The routine in our house was usually that after my father would come back from dawn prayer the mosque, he would be sitting in the kitchen reading the Quran. We would wake up and be asked to turn on a recitation tape or CD and then make wadooh, ritual washing of the body, before praying morning prayer. Only after we do these things are we allowed to sit down and eat breakfast. If my mother was not up, then he would wake her, but on rare occasions he would make and serve us breakfast. Any deviation from that routine usually resulted in a long lecture about our duty to our creator. How we don’t forget to eat or go to the bathroom, but forget about the one that created us. My mother would be cranky in the morning when he would push her to do her prayers and make breakfast a lot. She could not start a day right without a cup of coffee. Light and sweet with milk and never cream. She would have several cups during the course of the day too. It was a bit of an addiction for her.
During summer break before University started, my eye sight became really bad. I used to have perfect 20/20 vision, but I noticed it deteriorating during my late high school years. My father blamed it on me watching too much TV and being on the computer too much. So, I hated myself for a while for having to wear glasses just to see the board at school. That summer we also visited Egypt for the first time since we had lived there. Cousin A, Uncle M’s only son, was enrolled in the pharmacy program and his youngest sister was enrolled in the music program due to her grades being low. Cousin A always had an interest in me since the days that we were very young and used to dance on the roof top together. We were left sometimes to “get to know” each other and he basically showed off his collection of pirated Egyptian music on his computer. We would all watch censored American movies together and I brought over a Sailor Moon tape for us all to watch. Cousin AT, his younger sister, who I used to have a short sexual tryst with when we were younger, had gained almost as much weight as I had at one point. I did not understand her decline in self-esteem, but it finally dawned on me later on what happened. My mother told me many years later that she was circumcised at the age of thirteen because she was found flirting with boys from the balcony. Her father, Uncle M, had also tried to push my father to circumcise me when I was born, but my mother advised him against it. Her reasoning was that some studies showed that being circumcised usually made a girl more promiscuous instead of curbing the desire like initially thought. Their older sister, Cousin AM, was married and it looked like it was against her will sometimes. Her husband would be over and he would put on an air of being playful and try to get me to joke with him, but I would tell him off every chance I got. Most of the people in the household would take it as humor, but we both knew that I did not like him. At all. From what I saw of how he treated his wife and from what I have heard, I gathered that he was an abusive husband. Nobody did anything about it. Cousin AM was a math teacher like our grandmother was, but he ended up making her stay home and quit her job.
We also had visits from our two male cousins that lived with Uncle S’s divorced wife. He sent her money on a semi-normal basis, but the family all claimed that she was mentally ill. They also claimed that she abused them. Uncle M would sit the children down and whisper to them the stories of how their mother would not feed them and would force them to do grueling household chores. He would force them to recount them and reenact them with demonstrations. The children would look vacant and troubled and when he did that, which was an almost impossible combination to see displayed in a person at the same time. Aunt’s S’s family rarely came over anymore because of the hate and rumors that Uncle M’s family were still perpetuating since the last time that we lived there.
Uncle M’s family was well off at that time because they were reaping the benefits of the rented properties that my father owned. They were stealing some of the profits for themselves and not telling my father about it and were not found out until my mother did the math. Not only that, but my mother had to leave some family heirlooms behind and my Uncle had thrown them away without consulting with any of my parents about it. Despite all that, their collective hatred seemed to grow and spread to everyone and everything. We only stayed a week and decided to spend the rest of our vacation at our apartment in Alexandria which was where my baby brother took his first steps.
When I went out, despite being a bigger girl, I noticed a lot of the leers and suggestive behavior that I was willfully oblivious to when I was younger. Whether that was because it wasn’t as common as it was during the time that I visited or I become more experienced and aware with age, I can’t say. That wasn’t the only thing that changed over the years. Gone was the live animals being sold on the streets, you only found those at night in the big cities like Alexandria, Tanta, or Cairo. That, or in the smaller farm villages at any time of the day. Uncle M’s family, before we left to Alexandria, bought a bunch processed meat and other supplies from a small grocery store. No more killing the animals yourself. I instantly remembered the time that my father had tried to get me to kill a duck and, when I would not, he made me hold its wings so that he could do it. Or the times when I would be fascinated watching my mother kill chickens and the bemused feeling that I would get when she would try to kill a rabbit by herself and fail. There was also a lamb that was killed on our balcony in Cairo and it was flooded with blood by the time the affair was over.
Egypt had changed and it was continuing to change while I was not there to experience any of it. Just the aftermath whenever we were able to visit. Soon my first year at Rutgers University would begin whether I was ready or not.