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Kentucky Fried Camel in Egypt: My Return to a Country I Never Left

Kentucky Fried Camel in Egypt: My Return to a Country I Never Left

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“You don’t scream as the camel stands up,” Amina advised me with a smile. “It must be your Egyptian blood.”

I patted my camel’s neck as he turned in the direction of the pyramids. They stood, three majestic items of historical past, glistening out over the horizon. The sand blew into my eyes as my father barked at me to spin the camel round for a image.

“Does the camel have a name?” I requested his proprietor, as I nudged for the camel to flip.

“Yes. He’s named KFC — Kentucky Fried Camel.” He laughed at his personal joke. Egyptians had a deep, inexplicable love for KFC. Not a single individual I had met had been in a position to clarify why.

My father got here up on the opposite aspect of KFC. He gazed out over the pyramids.

“Your homeland is pretty incredible, isn’t it?”

It took me 27 years to lastly go to my father’s, and by extension, my homeland. My father had immigrated from Egypt in his 20’s to England, the place he lived for 12 years earlier than immigrating to America. He promised that he would take me again to his homeland nevertheless it took years for him to fulfill this promise. There had been many the reason why it had taken me so lengthy to get to Egypt: I by no means had sufficient cash to go, my dad had by no means had sufficient cash to take me, my mother had by no means trusted my dad to take me, and so forth . . .

I wasn’t raised to be Egyptian. My father by no means taught me Arabic, I didn’t study correct Egyptian customs, and my information of Islam is subpar at greatest. Nonetheless, I needed to see Egypt, and through one spring break, I lastly went with my father.

My preliminary response to Egypt was that I was going to die. Having grown up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I was used to wild drivers, however Cairo drivers thought-about visitors lanes to be recommendations.

My cousin Ahmed almost acquired into a wreck as we exited the airport. He didn’t truly appear to be me, and I couldn’t keep in mind which cousin he was associated to (my father had tried to prep me on all eight million of our cousins and I remembered two).

“It’s nice to meet you, Yasmina,” Ahmed advised me, as he proceeded to minimize three individuals off.

“You too,” I gripped his backdoor deal with, praying for pricey life.

“Ahmed,” My father stated in Arabic, “jioeawhiofhiowhhfnaiofnioaeoaofa?”

“What?” I blurted out.

“Yasmina doesn’t speak Arabic,” My father brushed me away. “Jioianfaoijweowejoiono?”

“Hahahahahahaha,” Ahmed replied. “Ahoijhewoiabfihweaoifhoiwhfeoihfow.”

Whereas the 2 jabbered away in Arabic, I took in the environment of Cairo. Various males wandered out into the road, utterly oblivious to the automobiles honking and the drivers swearing at them. Women sporting designer hijabs lounged on road corners, casually sipping on cups of espresso. I didn’t perceive any of the road indicators however might see shops lining the streets with make-up, clothes, soccer jerseys and hats. The honking by no means stopped. I couldn’t inform in the event that they have been honking at different automobiles, fairly women or the individual in the automotive subsequent to them. It didn’t appear to matter, they only stored honking.

“There are a lot of people out tonight,” Ahmed defined, switching to fluent English. “Thursday night is like our Friday night. Our weekend is a bit different than yours. We don’t have work and school on Friday or Saturday. Friday is our day of prayers. Everybody goes out on Thursday night, that’s why the traffic is so bad.” He rapped his nails towards his window. “That’s our soccer stadium. I’ve been there. We have games and concerts a lot too. You probably have a lot of concerts in L.A.”

“We do,” I answered. “We have — ”

“Jiofnaoiewjoiwfnioewanfoiafnoew?” My father reduce in, to which Ahmed laughed.

We arrived at our lodge, a stylish, emerald construction in the guts of Heliopolis, the town the place the remainder of my cousins lived. As we pulled into the driveway, a cumbersome soldier with a machine gun stopped our automotive. A big German Shepard adopted at his heels. He knocked on the again of Ahmed’s trunk, which he popped open.

“Since the Revolution, our security is much tighter,” Ahmed defined as the person closed his trunk and motioned for him to come into the lodge.

