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Mohamed El-Bisatie
Translated by Peter Daniel
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a fictional Gulf country, with its gleaming glass towers and imported greenery, the routine of day-to-day life is suddenly interrupted when the national football team qualifies for the World Cup. The Emir issues an edict ordering all native Emiratis to travel to France to support the team, leaving the country to the care of its imported labor. How do they handle such newly found freedom? As though steered by a perverse blend between Dante and Scheherazade, we descend layer by layer beneath the façade of modernity: from the colorful multilingual throngs rejoicing for the Emirati team to the hierarchies that underpin them, from the luxurious gardens and swimming pools into the darker secrets of the bedroom, from the rigid and inhibiting strictures of the present to a remote age of innocence. Three narratives interweave to form a tight and thought-provoking examination of the psychology of control. Drumbeat received the Sawiris Foundation Award for Egyptian Literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-062-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-3)

    I came to the Emirate to work, like thousands of others from various parts of the world. The discovery of oil here many years ago had changed everything overnight. Modern skyscrapers shot up, sheathed in smoked-glass façades to repel the scorching sun. Huge multistoried malls proliferated with their banks of gleaming escalators. So did amusement parks featuring the most state-of-the-art rides. Water mains and drainage systems were installed, roads were dug and paved, bridges and flyovers climbed to two and three levels, and row after row of trees and shrubbery were laid out, even along the narrowest streets, and this...

  3. 2
    (pp. 4-10)

    I like to spend my free evenings in the old town. The coffeehouses stay open until all hours. Portable glass-encased grills are rolled out to the street corners, and tables and chairs are arranged around them. Music, laughter, and the fragrances of every imaginable type of food fill the air.

    Emiratis sometimes bring their foreign guests here. They arrive in their huge SUVs and after touring the neighborhood they leave their cars, weave their way through the sidewalk cafés, and settle down for a bite to eat at one of the food stands. Occasionally, the owners of these stands are...

  4. 3
    (pp. 11-14)

    Time passes quietly in the Emirate. Evenings are spent watching television or in family visits, or at the occasional dinner party or birthday celebration. In the summer, many Emirati families leave for European shores. Therefore, when the national soccer team qualified for the World Cup the effect was akin to an explosion. Emiratis, together with the foreign workers, thronged the streets, shouting wildly and waving the national flag and photos of the soccer players. Microphones blared, horns honked, and cheerers were hoisted onto others’ shoulders in impromptu parades. The team had been trying to qualify for years, changing coaches several...

  5. 4
    (pp. 15-17)

    I waited at the airport until the last flock of airplanes took off. Abu Amer and his family had left for France. I drove back to town.

    The highway was deserted. As I approached the outskirts of the city a thought occurred to me that made me laugh. The whole country was now in the hands of the foreign workers. If they took over the Emirate, closed the ports, and broadcast an impassioned message to the world demanding recognition for their new regime, on the grounds that everything in the country was built with their toil and sweat, they could...

  6. 5
    (pp. 18-25)

    Nothing changed. Life in the city continued as normal. People tended to their usual business. Shoppers went into stores and came out laden with bags. Pakistani and Indian women still rolled baby carriages toward public parks. The only differences were that the street-sweeping vehicles appeared earlier than usual and that the amusement park lights came on well before nightfall. I’ve always wanted to ride on one of those Ferris wheels and feel the thrill of swooping back and forth in one of those tiny boxes high up in the air amid the multilingual babble of shouts and screams.

    I pulled...

  7. 6
    (pp. 26-27)

    The remaining Filipino and I pulled up a couple of seats in front of the garage. The footpaths leading through the grounds to the villa were bathed in the soft light of dozens of little shin-high lamps. A fragrant incense had begun to curl through the air. We sat for a while contemplating my colleague’s delicate smoke rings as they wafted upward and vanished. The women’s songs and giggles floated out from inside the villa. Then there was silence. They were getting her ready.

    Finally, they emerged. Rishim led the procession, like a bride. Her face glistened in the footpath...

