Spring is here

So sorry that the blog has been on hiatus for a while. I’ve been busy with school and midterms and of course- Arabic. So what have I missed or more importantly what have you missed?

A lot. And that’s my fault, I suppose.

So to recap here it is:

February- Civil Disobedience Day- Two days off of classes because the youth (meaning college- aged youngsters like myself) convinced a few college campuses to stand up to SCAF by not going to work, attending classes, etc. Though it was a poetic symbol of resistance, strategy wise, it was a complete flop and only something the elite could take part in. (The poor don’t have the luxury of taking off work to fight the injustices of SCAF)

 

March- SCAF accuses AUC (that’s my university) of being a platform for Western, specifically American ideals and that the university are some of the “hidden hands” behind the revolution. Seriously? Most of the wealthy kids who go to this school come from families that were quite cozy with Mubarak and his cronies.

 

March/April: SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood are duking it out. Both are struggling for supreme control over this country. SCAF accuses the Brotherhood of being Islamists and the Brotherhood threaten another revolution. SCAF has metaphorically sneered at the former remark pressing the Brotherhood to remember the last time they became powerful. I believe it was the 1950’s or 60’s when the military forces arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members. The party was (up until Mubarak was bounced) banned from that point on.

 

And so that brings us to now…Spring Break is right around the corner. I’m just finishing up my midterms and I have a slight cold. It’s starting to get warmer in Egypt and the skies are usually bright blue, giving off the illusion that they are not saturated in noxious gases. Everything is well in the small, gilded cage of AUC.

Since I try to leave each blog post on an interesting note, I will tell you another story (I have countless) about Egypt.

This one is about bribery and corruption- two of Egypt’s favorite past times.

It was my friends Alan’s birthday a few weeks ago so we decided to hold a boat party in his honor. I arrived late to the boat with my friend Ziad. We were just getting on the boat when Ziad’s phone began ringing. He rolled his eyes at me and picked it up, barking Arabic into it gruffly.

“ya habeebee…mhmmm…inta feen? gemba club 77, tarifhoo? nahnu odamhoo ah, ah, sa. okay, masshi, tayyib. bye”

(hello friend/love/dear, where are you? Near club 77, do you know it? We are in front of it. Okay, yes yes, okay, fine, bye.)

I looked at Ziad and mouthed, “Omar?”

“He’s late,” Ziad muttered. Everyone in the background on the bus began to become agitated.

“Hey guys, Omar is running late with Claire. Can we just hold the boat up for two seconds?”

Everyone stared. Omar and Claire were running late as usual but they were now almost 20 minutes late- late even by Omar standards. I called Claire’s phone and heard her pick up in a hushed tone.

“Where are you?!”

“I can’t talk right now, can I call you back?”

I grumbled but hung up. I saw something in Ziad’s eyes. He picked up the phone, turned away from me.

“Who are you calling?”

“Omar.”

This is how it went, back and forth until finally our two amigos made an appearance. Omar looked decidedly angry and Claire looked dazed.

“What’s wrong?”

Turns out Claire and Omar were stopped by the police since Omar was driving while talking on his cell phone. They stopped him, rounded the car, and looked into the windows, glaring suspiciously at Claire. They demanded that Omar pay a fine and buy a permit that would allow him to talk on his phone while in the car.

A truck-full of police showed up, leering into the car at Claire as she sat waiting. Later she would say it was frightening only because she didn’t understand the Arabic darting around her ears, nor did Omar explain anything.

Obviously the police wanted money and so Omar paid the bribe (though he proudly states it wasn’t a bribe) and drove off after nearly an hour of negotiating. By the time they showed up, Claire was noticeably exhausted and Omar looked as if he wanted to punch a wall.

This is a window into the corruption that Egyptians live with and face every day. It’s an interesting aspect of society because though it is flawed, the corruption here is functional.

Corruption keeps the power elite on top. Corruption (even small acts like this) keep them safe and warm.

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How to address “old, illiterate people”

A language says a lot about a culture (if culture even exists- which it doesn’t- according to my Anthropology Professor, Joseph Hill) or at least the common bonds a society has with one another. It also depicts class stratification. I actually had a very interesting Colloquial Arabic class today.

In Egypt there are fifty million (slight exaggeration) ways to address someone, depending on their social background. Let’s compare.

