Fouad Street, Alexandria, August 14th 2013

Fouad Street
August 14th 2013

Wednesday, August 14th 2013 at 7:45am my father barges into my room to inform me that security forces have taken action and are attempting to disperse the sit in at Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda.
As the day began to unravel, the more I began wot wish, I had never woken up.

As the news spread about the security forces trying to force their way through the barricades to clear the 5-6 week long protest that had been obstructing the lives of residence and businesses of the area, Pro Morsi and MB (Muslim Brotherhood) supporters became enraged and took to the streets in several cities across the country.
Being an avid user of twitter, I read reports about the sea side (Corniche) road being blocked. I warned my father about going out, but he decided to try his luck, only to have to turn round and come back after being caught in a traffic jam caused by civilian made road blocks, they let him through and he made it home safely. Not long after his return our street in Alexandria became heavily populated with Pro-Morsi and MB supporters.

The head of the march was peaceful, the people walked down the road chanting their anti Gen Sisi slogans, calling him a murderer, calling all of the people who aren’t joining them traitors, praising the people in Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda squares for standing their ground and chanting how Egypt is Islamic. There were no weapons (guns, swords, knives or home-made bombs), there were several people carrying sticks and one guy dragging a metal shield often found outside of embassies.

The other members of the march who followed were nowhere near as peaceful. They were fueled with anger and expressed it openly. They chanted the same slogans and called out ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great), which sent chills down my spine. Why the need to call out that?, This is not a Gehad! No one is trying to convert them or cause them to doubt their beliefs. These people carried big chunks of cement curb from near by and threw them in the middle of the road. Some tore down the metal fence of a construction site and threw it in the street along with the wooden guard boxes that are placed outside of consulates and banks and set fire to them. They also took the dumpsters and through them down and used the garbage to feed the fire. Tires, chairs, plants and many other things that they found were used to create their mini bonfires all the way down Fouad Street. There were NO security forces chasing or shooting at them. There was no one pursuing them, they did this of their own accord on a main street in a residential area, where business, foreign cultural centers, banks, restaurants and a consulate were also located.

(I have video and pictures of all this)

Residents looked out of their windows and off of their balconies in horror. They couldn’t believe that our quiet neighborhood had smoke billowing all the way down it and there was nothing that they could do about it.
This went on for an hour or so. As soon as the march had passed and had made their way further down the road, my neighbor’s sons went down in to the street to put out the fires and clear the road from obstruction.

Once that passed, my ears and eyes were glued to all forms of media, listening and watching to the reports on TV, facebook and twitter. The news from both camps was harrowing. Egyptian Muslim’s firing at each other, injuring and killing showing no mercy! Christians and churches continued to be targeted. Several churches across the country were attacked and set ablaze! Two reporters killed doing what they love and trying to shed light on the situation. It was enough to make your blood freeze.

I can not bring myself to call the events of today a massacre, for the plain and simple reason because the organizers of the sit in anticipate and knew that the chances of violence would be high. With this they armed themselves, (I am NOT saying that everyone had ammunition, but they definitely were prepared). Security forces were supposedly only supposed to only use teargas and blank or rubber bullets, (that didn’t happen). Which resulted in a two-way onslaught and loss of irreplaceable and precious life.

Scores and scores of casualties of civilians and officers with horrendous and gourish injuries from both sides. I don’t give a rat’s ass who pulled the trigger or cast the first stone! What I do care about is that Egypt lost sons and daughters at the hands of their own kin men. There is no excuse or rational reasoning for that!

I sincerely hope that we (Egyptians), find our way out of the dark tunnel that we are presently in and do detour away from the road towards civil war.

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

If you missed my last blog post I have just returned from my summer vacation. The first two weeks of my trip was spent in Central America, in the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras and shares its borders with Guatemala and Mexico.

A colleague of mine was an archeologist and used to work on a site there before a career change and joining the league of International Teachers. My colleague’s friend has been running an archeological like camp, (AFAR), for highly selected High School Students in Belize for several summers and extended the invitation to our staff and students. I have always been fascinated with the ancient civilizations and I thought this would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country, experience a new culture and learn about the Maya.

The morning of the 21st of June, I waited nervously at the airport for my colleague and the two students to arrive to begin the adventure. Once the gang was assembled and we had become acquainted with one another, the long journey across land, sea and ocean began. The afternoon of the 22nd of June exhausted and hungry, we landed safely in beautiful Belize and met up with and were introduced to the rest of the student body and staff whom we would be working alongside for the next two weeks.

The following day we were taken on a tour of Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks), with Mr. Saunders, Dr. Marc Zender and Mr.& Mrs. Pritchard, they talked to us about the site and the Maya way of life as we walked around and through Plaza’s A and B. Cahal Pech was the site where we were to help excavate. My first impression of the site was how quiet, secluded, nicely shaded and small it was. In my mind I had imagined a much larger complex and a huge temple like the one in Luxor, never the less it was still spectacular in its own right. As we walked around the site there were several excavation projects being carried out by BVAR (Belize Valley Archeological Reconnaissance Project), in my little mind I assumed that we would be helping them. When our tour of the site came to an end, a physically fit man who looked like he might be in his late fifties, with graying black curls, glasses and a big smile came striding across the floor of plaza B towards our group, this man turned out to be the renowned Dr. Jamie Awe an archeologist and expert in the Maya, (he would be the equivalent to the Zahi Hawas of Egypt). He greeted us warmly and explained what it was that his team was doing and what he would like us to do.

He pointed towards one of the large structures in plaza B, that had stairs and an a rectangular archway and said that, that structure had been excavated many decades ago and parts of it had been reconstructed and conserved, he also asked us to follow the wall to see where it abruptly ends or disappears beneath a huge mound of dirt that had numerous tall trees deeply rooted and growing out of it. He explained that when the Maya abandoned the city, the place was left to ruin and with time the hurricanes caused a lot of structural damage to fall and deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Seeds that had been carried by the wind or deposited (pooped), by animals fell and took root, which caused more damage to the city. He then turned to this fairly big hill and said and pointed at it and said, that he would like for us to uncover the remains of the wall.

