Five minutes to midnight…
Stains on the pillowcase that are my tears
Five minutes after midnight…
Tears I cried for such long years
I cry as if I am consumed by guilt
It feels like I have nothing left
And I weep for all that I could lose
I wail for the star that awaits up ahead
My hand trembles…
It feels as if I am overwhelmed with grief
As I go on crying
My heart slows the beats…
As if I am faced with hate
As if I can’t collect my remains
It is filled with confusion, this moment
It is strange how my memory keeps points of light
while around me deep shadows growl in rhyme.
I can’t see…
Strange how I can still breathe…
I feel like I am going to die
I am about to call on my repentant sins
But my world is resounding with relentless ticks
I cling to my dream of a forever
I am a believer, I know
But how could I still be so unsure?
My lips are dry… I need a smile
These chains around my heart… I long for an escape
Where is my voice? I cannot hear a beep…
Where is the real me I really want to meet?
It sounds so personal, yet, in a way, it has nothing to do with me…
It makes me wonder, in those times when I contemplate the past and its link with the now and tomorrow, if the last awful 30 years of Mubarak’s reign, that hateful oppression, were just another intermediate period like the ones I have read about in the History of Egypt. You know, the natural course of time. I often send a cosmic question to the void; will the following years be the beginning of a new era when all shall rest with a spot of contentment? Will it bring a shimmer to the writhed soul of Egypt? A dose of hope…
I admit that The Revolution of January 25th didn’t really bring out the best in the Egyptians, because anger tends to delete some of the minds functions, which is to force one to stop before acting and think for a moment. But for one thing it made me realize how much I love this country, for it had never crossed my mind to actually write about “Egypt through my eyes”.
It is strangely elating, I absolutely love it.
This piece was inspired by sheer quirk of coincidences. I was on my way to the University (I live 5 minutes away by bus, 10 minutes on foot) in a bus, sitting next to to a very old, poor-looking woman. Riding in buses to go any where all over the republic makes you indifferent to whoever is sitting by you, unless of course that person is a creep and you have to do something about it.
Any way, that particular ride took us 10 minutes because the smoking driver took a detour to pick up people in order to complete the seats. This time, though, I was aware of the old lady beside me, because once we took that detour I heard the rustling of plastic bags followed by the unmistakable, mouthwatering smell of Falafel (Tamiya as we Egyptians call it). Well, I was running late and had to dash out of the house without having breakfast and you could just imagine what that merciless smell was doing to me and my digestive system–my whole body to be honest.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw her pulling the crisp greenish orb that was the Tamyia out of one of the bags and place it inside the freshly baked bread. Suddenly I jumped, she was tapping at my arm.
And in her hand she was extending the sandwich toward me with a lighthearted smile.
Well, that I didn’t see coming, I remember telling myself. In all truth I wanted to take it, I had no problem at all, but then again why should she sacrifice her breakfast for me? So I refused, saying that I had already had breakfast. She insisted. I refused one more time, my voice lacking in conviction. She settled and began eating.
I had the strangest feeling then as I watched her eat happily. And then it hit me; I should write about that incident as soon as I get home.
From there the idea grew and grew inside my head till I came up with this piece…
1- The Great Sense of Humor:
I love a good sense of humor. I like it wicked, with implications when suited, and hilarious facial expression or when someone cracks a joke while in the grip of anger. Therefore, one of the comedies I like a lot is the English–American or British–
But, as an Egyptian to the core and writing about that things that makes Egyptians special, that is one of the things that were jotted on top of the list. I have found nothing that could compare to the marvelous ways the Egyptians make me laugh. It happens every where. On a bus(especially that), walking through campus, talking to a professor, going to The Museum or chatting away on the phone or in a chat-box.
In every gathering there is a frizzle of voices then a united laughter rises afterwards, either the whole group talks about one thing or multiple conversations are undergoing, laughter always attracts all. There is always a smile, even on the faces of the statues I study.
