Tag: Tahrir

750 Words For My Egyptians Friends

There is a system. A way of life here. You can say the system works or doesn’t work. You can say that public services and security were much better before the Revolution. You can leave your trash in the heap spilling over from the sidewalk, because that’s how it works here. A man will come by and separate it. Eventually. He will recycle whatever can be recycled. At least 80% of it. He will carry it away. And he will be paid by the kilo. And that money will feed his family.

And you may see the examples of racism here. The black-face on stage and screen may seem like just a way to show differences. The fact that the Egyptian performers portraying Ethiopians require afro wigs and animal print fabric may not register as a problem.

When the school facilities you are working in are dilapidated, you wait for a new building. You make do with what you have. You hire who you can afford to hire to maintain it.

But never do you gather as faculty, parents, alumni and staff to paint and repair the place yourselves.

 

Unrequested Advice from this Loving Friend Who Sadly Doesn’t Know Enough Arabic to Write to You in Arabic

  • Organize community or school clean-up festivals. I can help you.
  • Don’t assume that foreigners are smarter than you, wealthier than you, freer than you, or superior to you in any way.
  • The fact that these European operas, symphonies and ballets are “classics” does not mean they are above being reworked or re-interpreted. Re-mix. And about those big-budget operas, symphonies and ballets at the Cairo Opera House, where are the Egyptian composers and choreographers and works? Less outsourcing, I ask of you. No need to. You’re geniuses. And I will buy a ticket.
  • You have risen up, as a collective force, as a people, to demand rights, to demand change, to document change. But now you might think about creating change. The Constitution is vague anyway. Go for it.
  • Invent strategies to reduce class sizes. Then introduce more critical thinking pedagogies.
  • Remember to keep teaching religion in ways where understanding other perspectives is more important than proving your own rightness or defending a certain way of living.

First Day of School 2012. In Giza.

  • Let things be complicated and not totally understood.
  • Hear out the perspective of someone who believes something different than you. No need to correct. Just listen.
  • Educate artists on how to lead as local politicians, educators, health care support, cooks, and public space beautifiers.
  • Find a break in the system and turn it into an opportunity for empowerment, more than simply a cause for complaint.
  • Keep inspiring and surprising. Like when some revolutionists (maybe it was you) turned this Tahrir Square police wall into a happy wall.
  • Produce and curate performances and exhibitions by local community and amateur artists. With the ticket money collected, fund childhood cancer research, or a new park. or paint for a school.
  • Keep on dancing. You do it so well in this culture. Now dance in hospitals, schools, Metro stations, farms, big public squares…
  • Do things that I can’t do.

 

Thank you for letting me get this out. I know that I am not Egyptian. I have only been in this country 21 weeks total. I don’t stand in your shoes and may have things wrong.

But I have love for this country. And I am awed by you.

Tahrir Square. November 2012.

 

These days, I know tensions are high and momentum is low. I see you getting tired. I hear your fears under your words. On both sides. And I know that this January 25th will call for action, for reaction. For television crews and ambulances on standby.

Four Things to Remember This January 25th… from Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
  2. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
  3. “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary… It involves an emotional catharsis, and it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
  4. “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Packing Up

Living in a place not your home can get difficult. No matter the place.

No matter how many times strangers on the street say “Welcome to Egypt,” you can feel like the odd man out. Love the challenges. But it’s no walk in the park when even a walk in the park is an adventure. Constantly out of your element.

Today started off as one of those down days. We all get them. We all feel down. Egypt only has four beer options (Stella, Heineken, Sakara, and Meister Max), all local, and I was officially tired of them all. Craving an IPA or a good craft brew. My shoes were not warm enough to sit at one of the outdoor cafes. It’s cold. Verging on rainy. The wind yesterday was epic. The tents in Tahrir Square flapping violently. And I craved to have those boots I had back in Chicago that boosted my swagger. So I decided to stay home and pack up the Fulbright apartment (given to me September 2 – January 15).

