Sunday, January 17, 2010

The only desire

The young taxi driver is steering an old, dented, black-yellow Fiat through the streets of Alexandria which are full of holes. Traffic is fast, aggressive and dangerous; the battle for passengers is tough, income is mean. He spends up to twenty hours daily behind the steering wheel. When he feels tired, he parks the car in a side-road and tries to sleep.

One customer gets off, another one gets in. Egyptian women normally prefer to sit in the back seat, foreigner women prefer to sit in the front. This gives him the chance to ask questions:

„Where come?“

„From Europe.“

He glances at her and then at an inexistent distant place. It bursts out of him full of craving: “Europe, I want go also. Cause here, is sooo bad!” His voice is almost choking.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas Eve

It has already been dark for a while, only a gentle breeze is blowing, the wind has gradually declined during the day. At times, there was even no wind at all and until long after sunset it was mild, around twenty degrees maybe. But now, it is cold.

Ahmed, Naguib, Magdy and Mohammed are sitting side by side on dusty, grey, two-step marble stairs. The stairs lead to a line of new shops: two boutiques with ladies’ fashion Western style, a pharmacy, a toy shop, a flower shop with cut flowers in beautiful colours, an appetizing juice shop. More shops will be opened within the next couple of months, because this place here is still a construction site.

Ahmed, Naguib, Magdy and Mohammed are sitting in front of a well-known Egyptian-Arab Bank that will soon open. Through the dusty windows, precious dark wooden panelling and an elegant reception desk can be seen in the brightly lit room. Yet around the corner and upstairs, it is still under construction.

This is where Ahmed, Naguib, Magdy and Mohammed work during the day: they shovel sand, carry it to the upper floors, shovel stones, carry them to the upper floors, throw bricks into a pushcart, drag it by means of a block and tackle to the upper floors. They pile bricks, mix cement, fetch water and attach trembling scaffolds. Day by day, in the cold of the winter and in the heat of the summer. And this is where they live as well: right beside their work.

Naguib has wrapped a huge turban of white fabric around his head. It’s that big that it protrudes over his head by 10 centimetres. It’s also larger than those of his friends. They are all wearing heavy caftans, shirts and long trousers underneath and warm scarfs slung around their necks. Mohammed is wearing knee-high white rubber boots, whereas the others are only wearing rubber sandals. These are the same clothes that they wear during the day at their sweaty work and at nights curled up in heavy blankets. In the background between concrete pillars, the flames of an open fire in a barrel cut into halves are warming Sameh’s naked feet. He prefers to stay beside the fire because the night will get cold enough.

Naguib, the one with the huge turban, is propping his chin on his crossed arms over his knees. His eyes are closed. His face is a landscape of rugged wilderness with ditches, wrinkles and bumps created over years by the sun, wind, pleasures and privation. Yet right now, his face seems somehow relaxed. He and his colleagues are sitting closely together, in a straight row like schoolboys that are receiving a special reward.

Today is Christmas Eve. On the other side of the street, in a big tent in front of the hotel, there is music. Oriental music. Ahmed, Naguib, Magdy and Mohammed are enjoying this music as if they were sitting around a fire in their family. This chance is given only today. Maybe once again at New Year’s Eve. But most probably, they will have moved to the next construction site by then.