Upon Renewing My Identity Card

Dear Seif,

It has been two years since our last visit to Egypt. During that visit, president Morsi was deposed and an interim president took his place. This trip, nothing as dramatic happened. There is one incident that took place that I want to write about, however, and I’ll tell you why at the end of this post.

Renewing an identity card might sound like a pretty straightforward matter. In Egypt, it involves site seeing, claustrophobia, chaos, and a double dose of reality. In trying to find the right location that processes a fast-track application, I was sent to Abdeen. There, I got to check out the beautiful Abdeen Palace before I was informed that I was at the wrong office. I was then directed to go to the Fifth Settlement where nostalgia visited as I passed by the neighborhood where we used to live. Once I arrived, I was told by a very angry man that I was in the wrong place and that I needed to go to Kattameya. During the looooooong drive, I got the opportunity to witness the scenic view of the houses built on top of a hill, and the mosque that seemed to teeter on the edge of a cliff. This time, there was an angry woman to receive me, brushing off my application saying that I needed to go to Medinet Nasr. I was wondering what part of “fast-track application” had gone wrong. When the woman behind the glass window at the Medinet Nasr office accepted my application, I wanted to hoola-hoop through the circular window and kiss her forehead.

You’d think that receiving my renewed ID card would be the easiest bit. It wasn’t. The tour of Cairo was a more pleasant experience.

Failed attempt at receiving ID card #1: The government employee responsible for distributing the renewed ID cards left at 1:00 p.m. Why does he leave before the rest of the employees? No logical explanation.

Failed attempt at receiving ID card #2: My ID card had arrived at the office, but was then returned to Abbasia because they had made a mistake. When will the ID card make its way to Medinet Nasr again? The answer was a shrug.

After failed attempt #2, I decided to go with my dad’s driver to sign an authorization form so that he could pick up my ID as I was to travel to Canada the next day. On my way to Medinet Nasr, I heard on the radio that 21 senior citizens had died from the heatwave. When I saw a line of what seemed to be around 70 people waiting to get inside the building, I started to panic for them and for myself.

The driver told me to follow him to another entrance. We were stopped by a police officer who commanded us to join the line outside. The driver pointed at me and said assertively, “She’s from Canada. She can’t stand outside in the sun for a long time.” I felt like the biggest wimp of the year. Somehow, the police officer thought it was a plausible excuse and allowed us to enter indoors.

Inside was a jumble of people packed in a very small space. Around 50 men and women were all shouting over each other. A police officer pushed people away from the door that led to what seemed to be paradise. I couldn’t hear what the police man was saying, nor what everyone was shouting about. I was ready to go back outside and wait in what seemed to be a calmer line that was slowly melting under the sun. The driver told me that he would check to see if my ID had arrived before going through the process of writing an authorization form. He wove his way into the masses.

There was a semblance of a women’s line – the one that was squashed against a wall – so I stood in line while waiting to see what the driver was going to do. I could only see the top of his head; it bobbed violently from side to side as he was pushed around. By some miracle, he had reached the closed door. I looked at the women’s line and observed how different I appeared from everybody else. I was definitely the least conservative. By their accent, I could tell that they were from rural areas. I asked the woman in front of me why the place was packed more than usual. She informed me that today was the last day for people to get their children’s birth certificates. I discovered later that with the birth certificates, they would be eligible to apply for additional food subsidy that included rice, flour, cooking oil, and other basic staples.

Given the uncharacteristic hot weather in a confined space, and the uncertainty of whether or not people would get their birth certificate before the government workers left, things started to heat up literally and figuratively. The men started to push and shove each other as some of them tried to cut the line. The police officer asked for reinforcements to help move people away from the door and create a men’s line. The officers started pushing people into a line and yelled that nobody would go through the door until it was formed.

I watched as an old man with no teeth was shoved by the men around him. He was pushed all the way to the back of the line that was formed until he found himself outdoors in the sun. I would have done anything to trade places with that poor man; but being in the women’s line, it was not possible.

Soon afterwards, I saw a middle-aged man start to shout in exasperation. I couldn’t hear what he was saying because people were still yelling – as if yelling was going to transport them through that closed door via sound waves. The man started to sob vehemently. It’s not a common sight to see a man crying in public in Egypt. He then dropped to the ground. Several police officers started to pour bottles of water on the man and supported him to a standing position. No chair was offered.

The door finally opened and people started to push each other towards it. The women behind me were compressed against my body. I feared that a stampede might happen. The officer beside the door began to lose it again. He wanted to clear the way for the people from behind the door to come out. No one budged. Around ten people filed out doing what looked like the breast stroke to push their way through the throng. I was squished against the wall and felt stifled as I could smell thick sweat and damp fabric.

