In the women’s car

Since we’ve moved to Dokki, the defining experience of my daily life here, framing everything else, is no longer the taxi but the metro.  Specifically, the women’s car. One day I will work up the courage to take photos there (look, this tourist did it); perhaps I will tell people I am a reporter doing a story on hijab fashion for some local magazine. Actually I will be photographing not just the elaborately color-coordinated and outrageously sexy outfits some girls are wearing but mainly the amazing things people do with their higabs – my favorite is when they use them to store a used subway ticket for the exit gate, or as a nifty hands-free device to hold a cell phone. Women across all societies I’ve seen tend to be resourceful and, being generally overworked, value efficiency.

For now, from the multitasking file, just this.  On Monday I was coming home from Tahrir to Bahoos at 6:30pm and saw a woman actually doing her prayers in the subway car.  Prostrations and everything. She didn’t have a prayer rug, not even a newspaper to spread on the floor, so my first thought was that she had lost an earring and was looking for it under the seats. It was rather crowded; people had to move around to make sure she had space. But she was being as discreet as possible, facing the back wall away from the platform-side door. No one said anything until a lady walked through selling phone recharge cards. Here it comes, I thought, the question about why this prayer is so urgent that it couldn’t wait till she got off the train and at least onto the platform. The vendor stepped around the praying woman, then said, “Honey, the qibla [direction of Mecca] isn’t that way at all, it’s in the totally opposite direction!” The praying woman looked up in mid-prostration. “Really?” Other passengers seemed to confirm.  Then she got up, turned herself around so her hands protruded dangerously under the feet of various bemused passengers, and continued; someone gave her a plastic bag to mark her space so people wouldn’t step on her. Everyone got very solicitous. Even I found myself looking in my bag for a newspaper.

Then we got to the next stop, and the praying lady got off! I believe she had ridden three stops, same as me. But maybe God couldn’t wait. Or maybe (like many extreme multitaskers) she needed to prove it could be done?

Children's books on display at the Diwan bookstore, Zamalek

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