I have no idea how fast my taxi was moving this morning. The speedometer was stuck at 120 km/h even when we were still. But, at times, we were flying.
The driver glanced at me in all of his 8 rear view mirrors as we hurtled across the Qasr El Nil bridge, towards downtown Cairo, and asked the inevitable question:
CABBIE: Anta min-ein? (Where are you from?)
ME: Min al hind. (from India)
I've stopped telling random people that I'm from Canada, because ultimately I'll have to tell them that I'm originally Indian. So why bother?
CABBIE: Ah! Hindi! Naas kwayyis. (Indians are good people)
ME: Shukran. (Thanks)
CABBIE: Mitabbitshan? (????)
ME: Effendim? (excuse me?)
CABBIE: Mitabbitshan! Mitabbitshan! (WTF??????)
ME: Aasif. Ana mish-fahim. (sorry, I don't understand)
At 120 km/h (or whatever the real speed was) the man let go of the steering wheel and started to punch the air.
CABBIE: Mitabbitshan! HA! HA! HAAAAA!
His arms were flailing by now.
CABBIE: Aflam hindi! (Indian films!)
Of course! He was talking about "Amitabh Bachchan", the small "g" god of bollywood cinema! I'd heard that Egyptians love Indian films. They've even hired bollywood actress Celina Jaitley to be "the face of Egypt." When Bachchan visited Egypt in the '90s, it was pandemonium. Kids skipped school, people skipped work. Everyone lined the streets to get a glimpse of him.
ME: Aiwa... Amitabh Bachchan! Ta'arif hu? (do you know who he is?)
CABBIE: Tab'an! Ragl halwa 'awi! (Of course! Great man!)
Our brief Bachchan love-in ended as I paid, got out of the cab, and walked in to my office. There was a notice on my desk about the university's Desert Development Center (they research desert agriculture, among other things). They had fresh honey for sale at their kiosk, and I thought I'd check it out.
ME: Izzayak? (how are you?)
HONEY MAN: Alhamdulillah. Ayyi Khidmah? (Thanks to god. What can I do for you?)
ME: Endak 'asl taaza? (do you have fresh honey?)
Honey Man looks up at me as he's packing my jar of honey.
HONEY MAN: Hadratak min ein? (where are you from, sir?)
ME: Min al Hind...
HONEY MAN (smiles): Min al Hind? Mitabbitshan?