6/16/2013

My Father's House

Sweet mint tea

My father’s house in Cairo, Egypt has always had a special place in my heart. It is the place I always felt most at home, the most myself. My memories of him are all tied to that house. The memories are so plentiful and consuming that sometimes I just sit and close my eyes and play them in my mind. The summers and holidays spent there were some of the best times in my childhood, with cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles all surrounding me. 

Box full of magic
 I always felt so at ease there, able to really be me without having to explain it to someone. I was surrounded by history and culture and it was all mine. I close my eyes and I see my father sitting in his chair reading, pretending not to notice the constant incessant arguing of my obnoxious brother and me. I can hear my sisters playing and laughing in innocent girlish splendor. Perhaps the sweetest of memories is of my grandmother in the kitchen, begging me to come learn how to cook. I can hear her saying “habibti you will never find a husband if you cannot feed him”. I always obliged her and she carefully taught me everything she knew. The old house danced with the exotic essence my grandmothers cooking. I would take the lessons learned from my grandmother and on Saturday mornings my dad and I would listen to Bob Marley, talk about the world and its problems as we cooked a massive, fancy breakfast for everyone. His lively laughter remains so vibrant in my mind that I swear I still hear it echoing in the halls sometimes. We would always pray together as a family for the 5 regular prayers and even now every time I hear the call to prayer it instantly places me in my father’s house and I hear his voice calling my name to come join him. The sound of my dad’s music or the call to prayer conjures up smells, sounds and feelings so distinctly real for me.   We always had extra people show up at mealtimes and the big wooden front door didn’t even have a lock let alone a key. People would knock and walk right in the door, whether they were a neighbor or a relative. The smell of cumin, cinnamon and rose water lofted from the house like a gas, luring people in.


Ornate Middle Eastern tile work
The house itself was old, seemingly ancient to me as a child. The terra cotta colored stone stucco and red roof were so typically Mediterranean. I can smell the history that leaks from every mysterious crack and lurks in every crowded corner. The ornate colorful tile and indigenous wood work always amazed me with its elegant intricacies. Each piece of tile had been laid by my grandfather’s youthful hands with pride at being able to afford such a home for his new doe eyed bride. The furnishings were not purchased at a big box retailer, but rather hand made by diligent, skilled, local merchants we knew and whose kids were my friends. Everything had a story of how it was purchased after much manly haggling and negotiating on its worth. Photographs of family covered the walls and tops of tables. Some of the pictures were as old as photography itself and others as recent as the previous holiday. It was an eclectic mixture that showed our big family’s entire history, so far as we knew it. 


A bowl of Jamsine
My room was seemingly simple. It was all white, yet had a precious innocence.  White stucco walls, a white wooden canopy bed with a white quilt, white desk, white dresser and white framed mirror, a white ceiling fan kept it cool on hot sticky Sahara nights. The furniture may have been white but it was far from plain. It had detailed hand carved scroll work on all the edges with the faintest tracing of gold paint on the edges. The afternoon sun would catch this gold trim and cast a shimmering glaze over the room. The windows were a century old and opened up onto the garden below, allowing the night blooming jasmine to lull me to sleep. The scent was so intrusive that I would awake in the morning in a jasmine cloud, and my hair and skin would carry the sweet scent all day long. I felt like a princess in this room. It was so distinguished and it had been all my aunts’ rooms, even the room my aunt had been brought into this world in.  I had one picture on the wall. This was a photograph of my grandmother as a teenager a short time before she married my grandfather and first inhabited that very room.

1 comment:

  1. This memories of your father's house is been wonderful, I could just feel I was in there too.

    ReplyDelete