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When I was little, I used to come to Egypt in the summers to visit my grandmother in Alexandria. This would have been in the 1980s and I can remember the electricity constantly going on and off, especially at night and we would have candles lit in the room we were all sitting in and down the hallway and outside in the stairwell in case someone in the building got caught in the dark. As a young nipper I thought it was fun, but with the global warming and hot temperatures that we have now, I fail to make light of the situation.

The power cuts started to make a come back this past May and I know many people are blaming the newly elected President for this, (which personally just baffles me, because last I checked he wasn’t an electrician and he doesn’t spend his time at the power plants, but HEY! what do ‘I’ know?).

The person I think people’s anger should be directed at, is the Minister of Energy. If he had been doing his job to the best of his ability by calculating the population growth, with the number of air conditioners that have been purchased in recent years, as well as the number of illuminating billboards we see in the streets …etc I think he could have gotten a ball park figure of how much energy would be needed and how the number of watts being used has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Secondly, I recently read in an Al Ahram article that they are only now just cutting off electricity for people who are way behind in paying their bills. By people I don’t only mean private citizens but factories, business and shop keepers? When the man who goes round reading the electricity meters and takes down the number carrying a  hand-held briefcase or pouch with bills, why doesn’t he ask them to pay and if after two to three months of not paying why hasn’t he informed the power station so that they can turn off his electricity so that they do pay up? (Is this another side of corruption that we are unaware of?)

I am dreading moving back to Cairo in two weeks time if this is what I am going to have to put up with. The heat is unbearable as it is and I don’t want to have to constantly climb up and down 6 flights of stairs or teach students under extreme weather conditions can you imagine how hot and bothered a room full of 24 eight year olds will be? (It would be on a par with a waiting room of expecting mothers!)

Secondly, the street lamps should not be among the lights that should be sacrificed to keep energy flowing. Streets should be well-lit, for the safety of those on the road and pedestrians.

If over consumption of electricity is occurring then wouldn’t it be logical to communicate with the public, make them understand and possibly even campaign about it to educate the public and students of the problem at hand and how they might be able to help?

The power shortages are not just happening in one area, they are happening across the country and for the residence. I bet it’s really frustrating, especially during the month of Ramadan, when they are fasting from sunrise to sunset and they can’t drink any fluids to help cool their body temperatures, let alone using a fan!

I really hope that the situation doesn’t escalate and that things are more under control by the time I am back, otherwise I will be joining the hot tempered masses.

What I don’t understand is why the water keeps being cut off too?

Al Ahram Article;  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2012/1108/eg5.htm

Don't be silenced by shame, Stand Up and Speak Up!

A few weeks ago I was on a walking tour with some my colleagues in Islamic Cairo on a chilly and somewhat gloomy Saturday morning. I was the youngest female in the group and the only one who had lived in the Middle East for 3 decades. Pete, one of the people on the tour approached me and asked me how I cope with living in Egypt and how do I handle ‘the men’ and being harassed on the street. I told him that I had written an article about Sexual Harassment and it had been published in Community times. Interested in my views and article he asked me to send him a copy and if I would consider being a guest speaker and give a talk to High Schoolers, I agreed.

I am always willing to share my work with others and get their feedback, but as the date for the talk loomed closer I wasn’t so sure if I could follow through. The memories and the feelings of the experiences I had and trying to find the words to describe the situations and how it affected me wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. I found myself in a tug of war ‘don’t do it, you don’t need to go through all this again, it’s in the past.’ ‘You have to do this, you have to speak up and let the younger generation know that this isn’t acceptable and that women and men shouldn’t brush this under the carpet any longer! Women have been silenced long enough; you need to speak up and out about it.’ My worry was resurrecting and awakening the emotions that I had worked so hard to tame and keep locked away. Would I be able to handle it even after all the time that had passed?

The voice of reason won the battle and I didn’t bail out. To help me I wrote out key points to help me stay on track as a guide line to the discussion and talk. I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me; it may turn out to be a bawling session and a mockery of something that I feel very deeply about.

The day of the talk, I had butterflies in my stomach and when I saw the young faces of Egypt’s future I became more nervous, my face flushed a bright red and my skin burned, my voice quivered and my hands shook, but I kept going.

After introducing myself to the class, giving my nationalities and making sure that they knew that although I am of mixed ethnicity that I was also ‘ONE OF THEM’, an Egyptian woman. This seemed to wake them up a bit and grab their attention. I discussed the different forms of sexual harassment (Degrading and graphic terms said, the skin crawling looks of being undressed and devoured by the other person and the physical (which on its own comes in many forms))

I told them that most people assume that women or teenage girls must have done something or dressed provocatively to have provoked or asked for the attack to happen. I then told them that my earliest memory was between the ages of 10 or 12 and I was in a shopping mall with my family when I had my first experience and that is when I saw the students get their wake up call! I had reached them; they were seeing it not only from an Egyptian woman’s point of view but from a kid’s point of view. They knew that there was no way at such a young age I could have provoked an attack or had known what sexual harassment was.

Unfortunately children here lead very sheltered lives and do not know what dangers await them outside their apartment doors. They know that there are bad people and that there are thieves but they aren’t made aware of the others that are lurking about. Our girls are clueless and defenseless, I am certain that none of them would know what to do if they were put in a situation like that.

