Eight-months pregnant and living with my in-laws I stumble down to the kitchen at 6am to get ready for my temporary office job. My husband and I spent the first year of our marriage in Cairo and when we arrived back in Vancouver four months pregnant we figured it would take us about a month to find jobs and our own place to live. This transition period bled out like red ink that knows no borders and doesn't respect lines. Kind of like egypt. A line between you and me, say, between us and chaos. A two-year-old with a coloring book.
"Becks!" boomed my Egyptian father-in-law, Mike (Ismael Barakat), because the volume of his voice also knew no boundaries and he cared little to modify it to suit the time of day or night or three am: "MA-SALAAM!!" The ringer on full volume for the hard of hearing. It was suggested that I was a light sleeper. It's amazing what you'll accept in a moment.
"Is that your lunch?" he asked from the kitchen stool where he sat dressed in his customary stripped "pidge", slippers and a house coat. His cigars, which he loved and smoked freely in smoking countries like Egypt, seemed so noticeably absent when he was in Canada it spoke of his out-of-placeness.
"Yes," I said, cramming my stack of tupperware containers into a plastic shopping bag. Finding space on the bench amongst his pita, feta and cold cuts. Only ever staying with parents do you find yourself using that amount of tupperware.
"You eat like that you're going to get fat!" he bellowed.
It was quite an education marrying a half-Egyptian, half-Italian man, who was born and raised in Vancouver and then living near his dad in Cairo:
"Dad!" Tameem said to Mike as he appeared unannounced at our apartment door for the third time in as many days. This time I had barely made the streak from our bedroom to the shower before the helpful Boab clicked open our front door with his ring of keys. "Dad, you have to call first," my husband said.
"I have to make an appointment now to see my own son" Mike boomed down the phone to my mother-in-law.
She must have said something to calm him and help him see reason as the next day when he reappeared he gave us a customary call from the lobby. "I'm coming up!" he shouted.
Born and raised in Alexandria and Cairo, Mike was a unique mix of Egyptian grandeur and the street: he was raised in grandeur but preferred the street. At the finest fish restaurants along the nile he ordered fish and chips and he seemed most content winding through the inner-city streets of Babalouk on foot. He liked the street cats, with their bung eyes and constant hunger and often took us to restaurants where they joined you. He liked to back-in-forth with the surly fruit vendors and the countless young men selling cheap electronics. I liked to watch the grubby men in the open air street cafes who drank tea and smoked their faces off and laughed so hard a leg would come up as a hand came down to slap a neighbor's thigh.
Last year Mike had a terrible car accident in Cairo which confined him to a hospital bed. Tameem recently flew to sit with him and watch countless hours of Arabic television.
"I don't like these sons a bitches," Mike said, indicating to the Arabic film playing. "They beat their women and smoke in bed."
I've not known anyone quite like you Mike and we're really going to miss you (Ismael, dad, grandpa Cairo).