After arriving in Cairo and in search of a place to stay, I visited an apartment listed for rent in an area popular with foreigners. The owner, Ms. Khoury, greeted me at the doorway of her fifth-floor apartment. She was an older woman within the age of sixty to sixty-seven years old (A lady never tells or asks.), her hair was mid-range red matched with engaging big brown eyes. Her smile was warm and inviting as she welcomed me inside to view her condominium apartment.
Ms. Khoury showed me around while reviewing all the details of the apartment. The pictures posted in the advertisement adequately matched what I viewed. The place was amazing. It held an allure of upscale charm with off white and brown marble floors in the entryway providing a subtle glimpse of what was to come. Rustic bronze-colored chandeliers hung nonchalantly in the dining room and an area adjacent which served as a tea room. That area was decorated with vintage early 19th-century green upholstered furniture lightly decorated with cream & pink flowers. The apartment was charmingly decorated with love and care.
The characteristics of her home matched the distinction of Ms. Khoury’s personality. She had a very graceful and captive disposition as we engaged in conversation about our backgrounds. She obliged me to join her for tea, which turned into lunch topped with dates for dessert. She explained how in middle eastern culture it is customary to know about an individual when engaging in business or personal matters, even as small as renting an apartment.
A woman of standing, Ms. Khoury’s background was that of a woman who was initially forced and now purposefully flees from unfortunate circumstances. A writer and scholar, she was born in Lebanon and had to flee to Paris during the Lebanon War with Israel in 1982. She married very young, as was a tradition for women at that time. Her relocation meant she had to raise her child in a foreign land and culture. She mentioned how much she enjoyed her time in Paris, a vibrant, cultured city. Now, in her retirement, Paris is a sweet distant memory as Ms. Khoury spends her time between Cairo, the United States, and Lebanon.
She freely shared with me a few vivid memories of her life; one, in particular, was that she divorced after seven years. From what I understood, she valued her independence more than being able to settle in marriage. At her age and within her cultural background, I wondered what impact the divorce had on her life from the views of her community and family. I fell short of asking any further questions respectfully acknowledging a soul that is free to share, will share. In between her conversations on her life, she would cleverly ask questions about mine. Ms. Khoury was a true conversationalist as she avoided my attempts to keep the conversation centered around her. She was actively interested in sharing information about herself while also learning about me. We agreed on how people with cultural differences are relatively the same. At the core of the human experience, people want to feel loved and be happy.
She spoke about her son, Karam, a physician living in San Francisco. He also married young but under different circumstances. He was raised primarily in Paris and moved to the States shortly before attending college. Karam then met and married his college sweetheart, who was raised in a strict family of Mormons. I questioned how the relationship and eventual marriage was harmonious, considering her son was raised as a Muslim. The older women’s response was golden. “Love doesn’t have a religion and can be shared among any persons.” Unfortunately, the union would prove challenging to both sides of the cultural coin as Karam’s wife died while giving birth to their only child, a son. The deceased wife’s family, strict conservatives from Utah then assumed custody of the child. Afraid and misguided by middle eastern culture and Islam, they forbade the child from visiting Lebanon or even learning his partial cultural language of Arabic. I assured Ms. Khoury not to take the situation personally due to a large percentage of Americans, including myself, who didn’t have favorable exposure to information on middle eastern culture or Islam. The media does not provide objective information on either subject.
Our time together ended after approximately three hours. It was my first time having such a conversation with a middle eastern woman, but would not certainly be the last. Ms. Khoury, whom I met by chance encounters, taught me so much about patience and acceptance. Both qualities I would have to practice daily here in Egypt. An unexpected tea time would prove to be a blessing to be in the presence of such a wise woman. Who said apartment hunting was boring…