  8. 7
    (pp. 28-42)

    I cast a quick look back at the garage and then left, too—on foot. I walked around the perimeter of the villa, not because I was afraid of thieves, but just as a routine precaution. Once, it paid off: I discovered sparks sputtering from bare wires jutting out from a tear in some exposed electricity tubing in the wall. I had never heard of a single incident of theft since I had been in the Emirate. I have heard of swindling and fraud, but not burglary. To each country its own thieves. What is there to steal from the...

  9. 8
    (pp. 43-46)

    The lights startled me. They had slipped my mind. Thousands of brilliant colors burst in the sky and expanded into huge crystalline balloons, which merged to form a glittering ceiling over the Emirate. All the shops were still open and brightly lit. The sidewalks were packed with pedestrians who, like me, paused at the sound of a mounting roar. Within seconds the source came into view. A huge crowd jammed into the far end of the street. It was a medley of different nationalities—Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, Sudanese, Arabs—most in their native dress, carrying Emirati flags and pictures of...

  10. 9
    (pp. 47-57)

    The streets had emptied; everyone was at the stadium taking part in the festivities, no doubt. The stores were still open but had few shoppers. The staff, themselves, had left—probably to the stadium, too. I went into a shop and spotted a sign that read, “Please help yourself and leave the money next to the cash register.” I took a pack of cigarettes off the shelf and a box of candy that I am fond of. I dropped a bill in the box next to the cash register and extracted the change. There was also a candy jar filled...

  11. 10
    (pp. 58-64)

    I walked down the empty street in the direction of the stadium. It was now past midnight. The stores had pulled down their shutters and the villas lay in darkness, apart from the dim lights on their front gates. I figured the festivities would go on for another two or three hours, which would leave time for the merrymakers to take a short rest before reporting to work at nine. A bus approached and pulled to a stop next to me even though I hadn’t waved it down. I got in. Pakistanis and Sudanese were singing, in their own languages,...

  12. 11
    (pp. 65-67)

    That afternoon I took the car out for a drive. Earlier, the women cleaned the villa and prepared dinner to take to the tents. Then they went swimming—we could hear their shouts and laughter from the garage where we were washing the cars. Afterward they sat in front of their quarters combing their wet hair.

    The Filipinos informed me that they were not going to the stadium that evening. They had other plans. After a moment, one of them asked, “Why don’t you ask us what our other plans are?”

    “Okay, what are your other plans?”

    “You know the...

  13. 12
    (pp. 68-71)

    The Grand Café was unusually packed. Clumps of men had even gathered on the sidewalk in front of the open windows. The windows were almost at ground level and only kept from serving as doors by wrought iron railings. I craned my neck in search of the Filipinos and eventually spotted them inside, seated around a table near the front. They had obviously arrived early. I edged my way through the many men who had not been fortunate enough to find seats until I reached my coworkers’ table. They had an empty chair between them, which they had reserved for...

  14. 13
    (pp. 72-79)

    The stadium exploded in an ecstatic roar. After having watched the Emirate team win its first victory on the huge video displays, the crowds poured out of the stadium and streamed through the streets with a clamor of indiscernible cheers. This had to have been the first time in the history of the Emirate that women ever appeared in a march. Although they initially mingled with the rest, they soon spontaneously coalesced into their own separate segment.

    I was in that crowd. By the time we neared Abu Amer’s villa I felt too tired to go on. It was almost...

  15. 14
    (pp. 80-81)

    “She didn’t call for me as she normally does early every morning. I overslept. When I went into her room, I found her in bed, the breakfast tray on the table. She greeted me with a huge smile and said, ‘I waited for you so we could have breakfast together.’

    “This was so unusual that I could only gape, unable to say a word. Then I went and took a shower, came back, and had breakfast with her. When we’d finished, she nodded toward the bed and said, ‘Let’s have our coffee over there.’

    “I helped her lie down, placed...

  16. 15
    (pp. 82-85)

    “She said, ‘Since I’ve been bed bound, he started to sleep with me less and less often. Eventually he stopped coming to see me at all unless I sent a message down saying that I had to speak with him. And when he came, he was always in a rush. He had to go here, had to go there. Had work to do in the office. I always found an excuse for him. What man would want a woman in my condition? Not that I felt the urge, myself, anymore. Still, I didn’t like the idea of him having an...

  17. 16
    (pp. 86-87)

    It was the twilight before dawn.