There are many subjects that are taboo in this part of the world and have been locked away in a dark corner of everyone’s mind, simply because they choose not to believe it exists and it will go away on its own. In a perfect world, perhaps it would work, but we do not have that privilege.

Not talking about ‘Sex’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ makes things worse, the predators and prowlers who take advantage of the women walking in the street minding their own business may not have been made aware of what some people will do and how they may violate them. They mightn’t understand or know what their instincts are telling them when they sense an intruder in their personal space. Women being shamed in to guilt and silence just make the offenders more powerful and willing to repeat their acts on other innocent and unsuspecting women?! How can we condone such a thing? We need to arm these women with knowledge of how to recognize a potential offender and how to fight them off. Letting them walk around unarmed with the basic knowledge is just as bad as the person committing the acts themselves.

I know full well what goes through a woman’s mind and the mental torment that follows after an attack. The incident replays itself over and over in your mind, you wonder what you may have done to have provoked the attacker, what you could have done differently. How dirty you feel and no matter how hard or many times you try to wash yourself, the dirt doesn’t seem to go away. It seems to linger on and beneath the skin. You just want to curl up somewhere dark and hide away, BUT if we do that, they win and they strip us of our dignity.

After one of my attacks, I said enough is enough, I will not be silenced! I am not doing anything wrong and I certainly DON’T WANT this to happen! I am going to fight back and I will not let them silence me. This is MY body and they have NO right to touch me!

The examples I gave not only hit home with the girls in the class but it also hit home with the boys. Especially when I told them that on more than one occasion there were men who saw what happened and did nothing. No one came to my aid and I had to fight the sicko off myself!

It isn’t only the women who have to stand up but it’s also the men who have to as well.

I am grateful that the school and the teachers are broaching the subject and are discussing it openly and honestly with the students. I feel that more schools and homes should do the same, If we are ever going to make the streets safer for women to walk down without constantly having to be alert of everyone one around her.

After the talk, four of the staff members who had been present for my talk said that not only were they moved by the talk, but that the students seemed to really relate and were fired up about bringing about change and doing something to make more people aware.

I know I had my doubts about giving the talk, but I am glad that I did. I may have reached someone that day and given them some tips to recognize the warnings and let them know that they are not alone in this.

I have been a victim of Sexual Harassment, I will NOT be silenced and I AM speaking out against it.

NB: My Mom just called me in a panic, because she thought that I had been raped and not told her about it. Sexual Harassment doesn’t have to be an assault to that degree. No, I have not been raped, but I have had men full clothed try to force themselves on me and touch me in places that is in appropriate. That is also sexual harassment and it isn’t right!

women waiting in a long line to cast their vote at a poll station for Nov 28th parliament elections in Egypt

As the day for elections loomed nearer and my decision to go vote fluctuated between to vote or not vote due to the instability and safety of Cairo and Alexandria during the second wave of the revolution. I finally made up my mind and bought my train ticket and made my way up to Alexandria Sunday evening.

You could sense the excitement and anxiousness in the air in both cities. There was a state of confusion and worry among the citizens of this country. Numerous questions echoed everywhere you went; will it be safe to go and vote? Will thugs have been hired to attack polling stations? Will it be rigged like last time? Who do we vote for; we don’t know half the names that will appear on the ballots? There are over 60 -100 names to choose from on the ballot, how am I to know which person I want to represent me? These were just some of the questions that had been asked over the course of the past couple of weeks and on the train ride to Alexandria.

Once I got home a very heated debate and discussion ensued. The house was divided as to what to expect at the polling station and who to vote for in the Attareen area. None of us were familiar with any of the names of the political candidates, their parties or what their beliefs are. In the end I had to call up on a friend who was in the same boat as I was. We are both Alexandrian, from the same area and although we have very similar views of how the country should be run, we both come from different religious backgrounds, but at the end of the day we wanted the same thing, liberal civilian government. We talked about our options, he gave me a summary of the different parties’ beliefs and then when it came to the candidates, we were both stumped… There were far too many to choose from. He said that a friend of his was voting for 2 of 3 guys and that is what he was going to go with too. When I relayed the information I had just learned to my family, it was decided that we would go with the party that Naguib Sawiris backs, ‘El Kotla El Masreya’, whom are (supposedly and hopefully) liberal, they have both revolutionaries, young and old people. As for the candidates, I still know very little about them and found it hard to find any information on them so, I just followed the heard as they say. I had decided that I was going to give my vote for one labor and one professional and luck would have it, both belong to the same political party that I had decided to choose.

My Dad, God bless him had figured out where my Mom, Aunt and I had to go vote, got our registration numbers and which poll booth we belonged to. (A Great Time SAVER!)

Monday morning, when I woke up for a brief moment I had forgotten what day it was. Waking up in my room in Alexandria caused a brief moment of disorientation and confusion, being there usually meant that it was a weekend or a holiday of some kind. Memories of the night before came flooding back and I leapt out of bed and got myself ready for to go vote.

The weather wasn’t the best it could have been, it was over cast with dark gloomy rain clouds, the wind had a cold chilly bite to it but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits or deter them from coming out to vote. I was lucky, I didn’t stand for as long as other people did to cast my vote, other people stood in line for hours in the rain and cold. Their sheer determination to make their voices heard is uplifting as well as inspiring.

