A universe is vast, spontaneous, and unique. So is my mind.
I also now realize that: a universe is mostly empty, dark and cold. So is my heart!
By the time I moved to Egypt, I was already very different than other Egyptians, and fitting in, not to mention making friends, was very difficult for me. At school, children would make fun of me for not being able to speak Arabic very well and because my English was very good (yes, apparently that was something that would make them see you as a clown). Children in my school bus hated my guts, and would pick on me every single day making my journey to and from school a living hell, and my parents couldn’t care less. Teachers at school would scold me and sometimes beat me for being behind my colleagues. Lots of people would not like me for no reason other than I was Christian (part of a religious minority in Egypt). A kid I met at a summer resort wouldn’t talk to me when he knew I was Christian, even though we used to be friends and play together a lot. I learned about lying and deception, and how honesty and trust were regarded as being foolish and naive in that society. My closest friend at school wasn’t proud of my friendship and would sometimes not acknowledge it in front of others. Actually, I could remember a few people who I thought were close friends, but it turned out that they didn’t care about me like I cared about them.
For a long time I felt I couldn’t find anyone who would accept me for who I am, until I met Marin. Marin was a very nice kid who lived in my area and went to church with me. I liked him a lot and felt that he was the only person who could accept me. I felt sad whenever he didn’t come to church, and would sort of have a light fight with him on the following week for not coming. But one day he immigrated to Australia and he still lives there till this day.
I don’t really remember the details of how I felt when he left, but I know I never had a friend like him again in Egypt for years, and that it broke my heart a lot. My heart was so broken that I pretended I forgot about him forever. Years later, he returned to visit Egypt for a short time. During that time, he came to me and asked me, “Do you remember me?” I looked into his eyes, and shamelessly said, “No.” and left him, even though I think I did remember him. This encounter still haunts me till this day, and I feel so ashamed of it, ashamed of how cruel and mean I was or have become. I think I did it either because: A) years later, I was still so angry at him for leaving and not being able to find anyone like him, or B) I felt I had finally started to fit in in that church community by changing so much that I had become a totally different person than that kid who first came to Egypt and was rejected by everyone, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with or remind me of who I used to be. Or perhaps for both reasons together, I’m not entirely sure. But it’s clear to me now, when I look back at this, I gave in to that society and submitted to changing to the worse just to feel some acceptance.
Unlike Farid though, I’m still in contact with Marin today on Facebook, and we speak from time to time on special occasions, like on birthdays and etc. I wish I could one day be able to build up the courage to apologize to him for what I did that day and ask him to forgive me, but maybe it’s too late for that.
During that time, when I thought I was finally succeeding to fit in, I started building a strange kind of friendship with someone who lots of people think is my closest friend now, and they can’t understand why. It was a friendship built on some sort of mutual benefit. I think I figured out that if no one wants to be my friend, I could find someone who needs me. That’s when I became friends with Michael. Michael also lived close to me and we went to the same church, but Michael was socially and intellectually very different from me. He’s a very simple character. So simple that one couldn’t hold a whole serious conversation with him, because he was also a very funny person. Maybe it wasn’t only because he was simple, but maybe also because he was in pain and wanted to conceal it with laughter. Michael is from a very poor family and his dad (the provider of his family) died when he was just a child. And even though it devastated him, he managed to be strong and move on. To be honest, I don’t know whether I started to become close to him because of genuine compassion, or because of the selfish reason I mentioned earlier: taking advantage of his need to make him my friend. The result however, was a friendship in which I knew a lot about him and tried to help him a lot with things he needed, but one in which he knew very little about me and who I really am/used to be, and which was very intellectually unbalanced because of his very simple mind. And that’s why people would always wonder how come we’re friends without having anything in common. Others would judge that he’s my friend because he wanted to take advantage of my family’s money and wealth (we were not super rich, but we were sort of from the upper middle class). Today we are still friends and talk from time to time over the phone, but he doesn’t now loads of stuff about me, some of which are pretty basic things about who I am as a person. For example, he doesn’t know I’ve left Christianity almost three and a half years ago. So even though I cherish his friendship, he was never the person I could open up to.
In my first year in college, I met Diana, a very beautiful girl who later became my best friend. Our first year of friendship was very difficult. The very beginning was difficult and I was pushing hard against it that she once asked me, “I don’t understand, why don’t you want me to be your friend?” And I had no answer I could tell her. Nevertheless, it was a very important question and the short answer was probably: I was scared. The way our friendship started was when she started dating a friend with whom I spent a lot of time during our first semester of college. Then they broke up, and she started getting closer to me. At first I thought she was attracted to me just because of my friend, and I think I might have liked that to be honest; I hadn’t felt that anyone was interested in me for ages. But I was afraid of hurting my friend, of being in a relationship, and of the rumors that circulated about her. At that time, I was very religious and people from her local community were saying that she was a bad person; a slut. I didn’t want to associate myself with someone with a bad reputation because I cared a lot about mine. In the beginning of our friendship I comforted her with the rumors and she said she knew about them but didn’t know how they originated. The more I got to know her the more I learned how she was a million times better as a person than the people who spoke badly about her behind he back. I learned how simple and naïve she was and how easily judgmental people could misunderstand her. I also learned about her lack of feeling loved and accepted, which was something we had in common.
We slowly became closer and seen more together, and I started neglecting the rumors and caring a little bit less about what people thought. But then all hell broke loose. Almost everyone tried to end our relationship and at some point they had almost succeeded.
To understand why, you need to know more about the sick mentality of the Egyptian society. Egyptians are very religious and the majority of Egyptians are Muslims. Most Muslims believe that there is no pure relationship between a man and a woman, and that any relationship between a man and a woman outside of marriage is a form of adultery and profanity. Even most of the Christian minority, which we belonged to, share a great deal of those beliefs. Accordingly, everyone was against us: my parents fought against it, our friends rejected it, strangers on the street would harass us, and our church tried stop us. If you knew me back then, you would have known how broken I was as a person, and how I would never be able to stand my ground in the face of anyone. I was just a weak damaged person. But what I felt with Diana made me stronger and happier because I felt loved and accepted for once, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from me, even if I had to face the whole world, which I did; I faced my whole world.
The strongest resistance we faced, however, was that of the state. Around the end of our second semester of college, we spent lots of time together at college. We were studying for our final exams and we were a little bit stressed. So we would comfort each other with an occasional hug, or shoulder tap. She would also sometimes lean her head against my shoulder. One day she was doing that, and a college police officer (yes, public colleges in Egypt have police officers among their staff to “maintain order”) sort of arrested us and took us to his office. He treated us as if we were caught committing a crime and threatened us to file a police report against us if we were seen together again! That was one of the darkest days of my life. I felt that I had lost my battle and lost my friend forever. That day, I walked with her till where she was going to take a bus home, and told her goodbye. I couldn’t hold my tears, even though she tried to comfort me by saying that it wasn’t the end, but I just couldn’t believe it. For days I was in great agony, and I couldn’t think of anything else. But in the end it turned out that she was right and I was wrong. We were back together and have been best friends for more than 8 years.