recently though I’m regretting not giving my mother tongue the proper attention it deserved. How cool would it have been to be good at both languages? What a great competitive edge. This way I’m just trapped in the midst of both worlds. My lack of Arabic confuses (rightly so) Egyptians, making for very annoying fodder in cabs. How? You must be foreign? Full Egyptian? Then I say I went to foreign schools in Saudi Arabia. Then people look at me as if I surely must have some kind of weird learning disability and they should definitely tread carefully around such a volatile nutcase. Then I explain that Saudi Arabia basically had to import their working class from the Philippines and India, so I could basically very easily get through life just speaking in English. Then they look at me like I’m racist as well as completely psychotic. And I seriously, couldn’t I speak Arabic? Surely I was pretending. Surely I was just succumbing to Google and globalisation and evil Western influences. I was most certainly denying my heritage. Let’s show this psychotic, racist, hypocrite, product of evil Western debauchery and disgrace how real Arabs roll and stone his ass. You know how to say stone in Arabic? Pretentious bastard.