'Haythem, we're coming to Zagazig. Ok?'
'Ok.' He seemed distracted. 'You come Zagazig?'
'You come Zagazig visit me?'
'Yes, is that ok?'
'Yes. Ok. Welcome welcome.'
After a day of riding, asking a broken down taxi driver to draw a map of Zagazig, and having our Arabic laughed at by a few local youngsters, I found a phone shop.
The local youngsters had taken us to a tea shop and offered us tea while we waited. That's what people do in Egypt--they drink tea, with family, friends, and strangers alike. We joked around, with Nate and I gesturing and reciting the 20 most-important-words-in-Arabic hoping to be understood--men ayna? (from where?), janube africa (south africa), beh agala (with bike), sabat jahor (7 months). Of course, we only became the subject of mockery when they couldn't help but find our Aarabi very funny: janube afrique?! be agala?! sabat jahor?! On the edge of their seats, their eyes nearly popped out in excitement, Really??!!
'Haythem!' I immediately recognized Haythem as he walked down the street. He had combed back hair and wore a clean, sleek button down shirt with jeans. He greeted us, then turned to exchange hugs and handshakes with the youngsters. 'You know them?,' I asked. 'No,' Haythem replied with a smile. That's the way what people do in Egypt--they greet each other, family, friends, and strangers alike.
We chatted away as he walked us to his home; his phone was ringing nonstop. 'You must be popular, Haythem,' I said. He looked up from entering a text on his phone, and broke the news: 'I'm getting married in two days.'
'TWO DAYS! You didn't tell us you were getting married!'
'Yes, two days.' His phone rang again. 'Phone phone phone phone,' he laughed, pretending to chuck the phone away.
He led us through a maze of narrow, dirt alleyways between rugged brick buildings. Arriving at his house, he left us with his family and went to oversee the construction of his new house. He needed to make sure it was finished by the big day, because in Egyptian tradition, that's when newlyweds move in.
On the roof with the family, Nate and I stood in an awkward silence. We exhausted our 20-most-important-words-in-Arabic , and now resorted to avoiding eye contact. Hmm...let's look at the tv flickering in the apartment across the alleyway...or how about that tied up cow entranced in its musings...
A stream of relatives and friends came by to visit the family. As they all hugged and kissed and chatted happily about the wedding, Nate and I look at each other hesitantly. Maybe we shouldn't stay. Everyone was obviously busy with the wedding, and it was unfair that as guests, we imposed ourselves on them.
Just then, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around to see Nourhan, Haythem's sister. 'Haythem...umm...umm...' she stammered, looking for the English words. Finally, she pointed to her ring finger, 'Eh...marry...eh...'
'No, I don't think so.'
'Thalatha yawm. Al-Quahirah (3 days. Cairo).' I made plane flying noises, 'Ee-ee--errrr...Amreeka.'
'No,no...You must come!' She turned around and blurted out to the whole crowd of family that we would be absent for the wedding. Suddenly, swiftly like the wind, every person stood up and looked at us with their puppy eyes. 'Lee?! Come!'
'Ok, ok, ' I replied reluctantly, and everyone was in bright smiles again. Going to their wedding meant we wouldn't have time to see the pyramids at Giza, but I couldn't bear to see sad faces on our wonderful hosts.
Hence began, three days of musings around the city of Zagazig, the beginning of the end.
In the morning, Haythem's father, dressed in a loose white ragi, led us through town. With one glossed lazy eye, Daddy Haythem was an easy going man who spent most of his days lounging around with friends, drinking shai and smoking, at his favorite tea house. And naturally, it was here that he brought us. We sat down and met Sadeeq Uncle, who was Daddy Haythem's best friend and apparently, a taxi driver extraordinaire. Through cup after cup of shai and fresh lemonade, Sadeeq Uncle and Daddy Haythem chatted away like old friends, while Nate and I basked in the luxury of sitting back and observing everyday life, without having to talk to anyone. Months of repeating ourselves endlessly to people along the road, and still not being understood, had clearly worn us down.
We returned to Haythem's house to find music blasting through the windows into the narrow dirt alleyways of the neighborhood. Wedding music, I thought. Stepping inside gingerly, I found Mommy Haythem sitting in her room. And there she sat, with her bangs pulled back with a blue headband, smoking a hookah. Her mouth formed into a wide grin as she saw me, 'Hello... Eh?' Did I want some? I shook my head: No, it's ok. 'Shokran, shokran,' she chuckles, cordially mocking the only words I know how to say to her. In a mode of revelation, I walked out of the room: I didn't know women smoked hookahs!