The Worth of a Diamond

12 Dec

I find myself unable to sleep tonight. Today was one of those days that just keeps replaying over and over again in my head. I laid down for a while but tossed and turned so much that I’ve finally given up. So here I am.

I finished classes yesterday and woke up with a sense of triumph and freedom. I had completed a children’s book for my art course and a huge research paper for my graduate course, all while weeks away from having a baby. I was pretty darn proud of myself and looking forward to the next few weeks. Starting this morning, my priorities were solely preparing for Christmas and the baby. I had been making my to-do lists for weeks, but kept putting them aside to focus on other things.

So I got up this morning and started making a new list. Around 11, the doorbell rang and I let two of the regular housing workers in to fix the heater on our air-conditioning. I know what you’re thinking- a heater in Egypt?! It’s actually gotten quite pleasant here, I would daresay occasionally chilly. So they came in, one was Sayeed, who had been here before to work on electrical problems and the other a teenage boy who had been in with various workers. I assumed he was training with the housing guys, as he always seemed to be helping out.

They worked on the air-con while I went through items on my list. I typed out a birth plan to take to the hospital, did laundry, got ready to work on my current painting, and let the housing guys out at about noon. I was planning to head to the market and get things for a celebratory dinner (today was Patrick’s last day of classes). I went to grab my rings and noticed that my diamond engagement ring was gone. The dish on the dining room table where we always put our rings only held my wedding band. It looked small and lonely in there by itself.

I immediately panicked and searched the house top to bottom. I took my rings off after getting home last night and hadn’t touched them since then. I was hoping that maybe the dish got bumped and the ring fell out. In all my searching, I had a sick feeling about where the ring had gone. Finally I went to Carol, our building supervisor, who is a great friend and help to us. She listened to my story and immediately got on the phone with housing, then took me down to the guards and explained to them that we had a problem. These guys are great. They’re excited about the baby and always so kind to me. Within minutes, they had the workers on the phone and were demanding that they get back as soon as possible. They brought Sayeed up to my flat and told him what was going on. He threw his hands up and vehemently denied everything with wide eyes and offered to help search the house. As his accuser, I could hardly look him in the eye as he defended himself. I felt so ashamed. I was worried that he was innocent but here he was still being treated like a criminal. Part of me hoped that the ring would appear under a paper or on the floor and part of me hoped that he would confess and end the awkwardness.

For the next few hours, he and the teenager were interrogated endlessly by the guards. At one point I was asked to write a description of what happened and who was in the house so it could be given to the police. When I took it down to the guard house at the front gate, I was so distraught that I left my keys in the apartment. So I sat down there with Carol who was keeping on top of everything and letting me know what was being said. Sayeed and the teenager were not allowed to leave the property until this was resolved. The guards were putting the fear of police into them and letting them stew, in the hopes of getting a confession. The other regular housing guys had caught wind that something was going on and gathered in a cluster on their mopeds in front of the building, smoking and speaking in hushed voices. At first, I didn’t want to look at them, I thought they would be angry at me for accusing one of their own. They kept shooting me friendly smiles though. The teenager sat on the curb with his head in his hands. Apparently, the guards had summoned his father.

As I sat there in the middle of all the drama, I thought about that ring and what it meant to me. I remember the first time Patrick and I talked about marriage. We were lounging on the couch at the Grow’s house, where he was house-sitting, and he turned to me and wondered if I had thought at all “about the M-word.” Caught off guard and not wanting to betray the fact that I had, in fact, thought about it quite a bit actually, I pretended not to know what m-word he was talking about. He was braver than I and we talked about it. The next few months were spent an ocean apart, as I did my semester and internship in London and we burned through a stack of phone cards. Despite being a poor graduate student, he came out to visit in what turned out to be a disastrous week that we now laugh about but at the time was painful and led us to be glad we wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon.

The next Spring Break while visiting his family in Salt Lake, I busted him as he was sneaking off one morning to meet a friend who was a diamond dealer. We went together and were giddy and overwhelmed to realize we were looking at engagement rings. Several months later, back in South Bend, he invited me out to catch the sunset over Lake Michigan. We walked along the beach despite the chilly air. This night seemed more elaborately planned than usual, so I knew something was up and I was pretty sure what that something was. After a while though, I was just too cold and suggested we turn around and head back. As I turned to walk the other direction, Patrick grabbed my hand and dropped down to one knee, a small white box extended to me. I put my ring on for the first time that evening.

These memories went through my head as I waited for Patrick to get home with his comfort and set of housekeys. The guards explained that they told the workers they had 30 minutes to confess and then the police would be called. I had heard about what the police do here and heard about it in even more detail today. Their interrogation techniques start with beatings and quickly turn into torture, especially when a foreigner is the victim and the pressure is on. The accused is presumed guilty and there is no sense of restraint when it comes to getting a confession. I asked what else might happen and was told that if no confession was made, the person’s house would likely be ransacked and anyone there would be hauled in and subject to the same treatment. At this point I started to feel physically ill.

What is a diamond ring worth? It’s a symbol of what Patrick and I share and where we’ve been together. It’s a sacrifice that he made to show me how much he cared for me. It’s a glittery reminder that makes me smile when it catches me eye, like it did yesterday in class when I noticed it was crooked, straightened it, and smiled to myself, thinking about Patrick being done with classes soon and being able to be home more.

