I occasionally get acute attacks of the Egypt blues. During these bouts my head aches in the same way it does when I read books which attempt to explain the size of outer space, while my chest feels like I’ve been inhaling pure, undiluted, sadness. Brief but intense, the only antidote to these episodes is watching Rachael Ray, so that I am reminded that there exist other, worse, realities.
Egypt’s capacity to induce melancholy is, of course, no surprise, and these particular Egypt blues should not be confused with the feelings induced by witnessing particularly heart-rending scenes of poverty, oppression or misery. It is a sad truth that an essential coping mechanism for living in this society is steeling yourself constantly to witness/hear about some hideous event practically off the scale of human suffering. As a result, I – and apparently everyone else around me judging by the levels of indifference – have become inured to seeing crowds stepping over invisible limbless beggars, inconsequential people breathing their last breaths in police stations, and six year old Kleenex sellers.
This protective armour has rendered me (almost) insensible to the daily misery, but cannot prepare me for the less direct, more low-key sadness akin to the water which melted the otherwise indestructible Wicked Witch of the West. Sources of this sadness are many and varied, but are linked by the common element of being entirely mundane. They include; soldiers outside embassies with no shoelaces in their boots; the taxi driver in the beat-up taxi who kept having to push up the car’s sun visor every time the car went over a bump; people wearing shibshib at night, in the dead of winter; tears in the seats of trousers which have been repaired using thread an entirely different colour to that of the trouser fabric; the Nile TV English channel programmes devoted entirely to interviews with foreign tourists, and filmed with what appears to be a mobile phone camera; moneyed people who subject powerless restaurant employees to Abu Ghraib-type humiliation, only verbally, simply because they can; Mohamed Hosny Mobarak plaques on any edifice of any kind, including tram stops in Alexandria; donkeys; bureaucratic officiousness; shops called bookshops devoid of books; people using sports club membership as a key factor governing a marriage decision; sycophancy, particularly of the type witnessed on “el bayt baytak”; radio listeners telling Nagoum FM DJs that they love them “gedden gedden” and DJs similarly declaring their love for people about which all they know is their first name; bridal white face paint; dirty bear/clown costumes during children’s parties at MacDonald’s; long little finger fingernails; the ‘who shouted fire’ manner in which people get on and off metro trains; ‘7ader men 3anneyya el etneen’ and then nothing happening; ‘3addeeha ya Amnesiac’; the furniture used in soap operas and films; prefacing first names with Mr/Miss, even when speaking Arabic; ‘look at me’ displays of piety; schools with the word ‘home’ in their names; people prefacing their name with their occupations in situations where their occupation is entirely irrelevant i.e. ‘ma3k el mohandess Abaza’ or ‘ma3k el fadya Amnesiac’; ‘kol sanna wenta tayyeb’ as an extortion device; soldiers lining the 2asr el nil bridge whenever some minor official is in the environs; when these soldiers relish ordering people to keep to the pavement.
These things perturb me because they are a reminder that Egypt’s social and economic problems have seeped into every single aspect of its existence, and are so interlinked, that attempting to fix one area would be like the time ten of my mother’s necklaces became knotted together, and she asked me to extract one, and I discovered that in order to do so I would have to spend hours undoing the whole bloody lot.
Egypt obviously still rules in a myriad other ways, and I could write a lengthy love letter to her exulting her many virtues, but also advising her that she appears to have fallen in with a crowd of shady types who are leading her astray.