As I stood there taking in the length and height of the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder how, he or anyone else for that matter expected us to uncover a wall with just brushes? Surely that would take forever. He then added that it would take probably the first week for us to find structure… (Yeah, right! I thought to myself). For the remainder of the afternoon, students learned how to measure out units using measuring tape, thread, compass and a construction plumbob, (A plum what? (was my first reaction when I heard it too), the definition from Weikipedia; A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line). The boys got busy carving wooden stakes to put into the ground to tie string around to divide the units up. Others picked up rakes and started raking away small rocks and fallen leaves to clear the ground.

The following morning the students and staff were divided and assigned to the units that we would be working on for the next two weeks. I chose to be with unit one, “The Silverbacks”. There were a couple of logical reasons as to why I chose that particular unit; One of which was because they came highly recommended (most of them had a lot of experience excavating and had been coming for the past couple of summers), the unit was the closest to the already excavated wall and I was certain that we would find a lot of stuff.

In all honesty the mound that we were expected to get through intimidated me (GREATLY)! I seriously began to question why I was there and what had possessed me to want to do this in the first place when I could be doing something that would not require me to tap into my inner badger. After a little mental pep talk, I got myself ready for the challenge ahead. I am somewhat stubborn by nature, but I hoped that I had the resilience, stamina and persistence to keep up with five teenage boys and that I would be able to make a difference. I walked over to them and introduced myself to them one by one and that is when I was presented with a pick axe. I looked at the manly tool with puzzlement, (where were the brushes? I thought to myself). I jokingly asked if these were to break knee caps, (I hoped to hide my ignorance and break the ice. I’m not sure how I did). The team leader, a graduated high school senior very politely and patiently explained what we needed to do first and how the tools were used to excavate the area. First we needed to clear the surface of the rocks and make a pile because some of the rocks will be used to reconstruct some of the structures at the site. Once that was done we take our pick axes and start picking away at the layers of dirt. The dirt would then be scooped up into buckets which would then be taken by one of the team members to the big hanging sifts, to make sure that pieces of pottery (clay) or chert were not accidentally thrown away. If pieces of clay or chert were found, they would be placed in artifact bags. At the end of the day an artifact card would be filled out in black pen to explain what the contents were and how many bags of each had been collected. Sounded simple enough, but I tell you…it sounded a lot easier than it actually was. This job is not for lazy bones, wimps or girls worried about ruining their manicure. The students and staff took it seriously and expect those who come to take part to work hard. Some of the rocks were the size of my torso or just as heavy as the bucket full of dirt that had to be carried over to the sift. The shade of the canopy and the light breeze could cause you to forget that you were hot and in need of keeping hydrated. In the first half of the day, I found pieces of clay and beautiful pieces of quartz. These little finds gave me the incentive to keep on going. At lunch time (noon), I was hot, sweaty, hungry, thirst and exhausted! I couldn’t believe that we had been working for almost four straight hours and were expected to continue till four o’clock.

After a much-needed lunch break, soft drink and a bit of socializing, our hour was up and it was back to the grind. I found it very difficult to get back into the rhythm that I had been working to before. My heart was beating rapidly for some unexplainable reason and I was sweating more than I had been earlier, (I might have been having a mild panic attack, my mind and body might have been putting up a little protest to the manual labor, but being a stubborn person I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me). I tried talking to the team but being the newbie no one was really talking, so I chewed on a stick of gum, took out my iPod and listened to music as I worked away until the end of the work day. When quitting time came about, I was out of fuel and all I wanted was to stand under a shower and wash the dirt and sweat away, drink a gallon of icy cold water, EAT and recharge!

I woke up feeling not as sore as I had thought I would, which I took to be a good sign, (maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought and perhaps I can do this with gusto? I didn’t want to jump for joy yet, it was ONLY the second day). The day played out very much like the first, except this time I felt like I knew what was expected of me and what I needed to do. After lunch time the guys started to open up and talk me, which helped pass the time and a bond between my team mates had begun to form.

As the week went on, the site of Plaza B changed drastically. It no longer looked like a well-kept garden, it looked like a bunch of gold diggers had set up camp and had torn up the lawn. There were piles of discarded rocks and dirt dotted around the plaza which I think took away from the beauty of the ruins. Tourists who came to visit the site would come and stop and watch us work and would often ask members of the group questions as to what we were doing and what we were looking for. (The little devil who lurks deep within my cranium, though we should have roped them into doing some of the labor, so that they could also witness archeology first hand and like us appreciate the time and man power that goes into excavating… mwaaahaahaahaa!)

By the end of the first week, my relationship with my 5 team mates had been sealed. I was one of the guys and a fully fledged ‘Silverback’. We had succeeded in finding the ancient floor of the plaza and were well on our way to finding structure. The mound that had looked so intimidating to me when we first began excavating looked unrecognizable, huge chunks of it had been dug out and when I stood back to look at our progress as a whole, I couldn’t help but marvel at all our combined efforts. It was then when I realized that the thing that really stands between us and doing the things that we want to do, is usually our own insecurities, self doubts and fears. The students on the project reminded me of the young teen I used to be and how I rarely ever let anything (except my parents), stand between me and the goals I wanted to achieve. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.

For our first weekend in Central America, we crossed the border into Guatemala and stayed on the eloquent and colorful island of Flores. Where we toured the ancient Maya city of Tikal and it was there when my tendonitis came back with a vengeance. Luckily I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had brought the medication I would need to reduce the inflammation. Having experienced the strain and pain of this before, I knew that when we got back to Belize and the site, that I would not be able to work as hard as I had been the previous week. It was a big blow to me. I didn’t want to have to give up or sit on the side lines and not be able to help my unit complete the task that had been given to us. I was determined to find away to continue to work at some capacity, so that I could see the project through, not let the guys down and prove to myself that I can still do anything.

When we returned to the site on Monday morning, I had difficulty getting back into the routine and finding a way to work comfortably without putting too much strain on my heels. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I had to make a choice, to push through the pain and possibly ruin the remainder of my vacation touring the East Coast of the U.S or to take a sick day. I eventually gave in and took the sick day to elevate my legs, do some stretches and ice my heels. Although I was bored out of my mind and felt sorry for myself, I knew I had made the right choice. The following day, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from my unit, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be holding a pick axe and being back in the pit. I wasn’t able to work as well as I had the week before, but I kept on going, stopping and taking necessary breaks when I needed to, so that I could make it to the end of the two weeks. Which I am proud to say I did!

