In a manner of speaking, I‘m being tortured in Egypt by a stern, hijabi woman in the Visa Department. She is not young; but she isn’t old. She is not pretty; but she’s no dog. But she has it in for me. We talked for the second time in a week through a hole in a guichet glass partition, like the one you see in Adel Imam’s immortal Man only Lives Once.
She wants me to come to Hurghada to see her again tomorrow, the third time in a week.
I think she’s smitten, but I am wrong about many things.
Because of this obsessive stranger, I’ve become the Egyptian service worker who must commute daily on one of the two dilapidated buses that run between the two towns. I know the suffering of my compatriots, now. The daily blue card humiliations, The bleak future facing most: getting older, and still not in control of one’s destiny. I have felt their anguish under the boiling sun. The future is getting bleaker by the tourist, whose quality in Gouna, some say, has degraded since 2011. What’s the use in trying?
Today I arrived at the Visa Dept in what is the South Bronx section of Hurghada with my forms all filled out, including the question about my religion. My ingeniously produced “sun pictures” (see previous post) were ready. The 575 LEs to pay for the 6-month extension was in my pocket. The photocopies of my passport too. Everything was there, but for a local telephone number.
But she took exception to that.
— No telephone number?
— No. I am a tourist. I do not have a phone in Egypt.
— Then you must see the commandant.
This is what happens to Americans today in Egypt.
No respect since Trump.
Dressed in a white uniform and sitting on a fake leather couch in a private office, he idly glanced at the form and asked me how my friends in Gouna got in touch with me.
I said they just call the operator and ask to be connected to my apartment number, which I’d listed on the form.
This satisfied the commandant, and he signed off on the No Phone problem.
So I went back to Hijabi Hannah and she pondered this for a second, then she said:
–What other nationality do you have?
— England. I was born in England. My mother is English, but I am American,
— And your father?
— My father?
— Yes. What nationality is he? Back. Back.
Now Hannah was being a real you-know-what. But I didn’t take the bait. I was slowly realizing that she was desperate to see me, again, and again, and still again. But I didn’t satisfy her lust to know more about me. I didn’t tell her about the history of Egypt from the time before she was born. I didn’t tell her my father was a patriot who left a bright future in Egypt because of a dictator. Instead, I said he was American, and left it at that,
–Come back tomorrow, she said abruptly. 1 o’clock.
— Can’t it be ready today?
— Commandant for that to explain emergency.
So I left the visa building without my American passport and meekly walked back to the bus stop. Good thing I had my EU/UK one with me as backup, or I would have had trouble getting past the checkpoint at the Gouna entrance.
To gird myself for the return trip, I bought two loaves of baladi bread fresh out of a large electric oven in a makeshift bakery that was being run out of what looked like a converted garage.
These were not the small pita pockets of whole wheat bread, that I will only be able to obtain when I get to Cairo, but better than the Gouna supermarket stuff.
Cost: 50 piastres a loaf (or rehkief, which means a pita pocket of bread), compared to 10LE for 1 small croissant at the Seventh Star in Abu Tig.
What would the 7th Star Himself think about that, not to mention that a loaf costs a “shillin’’,” i.e, 5 piasters, through ta’mouin, or the Egyptian form of low-income subsidies?
So… I was destined to be with my downtrodden beebles yet another day. I would see. once again, the broken down wind turbines; experience the spine crushing speed bumps; enjoy the rickety bus seats; gaze at the piles of rubbish strewn along in the desert, or the abandoned seaside construction (half-built, to circumvent a land flipping law); and fry in the afternoon sun, as I trudged to the grim Visa Center, yet again, past crumbling buildings and red taxis aggressively pestering.
You are torturing me Egypt.
Why are you doing this to me?
This is the sort of thing the great Om Kalthoum used to warble about interminably.
The torture — or azzab, in Arabic, hence the title of this post, which is the indefinite present modality of the root word azb — of unrequited love.
Hell hath no fury like a hijabi scorned,
After all, I have never had an Egyptian girlfriend, and perhaps Hannah knew it or sensed it.
Even if they didn’t ask about that on the form.
She just knew it.
And it was driving her crazy.