To Nadim, my little Egyptian-American-Canadian boy,
I write this to you in the year an officer stepped on George Floyd’s neck for 8:43 minutes and murdered him. After hearing the news, you turned to me and asked:
“Will an officer stand on my neck because I am brown?”
At six, it was the year we had to begin.
Egyptians comes in all shades and shadows, and the Egyptian colloquial Arabic is rich with capturing the beauty of our changing skin. In Canada, our colours are all the more striking, as our skin pays homage to the sun when it sleeps. In the winter, our skin remembers and it waits.
Ya Habibi | يا حبيبي
We are the Children of the Sun
When it sees our skin, it kisses it and says “hey, do you remember me?”
Remember my body where you use to live? This is your first home.
I cooked you in here. I danced with you here.
And I loved you here from the very beginning.
What colour is your first home? It is the colour of Mama. And, of you.
In the winter, our skin is like شاي باللبن | shay-bel-laban, tea sweetened with milk and honey.
It is the colour of slumbering wheat, أمحاوي | amḥawi.
In the winter, our skin sleeps. But it always remembers:
We are the children of the sun.
Remember my arms where you use to sing? This is your second home.
I rocked you here. I fed you here. And I sang to you here, from the very beginning.
What colour is your second home? It is the colour of Mama. And, of you.
In the summer, our skin remembers. When it sees the sun, it sings.
We are the colour of عسل أبيض |‘asal abyad and then عسل إسود | ‘asal iswed, wild honey that simmers into dark molasses.
We are the children of the sun,
and our skin comes in many shades and shadows:
amber, maple, and toasted sesame.
مسمسمين | Misamsimin like a sweet sesame stick
معسلين | Mi’asilin like glistening honey
أمحويين | Amḥawin like the gold of full grown wheat
بيض | Bied, like the white of cotton and clouds.
سمر | Sumr, Black like the rich silt of the Nile that feeds us all.
We are all Children of the Sun.
When it sees our skin, it kisses it and says “do you remember me?”
And our skin whispers back: “I do.”
Carolyn Ramzy is an associate professor of music at Carleton University. Her research focuses on Egyptian Christian popular music in Egypt and a quickly growing diaspora community in the U.S. and Canada.