I grew up in a small village in a large family of seven brothers and one sister,. Our dad was the head of the only school in the village, a hands-offish reluctant father figure who despised excessive sentiments and public affections. Only shown for my sister; she was his ‘Aroosah’ the sweetie.
My sister was the third in the pecking order, and I was the fifth, so our sibling rivalry lacked sharpness and tenacity. As the only sister in the family, we treated her like another boy, another brother; only for the house chores, she lost this patriarchal privilege. She was the one to help in the house cleaning and cooking, waking up at the dawn every Friday to help my mum making the bread for the entire week. Having a big family did not give me a chance to know my only sister, She spent most of her time inside the house and I spent most of my time outside. We grew up separated by age and gender divide. Later she left the village for Cairo to finish her school, I was busy being a kid; Last year and right before the pandemic, the lockdown, and travel restrictions, when our time collapsed and our memories vanished. I visited Egypt, and I stayed with my sister in her apartment in the heart of downtown Cairo, a time I had her all for myself, so we got closer and we both shared old stories and old memories. My sister was not a typical traditional woman, grew up to became a delightful competent woman, made it in the men’s world in Egypt. she became the head of the Egyptian Center Bank’s that financed big investment projects and lends other banks. She had the connections and was the one to go to when family and friends needed help. She got married to a military officer, became a widow at an early age, a massive stroke ended her husband’s young life. She never got married again; that was over 25 years ago, never had another relationship with another man. Her husband was a proud man full of pride, seemed always in charge, gentle and generous, had the looks of Omar Sheriff; and the charm of J.F.K. after his death, my sister was in grief for years, never slept in the same room or opened his wardrobes again. That room would be closed until I visit, she will open it for me to sleep, She only entered this room when she hanging my laundry on the clothesline outside the sunny window. Staying with my sister during my visit was rich in conversation and food. Every morning I wake up to the voice of a sheik Abd El Baset reciting the Quran from her favorite radio station that she had it on before she left for her classes at the religion academy.! , The breakfast is set up on the table in the livingroom, ful mudames (fava beans), honey, sour cream, black olive, feta cheese, and fresh bread. After taking a shower, I leave the house room around the big city for hours. When I come home in the afternoon, ,
Once I open the door, I could tell what my sister made for dinner; the smell of my Egyptian dishes coming from the kitchen give it away;; fish, ducks, perigons, Mulukheya, Okra, Moamar, stuffed cabbage leaves, or Macarona be-el-Bashamellah. Each dish has a tradition and a story to tell. … she would; ask if I had eaten outside.., No always my answer!
We sit-down, eat, and converse, reminiscing about family stories; we laugh and cry.
My sister is a religious person without zeal; she quietly prayed the five daily pray then we talk. We both needed to catch up on all the things that we have missed all these years. We talked about her growing up in the village as a young girl;
_ “had any village boys has a crush on you,? “
_ “No, Fareeda, had most the attention from the village boys.”
_ “She was the light skin girl, “I was the darker one,”. she whispered. “
… my sister has the deep beauty of Sophia Loren,; Fareeda had the flashy beauty of Marilyn Monroe, I explained! which she didn’t fully understand or agree. One night I come too late, she was up in her room praying al fajr,, I walked to her room and set down next to her, she asked me to test her reciting of Quran, for the Academy exam. She would start reciting the Quran with a lovely voice like a freshman in her first year at school full of fear. I gave her an A !!
She would ask about my life in America and Americans.; Wondering if I’m happy there.”
_”… You would have done well here?”.
_” If I stayed in Egypt, I would have been stuck either in a bank or a prison.”
We both laughed and enjoyed this rare moment; we talked about her personal life, being a woman, a wife, living in a men’s world, working in an enormous bank, a widow, and an older sister. My sister has many qualities that are usually misunderstood and overlooked by Westerners about Arab/ Muslim women; My sister is a sophisticated, attractive woman, enveloped in modesty and generously. She has a great sense of humor and infectious laugh, which she rarely displayed in public. As I was leaving I asked my sister if she wanted anything from America, “Salamtik”… your safety!! he said with a sad voice. Which was the best thing you could wish for anyone at the time? Coron pandemic hit the world a few weeks later. Last month I missed my sister’s birthday; Happy Birthday Samiah, I love you sister and I miss your laugh.
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