Daily awareness of being a foreigner living in another culture, even after over 10 years, is a fluctuating reality. As time passes, you assimilate to all those things so different, the smells of the street become familiar, your feet can find the rhythm of the music of the language and the food in the shops hold no mysteries anymore.
After a while you can have small conversations, followed by abilities to sternly talk to impolite people in the metro and graduating into throwing a fit with the best of them when the gas company does not show up, once again.
Lulled into a safe sense of self-congratulation you think yourself to be one of the guys. You know us, we are the girls that have their beers in Horreya, earnestly discussing art with the in-crowd. We are the guys that go cruising with their friends at night instead of guzzling beer in an expat bar. We know where to get our nails done, which parties to go to and of course we spend our weekends in Sahel.
We get complacent in our local-ness, we relax and let our lets-be-careful-so-to-not-offend-by-ignorance guard down. And that is when it happens. Coming out of left field, with no warning, you are reminded of how little you understand of the culture you are calling home. All it takes is a carelessly drawn conclusion, a well-meant assumption proven wrong and suddenly you feel again like the tall, pale foreigner that sticks out in the crowd.
After a slight embarrassment at my own presumption I actually like it when this happens. Part of the fun of living in a culture other than my own, is being confronted with my pre-conceived notions and slight arrogance of thinking I know it all.
Last week the taxi driver who picks me up in the morning told me he was upset with the media. He made the point of telling me, since we talk about his work and mine on the way to work. Reports, yet again, had stated Mubarak had died and so, he told me, he had taken his Quran and read some verses for him. Mind you, I knew he was a staunch revolutionary and had been less than kind in previous references to the former president.
And for a moment I could not understand the matter-of-fact logic of his kindness. Distracted by the passionate revolutionary statements, endless discussions, speculations on political appointments and all the taking-a-stand that has been going on around me, I had forgotten one of the things that has always made me love living here. The very thing that I have often received and always evoked surprised gratitude and humility.
It is the reason my 85 year old neighbour has taken it upon herself to pay all the bills that come to my house. She rings the bell once the little stash she asks me for has run out. She hands over a neat stack of receipts with a little computation that shows how the money was spent. And as I give her a new deposit, she pats me on the check and tells me to not work so hard.
The innate kindness of the Egyptians is still there. Hiding behind flags and slogans, anger and injustice, power and poverty. When it is needed, most of the Egyptians will forgo their emotions for a moment and show their generosity of spirit to someone in need.
Where I am from this is hard to come by. Simple human kindness was the very thing that reminded me I am still a foreigner. What a great reason to stand out.