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walkers

Photo by Raymond Khalife

Not too long ago the region was rocked by The Arab Spring, people became active and experts in politics, everyone knew what was best and everyone wanted to be captain to steer the country forward into a new age democracy. Tensions rose between family, friends and acquaintances due to difference of opinion and being unable to agree, to disagree. Facebook news feeds were full of political articles, satire and propaganda. In this historical abyss, I began to lose myself and no longer recognized my people or my country. In the midst of the confusion a person whom I had come to know via twitter, introduced me to the world of Instagram.

Instagram for those who are not part of the social media platform arena, here is Wikipedia’s description of it: “an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them on a variety of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.”

I had always been fascinated with taking pictures and had been given simple cameras, with Kodak film to take pictures with. As my interest grew using my mobile phone camera to take pictures to post on Instagram, so did my desire to improve. I would experiment with the filters available on the phone to try and make the pictures look artistic, but in all honesty, I was never satisfied. I felt that it took away from the natural and simplistic beauty of what I was trying to capture. My family saw that I had developed a new hobby or passion and bought me a semiprofessional Nikon as a birthday present. I learned to use it through trial and error and like my shadow, it went everywhere I went. My friends and family members dubbed me Papparzi, because I would be taking pictures for every occasion, outing and at event, I or we took part in.

Two and a half years ago, the same person who had introduced me to Instagram and awakened my dormant interest in photography, is now one of Egypt’s most recognized and followed Instragramers, as well as interior designers, Karim El Hayawan. He invited me to join him on a Saturday morning walk in Downtown Cairo. I was humbled to have the opportunity to watch and observe how he chose his subjects and what angels he would take to capture the image he wanted. The first walk, I remember walking in silence and only talking if I had to. I was shy as well as intimidated by this person and his endless well of creativity. I felt like roles had been reversed, I had become the student, learning from a teacher.

I must have made a good impression, because I was invited to join again for future Saturday morning walks. It has been two years of walking and what a privilege it has been. Not only have learned from Karim H, but endless of others too. With each walk, more people joined and that is how, he initiated a group and named it, “CairoSaturdayWalkers”. Over the past two years, we have grown from just a handful, into a small network of patriots, who want to share the beauty of our country and her people with those online. We may not be able to abolish the negative image that the media has painted of our part of the world, but with every picture we post and every like we receive, it is an effort well made. Every person that joins brings something new to the group and I became more inspired an in awe of their perspective and creative approach to things. The people that joined are from various career backgrounds and a large range in ages. Some of our merry band of walkers are amateur photographers like myself, while others have clearly taken courses and have become professional. Walking with so many talented individuals has further enriched me. It has opened my eyes to see the beauty that surrounds me every day, but often miss due to our fast paced life style. The walks force me to slow down and look at what is in front of me and to appreciate the beauty in it’s simplicity, complexity as well as some of the historical and modern architectural wonders that are hidden in our large and mystical capital city, Cairo.

Before I started walking, I must confess that I had reached a level of frustration and saturation, where the thought of continuing to live in Egypt was unbearable. The post-traumatic stress of the revolution and the difficulty of being female trying to find her place in a male dominated society had gotten to me. My Saturday morning excursions have helped to calm me down and show me things that I miss when I am driving by in the comfort of my car. When I walk in old and lower income neighborhoods I see the Egypt that my father and my grandparents spoke of. I see the warm, friendly and hospitable people that Naguib Mahfouz and other well-known authors described in their novels. Through watching my mentors, I have overcome my shyness of speaking in Arabic and  make more of an effort to communicate. On my walks I have seen first-hand how the ancient knowledge of craftsmanship or trade has been handed down through generations, from carpenters, jewelers, welders, brick makers, bakers, upholsters, engravers, shepherds and manufacturers just to name a few.

Roaming the streets with the group on a Saturday, is when I fall back in love with my culture, heritage and people. I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to my walks. My mind becomes clearer, ideas become fluid, stories  and characters are created in my subconscious.

The walks and the walkers have been my silent saviors, they have ignited a passion and an interest in me that I didn’t even know I had. When I miss a walk, I am utterly disappointed, but I take my camera with me, where ever I happen to be, just in case.

I am still not as savvy with a camera as many of the people I have come to know, I prefer to aim my lens at my subject and try and capture the image. I don’t understand or know any of the technical approaches that many of them converse about, which is fine. I don’t feel judged or pressured to learn. When I am ready, I will learn, but for now, I’ll just continue to do what I enjoy and that is, aim and shoot 🙂

To my fellow #cairosaturdaywalkers thank you for making Saturdays, my favorite day of the week! XOXO

If you would like to see  my photos you can visit my instagram page @IrishAlexandrian, if you would like to see of the walkers photographs, check out the following hash-tags on Instagram and on twitter #cairosaturdaywalks #roamegypt #ThisIsEgypt and #cairosaturdaywalkers

Oh and one more thing, be the change you want to be…

What are you waiting for, put on your shoes, and go for a walk. You just might find your passion along the way.

