Maadi is a classical turn-of-the-century tree-lined suburb, designed in 1905 by a retired Canadian officer, Captain Alexander J. Abrams. Wide boulevards and palatial villas grace this largely residential area where upper and upper-middle class Jewish familiies, civil servants, British and European dignitaries once lived in the days of colonial glory; as if conquering other nations in bloody acts of aggression was somehow glorious. While presently a faded facade of its former self, Maadi is still an affluent neighborhood housing a large number rich Egyptian and expatriate families – particularly those with children. However, the once vibrant Egyptian Jewish community in Maadi had long ago been decimated by anti-semitism, and finally the last of this ancient population was expelled in the 1950s. Currently Maadi’s ancient Coptic community was increasingly and aggressively being targeted – a direct consequence of the growing radical Islamic societal influences. Remains of the Arab Spring and faded Muslim Brotherhood graffiti on the walls provided silent testimony to this insidious and frightening trend.
The Canadian Egyptology Institute in Maadi was a haven from Cairo’s madness. The Institute’s overseers were William Taylor, a middle-aged British expatriate who had lived in Cairo for many years, and his American expatriate wife, Wanda. William, never Bill, Billy, Will, Willie, Wills, Bo, Byll nor Liam as he would make clear if you dared make such a mistake, was a master at getting things done – except for his doctoral thesis which he had been supposedly working on for some 20-odd years. Since being a student was a condition of his employment, finishing his thesis was not actually to his advantage. Despite lacking a Piled higher and Deeper, over the years he had learned whose hand to grease, with how much, and where to get what was needed. He would also escort researchers to and from the airport, in exchange for a bottle of duty-free liquor. His liquid intoxicant of choice was Rémy Martin V.S.O.P. cognac.
He also helped take care of visiting academics’ government paperwork, which all had to be done in triplicate, maybe tomorrow, and probably by a bureaucrat who is never available. Wanda, as the director of a large international import-export company, oversaw the shipping of the visiting researchers’ personal purchases and research materials around the world. Like her husband, she was also a wizard at moving things through the endless I.B.M. (Inshallah, Bokrah, Mallesh), “if God wills it, maybe tomorrow” bureaucracy, that would drive away even a North-American-New-Age-Sensitive-Guy who takes paternity leave, does babies diapers in the middle of the night, washes windows and bakes bread.
The Institute occupied two floors of a low-rise apartment. It boasted two kitchens, a number of bedrooms, a pile of bed bug-infested mattresses for peak season when the floor becomes one large communal bed of academic wannabes, bathrooms with running tepid and cold water, and a library which would warm any Egyptophile’s heart – complete with almost every Egypto-trash book ever written by such literary greats as Elizabeth Peters, Christian Jacq, Wilbur Smith, Lynda Robinson, Lauren Haney and Pauline Gedge. For the majority of Canadian archeologists, the Institute was a home away from home.
When Clorice, Jesse and Archie got to the Institute, it was empty – presumably William had left for the day. However, as Archie had promised, a bed had been made up in anticipation of her visit. During a ready-made dinner of hummus, ful mudammas, lemon and garlic potato salad, spinach with garlic, lamb kebabs and pita bread (but alas and alack no strawberries) that the trio had picked up in the market, Jesse continued to fill Clorice in on the projects and characters that she would be living with for the next three months.
[Continue reading the next post in this Novel: Chapter 3.2]