A Soccer Ball is Black and White

Dear Seif,

Last year on this very day, the Battle of the Camel took place. Today, 74 people died.  They left their homes to cheer for a soccer match held in Port Said, and came back in wooden coffins.

I found out about what happened at 5:00 a.m. today when I opened facebook to check the news feed before preparing you for school. I was horrified to read the number of deaths; horrified to read that one of my students, Saad, was looking for his brother who did not return from the Port Said soccer match. A picture of Saad’s brother, Omar, was  posted. Trying to think positively, I felt that his brother would be found and prayed that he wouldn’t be injured.

During morning lines, a minute of silence was observed for those who lost their lives. The national anthem was sung by two students out of 300 which was dismal as usual. I dove into my first lesson whole-heartedly to keep my mind busy so that I didn’t have to digest the pain of what happened yesterday. I didn’t want to know details. The number was sad enough; human faces and the stories that went along with them would be too devastating.

But the stories poured in. One of my students told me that Saad was waiting for his brother at the train station; every time the train stopped and people poured out, he’d look to see if his brother was one of the lucky ones. I told my student to keep me posted with any news – I still felt that he would be found. My student went to check facebook and came back to tell me that Saad’s brother was found, but that he was dead. He told me the place of the funeral and the time.

I don’t know Omar Ali Mohsen, but I know that he is… he was 23 years old. He went to AUC, and he was going to graduate this month. My heart aches for him, for Saad, and for his mom and dad. It feels like a hand is squeezing my heart in a tight-fisted grip. I couldn’t stop shaking after hearing the news; my whole body from head to toe was convulsing. More stories poured in. More names, more faces, more details, more sorrow.

Another student received news today that her two school-aged cousins were kidnapped right in front of their house for a ransom of 5 million EGP. My heart became saturated with anguish and anger.

Anger was shaking me from within. How can human beings act as the lowest of animals? And the question is… Why? For what? For paper that can be torn? For power that is naked when we go to the grave?

74 people died today because fate has it that they loved soccer.  Soccer – a ball that bounces, that is hard when it is kicked, that provides euphoria when it brushes against the net, that is black and white in color. Today is a black day; the color of mourning. It is a day that took away innocence. I can focus on the feeling that black provides.

Or I can make the choice to focus on the white smooth squares on the soccer ball. White being that the souls of those who died will unite us in sorrow, and unite us in action. There is outrage, but with outrage, there comes action. We saw that last year, and it’s continuing still.

This continuing revolution has shown me the ugly side of so-called humans who hang on to trivial material and titles, but it has also shown me beautiful people. May we see more beautiful people as this revolution unfolds. I’m counting on it.

Love you,

Your hopeful mother, Rania

Published in: on February 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm  Comments (9)  

Revolving Reflections of a Revolution: Trying to Absorb Mubarak’s Trial

Dear Seif,

Beyond the 18-day saga of uncertainty during Mubarak’s crumbling regime, came a movie that is seared in my mind.  The day Mubarak and his two sons were on trial.  Your dad, my reference on everything to do with politics, told me that Mubarak would most likely not be put behind bars “due to health reasons”.  I didn’t make plans, therefore, to watch the trial.  Instead, I needed to go to work to get my salary before the cashier closed.  You were coming along with me to see your Teta afterwards.

The TV happened to be on, and right before switching it off to go to work, I caught a glimpse of something that made me do a double-take.  Was that Mubarak? Surely not! Oh my god, it was Mubarak, Alaa and Gamal behind bars!!! I felt an army of ants tingle up my arms and neck – the same feeling I got when the Vice-President announced that Mubarak was stepping down.  It’s not just in cartoons that your jaw drops down from extreme surprise.  I had one of those cartoon-like jaws extended as far south as possible.  My eyes were also bulging… not a pretty sight, I’m sure…

I looked at their white prison clothes that replaced the suits I was accustomed to seeing.  How did they feel changing out of their clothes and lives, I wondered… What was behind that poker-face look Gamal was wearing? I remembered how dignified he was as a speaker in my own graduation.  I remembered how I wished he’d become president one day.  Something didn’t look humble about his expression; I wish it had.