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Part of letting go, is being honest with yourself, admitting your mistakes or fears and being able to face your past.

Part of letting go, is being able to admit things honestly and face your past.

For the past seven years or so, I have built a cocoon of fat around me along with invisible barriers to keep certain people out of my life, to prevent them from further plaguing my mind. After a lot of falls and revelations I discovered that negative people like vampires suck the positiveness right out of me and leave me, with nothing but voices that fuel myself loathing and doubt.

One particular person who I believe to have caused the most damage was an ex of mine. One of his many hurtful and parting phrases to me were; ‘You ruin the reputation of Egyptians and have no respect for your religion’, along with ‘No other guy will want you’. You would have thought that I had committed treason of the highest order or brought shame to my family and their name, but in ALL, SINCERE honesty, my only fault was being helplessly in love with him. The onslaught of verbal character bashing came after I had told him that a jealous ex had called with the intent to rein revenge on me by destroying my reputation and sullying my family name on social media. Why? What did I do? I must have provoked him. That was All because I refused to see him or go out with him, due to being faithful and informing him, that I was in a serious relationship. Instead of my beau being gallant and coming to defend me, the wool had been yanked away from my eyes and I was met with another arrogant being.

(I later found out he had been cheating on me and used this as his means of ending the relationship)

That all happened in 2007, it has taken me all this time to follow the trail of bread crumbs that lead back to that particular moment in time, where I have been harboring so much hate and resentment towards him for saying such degrading things to me. Secondly I was angry at the person I was back then for allowing him to trample on me like that and not standing up for myself and just cowering and hiding away in the shadows. Since then, I have not really dated or been in a long (or short) term relationship with anyone. I have gone out with a few gents, but all the while, I would keep them at a safe distance because I deeply feared that history would repeat itself and the thought of having to pick up the broken pieces of my shattered heart and put it back together again sickened me to the core. So, I subconsciously tried to make myself undesirable and unattractive to ward men off, like a scarecrow in a field.

I found that when I do start to let my guard down and allow gentry to approach me the echoes of the girl in the shadow, who resembles a female version of Smeagol (Gullom) from Lord of the Rings, is always whispering words of doubt and negativity; “He will turn on our precious”, He will hurt precious just like the other one did, we can’t have that. “It’s best precious stays away.”, He doesn’t really like our precious, he just wants to use precious”, Precious is not good enough or good-looking enough for him/them”, “precious must stay away, stay in the shadows where it is safe.”

My inner Smeagolina would win and I would end up pulling up the draw bridge, manning the battlements and using every trick I had to provoke the person to show their dark side or simply push them away. To put it in simpler terms, I would put an end to it before it’s even had a chance to begin. In recent months, I have grown stronger and clearer headed than I have been in years. I now know that I can no longer live my life lurking in the shadows alone. I need to come out into the light and tap into my inner Celtic Saeedy warrior and meet each challenge as it comes.
When a guy would pay me a compliment, I wouldn’t believe him. I would automatically think he was being sarcastic or trying to get in my good graces so that I would lower my guard and the drawbridge. Just last week, I caught myself doing that whilst catching up with a very handsome, successful entrepreneur friend of mine when he had told me I was pretty. I snickered and gave him a look that read ‘Yeah! Right! You must be crazy.’ He was taken aback, because out of the many people I know, he is probably one of the most straight forward and honest.

When he or others pay me a compliment like that, I would instantly think, ‘WHY ME?’ ‘ WHAT COULD THEY POSSIBLY SEE IN ME?’ ‘THEY NEED A CATSCAN OR A TRIP TO THE OPTHAMOLOGIST TO GET THEIR HEAD OR EYES CHECKED’ or ‘THEY MUST HAVE A HIDDEN AGENDA?’ It’s a terrible habit and a train of thought! I have to put a stop to IT, because if there is any chance with this guy (or any other), and I allow Smeagolina to override my brain, I’ll lose whatever chance I have with him/them.

On a positive note, at least I recognize the signs now.
I am still working on peeling back the negative layers that have been encompassed around me. I am slowly beginning to see and believe that I am good enough, smart enough and pretty enough for the opposite sex and that they aren’t all assholes in sheep skin!

