“And now, are you married?” Ghada imitates an imaginary journalist. The 28-year-old pharmacist from Mahalla is wary of ready-made questions; she has heard them many times since her blog, Ayza Atgawez (I Want to Get Married), made her a regional icon. She started collecting urban tales on single life as a woman in 2007; they became an instant success in Egypt. One year later, the stories were published in book form by the publishing house Dar el Shorouk and became a bestseller in Arabic (the English translation is published by the University of Texas Press); they have since been translated into dozens of languages and adapted into a TV series. Ghada’s life has changed. She has become an author and scriptwriter. She regularly flies to meet her readers. But no, she still isn’t married.
Every week, Ghada spends a day in Cairo. She drinks through a straw a coffee that looks like a cup of ice cream. From the windows of the coffee shop, we notice the American University of Cairo, on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Her veil is colourful, her gaze is frank and she laughs easily. Her story is one that most young Egyptian writers could only dream about.
“At the time, most Egyptian blogs were political. Mine dealt with social issues and became popular right away, as of the second post. Also, the title was provocative. Many, when they read “I want to get married,” saw a euphemism for making love — but I do not write about sex at all in my blog.” Ghada continues.
“Many people do not understand why the idea of remaining single makes my blog character so desperate. But it’s societal pressure that makes my persona sensitive to the question of marriage. A translator friend, who grew up in France but moved alone to Cairo to work, felt compelled to explain to the bawwab (doorman) that if she came home late sometimes, it is because she was working at a TV station!”
“Eighteen months into the blog, Dar el Shorouk got in touch and suggested I publish these texts, which were already available online for free. I did not understand why they wanted to make a book out of them — they never even asked me to remove my posts from my blog. When I went to see them, they wanted to make sure that I was really the one behind the blog, because in real life I’m shy and not a very funny person.” When I disagree, Ghada smiles.
“The book became a bestseller in the first month. So far, 70,000 copies have been sold. It was a first: a young woman, not even 30, published by Dar el Shorouk — the biggest publishing house in the Arab world! And I come from Mahalla, a small city in the Delta. I didn’t know anything about publishing before. For me, becoming a writer was beyond my imagination — it was like becoming an astronaut. I thought that if you were not a 60-year-old man living in Cairo, you had no chance of becoming a writer. Actually, I thought one had to be dead to become one!”
The time has come for Ghada to continue her workday, filled with appointments. Later, she will return to the family apartment in Mahalla, empty, apart from herself, since her parent’s death. Her brother keeps insisting that she move in with him and his wife, but she doesn’t want to. She wants children, but to do that, she must get married. And for now, she lives alone. Later on, she will see.
This text was written in May 2013 and first published as a chronicle within Isabelle Mayault’s book Jours tranquilles au Caire (Quiet days in Cairo), originally published in French. The text was translated into English and then edited by Stephanie Watt.