Alaa seemed to be a little less harsh.  It amused me to see that he was holding a Koran.  At first, it pulled at my heart.  Then I realized that its purpose was probably to do the very thing that I had felt – to gain people’s sympathy – so I hardened.  I don’t like it when people use tactics to toy with my emotions; I feel manipulated. Ironic coming from someone who worked in advertising for 9 years, right?

Mubarak had my full attention.  He was on a gurney, propped up by a pillow. He looked bored.  He looked like he was watching a TV series right before going to bed.  I had so many emotions rushing through, getting tangled in each other.  Astonishment pushed away by sympathy, elbowed by anger.  I had to pack my emotions away as time was running out and I needed to get paid.  The cashier was going to close for many days as there was a long holiday coming up.  It took everything in me to lift my finger and switch off live history.

“Come on, Seif, let’s go! Quickly!!!! I want to catch the rest of the trial at Teta’s house!” You sensed the urgency, but you were pushed out the door and down to the garage anyway.

The streets were reflecting the sun’s brightness, uninterrupted, as far as the eye could see.  Our car was almost the only thing that moved.  I reached work in record-time.  The guards whom I usually greet at the gate were not to be seen.  I could hear a loud TV coming from their small room; people were huddled inside.  I didn’t have to wait in line as usual to get my salary.  I was worried not to find the cashier, but sure enough, he was there.  I asked him how he could tear himself away from seeing the trial; he told me that he left his wife adhered to the TV, but that he had no interest whatsoever to follow what was going on. “Whatever will happen will happen,” he said in a nonchalant manner.

Watching the rest of the trial with your Geddo was quite entertaining as he was very animated.  We watched, to our horror, Mubarak picking his nose. I remember thinking, “No! No! No!!!! You don’t DO that when you’re televised to the world!!!” When you pick your nose, it most certainly means you will be picked on… How undignified. Gamal and Alaa were doing a cha-cha with the cameras, trying to shield their dad from the camera lens. That drove your Gedo crazy.

I remember feeling so disappointed when I saw Gamal’s expression as he walked towards the truck that was to whisk them away to prison. It was full of cold conceit; a calculating look – the kind of look that you see on the face of a serial killer or something. I used to respect him. I guess I didn’t know anything about him. Your Geddo started shouting at the TV in disgust after seeing that look and was more furious when some officials talked to them with what seemed like sympathy.  Alaa covered the camera with his hand. Oh how your Gedo resembled Warner Brother’s Taz at that moment!

That night, I bought 5 copies of the Al Ahram newspaper still warm from the press, that featured a picture of Mubarak and his sons behind bars.  Having it in my hands, holding paper that was the mouthpiece of the ex-regime, made it so much more real.

Guess what, Seif? Just yesterday, Mubarak’s lawyer announced that since Mubarak didn’t sign a paper indicating a formal resignation, he is still legally the president.  So far, people have turned this news into sheer comedy as is typical of our country.  I am worried, however, what after tomorrow might bring… the first anniversary of Jan. 25.  Fireworks or fire bombs? I wish I knew… I wish I knew… Your father is going to be joining one of the processions. Here we go again!


Love you,

Your mother, Rania, caught in what seems to be a saga…

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Revolving Reflections of the Revolution: an Outing to the Supermarket

Jan.  20, 2012

Dear Seif,

It is with mixed feelings that I reflect on what hit us a year ago. Sheer terror and sheer ecstasy in a compact amount of time.  With the anniversary of the Jan. 25th Revolution coming up in a few days, so many memories have revolved from the back of my mind to the forefront.  I’ll share with you one that is still fresh with the 5 senses in my mind: our outing to the supermarket.

Remember when we were cooped up at home for 18 days? It was too unsafe to venture beyond our neighborhood, there was a curfew imposed, plus there was a gas shortage so we had to conserve every drop in case of emergency.

Our outings consisted of a trip to the supermarket.  Your dad would put on a smile and a sing-song voice as he tried to make going to the supermarket and a drive around the block sound like we were taking you to an amusement park.  Lara would smile widely in response, oblivious to how strange things looked from the car window.