It isn’t just about the men, it’s mostly about ME. I have been learning myself worth these past few years and months. I have found that I AM worthy of being spoken to and treated respectfully and politely, because I don’t have to put up with disrespect. Why should I have to?!

I have been a bit more adventurous this past year and come out of my hiding place a bit more. The first step was when I went to Central America last summer and was alone with myself, for the first time and got to push my limits and see what things I could overcome. This year, I have traveled quite a bit, taken to going out of my way to reconnect with old friends, who were dear to me and making more of an effort to keep the lines of friendship open. I have also pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and gone on photography walks and a caving trip with people who within the first hour were strangers, but by the end of the walk/trip became valued acquaintances. Some of whom I found share similar views and passions as I do.

I am feeling optimistic because, I have decided to be honest about my past and to let go. I am letting go of all the animosity that I have been holding on to for so long. It has been a heavy burden to carry around all this time, it has also been weighing me down and draining me of my positive energy. In addition to preventing me from reaching my full potential and holding me back from being social, adventurous, taking risks, climbing the ranks and trying to start projects that I genuinely and firmly believe in.

Enough! Is enough! It is time to believe in me and to prove to those that lead me to believe that I couldn’t amount to anything, That I CAN and I WILL!

It’s time say good-bye to Smeagolina and to allow my inner light to shine as brightly as it can, while I take a stand and make my mark in this world.

I hear by free myself of the shackles of my past! I give myself permission to move forward!

P.S I recently heard the sone ‘Human’ by Christina Peri and I felt that it reflected a lot of what I had been through. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5yaoMjaAmE

I was recently invited to make a guest appearance in a High School Social Studies & Politics class in Vermont by the teacher who follows my twitter feed and reads my blog. I was deeply humbled by the invite and by the fact that the teacher had gone beyond the call of duty to ask someone from the Middle East to answer student’s questions.

I liked the idea a lot from an educator’s perspective. What better way to build bridges and to shatter false images and misconceptions painted by the media than by exposing students to someone who is Egyptian and actually lives there?

A trip to Vermont would have been ideal but out of the question at the beginning of the academic year, so thanks to modern technology, I could be in two places at once with the help of Skype. After  a couple of test runs and agreeing on a day and time that suited both time zones, the questions which the students wanted to ask were sent to me in advance so that I could mull over how I would answer them and what I would say. As well as checking information and sources to make sure the information that I was discussing was indeed factual.

As the day approached my nerves were on edge as well as boiling over with excitement. I was nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to a group of young strangers thousands of miles away and I felt a bit like a diplomat representing my country. I posted the event in my group on facebook so that my readers would know. I was quite flattered by all the words of encouragement from friends and acquaintences who sent me words of encouragment and told me how proud they were of me for doing this.

The day of the interview I was invited to my sister’s in-laws for brunch. I was terrified that I would not make it home in time for 3pm, so I took my laptop and all my research with me just in case, (and it was a good thing I did too). I have to thank my brother-in-law and his family for allowing me to take up a corner of their sitting room while they session took place. I am very grateful.

Friday 28th of September at 3P.M Cairo local time the Skype video call began …                                                                                                                                          (I can’t remember all of my answers verbatim, but I will do my best to recall my responses as best I can)

The teacher that I had been communicating with was present along with another Social Studies teacher, the Principle of the school and the students        (talk about nerve-racking!!).  For 45 minutes I was asked questions and discussed Egypt and the region.

The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you agree to Skype with us?’

My answer was simple, Why not? How else are we going to build bridges and destroy misconceptions if we don’t learn from one another?

The second question was ‘Would there be any repercussions for speaking with us?”

No, not in my case, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t write anything negative about the government, the president or religion so I have not been red flagged.

What is the current political situation in Egypt?

Well, we finally have a president! Part of the parliament has been dissolved, the president tried to overrule the decision and allow them to be reinstated but he was over ruled again by the Supreme Court, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen with them.  Then there’s the writing of the new constitution.

Can women run for public office in Egypt?

Yes, they can. We had a woman named Bothaina who was in the presidential elections but, she didn’t get enough votes to carry her through. We also have other women in parliament.

 

What was it like for you during the Arab Spring?

(Never a simple answer and I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh)

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and remembering the signs of what happened during the Gulf War, I knew something was going to happen. I started to read and follow many of the revolutionaries on twitter. I prepared myself for the worst, made sure I had provisions in the house and on the 28th of January I asked a Canadian friend and colleague of mine to come and stay with me because she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak the language. There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe what we experience. We had no clue what was going to happen from one minute to the other. There were riot police and then the police were dissolved. Saturday 13000 prisoners were released from prison taking the ammunition that was in the stations and that’s when chaos broke loose. Boys your age and younger were out in the streets armed with whatever they could find, planks of wood, kitchen knives, candle stick holders, Molotov cocktail bombs to defend their neighborhood and their homes from petit thieves and dangerous criminals who were heavily armed. It was a terrifying experience. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but even months afterwards you always looked over your shoulder.