I could see the driver motion for me from behind the door. He had made it inside! I could tell by his motions and facial expressions that my ID card was available. Many of the women eyed me ferociously as I moved ahead of them in line. Several shouted at me, “Where do you think you’re going?!?” I told them that I was in line to receive my ID card, not my birth certificate. Inside, they were two separate windows so in essence, I was not cutting their line. The two women who were behind me in line followed me as if I was an ambulance cutting through traffic. They told the other women that they were with me.

As soon as I reached the door, the door was slammed shut again, and the driver’s face disappeared behind it. The woman at the front of the line shouted, “I’ve been here since 7:00 in the morning! No one is going through that door before me!” I have to admit that she sounded very scary… Rayya w Sekeena style scary. She had every right to be angry, seeing someone from the back of the line suddenly appear beside her; someone who looked entitled. I planned on letting her pass before me because it was absolutely her right. I felt terrible for everyone I had passed.

The person to my left was the man who had fainted. He started to wail again. Suddenly, the door opened and more people filed out while people pushed to get in. The woman beside me suddenly shoved me away from the door with amazing force. She shouted that no one would go in before her. I backed up from the woman and motioned for her to pass. For some reason, she didn’t pass even though she was right in front of the empty doorway. She continued to trap me against the side of the door with her arm and leg for a few more seconds before making her way inside. I went in after her, followed by the wailing man.

Inside, the driver escorted me to an empty window. He explained to me that although my ID card had arrived, he was not allowed to receive it for me, despite having the receipt slip and my old ID card. I had to be there in person. Once the man behind the window saw me, he handed me my new ID card in seconds.

The door opened as I grabbed on to the driver’s shoulder and squeezed my way through. Once in the car, I felt a sense of euphoria – as if I had survived a perilous situation. Then I fell into a depression. I saw the people still stuck outside, shielding themselves from the sun with a newspaper or a bag. I thought about how this rare situation I was exposed to was someone’s 24/7. People who were shuttled from one office to the next, spending what little they had on public transportation, to be led on a wild goose chase.

But sluggish bureaucracy is not new in Egypt. What I did find to be new, however, is how people treat one another. The sentence that I kept hearing from many was, “People have changed for the worse after the revolution.” I remember the wave of inspiration when Egyptians organized traffic and guarded their neighborhood when the police went AWOL; how they cleaned the streets and beautified them with artwork; how people living abroad decided to return to Egypt in order to invest in their country. But that burst of beauty seems to be like a mirage now.

People seem to have become more aggressive and less patient. It is clear in how people drive. I thought that perhaps I was seeing driving through the lens of someone who has spent a few years in Canada. But everyone I asked from my family and friends have attested that driving has gotten far worse. The “me first” attitude has significantly increased. My driver’s license has expired and I don’t plan on ever renewing it again. My driving days are over in Egypt.

Going back to the experience of renewing my ID card, I am still jolted at how the old man was treated. I reflected on a time, not too long ago, when the elderly and women were treated with kindness and respect by the majority. During that time, it would have been unheard of to see a man push a woman out of the way to take her place; or to see an old man being shoved to the back instead of being escorted to the front of the line; or to see a man sobbing and being treated with apathy.

There are many advancements in the infrastructure as new streets and bridges have sprouted. We now have a second branch to the Suez Canal which is aimed to boost our economy. What I hope and pray for is what still has yet to change: reaching those who are in dire need. Renewing my ID card has given me just a drop of a dose from the murky sea of life that these desperate people live in, day in and day out. I hope that one day in the near future, they get to benefit from the changes taking place in the country; that their voices and needs are heard and prioritized; and that something goes their way so that they can feel hope once more. What an Egypt that would be!

Love,

Your hopeful mother, Rania

Advertisements
Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 10:42 pm  Comments (5)  

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 990 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Which Egypt Will You Inherit?

Dear Seif,

Yesterday, August 15, was a day that makes me believe that William Golding’s view on humanity – woven in the classic novel “Lord of the Flies” – is absolutely correct. That humans, by nature, tip more towards being savage than civilized. I can’t really give you numbers of how many people died supporting/opposing Morsi/MB/police & army yesterday; the numbers vary depending on which media channel you watch and which friend you ask. For me, the numbers have piled up into one collective grave under one Egyptian flag.

Thankfully, we were not in Cairo when the pro-Morsi/MB sit-ins were dispersed; when the churches and government buildings were attacked or torched; when humans were dropping like the bullets that rained on them. Does it matter which side? They all bleed red. But not being in the midst of all this also weighs heavily on me. Because I feel guilty for being safe while my mom, dad, sister, nephews, relatives, and countless friends are either locked up behind curfew hours, or cross the street worrying about bullets and thugs.

The pictures and videos I am exposed to on facebook have seared my eyes and caused insomnia. It has also created a quick sand under my rock-hard belief that Egypt will never sink. Despite all the ups and downs since the Jan. 25 revolution, I always knew that Egypt would be okay. That the fate of our neighboring countries crumbling under civil war would never be our fate. Now I revise my thoughts and wonder if my feeling of assurance was plain arrogance, or naivete, or desperately holding on to that single straw that would break the camel’s back if I let go.