But somewhere in Cairo, Sayeed had a wife and kids and the teenager had parents who might later that night be surprised when armed men stormed into their home, invaded their privacy, and beat them while asking questions they didn’t know the answers to. I began to seriously doubt if my diamond was worth that.

A terrible game of brinkmanship was played tonight. It reached the point where Patrick and I were told to get ready to head to the police station. The accused were informed that we would be down in moments to press charges. Patrick and I kneeled and prayed for guidance as the teenager downstairs kneeled and cried for mercy. He rose up and led the guards to the trash can in the basement where he had stashed the ring, planning to return later to pick it up. We rose up minutes later as our doorbell rang and the beaming guards presented us with my engagement ring.

We had a happy ending. My ring was back, we stayed away from the police station, Sayeed’s name was cleared and he avoided a severe beating, the boy avoided the same fate from the police but lost his job and credibility and no doubt knew what justice waited for him at the hands of his father at home. As I laid down tonight, I thought about Sayeed having to defend himself and the terror and humiliation he must have felt throughout the afternoon. I thought about him going home, sighing with exhaustion as he walked in the door, and laying his head on his pillow only to relive the day over and over. It’s going to take a while for me to get to sleep tonight, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to take him even longer.


11 Responses to “The Worth of a Diamond”

  1. Adri December 12, 2007 at 2:54 am #

    This is beautifully written, Mel.
    Publishable, even.

    A better ending to a long day.

  2. Non-Arab Arab December 12, 2007 at 4:27 am #

    Geez…I can totally imagine that situation living in Cairo. Do something extra nice for Sayeed, reach out to the teenage kid too if you feel you can, it could be a life changer for him.

  3. Non-Arab Arab December 12, 2007 at 4:28 am #

    Geez…I can totally imagine that situation living in Cairo. Do something extra nice for Sayeed, reach out to the teenage kid too if you feel you can, it could be a life changer for him.

  4. Dre December 12, 2007 at 7:50 am #

    How proud I am of you two thoroughly decent people, truly diamonds yourself.

  5. BiV December 12, 2007 at 7:50 pm #

    Wow, what a story. A few weeks ago in Seminary I was asking my students if they had ever been tempted to steal. Because I was trying to see if they had felt the Holy Ghost strongly telling them it was wrong. I was surprised that one boy had never felt the least temptation to steal anything. Later on I realized he was the only one in the class who had basically spent his whole life over here. I guess if you knew the punishment for stealing was to have your hand cut off, you wouldn’t have much of a temptation to do it, would you? And they really do follow through on the consequences in this city. Scary.

  6. mom December 12, 2007 at 7:53 pm #

    God sends us moments of grace daily. It is up to us to recognize them. Use yours wisely. Reach out and demonstrate what forgiveness looks like. love you both.

  7. Javi December 12, 2007 at 10:51 pm #

    ….Just remember all those times you withheld my portion of our allowance from Grandpa without telling me…

  8. mom December 13, 2007 at 1:40 am #

    Mom tax and stealing are 2 different things Javi. Don’t confuse them! And it was only once and it wasn’t from Grandpa and you owed me anyways!
    And thank you for not letting me forget it. You just lost one Christmas present.

  9. Marcy December 13, 2007 at 6:30 am #

    Hi girl. That sounds incredibly scary. I’m having an incredibly confusing time being pregnant, not being able to do much, and having my parents continually jump in. I feel like “Everybody Loves Raymond”. I sure miss you. I’m so glad that you guys are so strong in following God’s commandments together. Take care, and Merry Christmas (in case I don’t talk to you before then) Love you!

  10. Marcy December 13, 2007 at 6:35 am #

    woops, don’t look at my other website… it’s not mine. I swear, I can’t remember anything anymore!

  11. Crystal December 14, 2007 at 7:04 pm #

    Hi, my friend from Jordan Nancy posted a link to your site on her blog. She was coveting the fact that you were in Egypt so I decided to check it out. After trolling around the site a bit I can say I totally relate to you on the food issues and being pregnant in a foreign land. Just last week my husband was looking at pictures from our old Jordan blog and told me at five months pregnant with our daughter I was the skinniest he’d ever seen me. I laughed. Well actually first I sent him death rays because I’m feeling a little self conscious about not being able to lose the baby weight but then I laughed because it is true. We hardly ever ate meat because it was expensive and it would always go bad in our fridge after just two days. The same was true of our milk. I spent the summer eating cheese, boxed milk, falafil, fruit, and corn flakes because they were pretty much the only cereal we could afford. The last month abroad we ended up splurging on coco puffs and they were so good I almost cried. Nancy also figured out a way for us to make pancake cakes since no one we knew had an oven that worked and her husband turned 22 and my son turned 2 while in country and needed a birthday cake. The other thing I desperately missed was salad. Because my immune system was down I was told to avoid it and I think because it was forbidden I craved it all the more. The first meal I wanted when we got state side was a Cafe Rio salad. My favorite meal in Jordan was falafil and coke after a long day in the sun. My favorite meal in Cairo was Kosheri. It was the best thing I had all summer long. I make it here all the time. We hope to make it back to Cairo come day. After a summer in Amman Cairo seemed like the garden of Eden but first my hubby needs to graduate from med school. Best of luck on your upcoming baby!

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