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Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I awoke to the tragic news of a terrible , (yet preventable) accident that took place in Assiut, in upper Egypt. A school bus was crossing train tracks to take a group of students to a school located 20+Km away from where they lived to their school, because there isn’t a school nearer to them. The crossing guard was fast asleep at his post with the television on and supposedly with a sheesha in hand too. He didn’t pull the lever that could have saved many lives. The crossing guard, a government employee failed to do his job, which resulted in the death of fifty young lives, whose blood stained the front of the train. Those at the scene couldn’t find words to describe it, they said it was unlike anything they had ever seen in reality or in any horror movie.
This is not the first accident of its kind in Egypt and it will not be the last either. Why? Simply because, our government is and has always been negligent and does not put money back into the system to help maintain machinery, buildings, roads, trains …etc. (God forbid that people should ever feel safe when they have the opportunity to line the inside of their pockets). I am not surprised that it happened again but I am deeply saddened at the suffering and loss that so many families have to endure due to greed. Two of the many families have lost ALL their children in the accident and to add insult to injury, the government initially offered them 5000 Egyptian Pounds blood money per child, which is approximately 817 U.S Dollars. That is less than the price of an IPhone!!
An Egyptian T.V. Talk Show host, Amr Adeeb, totally lost his temper on his show and was infuriated not only because the accident had happened but because the amount of money was a despicable amount to pay for a life of a child. He called all Egyptians, President and the country a failure and said we should be embarrassed. (I would have to agree, we are great at talking the talk but do very little to improve our situation. we would rather sit back, ezzaz (nibble) on lib (sunflower/pumpkins seeds), watch T.V, smoke sheesha and have someone else do it). Adeeb’s ranting and raving did have an impact though… The blood money was bumped up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds. It’s still not worth the life of a child and it will never take the pain or loss away. I still think they could dig deeper into their pockets and pay a few hundred thousand pounds more per child especially if they are able to spend millions on finding ways to block porn sites.
With bated breath last Thursday I hopped on a train to Alex to see my parents for the Thanksgiving weekend, after the train accident in Assiut, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would reach my destination intact. Not long after I arrived and was sitting with my mother updating her on what’s been going on in my life the past couple of weeks, I logged into face book and twitter and saw my news feed full of colorful descriptions of Egypt’s President elect. (eyes rolled in their sockets and ‘What has he done now’ said the voice in my head)
As a storm brewed over head I wasn’t able to watch ’THE’ mother of all speeches on satellite so I turned to BlackBerry messenger and Facebook Chat and what I was being told by friends was equally worrying and humorous. Our ‘Democratically’ elected President Morsy had declared himself above and beyond the law. He’s so far above the law that any cases against him from the time he had taken office will be dropped. No one but ‘He’ has the right to dissolve the Shuraa part of the Parliament. He has new evidence against the Mubarak family and their constituents, so they will be retried, (just to name a few) . In less than a year he has given himself more power than any president this country has ever had. He declared himself Caesar/Pharaoh! (yeah, Ceasar/Ramsis II has been reincarnated and is alive and well in Morsy). People sat on their couches with their mouths gaping wide open, with eyes buldging out of their sockets in disbelief! He just pulled the Coup D’Etat card on us!
Naturally people went ballistic!!!
This very man gave his acceptance speech just months ago swearing that he would do right by his country, his people, those who lost their lives, preserve the revolution and will do everything legitimately…. IF he’s forgotten, we can play it back for him, it’s been recorded and there were thousands up thousands of people watching him here in Egypt and throughout the world! If I was to pull the Coup D’Etat card on my country men (not that, I would but if that was my plan) I wouldn’t have done it now… I would have done it after I had won the hearts and minds of the people. NOT NOW when you’re still going through the public’s probation period!
Did he honestly think that people would take it lightly? We got rid of a 30 year dictatorship, we didn’t sign up for it to be replaced with another one with MORE POWERS than the previous one. This is like something out of Greek Mythology, Slayers behead the beast and the people hail their bravery and victory of slaying the beast, only to find out later that the beast wasn’t dead, it had grown another head !
So, now what?
Do we all run out and buy Aabayas (burkaas) and galaabeyas? Do bars, cinemas and night clubs go extinct or underground? Does the age for marriage drop below puberty? Do women find themselves back behind the kitchen counters mastering grandmother’s old recipes and popping out kids every 9 months?
No!!! We make our voices heard and let him and his bearded buddies know that not everyone supports his decree and that he needs to take it back! The following day, Friday November 23, people across Egypt who opposed Morsy’s decree took to the streets in protest! Several Egyptian governorates made their voices heard! They did not and would not accept his ‘temporary’ power at the helm of Egypt! He infuriated people so much that they stormed the Freedom of Justice Party offices in several cities, looted them and in Alexandria they found a bra, which the stormers held out onto the balcony to show the watching public! Then they torched the place.