English

  • Mrs./Mr.- used for married peoples
  • Miss/Ms. unmarried
  • Doctor- medical or Phd
  • Professor- Phd/teacher at university
  • Sir- professional way to address man
  • Ma’am/Madame- professional way to address woman

And really that’s it. In The United States, everyone can be a sir or a Mr. regardless of social class. In Egypt, it differs greatly. There are ways to address doctors, women and men from Saudi Arabia (yeah, really random), engineers (different from doctors), someone of inferior social class to you, old illiterate people (not to be confused with young illiterate people), professors, people you just want to have professional relationships with but don’t want friendship, etc.

And woe to you if you call an inferior person ustez/usteza (professional name for a man or woman) because then you are just being ironic. And, even more baffling- the taxi driver you ride with may actually be a doctoor. In Egypt to assume makes an ass out of ‘u’ and me.

There is a theory floating around out there (though I am not sure how much merit I give it) that says that revolutions happen in countries that have definite social classes and no real means of mobility due to either the poverty cycle (Egypt) or a born-into-caste system (such as India had/has). This theory further argues that, the West has not seen any real revolutions in the last 30 years do to the conscious effort to get rid of any notion of a class. However, though obviously conflict of classes has a lot to do with revolutions, does that really explain revolutions that happened in Southern Europe in the 70’s? Eh.

Anyways, not to write a boring post, but I thought I should bring you people some culture. I also have many stories to share, but I’m making a serious effort not to inundate you guys with tons of information. I will say that I haven’t had school for the past five days (three of those were weekend days), due to a strike on AUC’s campus by students who demand that SCAF step down. I don’t know much about the protests because I stayed away from Tahrir Square this weekend. The last time I went down there, the atmosphere was heavy and I could feel a sense of dread. The feeling has so stuck with me that I have stayed away since. (See, Mom?).

Anyways, I’ll figure out something to write about in the next couple of days about the revolution. Till then- Ma’salaama. Goodbye.

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Of Pyramids and Michael Jackson

I will post pictures soon, people. I haven’t had a chance to really update my blog in the past week because so much has happened politically here in Egypt.

Of course, I will ignore that all for now and instead bring you my rendition of what happened when I visited the Pyramids of Giza yesterday. (I’m going back on Friday for the sole purpose of riding a camel).

The pyramids are the largest tourist traps in the world. If you want to be harassed by people riding camels, bombarding you with questions and all but begging you to choose their camels as a mode of transportation- then you are in the right place.

First of all, the pyramids, especially the Great Pyramid of Giza, are huge. I guess that goes without saying. Yesterday was a dusty day clouded with a thick haze of noxious gases that hovered over the city, blocking out the sun. We entered the Giza area, where we were immediately harassed by a number of male youths who started beating the taxi. (One rather determined boy, jumped on the top of the cab and rode up with us to the pyramids, demanding money, spewing out Arabic). The taxi driver stopped the car angrily and twisted the wheel, spinning the car like we were in The Fast and the Furious. He shook his fist out of the window, barked something in Arabic and drove off, leaving the indignant youth in the dust.

We approached the Pyramids which loomed through the haze. Beautiful, majestic and of course ancient.

However, in order to get to the Pyramids you must swim the English Channel and give up your first born. Actually, that’s not far from the truth. After being hassled by the Pyramid police, we entered the gates. Once you get into the Pyramids, fair tourists, you must battle the first line of thieves- it’s like a real life video game, except less fun. After telling one persistent man rather brusquely that I DID NOT want to buy a camel or any of his trinkets and turned down his offer of marriage, we finally managed to make our way towards the Great Pyramid. I marveled at how the ancients had so precisely fit together the large blocks of stone. I was torn from my musings by the next line of money collectors- on camel.

“Beautiful lady,” one crooned, “camel ride? Very nice price! Ten pounds for you!”

I looked up at the camel who rolled its eyes down at me.

Mumkin. Oreed an amshay.” Maybe. I want to walk,” I replied in broken Arabic.

“You speak Arabic?” he all but squealed.

Shawya Shawya.” A little bit.

He gave me a toothy grin, “Ismooho Michael Jackson.” He pointed to the camel. I stifled a laugh.

Ism gadeed. Good name, I whispered.

