Colors in Cairo || Akinyemi Muhammed Adedeji 


You are in the elevator, crowded only by your thoughts and a reflection of you in the elevator’s mirror. Your destination is the fifth floor, and you had boarded on the ground floor. You know there is the likelihood of a stop on other floors to pick up more passengers, so you position yourself in a corner; to accommodate other passengers. When the elevator stops on the third floor, there are three women. You look up, and wear a smile to usher them in. But the three of them tell you to go on. They point to the second elevator; telling you they’ll wait for it.

When you point up to tell them you’re going up, they point down. You smile and press the metallic button to shut the door. You give no thoughts to it.

The second time, you are the passenger being picked up. When you walk in other passengers, two women and a man, move to one side. You think it is to make some space, but when a fifth passenger joins, they gravitate towards that passenger; a hotel staffer with a wry smile. They say something, but you’re occupied with your WhatsApp messages to pay attention at that point. You walk out, smiling, bowing, and waving. They stay inanimate as your circus performance times out.

When you share the elevator with a music band and a boy tries to play with you, the father cautions him in their language. You don’t speak the language, but he has it on his face. You begin to pack your thoughts together in one train. But because you have read about these things, and you understand the hazard of a single story, you think about the children with whom you have had pictures at the lobby because they married excitement when they saw you. You think about the strangers who wave at you, happily. You think about the fuel attendants who are quick to ask about your country. You think about the waiter who called Kanu Nwankwo, el-Papilo, and tells you how much he loves Kanu. You exchange your fanboy-ism by telling him Mo Salah is one of Africa’s greats.
You forgive the machinery of a random stranger in the crowd by making excuses; they’re probably scared/they’re being security conscious/they’ve probably never left the country/they’ve probably experienced something in the past that makes them fear you/they’ve probably… you make the excuses. You even blame yourself. Why should you smile at strangers who are probably scared? Why should you wave at people who feel threatened by your presence? Are you trying to terrify them by trying to be funny? This is unfair to them. So you conclude, it is not your colour that terrifies them, it is your actions. And it’ll probably terrify other strangers who have your colour too.

But when the topic comes up days later, you’ll learn that they’ve been kind to you. That someone of your colour once tried to ask a very curious question, and that when she tapped the fellow, the fellow dusted off her touch, and had a mascara of disgust on her face. You’ll try to rationalise it again, even though you know it is weird at that point. You’ll think about the one you call astronaut/air-woman, one who shares their colour, and is blind to colours. You’ll think about the ones who dance with you, dine with you, and jest with you.

At this point you begin to remind yourself of the principles you have always had. Because you’re in Cairo, Egypt, the home of civilization, and the intellectual powerhouse of African advancement… you remind yourself that the anger of Africans towards the concept of racism is not that racism is bad, it is that they’re not the ones at the top of the food chain.

Then you remind yourself again that there are good people, and there are bad people. And that being good or being bad has no colour. It is the same in Lagos, and in Cairo, and in New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, and everywhere else. You’ll see them; good and bad people, wearing the same colour, eating the same food, the same sociological impacts, but differing only in reactions. As the Colour identifiers have organized a birthday party of Colours, you’ve people of their origin who host others and erase colours. As you’ve those who dust you off, you’ve those who hug you. As you’ve those who say they don’t shake hands with the other gender, but jump on the other gender of their colour, you’ve those who treat everyone in the same berth.

As you continue to experience the culture, and the people, you are also careful of being extreme with philosophising. You want to learn, so you listen. You want to see, so you feel. You want to run with them, so you reason with them. Because in the end, love may be unable to conquer all. But logic and love will connect loose ends, while keeping you on your reactionary feet, for when extremism happens. The hunter who hunts only antelopes isn’t immune from the anger of a hungry Lion. But he can save himself with critical thinking… and love.

There are good people and bad people, and they can have the same colour. You remind yourself… you remind everybody.

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