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)  

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34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow Rania! God bless you and God bless Egypt.

    • Love you, baba. Big hugs to the best dad in the world.

  2. Well written Rania. Remember me, your Dads officemate at Americana? So proud of your daughter Galal. Peace be in Egypt. May i share this article?

    • Hello Mr. Carlos! Yes, I remember you despite the fact that the last time I saw you was in the ’80’s 🙂 My father always speaks highly of you and is happy that both of you have remained in contact.

      Please feel free to share the article. It started as letters to Seif so that he has a personal account of our history, and I was surprised and pleased to find that it shed light to others who care about and love Egypt.

      Take care & thank you.

      • Hi Calloy! I hope one day we will all get together when things get well here. You and your wonderful family will always be welcome to our “tent”:). Cheers, Galal

  3. Rania, such an insightful overview of events that reflects every parents thought in our once safe Egypt. Just now my cel phone rang and it was the bus monitor number, I know it, I was reluctant to answer but when I did it was my son asking why his broke pc at home is still not fixed. I found myself getting angry with him that he called me for something so trivial. He is probably depressed now. I hear you and almost share your worries but we need to keep it together for our kids sake and to try not being an additional source of stress for them.

    • You are totally right, Khalid. Kids can sense stress a mile away, even if nothing is said about it verbally. With Seif I don’t – as much as possible – expose this stress. I just tell him that we’re taking extra safety measures. I do express my stress, though, with more, “I love you’s” and more kisses than usual. I think he’s starting to get a little sick of it! 😀

      Take care of yourself and your lovely family.

  4. Dear Rania,
    your post is so sad yet so true. I pray for all my fellow Egyptian sisters and brothers to be safe and I sincerely hope that we see an end to this nightmare that has engulfed Egypt very soon Inshaa Allah. God bless you all and keep you and your children safe!

    • I believe that good has to come out of this trauma; that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. I hope the “when” is soon, though, because currently, I’m an internal mess along with everyone I know! It’s hard to see Egypt and good people go through this.

      May God bless you and your family and loved ones, too. Hopefully, my next letter to Seif is a positive, inspirational one! 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us Rania. My heart is with you and all of Egypt. Warmest of hugs your way.

    • Thank you for your big heart and your warm hugs. I really needed that hug, even if it’s a virtual one! I felt it.

  6. Beautiful and heartfelt Rania, you’ve captured how most of us feel, May God leave the last Jenga piece in place and protect Egypt.

    • Amen! Take care of yourself, Danduon. Miss you and hope all is well with you and your family.

  7. I strongly believe to post it on Facebook, for everyone to read and comment freely on

    • Thank you, dear. I’ve posted it on my facebook wall and some of my friends and family have shared it on their walls. The outpour of prayers and and positive energy coming in is very heart-warming. I am so thankful for that.

  8. Very well written Rania, I think one day you should publish all these letters as you have a vwery good style and it will keep us remembering what happened! take care…..

    • Thank you very much! It started as one letter to Seif, but the revolution won’t end! If he doesn’t end up reading and cherishing these letters, I’ll… I’ll… well I’m not sure what I’ll do, but HE’D BETTER! 🙂

  9. Praying for our beloved Egypt, may angels minister to it and envelop it’s soulful people with love and tenderness through this heart-wrenching time and see them emerging into a bright new dawn of freedom and respect.

    • Amen!!! And may we live to see this day, isA.

  10. Dear Rania and Seif.. Very Touching Story.. Very Strong Feelings. Very Emotional Time that we are in right now. I read all of the above comments and all of them are nice and everything but… I am sorry.. This is NOT the right way to feel now..
    You need to worry about Seif and take care of him the way you do now, but at the same time make him feel strong and that this is just a temporary situation that will pass… And that he has to be ready for when his time comes and it becomes his turn to take the lead. Soon. The Problem is this will not happen on its own.. You, Walid, Myself, my friends, everyone I know who has a pair of hands, a pair of legs that can carry them and beating hearts have to be part of CHANGING our Destiny…
    أن الله لا يغير ما بقوم حتى يغيروا ما بأنفسهم
    Unfortunately it is not one who writes the different Scenarios. Its like Cancer.. They are everywhere. I knew people like Hany Loka. I knew many others who died. I felt sad for their loss but I also felt a lot of Rage. And I always prayed that this would NOT be crippling Rage or one that would make me act in a stupid way.
    I beg to differ.. There are still Many Blocks to be removed before the structure collapses BUT we should try our best to stop ANY extra Blocks from being “hijacked” from us. Their should be Unity. The educated people should take the lead, each in their own field or area of influence. Have Faith. Believe Change is Good. Some people felt safe before the revolution.. but believe many others didn’t. Our Nation was collapsing from the inside, but we never heard of the different crimes maybe because we never saw them happen to us, or our beloved ones, or people we knew..
    Let us ALL destroy the barriers that kept us apart for years. I know you never had barriers ya Rania with poor people, with any other person you knew.. But you are a person with Great influence over others. Please get rid of Any negative feelings. Please get rid of any Sadness. Let that turn into motivation. Let others catch it from you. In School. Friends, On Facebook. In your family. Neighborhood. Everywhere.
    And Seif… Your mom has always been a great person. And I am sure she is a great mother. Listen to her.. and believe me Seif, there will come a day when you read this letter of hers and tell her… Mom, you were wrong to feel so sad… It wouldn’t have become the beautiful world we live in now, without getting to that state, so that we get our acts together and change it ourselves.
    And Rania, I am Sorry. In the midst of all this chaos we are living in now, I know you needed a break. I know we all Need a Break, but I am sorry I didn’t help with that… Because this is Not the time for one. We have a long and hard journey before we get the break we are all longing for.
    Please don’t hate me for writing this.

