Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Din! Din! Din!

I just finished "The Snow Leopard," the Zen adventure classic by Peter Matthiessen. I saw the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" only recently. Inevitably, depictions of life outside North America and Europe remind me of Cairo. "The Snow Leopard," particulary its closing homage to the author's favorite porter, brings to mind my friend Sheroni, whose full name was Mohammed Ibrahim Hussein Sheroni, a black African. Egypt is very multi-racial, Africans, Arabs, a small minority who likely can trace their ancestry to Alexander the Great. Sheroni always dressed in starched and bleached, white galabeya robes, dashing against his blackness, and a white cap with no brim. He worked as a domestic in the households of foreigners, the British before the Americans. His English was excellent, and he had a great sense of humor, as we discussed Egypt, Americans, his pilgrimage to Mecca (the pigeons do not shit in the courtyard of the mosque, he informed me with reverence in his voice and a twinkle in his eye). He was an almost daily visitor in my home, an apartment compound, shared by several American Embassy families.

One day Sheroni knocked on my door in great distress. He had been accused of stealing a bicycle from the compound. He wanted me to go with him to the police station. When I got there, an open-court investigation had already been convened by a young officer with a college education and caution of Americans. Sheroni's accuser was the caretaker of the apartment compound, well-known to me as Brahim. Many caretakers, domestics, and neighborhood street people suplemented their incomes through odd-jobs and some not so odd for the police and other government security agencies. I explained to the polite police officer that Mr. Sheroni was a good man, and Mr. Brahim was a good man, but there had been a misunderstanding. Mr. Sheroni visited me regularly and was always welcome. Simply sighting him on the premises at the time something went missing did not make him a thief. In the end, everyone smiled, bowed many times, and went home free. I have no idea if Sheroni had stolen the bicycle or not. Thievery was fairly common in Egypt and not always easy to define or assign guilt.

When I was scheduled to leave Cairo (my wife and children had already taken the first airline departure the day after school let out), Sheroni invited me to his home for a farewell dinner, the only invitation into an Egyptian home I ever received or frankly heard of any American receiving outside of Embassy officialdom. Sheroni did not live in a luxurious part of town, but he had built his house with his own hands from Nile mud and bricks, and it had three levels, including the usual flat rooftop open to the sun and stars. Sheroni, who was a cook by trade, had prepared a chicken himself, although it and the accompaniments were served by his wife Bedoea, famous for her homemade bread (like Pita), with which Sheroni had kept us supplied throughout our stay in Cairo. Sheroni and I ate sitting on the floor. His eldest son, age 12, was allowed to join us, but Sheroni's wife and the rest of his many children watched us eat and served us, presumably taking their meal from what was left of the bountiful feast. After the meal, my stomach was upset, but no worse than I had become accustomed to in that land of "Pharoah's Revenge." My last morning, the embassy driver picked me up at 4 a.m. to ride to the airport. Sheroni stood by the front gate to say goodbye. We hugged and cried. I emptied my pockets of all my remaining Egyptian money and gave it to Sheroni. He refused it again and again, but in the end accepted it. I don't know. There may have been some American money in there also. It was a long time ago. I hope there was, anyway.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter

1 comment:

SeriousGacky said...

Thanks for introducing me to Sheroni...I feel I know him and miss him too. Very good character sketch.


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