The poll station wasn’t too far away from where we lived but we did find it quite odd that we weren’t closer to our house, when there were other polling stations nearby. The school that we went to was the marooseya school, near the Raml area. It is down a very narrow and hard to find passage way, if my dad and I hadn’t done our research ahead of time I doubt we would have found the place. It was literally wedged between a cluster of buildings and a church. If you walked by you wouldn’t know there was a school there. (Thank you Google Maps!)

We got to our designated area fairly early and there was a cue of women waiting patiently in line. There were two lines set up, one for the elderly and those in need of assistance and a line for the younger and more able voters. There was a very noticeable and heavy security presence. Police officers and men in blue uniform, I believe either a sect from the navy or military police, I am not certain.

The poll station didn’t open on time due to the tardy arrivals of those who were in charge of the station or were meant to be working there. As we all waited patiently in line a man shouted out instructions but I couldn’t hear him well to be able to understand or pass on the information, which lead to people getting more and more confused.

Once the officials who were working at the poll station arrived things were slow going. My mother, who is still recovering from hip replacement surgery and is on crutches along with a few other elderly women were the first of a handful of people to enter the premises to begin the voting process that morning. My aunt and I had to wait in line for another hour while we waited for our turn.

I have great admiration for military in general and other security forces, but it is with great regret that I cannot say that my admiration extends to Egypt’s. They have shown their true colors over the past year and it is one that disturbs me greatly, having said that they showed a very polite and softer side of themselves on Monday. They were very helpful and respectful when addressing people when asking them not to take pictures or to stand in line. They were being too nice… which made me very skeptical. (It also made me ponder… if every poll station across the nation had this amount of security, where were they in January when civilians had to defend their neighborhoods and businesses?)

Things got a bit tense twice when I stood in line, a woman from the back of the line walked up to one of the high-ranking officers and yelled at him for not opening the station on time and inadvertently accused him of foul play, by this time it was 8:30. They apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t them who were holding up the process. The second time was when screeching of tires was heard and guards ran to the main street to see what the cause was. thankfully a False Alarm!

As I stood in line tweeting away my eyewitness accounts of what was going on, people in line were talking and communicating with strangers about what they think about the revolution, who they are voting for and why and what the results of this election might mean for the future of Egypt. As I stood listening and tweeting I heard a women confess that she didn’t vote during the referendum last spring and she had now wished she had. She said that this time she was determined to have a say and to vote for what she believed in. At this polling station there were women of all ages and social classes standing in very close proximity of one another and it was in that brief moment that everyone looked equal. There was no division of class, rank or education; we were all just women, who had finally been given a voice.

Although many have mixed feelings of those who are standing their ground in Tahrir Square and in other areas around the country, one thing is for certain, that our presence at voting stations today would not have been possible if they hadn’t stood up to corruption, poverty, injustice and demanded their given right to have their voices heard. Many lost their lives so that we would have that chance today, others bare the wounds of the battle that may heal and then there are those who will have the wounds that serve as a crippling reminder every day of their lives a price they were willing to pay for us to have a chance to make a change and a difference. As I stood in line listening to the women around me conversing, I recalled a conversation I had, had with a former president’s nephew years back. I told him that the day will come when another revolution will happen and the people will rise up either because the poor are getting poorer or the mentality of the people will change and Egypt will become a religious state like Iran. He laughed at me and said he doubted it would happen… I wonder if he’s laughing now?

As I gazed around at the hodge podge of women, it became apparent that there was quite a strong Muslim Brotherhood following at the station I had been assigned to. One I find worrying, but not as worrying as Salafi supporters. I have to give them credit though; they have been the most organized party and have been promoting themselves well, so if they get voted in, they would have earned their places. After all they have been working towards this moment for decades. I do not endorse nor support them in any way, if they do get voted in, then I fear for Egypt’s long term future. If the country turns in to another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan, that I will have to abandon Egypt with a very heavy heart and move elsewhere. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, I do not want to have to watch women’s rights wash away and be forced to cover up again.

After an hour of waiting a desk was brought out and a man sat at it with booklets of photocopied papers, with people’s names and ID numbers, he was trying to speed up the process and tell people which room they should go to, to cast their vote and to ensure they were waiting in line at the right place.

The were two  highlights to my day, the first was seeing my mum emerge from inside the school with a victorious look of satisfaction on her face. Although she is not of Egyptian blood, she got the nationality from being married to my Dad for (well) over a decade and she made it a point to go and vote! The other was the feeling of self accomplishment after having voted.

When, I was finally allowed to make my way in to the school, which was a lot further in than any of us had thought, we had to walk through the school playground (square patch of sand) and up almost 2 flights of stairs. 3 classrooms were designated for voting rooms; luckily mine was empty, so I spent less than 10 minutes waiting, while other people had to wait longer because they would only allow two people in at a time, which slowed down the process. The officials in the room wore vests that indicated that they were overseers of the voting station and checked our IDs, had us sign and gave us our ballots. There was a small cubical for you to go and cast your vote. The ballot boxes were made from glass and had wooden frames encompassing the glass and a big padlock on each one. Things seemed to be in order.

The ballots were 2 different colors and 2 sizes. The ballot to vote for the political party was a light salmon pink and was slightly smaller than A4. The ballot of individual’s names was an A3 paper, with numbers, symbols and names of the political candidates. I checked the back of both my papers to ensure that they had the official stamp on the back to make sure that my vote would be counted, otherwise it would have been void and I would have had to insist that the judge of the polling station sign it.