“Look… look at the tank ya Seif,” your dad would say.  I studied the faces of the soldiers like a tourist peering at an alien culture.  I tried to capture every detail of the tanks and the soldiers with my eyes – perhaps the more I saw them, the more real they would seem.

You saw men flat on their faces in the middle of a small roundabout; their wrists tied to their ankles.  Soldiers were beating the soles of their feet with batons.  Foreshadowing things to come? You wanted to know why they were doing that to the men.  They were thugs and the soldiers were keeping us safe.

We reached the large supermarket we usually shop at.  I’ll never forget the sight and how it felt.   The supermarket that was usually buzzing with activity and sounds was full of ghostly, stoned faces moving silently from isle to isle.   Again, I looked at the faces of all those strangers and felt that we shared something in common other than sad, blood-shot eyes.  It’s a strange feeling, knowing that you and everyone around you are simultaneously feeling the same way: shock.

You went to check out the candy section, your dad and I went to search for basic supplies.  Hardly anything worth buying was left on the shelves.  Your dad got a scoop from a friend on the phone that we could find missing essentials at the mini-market inside a gas station nearby.

I was delighted to see that there weren’t many cars parked outside the mini-market, and that three different families were coming out of the shop with yellow plastic bags.  There was something to buy! We found milk, we found juice, we found bread, we found pasta,we found snacks.  You asked if we could buy you a box of jelly beans – we told you that you could choose whatever you wanted and that it would be allowed.  We wanted to please you and Lara in any way possible.  You couldn’t believe your ears and took Lara by the hand to choose candy that was once forbidden to you.  The joy on your faces made me instantly tear.  How could our life change so suddenly like that? Could we keep you safe? Were things going to get worse? Were we going to run out of money?

Paying for the food, everything seemed too expensive (although none of the prices had changed).  I never needed to look at the cost of anything before; I just paid.  Given the fact that all banks were closed and ATM machines weren’t operational, our cash was being depleted without the guarantee that we’d receive our salaries at the end of the month. At that moment, I felt the pinch of living on a tight budget.

Our outing was over.  We went back home and made sure to miss the news to rest our heart for a little while.  We sat together in the TV room and enjoyed the food we were blessed to have.

I asked you today what you remembered from our trip to the supermarket. You described to me the prisoners that were chained, and you even remembered how we tried to visit a friend nearby later that day, but were refused into the compound for security reasons. I guess Lara sitting in her car seat looked too suspicious… You didn’t remember being allowed to eat loads and loads of contra-ban candy.

Love you,

Your nostalgic mother, Rania

Published in: on January 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm  Comments (2)  

Two steps forward in the journey of 1,000 miles

November 28, 2011

Dear Seif,

It took a total of five and a half hours for your dad and I to vote for parliamentary representatives; 3 hours for your dad, two and a half hours for me.  Since our voting stations were not in the same school, I told your dad to vote first while I waited in the car.  The last time we voted, it went by like a breeze so I didn’t anticipate a long wait.  Well, there was nothing breezy about this time around…

We approached your dad’s polling station by 8:10 a.m. and found hundreds of people standing in a line that wrapped around the school’s walls.  Your dad parked the car in a strategic and entertaining location for me: I could see the tail end of the line along one side of the wall, and I could see people rounding the corner before reaching the line.  It provided me with comic relief  to see people’s faces change drastically as they rounded the corner and saw the long line looming ahead of them.  Many had the same reaction in terms of body language: before they rounded the corner, they were walking briskly and energetically.  Once they rounded the corner, they would slow down, slap their foreheads and say our famous Egyptian lamenting lines, “Yalahwyyyyyyyy!!!” or “Yanhar abiad!!!” One young man embraced the long line by saying to his friend, “This turn-out is a very good sign.”

I was provided with more entertainment when a large black 4-wheeler stopped right next to me and out walked presidential candidate Amr Moussa.  He walked a couple of paces, then he stopped and searched his pockets.  He had clearly forgotten something very important (his national ID perhaps?) because he stepped back inside the car and was whisked away.  He returned around 20 minutes later.  I was curious to see if he would stand in line like everyone else.  Yes, he did.  People started to huddle around him and a professional photographer with a tripod snapped several pictures of Amr Moussa with the masses.