By the time Thursday had come around, we had found more worms and ant hills than I care to remember. We had seen interesting looking spiders, fever worms, a small snake and beautiful butterflies flutter through our unit as we pushed forward. We had filled hundreds of buckets and wheel barrels full of dirt, as well as numerous artifact bags with clay and chert. Like a colony of worker ants, we had uncovered several layers of white plastered well-preserved Maya floor, the outer remains of a long-buried and forgotten wall, revealed a looters trench and parts of a damaged staircase in just two weeks. Many of the participants were disappointed with our finding, but I couldn’t have been prouder of what we had accomplished together as a whole group and as individual teams! Our discoveries might not have been as exciting or as grand as another excavation team at the site that uncovered a tomb, with skeleton and well-preserved antiquities, but I was impressed in what we had achieved together.

People working together is powerful as well as unstoppable… but most of all inspiring!

In all honesty, I have never had to work that hard in my life! The physical labor that goes into excavating must be right up there with training for the Olympics! I might have suffered from tennis elbow, tendonitis, sore muscles and many mosquito bites, but the experience was by far one of the best I had ever had and one of the most memorable and fun summers too. If there was a chance of me being able to go back next summer or sometime in the future, I would most probably do it all over again.

http://www.bvar.org/

http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/archaeology-of-cahal-pech.html

Cahel Pech Maya site

Cahel Pech Maya site

After a long absence I am back at the keyboards writing again. So much has happened over the past few months in Egypt and in my personal life that I am not sure where I should pick up from or what I should write about. I have just returned after a month-long journey to Central America and the East Coast of the U.S for my annual summer get away, perhaps I should begin there?

As you can imagine the daily stress of living in Cairo and very close to the new demonstrating stomping and chanting grounds of El Itahadeya (Presidential Palace Area), had taken a toll on my attitude and perspective on many things, I felt trapped with the road blocks and constant possibility of violence. I was very torn about going away on my pre-booked summer adventure. I wanted to be here for June 30th and to be with my parents to see history in the making first hand (again), while the other little voice inside my head said,” You have been here since the very start and as a result you have many strands of grey hair, you need to get away. While you are abroad be the diplomat that Egypt needs. Show them what Egyptians are really like and explain to them our current bind and most importantly ENJOY YOURSELF.”

On June 21st with butterflies in my stomach, my journey across the globe began. My destination for the first two weeks of the journey was Belize, a small tropical country, formally known as British Honduras that shares the borders with Guatemala and Mexico and home to many ancient Maya sites.

You might be asking yourself what possessed me to trek all the way over there, when I could just hop over to Europe. Well, I had received an e-mail from a colleague of mine, who is an archeologist and had previously worked there before making a career change on an excavation site and he asked if any staff members or students would be interested in going to take part in a project to excavate part of a Maya city/ruin that a friend of his has been working on, along with a large number of carefully selected High School Students from North Carolina and other parts of the United States. I had always wanted to go to Latin America and this looked like the closest I’d get to it, so I leaped at the opportunity. I signed up and paid for the trip long before June 30th had been announced.

Before leaving we (staff and two students from the Egyptian delegation) as well as those in the U.S had reading assignments that needed to be read to give us background knowledge on the Maya and what the site we were working at might hold clues to. As I read I became more interested in the ancient civilization and looked for similarities and differences between the Mayas and the Ancient Egyptians. They were both very advanced in the sense that they were able to do complicated mathematical calculations, develop a calendar, build fascinating architecture, and cultivate. They both had gods they believed in, but the Ancient Egyptians loved their gods and gave the impression of being less hostile than the Maya, who seemed to be more aggressive and fearful of their gods. (I read up on as much as I could and watched a few YouTube documentaries to get me up to speed, I felt like I was back in school cramming for a final)

After flying over 3 continents (Africa, Europe and North America), 3 cities (Cairo, London and Newark) exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry, we had finally made it to Belize. The heat is the first thing that hits you, the second is the beautiful lush green landscape that surrounds you, the third is the spirit of the people. The people reminded me of the Egyptians that I had grown to love after I had moved to Egypt, friendly, hospitable, helpful, with a witty sense of humor.

After a meal, brief introduction to the large party of staff and students that we would in the days ahead bond with and work closely with, a much-needed shower and good night’s sleep my Maya adventure began! Clear headed and more alert than the previous night I reintroduced myself the following morning to the staff that I would be working with and right off the bat, we hit it off and a mutual respect and interest in each other’s culture was ignited in addition to our passion for adventure.

Our first and second day was spent touring the site of Cahal Pech (place of ticks), is located in San Ignacio. This site is where we would be working on uncovering the extension of the already excavated wall. Looking at the mound of dirt that we had to work through made me realize that this is going to take a lot of physically labor and energy on my/our part. Reality sunk in when the units were being divided up and these people were serious about the task ahead of them. I just couldn’t fathom how they expected to uncover a wall, with fallen rocks, huge mounds of dirt and large tree roots in the way with a brush. Surely this would take forever! No wonder ancient cities remain hidden and undiscovered! (DUH!)

On the third day, once all the units and the teams of volunteer archeologists had been divided and I was handed a pick axe and trowel not a dainty little brush like I had anticipated. That is when the romantic notion of archeology evaporated from my mind, (cinema/TV really does rot the mind). This was not going to be easy and this isn’t a task for glamour girls, fashionistas, mama’s boys or wimps. This was going to take energy, sweet, determination and collaboration! To get myself psyched for two weeks of digging and getting down and dirty in the unit were two mottos; ‘Go Hard, or Go Home’ and “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”.