Knowing who I was going to vote for and what party made things really easy, otherwise, you would have had to read through the entire list of names and that is what took people a long time! By the time I left with my Aunt the line where we had been standing hand quadrupled in numbers and went around the block in 2 directions.

When I got home I continued to follow the elections on twitter across the country and to tweet my accounts. Some of the accounts that were coming in were very hopeful and others were not. A lot of people had to blow the whistle on many polling stations, politicians and parties for not following procedures. There were reports of poll stations not opening on time, ballots not being stamped, judges refusing to sign the ballots to make them valid, polling stations being closed without an explanation, party members trying to buy voters votes are just some of the things that were made. There are still mixed feelings about the elections in general. Some people believe that this is a step towards democracy and change. Others see it as a scam and that it won’t matter what people vote, the decision by security forces has already been made. In all honesty, I am not convinced that this will work, but I had nothing to lose by voting today. If I am wrong and this is legit, then my vote counted for something. If it is all just a smoke screen for what is to come, I didn’t lose anything by trying. I know one thing for sure though, if I hadn’t come to Alexandria, to be here today, I know I would have regretted it for a very long time.

Now all we can do is wait and hope…

I have lived in the Middle East (Saudia Arabia and Egypt) for 30 years now. In both countries I have witnessed and been a victim of sexual harassment. One of my earliest memories is of, going to the Mall in Saudi Arabia with my family for an outing and I would be holding either my mother or my father’s hand and Saudi men would try to pinch my behind or try and pinch me in other inappropriate places. At the time I didn’t understand why they would want to do that, I still don’t know what it is about  10 year old girls that would turn on a man. I begged my father to buy me an Abbaya (long black cloak that women wear in KSA to cover themselves up). He fought me tooth and nail and opposed the thought of his daughters having to cover up at such a young age, but when the situation was explained to him, he gave in and willingly bought it. It’s odd how a black cover would act as a protective shield against unwarranted and wanted attention.

When my family and I moved to Egypt in the early 90s, shortly after the first Gulf War, I experienced different kinds of harassment and on different levels. I remember going for walks with my younger sister and mother (who is blond and blue eyed), and constantly being harassed. The men would walk up to her confidently and ask her “how much?” or offer her “1 pound” for her services. The fact that she was married with children didn’t faze them in the least bit! (What high morals they have and great examples of  ‘Good Muslim Men’-NOT). If that wasn’t enough, some men would be a bit sneakier in their approach and try to follow us home to find out where we lived. Luckily we were very observant and would notice their predator tracking behavior and go in to a shop, where we would know the shop keeper and tell him that someone was following us. He, his sons and employees would come to our aid and go out and ‘greet’ the prowler with heavy slaps on the back and rough him up a bit. Other men in the neighborhood would then join in and descend upon the poor guy like a pack of wolves encircling their prey.

As I grew older and matured, the same would happen to me. I would be very conscience of what I would go out wearing in public. I would check and double check that I was conservatively dressed and wouldn’t attract unwanted attention, (Shoulders covered, check! Cleavage covered, Check! Shirt or t-shirt  is below  waist length, Check!) I became paranoid! (I still am to some extent)

The funny thing about that is, it wouldn’t matter how much clothing I wore I would still get harassed by men in the street. I have had cat calls some very flattering but mostly very degrading! I have been groped, grabbed, pinched, rubbed against, followed on foot, followed in cars by men of all ages (including those who are meant to serve and protect us), pushed up against a wall where a guy tried to smother me with his lips and have had someone jump in to my car window and try and put his hands all over me. I have also ( I think everyone has had) the crank callers, the heavy breathers and the ones who are gutsy enough to describe their dirties fantasies on the phone too.  I have so many stories and instances that the list just goes on and  to this day, it still continues to grow…

The instances mentioned above are mine, but I know of many other situations that have happened to people I know. Can you imagine coming out of a building and having a guy push you back in against the iron gates of the elevator and ejaculating on you?! Now tell me that she asked for that, when all she wanted to do was get to her car and go back to the safety of her home.

After an attack like that, you feel dirty and violated. You just want to cry a river and cleanse yourself, but not matter how much soap you use or scrubbing, you can’t get rid of that feeling. It takes a lot of talking, time and support from people who care to get over something like that.

I am tired of having to torture myself by replaying the events back in my mind, action for action wondering and question if I wore something that provoked the attack or if it was my body language, did I look the person in the eye and did they take that as an invitation?  I constantly wonder if I did something to provoke them. Every time, the answer is the same, ‘NO’. If you are going to debate the matter with me and tell me it’s because I’m not veiled then, please stop reading and continue your web browsing elsewhere. Don’t you dare insult my intelligence and say that the reason it happens is because my hair isn’t covered! Don’t! The truth is even women who are veiled are subjected to the same kind of harassment, if not worse!

When are people going to stop being in denial and face the facts?!

We don’t enjoy it and we certainly don’t provoke it! So, if it isn’t us, then hmmm…. I wonder who might be the problem. Whose brain might need to be rewired?

Why is it that (those kind of) men think it’s o.k. to treat women with such disrespect? We aren’t sexual objects or rubbing posts. That isn’t why we were put on the planet. I know that Islam is all about treating women with dignity and respect. So,  can someone please tell me where are they learning this form of behavior? Why have the women been quiet about this for so long?