And as I was packing up, my mood started flipping. I kept finding mementos of the last four months…

One ticket stub for the grounds of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx; plus one ticket to go inside the second-largest, second-cheapest of the three pyramids.

Three language workbooks from the Arab Academy, full of notes and some of the worst Arabic spelling known to man.

One handwritten note passed to me by a teen patient at the Children’s Cancer Hospital 57357 that reads, “I dreamed that you and I were married, but this is just a dream. I’m happy with this dream.”

Seven underground, revolutionary bumper stickers and one poster, with the purpose of getting the word out about the November 23rd demonstrations in Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

One large Egyptian flag found on the ground in Tahrir Square, rescued and repaired. (I may or may not have waved this flag boldly when alone in my apartment.)

One ticket stub for “Wekalet El-Gouri, El-Tanoura Troupe” Sufi dancing, another for a traditional music concert at Makan, and another for a heart wrenching play, “Zawaya: Testimonies from the Revolution” at Al-Warsha Theatre Group Premises.

One stoic picture of Ahmed, a 17-year-old who was martyred during the January 25 Revolution.

A worn copy of the 30 November version of the draft Egyptian Constitution (which was expedited and questionably passed in December), and a list of all its faults.

One used bus ticket to Marsa Matruh, Cleopatra’s choice for a resort town on the Mediterranean coast.

One unlucky raffle ticket from the Terry Fox Run at AUC, a fundraiser for 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt.

One well-worn “I Voted Today” sticker, a small American flag, and a booklet explaining the U.S. Electoral process, in Arabic.

The receipt from when I walked into a pharmacy here (no insurance, no appointment, no prescription) and paid $8 for medication I would have paid over $200 for in the States without insurance.

Four programs from the Cairo Opera House (Aida, LaCorsaire, Nutcracker, and Egyptian Modern Dance Theatre). Like the National Theater, these are performances supported by the Ministry of Culture. (Side Note: The classics such as Shakespeare are performed here in Arabic, and the translators must keep the iambic pentameter. Wowsers, that is difficult.)

One rock. A souvenir my boyfriend picked up in Fayoum, the oldest city in Egypt, and a handmade mug from Tunis, a pottery village there.

Two ticket stubs to El Sawy Culture Wheel (revolutionist musician Ramy Essam and famed writer Alaa Al Aswany).

The receipt from when my friends and I went salsa dancing at Bian Cafe.

 

OK, maybe life is more wondrous than I was giving it credit for earlier today.

Here I am in the Middle East.

The Middle East is a strange term. Is it meant that this is halfway to the Far East? Only when starting from the Americas? When some people say Middle East, they are only referring to Palestine and Israel. Some people include nearly all the predominantly Muslim or Arab countries in the region. Some include those in Southeast Asia.

MENA is now the common term: Middle East and North Africa. Not sure if Egypt is considered both. In any case, here I am. Here I am dancing, lending a hand, learning. And maybe I’ll go out and have a bottle of Stella in the famous bar downtown named Stella. Maybe I’ll have  saHlub (hot coconut milk with almonds and raisins) and one of those traditional sugar cookies covered in sesame seeds. Read some Naquib Mahfouz. And I’ll go see the Christmas tree in Tahrir Square. Today is Christmas for Egyptian Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian, Russian and Orthodox friends.

Tomorrow I will start preparing for trips to Israel, Palestine, back to Cairo for the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution (We will see if this time around brings rebellion, true reform, revolts to the MB; diversity, mergence, or division of culture), then on to visit a safehouse in Kenya, a village energy enterprise in Uganda, my family and friends in the States, and then back to Cairo in the Spring. Hope you will go on this journey with me. Ups and downs.

In the words of a patient at the Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt, “I am happy with this dream.”

 

***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Yella Beena. A Night in #Tahrir.

And here we go. Yella beena.

Everyone gets a mask, just in case of more tear gas.

