On the 3rd day of Christmas: Meet Khadijah, a worker from Egypt


Do you see Khadijah? She is in back, tending to the women in the Sultan's harem (Thanks to http://www.turkishculture.blogspot.com for the image)

Today we meet Khadijah, the Karagöz shadow puppet who represents the far-flung citizens of the Ottoman Empire – in this case – puppets from Egypt.  Khadijah was a Black African woman raised in Egypt, but was captured during a battle, and brought to work at the Sultan’s palace in Bursa as a non-voluntary migrant worker (this is how she likes to frame it, vs. as a “slave,” and it is her choice how she categorizes herself, after all).  Now, in the blog post header, I say “worker” but I do want to acknowledge that this is really just revisionist history.

She got back at everyone, though, she drank from the fountain of youth when nobody was looking – as did the other Karagöz puppets in my head once they befriended her.  I am learning as she whispers into my ear tonight – and therefore this explains why she served the Sultans again and again over the centuries.  You can see that the clothes she is pictured in here in the image to the left are quite modern – not what would have been worn when the Sultan’s residence was still in Bursa, back in the early days of the Ottoman Empire.

I just asked Khadijah why nobody noticed that she never aged – why nobody suspected that she had sipped from the fountain of  youth – and she looked at me with all the attitude of a homegirl from the South Bronx where I used to work – “Girl! Are you serious? Come ON! I mean, I’m a Black woman! And a servant!  Do you REALLY think they are gonna notice me? Really? Lady, you gotta get your head screwed on straight and start seein’ the world for what it REALLY is – and was even back then!”  (Insert teeth-sucking sound in disgust now).  OK, I get the point.  Point well taken, Khadijah.  After years and years of serving the ladies, Khadijah finally obtained a place in the chorus of dancing ladies…but she really has more responsibility than that, as she truly knows the ropes of life backwards and forwards.  She is a regular visitor and commentator in my life.

In any case, you first met Khadijah back in 2004, when I was flying to Istanbul for the first time with M., to meet his family.  She is also a woman in a cross-cultural marriage-  well – she’s not married yet – he’s saving for her trousseau, which will be all in red, her favorite color (when she isn’t wearing yellow).   The he in question is Celebi, who thinks he is the Sultan of the puppets sometimes – but is really a forward-thinking man of the modern era – rejecting much of what stands as acceptable in the modern day.  Khadijah loves him with all her heart – and they face the world strong in a Black-White relationship that challenges social norms in any era.

Other than drinking from the fountain of youth, which, of course, you only need do once in your life, Khadijah loves rosewater lemonade.  She makes it ever summer, and sometimes sneaks in a little bit of mint from the garden.  She is a fabulous cook – who wouldn’t be after centuries of practice and technique development?  None of her dishes EVER burn, nothing tastes overly salted, overly herby or overly spicy.  She knows just what M. likes to eat and tries to guide my hands with her heart – but sometimes the messages get lost along the way.  She is a stallwart friend, positive (yet sassy), and will defend me to the end.  She encourages me to stand up for myself when I am being taken advantage of  and always looks for the quiet yet diplomatic route to get things done behind the scenes.

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6 thoughts on “On the 3rd day of Christmas: Meet Khadijah, a worker from Egypt

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