I’m worried about the Egypt you and Lara will inherit after our actions or inactions. Will you still be dodging bullets? Will random acts of violence become the norm? Will the memory of the safest country I have ever known become so faint, that it doesn’t seem real anymore? Will you grow to be ashamed of being Egyptian? That would sadden me beyond any words.

Already my memory is not what it used to be. On July 5th, the day after Morsi was ousted, we went for lunch at your favorite restaurant, Andrea. Andrea used to be bustling with tourists; it was sometimes hard to find a table. When a group of eight foreigners walked into the restaurant on that day, my heart sang. I realized that I hadn’t seen a group of tourists in Egypt for years. I found myself walking up to their table and asking one of the women, “Hi – are you tourists or do you live here?” When she said that some were tourists and two lived in Egypt, I told her, “You can’t imagine how happy it made my parents and I feel to see tourists in Egypt again. Thank you for visiting my country and I hope that you enjoy your stay.” I couldn’t say anything more as I was mentally commanding my welled-up tears to retreat lest I make a fool out of myself (or scare off the few tourists who dared to visit). The tourists were telling me how they enjoyed every bit of Egypt. I nodded my head and smiled and couldn’t say anything more than, “Welcome, again!” as I made my way back to my table. By then the tears drizzled out. My parents, alarmed, asked what was wrong… were the tourists being rude? No. I just missed this. It was a piece of nostalgia that drifted back on a light breeze. Simple, silly, but real.

I have such good memories of Egypt. Yeah, there was mass corruption, but there wasn’t such mass murder and mass uncertainty. Do I wish to rewind to the days before Jan. 25th, 2011? Yes. No. I don’t know. The answer is: all of the above. When you’re older, what would you be wishing for? Would reaching rock bottom all be worth it? Which Egypt will be your reality?

Love,

Your pensive mother, Rania

Published in: on August 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm  Comments (11)  

Let’s Disagree to Agree

Dear Seif,

My facebook page is bleeding. Some of my friends are in the process of amputating each other with cutting words, or throwing each other down the cyber black hole of facebook blocking. The conflict happening over who supports the MB and who doesn’t, who supports the military and who doesn’t, who believes in conspiracy theories and who doesn’t, who has blood on their hands and who doesn’t, who started the violence and who didn’t… it’s not just on the streets anymore; it’s right at home. With every press of the refresh button, there is a fresh war of words being shuttled.

Two of my dearest friends who have known each other for around 20 years have just severed their friendship after one insulted the other. Their difference? One supports the MB and the other one doesn’t. The trigger? A status. Just like that.

Then I scroll down the feed to read the statuses and comments coming from my other friends. I learn a lot about them by what they choose to share or post – some shock me; some inspire me. I realize that a number of my friends have polar opposite ideologies than mine. In the beginning, it jolts my brain. I do a rewind of the tape of life we shared together and I look for signs that might indicate how they came to think this way. I put myself in their shoes and try to see through their eyes. Are they seeing something that I haven’t been exposed to? Am I thinking too narrowly?

Reading the statuses of someone I knew for two years made me feel like my reading-people-skills were nil. He was ready to go on a jihad against the infidels: the anti-Morsi camp. He wrote with such passion and conviction. Some people supported his views, others wanted to rattle his shoulders and cry out, “Wake up!” His conviction was that anti-Morsy supporters were the enemies of Islam and represented Western views. He reached the point where he was going to the protests to give up his life if he had to, in order to fight for Islam and the righteous leader, Morsi.

Another friend of mine was one of Morsi’s advisors. Although we differ in our thinking, I deeply respect him as a person. I remember writing a status back in December 2012: “I wish that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t carry the name “Muslim” in its title. I don’t see anything truly Muslim in their actions.” My friend asked a simple question, “How is that?” I decided to inbox him to avoid any potential warfare from my friends against him; and to protect myself as well in case he responded in anger. I explained my point of view and he received it with an open mind. Although we did not agree with each other on some points, we were at least able to understand the reasons behind our thoughts. We did agree that we wanted what was best for the country and that we prayed for a better future. Our inbox chat was as civil as can be, and I respect his mind for that. It wrenched my heart to learn that he was detained on July 3rd; it wrenched my heart even further when I saw a picture of his four children holding up a sign that read “We miss baba” two weeks later.

My facebook feed is bursting with mind-combusting videos that “prove” that the other side is lecherous and conniving. They contradict each other. Clips from the news or interviews are shared – it is clear from the source what the content will be. A clip from Al Jazirah Egypt? Totally pro MB. Clips from CBC? Totally anti MB. And foreign news channels such as CNN are shameless. For some reason, they anger me the most as they invent a whole new parallel world. And so on and so forth. Watching those clips and videos to try to arrive at the truth is like being lost in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Which is the real story? Which ending is the real ending? Unfortunately, unless I am there in person to witness what is going on with my own eyes, then I can’t really trust the news I’m receiving. It is that bad.