The first day of digging I thought I was going to collapse from exhaustion and heat. In all sincerity, I NOW have nothing but admiration and respect for archeologists that work so hard to uncover ancient ruins to reunite us with our history and lost culture. I also have to show my admiration to the 60+ students who joined the project to volunteer to uncover ruins in a foreign land and to my team, ‘The Silverbacks’, the six strapping high school lads that I had the pleasure of working alongside were inspiring and incredible to watch, they seemed to have some synced rhythm that they worked to, in my eyes they had well and truly earned the staff’s name of ‘The Dream Team’. The first part of the day there would be little talking, we were on automatic pilot and just chipping, digging, shoveling, sifting through dirt to an unheard beat as well as hauling and sifting dirt and rocks out of the unit. After lunch time the boys turned into a bunch of comedians while we continued to work our way through the never-ending mound of dirt. They would be talking in different accents, poking fun at each other, asking one another questions, playing harmless pranks or singing along to Henry’s music selection. (Henry, Kieon and Marlin, were Belizean boys, who worked on the site with us. Some of the strongest, well-mannered and disciplined guys I have met in a while)

While digging the unit with these five guys for two weeks you can begin to understand how bonds are formed with troops in the trenches. They are with each other day in and day out and to pass the time and to keep each other motivated they talk to one another and exchange stories. Being the outsider and new to the posy, I had to step up to the plate and earn their respect. I had to prove that I was up to the challenge and able to keep up with them, as well as share stories and teach them a few Arabic phrases ;) As the days went on I have to be honest, I thought I was in some kind of boot camp or Olympic training program. I was using muscle and strength I didn’t even know I had!

When quitting time came, we were all dirty, sweaty, hot and tired. If I still had reserve energy I would grab a nice ice-cold drink from everyone’s favorite person at Cahal Pech, Oscar, the resident bar tender and check messages from my family, notification and reports on twitter and facebook, then head to my room to shower off the dirt. If I didn’t have the energy I would go straight for the shower and have a quick cat nap before venturing into the hang out area/lobby where everyone congregated for free social time. The students would go change quickly and cool off in the pool, get sodas and grab a snack to keep them going until dinner time.

During the working day, the down time after digging and meal times, is when I noticed that if you stand back and look at the scene of people you really don’t see any differences between them, they all look the same. It’s only when we choose to take a closer look with our social magnifying glass do we notice the differences. We all may come from different parts of the world, speak different languages, have different skin tones, have different religious affiliations or nationalities, but in all honesty we all more or less behave in the same manner and want the same things out of life. It just puzzles me why there are groups of people who are hell-bent on making us out to be more superior than the other when we all conceived the same way and started our lives off in diapers. It’s baffling if you really sit and think about it. I took an interest in watching how our students adapted to their new environment and how they interacted with everyone. For the most part, they both represented Egypt well.

The members of staff that I spoke to were well-traveled people and experts in various fields (geology, author, an expert in ancient hieroglyphs, forensic archeologist, artist, teachers, parents and business people). I wasn’t made to feel like some alien or outsider like I have been in the past when I have been to other places. We would hold intellectual conversations and ask each other questions about each other’s fields and experiences. This trip turned out not only to be for us learning about The Maya, but a cultural exchange. It turns out some of the students had been to Egypt on family vacations, while others had heard about it in the news and didn’t quite understand what had and was taking place in Egypt. So, the students and myself individually answered numerous questions related to politics, religion, culture and a great many other things in the two weeks we were there. By the end of the trip, I think those we spoke with had a better understanding of what was going on Egypt and expressed sincere hope that things would get better because from having read about our ancient civilization and having met us and other Egyptians they would really like the chance to come and visit someday, (I hope that things stabilize here so that they can come and see Egypt for themselves).

In the time that we were there my unit found what was presumed to be the base of a stela (statue) and part of a fallen stela as well as many pieces of pottery, quartz,chert and the white plastered well-preserved Maya floor. By the end of our two weeks the hill that we had been presented with no longer looked the same. The entire crew had moved, shoveled and sifted through countless buckets and wheel barrows full of dirt, (the animated movie Antz, kept coming to mind when I saw what we had accomplished). We had all found the various levels of floor, we found the base and remains of the wall as well as stairs. We were a bit disheartened that we didn’t find anything as significant as human remains, an undamaged artifact or piece of precious jade. The project leader and his staff assured us that our work was important and that we did assist in uncovering a missing piece to the Maya puzzle and that we should be proud of ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was darn proud of what we had done.

The First weekend we were there we ventured across the border to Guatemala and our group toured the island of Flores and the ancient Maya city of Tikal. The last weekend we went to the ATM caves and spent our last few days at an eco-lodge in Pook’s Hill (those will be in other blog entries).

When the two weeks were up, I still couldn’t believe how much I had learned, seen and done in such a short time. I was stunned at how I had overcome so many things that I thought I would not be able to do and the fact that I had crossed off a few things from my bucket list of things I want to do. My last night at Cahal Pech, I was also sad to have to leave and say goodbye to so many amazing people who I had met on this journey. I will carry most of the people I encountered in my memory for a very long time, but it was the students and the teachers that I think have made an everlasting impression. Their spirit and desire to learn and see the project through has been awe-inspiring. The fact that many of the students have been returning for the past two or more years is impressive. I sincerely would love to go back next summer and volunteer again along with more students from Egypt. If we could somehow convince them to come, they might have a new-found appreciation for their own heritage and the amount of work that goes into uncover and preserving our history as well as creating a new generation of Egyptologists, my deepest wish is to help bridge the gap between cultures to eradicate misconceptions as well as prejudice and have our students act as young diplomats representing the real Egypt that isn’t shown or seen on TV.

I will be posting more about my trip in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead. This might have been one of the most physically challenging things I have ever had to do in my life, but by George it was definitely one of the most memorable and exciting things I may have ever done yet! Stepping out of ones comfort zone to experience something and somewhere new can be very rewarding and enriching! I am grateful to have had the opportunity !

TJ with us celebrating my bday

TJ with us celebrating my bday

Since I moved to Cairo in 2004 I have met many interesting people, with equally interesting characters. Some of those people I may have met once or twice, while others were part of a very special group of people I am forever grateful for being introduced to. Without them, I highly doubt that I would have endured or enjoyed Cairo as much as I have. Timothy J. Quinn III was one of those people. Not only was he one of the most adored and friendly members of the group, but he became like an adopted brother to some of us and you could talk to him with the greatest of ease.

