Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Being a Woman… Alone (Part 1)

From the short series, “A Failed Adventure”

During my undergraduate years, I dated a Coptic Egyptian whose parents had supplied him with a number of what I considered luxurious Arab goods. Among them was a beautifully woven Egyptian cotton comforter that I had commandeered for the duration of our relationship. Giving it up had been a low point of the break-up.

So from the moment I booked my flight to Syria, I was dreaming of the opportunity to buy such a bedspread in Damascus. Thus, on my third day in the city I ventured out to the Souq Al-Hamidiyya in search of these wonderful textiles and other gifts. I woke up at eight o’clock in the morning, showered, and dressed myself to fight the heat in a white cotton t-shirt, long linen pants, and a blue light cotton scarf around my neck. I figured I would go out for a cup of coffee and a light breakfast at one of the coffee houses in the old city before I spent all my money.

But when I stepped out the door around 9 am, the streets were surprisingly quiet. The shops hadn’t yet opened—even the convenience store on my corner was still covered by its Brooklyn-style garage doors. I walked around the neighborhood for several minutes to no avail, running into only a young man tugging a cart full of rugs and a veiled woman dragging her child by the forearm. I pulled my guidebook from my bag and flipped to the “Eating and Drinking” section. Too late, of course. The book informed me that, in fact, most businesses don’t open until “at least” 10am.

Alright. I had a course of action. The day before I had passed the Café Nawfra, noted in my book as a great little coffee shop. I walked the few blocks toward it and took in the scene on the patio outdoors. A very western-looking man: blonde, buzz cut, Nike t-shirt and khaki shorts with tube socks pulled up to his knees. At the next table, two older Arab men smoking sheesha. I stepped inside to the counter, but couldn’t find a menu or a server.

Cafe al-Nawfra

Alright. New course of action. I went back outside and sat down at a table in the corner. I smiled at the server as he passed by, ready to ask politely for a "qahwa." He walked by and served the men at the front of the patio. Then, over to the western-looking man. Then back into the shop. I looked around. Still, the men drank coffee and smoked sheesha. No one glanced in my direction.

The whole scene repeated itself, and I remained without coffee. Was I not supposed to be here?

After a few more minutes of waiting, I stood up and left the patio. Business there continued as it had before I sat down. No one paid any attention to my leaving. So I headed home to finish my day-old cheese-filled croissant and water while “Daddy Day Camp” played in the background.

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