He continued following us and was joined by three other camel riders, all shouting their wares. I managed to evade them, ducking into temple ruins where my friends and I explored for a bit, in peace. We climbed on top of them, and suddenly Cairo lay before us and to our backs the, pyramids. To our right, the Sphinx. The call to prayer wafted over the heavy air. It was beautiful. I could understand why the Egyptians chose to build their Pyramids here. It was a high point in the desert.

The next site we visited was the Sphinx. Even after thousands of years, it was still beautiful. Everything was so precise, down to the carved lips, and eyes. The beauty was ruined by two Egyptian boys who swindled us out of 30 pounds for photographs. Let’s just say I have a procession of pictures kissing the sphnix, the Sphinx kissing my hand, the Sphinx kissing my butt, me leaning on the Sphnix…etc. sigh.

Our next stop was inside the actual Pyramid. If you like tight walls closing in on you and steep inclines, then this is the place for you. Also they make you give them your camera. This means leaving your camera on a stone ledge by a grinning toothless man.

“I can’t take my camera? Mish soora? No picture?”

Le’ah. No.”

“Are you SERIOUS?”

“Ayiwa. Yes.”

“Malesh, malesh.” Whatever.

The Pyramid smells ancient. It’s dark and steep and you have to crouch most of the time. If you are a candidate for The Biggest Loser, don’t even try it. By the time you get up to the pyramid, there is a tomb room. You get what you pay for- it’s a tall, rather large room with a tomb. There are no treasures (the British took it all) and there is no mummy. The climb down is harder than the climb up as you have to make way for the people who are clambering up, swearing under their breath. As with everything in Egypt, there is no organization. It’s everyone for themselves which means a ton of women, men and children pushing past each other, yelling, pointing, glaring and huffing. It’s basically my mother’s worst nightmare.

Once outside the pyramid, I was gasping for air. The sweat poured off of me. I was hot, sticky and I managed to shoot a glare at the man who had been “holding” my camera for the fifteen minutes I was in the Pyramid. At that point in the day, I was pushing past people, shooting daggers at anyone who dared approach me.

“You want to buy-?”

Amshay! Go away!,” I snarled.

“You go away. Go to hell!”

“I’m already in hell,” I snapped.

“You are a stupid lady,” the man called after my friends and I.

Other than that, it was a pleasant experience. I’m going back on Friday to ride a camel, Inshah’allah, God willing.

 

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Mohammad

Ahlan! Hello! I promised a lighter post and so here it is ladies and gentleman. This is a great story, I believe and one of my favorite experiences so far in Egypt.

Last week, my friends Toby, Geoff and I decided to go into downtown Cairo to a small hookah and coffee bar. In Egypt coffee is synonymous with hookah or shisha. Men (and women now) gather in these small bars to discuss politics or just vegetate after a day of work. It is part of the culture here. There, that is my aside on the shisha bars.

Anyways, all three of us were downtown at this shisha bar, very close to Tahrir Square where the protests were going on. It was a small hole-in-the wall bar, off the beaten path. The bar was filled with Egyptian youth, faces painted, carrying flags or signs that read “Down with SCAF” or “ACAB.” The bar smelled of flavored tobacco and coffee. A soccer game was playing in the distance and every once in a while, the group watching the game would leap up and roar in celebration or frustration.

Clustered in the left corner was a group of teenagers. They were dirty, wearing black and red shirts smudged with grime. Signs with angry slogans leaned against their chairs. Despite the protests going on, these revolutionaries looked peaceful and happy. They laughed and joked with one another, puffing on shisha and watching the soccer game. Amongst them was a young man (no older than 25) sitting hunched over his chair, whispering to himself. He had longer hair, tied back in a bun. It was then that I realized he was chanting. Catching my eye, his friend (wearing a bright orange shirt), whispered something to the hunched man. He nodded, opened his eyes to catch mine and then it began. The man began to beatbox. It was an intense rhythm, punctuated and deliberate.

The teenagers in the corner whipped around, grinning. They began to clap with to the beat. I turned to Toby who already had her camera out, recording. The beat became louder and louder until onlookers from the street curiously poked their heads into the bar to see what was the cause of the commotion.

The man paused and began a fast rap. The words flowed with each other and though I couldn’t understand the meaning, I could tell the words were biting and angry. I caught one familiar name- Tantawi- the loathed leader of the Egyptian Armed Forces. At the mention of his name, the teenagers snickered audibly and tossed glances in our direction to see if we had understood. For a moment they looked like regular school children, laughing and joking rather than hardened revolutionaries. For a moment, both Egyptian protesters and American study abroad students were totally captivated.