“Is it bothersome?” I requested.

“No, it’s just for our safety. Things are better, but still a bit up in the air.”

We acquired out the automotive as a man in a pristine black go well with sauntered in the direction of us. He motioned for my bag, which he threw by means of a metallic detector.

“Jioniownfioeanofia?”

“What?”

“You don’t speak Arabic?” He requested me in English, elevating his eyebrows.

“No, sorry.” I hung my head in disgrace.

“Jionweoijafhhoeowanojfioa,” My father got here round my aspect and put his bag by means of the metallic detector.

“Ah, jowienafiojenwoinfaoa.” The person turned again to me. “What’s the matter with you, your daddy’s Egyptian and you don’t speak Arabic?”

“He never taught me!” I protested. It was true. My father had introduced me an Arabic workbook and after about a month of trying to train me determined that it will be simpler for me to study extra about soccer since that was all the time on the TV. My father had by no means been a good instructor, and each time he tried to tutor my sister and me in math, he threw his palms up after about 10 minutes and went to go eat.

“That’s okay. My name is Muhammad, like Muhammad Ali.” He pretended to field the air. “A very warm welcome to you. My father told me that this is your first trip to Egypt?”

“It is,” I responded, as three horns went off.

“Welcome to your homeland! This is your country too. I hope you will find everything to be enjoyable.” He beamed as he opened the entrance door for me.

“How do you say thank you?” I whispered to my father.

“Shakran.”

“Shakran,” I stated to Mohammed.

The subsequent day, my father and I boarded a aircraft to take a cruise alongside the Nile to go to Luxor and see the traditional websites alongside the best way. Upon arriving in Luxor, we have been surrounded by dozens of Chinese language vacationers donning giant, straw hats and talking with themselves in Mandarin. An Indian household dressed in full saris struggled with their suitcases, and a man sporting a full galabeya sauntered by, shouting at somebody on his telephone. This sight triggered my father to fall into a match of giggles.

“Check out Lawrence of Arabia over there,” He giggled, pushing by means of a gaggle of Chinese language vacationers.

“It’s not nice to make fun,” I hid a small smile. He did look moderately odd.

“I had forgotten how different southern Egypt is.”

“What do you mean?”

“You will see.”

We started the journey in Aswan, arriving there after a few days. The Nile in Aswan was a glowing, shimmering blue that was so vibrant I forgot it was a river and never the ocean.

My father and I settled into our room and he shortly determined to give me a temporary tour of Aswan. He strode down to the foyer and marched proper up to one of many desk attendants.

“Hello,” the desk attendant smiled. His English was good. “How may I help you?”

“Jioajoeanfionaoinofna?” Baba requested.

The desk attendant paused for a second. “Oionaonfianfnsda. I thought you were both Spanish,” he added in a whisper. “I was about to start speaking Spanish.”

“No, Egyptian. Well, she’s technically American, but she’s my daughter, so Egyptian. Ononwanfoanfoanfoa?”

This continued on for a whereas because the Chinese language vacationers oohed and ahhed over luxurious items of silk. They poked on the gold camel statues and the hieroglyphic necklaces as a bored salesgirl clicked away on her telephone.

“Do you like your homeland?” It took me a minute to understand that the attendant was talking to me.

“Oh yes, it’s quite lovely.”

He beamed. “You don’t look American. Nor do you look Egyptian. I honestly thought you were both Spanish.”

Baba shrugged. “Well, the Ottoman Empire — ”

I prayed that he didn’t bore our poor attendant. You possibly can all the time inform if my father favored somebody as a result of he would deliver up one of many following subjects: The Ottoman Empire, Soccer or 401Ks.

“Okay, Mina let’s go.” Fortunately it was a brief lesson. Baba pulled me by way of the deck and onto the road, the place automobiles whizzed by.

Vans held a good 10-15 individuals, two of which have been almost dangling out of the aspect. Males shot by on mopeds previous full horses and carriages. Ladies lounged on park benches as boys kicked round a soccer ball. And identical to in Cairo, there was fixed honking.

My father whistled to appeal to the eye of a close by carriage. “This is Aswan’s version of a taxi. Hop in.”