Facebook – something that I surf through to keep a tab on my family and friends while continents away – is now a home delivery of ugliness. I hope that my friends realize that the “let’s disagree to agree” attitude will only serve to create more rifts, more stubbornness, more digging in the heels, and more of a dictatorship of thoughts. When a former classmate and I diverged in thinking in an inbox message, he wrote something very respectful. He wrote, “Let’s agree to disagree.” We were clearly not going to align in our thinking, nor did we have to. But at least we preserved our friendship.

We are losing too many Egyptians to this ugly conflict. Do we have to lose our friends, too?

 

Love,

Your disappointed mother, Rania

Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 7:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Opening a Can of Anacondas

Dear Seif,

Seems like there’s no end to the supply of worms coming out of the can of Freedom we’ve opened back in Jan. 25, 2011. I prayed that our first-ever elected president would be what the people of Egypt needed – especially the neglected poor. A year later, I find myself participating in a protest demanding that he call for early elections or step down. You know that I’m not into participating in protests AT ALL. That’s something your dad would do; not me. I’m the one who would sit on top of you and Lara and keep you safe (and smothered) beneath me like little chicks. The need to participate started brewing for me back in December 2012 upon our visit to Egypt.

Five months is not a significant time frame for things to truly change about a whole country. That’s how long we were away from Egypt before returning for a visit. Many people told me that I would see Egypt through new eyes after living abroad – but my old eyes were still on, and they noticed a palpable difference in the country. What I clearly noticed was that there was a strong sense of hopelessness amongst my family and friends; as if they carried a wet blanket and the attitude that came with it wherever they went. Not a single one of them was satisfied with the way things were going in Egypt. Most said the same thing: “This doesn’t feel like my country anymore.” At first, I didn’t understand what they meant – but then it began to arise in the small details of day to day life.

Not owning a car anymore, I wanted to walk a short distance to the mall. My husband refused; so did my parents. They told me it wasn’t safe to walk alone even in broad daylight. People were regularly mugged or harassed; at times, raped. So one of my friends offered to pick me up so we could go together. Since reaching my parents’ home was a bit complicated, I decided to meet her at the gate of the compound. The walk within the safe confines of the compound felt very different. Even though I wore a long-sleeved shirt and loose jeans, all the workers and gardeners I passed on my way to the gate basically stopped what they were doing and tracked me with their eyes. I thought I might have been a bit paranoid, so I looked at each of them straight in the eyes – yup, they were looking. To be stared at is not a new thing in Egypt; it’s a daily occurrence. But what I found to be different was that when I stared back, they did not quickly look away like men usually do when caught staring. They continued to stare me down, virtually undressing me with their eyes, and doing it quite defiantly. It felt gross. I reached the gate and stood at the curb so that my friend could see me from the street. The three cars that passed by the gate slowed down to a crawl; each driver cranked his head out the window and ogled me. If the men behind the wheel were operating a cab, I would understand. But these were middle-aged men in private cars. At one of them, I said in frustrated anger, “Fee eh?!?” (“What?!?”). Were they staring because I was now a rare breed? A woman who was neither veiled nor wearing the niqab? But even veiled women get stared at and harassed. Harassment was most often in the form of a word or two thrown from a distance. But that protective distance that men usually keep, even when verbally harassing, seems to be broken. The unshifting, unblinking, defiantly lingering eyes penetrate the distance; it left me with the unsettling feeling that anything can happen – and that they can now get away with it. Since this happened on several occasions, I restricted the outings that didn’t include Waleed with me.

When we came back for another visit in May 2013, the feeling of hopelessness and despair multiplied. A domino effect of one negative happening tipped over another misfortune which in turn tipped over yet another disaster. Egypt turned into one big velcro attracting multiple calamities and all I could do was sit and watch it all happen. Watch how after a visit from our president, Ethiopia declared that they would go ahead with their plans to divert part of the Nile and continue with their plans to build a dam. Egyptians live on only 5 to 6% of Egyptian land; that 5 – 6% is right along the Nile river which is the main vein sustaining us. I never had to worry that our supply would ever be tampered with. Even though Ethiopia still has a while before it builds and completes the dam, lack of water became a problem in many households with the frequent water cuts. Not only was the water cut, but electricity, too. Almost on a daily basis – everywhere I went. And what consistently happened when the power was cut in a public place was: collective groans followed by collective prayers that Morsi’s life takes the same path as the electricity.

Lack of diesel and fuel added scarce fuel to the fire. Traffic was paralyzed as trucks and cars lined up, occupying two-thirds of the street as they formed two rows that stretched across several kilometers. By the time my family and friends reached their destinations, they were seething, angry, and exhausted. Some couldn’t even manage to go to work because their gas tank was below empty. Apart from disastrous traffic, hundreds of tok toks were now allowed to weave between cars on main roads and highways; many of the tok tok drivers looked like they were in their early teens.

