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…
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.
Three days before fate butted in once again…
This is wrong. this is so very wrong
Juts like every time every week, it was close to mid night. The full moon lit sky glittered with millions of stars without a cloud to conceal their brilliance. The streets have long since gone silent and not a soul walked the pavements, except for the cats and dogs, but they did not count. And there he was again, kneeling at her window–her door was armored with locks along with most of the windows–, picking the lock, and wondering just how many times he had said that very same thing, and sometimes with a few nasty words thrown in, in vain.
He knew that by doing this he was crossing all the lines, that he was acting like a psychologically messed-up stalker, which was something he was not. well, he was a stalker all right. just not a mentally ill one. There was a world of difference, even though from another perceptive the two didn’t really lack the ties.
Granted, he dedicated more hours to watch her from where she couldn’t see than he can count. Yes, he was here, because he wanted to know every last detail of her life. Yes, everything she did fascinated him so much that he snapped a picture– how she held her coffee mug, for example, was not by holding it from the handle, but by grasping the china body itself even though he was sure the liquid was boiling in a pot just two seconds ago.Yes, her photos filled the walls of an entire room in his house, and that he hated his assignments now since they were the only thing that kept him from watching her 24/7.
Yes, he took extra care to watch the ends of her every day, her pre-sleep routine, loving the way she stretched her arms high above her head, clasping the fingers of her hands and yawning as she slid a hand back down her arm to cover her mouth, her hips swaying slowly as if knowing he was watching.
And yes, of course he knew it was crazy to take such a risk and ridicule all the ways he could easily get caught, but how could he not keep coming back when she, with everything she did and everything she was, represented a brand new dimension of life he never thought would appeal to him? when to him she was life incarnate?
And watching her through spy glasses were too brief to satisfy any part of his curiosity.
He was not mentally ill. He was irrevocably in love.
And that propelled him from his house, often from his own bed, to hers. Because he missed her, ached for the sight of her, ached to hear the quiet even breaths and the occasional sleepy murmurs. They were the only things he could have for he didn’t deserve her, he knew, but he couldn’t stay away. It was like the unseen cosmic forces had tied them together and he could only stretch too far before finding himself back to where he was, where he belonged. And maybe this attraction was morbid, judging from his actions, but he would die before hurting her. If she found someone else, if she no longer had a room for him in her life, he would simply remove himself to a spot in the world that would make reaching her pure impossibility. But she was free now, and if his observation were any proof, she intended to be for a long time.
He lived on the hope that she would free for him forever, that maybe…
Within five minutes, Nicolas got the all too familiar go-ahead click . He took the lock picks out, put them back in his pocket and stood up. He touched the bottom of the window and tugged up lightly, still testing its vulnerability. He sighed a thank you when it moved according to his liking without restraint. He eased it open slowly, praying that it wouldn’t creak and announce his entry. When it didn’t and his estimation told him the opening was wide enough to accommodate him he planted a leg inside then he swung the rest of him inside. He left the window disclosed, a meager space between the glass and the sill–just in case– and made his way to her bedroom with a stealthily gait, and socked silent feet on the bits of the wooden floor the were not carpeted.
It was all the way it always had been when he came here every week. Her door was slightly ajar, a hue of weak light came from within the room, because she left a sorry excuse for a lamp on in a corner for some reason unknown. The two windows had been left open with the curtains drawn over them, ruffled by the night air, casting dancing shadows on the floor and walls.
And like every time, he took a deep gulp of air and felt it clench in his lungs. Her sightings always swelled his chest with a tender thrill. So slowly, his finger tips on the handle, he pushed the door open, certain about how far he must go before the squeak came so loud in the quietness of the darkened home.He squeezed between the door and the frame, careful not to let any part of him touch the wood and released the breath he had been holding.
He remained where he was, pressed against the wall, his dark clothes lending him the prefect disguise. A slight tremble in his hands. A bead of sweat slithering along his temple.
Just like every other time.
The room was the second biggest in the house after the kitchen (the woman did all but piss in the kitchen). The other room which he guess was meant to be for an over-night guest was small and had a treadmill that belittled the meager furniture of the room and never really made one comfortable enough to sleep with its silver and black metal body towering over the low bed.
Her own bedroom however was a world of its own, private and with starkly different characteristics. When the kitchen was designed with the practical, critical eyes of an expert, each item in this room was chosen according to the intimate thoughts of Natalie’s heart, so much that one felt as though one had stepped into a sacred ground. Nevertheless made one feel relaxed once the feeling wore off.
A desk with a neat surface and laptop was positioned at one wall, a chest of drawers with a mirror, perfumes and candles were against another wall with a ticking white clock above it. At a corner an exercise ball glistened on top of a rubber mat.
The single bed was pushed under the big window with mattresses (Nicolas knew by just looking at it) that were so unbelievably comfortable they sucked the fatigue immediately out of the body. That was so like Natalie, when it came to certain things she would not take less than perfect. The headboards were devoid of intricate designs. He saw a circular patch where the wood had peeled off somewhat from placing hot mugs on it without a coaster every night as she read on the sensual light of the lamp that rose elegantly behind the bed.
It was amazing how she could tolerate such a thing in her house when she skinned alive (figuratively speaking) whoever lazed down in her cafes. But of course here she didn’t need to maintain a superb reputation.
Like him, their homes were their personal Spas, their havens.
He saw everything in the house as he sneaked his way to her room and knew the details of that one too. However they were all in the margin. He had eyes only for her.
He took the same five steps toward her, blindly knowing where the boards would make unwanted sounds, and stopped a three-step distance away from her.
The pale blue sheet was pulled up to her waist, her bare arms hugged the pillow the way had dreamed to be held by her. Not a choke hold, just enough pressure to make him only aware of her embrace. Her hair was undone, dunes of golden brown touched by the silver light of the moon, thrown over the pillow behind her and swept over her face, hiding most of the face he loved from view, but he knew she looked serene.
He brought the huge dark blue cushion from the corner, well-stuffed with rice and comfortable to incline against–not so much to sleep on– plumbed it and brought it even closer to her bed. He put his forearms on his knees, intertwined his fingers and took the position of Watching Natalie Sleep, sitting at an angle where his face would not be totally exposed by the moonlight.
He looked at her, at the parts visible to him– her arms, her lips with creases at the corners hinting at a fight against a smile all the time, her eyelashes fanning shadows over her cheekbones.
And her hair.
Ah how he loved that hair.
He had been caught off guard by thoughts of that hair… slipping his fingers into it, filling his hands with its thickness, twist it as he kissed her and showed her all that he was unable to say till it got tangible beyond help. He wanted to bury his face in it and inhale the richness of scent he knew was its.
But all he could do now was to reach out a gentle hand and smooth it back away from her face. He could love that hair all he wanted, but he damn well didn’t come all the way across the city to stare at hair.
Taking his hand away again, he brushed a slow finger down her cheek, rosy and warm to the touch. He smiled when he saw a twitch of a smile at the corners of her mouth.
There that is so much better. Now he could resume his position for the rest of the hour and enjoy.
There were times when he wished he could stand as close as he was now to her and just drink from the endless mystery in her eyes, but every time he gazed upon her like this now, he was seized by the feeling that she was too beautiful to wake up.
All was going the way it usually went. She only moved once so that she was half on her back, half on her side, her arm draped over her hip. Every move made him hold his breath, fearing and wanting her to wake up. And he didn’t touch her again. He remained still and she remained asleep.
All was well as his night watch was drawing to an end… except that her eyelids fluttered and her lashes lifted.
Then suddenly the light from the ridiculous lamp went out.