Our Post-Revolution Clean-up

Dearest Seif,

“You know what we’re going to do today?!?” I said to you excitedly on the day after the Revolution.  Your eyes lit up in anticipation… 18 days of hardly going out of the house made you eager to hear the plan of today.

“We’re going to help clean up Tahrir Square!” I said theatrically, trying to sell the idea to you, hoping my extended arms and raised eyebrows would make you feel the excitement.  You had a puzzled expression on your face; probably wondering whether or not “cleaning Tahrir Square” entailed much fun.  I took two large garbage bags, and smaller bags to put our hands inside to pick the garbage up with, and off we went, you, your dad, and I.

We parked the car in Garden City as the streets were starting to become more congested, and we walked towards Tahrir Square.   People were bustling around carrying flags, broomsticks, shovels, and dustpans.  Some wore plastic gloves and masks to protect them from the dust as they swept the streets.  It was a strange sight to see… Men and women of all ages walking the streets of Cairo carrying household cleaning utensils. The expression on their faces indicated that they had been doing such a thing for years.  It was too bizarre.

We entered the Square after showing our ID at a civilian checkpoint.  As we walked around, we passed the still existent make-shift tents made out of large sheets of plastic material held up by sticks.  Some tents were made out of blankets, and some were actual tents.  People were inside; some were sleeping with their bare feet outstretched in the street, some were sitting in a circle engrossed in a discussion, and some were drinking tea, looking very much at home.  Again… totally bizarre when you remember that they are in the middle of downtown Cairo.  They seemed tired, however, and I felt as if we were intruding by looking at them.

Your dad took us from one area to the next, explaining what had taken place during the protests he had attended there.  It felt as if we were in the middle of an open-air museum.  We gathered around a crowded area that featured a large banner about 6 meters long.  The banner had a few flowers strewn around it.  It featured the names of the 300+ people that had died in the protest.  Some pictures of those who had passed away stared at us.  A man, using a loudspeaker,  asked us all to say a prayer for them.  It was a somber moment to see so many names printed on the banner; it made me choke up.

We moved on, walking towards the Egyptian Museum that was surrounded by tanks.  Two beautiful young girls approached a soldier and asked to take a picture with him, the tank being the backdrop.  The soldier smiled as one girl stood on his right, and the other on his left.  One of the girls asked the soldier to do the peace sign for the picture (which he did), as she held on to the nozzle of the gun he was carrying.  The soldier smiled at the camera sheepishly. Children were being lifted up on top of the tank, waving the flag for the camera.

Although I resisted the idea at first, I decided to take a picture of you beside a soldier and the tank.  Who knows, you might appreciate such a picture in the future.  You didn’t appreciate it in the present, however, as I literally had to pull you towards the tank and soldier.  You smiled awkwardly, holding the  flag we bought at the Square for L.E. 3.  By that time, you had had enough.  “Mama, I’m so hot, I feel like my head is on fire! And there’s a lot of dust, and my legs are tired, and my arms can’t carry my jacket anymore.”  You wanted to leave, while  I wanted you to soak in what you were seeing; to feel its significance and importance.  Thankfully at that time we were joined by Leila, your classmate, and her parents.  Your energy returned.

All around us, Seif, ordinary people were doing simple, yet extraordinary things.  As some youth painted the sidewalks, others formed a human circle around them, holding hands so that people don’t step or sit on the wet paint. Another group was busily fitting together loose tiles, like puzzle pieces, on the pavement;  the tiles that had been pulled out of the ground for “ammunition” against the violent “Pro-Mubarak supporters”.  Others were hoisting up loaded garbage bags onto garbage trucks.  Which brings me to the point of our visit: cleaning Tahrir Square.

During our entire walk, we looked for anything to pick up.  I had imagined to find used tissues, juice boxes, empty water bottles and fruit peels littering the ground.  Would you believe that in a huge area like Tahrir Square, with millions of people celebrating on its grounds the night before, that there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to be picked up from the ground?  All I managed to gather was two Pepsi cans (after waiting beside two women to finish their last sip so I could place SOMETHING in the bag), and one pebble.  Two Pepsi cans, and one pebble from the whole of Tahrir Square.  Now that is something, Seif.

Did you learn anything from the visit of today? Probably not.  Actually, you probably learned not to agree to come  along on another “clean-up-anything-day”.  When you are older, you will appreciate the significance of how people can have so much love for their country, that they are willing to sleep on its street when they could have been spending the cold winter night in the comfort of their homes.   How people can have so much love for their country, that they are willing to scoop dust up with their hands to clean its streets.  Two cans and a pebble; that’s all that we returned home with on our clean-up day…  because determined people put action behind their dreams for Egypt.

What’s your dream for Egypt, Seif?

