“Khawaaga: Eyes Always Watching”

I’ll never really know what it feels like to be trans, disabled or a Person of Color — Black, Hispanic, Indian, Muslim … there are so many ways to be a minority in America — but I do have a small sense of feeling that eyes are always watching, judging your right to occupy the space you do. My body knows a small measure of the trauma that results, the courage it sometimes takes to walk to work in the morning.

I am so pleased to have found a home for this reflection on how I got here. It was a difficult piece to write, but it’s an important story to share.

I owe a lot of thanks to Hettie Jones and my writing class at 92Y, who helped immensely in making this piece what it is. And, of course, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mokhtar, wherever he is right now.

[In Cairo] I wasn’t even ajnabiyya—adj. foreign, literally: from the adjacent place. In Cairo, I was khawaaga—n. rich white European, colonizer, interloper, from the Persian for ‘master.’

… That label was the source and symbol of everything I hated about Cairo—the ogling, occasional groping, the “tourist price” I paid for everything, and especially the calculated looks that followed me in every public space. Yet, hearing Mokhtar’s story made it impossible to ignore that khawaaga enabled many of my small pleasures in Egypt, too. A quiet neighborhood, a nice restaurant, a seaside vacation on a clean beach, chatting in the courtyards of American University, a drink with friends on a rooftop bar. All of these escapes were khawaaga, too.

Read the piece in its entirety on Duende.

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