Murders between rival families without legal action. Thugs cutting off main roads. An increase in looting. Traffic hell. Drugs being sold openly and publicly. The Governor of Luxor was replaced by another man who was directly involved with the terrorist group responsible for the Luxor massacre of tourists that took place in the 90’s. Ministers who strongly represented the MB but weakly represented the vital post they were given were being ushered into the government. The judiciary was ostracized and accused of corruption. Rash and random decisions were being made. Bigotry was spread in televised speeches attended by the president and he did not say a word against it. And every time Morsi delivered a speech, I found myself pounding my palms against my head. I really wanted him to succeed. I did. No citizen in their right mind wants their president to tank like this, or see their country slip through one’s fingers. But what he said in his speeches made me, along with millions of others, feel like he was addressing only followers of the MB. His vision for Egypt seemed to include an “us” and a “them”. All of a sudden the majority were the minority and the minority were the All Supreme. Speeches delivered by Morsi and about Morsi by other MB officials showed the existence of a God complex. Those who protested against Morsi were collectively labeled as supporters of the old regime, or atheists, or infidels, or enemies of Islam.

When a friend asked me to sign a Tamarod (Rebel) petition calling for Morsi to hold early elections or step down, I was ready to sign it. That paper kept surfacing wherever I went… my sister’s neighbor offered a paper. My mother-in-law called me from the club where the paper was being distributed, asking me for my ID number so she could fill the form out for me. At my old work place, three people approached me with the paper. Two of my ex-students were doing rounds, distributing the paper wherever they went; they asked if I had filled it out yet. It ended up that 22 million Egyptians filled out that form. I learned that this type of petition is not something new; it’s called a recall election that was successful in removing top elected officials in both the States and Canada. Would we succeed in removing our president?

I wish we could have had early elections that were transparent and monitored by a neutral entity. Instead, Morsi delivered a speech that continued to further alienate the 22 million who signed the petition, and the millions more who did not get a chance to. It was as if we were invisible. Or, a fly on the face that is shooed away in annoyance. The next step was to demonstrate on the day that commemorated Morsi’s first year anniversary as president.

I did not attend the first day of the demonstration, nor the second. I spent those two days arguing with my mother who basically held my dad and I hostage – refusing that we leave the house to attend the protest. I reflected back to the time when I fought with your dad upon telling me that he was going to the protest on the Day of Wrath. Could I really blame my mother for worrying about me when random acts of violence were happening as a result of the demonstrations? She did release me, however, by the third day. I didn’t go to Tahrir, but to a smaller demonstration beside my parents’ house.

June 30th and the protests that followed until July 3rd were inspirational in the sheer numbers who went down to be seen and heard. To cry out against what felt like a year-long occupation. Seeing pictures of old men and women sitting with flags beneath their homes; hearing the echoing chants coming from Tahrir that seemed to be dominated by female voices; seeing how people demonstrated in governorates that were previously not politically active… It was new. It was bigger and more powerful than Jan. 25th, 2011.

The removal of Morsi with all the damaging mistakes that were made by his regime was a relief for me. That wet blanket we were lugging on our shoulders was briefly lifted before the retaliation and counter retaliation began. The can of worms we opened at the hope of a fresh start is still not empty. It’s spewing out anacondas now, choking Egyptians from either side  – whether pro Morsy/MB or anti Morsy/MB. Egypt, the cradle of civilization, is currently cradling a bomb of hatred with a diminishing fuse. I am back in Canada now, watching Egypt spiral and I feel utter despair and impotence. God help us all.

Love,

Your lost mother, Rania

Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 7:52 am  Comments (4)  

A 3-Dotted Moment in Our History

Dear Seif,

So many people tell me, “Thank your lucky stars you’re not in Egypt!” They tell me that if it was up to them, they’d pack their family onto a plane in a shot, in a flash, in a second. The country is not stable; it’s going down the drain, they say.

Over facebook, I stumbled upon the news that a train crashed into a school bus in Assiut. The fact that the children were Lara’s age and your age made it even more personal for me. Whenever anyone posts pictures of dead or injured children, even children who are crying, I avert my eyes because anything to do with children gut-spears me. But I looked at the pictures of the dead children this time, and looked at the pictures of their shattered parents. I was a mess afterwards. I don’t know what made me look; I wish I hadn’t.

Weeks later, over facebook, I stumbled upon pictures taken by a dear ex-student of mine. The pictures were gruesome featuring rubber bullet dents on skin, blood, blood, blood, fire, smoke, policemen throwing stones at protestors, policemen smiling from their hiding place, directly staring into my student’s camera lens. I quickly checked the date of the pictures and was crestfallen to find out that they were freshly uploaded: November 20th and 22nd, 2012. I sent a zillion messages to whoever was on facebook chat. What is going on? What is happening? Is everyone okay? Is anyone at Tahrir?

