Last week I was enjoying the quiet environment of the Nile, away from the noise of the city. I love the sunset in Egypt, and I was enjoying every second of the peace and beauty of the desert. The sky was getting darker and darker, and we were sitting around the campfire, enjoying the bright stars in the sky, and the lovely sweet tea. Egypt is a country that I return to again and again. As an archaeologist I am not only interested in all aspects of the people of the past, but also of the present.
From their diets to their beliefs, clothes they wear, tools and cooking pots they use, the houses they live and the ways they commemorate their dead. This country feels like home to me.
The guy sitting right next to me, a local guard at the archaeological site, who I have known for years, looks at me and says out of the blue
“I can recognize Jews.”
I just looked at him, not knowing how to respond.
He continued “you can recognize a Jew by which direction they stir their tea, they stir to the left.”
My mind rages, stirring vs not stirring, which way am I stirring, not realizing how ridiculous the remark is. Frozen as I was, I could not stop stirring, nor did I look which way I was stirring. Just thinking, that now, I must watch which way I stir my tea and coffee when excavating in Egypt. Am I stirring clockwise or anticlockwise?
The funny thing is that I know, that he knows, that I am Jewish. Everything turned then, on that one loaded word, “Jew.”
Being or feeling different is at the heart of Jewish experience. There was no safe position for me to take, so I drank my tea and just nodded.
Should I have said something? I am in a country where they ask you to fill in your religious affiliation on your work visa application. As a practical matter, such identification can open a door to problems when you are Jewish. How do you deal with that? Well, you just must. Just as I can take the early rising, the sand in my sandwich, getting dirty, insects (yes, insects are a concern), the difficulty to find something that you can eat, and the remote locations.
So, you are probably wondering what happened the next day. I was invited for tea by the same local guard and his wife, and ate delicious Ghorayebah (butter cookies).