I remember the first time, I met T.J at one of our ‘Tuesday Nighter’ outings, he very politely extended his hand to me and said, ‘I don’t believe we have met before, my name is T.J, forsa sa3eeda giddan (translates to, the pleasure is mine)’. I was shocked at how well he spoke Arabic. A conversation from that point on ensued and we talked like we had known each other for years. I learned that he was of mixed heritage too, (Irish/Italian) but was a Boston boy!
(Go Fighting Irish)

Every time I saw T.J from that time onwards he would always greet me with a genuine warm smile and hug no matter how much time had passed since we had last seen one another. When we would get chance to talk he would always ask how I was and what I had been up to and be sincere in his wanting to know.
I may not have known him as well as some of the other people in our group, but T.J had a way of making a lasting impression and being in everyone’s good books. In all the time I’ve known him, I can’t recall him ever saying anything negative about anyone or anything. If anything it was his graciousness and positive upbeat attitude that is still fresh in my mind.

T.J like another dearly departed friend of ours, Nathalie Atalla had the ability to bring out the best in those around them and could effortlessly bring people together. T.J knew EVERYONE! Whenever we went any where, it didn’t matter what part of Cairo or the country it was, T.J always had a ‘buddy’ there. Come to think of it, I am sure that he has a buddy in every corner of the globe. There is a theory that between you and a stranger there are six degrees of separation. That may be true for most of the world’s population, but not for T.J.
T.J loved to laugh and enjoy himself with those he knew, (he had a great laugh, and when he did his face would turn crimson red). If he was at a party and there were people who didn’t know him when they arrived, they most definitely would have by the time they left and it’s highly possible they exchanged numbers or became facebook friends not long afterwards.

T.J although a Boston boy, loved Egypt more than most Egyptians I know. He had traveled around the city and the country to places I had never heard of and wouldn’t know how to get to even if I wanted to, but he could and if he was free, he would gladly take you there himself. He knew where to buy most things at great prices, he wasn’t afraid to ride public transportation where he would interact and talk to the people he sat next to. He would come back and tell us stories of his adventures and have us gasping for breath as our sides hurt from laughing and tears streamed down our face, with his witty remarks and unforgettable sarcasm.
We would often tease him and say that with his knowledge of the country and his spoken Arabic, he had to be working for the CIA and was gathering intelligence, because lets face it, even though he had a great bald head, he was no Bruce Willis.

In the autumn of 2012, to the best of my knowledge, T.J went home to Boston for a visit. I had no idea he had been away until the 2nd of January when he emailed us with some shocking news.
He sent and e-mail titled; ‘Happy New Year and a stroke of good luck.’

“dear all!
a happy and healthy 2013 to all.
Just a quick update: I had a stroke. at the ripe old age of 32.
expecting a full comeback in the coming months. for now, it sucks. I speak spottily/sloppily with some slurring and my left side is much slower and weaker than my right side. I was hospitalized over the weekend and am now home in allston (boston), where I have been for the past few months, albeit now under new circumstances.
i was given initial physical therapy at the hospital and will get regular outpatient treatment over the coming weeks. Family has been looking after all of us here. I am in good hands.”

(ever the comedian and optimist)

As you can imagine we flooded him with well wishes and encouragement, reading back on my reply to his, my words ring true now more than ever.

“T.J

I now know why you had been on my mind recently. I’m sorry that you
had to experience a stroke at such a young age. I too am going through
some odd medical things that most people don’t get until they are much older,
so I can relate to what you are experiencing on a minor level.
I am glad you were home when it happened so that you had/have the
support that you need and the medical attention too. Take good care of
yourself T.J and never give up. You will make it through this and just
remember to thank God daily for your blessings!

Take care friend”

We got a total of 3 up dates from TJ and they were full of optimism.

February 14th, update number 2

“Dear all,

Thank you so much for all your support and help. I just got back from the ‘bubble test’, which seems to have gone well. My parent’s said my doctor sounded excited by the results. That’s the good news. The test was not fun.
(following is largely minutiae) It was similar to an angioplasty (anyone?) but instead of cleaning up gunk from your arteries (or heart) with a small bubble, it sent to one of the arteries in the brain and stopped blood flow just below the aneurysm to see how I reacted. I was awake during the whole process. It was literally a pain in the neck. I spent yesterday night at the hospital under observation and left today. My left hip is very sore (as that served as the entry point) today, though that is thankfully getting better.The therapist gave me a cane in case I needed it, though it is better to use as a prop than using it to hit him.

I’ll be in contact soon when I get the doctor’s to get the next course of action.
In the meantime, thank you again so much for your help and supporting emails!
All the Best,
TJ”

March 26th, update number 3

” Dear all!
Happy Easter!
Thank you again for all the signs of support! It’s really helping!
Just saw the neurologist and the neurosurgeon and wanted to share the news:
The bubble test last month bore positive news and I am having surgery in late May. The surgery basically involves clamping the artery ‘feeding’ the aneurysm, thereby reducing pressure and slowing potential growth. There are secondary arteries that can sufficiently “power” the area. Apparently, there is a fair amount of risk involved, but doing nothing is even more risky. They also mentioned waking me up during the surgery to make sure everything is working properly. I hope this kind of “wake up” surgery is not a growth industry.
There was also a stroke check up. The stroke, as far as strokes go, was a huge one, which is surprising because I am basically back to functioning ‘normally’ – to the point where I could agitate the aneurysm, and handle a Quinn Family gathering. Even my speech is almost totally clear (so long as I keep away from those pesky tongue twisters …and copious amounts of beer). However, running a 5k for St Patrick’s Day did not happen as hoped – I can ‘run’ about a 100 yards/meters, at which point my left leg starts dragging. Instead, I’m going out for extended walks, weather permitting.

This was definitely not what I foresaw returning to Boston from Cairo, but makes for a great ‘overcoming challenges’ story whenever work interviews begin.
Thank you again so much for all the notes, words, and help over the past few tricky months!
Love,
TJ”

My contact with him continued, I had just finished sending him two drafts of my latest blog posts and wanted him to read about the latest drama I had experienced. His last email to me was on April 21st not knowing it could very well be my last. The following day his group of friends were forwarded an email from his sister Nina.