Last Tuesday another protest was scheduled and the friction between the pro and anti Morsy fractions could be felt on the streets. Many schools decided to not open that day for fear that there might be violence and that students and teachers might not get home in time before the show down. The MB in Cairo were scheduled to march that day too, but decided to post-pone it to a later date for fear of violent clashes. In Alexandria there was a stand-off between the two parties but I didn’t hear of any major incidents. Mansoura demonstrated their disapproval of the president’s decree and also stormed the FJP headquarters there. Mahalla got the brunt of it, Morsy supporters were out in full force and fired live ammo on the protestors, resulting in many casulaties.
Today is Friday, November 30th and another protest is scheduled to take place today… tensions are running very high especially with the threat of MB and Morsy supporters threatening to lash out on those who do not support Morsy.
Presently Egypt is divided into two unequal fractions. Those who support the president and his decree and those who don’t. If we are going to be honest, we are out numbered by the supporters, which automatically reminds me of Lord of The Rings and the battle for middle earth. I hope that things end as well as they did in the book for Egypt and her people’s sake!
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!
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…
Saturday 5th of February 2011
As soon as my eyelids open flicker open, my second reflex is to grab my phone.
Did everything remain peaceful while I slept? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease let things have remained peaceful, please, please, pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Did the thugs attempt and succeed in ruining the peaceful ambiance?
I click on my twitter application on my phone and scroll down through the posts. All seems to well. Thugs had attempted to cause havoc but were dispersed, due to warning shots fired by the army. (YES! PHEW! Could this mean that things will start returning to normal?)
I get up have breakfast and glue myself to lap top and continue typing …
Bec’s heads to Tahrir while Meeza and I go to Makani again, this time with her friends. I take my diary with me to write key notes for the days I haven’t filled in.
One of Mezza’s friends that has joined us is quite an interesting young man, with great intellect and a wicked sense of humor. He and Meeza have me in stitches. It feels good to laugh. I haven’t laughed like this in what seems a long time.
We talk about random things, but as always the conversation returns to the crisis at hand…
As much as I admire the people in Tahrir for their determination and bravery for standing up and defying the police, the crack down and curfew that has been put in place, and as much as I want to be apart of the movement, I can see how all those people being there are slowly bringing the country to a halt.
The situation is turning in to a double edge sword, if they leave they lose their ground and risk being persecuted and have everything go back to the way it was and all of this will be swept under the rug and make all of this disappear.
If, they don’t leave, then the people who run factories, business, the majority of the people in Egypt earns less than 2$ a day. The majority earn their money on a day-to-day basis by selling fruit and vegetables off of donkey carts, cigarettes from kiosks, news paper stands, taxi fares …etc. If these people don’t earn money and they along with their families starve, this revolution might take a 180 degree turn.
As you can see, there is a big dilemma. Do the protesters stay or do they go? It’s a tough call, a very tough call.
I look up and find that the café is looking more and more like a familiar scene of the past. It is full to busting. It has reached its full capacity but the people still keep on coming. The staff is finding it hard to keep up with the orders, there are only 2 waiters in the whole place and the staff is being over worked. The Sushi rolls are loose and not looking as put together as they should.
For a brief moment you forget about the crisis that is going on just kilometers away, the buzz of conversation and clinking of cutlery is entrancing and it makes it very easy for you to forget. A glimpse at the TV screen serves as a constant reminder and brings you back from the brief moment of déjà vu of times past.
More of Meeza’s friends join us and my friend Heba does too. Heba and I seem to be growing closer and bonding more these past couple of days than we have in the past couple of years. I enjoy her company, insight and the fact that we can agree to disagree.
I hope this friendship doesn’t die out any time soon.
I get two international calls. One from Ang calling to check up on me from Canada and asking what the situation is like here. I fill her in on all the details that I know and I give her my insight on the situation and re-assure her that I am fine. I miss her…
The Second call is from Nal in D.C, from the tone of her voice I can tell that she is not in the best of moods and that something is bothering her. She eventually tells me and I find out that she just received news that another friend of hers died this week during the protests due to injuries. I talk to her to try to change mood a little bit by making her laugh and smile. It works her voice is a little more chipper. Before we hang up she makes me promise to stay out of harms way. She has lost two friends already and doesn’t want to lose another. She says she will come and kill me herself if I go to Tahrir.
I give her my word…
It is so humbling to know that there are people who genuinely care for you and worry about your well-being. When friends from abroad take the time to call and check up on you almost daily, you can’t help but feel blessed.
