Does a place grow old ?! this is one of the questions that have kept me awake in the hot and humid nights during my last visit to Egypt. between Alexandria and Cairo I was trying to find my own Egypt and I have failed. to be out of your place is to be in exile but is there a word of being out of your time.
William Saroyan an interesting Armenian writer once said “When two Armenians meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”. If words ever had weight these would be as heavy as a mountain on me, what is home and how much of it is made up by us.
When I walked about in Talaat Harb in Cairo or Mahtet Elraml in Alexandria my feet knew exactly what they were doing but for my eyes there was something missing. It is like trying to read a book you know well in a language that you do not know well.
My grandmother used to tell us stories about her exile days in Egypt. During the Fascist occupation of Libya my family found refuge in Egypt, in the late 1940s my grandmother was 16 years old Married and responsible for a household, and like many Libyan refugees she believed in her identity as a “Westerner” (Back then, Libyans in Egypt were called “the people of the west”, the term Libya was coined later on).
She told me once ” in exile a soup is not a soup any more it is much more than that, it is a robe that holds us home”. when the Fascist occupation was finally over with the second world war, my grandfather waited for few years then decided that it was time to go home.
All my grandmother mentions regarding those early days back home is her frustration that Libyans started to cook and eat Pasta and Pizza. what confused her even more people have forgotten some of the old ways of cooking and now she (and other returned refugees) are the source of that knowledge. she once commented on that ” .. we did everything exactly how we used to do it before we left, we thought if we change our ways people back home might not recognize us. we never thought that it will be us who will not recognize them” .
Now my grandmother eats pizza with joy and she is a world class cook when it comes to pasta, on the other hand she forgot all about her robes that held her once home. My short stay in Egypt reminded me with the fact that I have no home but my suite case, reminded me of Saroyan and of my grandmother’s tales.
I might have had a home in Egypt once but now all I have is hotel room.