It’s happening all over again, Seif. I was hoping that a new, elected president would be our savior; would be what the people and country needed. But the sheer numbers protesting in the street are huge. Morsi has made some changes that are worrisome to the highest degree. He claims that in order to protect the revolution, his decisions are to be above the law. The constitutional changes he wants to implement are also non-negotiable. He did make some decisions that seem to be good, but nothing compares to the dark shadow he casts by working towards being above the law. Of course this won’t sit well with people; hence the large protest at Tahrir where, again, men, women and children are camped out. And again, a stone is thrown which leads to tear gas, rubber bullets, bloodshed and uncertainty.

Uncertainty. Being away from it all, being continents away may seem like a blessing. I think so many people would do anything to trade places to get out of Egypt. It feels weird for me, though. I feel so disconnected. Even though I have a live feed of what’s going on in Tahrir, it’s not the same. I feel like a soda can that has taken a good shaking and is bubbling up all over without any release. I have obsessive thoughts about what’s happening in my country; how my family are doing; what the consequences will be.

When we were in Egypt amidst political mess after mess, we were all in it together. I’d vent to co-workers and family, they’d vent to me. We’d cry, we’d tell each other the latest satirical jokes to get through the day. At night, we were a phone call away. Now, we’re in the middle of another political mess, and I have nothing but a laptop screen and a live feed to look into, and a small chat window to cram my questions inside. There’s no catharsis for my fears.

In a few days, Morsi supporters will head to Tahrir where anti-Morsi protestors are camping out. This does not bode well. I know many of my friends will be in Tahrir; perhaps even some students. All I have is Facebook and Youtube and my pessimistic, obsessive mind to bide time with through this three-dots moment. All I can do is pray from continents away.

Love,

Your apprehensive mother, Rania

Published in: on November 29, 2012 at 3:42 am  Comments (2)  

And the Winner is…

Dear Seif,

I’m not really sure what to write, but this day is another historic moment, so I should document it somehow… Today, we found out who our next president is – a president who is elected for a change; for the first time.

From my previous post, you know that both Shafik and Morsy were catastrophic presidential options to choose from, in my opinion.  From that day until now, strange things have happened in a row.

My friends on Facebook started a War of Words, hurling insults at Shafik supporters, or Morsy supporters, or insulting those who chose to abstain from voting. I always thought that my network of friends understood the meaning behind democracy, but we are still taking baby steps. Tolerance of opposing views is something that we have to work very hard on.

Parliament has been disbanded by SCAF based on some technicality.  I was at my school, camping at the stadium with 130 students at that time.  Many parents were worried about their children’s safety; many supervising staff were saying silent prayers as there was unrest all around the country.  Thank God the unrest did not reach us and students were delivered safely to their parents the following day.

Then came voting day. Voting between Oh My God Part I and Oh My God Part II. I walked in the voting station and found my body doing things despite myself: I was clearly scowling, I kept exhaling in frustration, I was shaking my head “no” and I found my nose curling upwards. I had no control whatsoever over all of this. I stared at the voting ballot with two faces I could never relate to staring at me with smiles. And then I did what I did. Sorry to be vague, Seifo, but I can’t write which way I went. I either voted for Shafik, or Morsy, or nullified my vote. The fact that I can’t reveal what I did is sad and it shows you how people are so unforgiving of any of the 3 options.

Then Morsy declared he won based on preliminary results. So did Shafik. Both camps were celebrating. To me, it felt like a big fat joke. An embarrassing joke. Intolerance continued to rise amongst the nearest and dearest of people around me. I was being attacked for my decision, even though I always keep a low profile when it comes to politics.

And today, I switched on the TV nonchalantly to witness who will be dubbed the next president. This should have been a happy moment – a goosebump moment. Instead, I am indifferent. The announcement dragged on and on and on – facebook lit up with jokes about the prolonged speech. I wish we could just make announcements that went like this, “Hello. And the winner is… Morsy.”

You were going crazy, as I deprived you from watching your beloved cartoons. You got a yo-yo from your room and tried to hypnotize me with it, commanding me to switch the channel.  When I shooed you and your yo-yo away with the back of my hand, you began to chant, “El sha3b yoreed el cartoon channel!” Lara joined you as well. That didn’t work either by the way.

Well, the winner is Morsy. In fact, he’s making his first speech as president as I type. I listened to about 5 sentences before deciding to write to you. Your dad listened eagerly at the beginning, then dosed off with his mouth open on the bean bag next to me.

And that’s it. That’s the historical moment documented for you.

I pray that Morsy will be able to lead us (as much as he can with SCAF holding so much power) in a positive way. He certainly doesn’t represent me, but then again, I’m not representative of the majority in my country. I hope that the majority who have so much missing in their lives, whether it be lack of education, jobs, opportunities, etc., finally get to be heard and get to be acknowledged. If Morsy can achieve that, then I would be happy.