” Hi everyone.
I apologize for the mass email. I wanted to let everyone know that TJ is currently undergoing surgery at MGH.
His aneurysm ruptured this morning – less than a month before his surgery (which was scheduled for May 20) to clamp it. He was home and my parents called 911 and he went to MGH in an ambulance.
I got the call that he’d been taken to the hospital around 215 and went to meet my family in the ER. We were able to see him a few times before he went into surgery. He was in a medically induced coma with the ventilators and all sorts of wires leading to all sorts of beeping. I was definitely a freaky for me to see my big brother (who I was literally laughing with yesterday) look like that.
We spoke as a family to an ER nurse, a nurse liaison, the head of neurosurgery at MGH and one of his people, and a few nurses on the ICU floor where TJ will be staying. I cannot say enough about the MGH team. To say he’s in good hands is an understatement.
My parents are going back around 930/10 this evening and will speak to Dr. Ogilvy (head of neurosurgery at MGH and arguably the best in the world) to see how the surgery went. I’m waiting to hear from them with any updates, though there might not be any this evening. Though Dr. Ogilvy was positive, this is a really tough case (TJ Quinn: making things difficult since 1980) and it’s too early for a prognosis of any kind yet. I also don’t believe visitors outside immediate family are allowed at this point, but I’ll let you know otherwise as news comes in.
Again, I’m sorry for the mass email, but wanted to keep you all informed as possible. I’ll share any updates as they come. Feel free to forward to friends and folks I may have forgotten.
Thank you all for your love and concern over these past few months. You have been a HUGE support for me and my family. I’ll be in touch as I have more to share. ”

The news of the possibility of losing T.J came as a big blow and although we were optimistic, the news that followed on April 29th was heart wrenching and shattering.

” Dearest Family and Extended Family,

I write today with sad news. TJ is not going to wake up. We knew his situation was serious and, though the surgery was technically successful, we found out on Friday that he was not responding positively, and will not recover from the ruptured aneurysm.
This weekend has been spent saying our good-byes. Your prayers and thoughts over the past week have kept us all strong – I have been reading all your messages to TJ. Tomorrow (Monday) we will remove the ventilator and let nature take its course. It should not take long even though TJ is strong.
Though completely devastating, I write with the knowledge that he received the best care possible. The doctors and nurses and staff at MGH are truly special.
I can’t thank you all enough for your kind words, texts, emails, and prayers. Each one was felt. I will share details about services over the next few days.
Peter and I know that we shared TJ as a brother with many of you and as a friend with all of you. We are honored that he touched so many hearts – one of his many gifts. I know he will be missed.

All my love,”

Although the chances of T.J defying medicine were slim, we his friends for the most part chose to hold on to that last shred of hope, that he would choose life and that God all mighty would grant us a miracle. He had already claimed a dear friend of ours a couple of years earlier. Did he have to take T.J too?

I am grateful that I got to meet and know T.J. He was an exemplary individual who was liked and adored by many. He siezed moments and enjoyed each day.
I am also grateful that he was back in Boston when all of this happened, so he could be home with his immediate family.
Most importantly, I am grateful that he did recover from his stroke, so that he had the time he needed to spend with them over the past few months and we, his friends could let him know how much we truly cared for him as we encouraged him to keepy defying fate. Maybe the miracle we had hoped for last night didn’t come true, but the fact that he fought his way back the first time was a miracle in itself.

T.J even during this very difficult and delicate time as we say our goodbyes in our own way and make peace with the fact that we will not be seeing you, you have succeed in bringing people closer together. The outpouring prayers, well wishes and condolences that were sent by people you knew and those who were touched by your story was overwhelming and heart warming.
As a friend of yours on twitter posted this mornind ” @rbecker51 @tjquinn3 is #BostonStrong”

(Irish Blessing) I raise a glass to you today and say;

If tears could build a stairway, and memories were a lane,
We would walk right up to heaven, And bring you back again.
No farewell words were spoken, No time to say goodbye,
You were gone before we knew it, And only God knows why.
Our hearts still ache in sadness, and secret tears still flow,
What it meant to lose you, No one will ever know,
But now we know you want us To mourn for you no more,
To remember all the happy times, Life still has much in store.
Since you’ll never be forgotten, We pledge to you today,
A cherished place within our hearts, Is where you’ll always stay.

We will miss you T.J, come visit us in our dreams from time to time.

Slainte!

April 30th 2013

No tourists

No tourists

Last Thursday, I was graciously invited among many other Irish nationals living here in Egypt and friends of Ireland to attend the Irish Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day party at the Le Meridian Pyramids Hotel that has a view of the great pharaonic structures, for the ‘Greening’ of the Pyramids. I sign to symbolize friendship between the two nations.
Along with the invitation was an incredible and very unbelievable rate to stay the night at the hotel and have breakfast included for less that 650LE. (that is a bargain!)

The thought of battling traffic to get there and then having to do it again once the party was over did not appeal to me in the least. I RSVPed that I would be in attendance and I also booked a room, (every girl deserves to be pampered every now and then, especially after having suffered from a week-long of sinusitis. Wouldn’t you agree ;).

Thursday evening I arrive with time to spare, checking in took less than five minutes. I was upgraded to deluxe suit overlooking the pool and Pyramids (not bad)! I had enough time to freshen up and get myself ready for an evening of socializing and culture.

When I left my room to make my way to the reception the usual bustle, friendly hum of conversation was noticeably absent once i reached the lobby. When I walked through the restaurant to the area by the pool where the event was being held. The clinking of silver ware and appetizing aroma of meals being cooked was barely noticeable.

The evening was better than I had expected. I met many interesting people of various occupations, I heard Irish musicians who collaborated and were accompanied by 3 bedouin musicians, Irish tunes filled air with a twist of Middle Eastern beats and rhythms, there was a buffet of Irish cheese along with other delicacies and of course a bar stocked with my favorite rich in iron beverage, Guinness!

