Previous Post
The Third Solution
Next Post
50 Shades of Guantanamo Bay

How (Not) to Drink Tea

Ahhh, the Nile Corniche - where people from all walks of life can revel in the beauty of the great river with a cup of diabetes-inducing tea. But the simple things in life aren't so simple, as Timmy Mowafi found out.

The 3rd of July was a surreal day. After four scrupulous days glued to my laptop, keeping up with the latest news for CairoScene, pretending to be a real journalist (as opposed to telling people to tweet about Tamarai) when in actual fact I was mainly just copying and pasting. Mohamed El Baradei said a word or two and the whole city erupted. I was finally out of my journalistic cave; it was a bit like in them olden times when the canary used to warn miners if there was too much gas in the caves so they’d run out. Well I was the miner, and the role of the canary was, of course, played by Twitter. I found it strange that Twitter wanted to play the pick-axe - I told him he would be better off playing the canary, we argued for a bit, then he agreed. I guess he was trying to tell me some metaphor with the whole axe thing that I didn’t quite catch on to. And the Ikhwan were the cave, or something. I didn’t think that metaphor all through… Anyways, I was out of the cave and on to the streets. Earlier in the day, CairoScene reporter Eihab Boraie had managed to gain entrance to one of the rooftops in Tahrir, so that’s where we were heading.  He dropped us off and after walking up 15,000 flights of stairs to get there, negotiating with two orc-looking, fanela-clad patrons of the apartment on the top floor, and spending one hour trying to connect my Bluetooth to the phone of the another man up there who wanted a picture I had taken of him (it didn’t work in the end), I finally saw the sight. Yes, beautiful, tahya masr, oldest civilisation, banding together to fight evil e.t.c  e.t.c… But that’s not the reason this day was surreal. It was because it was the first time I had shay on the Nile.

We were walking back home on Kasr el Nile bridge, when we got pretty tired. In between the strange, topless, sha3bi dance circle and the droves of celebratory protestors, I thought what better time than now to finally sit on a bridge on the Nile and drink some tea. I don’t really understand how these things work. There are some chairs scattered across the pavement and a man in a galabeya. Apparently, this constitutes as his business. The first thing I noticed is that, when seated on of these plastic chairs, the barrier of the bridge is on the exact same level as your eye-line, meaning all those romantic couples who come from across Egypt to soak up the ancient beauty of the Nile, are in fact coming to see some dusty concrete with awkward graffiti scratchings. The man came and started a conversation which went a bit like this –

“Enta menen?”

“Masry, bas konta 3ayesh fe Engelterra”

“Anhy a7san?”

“Ya3ni Masr makanetsh kida fel awal, bas hanshoof delwaty eh elly haye7sal…”

“Fe wa2t Morsi kol 7aga ba2et ghalya, w maba2ash feh gaw el lama wel entema2 elly el masryeen mashhoreen beeh. Ma7adesh 3ayez yesa3ed 7ad w kol wa7ed beydawar 3ala masla7to.”

“Sa7. Bas shoof el share3 delwaty. Deh bedayet haga gedeeda.”


He then asked us what we would like to have. Obviously there was no menu, but if there was one I would imagine it would be printed on the back of ripped corrugated piece of cardboard listing the venue’s delicacies from Hepatitis A to C. We went for Hepatitis tea and waited. Our bill had already exceeded 30 LE before the tea came. 10 LE each for the chairs we were sat on and another 10 LE for the chair I regrettably rested my legs on. The tea finally arrived. I loved the kitsch value of having several different styles of glassware: one was avant-garde, chipped on one side, with the missing shard lying at the bottom of the cup; the other was what must have been a limited edition Disney souvenir mug: Mickey’s complex was  blue and Minnie was Bakar. He asked us if we would like anything else. I couldn’t think how he could be more hospitable, and then I took a sip. My eyes widened, I was transported into another world. Not a better one, it was a bit like the current world but a bit more diabetic. I thanked him; he said I was ‘zay el 3asal’ which was fitting as at that very moment I had the same sugar content as honey running through my body. If there was anyone who could disprove the theory that the level of a solvent’s solubility in a cup of tea only reaches a certain point before saturation, it was he.


For the sake of living in the moment, I drank the whole glass along with the shard whilst gazing at the KIKO LIVES DUDU scratching on the beautiful barrier, just wishing he’d also live good grammar. Before even having the time to put the tea glass down the man came back and swooped it out of my hands, but not before asking for another 20 LE. I’m not sure what this surcharge was for, service tax I assume. I handed him 100 LE and he gave me change back which I decided to count as I walked away, 50 LE was missing. I turn back expecting to see him carrying on with his work, catering to another customer, instead he’s standing there right behind me waiting with this cheeky look on his face like “Aaaaaahhhh, you caught me! Hhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” instead of getting angry and calling him a thief, for some reason I pointed back and gave him a “aahhhhhhh, caught you!” with a wink. It was the strangest financial transaction I’ve ever had in my life.

I wasn’t ready to give up just there though. I asked him what happened to togetherness, honesty and unity, and seriously, can I have my 50 LE?

His reply was “Khamseen geneh eh?”

“Men el feloos el ana lessa medehelak…”

“Emshy men hena! Emshy, waraya shoghl!”