I wake up daily an hour before sunrise so that I can go outside to the mosque and pray. That’s not very British. I can’t be accused of being too English for Egypt with a daily habit like that.
I have come to know the locals who pray there well. (Actually that is an untruth, I have come to know their faces well and quite a few names but…..language…..LEARN TO SPEAK ARABIC SAM….ITS BEEN LONG ENOUGH…..AND WHY ARE YOU CHASTISING YOURSELF IN FRONT OF OTHERS AND IN CAPS?……YES! BECAUSE YOU DON’T LISTEN DO YOU?….LEARN IT! ……..WOMBAT!” (Sorry about that – split personality….anyway, we digress.)
Anyway, what I have done is formed strong enough bonds with these men to be genuinely happy to see them everyday, sometimes five times a day on weekends! We smile, we greet, we sit together and read Qu’ran, we hug, we do the shoulder kiss (oh you have to know about the shoulder kiss, it’s far more humble than the cheek to cheek kiss – another post maybe) and more recently, when I’m leaving the mosque with one of them or if I meet them on route we………. hold hands.
Now! I’m not totally against it. I don’t pull my hand away or anything like that. I appreciate the affection that these lovely (and they really are, kind, generous and lovely people) are showing me as a stranger to their land, their neighbourhood and thus their lives, but I just have this……..all the way there or back this……… biting urge……. to pull my hand away because my British-ness just can’t deal with it.
British men don’t hold hands in public because it would automatically mean to others watching that you were gay (yes I went there). There is little chance of that in this case I know. I also know that it won’t been seen by others as that. So why am I so uncomfortable?
The British-ness in me is a deep rooted cultural bed of issues that I was unaware I had and it still flowers, blooms at times, to my amazement. I can just about handle the arm cradling thing. You know what I mean right? The thing that distinguished gentlemen and ladies used to do in the west. I only ever see it now as movie and pop stars approach the walkway of the Oscars (have you noticed that too?). Here they do it all the time, but men do it too. I’ve even found (forced) myself doing it on a few occasions to show that I am culturally adapt. It was received well and I felt like I was fitting in, with my shep-shep, galabaya and fruit smelling scented oils on, walking arm in arm with a bearded local, older Egyptian friend.
Holding hands amongst Arab men is a deep sign of affection and respect, at least according to the New York Times and even the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and George Bush were photographed doing it.
But I still draw the line at holding hands, especially with young men or those my age. My wife’s hand is petite and soft. It’s cute, like a child’s hand. My children are the same (when their hands are actually clean!). But holding a man’s hand?……nah. Sorry Cairo. Stiff ….upper…… lip and all that. It’s just not cricket.