Tag Archives: cairo

Egypt: The Plot Darkens

AUC bookstore, Tahrir: this place got burned a little bit

Classes today took place on AUC’s campus in Zamalek, an island in the middle of the Nile, since the Tahrir campus was busy being mildly attacked and then looted.

In the meantime, I enjoyed sitting on the couches in an environment not unlike a hotel lobby, watching the madness of Tahrir on a big screen television during breaks between classes. Only a five minute walk from that square, one of my friends has been holed up since Saturday, forced to listen to gunshots, finish his homework, and watch TV all day while catching the occasional whiff of tear gas. It’s amazing the difference a couple of miles can make.

I could talk about current situation in Tahrir, about how over 30 people have died and over 1000 have been wounded, about the resignation of the civilian government and the short-lived cheering in Tahrir that was silenced by increased gunfire from police and security forces, about the kind of tear gas being used that is both new and particularly vicious, about the hopelessness I saw in the eyes of my Arabic teacher as she said it was now clear the military has won, about the desperate calls for medical supplies and food down in the square, about the use of live ammunition against protestors throwing rocks, about the contradicting news reports and constant confusion about what’s actually happening on the ground etc. But I’m not really qualified to do so. If you’re interested, Al-Jazeera has a live blog that’s good, though sensational at times. It is not a terrorist organization like I thought it was in high school. The Guardian also has good coverage.

But I can say some things that rely little on fact: A classmate today reminded me that even though (as of then) 20 people had died in Tahrir, about that many die every day in Assad’s continuing assault on his citizens in Syria. It struck me as particularly sad that the value of lives could differ so much in their recognition across borders.

There was a song that Conan O’Brien used to sing on his show during election times and it went a little like this, “Yay boo yay boo it’s lots of fun to do! If you like it holler yay. If you don’t you holler boo.” There’s been quite a bit of yaying and booing going on about whether or not the protestors are doing right or if they’re just messing everything up by fighting for freedom. But regardless of how you feel about that issue, the reality is that people have died and others are injured. Their lives should not be considered worthless, even if you don’t agree with the cause they died for.

I, and many others, hope the violence comes to an end, but I hope it does not come at the expense of the dream of Egyptian democracy, and dignity should certainly not be a casualty as well.

Tagged , , , ,

Perspectives on Life, Courtesy of Facebook

This place, with fire and protestors and McDonald’s, 69 years later

Tahrir square, November 20, 2011, 19:26: It looks like a war zone out there, people scurrying ant-like against a backdrop of sporadic fires, tear gas and smoke covering the entire scene. Gun shots are heard, rumors of live ammunition circulate.

Apartment in Doqqi, November 20, 2011, 19:26: My feet are a little cold.

So stuff is still going down in a big way in Tahrir, but this scene differs dramatically from the life I continue to live in the ‘burbs away from all the crazy action. The main way the protests affect my life is through the interesting variety of facebook status updates on my newsfeed and the fact classes will now be held somewhere else.

For those of you who are familiar with facebook, you know that the newsfeed is a sacred timewaster. I find myself perusing it for hours despite the fact that I care very little about both what I am reading and the people who have posted it. Some people have edited their newsfeeds in order to only include people they actually want to hear from. I have not done so because I can’t decide if I really hate looking at my high school classmate’s photos of her baby girl or not, despite the fact I can’t remember who either of them are. This is just one example out of hundreds.

Recently, because of the quite serious political events that have been occurring here in Egypt and the banality that characterizes the rest of my facebook friends’ lives (or many of them at least), my feed has become an eclectic mix of urgent messages and the same old inanities from some people I love and some I barely remember.

It’s like eating a bag of crushed up tea cookies and spiced peanuts that is either delicious or revolting, but addicting nonetheless. And now you can judge for yourselves. Without further ado, a sampling of my newsfeed and its sources.