I am 5 foot 1″. Approximately 113 pounds. I’m an American. I shaved my head in March for pediatric cancer research, so my hair is short. This haircut gets many stares and comments. As does the fact that I’m obviously a foreign lady.

So when I occasionally decide to go out into places such as Tahrir Square, I take extra precautions.

Yesterday I walked through the crowd, 2 million strong, sandwiched between two dear Egyptian friends who had my back no matter what. At times, the mass of people was so packed we could not take a single step in any direction. This was not frightening at all because the atmosphere was cooperative. Many women and children in the crowd. A few moments edged on joyous as an elongated, enormous Egyptian flag was passed overhead. Beautiful fireworks above. We passed people selling cotton candy, sweet potatoes, beans, koshary, Kleenex, Guy Fawkes masks, clinical face masks, horns, cups of tea, water, flags, face paint of flags, and jester hats. Twice I passed a young girl of 7 or 8 lost in watching her own flag dance in the breeze.

There is a tent city in the middle of the square for vendor families, political groups, etc. to sleep or stay in as the week progresses. Three of the tents are for artists.

My friends and I sat in a small roped-off corner section with a group of young activists including a celebrity, an actress from local TV and cinema. She has a face which drew a large crowd of fans with eager cameras. One friend sitting in the center of the group started to lead us all into song, in particular The Ballad of Beans and Meat by Sheikh Imam, a leftist Egyptian singer and composer popular since the 1960s.

This all reminded me of a local pub. Where everybody knows your name. A reunion. Revolutionaries pulling the signs out of storage. Nostalgia and hope.

The Egyptians I spoke to know that the revolution is not as easy as those 18 days in 2011. Revolution is never easy. This is going to be a bumpy journey. But now has the feeling of a last chance to get the revolution back on course. You cannot replace a dictator with a pharaoh. You cannot build an Sharia-based constitution out of a cry for Freedom, Bread and Social Justice. Or can you?

Each area of Tahrir Square had a leader step up from the crowd to lead the others in songs or chants. An enthralling and powerful sound. Thousands more people joined in, marching from the far ends of Cairo, packing into the square as the night carried on.

Full moon overhead.

My friends and I went to one of the nearby buildings and walked up many flights because the elevator was not working. There’s a generously cool man named Pierre who opens his home overlooking Tahrir Square to photographers, bloggers, activists, and friends. Loved the signage around the apartment: “The balcony is not for use by professional media. If it makes you money, do it elsewhere.” and “This is a work space. If you are not working, go out to the streets and revolt.”

I followed the swelling Revolution sounds from below, stepped out onto the balcony with my iPhone camera ready to roll. And this is what I saw:

#Tahrir Square – Tuesday, 27 November 2012

 

#Tahrir Tent City

 

#Tahrir – Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The best sight of all was the field hospital on the corner of Talat Harb Street.

Empty.

Other than some small clashes over by the mosque and the north gate wall of the American Embassy, this was a peaceful and promising day. Unfortunately, this coming Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood has declared they will be taking over Tahrir Square with their own demonstration. With liberal groups holding sit-ins and sleeping in their established tent city, this sounds like a recipe for bloodshed. It is worrying, to say the least. I will stay home on Saturday and apply for work with The Ford Foundation, Amnesty International, and any other opportunities I can find. My hope is that the people there in the square Saturday, on both sides, can learn from one another while sharing a cup of tea.

I also hope to do a short performance piece just outside the square. A dance where all who wish to can join in. Probably not Saturday, but soon.

Today, there are just small clashes between youngsters and police. I saw an 11-year-old at the Metro station with a face mask and a tear gas canister. Tear gas is the main issue. Much of the tear gas is expired and says Made in the USA. Interesting.

Papa John’s refused to deliver to my neighborhood tonight. So we called Pizza Hut. When the delivery man arrived, his face was red and he was crying from riding his motorcycle through all the tear gas. We gave the poor guy some vinegar to wipe his eyes, allowed him some time to recover, and on his way back out, I gave him my face mask (pictured above).

 

***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

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