Last year Community Times dedicated a page every month to sexual harassment and I was one of the contributors. I took the step to come forward because I wanted other women to have courage to speak up and know that they are not alone!

Before the revolution an Egyptian an Arabic movie 678 came out and hit the cinemas across the country. It’s whole purpose was to shed light on sexual harassment in Egypt and how even when you tried to report the incident at a police station women were be belittled or made to feel that they were the reason behind the act. In my opinion it was a powerful movie with a strong message. I hope women here and in the region will answer to the call and stand up for their human rights and take a stand against sexual harassment and bring an end to the tolerance and the acts.

I still think twice about what I’m wearing before walking out the door to go somewhere, but when I am out. I will not allow anyone to touch my body. It is my temple and I will defend it. I will not allow them to turn me in to a defeated or whimpering victim.

I am against sexual harassment and you should be too!

People throughout the country are hearing horror stories of people being held for ransom, school buses being attacked by thugs, gun fire exchange, armed robbery/looting among many other harrowing tales…many prefer to stay in their cocoons and ignore the stories or chose to believe they are un-true or exaggerated. I hate to be the one to burst the bubble, but 85%-97% of what we are hearing is true. Yes, the President had resigned from his post, but that wasn’t the end of the revolution, it’s only the beginning of the long road that lies ahead for Egypt and her people. Things are going to get worse before they get better. It’s going to take LOTS of time, a lot of patients and LOTS of HARD WORK. We need to be aware of what is going on around us at all times and become better individuals and take positive steps in order for the change that was demanded to take its proper course. This isn’t going to happen on it’s own… We have to make it happen.

Monday 6th of February 2011

I am so excited! I am finally going to see my family. I have been thinking of every possible way to get to them ever since my friend was evacuated. The railway lines have stopped working and the roads out of Cairo had been closed too. The airport is over crowded with people trying to leave the country and there’s a strong possibility that their aren’t any flights.

I had done most of my packing last night but there are still a few items that I need to put in the put in the bag, but I have to wait for Meeza to wake up.

I am feeling very torn. I have formed a close bond with my host, (No….that’s not right), my surrogate family and I don’t want to leave them. I have enjoyed my time here with them, gotten to know them more and feel like I’m apart of the family. I dread to think what state I would be in, if I hadn’t come to stay with them and decided to tough it out on my own. Without their company, I’m sure I would have reached some level of insanity. Becs family will always have a special place in my heart for opening their home to me.

Bec’s Mum insists that I share breakfast with her. I’m not really hungry and I have been working exceptionally hard at reaching a target weight for my sister’s wedding in April, (Operation Megan Fox). I know it’s a silly thing to be worrying about in times like these, but God willing if all goes well, her wedding will proceed as scheduled and I won’t hate myself for not looking my best and being fit for the special occasion. So, I am adamant that I am going to remain focused on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, grilled meats and drink an excessive amount of water, Revolution or not! (would this make me stubborn or very determined?)

At around 11am my father arrives, I am so glad to see him. I waste no time in embracing him at the door and kissing his cheeks. I notice that he looks tired but a wave of relief washes over his face when he sees me. My father and I don’t see eye to ey very often and with us being stubborn and control freaks, we often but heads and clash, but with that put a side, he is my Dad, I love him to pieces and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him.

My Dad comes in to the house for no longer than twenty minutes. We can’t delay our departure due to heavy traffic caused by blocked off roads and protests. We also have to be back in Alexandria before curfew time. My Dad thanks Bec’s parents and as a small gesture of my families appreciation and gratitude for all they have done for me he gives them a bottle of Whiskey and a big box of sweet dates. I in turn hug both Bec’s parents and thank them and promise to come and see them as soon as I am back and settled again.

As soon as we are in the car we have to make a stop at my house to pay the landlord the rent and so that I can drop some unwanted items and collect more clothes (who knows how long the current situation is going to last).

As we approach my street, which is a big military area, I notice a crowd of twenty or more people near the Military Hotel, Triumph. I wonder what they are all doing sitting around staring at the Military compound’s huge metal gates. My father must have caught my gaze or read my mind and informs me that the people are waiting to see their loved ones that had been recaptured by neighborhood watch and military me as they were trying to loot the nearby areas. Upon hearing this slightly disturbing piece of information, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I had followed my instincts and made the decision to go and stay with Bec’s and his family. The thought of having the escapees that have been causing fear and havoc in the city held across the street from my building, was not in the least bit comforting.

As soon as the car came to a halt, I waste no time in going in to my building and up to my apartment to leave an un-needed bag and gather some other belongings. I am whirling around the place like the Tazmanian Devil from the famous Warner Brother’s Cartoons. I am trying to be as quick as possible so that the echos of the last night spent in the apartment don’t come back to me. The feeling of being in my flat is an odd one. It is familiar and yet alien at the same time. ‘I hope to see you again soon’ I say to it before I close the door and lock it before taking the elevator back down to rejoin my father and the hired driver to head back to Alexandria.