By 11:00 a.m., your dad returned looking exhausted.  It was my turn next and I was confident that it wouldn’t take longer than half an hour – that’s if any women bothered to leave their jobs/homes to vote.  Upon arriving to my designated polling station, it was my turn to slap my forehead and wail, “Yalahwyyyyyyy!!!!”

Women, women, women, as far as the eye could see along the walls of the school twisting and turning around gardens, pathways, garbage dumps…  I bid your dad farewell, knowing that I would see him thousands of steps and a heat stroke later.

I joined the line.  In front of me was a woman dressed in neqab holding her son’s hand, and behind me was a university student.  I got to know almost everything about my neighbors-in-waiting; God knows, we had enough time! After an hour or so, the woman in neqab and I became chummy and she even offered me a ride back home so that your dad wouldn’t be inconvenienced.  So sweet… and her son is named Seif, too! (But you have much better manners!!!).

The topic of voting came up – people all across the line were discussing who they were voting for and why.  The woman in neqab said she had no idea who she was going to vote for because she had no time to research anything; she only came because she didn’t want to pay the 500 EGP penalty for not voting.  The university student behind me said she studied the options for 5 days and only today was she confident of her vote.  She was going to vote for those who supported the revolution.  One girl close by said she was going to vote for the “salafy” group – she even called it that.  Her choice didn’t seem popular judging by the facial expressions of those who heard – their heads snapped around to check out the person who uttered the word “salafy” and “voting” in the same sentence.

Since I had all the time in the world, I decided to count how many non-veiled women I could spot.  I counted around 26 including myself.  I was a minority.  Even the women dressed in neqab outnumbered us.

Nothing earth-shattering happened during my voting experience.  It was not very organized; we were instructed after waiting for hours to split up into four lines instead of one.  There was a lot of scrambling and jostling.  Some lines moved fast while others were stagnant which caused women to hurl some soprano notes at the military. I was lucky to be in the faster line.

Two and a half hours later, I walked out of the school with a very ugly black ink stain on my pinkie (what happened to cool fuchsia?). But I’m proud of that stain, and I’m proud of all the women that stood in line because they stood for something.  Sure, some were there only because they didn’t want to pay the penalty fee, but many were there to vote for a new Egypt.

Your grandfather always says the following quote to me, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Well, amidst all the turmoil and uncertainty, this is our second step forward since the revolution.  I hope that when you are older, you will stride and see things that we could only dream of.

Love you,

Your sore-legged mother, Rania

Published in: on November 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm  Comments (6)  

Holding on to “this too shall pass”

November  22, 2011

Dear Seif,

Here we go again, Seifo… uncertainty, tension, and fear.  Tahrir Square – the place you and I went to clean almost a year ago – is filled with scenes that makes my heart drop down an elevator shaft.  You saw on television young men being carried on top of shoulders, dripping with blood or dangling lifelessly as they were rushed to make-shift hospitals in the street.  You reached for a baseball bat and told me how you wanted to hit the people responsible for these crimes.  Your 8-year-old eyes should not be seeing such violence nor thinking such thoughts.

What a time we’re in, Seif… A few days ago, I went to the Swiss embassy at 8:00 a.m. with 40 middle and high school students to apply for a visa for our winter trip.  We could smell tear gas wafting our way, coming from Tahrir Square several blocks down. Some students began coughing lightly and their eyes began to tear instantly.  I was tense the whole time, not knowing what to expect. I was relieved to pack the students back into the bus and drive away from the epicenter of unraveling violence.  Upon returning to school, it was like a ghost town… hardly anyone came.

This week, school has been crazy.  During morning lines, we observed a moment of silence for those who died in the few days that passed.  Egyptians killed by Egyptians.  Due to lack of student attendance, teachers haven’t been able to give proper lessons.  We were dismissed at 12 noon today because of the “million man march” that was due to begin at 4 p.m.  Students kept asking if there would be school tomorrow.  I couldn’t answer beyond, “Yes, unless you hear from school administration.” There is something very unsettling about uncertainty… it breeds more fear.

