Sunday, February 10, 2008

Crossing the Cab

Disclaimer: in no way is this post meant to bash religious phrases or those who use them. I am describing my personal feelings on this aspect of the language, I have no gripe with your beliefs, so don't have any with mine.

I used to be so conscientious about how I spoke, the expressions I did and didn't use in Egypt. The constant sycophancy of Egyptian 3ammiya was not irritating in and of itself, but rather the vagueness and lack of accuracy which it infused into conversation was troublesome. Plus, the most commonly repeated phrases all reference Islam, but what about the Copts? So I boycotted the use of all god-references in everyday speech and commercial transactions, in an attempt not only to placate my very out of place secular leanings, but also, I hoped that somehow I would be sparing the occasionally unknown-to-me Christian what must at least be a surge of mild irritation they experience when they are greeted with "al salamo 3alaykom". (The phrase itself, "peace be upon you", is quite beautiful. But every time I hear it, I remember something about a point system wherein you are granted a certain number of blessings based on how completely you used the greeting..."al salamo 3alykom" bringing in less points than "al salamo 3alaykom wa ra7met allah". The fact that the greeting has gotten mangled up in people's obsession with the details of religion pisses me off. It shouldn't be about points, dudes.)

Anyhow, somewhere along the line the years of inhaled smog and deafening noise pollution wore down on my stamina for such lofty principled-ness, and I noticed a couple of weeks ago that I was muttering "insha allah" occasionally (though NEVER in response to a question regarding whether something had happened in the past. I said I lost stamina, not logic). The other day I got into a cab and as I was dragging the door shut I said "al salamo 3aleko" only to look up and see a dashboard absolutely covered in Christian paraphernalia. Pictures of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and various priests dangled from every dangly-able part of the car.

It was like 2 religions talking so loudly at, not to, each other. One with a carelessness and self-assurance that only comes with having such a majority stake in culture. And the other responding with a desperate plea for attention, for space, for recognition, even in its own Christian-owned car.

The driver responded with "wa 3alaikom el salam", but only after a significant moment of paused silence. I wondered what thoughts went through his head during that pause and whether they included an angry stream of curses.