When he finished, the shisha bar erupted into applause. The young revolutionaries clapped, whistled and bounced around the hunched man.

He ignored the applause, unfurled himself and scooted his chair closer to us as we quickly made room for him at our table. He leaned in close while waving away a carton of cigarettes.

“Mohammad,” he rasped, “My name is Mohammad.”

A woman who had taken a seat near us explained, “He has been at Tahrir all day and has lost his voice.”

How did you learn to do that?

“Practice,” he shrugged, “I’ve practiced my whole life. I want to go to America, for the record deal.”

We encouraged him to go and explained that he had talent. He closed his eyes momentarily.

“Yes, yes,” he said in fluent English, “But sometimes, I think my place is here. I make music for the people in Tahrir. I’ve talked to journalists as well.”

We urged him to go to the newspapers in order to tell his story. He nodded once, then crouched back into his original position.

He didn’t speak to us again and he ignored the excited teenagers who scampered out of the shisha bar on the way back to Tahrir. He sat in the center, listening to his Ipod, completely absorbed in his art. He didn’t look up when we left an hour later.

In my less than expert opinion, I believe that the media focuses on the abominable and/or ignores the exceptional. Egypt’s birthing process is a dangerous one, but hopefully in the future it will breed democracy. Ten years from now, I won’t remember every detail about the protests in Tahrir, but I will always remember Mohammad and his story.

 

Here is a video of Mohammad (in red), his student is beside him in yellow.

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The Art of Graffiti

So I got a request (James) for pictures of the graffiti. Much of it is from last year’s revolution and much of it is anti-SCAF. Some of it is intricate and others are angrily scrawled across chunks of concrete. One picture of the graffiti below says Al-Ahly which is Cairo’s soccer team. Also, if you have been following the news in Egypt, you might recognize the name as the losing team’s name in the events that went down in Port Said.

There is another picture (I apologize for the blurriness) that says Al LAWY, which refers to the “Ultras Ahlawy” group that supports the Al-Ahly soccer team. Many of these small support groups are hardcore fans and it wouldn’t be so far from the truth to say that they are somewhat like the team’s own militia. Interestingly enough, the Ultras Ahlawy group played a big role in mobilizing people and resources during the revolution to overthrow Mubarak. These groups still demonstrate in the square and one Egyptian told me that SCAF officers harbor a vendetta against Ultras Ahlawy (and groups of that nature) because of their ferocity and ability to group together hundreds of people in a short period of time. In short- they are very hard to control.

My favorite graffiti is the one below with the SCAF officer eating a human. It is located under a bridge near my dorm in Zamalek. It is frightening but also quite beautiful. This piece of graffiti transcends written language and instead evokes the terror of the emergency law.

Sorry, for the short post, but this was mostly about pictures. I know that I have been dealing with serious topics lately but I promise that will change. Despite what you all hear on the news, the Egyptian people are generally warm and friendly. However, in the past 48 hours, a sense of anger has descended over Cairo. To illustrate this, I will recount a short story that happened to one of my friends. Apparently he was walking near Tahrir Square yesterday when a man approached him and asked him what nationality he was. Mike told the man he was an American, studying in Cairo. The man’s mood changed instantly and his face darkened.

“America! pfft. All you care about is yourselves.”

Mike watched as the man turned on his heel and walked away.

Since I’ve been here, I have experienced no anti-Americanism. On the contrary, the Egyptians tend to love Americans as we are seen as generous (with our money). Just goes to show the subtle changes in atmosphere here. I may not know the language fluently, but the feeling of apprehension here is thick. We’ll see what happens.

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Where is all the tear gas? Answer- “It’s in our lungs.”

I am sorry for the hiatus. I’ve been dealing with a slight concussion, a rabies scare (I’m fine) and a sinus infection. However I have reemerged because I feel it is my duty to update this blog because it seems that I do have readers. (Hello family). Now, of course this blog is supposed to have light, funny moments and believe me, some of these amusing moments have transpired in the past few days.