I struggled into the carriage whereas my father clambered in subsequent to me, barking on the carriage driver. Mud blew into my eyes as we handed males sitting outdoors, smoking hookah and shouting at each other; teenage women strolling arm in arm, stopping each few ft to take a selfie; canine sauntering down the road and cats tucked by trash cans; delicate metropolis lights glowing in the space. I gaped as a whole household of 5 roared by on a moped. Cairo had felt extra trendy, whereas Ashwan felt as if it had stopped rising someday in the 1950s.

Alongside the best way, I observed there have been shops framed with footage of smiling couples and pink and white clothes.

“Those look like Quinceanera dresses,” I commented to Baba, who nodded.

“Yea, people really get into weddings in the south of Egypt. In some Nubian villages, the wedding will go on for a week.”

“A week?!”

“Yea or until they run out of food.” He pointed at a billboard with a man clutching a pair of cube. “That’s Egypt’s own version of Ocean’s Eleven.”

“Egypt has their own version of Ocean’s Eleven?”

“Yea, but it’s not as good as the American one. They like to rip off American TV too. My cousins told me that Egypt has its own Saturday Night Live, but it’s not very good. All they do is make fun of Trump.”

“Well, that’s all ours does too.”

We handed a bronzed statue of a man with a pen in hand, staring down at a piece of paper.

“That’s a famous Egyptian writer,” My father defined. “I don’t remember which one. But he’s from Aswan.” He took in a deep breath. “It’s been years since I was last here.”

“When have been you final right here?’

“Oh, I don’t quite remember. Probably after I finished my undergrad and before I went to England to get my PhD.”

“Why didn’t you just get your PhD here?”

“Egypt is very poor.” He sighed. “It’s poorer or as poor as most Latin American countries. I had to leave because I had a better opportunity. That, and I got bored.”

“You got bored?”

“Yea. I kind of got bored in Egypt. So I got into the University of Birmingham, and I decided to just go.”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“A little, but it was fun too.”

I sat again in the carriage, reminded of how I had additionally fled — in my case, Orange County for New Mexico — in order to get a respectable schooling as a author, and since, I too, was bored. I had wanted a break from Orange County and I needed to see what the remainder of the nation was like. So with out figuring out something about Santa Fe, I determined to simply hop on a aircraft and provides it a go.

“I’m so glad that you seem to like Egypt,” My father minimize in, interrupting my ideas. “I’ve wanted to teach you about your culture for so long. But it was hard too, your mother didn’t want me to. She was convinced that if I took you to Egypt I would kidnap you. I’m glad though that you are now finally getting to see it.”

Unbeknownst to me, one in every of our cousins had employed a tour information/archaeologist to present us across the numerous temples. His identify was Ahmed, and it turned fairly clear why our cousin had employed him: my father knew nothing about historic Egypt or Egyptian mythology.

“Today we are going to the Temple of Philae,” Ahmed informed us, as we launched into a small boat throughout the Nile. The boat appeared as if it had been plucked straight from Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise. However as an alternative of getting a cheery skipper who cracked jokes, we had a sullen boat driver, who responded in brief grunts when spoken to.

“The Temple of Philae goes back thousands of years.” Every time Ahmed spoke about historic Egypt, his voice rose, as if to seize the mysticism of it. “Today you will see drawings that have lasted years and years. It’s remarkable how long they have survived. Yet another sign of how great the Egyptian people are.”

“Beware of the peddlers,” My father minimize in. “Whenever they try to sell you something, just tell them ‘no, or no shakran.’ It’s just a thing here.”

The second we received off the boat, peddlers surrounded us. They have been like locusts, creeping into each crevice, their voices shrill and sharp.

“Noinionoi! 2 Dollar! Very nice scarf, you like?”

“Postcard! 1 dollar! Pretty postcard!”

“Real rock from the temple!”

We shrugged them off, my father grinning as he did. He made the error of slipping into Arabic, and it was over. Each peddler was on him, insisting that he purchase one thing, that as an Egyptian, it was his obligation to purchase one thing. He laughed, the push of the haggle brightening his face, as Ahmed led us to the temple.

