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Selma Cook

So much of our thinking belongs to the conditioning we received since we were small but all this can be overcome. In this story, a woman comes to term with the market place and the hidden meanings of packaged hamburgers and fresh lamb chops stares her in the face. What will she do? Does she have the courage ignore the dead cows of Cairo?

When I first came to live in Egypt, I would wake up in the morning feeling rather startled. For a few seconds, I would wonder where I was, and then the reality would dawn on me that I was now on the other side of the world.

My second son was only five when we first came and I often took him for a walk to a nearby supermarket. I lived in fear of getting lost so I was happy to find a supermarket straight down the road. It was impossible, even for me, to get lost going to that supermarket. My son was with me this particular day and we just walked along looking at the buildings.

“Mum,” he said, “ I think that when Allah made the world, He made Egypt first.”

“Oh really, what makes you think that?” I asked him.

“Well everything is old here, even the new houses look old, don’t they? So Egypt must have been made first, I think.”

“Only Allah knows how and when He made everything, but you’re right Egypt looks a bit old.”

We lived from the food bought in that supermarket for some time, accompanied by a fruit and vegetable place on the same street. When we went to our friends for dinner, I noticed that the meat was different from what we were buying.

“Oh, that’s fresh meat from the butcher. You should always buy the fresh meat,” advised my friend. She told me where the butcher was and off I went the next day.

I walked down the narrow lane of the market with fruit and vegetables stands on either side. The dirt looked clean and neatly swept. Little boys carried containers of incense around. I thought it smelt bad and I noticed people paying him and then he would go away. I thought they actually paid him to go! Later I learnt that they paid him for the favor of giving a nice scent to the market.

I walked on and noticed the carcass of a cow hanging upside down outside a little shop.

“That must be the butcher’s,” I said to myself as I gulped with wide-open eyes. “A dead cow is a dead cow,” I told myself. “What’s the difference between this dead cow and the one in the frozen packet of hamburgers?” I asked myself, trying to gather up all the strength I needed. The problem was the tail. It was hanging upside down and the fluffy bit on the end was intact. Oooo, it didn’t look appetizing at all.

“You’re too soft!” I told myself. “Been brought up with nicely packed pieces of meat that look like food, instead of the dead animals they are.” I didn’t buy any meat that day. I bought some green beans instead. Time passed and we got tired of eating our pre-packaged frozen meat and I ventured forth once more.

“This time I’ll do it!” I told myself. I didn’t look left or right but walked straight in the door.

“So far, so good,” I told myself, trying to feel encouraged. The man in the shop looked at me and asked me in Arabic what I wanted. All I knew how to say in Arabic was ‘beef steak’. I could see chops, fillet, minced meat and many other things but I didn’t know how to ask.

“I kilo of beefsteak,” I said with knitted eyebrows. I walked out the shop feeling happy with my beefsteak but frustrated at not being able to buy anything else. Well, we ate beefsteak for two years.

Now, after seven years, I can walk boldly up to any butcher shop, and just push that carcass aside, side step over nasty looking puddles and buy chops, minced meat, fillet and many others. Success came late but it came! If I ever feel a bit queasy, I just tell myself,

“That’s not a dead cow, that’s dinner!”