The following morning I awoke to a very empty and quiet hotel. The restaurant was only a fraction full with a minimal number of tourists and the usual breakfast rush, clattering of plates, shouts of chefs and waiters running around was absent. The pool on a hot sunny day was not in use, there were no squeals of children splashing around or occupied sunbeds. This was indeed a sad sight, it was heartbreaking to see how badly tourism and hotels are suffering.

You can’t help but wonder, why the leader along with politicians are not trying to make more of an effort to bring back the tourists. Why aren’t they taking a step to trying to make the nation a safer place for foreign nations to give their nationals the green light to come back to see our wonders and treasures.

If we can’t make the tourists come back, what are we going to do?

(Winne the Pooh moment, think, think, think)
Here’s a thought, just off the top of my head, Why don’t WE support our industry?
How many of you can honestly say that you have gone to see the attractions that our great nation has?
We need to support our country and the industry by discovering our country.
With discovering our nation, we might be able to instil pride and patriotism of the highest degree!

So what do you say?

Ready to book a trip?

I am.

One of the many X-Ray's I had to take

One of the many X-Ray’s I had to take

Egypt has an abundance of doctors of all specialties! Like Pharmacies you can find a doctor’s clinic almost on every block! They are everywhere!

I always find it amusing how some of my fellow Egyptian’s who live in places like the Emirates, Europe and North America will not have lazic eye surgery or their dental work done until they come to Egypt for an extended visit. It isn’t because the doctors here are any better than the ones abroad, it’s because the amount you would pay for simple surgeries or checkups is cheaper here in Egypt than it is other countries.

However, if MAJOR surgery is needed then those who can afford to go abroad, will pay the hefty bill without hesitation. One of the main reasons is because the aftercare (nursing) here is appalling to say the least. Their skills are lacking in more ways than one and I wouldn’t trust most of them to care of a pet cat.

I have to be totally honest, there are a great number of doctors in this country who are phenomenal and are excellent in their line of work! They are very well-trained and knowledgeable in their field of expertise. Then you have those who aren’t as good as the others and often times misdiagnosed patience.

After returning from my summer vacation I had noticed that I had been getting sharp pains in my right him and my Achilles tendons were causing me pain as well. I went to an Orthopedic Surgeon and gave him all the details I possibly could. He gave be the basic examination and asked me to get an x-ray and a blood test. Neither showed anything serious thank goodness and I was told I only needed to take Vitamin B-12 shots for the hip and for my Achilles he advised me not to walk barefoot anymore and to always wear slippers. So, not having a medical degree myself, I did as I had been advised and the pain in the hip subsided for a while but my Achilles tendons were still hurting.

A month later, the pain came back with a vengeance and that’s when I decided that I would go for a second opinion. The second doctor asked me to get an x-ray, MRI and blood test. I did as I was told and came back with the results to be told that I had ‘Gout’ (high Uric Acid levels). Gout is a strand of arthritis and it’s hereditary. I didn’t think that the diagnosis could be wrong because my mother has it and a cousin has another form of arthritis. I did find it weird that I had it considering I don’t eat or drink most of the food that would cause Uric Acid levels to spike. So, I did my homework and researched how I can improve my way of living and what are all the foods I should avoid eating and what I shouldn’t eat during an attack. I quickly came to terms that I would be living with this for the rest of my life and started to rethink the activities I took part in. I was very upset that I had to pass on trying out and joining the Women’s CaiRoller Derby Team, because it would be too much strain on my joints. It also meant that Operation Megan Fox would have to be put on hold too (my goal to losing the kilos I had piled on to reach my goal weight). I watched what I ate and tried to exercise, but there were times when the pain was excruciating and wished for amputation.

Every Christmas I send a lengthy annual news letter to family and friends abroad filling them in on my news and adventures and my diagnosis was included in it. An old High School friend who has a strong medical background in diseases contacted me and asked me a series of questions about my diagnosis and strongly suggested I go to a Rheumatologist to get a more concrete answer about my Gout Arthritis. I had nothing to lose, so I asked friends to help me find a really good doctor and I have to say that they really came through for me! I somehow got an appointment with one of the TOP Rheumatologists in Egypt/Region, which is almost impossible; the waiting list to get an appointment is usually a few months!

The day of my appointment I went with all my tests, x-rays and MRIs for him to see and I gave a very detailed history of ailments as well as family history, which was recorded by the assisting doctor. He did a basic examination until the doctor came in. When THE doctor came in, he read over the details and asked for further details. As he read and I spoke you could see his mind at work making a list of possible diagnoses and with the answers you could see him mentally illuminate them too. He then put me through a series of tests and twisted my limbs in all directions making me feel like a human pretzel. Once he had pin pointed where the pain was coming from, he then checked all the x-rays, blood test results and MRI scans I had brought with me. I felt like I was sitting in the presence of the medical version of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty partner Dr. Watson. When he was done, he put my mind at ease and told me that I have nothing serious and that I did NOT have Gout or show any signs of getting it any time soon! (PHEW!!) What I did have was an old untreated injury to the hip and mild tendonitis of the Achilles heels and I needed to take anti inflammatory pills for a month as well as 1 months of physio- therapy and to come back for a checkup in 2 months time.

It took 6 months and 3 doctors to figure out what was wrong with me! I am among the lucky ones, some people don’t find out until years later, or never do. My mother is one of them, for eight years she had been suffering from back pain and was told it was a slipped disc. She wasn’t convinced and went to other doctors and did her own research until she discovered she was suffering from sacroiliac and a hip problem. For 3 years she was told she didn’t need hip replacement until she self diagnosed herself again and insisted on going to another doctor and found out she needed immediate hip replacement because she had not only worn away the ligament but the ball of the joint by 3cm, so she had one leg shorter than the other.

I guess the moral of the story is, sometimes you find the needle in the hay stack and get the correct diagnosis of the bat, other times you have to keep going back for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinions until your instincts tell you not to look any further. It’s a gamble !

Three weeks after visiting the rheumatologist, I can honestly say that I do feel better. I am able to Zumba and Belly dance with little pain. I have been going to physio for just under a month and my Achilles is feeling better, but my hip is still aggrivating me. I am optimistic!

