Today was the fourth day of my third Cairo visit. Getting a visa to come here was an adventure in and of its own, but I’m going to focus on a little story from today.
As I’ve done every morning since Monday, I went downstairs to Corniche el-Nil to hail a cab to the old campus of the American University in Cairo, from which a bus would take me to the new campus, where I’ve been attending a conference on rhetoric and language teaching. It’s about a ten-minute ride from the hotel to AUC.
Normally, there’s some chit-chat. The driver either asks me whether I’m from Lebanon or just compliments me on my Arabic, and by the time it’s over we’ve reached our destination. Every now and then, the fact that I’m from Israel comes up, but usually doesn’t lead to much more than a smile and an “ahlan u-sahlan” (Arabic for ‘welcome’).
Today, the conversation went something like this (I’m recalling from memory and translating from Arabic):
Cabby: Where are you from?
Uri: Tel Aviv.
C: I hear there are boys there who like boys.
U: Sure, why not?
C: You know how many?
U: Maybe 10%, maybe 20%.
C: Do you like boys?
U: Yes. Well, maybe men, not boys (laugh).
C: Well, I like girls (pause); and boys!
C: You’re handsome.
U: [being polite:] You’re handsomer.
C: When do you get back to your hotel?
U: Around 7:30-8 pm.
C: We should meet outside. Do you have a cell phone?
And so on and so forth. Things got a little more explicit, and he gave me his number (which I had and have no intention to call). He said something about liking my chest (not sure whether he liked the hair or the pecs or what…), asked me what I liked to do. The word “behind” came up, for example.
Later, after the conference was over, my colleague Hope and I had dinner downtown and on our way to hail cabs to our respective hotels we saw a good number of pairs of young men walking arm in arm. Hope said something about wishing some of them were straight. I commented that they probably were. She responded, “Yeah, like your cab driver.”
In the cab I took back up the Corniche, the radio was playing Farid al-Atrache, a famed Syrian-born Egyptian singer and actor singing “ya Habiibi…” (‘o, my beloved,’ grammatically a masculine noun…).