“Do you trust me?”
I stared at the text message. I had known Sayf, an Egyptian refugee aid worker by day and photojournalist by vocation, for almost a year. In my first months in Cairo, we had run into each other often at parties thrown by mutual friends in the Fulbright Program that neither of us were part of. The Fulbright Scholars were long gone, evacuated months ago when the revolution broke out on Tahrir Square. I hadn’t seen Sayf much since then, but we had been saying for weeks that we should get coffee and catch up before I left Cairo at the end of the month.
“I’m getting paid on Saturday for some work I did for Der Spiegel.” Sayf’s German was as beautiful and natural as his English, something we had in common. “I have a tradition when I get paid, something I like to do with a friend. Do you trust me?”
I thought about Paul, the tall, geeky younger guy in my Egyptian politics class. I had been lusting after him all year. The last time Paul had said, “Trust me,” I didn’t. He and some other classmates apparently ended up in a cabaret bar full of Russian prostitutes. They said they had a fun time, but I was glad I hadn’t gone along.
When I arrived in Cairo, it was an almost inconceivably other world, where I was visibly and emotionally the alien other, known colloquially as a 'khawaaga.' This story is fictional, but its heart arises from the very real feeling of being khawaaga I experienced in Egypt, and my unfinished journey towards becoming something in between.
It was perfect for the magazine Newfound, which explores how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding, for an issue on the theme of "other worlds." They thought so, too, and you can read the whole story online.