Often, when people find out that I’m married to a woman from Egypt, they ask me, “So, how did you two meet?” The following is the story of how I came to know my lovely and talented wife.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Azza. It happened on a hot April day in Cairo in 2011. Only months earlier, in January to be precise, the famed Egyptian Revolution, the upheaval which would result in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s long-time dictator, had kicked off and the nation was still jittery and recovering from those cataclysmic events. Anyway, on that fateful April day I happened to have a day off—I’d come to Cairo in August of 2008 to teach at the American University in Cairo—and was working out at the gym at the Community Services Association, a hangout for expats and English-speaking Cairenes. I finished up, toweled the sweat off my body, and left. On my way out of the compound that housed the gym, coffee shop, café, and other CSA facilities, I passed by a group of tables where several women were selling international dishes. Behind them, on the wall they’d positioned themselves in front of, was a big placard that read “Cook’s Day Off.”
I was intrigued so I stopped to have a look. The first woman I happened to notice was someone who looked to be from the Indian Subcontinent. She spoke up and said, “Would you like to buy my Indian food?”
“Maybe. What is all this?” I asked, waving my hand to refer to the spread of food on the tables in front of me.
“We’re with Cook’s Day Off. We sell international food here at CSA twice a week. These are small-sized portions for you to eat when you get home this evening or you can stock your freezer with them.”
“I see,” I said, and then I noticed that there was an Asian woman selling food from Thailand and someone—she didn’t look Italian—hawking perfectly packaged smallish portions of various raviolis and lasagnas as well as tiramisu and some other things I was not able to immediately identify without reading the attached labels.
I began to pace back and forth in front of the tables and look down at all the varieties of food. Suddenly, the woman selling Italian spoke up and asked, “Do you like ravioli?”
“I do,” I said, and then, for the very first time, I looked directly into her eyes.
“Are you Italian?” I asked, thinking, all the while, that she was stunningly attractive.
“No. I’m Egyptian.”
“But you cook and sell Italian?”
“Yes, because I was trained by an Italian chef and partnered with her in the past.”
In the end, being the bachelor that I was and perfectly helpless in the kitchen, I bought a little bit of everything, including two packages of spinach ravioli and two Italian tarts that featured chocolate.
On the way home, I couldn’t get the Egyptian woman out of my mind. I started thinking about how wonderful it would be to go out with her on a date, but how would I ever get to know her name or find a way to make contact with her?
I was on foot, and I suddenly stopped on the crowded sidewalk. People began to jostle into me but I took no notice of them. I reached into the Italian bag and retrieved one of the tarts as I remembered that each package bore a label. I took off my glasses and brought the tart up close to my face so that I could read the fine print right below the production date and list of ingredients. Right there, in black and white, were the words “Azza Omar” and a telephone number. That discovery prompted a huge smile to turn up the corners of my mouth.
I put the tart away and rushed home. As soon as I got inside my apartment, I popped the plastic cover off the tart and cut a slice which I immediately crammed it into my mouth. A plan was forming while I chewed. Immediately upon swallowing, I took out my mobile phone and looked at the label again. I then composed the following text: “Hi. My name is Troy. I just bought two of your chocolate tarts. As soon as I got home, I tried one and it was great. Thank you.” I clicked send as soon as I’d checked it for grammar and spelling errors. I then began to pace back and forth in my kitchen. In about two minutes, she responded, “You are welcome.”
Three weeks to the day after buying tarts from Azza and then texting her, I was sitting in front of my computer in my office on the campus of AUC. My phone was sitting next to me and it rang. When I looked down and didn’t immediately recognize the number, I let it ring until the caller eventually hung up. I had a class to teach in about an hour and was busy prepping for it, so it was easy to ignore the call I’d just gotten. A few minutes later, my phone rang again. It was the same number belonging to the same unknown person. I sighed and then decided to answer it. “Hello,” I said.
“Hi. May I speak with Troy?”
“This is Troy. Who am I speaking with?”
“Azza. You bought some of my Italian food two or three weeks ago.”
“Oh, hi, how are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
“I’m good, thanks. I’m sorry but I’m at my work today and won’t be able to come to CSA to buy any of your goodies, but I promise that I’ll come soon and get some more.”
“Actually, I’m not calling about my food. I just wanted to say hello and to see how you’re doing.”
“Really? You’re calling to say hello?”
“You seemed like a nice person when we met, so I thought I would see how you’re doing.”
“You seemed nice too. Hey, would you like to meet in Maadi sometime for coffee or a Coke or something?”
“I’d really like that,” she said.
“I’d like it too. How about this coming Thursday at six or seven in the evening? Would that be a good day and time for you?”
“That would be great. As it just so happens, I’ll be in your neighborhood at exactly that time to deliver an order to a customer. I also cater and do a lot of parties, especially for Italians.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“It is. Anyway, Thursday evening is fine.”
“Great! Let’s meet at CSA then.”
“CSA is perfect.”
So, that’s how things got started between the two of us. The rest, as they say, is history…