The Sole of Belonging

There is nothing, or more properly rendered, no one in this photo that suggests Egyptian-ness. Perhaps we are not blue-eyed and blond, and thus may not stand out immediately as foreigners in a crowd. But any casual glance from a local resident would eye us as ‘khawaga’ – a dialectical word stating that one is not from around here, yet lives here all the same.

The only suggestion of Egyptian-ness comes from our assertion: We are foreigners, but we wish to live with a sense of belonging to the people here. We do not belong, nor can we, ultimately. Yet we hope that our lives will intertwine with theirs that we might contribute to the greater good of all.

This idea is one we have written about before, but this post generated from the need to update the ‘About the Caspers’ section of this blog, especially the photo. Our third daughter, Layla, was born in Egypt eleven months ago, yet we still pictured ourselves as a family of four. Laziness and procrastination, really – but who clicks on the sidebar links anyway?

The above picture was selected as the best representation of our family, even though Layla has grown considerably since then. Yet the careful reader will notice something which illustrates our efforts to belong will forever run into unintended faux pas. Layla’s foot is extended, sole-showing.

The reader may remember the confusion in the Western world when then-President Bush visited Iraq only to be greeted by a shoe-throwing assailant. Or, he or she may remember the images from Tahrir Square where the protesters removed their shoes and held them high in defiance of President Mubarak. Even in Mauritania, where adults routinely sit on cushions six inches or less from the ground, one of the first lessons I learned was never to extend your legs in the direction of someone sitting opposite you in the room. Showing the sole of your foot or shoe is among the biggest insults in the Arab world.

Layla does not know this, but we do. Should we then discard this photo lest we offend any Arab readership? Perhaps. But it seemed better to use it specifically, in humble demonstration of our sense of, and not true or essential, belonging. We stand in a long line of khawaga; some have been honorable, some have not. We hope our heart and conduct might make this designation as limited as possible, increasing our ‘sense of’ all the more. To the degree we achieve, Layla can enjoy. Even if her parents keep stepping on her feet.

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