As a teenager in Cairo during the late 80s and early 90s, the ultimate status symbol of coolness was a pair of RayBans. The black boxy model propelled into stardom when donned by pop icon Amr Diab in his debut album Mayal. The title song echoed in all Egyptian realms with taxi cabs broadcasting it where ever they went. This was a time before minibuses littered the streets of Cairo. Diab's posters, with him in the shades, lined Ibrahim El Lakany street in Roxy, promoting the album as it played on repeat by the cassette kiosks. The music video, one of the very first, portrayed Diab, in and out of his RayBans, singing at a concert. The video was filmed at my school's auditorium. All teens and preteens coveted a pair of RayBans. Most of us had look-a-likes bought from street vendors. Very few could afford the real deal. Those who could, wore their RayBans proudly, showing off the authentic emblem. The cool kids wore them in the morning before school started and flung them on their faces with the ring of the last bell.
I was and still am a dork. I didn't know much about pop culture and I was cool averse. Raised by a single mother, we couldn't afford much, least of all a pair of vanity laced plastic sunglasses. I didn't quite care because I had no idea who Amr Diab was until a field trip in the 7th grade to the botanical gardens. On the bus ride, Mayal played on cassette as we sung along and swayed to the tunes. This was my first forte into Egyptian pop culture and teenhood. I remained on the sidelines observing and participating at my convenience. I fell in love with the rhythmic tunes that compelled hips to swing and arms to flutter. We all tried, and failed miserably, to mimic the elegance of legendary belly dancers of yonder. I saved up and bought the album on cassette tape. I paid six Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of two US dollars. Holding my breathe, I carefully unwrapped the plastic cover off my minted inaugural tape. Until that day, my sister and I made our own mixed tapes. When we couldn't afford to buy blank tapes, we'd siphon from our grandmother's stash. My mother's youngest sisters moved to Kuwait after getting married. She recorded messages on cassette tapes and sent them to my grandmother. This was how expat Egyptians overcame the high cost of long distance telephone charges. My sister and I regularly borrowed tapes from our grandmother's treasure trove. We'd hold our gray clunky cassette player against the TV set, order everyone to be quiet, and record songs from shows like Al Alam Yoghany - The World is Singing. Sometimes we'd place concave dinner plates over the cassette player's speakers so the sound ricocheted back into the built in microphone and record songs from the Breakfast Show. We never asked permission to buy albums, we simply assumed our mother would say no and thus resorted to make our own bootlegged tapes. More than often, these song medleys were peppered with our mother's voice echoing in the background. Mayal was our first authentic album. Unwrapping the clear plastic cover felt like an initiation ceremony. I was finally cool, or so I thought.
In 1990, I scored a pair of the coveted sunglasses. They weren't original RayBans, but they were close enough. They had a white frame with a Fido Dido pattern and black handles. I wore them every where, even at night. I still have them. They are securely locked away in my closet. They have yellowed with age and some of the design has peeled off. Nevertheless, they are one of my treasured possessions. Every once in a while, I take them out, place them on my wrinkled face, and relive the good old days, back when I was cool.