In fact, I believe, from my somewhat narrow perspective, that Egypt is one of the very few countries in which you can smile for no apparent reason and no one would call you a freak in the face. On the contrary, if you are a girl, they would smile back and say words of compliments. If you are a boy, well, you will pull the attention of girls like a magnet.
That is something about Egyptians that is renowned globally, I think.
It is in our nature to be generous, the aforementioned lady is one of the many many examples I have came across. If a new neighbor is moving into the flat-complex, we offer help and by the end of the day, more than one the older occupants would bring food to the new comers. If you’re a foreigner and pass by a gathering –especially, in the towns of Upper Egypt– they would insist you come in and have a cup of tea or even lunch.
The Upper Egyptians are really generous, in more than one way. Once, me and family have traveled up the Nile to visit some distant relatives that I never knew existed till then, and they practically offered their beds for us while the spent the night on the floor, with nothing but wool blankets to make up for mattresses.
I was astonished.
I mingle with a lot of foreigners. And they all have been here in Egypt for as long as I have, and they don’t want to leave it. Well, I don’t think that it is just because of their work.
3- Land of Civilization? mmm, not so much:
Ehm. To be honest I hesitated when it came to writing this item here, because… well, it is expected of me to write all good and well?
I am not really sure, but the truth is that I write about what I see in Egypt, but up until now–thank God– all agreed with me about this one. The way I see it it just wouldn’t do to write all the positives and leave out the negatives as if they had done something “naughty”. It’s after all the Egyptians’ fault.
They in short have lost a great deal of respect for themselves, they have forgotten who they are and their worth. They moved to the countries of Arabs in search for the extra money and in return they seemed to think that to give up a bit of their dignity is due. They began to measure everything by how much a person has in her-is wallet. Therefore, they started seeing almost everything by the exterior, by looks.
Some of that is of course because of the cursed reign of Mubarak, but really, we shouldn’t have forgotten this much of our principles. We compromised a lot of things. And of course that reflected on the presence of women in the country.
They are a bit degraded, and treated with obvious disrespect, which the women have conspired in, because we grow up taught that it is impolite of a girl to raise her voice or curse. I agree with not cursing all the time while on the street, but seriously, why the hell should I simply walk away when someone is spitting in my face (the face of half the society, for God’s sake) without a right? (that is for one. I don’t to get too deep into this because it would be worth a series of articles, not an item among many)
We have trashed the country. There is rubbish where should never be rubbish, and sometimes I get the feeling that they drive like they are blindfolded or something. And that, loss of lives and loss of general presentable view is totally unexcused.
The problem about Egyptians is that most of the time they think they are so tough and can take on anything and any one by force.
The problem about this country is that it was being infused with ignorance and bullies for a really long time.
Something is terribly . My people were brainwashed.
4- Family… Family… Family:
Now, almost every Egyptian has a dream of finishing school, finding a job and getting married. That is it. Marriage is a great deal here. And it includes a double-standards against women. If you are 30 year-old woman and not married yet, then something must be wrong with you. If you are a 30-year-old man and not married, poor you, then you just haven’t found the right one for you. Divorcees (startlingly growing in number) are not put on a pedestal too.
However, when it comes to family ties we have that in abundance. When my grandma was still alive, my dad’s side, he used to drive for two hours to stay with her for a day, sometimes the whole weekend. And when my mum’s mum was still alive, mum used to do the same, now she sees her dad twice a month (things are not too good between them) and call him constantly, too.
Here, family comes first. We like it a lot. And I think if we had that move-out-of-your-parents-house thing going we would still have it strong.
Just take a peek at the time of big holidays like Al Aid, when we celebrate the end of Ramadan, or something. It is really beautiful.
In general, we have good social relations among each other, if they were snagged by the grave errors of Mubarak, we still have respect for our neighbors and we congratulate each other on every occasion, whether we are Muslims or Christians.
