I am a failure as a female. Or so I have been told by an authority on such matters. And no, this time it was not the religious fanatics who keep issuing statements about women that defy logic and decency. It was the king of roads and all things Egyptian who passed this judgment: a Cairo cabbie.
The capital’s taxi drivers are always good for some controversial conversation and if you are ever stuck at a social gathering, where uncomfortable silences beg to be filled, broach the subject and you will rise to the top of the ‘must be invited list’ for years to come. Everyone has at least one good cab story to share and once you get past the trying-to-rip-me-off tales, they can be very amusing.
Now there are a few rules when it comes to conversation in cabs; if you speak first you are pretty much expected to talk until you arrive at your destination. Earphones, sunglasses, lack of Arabic or monosyllabic answers can usually get you out of any discussions but when you make the opening gambit you are doomed to debate.
Depending who Lady Luck, and boy she has a sarcastic sense of humour, has teamed you up with for the ride many things can happen. Unfortunately last week I met a man who drove as if competing in a Formula 1 race and was very concerned with family.
After just a brief time in this taxi I contemplated my options: an undignified expulsion of my barely digested dinner or answering a myriad of questions about myself. So I asked him to slow down or else I would be sick. And he did, followed immediately by the expected holy trinity of questions for the white woman: Where are you from? How long have you been here? Are you married?
After I had assured him I was married and, yes, to an Egyptian, I fully expected him to treat me with the distance and respect that usually follows these statements. I was not necessarily telling the truth, but I could have been, and it just makes life easier so it is a white lie I often tell.
All was going well until I stupidly said I had no children. Big, big mistake. And my frantic scramble to undo the damage by piously declaring that it is all in the hand of the lord above was too late.
Happily stepping over all boundaries he asked me if my imaginary husband and I had been to a doctor, and proceeded to berate me for a good five minutes, repeating that I must do so at once. I would have liked to say yes to avoid the lecture but I dreaded having to discuss the tests and examinations I had undergone. By then I was as helplessly and hopelessly stuck in the conversation as I was in the back of the car.
I tried to stem the tide by saying it was not proper to talk about this when he asked me with concern if I slept with my husband, moving his hips to make sure I understood what he was talking about, but to no avail.
The next 15 minutes were filled with explicit advice on which folk remedies are guaranteed to improve my chances of conceiving, and this fountain of fertility lore made sure I understood him well by pointing to the body parts involved in what needed to be done to get me a baby.
It started with boiling milk with one pod of cardamom (one and not more!), that should be rubbed on the male privates (he pointed out where those reside in case I was unaware), and inserted in my nether regions. I closed my eyes here to avoid seeing those hand gestures.
This was followed by the need to eat lots of gargir, sleeping with gargir under my bed and only having physical relations in the morning after which I was not supposed to move for two hours and to make sure I did that every day. A veritable avalanche of advice was poured over my uncomfortable head.
When I arrived home I nearly fell out of the car in my haste to leave the barrage of embarrassing medical nonsense and thought longingly of a shower as the cabbie rolled his window down and shouted after me through my quiet, nighttime neighbourhood: “Make sure you do all these things I told you and remember to let the milk cool down before you use it and have sex.”
As the bawab from next door stared at me with raised eyebrows, my concerned friend added: “I just want to help you to get pregnant.” And if this was not enough he followed that with: “Without a child you are not a woman.”
So, there you have my failure to be female.