Part I: Cairo
- What’s a Bawab?
- Layla’s Hijab: When and Where Does Layla Cover Her Hair?
- Cats: Symbolism and Friendship
Maadi is a quiet, green area south of downtown Cairo, located on the eastern banks of the Nile. The older, wealthier, and greenest parts of Maadi are inhabited by affluent Egyptians and many North American, European, and Asian residents affiliated with embassies and international corporations. In Lissa, Anna’s father works for a transnational oil company located in Maadi, and Anna attends the American school (Cairo American College) also in her neighborhood. Layla attends the public Egyptian girls’ school in the neighborhood.
The Lissa artistic, writing, and film team walked through Maadi to gain visual reference material and to visit Anna and Layla’s schools.
In the more congested apartment buildings in the center of the city, the bawab (or doorman, or porter) often occupies a basement or ground floor apartment of the building he guards. In villas set in more spacious places of the city, such as Maadi, the bawab’s home can be a stand-alone structure adjacent to the courtyard of the apartment building. This structure is a small space for a family, but most of the family’s daily (and even nighttime) activities are performed outside. Anna and Layla grow up in the gardens of the courtyard playing. As she matures, Layla finds other places to study and concentrate on her work.
For more information:
Louise Sarant, “The Local Bawab: Beyond the Surface,” Egypt Independent, December 13, 2009.
Daily News Egypt has a short video clip, “Faces of Poverty: A Bawab’s Story,” about the life of a bawab.
Collaboration between the story writers and artists was especially challenging when changes were made to the script. In earlier drafts of Lissa, this scene occurred when the girls were much younger, so Layla would not yet have been of the age when women would start covering their hair. In later drafts, we placed the girls in middle school, but Sherine forgot to update the art directions, so Caroline proceeded to create the page, as on the left (Sorry, Caroline!). When we looked at the public schools in the Maadi neighborhood where Layla would have gone, we saw that most girls in this time period wear scarves with their school uniforms by middle school (the age of the girls in the final drafts). Caroline made the corrections, and the final page (on the right) is what is depicted in the book.
As we see with other characters in Lissa, not all Muslim women in Egypt choose to cover their hair. One can discern patterns of likelihood along factors such as geographical location, time period, socioeconomic class, and political persuasion.
In these first two pages, cats appear in scenes that echo Anna and Layla’s playful, warm, and supportive moments in their close friendship.
Ganzeer’s “Cat of Defiance” on the final page visually echoes the cats who moved through Anna and Layla’s friendship. In this piece, we also see the cat imagery extend to revolutionary actors: the bandages on the cat’s injured eye reference Ahmed and others who lost their eyes to state violence, and the characteristic wings of martyrdom commemorate those who died for the cause.
Ganzeer’s “Cat of Defiance.” Permission granted from ganzeer.com.