During the drive out of the city my father ask me questions about the safety situation in Heliopolis, the sight of the barbed wires across the street and the tanks pointing outwards to wards the road. He tells me of events and situations that have taken place in Alexandria. That with in the first two days after the prisoners escaped from prison, the people guarding our street caught fourteen ‘baltageya’ (thugs/looters). He told me that other areas of Alexandria are experiencing much worse and that I know for a fact. My friend Shamel has been calling me daily telling me about his nightly watch and the amount of firing and killing that had been going on. Although I am living it, hearing it and experiencing it, my mind still has a difficult time accepting and believing that this is happening to us here in Egypt. It just boggles my mind! How did things spiral out of control so quickly? What lies ahead for all of us? Is it going to get worse? Will things ever get better? It is hard to tell…

At the Cairo toll gate leading to the desert road armored vehicles stand guard with their guns pointed at the center of the road. By the wayside, stolen, crashed and torched cars had been confiscated ownerless as you pass by the toll gate. For the past week we have been hearing horror stories of people’s cars being run off the road, cars being hijacked, robberies, rapes and killings along the desert road. On all the occasions I have driven back and forth on this road, I have never been so alert and watchful of every movement, car and person.

To stop at a rest house to use the toilet, gas up or buy something to eat is too risky and dangerous. Some of the escaped convicts are still on the loose and nobody wants to take any chances. The busy rest stops are empty, which is a strange sight because they are usually bursting at the seams with business, but now only the gas stations have clients. My father told me that he had stopped at one of the gas stations on the way and when he entered to building the owner was sat with a machine gun and bullets across his chest, the smell of freshly baked fiteer was absent in the air and the bustling of the waiters bringing the customers no longer existed.

We finally reach Alexandria after a two and a half hour drive, the security at the toll gate is more intense that the Cairo toll gate. There are more cars and the traffic is worse. Getting to the city is difficult, there is a hold up of some kind. We find out that the congestion is caused by a bus accident and large puddles of water.

As we pass by Carrefour City Center (a big shopping complex) there dozens of confiscated stolen cars parked on the side as you pass the shopping area. There are huge tanks and armoured vehicles positioned there too.

After two weeks of wanting to be with my family and a two and a half hour drive, I am finally home. I take my bags out of the car, get in to the elevator and press the button. The ride up seems to take longer than usual. “Hurry up!! I want to hug my Mum and sister!” As I finally reach my floor, I can see my mother’s silhouette through the glass with her arms spread wide ready to embrace me as I step out. I yank out the bags and drop them at her feet and just squeeze her tightly, while breathing in her motherly scent. There is nothing as warm or comforting as a mother’s embrace.

As I walk over the threshold of the apartment, my sister comes to greet me in the foyer of the apartment and we hug.  It is so good to be home and with family. They look well but tired from all the stress and constant worrying about their safety, the state of the country and me. At least now, they have one less thing to worry about. I am here, safe and sound with them.

We retire to the sitting room and talk for hours while pausing mid conversation every so often to hear the latest news up dates.

By 9pm I can no longer keep my yes open and got to bed.

I am home at last.

It has been almost a month since I last posted something on my blog. It isn’t due to lack of interest or something to say…it’s due to over saturation of events past and present that are preventing me from expressing myself clearly. I have tried to sit down many times to continue typing up and posting my Diary entries during the 18 days of the revolution, but reliving it whilst still going through the post revolution events was getting to be too much for my mind and my emotions to handle. To add to the turmoil neighboring countries to Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain …etc are going through similar if not worse circumstances and to relive the past with the present became too much for me to cope with.

Messages from Family members, friends and readers whom have been reading the entries and following me on twitter have encouraged me to keep writing and posting. They say that my entries paint a clear picture for them from a person who is actually living in the country. So, I will try to work through the daily distractions of current events here and in the neighboring countries to get my story written and posted.

God Bless

Tuesday, 1st February 2011

Today is Gawly’s birthday, my phone reminds me and a smile creeps across my face, but then I remember he and his family left two days ago to Boston. If this had been any other Tuesday, our huge group of friends would be deciding where we would be going to celebrate, but because of the current circumstances we won’t be able to. A simple message on his profile page on facebook will have to do. Wait… we don’t have Internet connection. I guess, I will have to wait until I can find away to contact him, to wish him a belated birthday.

9:00am

It has been one week since the #Jan25 protests began and a lot has happened in such a short amount of time. Another march is planned for today and they expect 2 million people to participate.
I have had my first full nights sleep in days. I feel re-energized and my mind is clear. I am feeling more like my old self, rested and able to function at my full capacity. I am ready for today.
I wake to hear that the prices of the basic necessities are beginning to sky rocked, mobile phone lines are expected to be cut again during the demonstrations. There are people who are selling fake police and military uniforms, fantastic one more thing for the public to worry about, when they are defending their homes, families and neighborhoods at night! Then I find out that they have closed all roads and railway lines leaving Cairo and other major cities to prevent people joining the protests here. That means I am stuck here indefinitely and will not be able to be reunited with my family, a blow to my heart, but I try to remain optimistic. At least I know my family is safe and I am too.
Some good news is that ATM machines are being refilled and will be operational today, so people can with draw money.