Love you,

Your ever-so-proud-of-the-Egyptian-people mother, Rania

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Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm  Comments (17)  

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  1. Dear Rania,

    I love these letters! Well done sweetie and I am going to share them with all! Please keep them coming! 🙂

    Suzan

    • Hey, Suz! Thanks for sharing 🙂 Let’s meet soon and have our kids clean up the neighborhood or something. I’m not sure Seif would like to do that again, but… perhaps with company he will succumb!

  2. I am a formor classmate of Suzan. She posted a link to your page and I would just like to thank you for writing this. It made me cry, I just can not image anything like that happening in my back yard, and this letter helped me truly understand what the Egyptian people (at least your family) are currently going through. Living in the US, sometimes it is hard to understand what I see on the news or read in the paper, but your writings are helping me understand it through your eyes and heart. Thank you again and peace be with you.

    • I never cared to read a newspaper, and hardly watched the news; politics was far from my mind. However in the past few weeks of facing “the unknown”, I got a crash course in the happenings of my country. I am so grateful it happened in my back yard, as you rightly put it… It was scary, but wonderfully eye-opening. I’m very glad that our story has reached you in the States; it’s very touching to know that there are people out there in the world routing for us!

      P.S. Suzan rocks, doesn’t she? 🙂

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by justmyspace, Wil ya Wil. Wil ya Wil said: Dear Seif: Our Post-Revolution Clean-up http://t.co/7T730Ix #egypt #jan25 #tahrir […]

  4. “tesekkurler” Rania ! Please keep on writing. It is so precious to read the insights of a person likeminded than to read the cold statistical facts that are revealed to us by media. So humanly, so touching that my heart flies over to hug you each time I read…

    Ozgur.

    • I shared your message with my family, and your heart hugged us all 🙂 Thank you, Ozgur.

      I love your country, by the way. I visited when I was about 12 years old and never forgot the beautiful sites, food, and people.

      • 🙂 thank you, My country has its own issues too, yet I love my country too, the way you do yours… It is such a comforting feeling to acknowledge that you “belong” to somewhere…Best Regards…

  5. Dear Rania,

    I so appreciate your sensibility and your sense of history. Seif will indeed come to value and cherish those letters that you so lovingly penned to commemorate a momentous transformation in Egypt’s history. They are genuine, spontaneous and full of heart. I salute your spirit!

    Daddy’s cousin, Jehane ~^..^~

    • Thank you!! What a time it is to be Egyptian, huh? Before Jan. 25th, many of the students I teach couldn’t care less about singing along to the national anthem during morning lines. I am sure that they will be singing loud and clear – loud enough to raise the dead – once school opens again. Thanks again for your message.

  6. Thank you for being a proud Egyptian, and a teacher to boot!

  7. Dear Rania
    Thank you for sharing your letters. They are beautiful.
    Originally from Ireland, I have been living in Cairo for seven years and I love Egypt and its people even more now than I did before. I am hoping to compile a colelction of various experiences of the amazing 18 days we have just witnessed – may I use your letters in it? If I manage what has become a pretty large project, any proceeds from people wanting to read it would go towards whatever the best way of helping this wonderful country get back on its feet.
    Don’t worry about saying ‘no’!

    • Hello Jonathan,

      I’m so glad you’re working on such a project. The outpour of love and good wishes from people all over the globe is heart-warming and gives us even more of an incentive to keep the momentum going.

      I’d be honored if you include my letters in your project. Is it going to be an online collection? If so, please include a link to my blog. I’d also love to see the end product when you’re done!

      I teach High School English and have already asked my students to create a scrapbook of the Revolution; perhaps some can be scanned and included in your material as well; I’m sure they won’t mind.

      Good luck & all the best!
      Rania

  8. Ms. Rania , my beloved teacher whom i love and respect so much,
    I humbly ask you to keep those memorable letters coming up as they are like the shining light to many people in and outside of Egypt. Those letters have touched my heart in a special way. Thankyou 🙂
    ps. Seif is a lucky kid.

    • And I’m a lucky teacher to have such beautiful youth like you to teach. You give me hope that Egypt will be a brighter and better place to live in! I love you always, my cutest Maya.

  9. dear writer,
    very inspiring letter, as i read it being forwarded to me by a good friend of mine, from newzealand. egypt is not history, it is the mother of history and it can teach the world again that self-preservation comes from self-respect and dignity. egptians have earned the love and respect of the world for not only showing how to bring big changes but also those which are writ small. hope egypt will show the world what is in store for them tomorrow.

    • Egypt being “the mother of history”… I like that! The support we Egyptians have been receiving from people world-wide gives us even more of an incentive to hold on to that admiration & respect and push Egypt forward. I still see the energy in the streets of Cairo and all sorts of volunteer-work campaigns are filling our TV channels, asking people to do more for their country. The sense that Egypt is “ours” now is an overwhelming responsibility, yet we are so excited and eager to pay Egypt back positively. May it always be so!
      Thank you for your note, Shakib.
      Rania


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