“hope i didn’t over spice my chili!” -close friend from university

“Tahrir looks like a war zone, and a couple Molotov cocktails just lit up the air near my building.” –friend here in Egypt living in Doqqi, where there was recently an outbreak of violence

“This is just sad: Baylor scored six touchdowns on the night. The average touchdown drive covered approximately 80 yards in four plays and took 64 seconds.” –classmate from high school; last talked to him 4.5 years ago

“My beautiful 6 month roses from my wonderful boyfriend! I am such a lucky girl to have such an amazing guy that encourages me in the pursuit of my dreams, wipes my tears when I feel defeated, and makes me smile all the time! I am truly blessed.” –best friend from middle school; last talked to her 4.5 years ago

“Dear Comcast, why do you SUCK?!”- peer from university

“Dug and I are watching UP with a Starbucks coffee and Kitty. Best Sunday EVER!” -peer from university; number of times I talked to her: 6

“#Tahrir square is ours again we are 10-15000 if not more”- activist in my current program

(picture of a girl kissing someone’s pregnant belly) – co-worker from 5 years ago; number of times I talked to her: 7

“Day One of our cross country road trip! Here we go!” – peer from university; last talked to him 4 years ago

“The square is under attack. Please be careful #Tahrir huge crowds of people are back they are very brave” – activist in my current program

“I really love my church!!” – co-worker from last summer

“Being chased in alleys with birdshots/tear gas TT: @TaherNagaty:” -activist in current program

Needless to say it’s all a bit confusing. Do I love hearing about my old friend’s happiness in her love life? Do I need to see a stranger’s preggo belly being kissed by someone I talked to 6 times? Should I tell them their lives and my life pale in comparison to what is going on in the world?

Just a bag of cookie crumbs and peanut pieces to munch on.

Tagged , , , , ,

Jasmine’s Journey to Shubra

Destination: Shubra

The high from her rebellious escape soon wears off as Jasmine becomes stuck in traffic on the way to the city. Sitting on the highway, her tummy rumbles and the possible hour and a half of lurching before her doesn’t bode well for the meal situation. She had wanted room to run and prance and frolick, but now she can barely slam her high heeled snake skin boots to the gas for a split second before she has to switch to the brakes again. What will it take to be free?

After an hour of alternating between creeping and sprinting, Jasmine realizes it might be better to explore this city of hers on foot, the way many Cairenes do. This new idea is intimately related with the fact she totaled her father’s car in a bizarre car accident that left her completely unharmed, and a troupe of mimes in either a state of ecstasy or extreme pain. She bribed all the necessary people and walked away from the smoking, semi-silent mess unscathed, but confused. Where was she?

As she gazes around, cars whizzing by, she only sees an endless horizon of mosques, billboards, more highways, and brown buildings. Is this the people’s Cairo? Carless and clueless, she loiters on the side of the highway like an orphan child until a white taxi pulls up and announces itself: “Taxi?” Having never traveled by herself before, Jasmine is puzzled. What does this common person want? The taxi driver says again, more insistently, “Taxi??”

Finally, she understands and accepts this knave’s services, entering the back of the car and saying she wants to go to “somewhere common, where the people are.” The taxi driver is confused by this. Is this some kind of game? Is it a trick? Is she threatening him? Insulting him?

But no, she really is just that oblivious. Her stomach still growling, she states again that she just wants to go where “normal people live; a people place.” After repeating the word people a few times, the taxi driver finally gets an idea. He’s going to take her to the peopleyiest place all, the place where the popolo congregate, and the public gathers, a place where the common folk thrive and your average Mohammad tells jokes to his grandkids.

“Shubra it is” he says….and off they go.

(to be continued….)

Tagged , , , , ,

Aladdin Dreams

Not nearly enough zippers on those pants

Meanwhile, a young man named Aladdin saunters down the street in Shubra, past rows of fruit hawkers, underwear kiosks, and junk food stands. Unemployed and illiterate, Aladdin does not even have enough money to cover his chest that bursts with man muscles, and he is forced to wear embarrassingly low cut shirts. He tries to compensate with an extra shellac of hair gel and tight jeans covered in zippers, but alas, he is still unmistakably “lower class.”