However there have been more serious events that have occurred here in fair, Masr (Egypt). Last night, there was a soccer match that ended tragically with the loss of 75 lives in Port Said, Egypt. (Ironically said means happy in Arabic). Between 300 and 1,000 were injured. Before I go any further with my rendition of events, I would like to add that I have to be very careful with what I am saying. There are reasons I didn’t link this blog back to my AUC (American University in Cairo) email account- that would be that SCAF, more commonly known to Americans as Egypt’s military, watch everything.

The soccer game consisted of two ancient rivals (and two of the oldest teams in Egyptian history)- Al Masry and Al Ahly (Cairo’s team). Apparently (though I suspect it was more political than just rivals killing each other), Al Masry fans stormed the soccer field after the game. This makes a lot of sense since Al Masry won the game 3-1 (sarcasm noted). I will get into my thoughts about what happened. We dedicated nearly 40 minutes in my History of the Modern Middle East class today discussing the political implications of said soccer game. Basically this is what it came down to- many Egyptians in the class believed it was a move by SCAF. One adamant Egyptian spoke up and explained that when the riots started, “the doors were locked and the lights went out to ‘calm the people’.” I’m sorry….but b-b-b-bullshit? Riots start…let’s close the doors and turn the lights out because I feel much safer when I can’t see who is trying to kill me. Not to mention there are pictures floating around the internet of people walking into the stadium with police batons…police batons.

Okay, so here is my political analysis of the situation. On the anniversary of the revolution, the Egyptian military lifted the Emergency Law. People rejoiced, streamed into the square, celebrated, protested peacefully and then went about their business. However, I believe the soccer game is some sort of guise. How best to show the Egyptian people that the military should rule and the Emergency Law be reinstated than by using violence to propagate the idea that Egypt needs to be ruled with “an iron fist.”

Think this is just another conspiracy theory? Think again fair ladies and gentleman. These are the same tactics employed by the old regime with the Coptic Christians. Documents obtained by the British Intelligence Agency showed that Al-Adly, the old Minister of the Interior actually used terrorist groups to attack Copts. What did this achieve? Well they attempted to show that Egypt would descend into chaos if the government was not in charge. Who best to utilize to create chaos? The Copts because they are a minority, a powerful minority in numbers, but a minority none the less.

Maybe this is what the military hoped to achieve by the soccer game?

During class the Egyptians wore faces plastered with smirks as Americans tried to rationalize the attacks. One American piped up, “Well I mean it could just have been a regular riot, right?” This was met with silence as the Egyptians around the room exchanged knowing glances before bowing their heads and snickering.

The American tried again.

“They would have used other things right? What about tear gas?”

Silence.

Then one Egyptian burst out laughing, “Tear gas? There is no tear gas left in the country! Where is the tear gas? It’s in our lungs!”

Fair point.

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Tahrir

I know this is a bit late but I have been trying to find the words to write this blog entry. On the 25th, I went to Tahrir Square to observe the anniversary of the revolution. It was a joyous occasion because it marked the day that young Egyptians persevered to take back their rights from the government and demanded a solution to the unemployment rate amongst the youth. The military orchestrated the event and in celebration, they agreed to lift the emergency law.

I decided to go to Tahrir with a few of my American and Egyptian friends. For the sake of the story I will introduce them to you. Americans-me, Alivia, Cassie, Toby, Grace and Ben Egyptians- Amin, Nour and Zeyad (Nour’s girlfriend Nadine was also along for the ride).

We met at the Hotel Four Seasons in Giza where protests were already started. A smaller group of people (maybe 800) were waving flags, walking down the street towards Tahrir and screaming, “Down, down, down with the military.” It was coordinated and the beat of their voices reverberated through the air. I was amazed and asked Amin how people organized themselves for these occasions. Facebook? Twitter? Amin shrugged, “Yes, Facebook helps but a lot of these people are from small neighborhoods that come together. You find out your neighbors are going to Tahrir, so you go. It gets bigger from that.”

The people continued to march and marched right into the campus of Cairo University. Amin explained that the protesters were going to the university to rally more of the youth still on campus. We continued walking towards the square. Cars streamed past us, honking loudly to the beat of the protesters. Merchants were selling flags on the sidewalk and face painters stood ready with brush in hand. Then finally we reached the bridge that would take us to across the Nile to Tahrir. Amin stopped the group and grouped us together, “Now, we are about to cross that bridge. if you need to turn back or you are too scared, now is the time to do it. When we get in there, they will want to check bags and ID. It’s crowded so everyone hold hands.” We nodded smiling but my stomach was doing nervous flip-flops. What if I got separated from Nour, Zeyad or Amin? Not to mention what if my American friends got separated as well? We would never find them.