Time will tell.

Love you,

Your unexcited mother, Rania

Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm  Comments (5)  

What’s 4 More Years After the End of 30?

Dear Seif,

As presidential election results spewed out of the television and radio, I spent most of yesterday in one position: my palms flat on the top of my head, my elbows digging into my knees. Occasionally, I’d look up at your dad in bewilderment, shake my head, then return to the former position.

The ink is still fresh on my pinky. I had selected the candidate who was in third place – he was so close to second… so close yet so, so far away. The two candidates that made it are the two I am most scared of; the two I couldn’t possibly vote for; the two that I couldn’t picture leading Egypt into the corrupt-free, modern country many dream of.

I won’t get into the long list of reasons why I feel that either candidate symbolize many steps backwards. I will tell you that my initial reaction was: I will not vote. I just can’t get my hand to tick off either one of them. Hours later, after the sting of the two slaps in the face subsided a bit, I decided to think less with my emotions and more with my mind.

One of these candidates is worse than the other – who? I don’t know yet. But I will study it and I will discuss it with those whom I trust. I will do a pros and cons list just like I do when I have to make a tough decision. And then, much as I abhor the thought of it, I will stand in the re-voting line and cast my vote. I think what is worse than voting for either one of the unfortunate candidates, is to not vote at all; to not make my voice heard or count for something.

Voting this time around will ironically be based on who will be more easily removed once the four years are over, and who will not damage the country most.

Thinking positively, I am very proud that the majority of Egyptians voted for more moderate candidates. Our downfall was that our vote was split. Because this is all so new to us, we are learning from our mistakes. What’s four more years after the end of thirty years of Mubarak? And in these four years, our eyes will be more watchful, more wise and less forgiving of corruption.

Let’s see what the future has in store for us.

Love you!

Your trying-to-be-wise-and-patient mother, Rania

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  

A Life-time of Waiting for these 10 Minutes

Dear Seif,

 

I wish I had an inspirational story to tell you about casting my vote in the first democratic presidential elections in Egypt. I wish I could tell you that I stood in a very long line of women with a clear conviction of the person I was going to elect… it would have sounded better!

 

After standing in the blazing sun for hours the last time I voted during parliamentary elections, I was totally prepared this time around. I got a bottle of water with me, packed some pretzels to share with my neighbors-in-waiting, and wore a loose white cotton shirt to deflect the heat.

 

Pulling up at the voting station, I was surprised to find no lines whatsoever; only a scattering of women coming out of the school. Although it was good news – no one craves standing in a long line in the heat – I was a bit disappointed. I was looking forward to brushing shoulders with women from different backgrounds and hearing what they had to say about our first true elections.

 

Standing near the gate was a TV reporter and a cameraman. The woman gave me a friendly smile and asked if she could interview me. I smiled back and said, “Thank you,” and walked passed her. Me talking about politics? I’d turn the interview into a comedy show! The fact is, Seifo, I didn’t know who I wanted to vote for up until today – the day I voted. I was very clear about who I didn’t want, but the rest… I kept shuttling back and forth between voting strategically in order to avoid those whom I did not want, and voting for the candidate that had a program that showed promise.

 

Inside the school, a female volunteer asked me for my voting number. She told me that I will need to wait as there was one woman ahead of me at my station. A few seconds later, the female volunteer shook her head and apologized to me, saying she was mistaken and that I should proceed immediately to another desk that was available. She apologized to me three times for keeping me waiting; waiting being a whole 30 seconds or so… I thought to myself, “Is this woman for real?” It amused me how polite and courteous everyone was. It’s refreshingly different.

 

In the voting “cubicle”, I took a moment to study the ballot, looking at the colored pictures of the candidates. “This is a historical moment,” I thought to myself. “Take a mental snapshot and remember this.” I found my pen passing by the candidate I had contemplated on voting for purely for strategic reasons, and placed a check beside the candidate I felt could lead Egypt in a better direction. I then placed the ballot in a clear box and graced my pinky finger with ink for the third time in the span of a year.

 

On my way out of the school, the same reporter asked me again, “Could I take a few minutes of your time for an interview?” Again, I shook my head and thanked her.  She told me, “I insist! I really want to interview you!” I told her, “I’m shy,” and waved good bye to her.

 

That’s it. That was my voting experience. It took a total of 10 minutes including driving to and from the school. And now for the real wait… Will the candidate my parents and sister voted for win? Will the candidate my in-laws voted for win? Will the candidate my husband and I voted for win? I’m excited, I’m scared, I’m paranoid, I’m optimistic…

 

I hope that my next letter to you marking our fifth president is a positive one full of stories of inspiration and glory.

 

Love you,

Your indigo-fingered mother, Rania

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 8:33 pm  Comments (7)  

A Dirty Game of Jenga, One Human at a Time

Dear Seif,

This is one letter I will not read to you after I finish writing. It’s too sad because it’s too senseless and I can’t explain senseless to you now; I don’t even have a proper explanation to soothe myself.

