TE21 Serbian Moments

Dejan Tiago Stanković


maids in Cairo was left jobless or until, inshallah, more were imported. We offered to pay good money and they promised that they would try tofind us an impoverishedwidowordivorcedwoman and soon they brought us a mature woman, Eba was her name, a refugee from Sudan, who was ready to work for us provided she was not left alone in the house with my husband. We paid her more than other people paid their servants, but at first I was embarrassed by how little it was; later I got used to it, as I did to everything else. Eba stayed with us for a long time, she schooled her children, saw them married off, eventually retired and went to live with her son and daughter-in-law. At first, one housekeeper wasn’t enough, so we proceeded to look for a nanny, without any luck, until, as on so many other occasions, Taher came to the rescue. He asked around and a few days later brought us a young girl who was ready to work for us and live in the flat. Nabila had never worked outside of her own house before and she had no references except that she was a distant cousin of the man who collected the rubbish from our building. Taher explained that the family was dirt poor, that they didn’t know what to do with yet another daughter, and so they sent her to the city to work as a maid. Nabila was fifteen when she came to us. Scrawny, dark, curly- haired, she was very frightened, spoke only in a whisper, didn’t

know a word of English but was a fast learner. The one thing that took her time to learn was to start looking me in the eye; it took years. At first, she cried at night, but we didn’t know that it was because she was already on her own, she had nobody but us. Nabila was a Copt and had a cross tattooed on the back of her hand. She was born on the other side of the Nile, on the edge of Cairo, at the foot of the Mukattam Hills, in an area where the Zabbaleen or garbage collectors live, where trash is sorted in the high-rises and pigs are raised on the roofs, fed with scraps of food found in the rubbish. The place stinks to high heaven and is disgusting, I’ve been there a few times, and that was in the winter when the smell isn’t too bad. I never understood how the people there could stand that putrid stench and didn’t die from all that horrible filth. All the stories about servants in Egypt are more or less the same, they sound like tales from bygone times: the servant is brought into the house while still a child and serves the family for the rest of its life, forgets who it is, where it’s from and what its true role is in the household. So it was with our Nabila. My daughters in the meantime finished school and got married, we changed jobs, moved overseas, while she, knowing the ways of every member of the household, catered to them, she knewour likes anddislikes and took care of us as if she were our eldest unmarried daughter. Each of us looked to her for help or advice and she helped



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