We put on brave faces, took a deep breath and began to walk across the bridge. The bridge had two bronze lions guarding it and in front was the old NDP building. The National Democratic Party- Hosni Mubarak’s party. The building must have stood proudly over the Nile at one point. Now it was a burned frame from last years revolution. It clung ominously to the banks of the Nile, reminding us that protests here did not always end in peace. As we neared the end of the bridge, we were separated. Girls to one side where their bags and ID’s were checked and boys to another. We re-grouped and continued to walk. Some of my friends looked sick, others looked excited. The Egyptians sucked nervously on their cigarettes flicking their eyes this way and that. Streams of people walked past us, looking at us curiously. They waved flags and chanted. It was an exciting atmosphere and my fear began to dissipate as Egyptians welcomed me warmly with toothy grins and the common phrase, “Welcome to Egypt!”

We pushed our way into the square. It was packed. Women were chanting and men clung from light posts, screaming from megaphones. It was hard to breathe as we were pressed up against each other. Sometimes I couldn’t make out Toby’s face. She and I clung to each other. Nour looked back at us and yelled, “If someone touches you, point at them and scream.” “Why?” I shouted back.

‘Because if you point and scream at a man, the crowd will beat him up. They will be on your side.” I swallowed hard. Nour flashed a grin back at me and took another drag on his cigarette. I can’t explain the scene, so instead I took pictures and video. It was exhilarating or as Nour said, “invigorating.” We did eventually leave the crowd to catch our breath. We walked by a group of tents set up in Occupy style by the square. A man approached us and began to talk to my friend Toby. He was part of one of the vast political parties fighting for dominance in Tahrir. He went into a long lecture about how the United States should not view Muslims as terrorists and there were many parties labeled as ‘Islamist” parties that were peaceful and tolerant of other religions. It was interesting but a bit awkward. Yeah man, I’ll send Obama a telegram.

Then of course Nour wants to go in for round two so we go through another military road block. Graffiti lines the wall saying “Cops are Bastards” and “Power of the Revolution.” You could tell that at this quarter of Tahrir, things were a little more sketchy. Young men paced back and forth, eyes flicking suspiciously back and forth. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were the only women in that area of the square at the moment. Zeyad took the lead with Grace and Nour following, then me, then Toby, then Cassie, then Ben and Amin. We pushed our way towards the middle of Tahrir. Suddenly fireworks went off around us and people became very excited. The crowd shifted and grew and the atmosphere changed drastically. I realized for the first time, that we were the only women in the crowd. The Egyptians we were with must have realized it to because suddenly I felt Nour’s arms encase me, creating a shield from any people that meant to cause us harm.

The crowd grew a bit more wild, never violent, but yet uneasy. Men leered, and children stared curiously up at us. Cameras flashed in our faces. I could hear Toby in the background call my name. She was frightened. I turned around and her eyes were as wide as mine must of been. It was then that I lost grip of her hand and suddenly our groups were separated. Amin, Toby, Cassie and Ben were no where to be found. Nour, Zeyad, Grace and I were alone. Nour took command and steered Zeyad over to popcorn cart where there was a small pocket of breathing room. Zeyad stood there with us, passive while Nour dialed furiously on his phone, barked out some Arabic and hung up. He looked worried only for a split second but then he turned to look down at us. He smiled gently, “I see some worried faces,” he said as Grace and I clung to each other, “Don’t worry, we will find them.” Nour and Zeyad batted away anyone that came too close as we stood there looking around. I surveyed the scene. This crowd was more determined. There were no journalists in the crowd because they had all moved to higher ground. Then it hit me…I was in Tahrir. I was in that massive group that I had stared at every time I turned on the TV.

