The People

Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
Trip End Jun 02, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, February 28, 2006


When I first met Sandra the language barrier was always present, bringing an uncharacteristic shyness to the skinny eleven year old. But during my first visit, even though we exchanged only a few awkward phrases, she formed an attachment to me that has blossomed during my stay in Egypt.

Her skin is darker and everything about her is skinny. Her wrists are half my size and she is constantly hiking up her baggy pants. Her black eyes are alert and bright and I soon learned that much of her confusion is faked; she's very smart and doing well in a bilingual school. She faces not only the challenges of fifth grade subjects like science and arithmetic, but she faces them in English.

Her birthday came the second weekend I was with her family. Sandra can be a bit of a drama queen and this event served as a great venue for her emotional outbreaks. The entire family teamed up on her and pretended we didn't have time to celebrate that night. That got me in on it and I told Sandra I had to go back to the university to do school. This actually was true, but for the umpteenth time in Cairo I was ignoring my studies.

Sandra was a basket case, moping around the house and bursting into tears at random moments. I didn't understand the Arabic chastisements she was receiving from her parents and Maged, but I did realize that Sandra had bought the lie hook, line and sinker.

There is nothing so confusing as trying to keep a secret in a language you don't understand. Now Margo was talking to me in Arabic about going back to the university or eating dinner or something and I didn't know if we were still trying to fool Sandra. When Nancy came I was told to get ready to leave. Was I really supposed to get ready or just pretend? I packed my bag just in case. This produced scowls from the family. I wasn't really leaving. Now Nancy was honking for me. I rushed downstairs. Sandra was wailing, leaning out the window and shouting at me to come back. Nancy was laughing and I was stressed out.

What followed was even more confusing. Nancy was trying in English to explain the plan. I understood something about her mother arriving, Hany coming as well and most importantly pizza. I felt bad that I didn't have a gift but it seemed too late for that. Nancy circled the neighborhood and returned to the house. She said something to Sandra and the sulking girl climbed into the back seat. I didn't know what Nancy had said. Did Sandra know where we were going? I decided to just keep silent. Sandra was yelling angrily at Nancy.

For the next hour the confusing surprise continued until finally the whole family rendes-voused at a pizza place and Sandra broke into a smile. She had been completely surprised. Her joy doubled when she was given a cell phone for her birthday.

The next week I brought a blue necklace for her. It was mine, but I never wore it and I wanted to give her something American. She smiled and didn't say much but she hasn't taken it off since.
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