Tuesday, 30 June 2015

From my memories

I will run away from politics… from reviving religious discourse… from disputes between liberalism and totalitarianism… from chanting the struggle of the poor against wailing of the wealthy.

In this day of Ramadan when tea, coffee, cigarettes and many other things are forbidden for long hours and days, I will run away and resort to the chest of my memories… when we used to have Iftar in Ramadan on the roof of our house in our hometown which is jokingly said to lie on the north of the world… away from the main road connecting the two provinces of Basyoun and Dessouq, and separated by the big water channel or al-Qaddaba or al-Bagouriya water channel from the station of the slow small Delta train… the police station used to lie at Kafr ad-Dawaar; the smallest village… also, it is the village of my friend Ahmed al-Meslemani… it is different to the province of Kafr ad-Dawaar in Beheira governorate… this police station moved afterwards to San el-Hagar… and was never for a once in our village, although ours was the most populist one.

The weather was like now… hot and humid… and the day was long indeed… but the roof was the coolest place with the three relatively low and round tables lying next to each other… the big one was reserved for my grandfather, grandmother, father, paternal uncles and elder cousins… my grandmother used to place the pot where she keeps the cooked poultry next to her, then she starts to distribute it into shares when the prayers of Maghreb was called for…

It was too hot that each one of the elders used to put a red clay pot full of almost cold water under his knees while he was sitting cross-legged on the ground… cross-legged is different to squatting… to squat is to sit holding your legs to your stomach and chest while your back is leaning against a wall or firm supporting cushion… but sitting on the ground cross-legged means to fold your legs in a cross-legged position while you are sitting on the ground… and so I do not understand why they do not say “the cross-legged Egyptian scriber” instead of “the squatting one”… they also used to order us when we were young to “cross your arms”… meaning to put our arms folded and crossed over our chest… and they did not say “squat your arms”… as putting the arms in crossed position was regarded a sign of good manners.

Once the mosque Imam calls for the prayers shouting “Allah Akbar”, the red Qenawi pots raise up sluicing water into the thirsty throats and pouring it outside the mouth to dampen their clothes; both the Galabiya and vest.

Some of them used to stand and gesture with his arms saying: “come on… say your prayers call”… directing his words to Sheikh Ahmed Shehab; the Imam of the village who used to call for the prayers from above the minaret of the big Hashimi mosque while spinning in all direction to let the whole village and the neighboring helmets and manors hear… especially Salem helmet and Mustafa Pasha Rashid manor.

After Sheikh Ahmed Shehab, came his son Sheikh Abdel-Shakoor Shehab; the one with the beautiful sonorous voice who used to recite Quran in the sad and cheerful occasions… also, he used to chant recitations in Mawled of Sidi Ibrahim Bosayla.

My grandmother; Hajja Halima, used to supervise from a distance over her daughters-in-law; my mother, her counterpart sisters-in-law and the giant pots placed over the primitive stoves boiling above the fuel of wood and dry manure… inside those pots was a mix of poultry producing the most delicious soup I ever tasted despite I travelled around the world and tasted many.

Then those cooked poultry were picked up from the pots to be placed in the wide plate in order for my grandmother to distribute the shares with equality and without prejudice… Kebab of half-crushed maze grains was also distributed along with the poultry… I later heard that sometimes things did not go well when my elder uncle; half-brother of my father and his brothers used to knock with the bones over the brass tray if the shares were of beef or lamb… such knocking was the sign or “Morse code” he used to tell his father that his share contained a lot of bones more than meat… at that moment, Hajja Halima gets mad.

The other two tables were for the women and children… each mother used to sit her children next to her or over her cross-legged knees… in case one of the children dipped his finger in the elders’ pots, his mother is the one to be punished.

Once in Ramadan that came in June or July… I do not remember but the very unbelievably hot weather… all the men were sleeping in the afternoon taking a break from wheat harvest where the sharp needle-pinned wheat ears breaks penetrating the sweated hot skin… all of them were lying in the shadows of a line of camphor, river red gum, willow, sycamore and mulberry trees lining on the bridge of al-Qatni water channel which I do not know why they called it “al-Qatni sea”… it is a non-wide water channel separating our village Ganag from the village of Shabratna; village of ash-Shazli family…

Suddenly, four of the maternal uncles and their friends conspired to attack those exhausted sleeping men to hold them from their hands and legs and throw them into the waters of the channel… the channel filled with men inhaling their breaths with panic while mentioning the name of God… after this, bursts of laughs went loud… the men went out of the water seeking to dry their wet clothes… then interrogation started: “swear in God’s name that you did not drink water”… the ones being interrogated answer: “I swear I did not but water went along my throat against my will”… interrogation continued until they all confessed that only God knows “we drank against our will”!

In the time extending between Iftar and Suhur, a lantern was lit and hanged to the ceiling of the big terrace of the house… after Isha’a prayers, a Quran reciter who mastered his profession from his ancestors arrives… the man was light-hearted… he used to recite one tenth or a quarter of a part of Quran then he starts a long round of mutual mocking and joking… it was Okay also to throw cushions in such conversation until the tray of Suhur  food arrives…this tray of food used to include soft round bread, fresh cottage cheese, butter milk, some cream if there was some, honey, molasses and sometimes beans and eggs if there were some… then the man leaves prior to midnight.

In so many Ramadan nights, we used to prepare for the procession as there were some who skilled in making an intertwined network of long bamboo sticks with Kerosene lamps hanging from the intersections of those sticks, each having a cotton thread dipped down in its Kerosene-filled tank… the more skilled the one who made this intertwined network, the bigger the number of those lamps lining next to each other was… this one used to walk in the frontline of the procession including boys and some little girls touring rightwards over the shrines of the pious revered figures of the village… Sidi Mansour… Sidi Nasr… Sidi al-Wakee’a… Sidi Abol-Abd… Sidi Abol-Fath… reaching to Sidi Ibrahim Bosayla… then to Sidi Ali al-Zobairi… and other ones whom my long-term memory failed to count.

Each one of those used to have his supporters and opponents… some of those opponents used to say jokingly: “here we came to you, Sheikh… we will knock your shrine down, Sheikh”… while others stand to them… such procession is only disrupted when Al-Mesaharati bangs over his big drum using a thick stick with a round head or over his small one with a pliable piece of leather.

Ooh.. with Al-Mesaharati, poets playing Rababa instruments coming from Al-Baktoush village neighboring ours, there are lots and lots of memories… at that time, there were no salafists… no muslim brotherhood… no Daesh… no al-Qae’da… no bragging… no provocation… no ugly voices… no dogmatic, sectarian or religious enmities… the common traits in all people were kindness, intrinsic nature, collective burdens, laughing over jokes or satire… I wish those days come back.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on June 30, 2015.

To see the original article, go to:

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