Remember the game of Jenga that we play? One wooden block carefully removed at a time, trying not to let the whole wooden tower collapse? Well, now I feel like if one more piece is removed from my structure, my faith that good will prevail in the world will come toppling down. Remaining positive at this moment in time is so, so hard.

A year ago today, people would screech to a stop, get out of their cars and would seat their children on top of a tank. Sometimes the soldier in the tank would carry the child and pose for a happy picture.

I wonder when people look through their numerous tank pictures and video clips captured on their phones… do they wear that same smile of nostalgia on their faces? I for one visited the picture of you standing in front of the tank in Tahrir, holding the Egyptian flag and looking highly uncomfortable. My eyes keep shifting to the soldier standing beside you and I wonder… was he one of the pawns used to kill and humiliate innocent civilians?

The chants on the streets have changed from “Down, down with Hosni Mubarak” to “Down, down with military rule!” The term “civil disobedience” has surfaced again since our 1919 revolution. Many people believe that the military wants to send a powerful message to those who dared stand against them: either us or chaos and bloodshed.

The result? Too horrific. Who writes the script that it’s okay to beat an elderly woman with a baton? Or to kick a woman repeatedly – sole of a shoe on bare skin – in the chest instead of covering her exposed upper body? Who writes the script that it’s okay to have no security protection in a heated soccer match and to seal shut exit doors? Who writes the script that it’s okay for a man to be killed then dismembered and burned right after he drops his wife at the airport? Or that a single mother gets shot twice in the head on her way to work at 7:00 in the morning? Who can come up with such a scenario?

Saad, the student who lost his brother a few weeks ago in the soccer match, came to school yesterday. I found myself running to him as soon as I spotted him in the hallway. I hugged him as hard and as long as I could without making him feel uncomfortable. I kept saying that I loved him so much. I observed him smiling, interacting, going to class. But will he ever be the same again? How does one compensate a brother? May Omar Mohsen’s soul rest with the angels.

Hany Loka, a parent at our school, was killed on his way back from the airport. Some of the teachers knew him personally. One teacher told me as her eyes watered that he was such a considerate man; how he helped her out without even being asked to. A friend of mine knew him as he was once her school mate. She said that he always wore a smile and was one of the fastest runners she had known. This man left behind three young girls. May his soul rest with the angels.

Nermine Khalil, another parent at our school, was shot twice in the head. Many of our teachers knew her personally. One teacher looked so pale, as if she was about to faint; she told me as her hands shook, “Her daughter is with my daughter in the same class. Nermine used to make sandwiches for her daughter every morning. Who will be making sandwiches for the girl now?” She began to break down how a simple, regular day would never be repeated again in this girl’s life. I saw a picture of Nermine Khalil on facebook. She and her daughter were standing side by side, smiling from their hearts, wearing matching black and white striped cardigans.  How this picture hurts… May her soul rest with the angels.

Apart from the random murders, kids are being kidnapped. Two HSBC banks were robbed. Cars are being stolen in broad daylight. One of the things I loved most about Egypt was… I hate to use the word was… how safe the streets were at any time of day or night. Rape, kidnapping, torture… those weren’t things we’d think about when walking in the street past midnight.

Our lives have changed, now. Your dad and I sat with you a few days ago and went through all sorts of scenarios – if we ever got lost from each other, if a stranger approached you and told you that we were looking for you, etc. When I told you that if, for any reason, a stranger told you to go with him/her somewhere and tried to force you, you should scream and not be ashamed to do so. Your wide eyes started to water and you hid your head behind my back to conceal your tears.

Now, we don’t allow you to go to the supermarket on your own to get juice while we wait in the car; something we used to do so that you can feel a bit of independence. Now, I don’t allow you to open the car window beyond an inch, even though our A/C is busted and you are sweating in the back seat.

I always lock the car door – I usually do that anyway – but I find myself checking that it’s locked repeatedly, running my finger across the lock just to make sure.

I say a prayer before starting the ignition – I usually do that anyway – but I say it more often every time I find a truck slowing down in front of me and another truck closing in on me from behind.

My mind wanders every Monday, thinking whether or not it was the right decision to allow you to stay an extra hour in school for your paper mache club. Yesterday, while driving to pick you up from school, I saw an ambulance with its blaring siren going down the same street. I kept following it with my eyes and pleading, “Please don’t take a left… please don’t take a left… please don’t take a left!” It didn’t take a left. May God protect who the ambulance was going to pick up.

I’m writing this letter to document how this moment in time feels. How statistics you will read about in the future are about real people; names with faces; names with children; names with once regular lives.

May there be no more Jenga blocks removed. Please.

Love you,

Your mentally exhausted mom, Rania

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm  Comments (34)  
%d bloggers like this: