“Is it halal?”
“The meat or everything else?”
“The meat, my friend, the meat.”
Dr. Mohammed Kharib (not real name) is gingerly holding the delicious fried chicken. After assuring him it is halal and that I actually do not eat pork we continue dining in peace. An hour later we have all retired to the living room, drinking, chatting. We are waiting for Haifa to get ready to sing.
By the way this is not the famous singer, model and provocative Haifa Wehbe from Lebanon. Haifa is just an assumed nickname of Dr. Kharib’s wife, Wahida; an amateur musician.
She and her husband have been my friends for many years since the days I visited Cairo for the first time. I have always been fond of Egyptian people who I find warm hearted and sincere.
Long time ago I use to work in the Egyptian Embassy in Dar es Salaam as a translator and receptionist. I have memories of those wonderful Egyptians helping me stutter through Arabic greetings.
Back then I would mix up Sabalkher and Masalkher; the former is a morning and afternoon greeting while the latter used in the evening. But I would mess them up because as a Kiswahili speaker I just assumed Sabalkheri was a general greeting. Many East Africans (except those from coastal areas e.g. Mombasa and Zanzibar) still confuse this salutation.
As East Africans our affinity with the Arabic language is as complex as it is with the English language. History has linked us to these two in ways we can never ignore. Indeed, Kiswahili is not an Arabic language as Africans from other parts of the continent sometimes contend; it is an African language with a little vocabulary from mainly Arabic, English, Hindi, Persian and Portuguese languages. And this is not unusual in other major languages like English for instance. English has taken and continues to borrow words from almost all major languages i.e. French, Hindi, Greek, Arabic, etc.
So Haifa is ready to perform.
She is funny, entertaining and although not as seductive as the fantastic Haifa Wehbe she makes our evening lovely and exciting. Towards the end of her act, someone requests her to sing “Sanara” by her name sake:
“Sanara sanara min albou nar
Sanara sanara we bokra akid...”
For those unfamiliar with the Lebanese singer’s music they are told it is about the heart and a heart that is made of fire.
However, because the couple is Egyptian and their homeland is on fire my guests are eager to talk about Tahrir Square. Haifa confesses that politics is not her biggest interest but insists it hurts to see images of her people suffering on television.
She says: “We Egyptians are not bloody or violent. But life has been tough for many years. Citizens are living in fear. Just imagine. In a few years if this goes on people will be arrested for just possessing bread.”
What does she mean arrested for just possessing bread?
Her husband elaborates.
“When Mr. Mubarak was in the army he was a very good man. After coming to power he started changing slowly. He brought his friends in. Soon it was more friends and after some years around thousand or ten thousand people became his inner circle. The rest of us? Just suffer. What Haifa means is that secret services watch everyone. Because people have little salaries if you buy something that is beyond your means you might get arrested. It is quite scary. After thirty years people are fed up.”
CNN the American TV said (at the beginning of the Cairo riots) that majority of the protesters are young people under thirty frustrated with lack of economic prosperity.
Dr. Kharib explains that Egyptian people do not want to lynch or exile President Mubarak. “We are not crying for his blood like Mugabe in Zimbabwe or the Tunisian guy who fled overseas. We just want him to leave peacefully.”
Someone wonders if a radical faction will takeover afterwards.
“I am not here to speak for the government or politics, but I think the Egyptian situation is like the rest of Africa. Most leaders do not want to be fair and only rule selfishly and by corruption.”
Also published in Tanzanian Citizen Friday, 11th February, 2011.