On a run to purchase ingredients for an intrepid night of pie making in post-revolutionary Cairo, we also picked up a lighter for our kitchen stove.
Though it has all the class of a 7-11, I have found within it incredible meaning beyond its mass produced tackiness. For me, it symbolizes some of my feelings about the move to Mohandiseen and my new life there more perfectly than any lighter has ever symbolized anything.
The raw picture of uncertainty and irony on the body of the lighter is enough to move one to tears or sleepiness. “S..OKY” is scrawled across it, a grotesque, hairless face with inhuman eyes, a cavernous mouth, and unexpectedly straight teeth blocking the middle letters of the word. Were the head not there it might read “SPOOKY.”
As I thought about this later on, the adjective resonated with me. Isn’t every time one moves into an unknown place a little spooky? Mohandiseen itself is eerily quiet and pleasant to walk around in, with a bizarre number of trees and expensive coffee shops. Couldn’t this be scary to someone who is used to living near only one expensive coffee shop around the corner from a Pizza Hut? Stricken by the unexpected depth I found in the fifty cent kitchen device, I probed further.
The gaping mouth is my earlier extreme thirst for coffee that went unsatisfied because I could not ignite the stove without matches. I had forgotten to purchase some when I was at the store, which is heart breaking since they were the only thing I really needed in order to make my Nescafe.
The eyes on the lighter are a picture of this coffee-less, ironic, hell that I experienced today, since they are open but do not see, just as I had coffee but was not able to drink it. Covering up some of the letters introduces an element of chaos in the picture. It might actually read Socky, a friendly hand puppet, or “Smoky” in an anti-smoking warning, which would complement the other ironic undertones of the lighter.
And then I began to wonder whether it even matters what is written? Don’t we evaluate the picture and the letters as a whole and formulate our own truths, which must be equally valid regardless of whether or not there is supposed to be an anti-smoking message or a call to be kinder to our sock friends? The philosophical ambiguity of the lighter highlights the mixed emotions I have about living in an area where a pro-Mubarak protest was held a little over a month ago. The people here by and large did not suffer to the same degree under the past regime as did those who were not as well off. Indeed, many in this are grew wealthy during that time period and were sad to see Mubarak and the good ol’ days go down the revolutionary toilet.
Does living here make me one of them? If I eat fool (beans) and ta’amiya (Egyptian falafel) every day and ride the metro, does that still connect me with the “people?” It’s these kinds of questions, mainly philosophical, that the new lighter has ignited (pun?) in my mind. I’m glad to have such a thought-provoking piece of functional art at my disposal in order to stir the thinking wells of my brain.
I found your blog the other day. Your stories bring back my childhood and the 4 years my family spent in Tripoli, Libya from 1963 to 1967. I am enjoying your experiences and wondering how my mother must have felt back then.
Sometimes I wonder what my mother is thinking now….I’ve certainly learned that some things can wait until I get back to be told. Thanks for reading!