By: Leena El-Sadek
“Ello my Bakistani friend. I sell you this beautiful watch for only 60 Gyptian bounds.”
“La, shukren ya Ustadh.”
“Eda, enty Masreya?”
“Aywa, ana Masreya.”
“Salaam alaikum ya Madam. Enty wahda menina.”
Those are the humblest words I have ever received—You are one of us. I had just finished eating in Tahrir with my class at this authentic (but I argue largely overrated) Egyptian restaurant. The sweat polished my skin as the car exhaust and cigarette smoke scented my hair and clothes. The one-way streets and screaming motorists left me dazed and lost. Although I’ve been to Tahrir before, this was my first time back in five years. Needless to say, my country welcomed me back with open arms.
I am far from a fluent Egyptian speaker. My broken 3meya and absent fusha leave me as a strong candidate for Khan a Khalili harassment. Although I am not a good talker, I am a fluent listener, and this is what helped me connect with many Egyptians and become one of them. From taxi rides to bus drivers to family visits, I have learned so much from my Egyptian brothers and sisters, and this has helped me contribute much to the Duke in the Arab World program.
Perspective is huge in today’s Egypt, and I was able to witness this by fostering discussion between our group and the Egyptians. The first perspective was found with a religious taxi driver. There were four of us in the car and we were en route to Khan a Khalili. Since we were barely progressing in traffic, we decided to open up discussion with our driver. He was a middle-aged, middle-class man that was very hopeful of the forthcoming elections. A strong supporter of Morsi, the driver was sure that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate would bring change and rid the country of any Mubarak residue.
The second perspective was found through our bus driver. As our trip to the colossal City Stars mall was longer than planned, the driver explained why Shafik would be the optimum candidate. Before starting his political speech, he gestured out the window and pointed to the beggars on the street. “You see that? More and more people are flocking to the streets because of the lack of opportunity in this country. Look at me. I have a family to feed and I must rely on my job as a driver to support them. It shouldn’t be this way.” He then argued that Shafik is the best candidate to relieve Egyptians of its financial stresses and that Egypt will be in a bigger hole with Morsi’s capitalistic motivations.
I found the third perspective on my way to the Arab Academy in another taxi. Unlike many Egyptians that I talked to, he stressed that both Shafik and Morsi were zabalah (garbage). “Let them elect Shafik. Hell, let them elect Morsi. I have one more hour, then I’ll be waiting for them in Tahrir. The Revolution has just begun.” He emphasized that the Egyptians have made it too far to settle, and he must represent the No Vote option at the polls.
Just like that, I was able to experience so many people’s opinion about the Egyptian situation simply by listening. By adding simple comments in Arabic, I was able to bridge my group with many Egyptians. This helped tremendously with our final project. From Resalah workers to drivers, I stayed in contact with many Egyptians and interviewed them for our final presentation.
“I will always be first and foremost a Palestinian,” remarked Islam, a proud Palestinian born and raised in Qatar.
What he said next, however, was unexpected. He just finished telling me about his struggles with citizenship and rights as a refugee. Although he has lived in Qatar as long the natives, he was still deprived of many rights, including passport status. Yet, he did not complain about Qatar.
“You can’t put Qatar aside, because at the end of the day, it’s the country that welcomed us and reached their hand to us.”
Islam classified himself as Palestinian first, then Qatari, Muslim, and, lastly, Arab. In a country where Arabs make the largest population, I was surprised that his classification as Arab came last. Similar to Islam’s answer, many natives placed Arab as their last identity, which helped me realize that Qatari nationalism is present and extremely significant in determining one’s identity.
The dynamic in our group of people was interesting. Each person had a particular interest that was expressed through incessant questions. You could tell what our interests were by observing our questions. Ayan repeatedly asked about the intricacies of Qatari culture while Nick stuck to the complex political sphere of the Arab world. I, however, was interested in imagined communities that surfaced in Qatar. I was introduced to new cultural practices with each expatriate that I met. A Somali taxi driver showed us where the best Somali restaurants are. A Filipino café worker described what many Filipinos do on the corniche on the weekend. I found dialect the most interesting way to understand how many of the cultures coexist in Qatar. Sumaiya, the Syrian program coordinator for Qatar University, expressed how she communicates with other Syrians by using her unique Syrian dialect. As we walked along the Doha waters, I learned key Syrian phrases: wenek? Sho ismak? Ibrahim, an Algerian pilot I met while duning, introduced the Algerian dialect: chaba, medrur, saha. Lastly, I asked many of the Qatari students to teach me their dialect. Unlike modern standard Arabic, the Qatari dialect uses much throat and the endings of the words are different from MSA: ashloonch? la tstabten wiai? Waysh? Each dialect was unique to its country, and many people outside the dialect did not understand it, even if they were Arab. Each person I talked to reasoned that dialect was a method of bonding the people of that country together. Shaikha, a Qatari female, said that their dialect helps distinguish them from other Arabs in Qatar. Sumaiya said that the Syrian dialect is her only connection to home, especially during the turbulent times in her home city. Whenever someone replies with the Syrian dialect, she is reminded that she is not alone. Ibrahim said that the Algerian dialect helps him identify other Algerians in Qatar.
Understanding the dialects helped me understand how so many cultures lived simultaneously in Qatar. These imagined communities were sprawled across Doha, and the most evident places were the Qatari malls. On one floor of the mall, one would find Filipino, Malaysian, Indian, Egyptian, American, and Somali restaurants. These groups managed to develop their imagined communities by propagating their food and language. Every time I passed the Filipino restaurant, I heard the workers yell in Tagalog. This is also true with most other nationalities represented in Qatar. Despite their small number, they have managed to create thriving communities dispersed across the country.
From listening to the pleads of Egyptians to understanding the role of language and dialect in Qatar, my contributions to the Duke in the Arab World have equaled my benefits. I was able to bring in many perspectives by interacting with many natives of both countries. My time here was well spent, but I am cognizant that there is much more to learn about the Arab World. My experience this summer has paved the way for future experiences and research that will help me understand much more of the intricate Arab World. Despite being repeatedly called Pakistani/Indian, getting lost in Tahrir, and losing the translation to many conversations, I am privileged to have embarked on this journey. I am wahda menuhm, despite living thousands of miles away. This experience in the Arab World has enabled to understand what wahad menina means and it has allowed me to realize the honor of being Egyptian.