I’m back to making repeated and annoying calls to your dad since his office is near Tahrir.  My calls are not just to know if he’s okay, but to make sure that he’s not at Tahrir.  You never know with your dad… I still remember January 28, 2011; the feelings I went through on that day are stitched to my mind and heart.  I’m traumatized by it, actually… I still can’t talk about it without crying.  I thought I was fine, but apparently I’m not.  I’m waiting for “time heals” to kick in.

Parliamentary elections begin next week.  Some people don’t want it to happen and will probably put up a fight.  I’m scared that we might spiral beyond control if clashes continue.  The uncertainty of what will happen to this country feels like anticipating a tsunami that will either just miss us or drown us all.  I hate to be negative, Seifo… it goes against everything I try to teach you.  I just need to vent because I have an overwhelming feeling of sadness growing inside me.  For now, I will hang on to the proverb that goes, “This too shall pass”.  May it pass with no more casualties.

Love you,

Your hysterical mom, part II

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm  Comments (2)  

Proud Owner of a Florescent Fuchsia Finger

Dearest Seif,

I have a florescent fuchsia finger, and I’m loving it.  It means I voted – for the first time in my 36 years of life.

Your dad and I decided to beat the crowd by voting early – 8:30 a.m.  We stopped by a school in the neighborhood and were greeted by military soldiers at the gate.  A line of around 30 men formed outside of the voting hall; we stood behind them.  I listened to a man who was talking to others in line, saying that he was going to vote “No” because he didn’t want to see the NDP nor the Moslem Brotherhood in power.  The men were listening respectfully, but it was clear that they wouldn’t be swayed out of their “Yes” vote.

A man dressed in a galabeya who was a few steps behind us, said, “Is there no line for women?” He refused to stand behind me and decided to cut in front of your dad instead.  A woman standing to the side instructed me to join the women’s line.  I was searching for any female to stand behind, but couldn’t find any.  I reached inside the voting hall and looked around me, confused.  A man in a suit pointed to one of the tables that didn’t have a crowd in front of it.  I pulled out my ID and gave it to a man who was busily writing in a large book.  I was silently praying to myself that he wouldn’t ask me to fill out my data… such things scare me for some reason. He took my ID, gave me a voting form and pointed to a curtain.

Behind the curtain, I studied the voting form that was the size of an A3 folded paper.  I wanted to read what was written, but being slow in Arabic, it would have taken nearly forever.  I stared at the two large circles with “No” written under one, and “Yes” written under the other.  I wondered what type of mark I was supposed to make.  An “x”? A check mark? I decided to draw a large check mark and was contemplating on whether or not to draw a smiley face inside as well, when a man came up next to me, waiting for me to release the pen.  So much for privacy… Then again, I was taking way too long and being very silly with my thoughts.

I went back to the man who had my ID and he told me to place the paper inside the transparent box. “Should I fold it?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said.  The paper was too large to fit inside the slot without folding it; it was very obvious… I don’t know why I was that nervous.  Next, I was asked to dip my finger inside florescent ink; I decided my right pinkie would do the honors. Even though the ink seeped under my nail, I was happy.  It amused me that the color we were all marked with was a deep pink – the men must be pleased…

I went outside and found your dad still in line.  I wiggled my fuchsia finger in his face and some of the men standing in line laughed softly.  Your dad didn’t. Instead, he swiftly produced the car key and told me to wait for him.  I really wanted to hang around and watch people and hear what they were saying – to me, this was a first-time-ever on several levels.  I had to leave, though, as my presence might have made some of the men feel uncomfortable.

At the gate, a woman dressed in a galabeya told one of the guards skeptically, “Let’s see what will happen when we change the constitution!” The man smiled and told her, “All good things, insha’Allah.” From the car, I watched all sorts of people walk through the school gate; people from all walks of life.  Men, women, urban clothes, rural clothes, senior citizens, youth… It all seemed peaceful; almost silent.  A man passed by my car and he had the biggest grin on his face; it exuded pride.  He was placing his ID back inside his wallet.