The weather has turned, black clouds are now over Cairo. It begins to drizzle the bite of the window is harp and cold.
Is this a sign of what is to come?
Diary Entry 9
Friday, 4th February 2011
I wake up with my nerves on edge. I am completely and utterly nervous. So nervous that I am nauseous filled with fear and dread. If the past two days have been bloody then God only knows what lies in store for the brave protesters today.
Today we anticipate more protesters to take to the streets and head towards Tahrir, but after seeing the event unfold on TV the past two days I am fearful for the lives of those who want to go, Becs and a few friends of ours too.
‘Please God, If you can hear me, let there be no blood shed today. Blow away those who want to inflict harm, violence and chaos.’
Every time I look at the clock or my watch the hands don’t appear to have moved. I feel as though everything is going in slow motion.
I sit and continue to type my diary entries out on to my lap top. As I peck away at my keyboard, I feel as though my intuition is picking up on the anxiety of everyone around me. My heart is racing, breathing heavily and a tightness forms in my chest. I try and over come the strange sensation, by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly. Bec now is looking at me with concern and ask if I’m alright and if he can get me anything.
“God, I just want this day to pass”
Becs’s sister asks me if I want to accompany her at Makani, a café very close to the house. I think getting out of the house might be a good idea.
My Blackberry these days seems to be an extension of my hand. I check twitter every few minutes for up dates from trusted sources in Tahrir and in other areas of the country.
Friday prayer has commenced and the TV is showing rows upon rows of people worshiping, bowing and praying together shoulder by shoulder and in unison,
while others form a human chain around the people praying to protect them. The sight of the live footage on TV is empowering and moving. I am moved so much that a lump forms in my throat and my eyes begin to burn from holding back the tears.
This is a scene I have longed to see, where hang ups and walls between Muslims and Christians do not exist. They stand together as people, as Egyptians. I can not help but feel proud. How I want to be there and stand among them and witness the barriers between religion, classes and people come crashing down along with a regime that built it. I am thinking of ways of escaping the safety of Heliopolis to go there. A phone call from my mother quickly ends that. She calls to make sure that I am safe and nowhere near Tahrir! Grrrrrrrr
‘Are these the same people who had been fighting in self-defense the past two days?’
The world as I have been told by many have been glued to their TV sets for hours every day and today they will be as shocked as I am to see a different scene, a scene of unity and solidarity. Muslims and Christians standing together, what a vision, what a sight and what an example they are being to the world.
For the pas few years I have been teach in a school where my students have tried tirelessly to find out what faith I belong to. I never tell them because it shouldn’t matter what religion I practice. What should mater is what kind of person I am. We shouldn’t teach children to identify others by their practices. It’s wrong and that is what causes BIG problems and a huge rift in our country and society. I hope my students and the administration are watching this and will be inspired and learn from it.
Heba comes and joins us at Makani. I introduce her to Meeza we talk about how things are going right now in Tahrir. Heba shares my desire for wanting to go to Tahrir. She too has given her word to her parents that she won’t go. Her father calls her every day, early in the morning to make her promise that she will not go. He doesn’t want to have to worry about her, while he is out of the country. She alone understands and shares my frustration.
The café is filling up with more customers; the limited menu doesn’t turn them away. The change of scenery and being out of the house seems to be a common change that everyone is in need of. Being here sitting in a café makes me feel guilty. I feel as though I am not contributing or supporting. I am a firm believer in the freedom of speech, liberty and justice and for years I have been trying to break free from the chains that the country and society have tried to shackle me with and here I am sitting at a café!!!! What a hypocrite! ARGH!!!
I take my phone and check the tweets!
Reporters are having a tough time down on the ground. Military officials are confiscating cameras and detaining them. The safest place for them ironically is in Tahrir, where the protesters grant them refuge.
The square is turning in to a huge big out-door concert or festival with live music and dancing!
I should be there!
Diary Entry 7
Thursday 3rd of February 2011
I wake up early and stare up at the ceiling in bed for a while before I get up. I try to leave the room as quietly as I can so that I don’t wake Meeza. I grab my phone and my diary and sit in the sitting room crossed legged on the couch in my PJs writing in my diary as well as typing another entry to post up on my blog on my lap top, while I follow tweets on twitter on my phone. (Multi tasking at it’s best!)
Over the course of the past few days I feel as though the country and its people have awakened from a long sleep. The Spirit and the pride of our Great Ancestors that seemed to have died after the 6 day war has been reborn and re-ignited in not just Egyptians in Egypt, but around the world. It’s as though the shades of 30 years have been lifted and everyone is seeing how deprived they have been of their basic human rights and the possibilities and potential that could be theirs if they call out and march for it.
