As a child, my eldest cousin was a mystery to me. I knew only the essential facts: ten years separated us; she married early and well; she had two children; and they had whisked off to live what I imagined to be a very charmed life in New York. But I never knew her as I did my other cousins. My few memories were from our visits to Cairo when we would all attend Saturday lunch at my grandparents flat
on Ebn Zanki Street.
This flat felt like home on our visits to Cairo. It was of an era past: cool marble floors, soaring ceilings edged with ornate cornicing, a powder blue and white parlour where my grandmother would receive guests, French gilded furniture sprinkled throughout, huge stone balconies adorned with a feast of dusty, exotic leafy plants, a suite of rooms beyond the dining room for cooking still done by servants. And grand portraits hung from the walls paying tribute to my father’s lineage, distinguished men in tailored suits, all wearing the Fez once so esteemed in Egypt. Another world to me, but yet it was my world too.
Years later, when I was living in Manhattan I got a call that she was visiting, would I like to meet? Absolutely, we must meet! She was still as glamorous as I remembered her, but I could now also see clear traces of family in her face. She was full of life and welcoming, sharing news and updates–as if we’d always known each other. In her one little visit to New York, a warm wonderful door had opened.
It’s a lovely thing family. Joined together by an invisible and lasting bond. It’s not choice, it’s fact. Blood. Raised so far from my parents’ homelands, family is precious. It is my compass, a reminder that I belong to something bigger, a shared history–even if that history is of another world and time. Things some people take for granted because it’s always there, others value because it’s not.