The family I am staying with are amazing! They are being very hospitable and making me feel comfortable and at ease. I almost feel as if I am part of the family. I just wish they would let me help around the house. I hate sitting around and being idle. It’s not in my nature and if my mother was to find out that I didn’t wash up after myself, I would never hear the end of it!
Being with Bec’s family makes me feel less home sick, but I still miss my family.
Bec’s family have a pet parrot ‘Cocco’, he isn’t comfortable with my presence and keeps giving me strange looks.
Becs’ Dad, Mr. G and I along with his wife discuss the current situation of the country and how fast things are declining.
‘Poussy’ is very motherly, always making sure that I’m not hungry or in need of anything. She, like my mother is a chocolate addict and this is going to be tough because for the past 5 weeks I have re-programmed myself to eat healthier and not consume any junk food or sweets.
Meeza, Bec’s sister is really sweet. She is sharing her room with me and has made space in her wardrobe for my clothes.
Bec’s and I have been friends for six years or more now. We were introduced to one another by my best friend. I think the reason we get along so well is because we have had a similar childhood and share the same interests. He is quite a character and very lovable. He has been going to the protests in Tahrir almost daily. He goes armed with his Canon camera and documents everything that is happening around him.

Becs asks me if I would like to go with him to Tahrir. I am once again facing an internal conflict, do I break my word to my parents and go to be a part of history and risk getting hurt and worrying them both in to an early grave or do I stay here. Having just recovered from a week of protecting and lack of sleep, I decided to stay, when I really would have preferred to be there to experience the energy, the unity and kin ship first hand.

1:00pm

Bec’s mum can not take it any longer, she is out of chocolate and nuts and needs to restock. I don’t hesitate in accompanying her to the store to stretch my legs, be outside and just breathe some air.
Bec’s family live on what is normally a very busy street in Heliopolis, but you would never have guessed it. There gas station deserted of it’s queues of customers, hardly any cars driving by, few people walking around and the sound of the tram’s clickity clacking has been silenced.
The store across the street unlike all the other supermarkets is well stocked, with peanuts, lib (it’s like sunflower seeds but white) and a variety of other nuts. We buy an assortment and a week or twos supply worth of chocolate.
We leave the store to head back across the road and try to make our way to Bec’s aunts house, but we are met with an unusual scene. The sidewalk and road are blocked with cement blocks, 2 layers of barbed wire, four tanks and armed military guards. The Middle section of Marghani street, where the Presidential Palace is, is completely blocked off!

It looks as though I made the right choice in leaving my house if the road is blocked. I would have been in-accessible. I doubt I could even go home if I wanted to.

2:39 pm

The Duty Officer from the Irish Embassy calls to check up on me and to see if I am in need of any assistance and that I am in a safe location. I told him about my harrowing experience two nights ago and gave him the address and land line of where I am staying. He asked me if I would like to be evacuated. I tell him that my family are refusing to leave, so if they stay, I stay too. He asked me to pass on his contact number to my mother, so she could give him her details too.

3:00 pm

Bec’s Grandmother comes up to visit and brings a box of chocolates for me. What a sweet gesture. I take one, so that I do not insult her and I offer the rest to everyone else.

5:00pm

I can’t stand sitting around any more!! I need to do something, if I can’t be out speaking out, then I have to be productive in some other way. I go to the kitchen and find therapy in cutting up fruits and making a fruit salad.

Nal, my friend in DC calls to check up on me and tells me the latest updates that she is reading on my facebook page. She tells me that she is now friends with my cousin in New Jersey, my long time friend and pen pal who also lives in D.C as well as my soon to be, brother-in- law Hatem. I find it amusing how a crisis can bring people from around the world together.

I call my cousin Tamer in NJ, to tell him that Nal has been passing on his messages and that I am safe and so is my family. He tells me that he forwards my news to a radio station there in the US and that he sent them my last e-mail before the communication black out and it was read over the air. I am touched and embarrassed all at the same time.
Not long after closing with Tamer, his aunt in Cairo calls me and tries to persuade me to stay with her. I would have done but I didn’t for two reasons, I have only met her twice in my life and my family know where I am and I am in good company.
Not long after closing with her, Tamer’s Dad calls from the U.S to offer some support and to tell me to be strong and hang tough, it’s a bumpy ride, but it will be worth while when it’s all over. He tells me that the world is watching and is supporting us.
I find comfort in his words.

We hear on the news that Mubarak is going to address the nation… yeah I’ve heard that before! I bet he decides to speak when the men and young lads are down in the street on neighborhood watch duty, putting them-selves in danger to protect their homes, families and neighborhood. How considerate!

;) I should have made a bet, he didn’t come out to speak until midnight?! Who does that!?