    • Hey there, M!

      Reflecting on my previous letters to Seif, I seem very contradictory…Some letters are infused with positive thinking, optimism, euphoria… while other letters are burdened with sadness, confusion, anger and pessimism.

      When I write my letters to Seif, I try to tell it as it is… to capture whatever mood or thoughts that hang out in my head and put them into words. Partly to document them for Seif and generations beyond him, partly to vent, partly to make sense of things as I write.

      When I write a letter that is pessimistic, I feel guilty afterwards because that is never the message I want to convey to Seif – I’m Pro-Optimism 🙂 But I’m also human.

      Thank you for believing in my power to influence people. I am privileged to be a teacher to fantastic students who are like sponges. I am also very lucky to be the Activities Coordinator in the school. I invest my anger and sadness into educating my students about how to be proactive. I had them read the Egyptian constitution for the first time in their lives so that they don’t grow up ignorant of their rights. They are researching the pro’s and con’s of “civil disobedience” – a term very alien to them (and to me until a few weeks ago) so that they can make up their own minds instead of blindly following others’ opinions. We engage in debates. I assigned the Student Council to organize brainstorm sessions with all middle and high school students to come up with how they can do something for Egypt – how they can give back to their country. I also added an event named “Helwa Ya Balady” – kind of like international day – where they learn about the different governorates of Egypt and make them come to life in the school stadium through decoration, native clothes, landmarks, food, performances, etc. A way to educate them about their country and to instill pride. The ideas are endless and I’m thankful to be in such a position. That is what I can offer because that is what I know how to do at this moment.

      I can never hate you for what you wrote. Are you kidding me? Thank you for expressing your feelings so openly and honestly, and thank you for your passion.

      Take care of yourself.

      • Wow…
        But always remember.. DFY

  11. Rania, how is it that the most well-known killings all have immediate family members at your school? Please tell me you really meant this as a piece to highlight the escalation and shift in Egypt. If so, I think you should properly say that as others might assume that you actually had these interactions and I find it very hard to believe that out of all the schools in Cairo…

    • Dear Samira,

      Sadly, the people mentioned above were parents in the same school where I work. It has been one shock after another after another. That’s what makes the panic level and devastation so high… If all this happened to people we know from our school (I didn’t know either parent, but my colleagues did), does it mean that it’s happening at a very large scale elsewhere and we just haven’t heard about it yet? I don’t know… Such terrible losses.

      • That’s an interesting parallel that should be looked into more (these killings all from the same school). Those are the main ones that I’ve heard of, but I’ve heard of so many more carjackings, kidnappings, attempted kidnappings and robberies. Everything has changed and it all feels like it hit a climax over the past two weeks. This isn’t the Egypt that I know.

  12. Dear Rania, thank you very much for sharing these letters. I remember Hany from the German school in Cairo. When I got to know that he was missing and then found killed, I was very shocked. I pray for all Egyptian people who fight for justice and a better society. Take care. Greetings from Susanne

    • Dear Susanne,

      I’m very sorry for your loss. The whole situation of finding out he’s missing by seeing a picture of him on Facebook, to the waiting period of uncertainty, to reading about the senseless crime… it was devastating for those who did not know him, so I can imagine the grief that you must be going through especially that you knew him…

      Hany’s death as well as Nermine’s and those who died in Port Said will serve to unite us further and mobilize us towards a common goal – just like Khaled Said’s death did.

      Take care of yourself and thank you for posting your feelings.

  13. Hey there!

    plz send me ur e-mail i need to contact u:)

    Reem Gamil

    • Please check your email; I sent you a message 🙂

  14. believe it or not, I teared up, this is so emotional in so many ways, but someday, I’m sure that day will come, our heroes will stand up, and the sun will rise

    • Keep up the positive thinking, Mahmoud – we need these vibes!

  15. Dear Rania,
    What an amazing letter! You captured the facts and emotions every parent is going through. My kids are still too young to memorise info. I’ve been trying to teach them our home address at no avail. May God keep all kids safe and bring back the peace of mind and sense of security we had.

    • Hey, Tamara!

      Amen to that! Regarding having the kids memorize the home address, I’m facing the same problem with Seif. I wrote the address and telephone numbers in both Arabic and English on a piece of paper and put it in his pocket before going out. You could do the same until they start to memorize it.

      Take care of yourself, dear.

  16. I like this weblog very much, Its a rattling nice situation to read and get information.

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