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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Barbecues and bonding in New Cairo

I think it was December 23, although the exact date, after all that has happened in the past month, slips my mind. My friend Khatem had invited us, myself and a friend visiting from France, to a barbecue in New Cairo.  

 

 

 

New Cairo is one of the satellite cities created to ease overcrowding in the city. The plan failed miserably. People were loath to leave the warmth and color of the city, and so New Cairo is empty. It is ripped off the screen of some apocalyptic desert thriller: row after row of deserted concrete buildings, empty streets, concrete and sand and then, on the horizon, nothing but the desert. The only inhabitants are the dogs.  

 

 

 

Khatem has an office in one of these buildings. It is little more than a collection of bare rooms. One has a desk, with business cards, fading blueprints, a nameplate and some pens--the trappings of business without any real substance. Khatem is in real estate, the same way so many Egyptians are \in"" a business; he has an office and a position, but little actual work.  

 

 

 

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Although I make no claims to grilling proficiency, I can safely say Khatem proved spectacularly incompetent, more so than even myself. His solution to every problem with the fire was simply more motor oil. We started ""grilling"" around two in the afternoon, and two hours later still had nothing to show for it. But it was Ramadan, so everyone was fasting anyway, and the entire affair was received with a good deal of jokes and laughter.  

 

 

 

Afterwards we played soccer, then sat some lawn chairs against the building and watched the stars. Except for the dogs, we were alone. My friend and I sang some Christmas carols, a half-hearted attempt to celebrate a holiday intimately linked to everything far away: snow, family, trees and carols. Then Komree took the stage.  

 

 

 

Komree is a writer's nightmare; he defies description, and even now all I can really say is that you'd have to meet him. A Muslim-American of Cambodian descent, he is tiny, has spiked black hair and is always well-dressed. Khatem and his friends treat Komree like a lovable doll; they constantly exclaim about how small he is, pick him up, put him in their laps, pose with him, etc. Sometimes this pseudo-sexual tension is just too weird for me to handle.  

 

 

 

Komree wants to be a singer and he specializes in pop covers: Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, etc. If there is an overplayed little ditty you hate, chances are Komree loves it and can sing it for you word for word. I never know how to react to his singing; he has a great voice, but the dance movements, the soulful looks in his eyes, are really disturbing more than anything else. He is an entertainer in the fullest sense of the word, and the Egyptians love him.  

 

 

 

So maybe there is more to these years than the oppression of globalization. All the prophets claim the six billion of us are rushing inexorably to a frenzied, colorful, borderless world and many want to paint the sky with their new constellations, the corporate logos, the awful music, the sports apparel. But there is more linking Khatem, Komree and I than such trivial nonsense, and that is the bond of simple friendship. 

 

 

 

Holt, a junior majoring in international relations with an emphasis on Africa, is currently studying at American University in Cairo. He may be reached via e-mail at nmholt@students.wisc.edu. Holt's column runs every Wednesday in The Daily Cardinal.

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