Ahmed walked us via the totally different temples, the deep carvings of Gods and Goddesses bearing down on us, the lengthy columns with totally different tops, the sand blowing in the wind and the warmth burning by way of my hat. He defined that in all Egyptian mythology, it all the time targeted on the household: the daddy, the mom and the kid. This was why in Egyptian tradition, the household was so necessary: it actually went again to historic occasions.

Whereas I discovered the legends to be straightforward to perceive, my father didn’t. Regardless of what number of occasions Ahmed defined who Osiris or Isis was, my father would ask once more, a lot to his chagrin. At one level he let loose a sigh, questioning how the individuals of Egypt have no idea their very own historical past, but others discover it so fascinating.

Upon leaving the Temple of Philae, we went to a totally different temple, the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris, which was devoted to Sobek, the crocodile God. Ahmed knowledgeable us that when the temple was used, stay crocodiles have been additionally housed, alongside the people. When I requested Ahmed why he appreciated Sobek a lot, he merely answered, “He’s a crocodile God,” which admittedly, is a ok cause to favor a God.

Over the subsequent few days, we sailed from city to city, exploring historic temples with scrawling on the partitions. We drank tea day by day at four p.m., and Ahmed tried to give us classes on hieroglyphics and mythology. By the third day of my father forgetting all the things he had stated the day earlier than, Ahmed turned extra in watching the Chinese language vacationers. They performed a recreation in which they stored clapping their arms and cheering, all for no obvious purpose.

“Why does this keep happening?” Ahmed burst out laughing on the sight, which had now advanced to embrace slapping and screaming the desk.

We handed by means of Edfu, a small Egyptian village to see yet one more temple. Skeletal canine roamed the streets as a younger woman, who might barely converse or see, tried to promote me tissues for a mere Egyptian pound. The buildings have been decaying and each carriage was adorned with bells, whistles and in the case of ours, Tweety Chook stickers.

We ultimately made it to probably the most magnificent and well-known of all of the temples, Luxor. The most important metropolis on our tour, Luxor was house to Karnak and Luxor Temple. As we first approached Luxor Temple, I was awestruck by the towering columns, the detailed sketches, the sprawling courtyard . . . and the McDonald’s instantly throughout the road.

“Huh,” I muttered to myself, as a wreck almost occurred in entrance of the McDonald’s.

“Oh, this temple may not give us free admission,” Baba yawned, stretching his arms above his head.

“The temples were giving us free admission?”

“Yes, because I am Egyptian and you are my daughter. We get in for free if we are citizens. But they may not go for that since this one is bigger. So today you’re Canadian.”

“Why can’t I be American?”

“Oh, you can be, it’s just a hassle,” Ahmed reduce it. “If you’re American, they’ll send in a guard with a giant machine gun to follow you around.”

“What?! Why?”

“Oh, there are all these rumors that American tourists get kidnapped. It’s not true of course, but they had to start doing it as a precaution.”

“I think I’m going to be British from now on,” Baba determined.

“Why?”

“I’m tired of people trying to sell me stuff because I’m Egyptian. They claim you have to buy something for your homeland! Let’s not be Canadian, let’s be British. That’s more fun. From now on we’re from the posh part of London.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes. I feel like being British.”

“You do that then.”

True to his phrase, Baba determined we have been British. He altered his accent to sound much more British than standard and even made associates with a household from Manchester.

“I recognized your accent,” He advised them proudly, as we strolled by means of the columns. “I used to live in Birmingham. Now my daughter and I live in London.”

“Oh, lovely.”

I nodded, afraid that my lack of a correct posh accent would give me away.

Baba stored up his British facade not solely at Luxor Temple, but in addition on the Valley of the Kings. It turned clear simply what number of Chinese language vacationers got here to Egypt, because the guards on the numerous temples had discovered to bow and cry ni hao! a lot to the vacationers’ pleasure. I additionally discovered that if one needs a image in the tombs, they will simply bribe the guard with a crisp 10-pound notice. One simply has to be sure that nobody else is in the tomb.

