My name is not Mister

gouna cat

Stunningly beautiful day today in El Gouna; there’s whitecaps in the Red Sea: the cool North breeze is blowing away all the skeeters and flies.

So I decided to go to West Golf one last time to see Sandy the cat at the villa where I spent the last three months. Met the pool guy at the gate, who introduced me to the son of the owner and his wife. His name is Sam, and his wife is Sophia. He works in retail at Marks & Spencer; nice young couple from Bristol.

At Sam’s invitation, I went to the back by the pool to find Sandy.

She was hiding under the outside dining table and ran toward me as soon as she saw me, but probably only because of the tin of cat food in my hand.

It was such a pleasure watching her eat, and I stroked her back and tail one last time. She looked healthy, and happy to see me, and is becoming less feral: Sophia told me Sandy likes to bask alongside her on the sun bed by the pool.  So: I have domesticated a wild cat, and now she has a home, and will be safe forever.

I left after a brief chat with Sam, and took the bus back downtown.

The bus driver was in a complaining mood.

He told me how he had a fight with his landlord, and had to sleep outside in El Gouna last night in the street in El Bustan.

I empathized but I told him in my best oracular tone that a real man (ragil asseel) never complains about anything.

Did the rasoul Mohammed (PBUH) complain when the Kureish ( قريشي ) tried to kill him?

He took that in, then said a Mister had left a smartphone on the bus yesterday, but that he, the bus driver, had returned it to the front office, instead of selling it in Hurghada. I said what of it?  A true Muslim does not steal, even if he is penniless.

This was all spoken in fluent idiomatic Arabic.

I did not speak Arabic like this when I arrived 7 months ago in Gouna. The language of my childhood has slowly come back to me; but the authentic Egyptian accent is something I never lost.  This is why, as soon as I open my mouth to say anything, that I am viewed by Egyptians here as one of them, not as some “Mister.”

You cannot fake the Masri accent, and you have to be born to it to have it.

I got off the bus, wishing him rizk from Rabinna,  a way of saying rely on God, the same God I prayed to when my mother was having her operation yesterday.

He said, Allah yi khaleek, God keep you , then he said, ma’ el salama ya bey — go in peace, Bey.

This is what everyone called me as a boy. Not Mister, which is how all foreign men are addressed here by the locals. Not ustaz. Not basha, which is what the local young guys casually calls each other nowadays, robbing it of meaning.  Just Bey: the stately honorific of my childhood, and how I was used to being addressed, without a trace of irony, when I was a boy.

When I went to the family villa in Alex, I would sometimes look at the oil portraits of my great-grandfather and great uncles that hung on the walls of the salamlek, which is the smaller house in the Turko-Egyptian era of splendor where men would meet their guests.

My ancient primogentiure relatives all had huge moustaches (aka, shanabat), wore fezes (known here as tarboushes), and were actual landowning Beys.

I never met any of them, of course; or rather, I knew their pinochle-playing, decadent, reprobate sons and daughters — trying to preserve their dignity amidst the subtractive humiliations inflicted by Nasser.

Pity, that, as I would rather have enjoyed knowing the greatest one of them all, an authentic aristocrat by the name of Bahnas Basha, who had the self awareness that he had too much.

Ended up at Zomba’s were I had 2 foul and ta’ameeya with tahina and salata sandwiches, and washed it down with a large glass of freshly squeezed Orange Juice.

I ordered casually in Egyptian Arabic and the waiters all greeted me by my first  name, and then when I left, I felt saddened that I would be abandoning my country in two weeks.

No-one in America has ever pronounced my first name correctly, but here, it is a popular and respected name.  Here, in this place, in my country; not there.

Here, where featherless brown eagles attempt to soar above the desert while vainly searching for a voting booth.

Here, even though what you have in terms of the ruling class in places like Gouna is largely the cadre of nouveau riche who eventually took the place of people like el marhoum Bahnas Basha.

He was probably quite cultured, yet didn’t have the Special Eyes to not let that happen.

And by him, I mean everyone who once mattered, before going mad or dying.

I wish I could have warned them.

leaving america