Muslim Matrimonials and More's Egyptian Tales, by Youssuf El-Kalay

Friday, August 18, 2000

Insects Don't Scare Me

by Youssuf El-Kalay

Insects are everywhere. It's a known fact that there are close to a million species of insects that the human race has not yet discovered. So while the entymologists are busy finding more species to add to their lists, I'm wondering whether I'll ever get over my fear of these nasty little critters. Especially cockroaches. Cats may love to chase them but they totally gross me out. Why am I so afraid of roaches, you ask? Well believe me, had you gone through a horrible roach-filled week in Alexandria in the middle of a heat wave you too would have roachaphobia.

My lifetime of roach terror got started in the summer of 1997 when my family was vacationing in the blistering hot Egyptian summer. My sister and I decided to go to Alexandria with my grandfather, not only to escape the crowdedness of Cairo, but also as an attempt to get a cool breeze from the seaside. Good idea huh? Nope, it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. Sure the temperature was a lot cooler, and the people were friendlier but that did not begin to make up for what happened.

Most people who travel to Alexandria go through the long and arduous effort of driving all the way there. My grandfather on the other hand decided to avoid that hassle. We rode in first class seats on a Spanish train.

My grandfather mentioned that during a journey it was customary for someone in a group to be the amir (leader). My sister's hand shot up immediately but quickly receded as my grandfather pointed out that the amir would cover the fees of the entire journey. Without hesitation, we chose him as the amir of the group. On the train I ordered a double Nescafe with three spoons of sugar. As the train chugged towards Alexandria and the caffeine seeped into my blood, I felt a rush of excitement building within me. Little did I know of the horror that awaited me later that night.

Three hours later, we arrived at the apartment. My grandmother who had gone ahead of us by a day greeted us with a smile and a hug. All of us were glad to see her. The apartment was spotless. My grandmother always keeps a clean house. So there was no reason whatsoever for roaches to be around right? Wrong.

There I was lounging on the couch, minding my own business when all of a sudden a spew of black creepy crawlies came gushing from underneath the couch. Boy did they give me the heeby jeebies. I almost fell off the couch when I threw up my legs to avoid them. They looked like small nightmare monsters, and as I yelled they disappeared like ghosts. It's was like having the boogie man come out of nowhere and then poof, he's gone.

So there I was yelling about being attacked by roaches when out comes my grandfather without even a can of Soldier. Soldier is a popular brand of roach spray in Egypt. It obliterates roaches and nearly incapacitates humans. Definitely, only for use as directed. Out comes a roach and my grandfather mashes the critter with his bare foot. Gross! Meanwhile I'm running around trying to find a place to sit that hasn't been honored by the presence of a roach.

That night I did not get any sleep at all. The double dose of Nescafe kept me wide awake. I'd shudder at the slightest sound of a scuttle, imagining the roaches scurrying all over the floor trying to find a victim to harass. I knew they were hiding but I didn't know where they would come from next. The floor, the ceiling, the bed? The morbid fear of being attacked by an army of roaches was almost too much for me to handle.

The next morning I got to thinking how wimpy I was. The whole incident also got me thinking about my grandfather, the Stanford graduate. Here was a man who had received his Ph.D. from one of the top universities in the world, and yet in spite of this he was still the son of a farmer, raised in practical surroundings. I admired the fact that even though he was well educated, he was still a simple man. To this day it exemplifies to me the idea that no matter how educated or high up a person is, they are still human, and without a doubt a slave of Allah.

For the rest of the day he poked fun at me by pointing randomly and saying, "Watch out for that roach!" Just in case you're wondering, the reason the apartment was attacked by roaches was because of the incredible heat. According to my grandfather, they come out from the sand and go inside to cooler areas. Great, so those pesky guys can't stand the heat, but don't mind invading peoples' houses.

There's only one good thing I can find to say about the disgusting, crawling cockroach: it's not as bad as a disgusting, flying cockroach. But that's another story.

'Till next time insha Allah...

Youssuf El-Kalay has lived in Scotland, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United States, and currently resides in Southern California. It is his hope that through his stories, you the reader will be able to experience some of his adventures and the lessons he has learned from them.

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