TOOTING MY HORN- Oh dear Maman!


By Lillian Gilbert The year was 1973.

Posted by Maryse Zeitouni  in



Oh dear Maman! For her Creative Writing Workshop, my sister Lillian, a gutsy gal, wrote about her experiences going back to Egypt when we got word that Father was on his deathbed. I thought her story was worth sharing ...

Maryse Zeitouni posted in by: Lillian Gilbert

The year was 1973. rica was not on good terms with the Egyptians. Richard Nixon was in power. There were riots in the streets of Cairo and shouting of: "Down with the Americans". My husband, two children and I had just moved from Austin to Fort Worth when the telegram came stating that Dad was ill. My mom would not have sent that cable unless it was serious. I had become an American citizen but had not yet applied for a passport. The Passport Office was good to me and issued one quickly and, in 4 days, I found myself in Cairo. I was not sure whether the Egyptian authorities would allow me back into the country even for a short while as they had written on my passport "DEPART DEFINITIF" (permanent departure). At the time, entry visas where only issued in Cairo. They did give me permission to enter the country because of my dad's failing health.

Unfortunately, Dad had passed away (February 25, 1973). Mom was not allowed to give Dad a decent funeral. He was just taken to the cemetery and buried. Later a friend of the family took me to the cemetery where I went a bit hysterical.

I was determined to get my Mom back to the States with me. The next 21 days were an ordeal. Mom still had a maid. We were not sure whether the maid was paid by the government to tape our conversations, so, though we had nothing to hide, Mom and I wrote notes to one another (in our own home!) and then shred the notes. Mom could only take along two suitcases of clothing -- nothing else. Mom was in poor health -- primarily high blood pressure, heart problems, and edema. I had a doctor come by the house daily to check her, and a dressmaker every other day to fit her in new clothes. I hired an attorney to get Mom's exit visa and help me with the authorities as my Arabic is poor. The country had been completely nationalized since I had left it some 11 ½ years prior. I was followed in the streets of Cairo for 21 days. It is an awful feeling to sense a presence behind you at all times. I was also called at the Interrogation Bureau (like our FBI); I insisted that the attorney come in with me. After some difficulty and fibbing that he was a cousin of a general, they allowed him to join us. The authorities wanted to know when Charles had left Egypt. It took a while to explain to them that Charles was my son, that he had never come to Egypt or left it, that he was a toddler. One comes to America and forgets the red tape. Charles was sending scribbles to his grandparents and I thought those scribbles would put a smile on their sad faces. Well, the Egyptian authorities thought Charles was an Israeli spy!

We walked out of our home (my mom's home for 40 years) without any souvenirs, just memories. She could take nothing with her, not even the ring that Dad had given her some 40 years ago. The ring had never left her finger and she had difficulty removing it.

With every passing year in America my mom seemed to grow younger and younger. She outlived Dad by 20 years and saw her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

A heartfelt thank you, America!