Nadia: “But I want to save the world!”
Nadia’s best friend Arwa: “Save it! Just don’t let it bother you!”
Nadia: “But I’m not bothered for me. I’m bothered for the sake of all of humanity!”
It was at that point in the conversation that I realized I was properly PMSing.
I’m not aware when exactly it happened or how long it’s been going on, but at some point in time I appointed myself savior of all humanity (in Egypt only really because saviors need to be realistic about their goals) through Facebook.
I could go on joking about this and making fun of myself. That would be easy. But I won’t. Because no matter how silly and superficial it sounds, “it” isn’t silly or superficial at all.
I’m not sure when the messages started rolling in. It’s been at least two years now. Maybe three. Perhaps four? Complete strangers, almost all of them Egyptian, started popping up in my Facebook inbox asking if I would listen to their story. So I listened. At first I was receiving one message every few days. Then, for a long time, a year or two, I was receiving around two messages a day. Recently I posted what I thought was another one of my “normal” statuses but for some reason it went absolutely and crazily viral. That day and for a few days after I was receiving tens of messages from complete strangers. All needing a listening ear.
That’s all I do with them, really. I listen. I might tell them what my particular experience is in something if it relates. I might feel that they need to speak to a professional so I help them try to find one. I might try to give them hope. I might try to help them figure out what they need to do to empower themselves. But in reality, all I really do is listen.
I have never ignored a single one of those messages.
Every time I read their introductions, saying they feel lost and have no one to speak to, I remember the times I’ve been through not knowing where to turn. I could have been spared so much crap had I found a nonjudgmental listening ear. Sometimes I wonder if that ear was readily available in my father. He never ever turned me away. He was my best friend and confidante in most things. But there were things I felt I couldn’t even tell my father. I often wonder if I put that feeling there myself. I know that I’d want my children to be able to tell me anything. Perhaps it’s just a fact of life that children won’t always feel comfortable telling their parents everything.
I know what it feels like not to know where to turn. I know that need to be able to tell your story to someone who will listen but not judge. So I listen and I don’t judge, hoping that small act of listening might save the stranger on the other end from unnecessary grief.
But there is so much grief out there in the world. This particular world that I have become privy to holds so much grief. There are the sons and daughters in their 20s who are incapable of breaking free from their parents’ clutches. There are the wives in their 30s and 40s who aren’t allowed to make the simplest choices for themselves, including what they wear, when they leave the house or when they can visit their parents. There are the 30-something-year old men who are making themselves sick with endless work to save up enough money to buy an apartment worthy of prospective in-laws. And there are the men and women of all ages who have dreams and aspirations but feel bound by society, duty, or family and are unable to even consider turning their dreams into reality.
Almost all of these people just need to hear that it will be all right, that there’s still hope, that all is not lost.
A significant proportion of the messages I receive boil down to people’s inability (for any reason) to make their own free choices.
I realize that over and over again so I end up writing a general Facebook status saying it is not the right of anyone to impose their belief system or their own lifestyle choices on others. That they are free, themselves, to believe and live as they see fit, but that they cannot impose their choices on others.
And, in response, I get comments that do just that. People of faith (all Muslim because, ultimately, that is the major portion of the Arab audience that reads me) imposing their religion on the conversation by saying, “But God said….!” Do they not realize that the second they make a statement that begins with “But God said…” they are putting an end to any form of conversation?
So I feel frustrated. Not for me (necessarily). I do as I please. But for everyone else who lives in a society in which conversations start and end with the words “But God said.”
Then my heart breaks for the millions of people who have no choice but to live in a society where conversations begin and end with “But God said.”
I want them to have the freedom to choose where they live and which society they live with. I want them to have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and what they believe. But they don’t have that freedom. We live in a world that is making it more and more difficult for people to cross borders. They are stuck where they are.
Many people are more than happy to live in a society like that. But why can’t people who don’t want to be oppressed or strongly “advised” by others leave and go elsewhere?
Those are stupid questions. I know they are. I know how complex the situation in the world is. I know there isn’t a single society that is perfect. I know that the problems many Egyptians face in Egypt are faced by countless others elsewhere. Knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better.
So many people in my country want and need to be free. That’s a basic human need and right. I woke up this morning to news that a human rights activist was being questioned by Egyptian MILITARY intelligence. An Egyptian civilian was being questioned by MILITARY intelligence.
And I talk about freedom.
For the past few days I’ve watched the unfolding of the Russian airplane crash saga. And as Britain and other countries suspend their flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, I cannot help but think: How can tourists ever be safe in my country until Egyptians themselves are safe?? Safe from the thugs, the thieves, the sexual harassers, the corrupt officials, the disappearances only to appear in one jail or another, the utter lack of a fair judicial system, and the terrorism. We aren’t safe in our own country on a day-to-day basis. We aren’t safe from our own government and our own police. How on earth can tourists come to our country and feel safe?
And I talk about freedom.
There is no freedom. There is no freedom to move. There is no freedom to live. There is no freedom to think. There is no freedom to speak. There is no freedom to believe. There is no freedom not to believe. There is no freedom to walk safely down the street.
So when someone pops up in my Facebook inbox, and instead of asking if I would listen to their story decides it’s their right to make the following statement, “My apologies and I don’t mean to intrude. But I’m really curious to know why you took off your hijab,” then tells me how much they respect me if it weren’t for that “one little thing” that was missing (the hijab), I feel sorry for all of humanity. All of it. And all I can do, the only tool that I have, is to continue listening through a social media platform to all those people who feel oppressed and need a listening ear.