Your dad arrived a few minutes later. I got out of the car and posed with my famous pinkie as your dad took a picture.  I took a picture of him as well, which was swiftly uploaded onto his facebook profile.  We got a few stares from people walking by.

A group of about eight foreign women drove by us.  Your dad told me that while he was waiting in line, the foreign women walked in together and waited for their turn to vote.   Your dad heard a few men and women ask, “What are they doing here?” and  “Do they think they have the right to vote?” A man walked into the hall and asked one of the “judges” if foreigners were allowed to vote.  The judge responded that as long as they had an ID that said they were Egyptian, then they had the right.  The foreigners were asked if they were Egyptian, and they said, “Yes; we have the nationality.” They had the ID cards to prove it.  A woman from the line said, “What if the IDs are fake?” Another man went to get a guard to check the validity of their vote.  The IDs stated that they were Egyptian.  As the women neared the voting table, a man asked in broken English what their place of origin was.  The women responded Germany and Switzerland; they were married to Egyptians.  The man didn’t look too pleased.

Just before leaving, I caught a glimpse of the disgruntled women your dad told me about, saying to each other, “Just because they have the nationality doesn’t mean that they have a right to make decisions regarding our country!” Her mother said, “We don’t want their votes!” Another woman behind them was saying over the phone, “She has the nationality… I swear I’m telling you the truth!” It made me feel sad to see such intolerance, but it didn’t surprise me.  Our lovely State TV has been feeding people with mouthfuls of “conspiracy theories”.

We have a long, long way to go… But a significant step has been made.  Is it in the right or wrong direction? Time will tell.  Voting made me proud; it gave me a taste of democracy.  It made me proud when a student of mine called me to try to swing my vote – it showed me that youth are taking the time to become more proactive.  It made me smile when my sister was asked by a total stranger at the women’s toilet, “Which way will you vote? I’m confused!” It showed me that women were finally feeling empowered to make a decision.  It made me proud that some members in our family were voting “Yes” and some were voting “No”, yet we were able to respect each other’s differences.  It made me proud that a friend flew all the way to Egypt just to vote.  It showed me that Egypt has nestled inside many dedicated hearts.

This is what the beginning of democracy is about.  It is so new; it is so beautiful.  I hope that during your lifetime, you get the chance to dip your pinkie in many florescent fuchsia ink bottles.  My dad tells me this quote all the time; now I will tell it to you: “I am only one, but I AM one.  I can’t do everything, but I CAN do something.” Make your voice heard!

Love you,

Your still florescent-nailed mother, Rania

Published in: on March 20, 2011 at 11:45 am  Comments (2)  

Painting Positive

Dearest Seif,

Yesterday, I had a lot of negative thoughts clawing at my head while driving back from work.  The off-duty policeman that shot a microbus driver in Maadi a few days ago…  The horror stories that teachers told me about, such as students being herded out of a school bus and stripped of their money by criminals  (apparently that story was spiced up through the rumor grapevine)… I was frowning throughout the drive; the uncertainty that we were living in was eating away at me.

As I neared home, I saw a bunch of teenagers hunched beside the sidewalk. They were holding large paintbrushes and were methodically painting the sidewalk black and white.  My frown immediately melted away and I found myself smiling – the kind of smile you get when you see a baby walk for the first time.  I was overwhelmed by the emotion of wanting to stop the car and hug them all.  I was contemplating that for a few seconds, but a quick look at my rear-view mirror showed an impatient driver pressing up on me.  All I could do was roll down the window quickly and shout, “Bravooooooooooooooo!!!” while giving the kids a thumbs up.  One of the teenagers looked up, smiled, and nodded his head in thanks.

I still had a smile on my face when I reached home.   The kids were only 14 years old or so. They could have gone to the mall, watched a movie, or went shopping with their friends.  No one would have reprimanded them for having fun instead of serving their country.  But they didn’t go to the mall; they chose to paint the sidewalks – and they painted the whole block – it actually looks so clean and beautiful!

