A few months before my tenth birthday, my family moved to Alexandria, Egypt for a year. My parents had always been wanderers. They met in Trinidad and Tobago as strike breakers for Pan- Am Airlines, dated in Paris, and even kept up a long distance relationship between Africa and the States while my dad was over there doing who knows what (he has so many great true stories, I have trouble placing them all on a timeline- perhaps I’ll write later about the time he snuck into Iran in the weeks between the fall of the Shah and the rise of Khomeini). So, of course, children didn’t slow them down. My younger brother was born in Saudi Arabia when I was three, and two years later my father and very pregnant mother didn’t see any reason not to take an extended trip through India on the way back to the States.
I was old enough in Egypt that I remember quite a bit of our time there. And for some reason, over the last thirteen years, one of the things that has stuck in my memory is the “Habibi dah!” phrase from this song. I think one of the reasons it stayed stuck in my head for so long, was the familiarity of the word. Habibi is essentially an Arabic equivalent to “Baby” (someone correct me if I’m wrong on this). My dad is fluent in Arabic, and when we were young, my dad called my mom Habibi. So, as a ten year old learning Arabic (no, I don’t remember any of what I learned), I was excited to recognize a word on the radio.
“Habibi Dah (Nari Nari)” (Translation via Wikipedia: that’s my love: my fire is two fires) was released and went platinum in Egypt the year we were there. I remember being excited to hear it come on taxi radios, because it was the only song I recognized. In fact, it’s the first hit pop song I remember hearing. I was a shy, homeschooled child, so I didn’t listen to Britney, N’Sync, or the Backstreet Boys until my late teens when everyone started getting nostalgic about their childhood (at which point I realized that the latter two are actually pretty great); all my friends were reminiscing about the bands and tv shows that had defined their elementary/middle school years, but at that time I was into books and classical music (nerd!).
Anyway, fast forward thirteen years. I’m living in Reykjavik, Iceland, where you’d think not much would remind me of Egypt. Except, there is a fantastic Shawarma place (owned by an Egyptian/Syrian couple) two blocks from my flat called…..you guessed it: Habibi. So this week, it finally occurred to me to look the song up. It was a great moment of nostalgia. And yes, it’s as fantastic as I remember. Turns out ten year old me had pretty great taste in music.
P.S. I emailed the youtube link to my dad, curious to see if he would remember it. This is what he wrote back: ” I still have the cassette. I never forgot the video clip, from Asian MTV. Just remember you danced and ran around many those locations, like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, as a little bitty girl in your pink and sky blue windbreaker, many years ago.” (Photo via. Edited by me.)