Our leave to Cairo was also another easy move. My grandmother was sick, but still functional. We had developed a bond by the time it was time to leave, but knew we would see each other again. My Sudanese friend was moving back to Sudan around the same time we had to leave. The third member of the group would be left behind, but she handled the parting well. The three of us made sure to make our last time hanging out together special. We left all furniture and non-essentials packed up in boxes in our apartment on the other side of town.
The business that my father decided to pick up was a dry-cleaning service. The apartment that he landed us was in a twenty-one story building in the middle of Cairo located on the seventeenth floor. They enrolled me in the Saint Fatima private school which was in walking distance from where we lived. Outside of my only friend at school, Basma, I had no friends. My days were spent at home or running errands for my mother. The freedom that I had in Shabeen El-Kom was taken away from me because my parents were scared of the rampant amount of child abductions happening on the streets of Cairo. Children would be picked up off the street and sold into sexual slavery, drug trafficking, and forced to sell cheap merchandise around the city.
So, I would spend my days out of school looking out over old Cairo, new Cairo, and the desert on the two apartment balconies. What fascinated me most was the large Coptic Orthodox church across the street from us and across from it the small squat, in comparison, mosque. The church was as tall as my building, but it was the most beautiful and intricately decorated building that I had ever seen. I would watch pigeons live out their lives in the arches and buttresses of the church. I was watched in deep fascination when the hawks would go on the hunt for their daily meals, the birds making beautiful patterns across the sky fighting for their lives around the church.
When I would come home from school, the first order of business would be trying to beat my mother at a game of chess. Then it would be homework, after which, I watch endless hours of Bollywood, American movies, and old Egyptian movies on TV. The building stairway was littered with violent territorial stray cats so I rarely took that rout. Instead, I opted for the old scary rope elevator that would stop moving when people opened an elevator door on any of the floors. Packs of stray dogs would roam the streets and follow people traveling alone who smelled like food. My walks home would be very hasty.
When we went to playgrounds and parks, it would be a different face to talk to at the swings every day. The mad cow disease hit hard and people resorted to other alternatives including camel meat. It was a quiet, boring, and peaceful time for us. One day, my father took me alone with him the to see the pyramids and we climbed up on the stones of the largest one. He would also take me to spend time at his business to learn how to write our orders on tickets and answer the phone.
It was during this time that I was reminded of my place as a girl and an American more strongly than ever before. Society and family sought to drill that in.