Thursdays were the best; everyone gathered for dinner. We were hosted by a different family each week. People loved to bring homemade dishes and desserts with them. These gatherings did me a favor for becoming a distraction from the storms of my anger.
When you live in a city like Cairo you hardly have time for such warm social life, but in a small town all you can afford is time. I wanted to kill time, it was my only enemy. So I waited for Thursdays, and when they came I enjoyed losing the sense of time with people.
These gatherings came with a price, which couldn’t be noticed until later. Gossips found a way to grow and nourish between the ladies, who enjoyed making stories. These ladies also enjoyed making fun of each other, and bragging with real and sometimes unreal shopping lists.
I remember one of these ladies who had a loud voice and a sharp tongue, she bragged with her fair skin, and her overweight body, setting herself as the exclusive beauty standards on earth! She also though her food was the best, and did her best to make the others feel empty and losers. She used to compare me with her infant daughter, because surprisingly we had the same name, but she said ‘’my daughter is more beautiful, she’s fair-skinned and blonde, you are a brunette’’. I was a stupid teenager that I let myself listen to her crab. One day my mother defended me, she waited for her to finish the unrealistic comparison and then she said ‘’ every mother thinks her own gosling a swan’’ and that was enough to shut our cocky friend for the rest of the night.
My mother who couldn’t withstand gossips and side talks didn’t accept more invitations. Back then I blamed her, now I thank her.
Aisha was my best friend, she had patience in me. I understood her words easily, as she tried to speak like an Egyptian. Her trials were appreciated, but the accent was never mastered. We became attached quickly. She invited me to her house, her family was welcoming and my mother loved them, so she let me stay with Aisha for as long as I wanted. We did home works together, walked under the moon, went to the supermarket, to check the empty shelves then went back to her home. I watched her sister baking that strange bread, an oval thick loaf, which they adhered to the oven’s side walls. I never dared to taste it. They ate with their own hands, no spoons allowed, only for the Egyptian girl (my nickname).
I had another friend, her name was Bayena. She was crazy about football, watched every single match. So I had to listen for hours to her post matches analysis. She had a large family; every time I visit her I meet a new sister.
Unlike Aisha, Bayna had no spoons at all, and once we were breaking the fast in Ramadan, and she had to search all over the house and her relative’s houses –which were very close- for a single spoon. Finally she came with an extra large wooden spoon, and that was the first time I try eating with my own hands. She showed me how to make a rice ball with my hand and kick it in my mouth. It was a total mess, but at least I tried eating as a local.
Our first year passed like a turtle touring Europe. It exhausted us, but during the journey of adaptation there were unforgettable moments.
For some reasons my parents decided to stay for summer, while most of the locals went on their own vacations to Yemen or Emirates, we stayed in the desert, beating the heat and negotiating with the absolute silence.
Television and food were the entertainment tools. I started getting into the kitchen, I baked rubber pizza, burnt bread, sticky extra spicy rice, failed rice pudding etc. My mother encouraged me to release my energy in the kitchen, and the whole family was very supportive; they didn’t mind a dinner table with non edible food.
During the 300 days of summer, I watched Oprah Winfery show. She became my friend, her words spoke through me, and that was the first time I knew something called ‘’self confidence’’ existed. I never gave myself a credit for anything before that, I thought I was the ugliest girl on earth, I never thought of a purpose or a goal, never thought of enjoying the company of myself without relying on external matters, never connected with myself in a healthy way, and to be honest I used to believe women had no right to be anything rather than a wife and a mother, even though my mother was a doctor, my mind had boundaries to the possibilities life could afford.
When school came back, it came with bad news; high school classes couldn’t be afforded, that means no school this year. My friends were very happy, they didn’t mind having a break for a year, and they hate school anyway. My parents made calls, sent letters to the central administration office in Riyad, They gave them weak promises on phone, and no replies to their letters.
After many attempts we were left with one option, study at home and leave for exams in the closest town.
With my siblings in school, and my parents working, I was left alone in the house confused and lost.