Besides, we are not racists.
Besides being the only Arabic-speaking country in which 4 Nobil Prize Winners were brought up(which I am so very proud of), we are like a force of nature when it comes to reaching higher for a good goal, when we have an aim in life.
“If there is a will there is a way” is a religion to us. I have seen it happen. The world sees it happen. Egyptians like hard work (even when it sometimes appears only in other countries, but that I could tolerate, since during the reign of Mubarak, there was nothing good in the country to work for any way).
I see that hard work in my good fellow students, I see it in the ways of my good professors.
**Egypt is the only country that has 13 candidate for Presidency. Yes it is only 3 or 4 who are coming pretty powerful, but 13? That is just plain hilarious. I thought I would add that among the other stuff, because I just can’t believe it.
**In Egypt, riding a bus, sometimes feels like playing in an amusement park, a Ferres Wheel, Roller Coaster, you name it. Really, once a week or so I get on a bus that is so miserable that you feel every bump in the asphalt, it squeaks and you see people inside swaying from side to side and even bouncing on their bottoms. It is my own comic-book. A hilariously slightly unsafe adventure.
For me there will never again come a man like Omar Al Sharif, Adel Imam, Amr Waked and especially Ahmed Zaki and Mohammed Mounir Abdl Halim Hafez, that man twists my heart with passion. And I admire the honesty and audacity of Khaled Yusuf, and the genius of Yusuf Shahin.
Nor will I know a woman like Soa’ad Hosney, Rula Zaki, Om Kalthum.
There are many many more across this country and around the globe, but those are the ones I love most; the ones that set us apart.
I would have liked to write more, but that is already too much.
I know that mine is not by any stretch of imagination the best country, but I love it.
And I know that Egyptians have seen and been through too much and that they are different in a more complicated way than I could understand, let alone write about.
But if there is one thing I am sure about is that every once in a while the people of this country do what they do best; they make history.
I soon realized that there is nothing like entering that museum for the first time. The air that seems to cling in that mysterious way to the time when the spectacular exhibits were new and young would hold you still for a long moment.. Then you release your breath and take the first baby-steps, still a little wary of the dominant prestige.
I was suddenly so proud of my identity. My ancestors obviously wanted to leave an imprint in this world, and they single-minded did.
I tell you there is nothing like that first time.
I knew right away that I was in love. And if Dr.Rasha Soliman was in my sight I would have kissed her.
Just the other Thursday March 22, 2011, I knew for a fact that the green squares on both sides of El Mehwar are actually fields!!??
Of course I know that Egypt has fields all over it, but OUR fields are not really what “fields” look like in my mind. They don’t stretch out for miles like the other fields in other countries. Still, they are beautiful.
The swaying palms, the gleaming green and the sweaty working people.
A sight for sore eyes, indeed.
The bus moved on its speed as I watched the pretty scenery roll by with wide-eyed, open-mouthed awe, which of course made me look ridiculous. It wasn’t until we reached the end of one of the fields did my heart sink, my mouth snap shut and my eyes dull. In short, I felt ridiculous myself. Because on the wide, beaten stripe of mud that separates the fields, multicoloured plastic bags of RUBBISH piled???
As if it isn’t enough to have buildings protruding from the green, slowly eroding away fertile soil and ruining the beauty!!
As a citizen, and may that be a hard-working man, or a struggling student, etc, not only do I have the right but DESERVE to have something “nice” in sight on my way back from a tiring day.
The peasants need fresh air around them, generous soil to plant and a good view to look at when the straighten from a crouch.
People need good natural food.
The sight really made me mad. No wonder they spry all sorts of aerosol in fruitless attempts to keep bugs, insects, and most of all the nosy rats out of the fields. OF COURSE, no aerosol would do! and how on earth would it, when rubbish is laying around the grounds from which we EAT.