Finally we started moving again. Nour had gotten through to Amin and said that Amin would take the girls and Ben to a hookah and food place by Nour’s apartment as soon as they found their way out. Nour assured me Amin was fine. It wasn’t until later that I learned from my friend that Amin was panicking. We started to move again. Nour took up the back, keeping his arms around Grace and I while Zeyad pushed through the crowd. Suddenly I heard Nour speaking. I whipped around and saw about six children ages 8-13. Nour spoke rapid Arabic. I watched nervously as the children surrounded us, but then I realized they were creating a shield. They were protecting us and they didn’t even know us! I was so grateful. “Shukran,” I said…Thank you, thank you. And protect us they did. When one man tried to push against us, I yelled and pointed. The youngest boy of the group turned around and punched the man in the stomach while I watched half amused and half in shock. He grinned up at me. And it was this way that we got out of Tahrir. I buried my head in Grace’s hair, wanting to cry but to exhausted to do anything but hold on. We made it across the bridge, crawling across cars that had stopped when the celebration broke out.

We did meet up with our group later. They opted to take the metro- a wise choice.

Of course I should probably make two posts about Tahrir. That day was a massive day in my memory. I still cannot believe it happened. However, I will leave you with the images that captivated the world and the images that I experienced.

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Run like an Egyptian

So, I have decided to talk a little bit about the experience of walking in the streets of Cairo. I know it doesn’t sound like such a fun topic but I can assure you that it is. First of all the post is titled “Run like an Egyptian” because in order to cross streets, you must dart through full lanes of speeding cars while praying to whatever God you pray to, that you will make it across the street with all appendages intact. To illustrate this point further, the crosswalk signs show a person running on the sign instead of walking as the ones in the states do. (Don’t worry, in the near future I will take a picture of one of these).

Egyptians are born with the innate ability to…not die. It’s incredible. I have seen old women take on a street full of cars all honking incessantly. Egyptians have this intuition about walking. They know when and they know where. Americans on the other hand are not born with this ability. We are born with the ability to instantly crap our pants the second cars speed up and then slam on the brakes literally a foot in front of us, while the driver waits impatiently for us to cross. Hence, the term “Run like an Egyptian.” Egyptians literally run around cars, weaving in and out, chatting in rapid fire Arabic on their phones. It’s almost comical.

Okay, why am I on the streets to begin with? I will tell you. Egyptians have know idea what a sidewalk is. Yes, they build “sidewalks,” but they are bit haphazardly. Bricks and trees (yes trees) stand in the middle of the sidewalk. Bricks that are hurriedly placed have popped out leaving obstacles for naive pedestrians like me, to trip over. Sometimes it’s actually safer to walk on a road full of cars, streaming past at speeds that would be tolerated only in the Indy 500 than it is to walk on a sidewalk riddled with dangerous obstacles. If I come back with a broken leg, it won’t be from some glamorous reason such as I fell down when I was running through Tahrir Square, gallantly plucking small children from the dangerous masses, surely saving them from doom. No. It would be from tripping on a brick walking down Ismail Mohamed Sharia.

Sidewalks and the streets are small dangers compared to the ones looming over Egypt now. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the revolution that happened one year ago. The mood in Egypt has shifted ever so slightly. There is a spark of renewed energy in the air. All this excitement comes down from the high of yesterdays swearing in ceremony where members of the parliament vowed to create a free Egypt. Everyone is whispering to each other, “Are you going? Are you going to the Square?” Some glance down and others nod furiously. I guess Egypt and the world will find out tomorrow. The people are ready and the press is in place, so something will inevitably go down. No revolution is a clean revolution. Egypt has shown us this.

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Ana fi medinat Kahara elan

I am in the city of Cairo now.

I have landed safely in Egypt. I know my parents were worried because Verizon had promised that my phone would work abroad…which turned out to be a lie of grand proportions. Also the internet was down as soon as I got to my dorm…which was helpful.

Anyways, my trip overseas was uneventful…except for the one guy who reclined his seat so far back that I could have done dental work.

Anyways, now that I am in Egypt, I will try and describe it to you. Unfortunately I left my camera back at the dorms when we went drove through Tahrir Square today on the way to the Nile River cruise, so I will compensate by utilizing my journalistic skills to try and paint a picture with my words.

Ten AUC students including myself, arrived at the Cairo airport where we were herded into this light blue bus, reminiscent of the 70’s. That’s when we began our drive to the dorms. I live in Zamalek which is an upper class, wealthy neighborhood of Cairo. It is an island in the middle of Cairo, situated in the middle of the Nile. The ride was hairy. Roads in Cairo (or the vast majority of them) don’t have lines. What would be a normal two-lane highway in America, is a mass exodus four-lane highway (minus the lanes) with people walking around the cars. It’s amazing to watch because no one ever looks left or right. They just walk and trust in Allah. I have not been able to pick up this blind trust yet.

