Thursday, October 05, 2006

Recently edited out of a chapter.


I recently edited this section out of my Egyptian chapter. It's a tough chapter, where a lot of things happened, but not a lot of it is noteworthy or interesting enough to include. Anyway, this is one of the ministories which didn't make the final cut. Please note that this is a few editing rounds short of being polished as I cut it out at an early stage.

You'll probably notice sections of strong writing, and sections not so strong. Hopefully it will provide a look into my editing process anyhow.

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Pierre’s shiny bald head and snappy clothes made him look like Lex Luthor. He laughed heartily, argued in class with the teacher and blamed them when a language concept escaped him. Other students avoided him, whispering to each other about how obnoxious he was. He didn’t have a big crowd of friends at the school. In fact, I was his only one.

At the end of each class, with Arabic grammar and vocabulary scrambling to get a foothold in our heads, we often ended up at our favourite backstreet café. With one hand, Pierre held the ebony handle of a sheesha water pipe, bringing it up to his mouth and inhaling deeply. While the sheesha gurgled, he’d use his other hand to roll a set of dice onto the backgammon board and move his pieces around.

#

Cairo’s weather was generally sunny. In my entire time, there was one brief rainstorm, a pelting of acid rain that sent black droplets down my skin as I sought shelter in a nearby shop. Another day, I awoke to an eerie brownness which dulled out the sun. A hamseen, as the Egyptians called it, is when strong winds from the desert pick up the dust and sand and leave the entire area in a cloud of dust.

On a cool January afternoon, Pierre and I sat playing backgammon in our favourite bustling alleyway. An enormous Egyptian man had locked onto us with his eyes from far across the alley. Sweat beading down his forehead, he walked straight toward us, grabbing a napkin from a nearby table to wipe his brow. Nearly out of breath, he said, “Do you want part in Egyptian movie?”

Pierre eyes shot up. “What film? Who’s the director?”

The shady-looking, overweight man brightened. “It’s a movie about the mob. I’m not sure who the director is. You can learn more about it at the office if you come with me.”

Pierre bumbling with excitement and me not-so-enthusiastic, we followed him down a few narrow streets, up three sets of concrete stairs, and into a small, unfurnished apartment with cracking, pollution-stained orange paint. Four Eastern Europeans chatted in some Russian-sounding language. They leaned against the wall with expressions of anxious boredom. A chunky British girl, her dark hair frazzled and her jaw set in an exasperated-end-of-day at the office look, came out of a separate office with a clipboard. She saw the six of us waiting and checked her watch. “The associate director should be here in a minute,” she said.

Two hours later, the associate director still hadn’t arrived. I took a deep, frustrated breath. “I gotta go.”

On my way out the door, the British girl, her voice filled with panic, rushed toward me. “Wait!” She took my arm and shuffled me into a separate room filled with wire racks of pants, dress shirts and long-tailed coats – it looked like a charity shop. “You can take your clothes off here,” she said, standing by the door.

“But we just met. What kind of Egyptian film is this?”

Her face went bright crimson. “Uhh,” she stuttered, “Abdul’s going to get your dimensions and fit you with something for the role.” Her slim Egyptian colleague slid between her and the door and looked me up and down.

“Oh,” I winked at her, “maybe later then.”

The man took out his measuring tape and determined my lengths and widths. They then did the same to Pierre and we agreed to show up the next day and meet the assistant director.

“Please wait here,” the British girl said. “The assistant will be here any minute.”

“That’s what you said yesterday,” I said.

“I know, I know, but he’s coming.”

Pierre and I still sat in the concrete stairwell two hours later. “Forget it.” I stood up. “I’m done.”

“I’m staying. I really want to do this and see how movies are made.” Pierre remained in his seat.

“They’re not paying you to sit here for hours every day. Waiting around on the day of the shoot is one thing; they give you twenty bucks at the end of the day. But, it’s been four hours now just to sign up. It’s ridiculous.”

Eventually, Pierre was given a time and place to be at for the shoot. He showed up for the next two days at six in the morning, but the filming was cancelled both times. Still undeterred, he returned for a third day and waited with several other foreigners in a café next to where the camera crew had their equipment. Ten hours later, having not acted but just waited, they paid him the meagre wage. Worse still, the company misplaced two pairs of designer pants they’d asked him to bring. He spent another two weeks harassing the studio before they were found and returned.

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