Monday, September 07, 2009


It’s time for our annual HIV test, which we have to take with a government official in order to get our work visas renewed. The blood is tapped; the passports are taken. Three to four weeks later, we get our passports back.

To get our visas renewed, we need passport-sized photos, and we had run out. So, in the midst of preparing for a class I am teaching with a theme about beauty and appearance, we headed to a photo shop down the street. It was a hot day. I wore an oversized green tee-shirt, and my unwashed hair was pulled back into a ponytail. I took this approach because I don’t think anything could match the horror that is my current passport photo, which is worse than the family passports in National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

So we got our passport photos, and, as a free gift, framed five-by-sevens of said sweaty photos. Do you want a sweaty photo of my face, with the crazy-eyed look I’ve developed whenever I try to look natural? Because I’ve got one, framed, just for you.

When we returned, I read an email from one of my colleagues informing me that if there was any photoshopping done on passport photos, the government wouldn’t accept them. I recalled the nice woman who had taken my photo. Yes, she had been messing with it, making the background whiter. I think she erased a few frizzy strands from my scalp.

Damn. We headed back to the shop to see if we could get the untainted versions.

The man at the photo shop assured us that he knew what he was doing, that it wasn’t going to be a problem with the stern Egyptian official wearing a suit who will take my blood tomorrow. He said the only thing that was different was the whiter background, and this was a requirement for a visa photo. He assured us that he knew what he was doing.

J circled his face with his hand. “So, none of this was changed?”

“No, no.”

The man gestured at our skin, and then he looked puzzled.

“Why?" he asked. "You are already white.”



Chantal said...

Great story! That's crazy that you have to do HIV tests to get your work visas renewed...

American_in_Cairo said...

Thanks! Yes, I always found it kind of strange, especially since Egyptians who work for the university do not have to have the test.

meghan said...

stumbled on this blog! once in helwan - a photog made my daughter's eyes in her passport photo blue instead of the actual brown. my freckles have been photoshopped out. those guys are nuts!