My time in Egypt was simply amazing! A learning experience like no other! I saw history in the making, meet amazing people and truly lived like an Egyptian! The one question everyone seems to ask me since I’ve been back, “did you meet anyone special?”
The answer with a loud laugh is, “of course not!”
Staying with family the majority of my four months stay made it pretty well obvious amongst family, friends and neighbors that there was an American girl amongst them. That theory resulted in a lot of marriage proposals. Some funny and some completely absurd. Two of them were probably one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. Here’s the second story…
“Hala can I speak to you for a moment?”
“When I went to visit a cousin of mine in a nearby town the other day, he told me of a suitor who was very interested in you.”
“And I’m very not interested Baba”, I said with a big smile on my face.
Two days later, I found out that smile didn’t work! His family invited themselves over to my Aunt Sayeda’s house where I was staying during my father’s last few days in Egypt with me. It was just my Aunt Sayeda, her daughter-in-law Fatma and I hanging out when three men came knocking on the door about a couple of hours earlier then expected.
My aunt and Fatma went to the reception area to greet them with soft drinks while I stayed in the other room. I could hear a man speaking quite confidently of the suitor as I sat there hesitant to meet these people. From the minimal words Aunt Sayeda and Fatma said to the guy, I figured I should go into the reception area and try to end this once and for all.
As I walked in, I saw the three men sitting across from the ladies. As I gave the “salam” formalities, I saw the man whom I had heard earlier, a mutual friend, the spokesman of the family. To his left was a slim white-bearded man and a very young, clean cut slim man. Both rarely raising their gaze from the floor to return my “salam”.
“Are you Nagah’s daughter?” asked the spokesman.
“Yes I am. Who are you?” I blatantly asked.
“I’m ‘so and so’ and we are related through your father. What’s your name?”
“You don’t know my name?” I laughed as I rolled my eyes.
“No I don’t” he answered, a bit confused.
“I’m Hala. So how are we related exactly?”
He continued on as to how he’s related to my father and Aunt Sayeda. Him and my aunt talked a bit about the family tree as I took a second glance at the two men. The older man, the suitor’s father, would switch his gaze between the spokesman and the floor. The suitor quickly returned his gaze to the floor after I caught him looking at me.
“We are here to introduce you and your father to this family here.” The spokesman had now turned his attention to me. “This man here has been my friend for over 20 years! He’s worked his whole life in Saudi Arabia, a self-made wealthy man! He has two sons, one married and lives in Australia. His other son, Bakr here, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, very smart! They are here to get to know you and propose marriage to you.”
I wasn’t surprised that this proposal of marriage was for the sake of America, nothing more.
“Really? Marriage?” I asked sarcastically.
“Yes, are you surprised?” he asked smiling, not noticing my sarcasm.
“I’m surprised every day I’m here in Egypt!” I laughed. “However, marriage proposals from people who don’t even know my name has stopped surprising me.”
“This is our tradition! We know you come from a good family thus we propose. Not like in America where tradition and religion doesn’t exist.” He caught himself and took a breath before continuing, “Well, if you’d like to stay for this you can–“
“As an American, when something concerns you, it’s tradition to sit through it. Since this obviously concerns me, why would I go anywhere else? I’m going to be sitting right here.”
My loud, proud in-your-face attitude with a smile didn’t put any of the men in any bit of ease. The room went awkwardly silent, tension to be cut with a knife. After a long moment, the spokesman started talking about religion and tradition in this small town. I responded with one or two words before the Asr Azan (call for late noon prayer) started. They left to go pray at the nearby mosque and stated they’d return shortly. When they left I just looked over at Fatma who had been struggling to cover her grin.
Fatma relieved of their departure began to giggle, “I hope they got your answer. Bakr is obviously trying to following in his brother’s shoes, get married to someone outside the country.”
The ladies shook their head in dismay as they left to pray and prepare for the men’s return. About twenty minutes later, I found myself back into the reception area with the men and my cousin Mohamed who had come home from work. We all sat down in that same awkward silence awaiting my father’s arrival.
The spokesman started going off again about how great this unemployed suitor was with his bachelor’s degree and wealthy family under his belt. When he wouldn’t stop, I made sure to state that I on the other hand was a self-employed working lady with two masters degrees. My wealth, however much (or little) it may be, was my own. That shut them up again until my father finally returned.
After all the “salam” formalities, they started talking about family, religion, traditions, almost anything else in the hopes that I would leave, but I stayed through their entire nonsense. With my father now in conversation with the spokesman, the suitor had summoned some kind of courage and attempted to be part of the conversation. He also summoned the courage to look me in the eye every chance he got to speak.
What was he trying to prove, I had no clue nor did I care.
The spokesman again started discussing the suitor’s father’s wealth when the Maghrib Azan (call for early evening prayers) began. All the men went to pray Maghrib at the nearby mosque and finally got a few words to my father away from my ears. They stated that the suitor’s mother had just passed away about a week or so ago, that Bakr’s father wanted to do what was best for him as he had done with his other son in Australia. Bakr’s father reminded mine of how they were wealthy enough, should I accept Bakr’s proposal, to provide for me the lifestyle I currently have, whether I decide to live in Egypt or in America. He stated this with the hopes my father would give them the answer they wanted to hear.
My father simply replied, “we’ll get back to you.”
Upon learning all this from my father when he returned without the men, I was completely irritated and annoyed. These materialistic idiots kept trying to put a price tag on me! My father tried to calm me down but it blew up into an argument as I continued to ask why couldn’t he just say “no thank you”? Why was he being so polite to them? Why was he giving them any hope of a response?
When the argument went no where, I gave myself a moment of solitude on the rooftop terrace of my aunt’s home. No one seemed to understand why I was even upset. They expected me to be flattered at the attention, meet these people politely then go about my day.
I begged to differ.
My cousin Mohamed waited for me to calm down before having a “father-daughter” talk with me. He, to some extent, understood where I was coming from but that cultural formalities required them to be polite and respectful to those that came into their home. I understood however I didn’t want to conform to it when it came to dealing such people.
After my father flew back to California, I was between ElManzala and Cairo. Fatma told me that the family had sent a messenger for an answer while I was in Cairo. Damn it! I thought. Fatma, giggling a bit, shared with me Mohamed’s conversation with the messenger, “Do you have any idea what Hala thought of them? I was sure they had gotten the rejection from either from Hala or her father. So let’s just leave it at that.”
I didn’t see or hear from them or the relative that had discussed them with my father the rest of my stay. The proposals continued but slowly declined, as a relative in Cairo told me, that it was obvious I’m not a stupid girl falling for stupid men. I found all those individuals absurd, selfish with a one track mind. My blue passport was never going to be of any use to them.
…and that’s Why I’m Still Single.
Read Blue Passport, Part One here.
Edited to correct name spellings.