Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo. Photograph by Andreas Economakis.
THE HUH-HUH KID
by Andreas Economakis
“Huh, huh,” he laughs, an almost perfect imitation of Beavis. Or is it Butthead?
We are speeding down a narrow, ultra-busy Cairo street in a small white mini-van, packed in like sweaty, oily sardines. The scene on the streets is straight out of National Geographic. Poverty everywhere, barefoot children with cigarettes dangling from their lips, businessmen in gelabias getting their shoes shined, mangy dogs sleeping on car roofs, street vendors hacking fruit in two, cars practically dancing with the pedestrians, squinting policemen clutching AK-47’s, mountains of garbage on every street.
“Look son, they’re all wearing pajamas!” says Bill, the director.
“Huh, huh,” his son replies.
What a hallucinatory experience this must be for them. Cairo is their first ever trip outside of the continental United States. They just arrived the night before with the rest of the film crew from LA. We are barreling out of Cairo into the desert, on our way to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert.
“Towel Heads!” remarks the huh-huh kid. Why did Bill bring him along? We are going to be the laughing stock of St. Catherine’s.
On the dusty highway outside of Cairo, Ron, the assistant cameraman, pulls out a handheld GPS unit and starts punching its buttons.
“It can tell us where we are and how fast we’re going,” he tells me all excited, his eyes glued to the little LCD. Should I tell him that we’re in a small white van in the Egyptian desert, and that the van’s speedometer says we’re doing 110 kilometers per hour? I shutter and watch my reflection on the minivan window reflecting on the desert.
Three days later, in the Monastery, the huh-huh kid makes a brilliant observation: “Why are all these Greek dudes wearing robes? I bet they’re all a bunch of fags! Huh, huh…”.
I look at him wide eyed, contemplating my response. Father Daniel saves me from losing my job. He grabs my arm and tells everyone he needs to show me something. The two of us end up in the Monastery’s refectory, next to the bakery. We speak in Greek.
“This place is over 1500 years old and most of your crew is clueless to our ways, our customs, our history,” he tells me.
“They just want to shoot icons and go back home,” I answer, munching the Monastery’s stone-crushed green olives.
He smiles and says: “So be it. That’s what you’re paying for, I guess. It’s a shame though, that they don’t even express an interest…”.
Father Daniel takes me to the woodcarving area of the Monastery, a small hut just outside Emperor Justinian’s big walls. In the hut I meet a young Greek carpenter named Sotos, who is working on a piece of an iconostasis. His craftsmanship is incredible, his hands effortlessly carving little wooden flowers and birds at play. He misses Greece. We all do. We take shots of tsipouro and eat some of Sotos’ vegetable soup, watching the sun dip over the red-green hills. The colors keep changing hues, making the hills dance against the light blue desert sky.
When Daniel and I get back to the room, we find the huh-huh kid hunched over his Game Boy. He doesn’t notice Father Daniel walk by with the 6th century encaustic icon of Jesus. Jesus’ bloodshot left eye is looking directly at the huh-huh kid.
“Dude, beat that,” the huh-huh kid says, handing his Game Boy over to Ron.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Andreas Economakis is a film director, writer and father of a curly-haired girl named after Anaïs Nin and Melina Mercouri. He calls Los Angeles, Athens and Nisyros his “home.” Greek when in the USA and American when in Greece, Andreas constantly relies on his past as a bicycle messenger, cabinet resurfacer, maintenance mechanic, airport shuttle driver, alumni development fundraising researcher and film production manager to avoid typical office jobs and the odd redneck spitball.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
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