In such a short time, the seed of rift and segregation that had been growing over decades had been ripped out of the ground. Muslim’s and Christians, Rich, Educated and Poor have been standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side day in and day out as one force, united for the first time in a long time.
The Muslim vs Christian paranoia almost seems to have evaporated as they stand side by side protecting themselves and each other from the attacks and blows that the Mubarak supporter are landing on protesters.
Bec’s wakes up and find me sitting deeply engrossed in my typing. He invites me to move to his room to continue working. I pick up my belonging and move to his room, claiming a place on the floor near an electric outlet. I get comfortable and resume typing while Bec’s busies himself with editing his photos taken at Tahrir. (I will ask him if I may post the link to his photos)
Bec’s father bursts in to the room urging Bec’s not to go to Tahrir today, he’d just seen and heard on BBC Arabic that the area in Tahrir was now occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood and that the President of Iran spoke and supported Egypt’s revolution.
My heart sank in to the pit of my stomach. Is this how it ends? Will this country of passion, history and potential fall and follow in the foot steps of Iran?
I call my mother and my friend Heba and tell them what had been relayed to me.
My mother exhales deeply and says,’ If that is what is going to happen then we have no choice but to leave. We can’t stay if it turns in to a state like an Iran’ She closes with me and goes to watch the news.
I tell Heba the same info and her response is ‘Oh boy…”
I left my laptop to go and listen to the news myself with my phone in hand (it goes everywhere with me) and yes…that is what the media was saying. For the first time since all this has happened all I want is to stuff face with comfort food, the craving for chocolate is at an all time peak! I resist … for now.
My mother calls back and says she’s been flipping through the channels and none of the English news stations have been reporting that… could this be a propaganda move?, an attempt to cause chaos and panic perhaps? The only thing we can do is watch and wait.
After hours of watching the news, typing and editing we both need a break. We decided to take yet another walk in to Korba. The scene is a little different today, it’s business as usual (some what). The hairdressers is open and taking clients up-until 2pm, cafes are open but not working in full capacity, but that doesn’t matter people are still willing to stand in line to sit in a café for a few hours rather than in front of a T.V waiting for the inevitable.
While we are there, Heba calls to say that she’s in the area. We meet up outside a very locked up Vodafone. Heba and I go in to Cilantro Cafe, while we wait for Becs to come back from the bicycle repair shop to exchange the tube we had bought yesterday for his busted tire. We sit and talk about how things are going politically and what direction we think it’s going in. Becs comes back and joins us and as do a few other friends of ours. We huddle around a small table as, Heba a relative of one of the leading oppositions leaders and a big supporters of his. She tells us about her experience on Friday when she accompanied her relative on the 28th for Friday prayer, he wasn’t allowed in to the Mosque and prayed outside in the street along with many others. Heba and her relative’s wife stand back and the riot police inch forward encircling them almost boxing them in. They push them down hard off of the pavement in the back. As soon as Friday prayer is over, tear gas is fired in to the crowd for them to disperse. Her relative is ambushed and they have no idea where he was or where he had been taken until much later. He had been held in the mosque along with the Middle East’s newest heart-throb, Al Jazeera’s news correspondent, Ayman Mohydin.
Reports of reporters being detained or arrested under the emergency law are flooding twitter along with many other protesters! OUTRAGE!!!
My friend in Alexandria calls me to ask how the night was in Cairo last night. I tell him that it was quiet. He informs me that his night was far from quiet. He had a full scale shoot out right outside his building from 3am to 7am. He sounded exhausted and his moral was low. He told me that thugs (looters or theives) were armed with machine guns. The neighborhood were no match for them but luckily the army took action and returned fire. 4 of the intruders were killed, a couple captured and the rest retreated.
A very tall, handsome and strapping UN judge came and joined us, he brought an interesting new insight on to what could happen if the President was to step down and leave the country. When he spoke he reminded me of a University professor commanding his student’s attention.
Closing time came too soon, we bid everyone farewell and stay safe before we went on our way. Before we continue on our way home, we stop and by two more boxes of cake mix. (I think I have turned Becs in to a Betty Crocker backing monster!)
He was so inspiring that when we got home Becs told his parent’s that he was going to go to Tahrir tomorrow and that was that! I really want to accompany him, but I know if I go and if the battles between the protesters and the pro Mubarak mob continue and something happens to me, I would never be able to forgive myself.
Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow is ‘Departure Friday’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!?
I don’t have pictures taken in Tahrir Square or of violence that had taken place. They are pictures of things I have seen and witnessed myself.