    The cool air braced me. I felt like taking a walk. As I replayed her story in my mind, it began to lose its freshness. I must have left bits out. While I was with her, I was inclined to believe her. Perhaps it was the way her face colored as she spoke. Afterward she said, “Bear with me and you’ll know everything.” What more could she possibly have to tell? She’s alone there in the villa. She could roam through its dozens of rooms, sit on whatever balcony suited her mood, or stroll...

  18. 17
    (pp. 88-88)

    The worshipers ranged themselves in rows behind the imam. Many were yawning, having just arrived from the festivities in the stadium or elsewhere. From those I spoke with before prayers I learned that the parties that had been held in the various parts of town had been less raucous than the celebrations in the stadium. Also, they had apparently decided to go to the mosque closest to their homes so that they could get to bed as soon as possible after prayers.

    The imam held us back after prayers. For a supplication, he told us as he turned to face...

  19. 18
    (pp. 89-91)

    The Filipinos and I threw ourselves into the task of sprucing up the grounds. We pruned the trees, trimmed the hedges, mowed the lawn, washed down the outside and inside stairways, emptied out the swimming pool and scrubbed down its walls and the deck area. It took us three days. We worked from noon, when we woke up, until sunset, when we went to the stadium for the evening. The women set about spring-cleaning the inside of the villa. They brought out all the mattresses and upholstered furniture to air in the sun, calling us over from time to time...

  20. 19
    (pp. 92-98)

    I was going to go to the stadium to watch the match. The men and women at the villa had already left. We’d arranged to meet at the women’s tent for the grilled quails and pigeons they had planned for dinner.

    I pulled out of the driveway and got out of the car to shut the gate. I tried to resist glancing at the villa next door. Those stories of hers. They made me feel lost. I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. They were spinning me through emotions I had never experienced before, and now they had...

  21. 20
    (pp. 99-100)

    The excitement at the stadium picked my spirits up. The bleachers were packed. Women were in the aisles and the spaces between the rows tending to pots of food. On the field, a succession of dancing and singing troupes took turns performing their acts while a team of runners jogged around the circumference parading a long multicolored streamer over their heads in a way that made it wave and shimmer beneath the glare of the floodlights. The video displays mounted on the upper rims of the stadium were broadcasting the introductory coverage. I still had time to get a bite...

  22. 21
    (pp. 101-103)

    The hope was that the team would win its next match and qualify for the next round. I watched the game in the stadium with the same rapt attention as everyone else. There was no fanfare or jubilation this time; we watched in total silence. Even the food was insipid: cheese, jam, and boiled egg sandwiches; bottled water.

    The game ended in a tie. Everyone left to sleep in their own homes. No one was in the mood for entertainment or merrymaking. There was one last chance. If the Moroccan team lost in its upcoming match with Portugal, the Emirate...

  23. 22
    (pp. 104-107)

    No one went to the stadium on the day of the match. People watched it from their homes, in coffeehouses, or at their workplaces. Many brought television sets to work for the purpose.

    As the inmates had come to prefer to loll in the sun in the police station yards instead of wandering about town, the officers invited them to watch the game with them. The inmates hauled out the television sets to the fenced-in front lawn. The officer in charge had the honor of a chair while the rest took up places on reed mats that were unfurled on...

  24. 23
    (pp. 108-121)

    I walked in front of Abu Salem’s villa, then around the perimeter. The balconies were empty and the lights on the upper story were off. The staff must be on the ground floor, where the windows were lit. I could not help feeling guilty. I should have dropped in days ago because I knew she had more to recount. I was inclined to believe her after the state I had seen her in during my last visit. No woman would confide such things in a man she barely knew unless she was at her wits’ end. Of course, I’d be...

  25. 24
    (pp. 122-123)

    The streets were decked with victory arches made of flowers. Each was crowned with a photo of one of the members of the national soccer team, intercepting the ball with the edge of his foot.

    I passed by the police station on my way to the parade. The Indian officer in charge was in his official uniform: dark green with yellow stripes on the epaulets. He was just inside the door, standing at attention, his twirled mustache glistening with grease and his gun hanging in its holster at his side. The prisoners were back behind bars. Their arms reached through...

  26. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 124-124)