I walk into the Natural History Museum of Really Old Things, an unknowing tourist who just wants to see some fossils and ancient artifacts looted taken from faraway lands that tell us both about the persistence and mortality of human civilization. I see the entrance for the Ancient Egypt exhibit. I am naturally drawn to it. I gaze inside glass cases, internalizing the ingenuity of the mummy-wrapping styles.
I notice an art piece of a gorgeous ancient Egyptian woman who is obviously in a position of power. Men, women, and children are bowing before her in the the portrait. She seems to control the entire kingdom with her eyes.
“Ex-excuse me, miss?” a man with a moustache and a velvet blue blazer, the exhibit curator, approaches me. He is, obviously, British.
“Yes?” I say dreamily, too allured to divert my gaze from this woman.
“Are you–do you–come from any Egyptian lineage?” the curator mumbles excitedly.
I face him entirely now.
“Why, yes. My parents are Egyptian. My entire extended family resides there.”
He lets out a yelp, claps his hands, and jumps a good two inches into the air.
“I knew it! It’s just, the resemblance…it’s uncanny.” He points to the woman in the artwork.
“Don’t you see it? You look just like her, the heiress of all Egypt!”
“Oh sir, I don’t know about that…” I say, humbled but also damn proud.
“Please, I must run a DNA test! You could be the TRUE heiress of Egypt!”
Weeks later, he calls me while I’m doing something that epitomizes the mundaneness of everyday, non-heiress life–like stapling invoices in a gray cubicle.
“Miss, I mean–your Majesty, it is a match!”
And so begins my journey around the world as the one, true heiress of Egypt.*
This is a long standing fantasy of mine. Plausible? A little. Deluded? Maybe. The delusion started way back in elementary school. Whenever someone would ask me “what I was,” and I would tell them I was Egyptian, and they would grow hysterical.
Did I live in a pyramid?! No.
Had I been to the pyramids?! Yes.
Do I have a pet camel?! No.
Have I ridden a camel before?! Yes.
In fact, once I grew accustomed to the reactions my classmates had when they would ask me about my ethnicity, I began using it to gain playground popularity. During ice breaker activities in which we would go around telling the class one interesting fact about ourselves, I would simply say “I’m Egyptian” and the room would fill with oohs and ahhs and follow up questions, even from the teacher. Poor double-jointed Jimmy whose turn was before mine was quickly forgotten.
Once the 2011 revolution hit though, I found people’s perceptions begin to change and move past our 3200 BC glory days. For the three glorious weeks of the January 25th revolution, people actually saw my identity as one of the modern world and humanized it. They said things like “power to your people!” and “keep on keepin’ on!”
Then, when the revolution died and shriveled before the world’s eyes, my Egyptian identity became something I never thought it would be: pitiful.
“Oh, you’re from Egypt. How is your family doing right now? Are they safe?”
“How are things over there? Such a pity.”
And I nod in agreement, “Yes, it is quite sad.” Too overwhelmed and heartbroken to talk about the good times.
For now, my Egyptian fantasies fall between touring the Nile on a private cruise ship and just imagining Cairo with a little less smog. This usually results in an image of me sitting on a plastic chair in an Alexandrian balcony, sipping tea from an aunt’s chipped teacup, listening to Om Kalthoum, and looking over my kingdom, trying to understand the persistence and mortality of human civilizations.
*This scenario actually did play out verbatim at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in DC. Except my husband pretended to be the curator and I look nothing like the art work of the ancient Egyptian woman.