An hour later, my eyes blurry and my brain tired, I decided it was time to join the living. I stepped out into the courtyard and here is what I saw: green, purple, yellow and pink skirts and headscarves, all decorating teenage girls with timid and hopeful smiles. Six girls crowded around the ping pong table, trying to share the two rackets as their basketball coach - my housemate - taught them how to play. Another half a dozen sat scrunched onto a bench in the little bit of shade against the courtyard wall. One girl sat on a floormat, nestled up next to the other coach.
It was a fun party, but certainly a shy one. The girls talked and giggled, but hesitantly. I don't imagine they attend social events very often - teenage girls in El seem to have a lot of housework, schoolwork and family visiting to keep them busy. But these girls were different: they had joined the basketball team.
They greeted me with hesitant smiles, and I'm ashamed to say that I greeted them back even more shyly yet. I didn't shake their hands and I'm sure I was completely inaudible when I told them my name. When they learned I could speak Arabic, though, they warmed up anyway. They asked me to sit with them, and when the food came they saved me a seat and beckoned me to eat.
I didn't. I couldn't. I was too weary. They were lovely girls, inviting me into an experience of mentorship and affirmation, but all I could think of was how hard it is to keep up with a dozen teenagers, and how tired I am of making new friends. But these girls don't know that about me, nor did they judge me.
Afterwards, my housemate invited me to join them at their next practice. They'll love talking to you, they'll love that they can communicate with a foreigner!, she said. I will visit basketball practice soon, and make friends with these demure teens who have broken social norms to become athletes. But only once I find the energy to really talk with them.