Egypt is a country that has me completely messed up in the head.
I have so many conflicting feelings about it.
I was in Egypt less than a month ago visiting family. But only a few days after returning to the UK, I decided to jump on a plane and come back. Ramadan started, my friends were all posting about the accompanying festivities, and I was missing it all. I hadn’t spent Ramadan in Egypt for several years.
When I told my therapist that I’d be missing a session because I wanted to go back to Egypt, she asked me what it was about Ramadan in Egypt that I missed. I had spent most of the session telling her about real-life problems I was facing and I was fine. But the minute I started describing what it was like to stand in the balcony at the time of the sunset call to prayer, when all the craziness of Cairo’s streets suddenly disappears, it all goes quiet, and people are in their homes with their families and friends around tables full of food and love, I broke down in tears.
Even my therapist’s face showed pain on my behalf. “Oooh. You’re homesick,” she said.
Since I’ve been in Cairo, I’ve managed to see some of my friends. There is never enough time to see most of them. That is one way in which my life is so tremendously different in Egypt than it is in the UK. I have so many real friends who genuinely would do anything to spend time with me in Egypt. When a friend of a friend, someone I had never met but know through social media, heard that I was coming to Egypt during Ramadan, he invited me to travel to Alexandria to break my fast with him and his family. I accepted. It was such a lovely day. That’s Egypt to me. It’s a place where friendship can be so easy, simple, and loving.
But that’s not all of Egypt.
Just as I arrived, I heard that a dear friend of mine was picked up by Egypt’s state security. We are all very worried about him.
Only days earlier, an Egyptian activist who has cyber-bullied me and many others was also picked up from his home by Egypt’s state security. I am struggling to the very depths of my soul with this. This man has been very mean to what appears to me to be many people. But because of his political activism he is also much loved and followed. No one deserves to be thrown in jail for their political or religious views. I know that. But no one deserves to be bullied. I am angry with the world, including myself, for being put in a situation where I feel so helpless, if even regarding how to distinguish right from wrong, justice from injustice.
I have found that I, and others, can live a very rich and fulfilling, if also very sanitized
existence in Egypt, as long as you have enough money. I can come to Egypt, stay at a nice hotel, pay for someone else to drive me to where I need, eat good food, and go on diving excursions in the Red Sea. I come to Egypt with a foreign currency that really does go a long way. Others who have enough money and live in Egypt can live in nice enclosed compounds, go to private sport’s clubs for their activities, eat at expensive restaurants and spend their money in malls that are far nicer than most of those I’ve seen in the UK.
But that sanitized existence just simply can’t be picture-perfect. It can’t. I sit in front of an Olympic-sized open-air pool as I type. The weather is perfect. The skies are blue. And I have friends who are political prisoners in Egyptian jails. This is something that can happen to anyone. I know this because it happened to my friends.
There are also millions of Egyptians struggling every day to put food on the table. Countless Egyptians who wash their clothes and plates in polluted irrigation canals. People who struggle to provide their children with a decent education. It’s tough here for so many. It really is.
I want to be in Egypt because it gives me so much. I want to get as far away from it as I can because it has taken so much and I know it will take more.
And there seems to be no way out. It’s like I and everyone I know and love are destined to be trapped like this till the day we die.