Over the subsequent few days, Ahmed regaled us with tales of the 2 most well-known temples. Luxor Temple had a mosque in it, which truly did maintain prayers. Karnack had almost been bombed, however all the shopkeepers and peddlers had managed to safe the attackers, all thanks to the bravery of a cab driver (and Allah). The ink on the temple partitions, which have been over four,000 years previous, have been nonetheless vibrant, with numerous shades of scarlet and blue shimmering towards the granite.

As fascinating because the temples have been, the vacationers who visited them have been much more so. When a British man dressed solely in khaki posed in entrance of Ramses II for a image, a group of Chinese language ladies bombarded him, insisting on a selfie. He smiled bemusedly as they pointed at his hat. Ahmed and I concluded that they could have thought he was Indiana Jones.

Quite a few faculty youngsters ran amok, their chaperones screaming at them to keep collectively and pay attention to the historical past of the temples. Simply as American youngsters typically go on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., Egyptian youngsters have a tendency to go go to the traditional websites of Luxor and Aswan. And identical to many American youngsters, Egyptian youngsters haven’t any curiosity in the historical past in any respect — they need to get as many selfies as attainable for his or her Fb account. Unusually sufficient, I was included in a few of those selfies, as random women ran in the direction of me, caught a telephone in my face and ran away. Anybody who wasn’t Egyptian was much more fascinating than the barbaric conduct of Ramses III.

On our third day in Luxor, I obtained a suitor.

“You need to buy some alabaster while you’re in the south,” Ahmed advised us, as we bounced over a filth street. “The alabaster is better in the South than it is in the North.” He barked one thing at our driver, who turned down yet one more dust street. “I’m going to take you to the best alabaster shop in all of Luxor. It’s much better than all the other tourist ones.”

We parked outdoors an aged white constructing, the place a bald man dressed in a gabeya strolled over to meet us. He beamed as my father and I got here out of the van, squinting into the brilliant solar. He had pristine tooth and darkish sun shades.

“Hello! I am Mohammed.” He was the fourth Mohammed I had met. “This is my family’s alabaster shop. That’s my dad and uncle,” He pointed over at two different males working with a superb porcelain. They nodded in our path. “Would you like to learn how alabaster is made?”

Mohammed walked us by way of your complete course of, and he defined that his entire household owned and labored at this store.

“Come, come inside!” Mohammed led us over to the door to his store, “You must see our alabaster. It’s very good, the best alabaster in all of Luxor!”

Baba walked forward of me, taking in all the totally different sizes and shapes of alabaster. There have been glowing inexperienced vases, charcoal cats, pyramids and beautiful vases of colours I had by no means seen earlier than. Ahmed headed straight for the again the place one other man emerged and arrange a hookah for him. He proceeded to take a look at Fb.

“You and your hookah,” Baba laughed, strolling in the direction of him. “You just can’t stop smoking it, can you?”

“I’m amazed you don’t,” Ahmed replied, as the opposite man plopped down and commenced to jabber away in Arabic.

“Your alabaster is very beautiful,” I advised Mohammed, who had magically reappeared with a glass of hibiscus tea for me.

“Thank you. You are from America, yes?”

“Yes, I’m from Los Angeles.”

“Los Angeles! Wow! I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“It’s a bit different from Egypt, but I think you might like it.”

“Do you like southern Egypt?” He shot me a pair of puppy-dog eyes.

“Yes, very much, it’s lovely.”

“Do you have Facebook?” He worn out his telephone and switched to his Fb app.

“Uh, yes . . .” I glanced over at Baba, who was rambling to a resigned Ahmed..

“I will add you,” Mohammed pushed his telephone in my face. I didn’t need to refuse, so I tentatively added my identify in. “This way the next time you are in Luxor, I can show you around! We Egyptians love Facebook, it’s like water.”

“Okay — ”

He then flipped the telephone round. “Selfie?!”

“Ahhh . . .” I wasn’t sporting any make-up and my hair was tied up in a sloppy braid. I was fairly positive sand and filth coated each inch of me. “Okay . . .”

Mohammed beamed his pearly whites as I leaned my head in. “It’s perfect!”

“Next time you are in Egypt, come back alone.” Mohammed winked. “Then I can really show you Luxor.”