After reaching home, I picked up a few things and decided to go to a cafe close by to do some grading and teacher stuff.  As I passed by the sidewalks again, the smile came back.  I saw a car at an intersection, and although it was my right of way, I slowed down to let it pass.  Had I not been in a good mood, I probably would have accelerated to establish my right of way.

At the cafe, there was only one man and myself sitting at the top floor.  He cleared his throat to get my attention and then said, “Excuse me… do you mind if I smoke?” Ever since the Revolution took place, this was the second time someone asked me if I minded if they smoked.  Before the revolution, I would be in the middle of a smoke-fest and nobody would even bother to ask if I minded.

Just like the question caught me off guard the first time, it caught me off guard the second time.  You know I hate the smell of smoke, and I usually give “The Frown” at those who are inconsiderate enough to blow smoke our way – especially when you and Lara are with us.  But I found myself smiling and telling the man, “I don’t mind.  Thank you for asking.”  And despite the abhorred smoke that violated my nostrils and clung to my hair and clothes, I was happy.

Painting sidewalks and showing courtesy are not going to create any earth-shattering changes in our country.  But it shook me.  It is so easy to get flushed down with negative thoughts – it makes you feel hopeless, anxious, paranoid, helpless.  But a simple act of kindness – even if it’s a person smiling at you as they hold open the door for you – is contagious.  It makes you feel empowered somehow; it makes you feel like you want to do good and “pay it forward”.  It gives a person hope.

I still want to hug and kiss those teenagers.  If I see any more of them doing anything proactive, I’m going to be that crazy lady that stops in the middle of the road for a cuddle.

I know I am starting to develop that annoying habit of leaving you with a piece of advice towards the end of my letters… I tried to resist, but I can’t help it (maybe it’s because my dad keeps repeating all sorts of proverbs to me ever since I was an embryo up till now…).  “Think Positive.”  Two simple words that hold a lot of truth.  You can either see Egypt spiraling downwards towards doom and gloom, or you can see the potential behind things. Which ever attitude you choose, you will rub off on those around you.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see people painting positive everywhere?

Love you,

Your positively positive mother, Rania

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Confessions of a Fish

Dearest Seif,

What you know very well about me is that I have the memory of a fish.  In fact, you keep reminding me of that in case I forgot.  The problem with having the memory of a fish is that I read a lot about history to educate myself.  And then I forget it all – completely –  just like Dory from the cartoon “Finding Nemo”.  I even LOOK like Dory.

My lack of memory and benefiting from what I read has made me stop reading nonfiction books or articles.  What’s the use of spending all this time pouring over fascinating information if I can’t recall and retell it to myself or others? Because of this, I have suffered from being “illiterate” when it comes to the history of my country.  No reading newspapers, no following news of any sort, no opinion… completely sedated.

I am thankful for the revolution that is still taking place as I type. It gave me the crash-course that I needed.  I am listening to the news; I’m reading online articles and notes; I’m reading the Egyptian constitution for the first time in my life.  I feel so sheepish to admit my ignorance, but I’m doing something about it. Not only am I reading and digesting things for the first time, I’m going to challenge myself to also teach it! Students can’t turn out to be as impotent  as I was – they are our future… and you are part of our future too, Seif.

“Knowledge is power” …  Read… See for yourself and through your own eyes… Form an opinion… Set a goal… Believe in yourself.  I see what you are like when you focus on something you enjoy – you become so engrossed, it takes over your whole being.  And the whole house.  Channel this energy, and you will be able to create a change – however small or big.

Love you,

Your mother… what’s my name again?!?

(Laugh so you don’t make me feel bad, Seif.)

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 11:37 am  Comments (2)  

Tanks to Teddy Bears

Dearest Seif,

Rejoice… I’m going to be writing shorter diary entries from now on since the news of the Revolution has been fizzling down day by day… Instead, I’m going to be posting some short anecdotes as they arise.

