Lily Hoang

On Pudency

Mohammed tells us he is an attorney, family law, but court has let out early today so he

will show us around the bazaar.

First, he says, “Please, sister, your blouse.” I had forgotten to button it all the way

up. He says, “Please you are like my sister here. You must respect yourself.”

I feel culturally insensitive—I feel shame.

He tells us a list of all the places he will take us. By the time the sun has set, he has

carefully accounted for every Egyptian pound left in my wallet. I spend money like a

good middle-class American.

*

Chandra M. Mohanty explains “third world difference” as that stable, ahistorical

something that apparently oppresses most, if not all, women in those countries. This

country, the one I am sitting in right now.

*

Mohammed sets up us with a cab and tour guide. On the way back to Cairo from Giza,

the cab driver tells us a joke:

Vladimir Putin from Russia, Jacques Chirac from France, and Donald Trump from

your country, they go see the pyramids but they get lost because they have not paid for

a good tour guide like you have with me. [Insert laughter.] They get lost but then Putin

finds a magic bottle and he rubs it and out comes the genie and the genie gives him one

wish. Putin says, “I want to go back to Moscow,” and poof: he’s back in Moscow. Chirac

picks up the bottle and rubs it and out comes the genie and the genie gives him one wish.

Chirac says, “I want to go back to Paris,” and poof: he’s back to Paris. Donald Trump sees

all this so he picks up the bottle and rubs it and out pops the genie and the genie gives

him one wish. Donald Trump says, “I want my friends back. Why did they leave me here

all by myself?” [Insert laughter.] You get it? It’s because Trump is so stupid he doesn’t

understand anything!

We are driving on a two-lane street, but the cars cram seven or more across it. They

fit through impossible spaces, as though the sounding of a horn portends conquest.

*

Covering offers women the ability to move through public spaces without harassment.

When I walk anywhere, men cat-call and jeer lewdly. My sexual and sexualized

body means something. I feel always on the precipice of attack. I feel unsafe because I am

desired.

Here, in Cairo, my sexual and sexualized body means something else. I feel unsafe

because I am not desired at all.

If modesty lends safety, is my skin the problem?

Still—I remain the Other, no matter the circumstance.

*

But Mohammed is not an attorney. He catches tourists and works on commission.

“I’m not upset or anything, but he didn’t have to lie,” I tell Bantu. “He works

within an alternative economy, and I’m cool with supporting it.”

Like drug dealers and community currency, I buy oils and papyrus paintings. I do

not make eye contact with men; my American dollar is worth a lot here.

On Deception

This is how a story begins: Neither here nor anywhere else lived a king whom had a wife

he loved with all his heart and a daughter who was the light of his eye.

*

Listen now to this story, it comes all the way from Egypt. There once was a king and his

wife and his daughter. He loved them truly but then his wife the queen got sick and died

and it was a terrible time of sadness. It’s true that he laid vigil for an entire year! But even

a year must sometimes conclude and at its conclusion the king called in the matchmakers

and gave them his orders: to find him a wife, regardless of station, whose foot may adorn

his dead wife’s anklet. When the matchmakers have tried all the single ladies, they

scratched their heads in wonder. How can no woman near or far fit into this anklet? How

special the queen must have been! So delicate, so pure. And then an old matchmaker suggested

going to the king’s palace and trying his dear daughter the princess, for she was the only

one left and it couldn’t really hurt to try. The matchmakers shrug and of course the

princess fits her mother’s anklet. It is a perfect fit, as though it had always belonged to

her.

The matchmakers tell the king and at first there was hesitation but that was quickly

dismissed and so the king made preparations for marriage. To his daughter he said he

had found for her a perfect husband, one she was sure to love so fully, he laughed

thinking how true his words would soon become. On the night of the wedding, all the

servants knew the secret but the princess was still naïve. As the princess was preparing,

the minister’s daughter came in and joked around and then she traded the truth for the

princess’s gold bangle.

Armed suddenly with knowledge, what can a princess do? Why, she jumps out

the window, of course! Yes, she jumps out the window and begins to sprint and as good

fortune might have it, she landed in the yard of a tanner. She pressed gold into his palm

and asked for a burqa made of leather, one that might cover her entire body, save her

eyes and hands. She begged him for expediency and the tanner worked all night with his

wife and his children, stitching together a burqa of animal skins. Quickly, the princess

put on her new identity and when anyone approached her she would say, “My name is

Juleidah for my coat of skins. My eyes are weak. My sight is dim. My ears are deaf, I

cannot hear. I care for no one far or near.” So aptly disguised, the guards who were sent

out to look for the king’s missing bride the princess did not recognize her. They passed

by her without pause. Thus, the princess waited for the light of morning, and as soon as

the gates to the palace were opened, out she ran!

*

She ran and she ran and finally she reached another kingdom. Exhausted, she fell down

right where she was and fell solidly asleep. The princess was on the outside and on the

inside was a palace. A servant girl had looked out the window and run to the sultan’s

queen with fright. Outside, she told the sultan’s wife, was an Afreet! The sultan’s wife

laughed and told the servant to go outside and bring the monster in. The servant girl was

scared, oh boy was she scared, but she was only a servant girl and had no other

possibilities but to do exactly as the sultan’s wife bade her to do, so out she went and she

kicked at the pile of animal hides and seeing no danger, she picked up the pile of leather

and carried it up to the sultan’s wife. The princess in disguise was dropped at the sultan’s

wife’s feet—and that was when she woke up, at last. The princess bowed before royalty

and said, “My name is Juleidah for my coat of skins. My eyes are weak. My sight is dim.

My ears are deaf, I cannot hear. I care for no one far or near.” The sultan’s wife was

delighted and sent her to the kitchen to work and sometimes when she needed

entertainment, the blind and deaf Juleidah would be called in for humor. Thus our

princess lived, perhaps no longer as comfortable but freedom is a sliding scale and

freedom is a privilege I take for granted. And then came the day when the sultan was to

throw a night of celebration and everyone, even slaves and servants, was invited to

attend. The sultan’s wife floated among the girls and before taking leave she stopped

once more to see if poor Juleidah might want to come after all, but indeed all the sultan’s

wife heard was, “My name is Juleidah for my coat of s