It should come as no surprise that we suffer strange deceases and have vegetables infected with strange microbes. Add to that the air pollution, the Nile pollution, traffic and people with bad temper.
The Revolution came to change the bad habits. To teach us a lesson; allowing small things to pile and pile to the point of “no more” would inevitably lead to a disaster.
It made us rekindle the dying hope. And now after weeks of cautious calm I come across THIS.
I don’t know what to call it but “shame”. Really.
Turning my head away, I came to realized one painful truth.
Take it from me, for the life of you, traveling El Mehwar staring at abused fields is much, MUCH better than what attacked me once I turned my eyes…
The complicated knots of bustling cars, glistening furiously in the sun and filling the length of the other side of the road (the one that take people to Cairo) to the top.
Well, now, the rubbish would eventually roll out of sight and be long forgotten by the time you get off the bus, but the sight of cars trying their very best to stay off each other and the near-fainting, near-going-mad drivers WILL make you cry for hours on end!
And that was to say the LEAST!!
So deciding to save my tears for a broken heart, a dead relative or bad grades, I quickly turned my head away.
And there it was, the clear fields as if nothing had ever happened…
I love my idea of “a writer’s life”, the expression of looking at the far horizons, but really looking into the depth of thoughts, the time at nights that is so sacred in the company of only a pen and papers or the fingertips on a keyboard. Mentally going after each word tying them together, then breaking tie and trying again.
All work to get the desired combination of words.
I love how they pull me out of bed after many failed attempts to sleep in order to write. I love the texture of the paper, light, crisp and soft and how it smells. As if something important is about to be written.
Because something always is.
I trace down their ancient history and praise their contribution in making us what we are today.
I even love when a sentence or a whole paragraph look all wrong. My annoyed tongue-click comes followed by the bored motion of scratching out the part I don’t like.
Sometimes it is a single line across, in case I was struck by a change of heart. Sometimes, I find peculiar pleasure in obliterating every last bit of it.
I love how it is always on my mind, an endless string of thoughts describing things. A scene, a time, a feeling, listening to my own my as it carefully plots down the words, without a pause, so good. Fit for a novel.
And I love how they seem to preserve a certain state of mind, express a thought or a stray memory.
I smile at the edge of impatience in them to be written.
My own time is when I am writing all alone, the house dormant around me. The dawn is changing colors outside my window. The Early Risers squeaking the songs of the morn. A single cry of a crow. A low thrumming of a distant motor. But here, inside my room, the silence is so complete it drowns the persistent ticks of the clock. Lifting the pen off the lined page, and listening. To the external sounds and my brainstorming arranging and rearranging the words.
Ah, how I love words.
This relationship is a complex. At times we are gliding along just fine. My ink is generous, the words are satisfyingly cooperative. We are both very happy with this private companionship.
But at times they are crazed. They elude me. They lure me out, knowing that I’d wholeheartedly take the bait, and when I am there at my desk where they want me, they go play hide-and-seek.
Heartless, overpowering little cowards!
I find myself short of breath, short of patience in that pursuit.
When I want a spot of peace or looking to get some sleep…
It’s painful. It’s beautiful. Either way, I love it.
And there is really no one true why to that.
It happens in a moment. It takes you by surprise. And there is no escape.
I know I will never stop, I know this fascination is eternal. In every sentence I like in a book and underline… in everything these glorious words project into my head…
The images… the ideas…
A creation… An end…
A laughter… A tear…
A mockery or a sense of honor…
This is the sum of my secret life with words.
It is a story of adoration that has no end.
A marriage is a long story to tell. It’s a continuum with moments of drama, periods of stupefying boredom. Passages of tremendous hope. One can never tell the story of a marriage. There’s no narrative that encompasses it. Even a daily diary wouldn’t tell you what you want to know. Who thought what when. Who had what dreams. At the very least, a marriage is two intersecting stories, one of which we will never know.
A Weeding in December. Anita Shreve.