Within the span of 5 minutes, I had caught myself an Egyptian suitor. To today, I nonetheless randomly get messages from Mohammed, that are often footage of roses. He insisted I return to Luxor alone, in order that he might present me the sights and sounds. If I ever develop uninterested in life in Los Angeles, I all the time have the choice to go and stay in the alabaster retailer with Mohammed.

Upon returning to Cairo, my father launched me to roughly eight,000 cousins. The bulk spoke English, aside from a few who solely knew how to talk by way of feeding me falafels and selfies. I additionally met Uncle Wale, my father’s brother, who has written 5 books on Islam, and as all siblings do to each other, horribly embarrasses my father.

Uncle Wale took us out to dinner at a fancy restaurant on the Nile. The lengthy, flowing river was not as brilliant or as clear because it was in the South; it truly resembled the identical mud and dust as The Mississippi. Nonetheless, the Nile was one of many quietest locations in all of Cairo, an oasis away from the fixed honking. The cafes alongside the Nile quickly turned one among my favourite locations in the town.

“Joinownfoiana?!” Uncle Wale barked on the host, who both didn’t have a desk for us or didn’t have the suitable desk.

“Inoanfioanfosna!”

“Buihbwbaifbbaibfa!” Uncle Wale stormed off, leaving us with the now disgruntled and confused host.

“What happened?” I requested Baba, who had buried his face in his palms.

“I don’t even know. Wale is so self-righteous. It’s so embarrassing. He’ll come back in a minute, just watch.”

Positive sufficient, Uncle Wale strode again up the host, who with a shrug, led us to our desk, solely to discover a cat sitting in one of many chairs. When Uncle Wale tried to shoo the cat away, it stared at him, flicked its tail, and proceeded to roll over onto its again.

This wasn’t the final time Uncle Wale would storm off. Throughout one household gathering, the place my kinfolk had ready the equal of eight Thanksgivings, Uncle Wale turned disgruntled and marched proper out the door. Nobody reacted to this and stored consuming. Two minutes later, Uncle Wale sauntered again in, urging everybody to end consuming in order that they might go watch the soccer match.

“It’s so embarrassing!” My father hissed at me, as Uncle Wale plopped again down on the desk. “Why does he do this?!”

“All siblings embarrass each other,” I reassured him. “Nadia embarrasses me all the time.”

Whereas none of my kinfolk matched Uncle Wale’s dramatic antics, all of them had their very own quirks. My cousin Tarek informed me, in full sincerity, that once we dream, our souls depart our our bodies and all of us meet up with one another in dreamland. He believed that this was why we dreamt of different individuals, we encountered them in dreamland. My cousin Kareem and I instantly bonded not as a result of we have been household, however as a result of we each appreciated to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. It appeared that, like my father, none of my relations have been regular by any society’s requirements.

Every single day felt like Thanksgiving, as my household fed me plate after plate of falafels, rice, grape leaves, hen, pita, salad and glass after glass of crisp, refreshing hibiscus tea. I was adorned with presents: gold vases scrawled with Arabic writing, purses that includes Egyptian movie stars, lavender, sea inexperienced, silver hijabs and a beautiful sapphire necklace. I gaped on the necklace as my cousin draped it round my neck, uneasy to settle for such a present however flattered on the similar time.

“It’s jamila,” She stated, patting my face. “Just like you.”

“What does jamila mean?”

“Beautiful.”

I was touched by their kindness. Regardless of by no means having met me, they opened their doorways to me, fed me and handled me as a true member of the household. Regardless of my lack of Arabic and clear look as an American, they nonetheless accepted me. They really made me really feel that Egypt was additionally my homeland.

TheExpeditioner

By Sarah Mina Osman / Sarah Osman Twitter Sarah Osman Instagram

Sarah Osman Bio PictureSarah Mina Osman is a author and instructor dwelling in Los Angeles. She is half Egyptian/half Cajun, which, sure, is a unusual mixture. She has traveled to 4 totally different continents and lived in Australia. When she’s not writing or educating, she enjoys dancing, watching random exhibits she finds on Netflix and consuming. She additionally has a deep appreciation for sloths and platypi.