How do Egyptian people view the United States? Is there a difference between how they view the government and the American People?

Egyptian’s don’t hate Americans. They don’t dislike foreigners. We need foreigners to come to Egypt for our tourism. Tourism is our source of money (I had meant to say income, but the word escaped me). We just don’t like your foreign policy.

(I am sure many will disagree with me on this point, but that is how I perceive things to be)

There were many questions that followed these but I cannot remember their chronological order or how I answered them.

While answering the questions I didn’t notice how fast the time had passed and when the bell rang I couldn’t believe a class period had flown by. I wasn’t sure what the student’s impression of the video call was. It was hard for me to see their faces and to know if they found it engaging or not. Once the student left the class I spoke with both teachers for a little while longer. I won’t know the verdict on the experience until next week, but I did get an email from the class teacher the following day. It read;
“Hi Irish!

A number of students have come to me and said they enjoyed speaking with you and wondering if they would be able to do it again. That’s a good sign. Our principal who left three quarters of the way through was very impressed with you and happy that you too took the time to speak with our students. He actually said he got chills up his spine a couple of times when you were speaking. Again that is a good sign. Thanks so much for taking the time to do what you did. It’s a great learning experience for myself and my students. Hopefully we can find some other ways we can break down some of the misconceptions of both Egyptians and Americans with our students. If there is anything you can think of or anyway we can bring students together through this source of media please let me know. ”

An even further update on how the skype talk went;

” You have received many positive comments and none negative. Greg who you talked with after the class felt that you had a great persona on camera. I agree with him on that and its not easy to do on skype.

I spoke to one student’s mother who said her son came home and talked  about the class’s conversation with you. He said he really liked it.  This is from a student who usually doesn’t appear to interested in  class.
The students commented on your English and how good it was.. They wondered if it would be hard to understand you. They all said they would like to do it again.

I hope you would be willing. As I told you I think if they get more comfortable with you and you them it would be interesting to see where the conversation leads just in regards to daily life in Egypt and the United States. Perhaps the average person’s goals, dreams, hopes for the future etc, so that they see people are not really that different regardless of what country they live in.

I asked them if they felt you had answered their questions and they felt you had done a good job of that. I heard them laugh a number of times during your talk due to the expression on your face in regards to a question or answer. This indicates that they picked up on your facial expressions and body language. I believe they felt that you were much like them instead of this perception they may of you. “

Here we are in Ramadan, where people are meant to be focusing on themselves, cleansing themselves of their wrongs this past year, praying and fasting.

I don’t go around preaching to people how they should fast, practice their religion or live their lives. I don’t know all the answers if I did, I’d be richer than Hugh Hefner and be dubbed a living saint. I do however know when to mind my own business and keep my comments to myself.

So, you’re probably wondering what’s got me rattled, well I was asked to do an errand for my mother, so I went out in pair of Jeans, a long baggy t-shirt and a pair of flat black shoes. The only part of my body that was showing were my arms, neck, face and hair. On the way back from my errand, I’m on the phone discussing something with my father and this man much older than myself, (late 60s) looks me up and down in utter disgust and starts yelling at me at how I am disrespectful and how could I wear what I was wearing during Ramadan.
I chose not to answer him, because I didn’t want to cause a scene and I didn’t want to sink to his level of intellect. My parents both think I should have yelled back at him and so did one or two of my followers on twitter, but with all the crap that is going on now a days, it would have been a waste of breath and I have more important and pressing matters to deal with. Than to waste my time and energy on some perverted old man.

Just two questions I want to throw out there… 1- How the hell does he know if I’m Muslim, I could have been a Christian! What if I had been Christian? Then what, would I be expected to cover up entirely and cover my hair fo the sake of the fasting men in the city for a month, even if it isn’t party of my belief?

2- What the hell am I supposed to wear? An Ab’aya and a veil… that would make me a hypocrite! I am not convinced with covering up, surely I would be judged more for that.

Having said that though, it does worry me. Is this the direction we want Egypt to go in? If it is, it is with great regret that I will have to say that I will not stay to watch it fall and go back decades if not century’s when it would be so much better and fruitful to see her move forward. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and witnessed first hand the living restrictions and lack of respect for women there. I will not stay and be treated that way again here in my own country. I am tired of being regarded as something less than a second class citizen and of being of little value or regard.

I’m done ranting and venting now…
sorry, I just needed to get it out of my system