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“Fil Mish Mish”

A Dual Discourse with Two Migratory Visionaries


“It’s the American Dream.”  Salem, our newly acquainted Egyptian friend, described his desires to move to the United States as “making it in the land of possibilities.”  At 27 years old, he has nearly perfected his English solely by watching American movies and listening to American music.  He is an on-call lawyer of sorts (one without any law school), works as a computer technician, runs black market Jeep safaris and pyramid tours, sells burned CDs and movies on the street, and works on the Mediterranean coast as a legitimate tour guide.  And yet somehow we met him on his “holiday;” he stopped my friend and I on the street excitedly asking if we were American.  “You two…are you…where are you…Americans?  Are you Americans?!”  He said he had never met an American before.  With such a repertoire, I found it nearly impossible – it must be a ruse – but he insisted that he met many Russians, Italians, French and Greeks (in fact, he spoke all of those languages), but never had he formally met an American, whether it be tourist or otherwise.  Well, Sir Salem, it is your lucky day!  There we were, two lovely American ladies right before his eyes – eyes that were an exact match to the color of his carob face.

We chatted with these eyes for about 30 minutes, awkwardly posed outside a juice shop before heading to a café for sheesha and coffee, and opened the flood gates of conversation.  We shared stories and ideas of American media, pop culture, and slang versus that of Egyptian culture; we even ventured into religion and secrets of cultural differences (sexuality, marriage, homosexuality, alcohol consumption…etc.).  His favorite discovery was the phrase, “Once in a blue moon.”  In Arabic there is a phrase, “Fil mish mish,” which translates into, “apricot season,” but is used to reference, “It will happen in apricot season” – a three week period of the year.  It was my favorite phrase to throw back at catcalling vendors, and Salem wanted to know the English equivalent; the best I could come up with was, “Once in a blue moon.”

He said he needed to get out of Egypt to continue to grow; he had a lot of work experience but not a lot of work money.  Salem is Nubian.  The Nubian co-culture living within Egypt’s borders and outside is displaced by many factors – the biggest being the Aswan High Dam and the always existent marginalization that minority groups must face.    Jobs are scarce in Egypt, but he explained that it was nearly impossible for him to get a high-paying job and keep an average one for long with the same carob-colored skin that attracted us to him.   I asked him if he thought he would make it to the United States, and he inverted his award-winning smile into the most sullen amount of seriousness I have ever seen: “Yes.  Once when the moon is blue.”


“I am Christian, isn’t that enough?”  Hany’s honeycomb eyes are wide and always smiling.  Even when telling of his sick father, poor family, and death of his beloved childhood cat.  I had met him on my first visit to Egypt, but was unsure of what to expect as I waited for him at El Fishawy, a famous café/sheesha bar in Khan Khalili.  We were to meet at five, and at 5:00 on the dot, Hany’s reflection appeared in the mirror above our table.  My eyes lit up from familiarity; he turned the corner, and we shook hands and kissed both cheeks!  It was unexpected beauty from an old acquaintance, beauty that made me realize we were old friends, not mere acquaintances.

He had moved from the hotel industry to banking since I saw him last, an improvement he says, but not sufficient.  “I need America.  I need America job, America money, America possibility.  Egypt’s economy will succeed only with the individual.  If I go, my family and my church will be helped; then they can help someone, and then the someones will help more someones.  My family needs me, my fellow Christians needs me…Egypt needs me.”  Hany has been trying to get into the United States for eight years; his papers have been properly filled out and turned in with no response.  He has made phone calls that haven’t been returned.  “Why does America not need me?  A Christian in the Islamic world is reason enough, is it not?  You can not know what it is like, Emy (his Egyptian accented form of Amy).”  He needs an American wife or a job they tell him, neither of which are easy to find without being in the United States in the first place.  Hany is caught in the cycle of immigration laws and strong-arms that so many others fall into all over the world.  Regrettably, I asked the impertinent question in vain as the dense American traveler: “Do you think you will make it to America, Hany?”  And through his smile and glistening eyes, he responded in Arabic, “Fil mish mish,” remembered whose ears he was talking to and replaced it with, “How do you say...‘When the moon is blue’?”

Passport and Apricot Dreams
In both cases, I sat across from these men clutching the bag that enshrined my passport and visa.  They were my tickets to this land of dreams, adventure, lively culture, and ancient history; but it is the same land that holds these two men hostage, tainting the beauty of their homeland with the sourness of American refusal.  Amitava Kumar’s article, “Passport Photos,” likens the passport to a form of language, speaking of cultural differences and affluence, providing opportunities for some and building up limitations and restrictions for others.  Salem and Hany are like so many other Egyptian men and women in their struggles to receive passage into the United States, and collectively share similarities with people from all across the globe with the same migratory ideals.  What is this “American Dream” if it cherry picks who will be granted the privilege of promised success and prosperity – a promise that they then will make even more difficult to achieve upon arrival through further marginalization and false claims?  Hany and Salem showed me the truth of this castle in the sky:

It is a dream that will fill people’s minds until there is a blue moon during apricot season.    

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