Some of you may actually know him, while others of you may follow his tweets or blog ‘Not Hungry Cuz I Ate’. What many people don’t know about this talented and very ambitious young chef is that he’s actually a doctor. Yes, you read the last sentence correctly, I said, doctor!
I know some people find it incomprehensible that someone would give up medicine to work in a kitchen, when they could be treating patients and charging the earth for consultations or checkups. Well Sam did.
Which I’m sure is raising another question, ‘WHY?!” I’m not going to lie to you, I asked myself the same question but then decided that the only person who could answer it, would be him. His response was honest and to the point, “I don’t like patients”.
If you think about it many parents persuade or direct their children in to a line of profession that they don’t necessarily want to do or enjoy. For Sam to come to that realization early on and know what his passion is and what he wants to do with his life is quite admirable.
For those of you who don’t live in the region, you may be shrugging your shoulders to say ‘so, what’s the big deal?” In the Middle East being a doctor, engineer or businessman are the top 3 careers that parents want their sons and daughters to be apart of. Being a chef isn’t something that is held in high regard here, which is something I find quite funny, because there are chefs who earn a handsome living.
Ever since I’ve known Sam, I have been impressed with his intellect, wit and knowledge of herbs, flavors and meat cuts. We have had many conversations where we have discussed many recipes, cooking technique and sauces.
In 2010, Sam informed us that he was a chef in a very reputable restaurant in Maadi. A few friends of mine and I went to ‘The Cellar Door’ for a meal to test Sam’s culinary skills in a restaurant. As we walked in to the restaurant we came face to face with our friend in his chef’s coat, talking to the diners and asking them how they enjoyed their meal. When he saw us come in, it looked like he got a bit nervous because we would be some of his toughest critics, especially because we all know how to cook well and have high standards when it comes to pleasing our palates.
We all ordered a range of appetizers, main dishes and deserts. I have to admit that our two-and-a-half hour journey to the restaurant across the city and through traffic was worth every bite. My mushroom, rocket salad with apple was different and enjoyable. My main dish was chicken with a Moroccan twist to it. The chicken breast was rested on a bed of perfect raisin risotto – I was in poultry heaven and would have licked the plate clean if I hadn’t been in a restaurant! Although the recipe wasn’t one of Sam’s, he did oversee the preparation of it that night. To end my dining experience at the cellar door I order the chocolate raspberry mouse cake. The combination of the two flavors complimented each other perfectly and it was as sweet as ones first kiss. My friends whom I accompanied to the restaurant were just as pleased with their dining experience. We did have a few suggestions on how to tweak a few of the dishes and Sam listened intently and appreciated the honest criticism.
Since we visited him at the Cellar Door, he has since moved to the ever popular Cairo Jazz Club, where he is the Executive Chef and is revolutionizing their menu and coming up with some new dishes to add to a brand new menu and improving on the ones that they have. Not too long ago on twitter I cam across a tweet that had been posted by someone who mentioned how great the steaks were at CJC and that they rivaled a famous steak house here in Cairo.
I am planning on paying him a visit at his new place soon to taste and try out his latest creations as soon as it’s on the menu and available to the general public.
So, if you happen to be at Cairo Jazz Club and feel a bit peckish, I recommend that you order something from the menu to go with your drink and the great music, to make the whole experience complete.

P.S just a reminder, you can follow both NotHungryCuzI8 and IrishAlexandria on twitter.

World wide, people were making plans of celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends or family, either at a party or in the comfort of their homes. Everyone was grateful that they had made it through the year  that will most probably be remembered for H1N1 (swine flu), economic hardships, life’s lessons and other personal turbulent affairs was a relief to everyone. They were ready to say good-bye to 2010 and send it off with a BANG and welcome 2011. Little did the inhabitants of Alexandria know that it would literally go out with not one bang but two fatal ones!

At midnight 2 car bombs exploded outside a church, in the Sidi Bishr area of Alexandria. Worshippers inside the church were attending a New Year’s midnight mass when the explosion took place. In the blast 21 people died and there were several casualties. The Coptic Christians were enraged by the act that they went and attacked a nearby Mosque, which caused a clash between Muslim’s and Christians.

In this past week in Alexandria, there have been protests and demonstrations over the decision taken by the Minister of Education to change 3 schools in to ‘Experimental Schools’ and now, a terrorist attack! As an Alexandrian and a human being, I can’t help but ask, ‘WHY?’ What message or reason could possibly justify the act of rash decision-making, violence and the taking of human lives? Has the world gone completely mad? Have we as a species lost or forgotten the meaning or the acts of philanthropy, compassion and coexistence?  I am not a deeply religious person, but from what I have read and what I have been taught. Religions don’t promote, encourage or condone attacks on other people! Have we become so fanatic that we no longer understand the basic fundamentals of our religion(s) and can no longer comprehend the clear lessons and words of wisdom that we are meant to follow? Is it possible that lessons like ‘thou shall not kill they neighbor’ have been misinterpreted to, KILL?

If the answer is, ‘YES’. then I am not only disgusted, appalled and enraged at the level the human race is sinking to.

This act has hit home with me for many reasons; The first reason is because this was a very close call for my family. My father had been to a church in Cleopatra twice yesterday,before the bombs had gone off. He, (a Muslim man), was there attending a funeral service and paying his condolences to his friend and his family on their families loss. It could have very easily been the church the mourners were at and where people paying their condolences were. When we first heard the news, we were told it was the church my father had been at, which made us wonder, If my father hadn’t come home when he had done, he could have been among the dead or the injured.  As an Alexandrian, this is an attack not just on Christians, but on our city and its people! This doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone in Egypt and abroad.

I come from a mixed ethnic background where both my parents come from different parts of the world and follow different religions. Throughout my childhood, teens and adulthood never once did I feel that either were different or better than the other. If my parents could coexist for over 35 years without killing one another and raised their daughters to be respectful to everyone and not be prejudice towards others, then I don’t see why it can’t be done.

I continue not to choose sides, I stand for humanity, I stand for life, I stand for people’s right to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t harm or offend anyone else. Earth is our home and if we don’t change our ways and re-educated its people to learn to coexist the way we should, then we are going to have some trigger happy S.O.B blow the whole place up! I don’t want that to happen, do you?

Links to the news

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12101748

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/update-suicide-bomber-carried-out-alex-church-attack-says-foreign-ministry

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