The men in my neighborhood have adjusted to seeing me around by now. At this point, they harass me usually as an afterthought instead of with the newfound enthusiasm they had the first few weeks I moved here. The store owners and employees can barely contain their amusement as my Arabic vocabulary expands and I practice on them. The ones who speak some English take any opportunity to throw in an English word or phrase in our conversations.
Today was what I've come to accept as a regular day. The technician (I use the term loosely) working on the elevator in our apartment building keeps knocking out the internet somehow. Finally, I go downstairs to ask him to fix it, not realizing until I was well into the conversation that I only know the Arabic word for employee and elevator but not "knocked out my wireless internet access". sigh...Needless to say, he completely took the conversation over while I struggled to keep up. Somehow, he went from the discussing the elevator with me to every Egyptians favorite question: "Where you from?" I've realized a long time ago that no one can ever quite figure out what my ethnicity or nationality is. Sometimes people try to guess but for the most part, they just bluntly demand to know. Depending on how I feel and how quickly I want the conversation to end, I'll either tell them I'm Haitian or American.
After exhausting my painfully short vocabulary of technical terms, I was hoping to keep this conversation short and sweet so I told him I was American. He stared at me quizzically for a moment, "But you're black." Sigh, oh here we go again. I nod. He looked at me a little closer this time, " Well, you are black... with a little yellow." (I don't know if the "yellow" was a reference to my complexion or to the slanted shape of my eyes but I decided to leave it at that). He decides to follow it up with an ever inviting, "you want to take a ride on my elevator." I'll pass.
Me (taking this as a sign that its time to unbraid my hair!): No!!
Employee 2: haha! She does not play any sports!
Employee 1: Are you from America?
Me: Yes. Do you guys have black Americans playing basketball in Egypt?
Employee 1: Yes!! In the Zamalek club. His name is_____. He's the best! Our team is the best
Employee 2: How do you like Egypt?
Me (fresh from being harrased in the street): 'Shweya Shweya'. Sometimes its good sometimes its not so good
Employee 1: Why not so good?
Me: Ugh, Egyptian men! They always bother me in the street
Employee 2 (chuckles): Yes. One time, I saw you walking and I saw many men follow you and say things to you
Employee 1: ...But this doesn't happen ALL the time!?
Me: Yes it does, almost all the time. It even happened before I walked in here . Some guys followed me yelling "samara"!
Employee 2 (now completely unable to control his laughter): "Samara" doesn't mean bad thing. It's not like... Negro. They just want to be your friend
Me: Well, I don't like it at all. It's not nice
Employee 2: We have Nubians here in Egypt. We call our Nubian friends Samara. It's not a bad thing! One of Egypt's best football players. His name is _____ Samara
Me (looking at him incredulously): Is he black?
Employee 2: Yes, of course!
Me: In the U.S., you can't say such a thing. That's like me following you and yelling, " Hey Arab!"
(After thinking about this for a moment, they are both laughing)
Employee 1: If someone object[ifiies] you again in the street. You just let me know! I'll cut him!!
(He runs his finger along his throat to demonstrate. Now, we are doubled over laughing)