Sometimes I remember a city by the food I ate there, the weather or the cats I meet and make friends with, or the coffee; how good or bad, how accessible … etc. But for me there are other moments that make a city unforgettable for me. Those are the moments of genuine encounters with other human beings in that city.
At a restaurant when there’s a sudden unpredicted moment of eye contact with someone else at the next table when we both hear the loud laughs of another client at a third table. The attempts of an old shop keeper to communicate in English with me that fail and we both end up using our own improvised sign language and it actually works!
This city is kind I tell myself. Not the City itself, but the people in it.
During my last week in Barcelona and while waiting on the platform for the metro I spot an old lady sitting on the bench with a shopping cart next to her and lots of shopping bags. I’ve seen so many old ladies with shopping carts down the street, a beautiful sight for sore eyes. When I moved closer I realized this old lady was asleep, bent over a pen and paper that she seemed to have been using right before she dozed off. The more I looked and the closer I got I felt may be she’s not asleep, her neck is bent to the side in a way that seemed extremely uncomfortable. Can she just be asleep? is she ok?
In Cairo a woman like that would be interrupted in matter of seconds by other people around to make sure she’s ok. I watched the old lady while waiting for the metro, and I watched other passing by as they eyed her with curiosity and perhaps worry.
I love watching people and I shamelessly look and stare almost everywhere I go. My favorite kind of museum is the one where I can sit on street bench or in a coffee shop and just watch people passing by.
The metro approached and lady was still dozing off. I do not speak a proper word of Spanish or Catalan. I wasn’t sure what to do but I just couldn’t bring myself to just leave.
So I took a deep breath and gently poked her shoulder. She immediately woke up, I pointed to the metro and she waved her hand in a gesture that meant never mind. She was up. Another beautiful old lady with full make up and dyed hair. I left her and took the metro still wondering about her story and why she was moving with all those bags.
The next day while walking down the main street close to Jiwar I spot her siting with her many bags inside a restaurant eating alone. She looks at me, I smile but she seems confused. 3 days later I saw her walking on the street towards me, she sees me, I see her, and we both smile.
Another beautiful encounter was when I met artist Raquel Friera. And once we started talking we just kept going non stop for about an hour and half. A conversation that started off with talking about her children then somehow found it’s way to the universal female roles defined by society, the funny commonalities about being a young woman in Cairo & Barcelona, how society chooses to upgrade or downgrade a woman based on her fulfillment of lack of it, for the roles ascribed to her … The conversation was full of beautiful moments of silent eye contact. Those moments when you look someone in the eye and without any words you feel you’re both telling each other “I feel you”.
By Sondos Shabayek