Kidnapped
My second or third year in Egypt I can clearly remember answering the phone at home. The person who answered the phone didn’t ask to speak to anyone; they didn’t identify themselves they just started talking in a very serious and angry tone.

“Tell the Doctor, that he better pay what he owes or we are going to take his children.”
(Translated from Arabic)

I remember how scared I was when I heard the threat. I immediately went and relayed what I had heard on the phone to my grandmother and then had to retell it to both my parents. All of whom reassured me that my Dad didn’t owe anyone any money. The thread did seem rather odd because although my family live comfortably we are of no importance in society. Why threaten us? My father wasted no time in going and talking to every shop owner and vendor on both sides of our street from the beginning of the road right to the end, telling them to keep an eye out for his daughters as they walked to and from school every morning and not to allow any stranger to come near us. At that time, there was still a chivalrous code among men, where men would gladly come to the aid of a fellow citizen, neighbor, acquaintance or friend in their hour or moment of need. The code unfortunately seems to have not been taught to the younger generations and will soon be forgotten.

In 1996 Mel Gibson and Rene Russo stared in the thriller ‘Ransom’, where Gibson, a successful business man, his son is kidnapped and held for ransom. I remember watching that movie and thinking how I doubt I could ever be able to understand the terror a kid must go through in a situation like that or the long process of recovery that would follow afterwards. It never occurred to me that the horrors of that movie would become a reality to many affluent families here in Egypt.

I can’t give a comparison of numbers or statistics pre and post revolution of kidnapping threats, kidnapping attempts and actual kidnappings. What I can confirm is that THEY ARE happening.

After the revolution school buses were targeted and attacked by gangs. Going to work became a terrifying experience because you never knew if your bus would be the one that they decided to attack early in the morning as you made your way to school.

Monday, February 18th 2013 two sisters left their house early in the morning in Alexandria to go to school. They are from a well off family but they are not as wealthy as some of the other students they attend school with. They were ambushed by men armed with knives. The men got into the car with them and had the driver drive them to a place in Alexandria where they had another vehicle waiting. The men tried taking both girls, but the eldest sister put up such a resistance that they opted to take the younger one and sped away out of the city, leaving the sister and driver behind.

The kidnappers had the 13-year-old girl call her family to let them know they she was alive and well and gave the ransom demand of two million Egyptian pounds for her safe return.
The horror, worry and powerlessness that this family went through can’t ever be accurately put into words or imagined by another individual who hasn’t experienced the same thing. Every second, minute, hour and day that passed would have had anyone sick with agony. Those who knew the girls or the family in any way, (myself included), were gutted by the news, our hearts ached for the family and our prayers were with all of them, hoping and wishing for her safe return home.

Meanwhile, the police had suspected the driver and he had been taken in for questioning. Needless to say, their tactics whatever they might have been proved successful. He confessed to initiating the kidnapping and gave the police the address of where the young girl was being held captive. At around 9 PM on Wednesday February 20th, the police escorted the young girl back home. When she arrived all the children who knew her were standing outside her building on cars cheering and celebrating her safe return.
Fortunately for this family the ending to their terrible ordeal was a happy one.

This is just ONE of MANY incidents that are happening here in Egypt and it seems that nine times out of ten that it’s an inside job. A driver, the nanny, hired help or someone who works in the family business. Parents do not know who to trust, because the loyalty that once existed with the hired help is a thing of the past, it has been replaced by greed, resentment and jealousy.

One parent from Alexandria was discussing with me on twitter, if he should consider hiring bodyguards to take his child eight year old son to and from school. I have seen some left no choice but to resort to this because of threats made to take their children. The more I think about the idea of hiring bodyguards the more it feels like we are living the lives of the Columbian drug cartel!

It is VERY disturbing to think that Egypt has fallen so far and so quickly in only two years! One only dreads to think what other dangers will be fall us in the months, years to come.

Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.

 

 

After a fun afternoon at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, I agreed to join a couple of other friends to a late viewing of the recently released movie Argo, staring Ben Affleck, John Goodman and many other famous Hollywood names. The film is about the revolution in Iran and the American Embassy hostages that were held captive for over 400 days! The film mainly focuses on the 6 American Embassy employees who were able to escape the building by the skin of their teeth and sought refuge at the Canadian Ambassador’s residence until help came.

The opening scene with the protestors outside the American Embassy in Tehran not only sent chills down my spine but it shared an eerie resemblance to what is taking place presently in Egypt. The chanting of the angry mob and their determination reminded me of how easily influenced people can be and how quickly things can escalate and get out of control as it has done here in Egypt a few times over the past two years.

The movie struck a deep nerve with me. Egypt is literally teetering on the edge of heading in that direction. We are in a very tough and extremely delicate situation. Believe it or not, I saw it coming a mile away and when I spoke of it years ago. People laughed at me and said; ‘Egypt will never end up like Iran, because Mubarak will always be in power and won’t allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take over, he has them suppressed, so, don’t worry about it.” I was just a young teenager back then, studying business, what did I know of politics and the world?

Famous last words? Mubarak is gone and the Muslim Brotherhood IS in power. After seeing the movie it helped me understand an incident that happened to a friend of mine before the presidential elections took place. He was abroad and he met an Iranian, when the man found out that he was Egyptian, he dropped to his knees and begged him to tell his Egyptian country men and women not to make the same mistake Iran made, because once the extremists get into office they are very hard to get out.

Here we are, in that very position…

We are up against a strong, well-organized group of people, who have been planning for this very moment for decades. To have them step down or remove them from their positions is going to take a very well planned and thought out strategy, because they will not go without a fight. They had been suppressed and oppressed for so long that they will do everything in their power to not be put back into their box.

So my question is….. Do we have a plan?

Let us not repeat our own history! We forced Mubarak to step down but we didn’t have a plan to put in place once he did and because we weren’t ready and the MB knew it, they snuck in very easily and hijacked the movement and got into office. The vicious cycle will keep repeating itself unless there is a P.L.A.N of action!

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to end up like Iran or Afghanistan …

So let’s get it right this time.

 

On A side note, I highly recommend that you go and watch the movie, especially if you are Egyptian living in Egypt. On a second note, I really hope Argo wins the Oscar this year.

 

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!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,737 other followers