From Tanks to Teddy Bears – February 14th, 2011

On our way to Tivoli Dome to visit a friend of ours for dinner, your dad and I passed the occasional tank placed in strategic areas along the road.  People were still stopping (almost in the middle of the road) to take pictures on top of the tank.  I guess it’s never going to get old…

As soon as we reached Tivoli Dome (it’s an area that has many food chains, in case it doesn’t exist anymore when you are older), we joined a long line of mostly teenage boys and girls waiting to get inside the gate.  Something seemed a bit weird.  I couldn’t put a finger on it for a while.  Was it because your dad and I were out-of-place age-wise? Or was it that all those in line seemed like they were couples? As soon as more teenagers joined the line holding flowers, carrying teddy bears, and hanging on to heart-shaped helium balloons, it dawned on me that it was Valentine’s Day.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said to your dad and held his hand; a compensation for having forgotten.  “Oh, yeah…” he said.  And that was our exciting celebration.

Flowers, balloons, and teddy bears.  It made me start to doubt that only a few days before, we were in the middle of a full-throttle revolution, with people dying, buildings burning, criminals on the streets looting, tear gas, bullets… I marvel at how quickly some people manage to bounce back to “life as usual”.

We had a great dinner, despite the poor service.  The waiter kept hovering at our table, pulling anything that looked almost finished off of the table.  He then came again and asked if we wanted anything else (with a look that meant, “Please don’t ask for anything else…”) then explained that he would be taking last orders.  We didn’t order anything else, to the waiter’s disguised relief. But you know your mom… I eat very, very slowly.  I think it was quite painful for the waiter to watch, actually.

It was strange to be shooed away in such a manner when Cairo is known to be the city that never sleeps.  The reason for all the waiters getting antsy was the 12:00 midnight curfew still imposed.  The waiters wanted to ensure a mode of transportation to get back to their homes.  I wonder when it will be lifted…

Undercover Police Gear – February 17th, 2011

“Ran Ran, will you come back?” read the sms I received from your dad while I was visiting a friend nearby.  I was surprised that he sent the message as I left the house only an hour ago – not considered a long time to be out.  I wrote back, “I’ll think about it…” and added a wink, just in case he thought I was serious.  He wrote back, “Tab, good night.”  Good night? It was only 8:40 p.m.

I excused myself and said a quick good bye to my friend and headed back home.  I walked into the house that was pretty quiet for some reason.  I scanned the rooms, looking for your dad.  The bedroom was the only room left.  Sure enough, he was inside the bed with the covers on top of him; I could only see his fingertips holding the blanket over his head.  “Asleep already? Yeah, whatever!” I said, as I pulled the blanket swiftly off of him.

I was not prepared for what I saw… Your dad sat up straight in the bed, with a gas mask covering his face.  He looked like a huge mosquito or an experiment gone wrong.  Typically at such a sight, I would have screamed like a deranged monkey, and jumped a few feet off of the ground.  I don’t know what came over me, but all I did was take a few steps back and say in a calm, but confused voice, “Eh dah?” [“What’s this?”] It was a very anti-climactic reaction for all of you.  Sorry… next time…

Your dad managed to buy a used police gas mask and baton from a porter; both for a total of L.E. 50  The porter had lots to sell, from tear gas canisters and police helmets, to large and small batons.  How the porter managed to obtain these items, I don’t know.  Either the police dropped them and fled when they were vastly outnumbered, or their police stations were raided.

In any case, I was very pleased with the items he brought back.  A piece of history.  So if you see a gas mask and baton somewhere around the house many years later, please know that they are not Halloween costumes, but very valuable items and have a lot of history behind them!

The Friday at Tahrir I Won’t Write About – February 18th, 2011

So, your dad comes to me and says he’s going to Tahrir.

“Again?!?” I said.  This must be some addiction or something.  He explained that people were gathering in Tahrir to ask for the release of protesters who were still imprisoned.  He also explained that this time, it was safe.  “I’m sorry, but I saw camels and horses push through a peaceful protest with all sorts of weapons a few days ago.  Anything can happen in this country!”  Your dad gave me a cheeky smile and said, “I’ll give you more material to write about in your letters to Seif…” I told him that I would much rather have my husband with me.

So, I have decided not to write about your dad’s experience in Tahrir on that day.  Childish, I know… but even your mom is not perfect.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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

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