An orphan without brothers or sisters, Aladdin’s one real friend is a street ferret named Abu, who he only sees for about 15 minutes at 4 am on weekdays. Needless to say, the young man’s social skills are quite poor, his concept of the outside world limited to what gossip he catches on the metro as he walks up and down selling teaspoons or packets of gum.

Occasionally he gets into trouble with the local authorities, due in large part to his suspiciously unwholesome appearance and Abu’s reputation for stealing the mangoes and pomegranates piled outside of juice stores. But he avoids any serious beatings. Scraping by on wafer cookies and bean sandwiches, he dreams of one day moving out to New Cairo, away from all the chaos and unbridled humanity of Shubra, getting married, and living in a villa with the woman of his dreams, or any woman at all.

Despite his rough upbringing and lack of parents, a home, education, or any real hope of a future, Aladdin is a good soul. He has never knocked an old man down while boarding the metro and can always spare an extra guinea or two for the invalid in need. Somehow he understands that it is the little kindnesses that matter, and that even though the entire world and everyone suffering in it is eventually going to burn, we can make the time we have more pleasant by being civil with one another.

He walks to the metro on this day, like every other day, loaded down with the day’s merchandise. Yet unbeknownst to him, an unadvisedly hopeful product of the Egyptian elite is stuck in traffic on the way to Shubra at this very moment, and the stars have fated that they cross paths……

Tagged , , , ,

Autumn: It’s a Meteorological Miracle!

The sun used to be evil. Now it’s just unfriendly.

A “season,” according to Wikipedia, is “a division of the year, marked by changes in weather, ecology, and hours of daylight” that results from “the yearly revolution of the Earth.” What Wikipedia doesn’t say is that seasons, despite occurring yearly with little variation, are miraculous. There’s a quote by someone I can’t remember that goes something like this, “The winter is cold, and the summer is hot. Every year this news hits the people of Britain like a thunderbolt.”

I’ve never heard anything more true. While growing up corn-fed in Oklahoma, I was accustomed to knowing what season we were in from the headlines on the front page of The Daily Oklahoman: “It’s Cold Outside”  for the winter or “It Sure is Hot Out There” for the summer,” and I used to mock this bizarre culture of weather fascination. Couldn’t they see it was always the same? But after traveling 1/3 of the way across the world, I have become one of the shell-shocked masses. Something has happened that I didn’t dare to believe would come to pass: the weather here is cooling down.

This change in weather is a subject of daily wonder for me. It’s as if I’ve never experienced the changing of the seasons before or undergone a full rotation on this earth. Maybe I’m undergoing a radical paradigm shift from viewing Cairo as a place that is always hot and unbearable to a place that is somewhat cool and semi-bearable.

Whatever the reason, I can’t stop talking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this weather is awesome. Right now it’s 75 degrees, I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, sweatpants, a scarf, and loving life. I even have goosebumps right now, and they’re not because of extreme dehydration, heat stroke, or a food-poisoning induced fever.

If I’ve seen you within the last three weeks, odds are I’ve exclaimed something mundane like, “This weather is soooo nice!” or “This weather is soooo beautiful!” or “I love this weather!”  I may have even said all of them. And I’ve seen you more than once, I’ve probably said the same thing to you again without shame, even remembering perfectly well that we had talked exclusively about the weather the last time we spoke.

The reality is that I will continue to talk about the weather as if it were an interesting subject, even though I know it is not. But the fact I no longer want to throw myself under the nearest moving vehicle when I’m in the sun is a miracle, pure and simple. Last week, I lounged in full reach of the sun’s rays and napped. Had I tried doing that a month ago, all that would have been left of me after fifteen minutes would be a puddle of pinkish goo and a Pilot Precise V5 pen. The times are a changing and it’s wonderful! Let the news ring from every building top, balcony, minaret and steeple: AUTUMN IS HERE!  AND I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT!

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: