seven thirty pm. we sit around the dinner tablewith elbows and growling stomachs. baba is diving into the meat. mama is mixing thesalad. and the american architect is rambling about his extensive studies in middle eastern architecture. says he understands the infrastructure of cairo. how its walls were built. why they are crumbling. he is seated closer to the shakers at the end of the table. i politely ask for the salt but what i wish to ask is how. how he can stretch his american arms over my family’s aging wooden table and talk about our city the way the fakahani dismisses cheap fruit. as though we should believe in every word. every utterance. i think about his glittering education. oxford he says. with a mouthful of mama’s molokhia. i wonder if they taught him that starving children line the streets in the place of sidewalk here. that lampposts are not for lightbulbs but for lost boys with big dreams and a couple spray cans. scribbling initials and english cuss words they heard being spit out of a crackling television set. i wonder. i wonder if they taught him that over our bridges cars and trucks move as they please. but that beneath them our people are stuck. clinging to the corners of a dark kobri qasr alnil for their only hope of shelter. i wonder if they taught him that our balconies are built to hold the most beautiful exchange of el arosa tea and long stories. that we lay our clothes out to dry on railings and tree branches because of our culture’s openness and warmth. i wonder if they taught him that the magic of arabic calligraphy escaped from our ancestors’ hands before it found itself sprawled across broken pieces of wall in his country’s museums. i wonder if they taught him to feel my city’s architecture. to read between the lines in his heavy books. to make shapes out of our dusted clouds. i wish to scream this at him. to tell him that his fancy degree and pretty campus grounds are not enough. that there is more. so much more it hurts.
but instead. i thank him for the salt and season my molokhia.
— dinner with the american architect