In light of recent events, I’m going to take a temporary detour from Europe and cross the Mediterranean to our brothers and sisters in Egypt. It’s hard to watch such dramatic and at times chilling footage on television or the Internet and not empathize with a tired, worn-out and abused populace yearning for freedom from indignity and oppression. Hosni Mubarak is just another in a long Middle Eastern line of despotic parasites sucking the lifeblood out of “his” people in a fashion similar to the old Western imperialists they claim to have liberated them from.
We can only hope democracy of some sort and fair representation of any sort takes hold when the dust eventually settles. In the meantime, if anything about the past couple of weeks has been heartening it’s the relative solidarity of the Egyptian people. Far from acting like the serfs or children their leaders treat them as, they have been exemplary stewards of their country; even in the midst of revolution. I can’t tell you how much coverage I’ve seen of average Egyptian citizens performing trash removal and hosing down the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Before the army rolled in, many citizens even stood guard at the Egyptian Museum in order to protect the Rosetta Stones, if you will, of one of humanity’s keystone cultures and civilizations.
While Egypt, like any country in similar circumstances, has sinister elements that will undoubtedly make their presence known in coming days, Al Jazeera, CNN and others have splashed many images of ordinary Egyptians — whether Muslim, Christian or secular — peacefully standing up for their basic rights. Being of Egyptian descent myself I can understand Egypt’s long-simmering frustration but being of human descent, first and foremost, I am humbled by the general restraint and the widespread respect most Egyptians have for their country.
Kushary is a starchy amalgam of rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, vinegar and a hot tomato sauce. More or less meaning “to mix” or “mixed”, kushari is a vegetarian dish in a country that is surprisingly easy on non-flesh eaters. For less than a quarter you can watch cooks deftly sling the tiny white semolina cylinders together with the rice and lentils in one bowl and hand it to you faster than it takes to retrieve the money from your pocket. Add hot sauce and fried onions and you have a dish volatile with heat and spice yet harmonious with flavor.
Along with mashed fava beans (fuul) and tamaya (a type of falafel), kushary is food for the everyman; from beggar to banker. My visit to a real kushary shop during a stint in Egypt four years ago was a study in mutual heritage. Taxi drivers stood in line behind school children; suits behind burqas and if it was a good kushari joint, nobody gave a damn about religion or politics. Kushari couldn’t be a better metaphor for a country like Egypt and right now, in a once politically dead region, Egypt couldn’t be a better metaphor for hope.
WHEN: November 6, 2006
WHERE: A kushary shop in downtown Cairo, Egypt