The dorms in Zamalek are beautiful. Marble stone lobby and beautiful, spacious rooms. My room looks down at the courtyard which is a lush garden made up of various ferns and large palm trees. The dorms are segregated due to the conservative nature of the country and there is no PDA allowed. Though one of the RA’s, Rasheed has assured us that we won’t get in trouble if a hug lasts, “less than five seconds.”

I will try and go into a bit of what I saw in Tahrir and the political happenings of Egypt. Tahrir Square for starters is a large square (duh) that also includes several side streets (The U.S. Embassy is located on one of these side streets). As we came across a bridge on our way to Tahrir, we saw a large building. It was charred and burnt, standing eerily over the Nile River.

“That’s the NDP building. It was burned by protesters during the revolution,” one of my peer advisers, Omar said with a wry smile. For those who don’t follow Egyptian politics, the NDP stands for the National Democratic Party. It was the late but not-so-great Hosni Mubarak’s party so when the demonstrations were happening in Cairo last winter/spring, some of the more violent activists set fire to the building. The building still stands as a marker that events such as these are still ongoing in Egypt. Tahrir Square itself wasn’t teeming with activity today but it was still interesting. There are still tents set up in “Occupy” fashion. Part of the square is walled off and graffiti litters the walls like art work. Some of it is in Arabic though a lot seems to be in English (a way to attract foreign journalists). There was a demonstration today in support of Syria, where violent crackdowns on protesters by the Assad government is the norm and another protest that seemed to include a spattering of every social class.

I asked Omar what these people were protesting. He gave me the same wry smile, “They finish prayers in the mosque and then they walk through the streets, gathering people. They don’t have a cause, they just want to be heard.” Fair enough. Rebels without causes, literally James Dean. Americans can relate to that.

The Nile River cruise was eventful as well. Though I will get into that in my next post as it involves me belly dancing, stay tuned. I also want to dedicate a post about Egyptian pedestrian etiquette- mainly that there isn’t any. Egyptians are born with the innate sense to walk across a four lane highway without looking up from their phones. I’m not as adroit. For me, walking across the street makes me feel like I am on an episode Fear Factor- Cairo, but it must be done. I also want to comment about the abject poverty that is located next to extreme wealth (a cause for the revolution) in a later post.

Also there is cat who lives in the dorms. I have named him Hosni.

Now to put my jet-lagged self to sleep. Ma sa’laama asdekahee (Goodbye my friends)

 

 

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Tomorrow the Saga Begins!

Tomorrow I leave for Egypt. I know what you are thinking. Here I am carrying on about Egypt when I haven’t even reached Egypt yet. I have realized though that there are many notable experiences that happen before one even enters the plane. The key to good traveling, is good planning.

The fact is, I have had the daunting task of packing one suitcase (ONE) with 5 months worth of, for lack of better word, stuff. The annoying part of packing is figuring out what to pack in the larger (soon to be checked) baggage and what to pack in the smaller carry on baggage. This doesn’t seem like such a terrible task. Ah ha! Not true. Follow my logic readers, and you will find rich rewards. It all comes down to security. And, by security I mean, the dreaded TSA. I always find it rather amusing (until it’s my turn) watching people do the TSA sock hop, as they pull of their shoes, while simultaneously pulling off their belts, watches, cell phones and place them in small gray bins along with their dignity. It’s the whole business of shoe removal that really irks me. All because one man, one time decided to put explosives in his shoes. I always wonder what would have happened if he had put the explosives somewhere else…like in his pants?

Anyways, this all comes down to packing, because things need to be packed (especially when dealing with carry-on luggage) with extreme precision, so laptops can be whipped out and prescription pills can be laid out in order before the hawkish glare of an unsympathetic, underpaid TSA employee.

I won’t lie to anyone and say I am not nervous about said trip. Trust me, I have been plagued with anxiety this entire night as I prepare to leave the safety of the United States and my home for Egypt- a country that has no leader and is undergoing elections under the watchful eye of a tiring public, who are chomping at the political bit, so to speak. The next time I write, I hope to be somewhere outside of the United States. My first stop is Munich, Germany. Here goes nothing.

 

 

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