I had a most interesting conversation yesterday that really resonated with me. It’s given me much food for thought.
Mahmoud is a fellow Egyptian revolutionary who has also found himself going through difficult times while based in Berlin, Germany. I first got to know him in 2009, in those early days when there was only a handful of Egyptians posting on Twitter. We had a little community of Egyptian bloggers/micro-bloggers going for ourselves. Twitter had given us space to make our voices heard. We had a lot to say. And, for the most part, we felt we had a lot in common. Someone organized a couple of tweet-ups for Egyptian tweeters, which I joined. That was probably how I met Mahmoud first in real life. We stayed in touch over the years the way people do through social media. And our paths crossed a few times in Tahrir Square during those fateful days in 2011.
Mahmoud read my previous blog post where I was expressing confusion about what to do next in life. He wrote me a comment on Facebook saying that we had to talk. We eventually caught up with each other yesterday on a phone call.
“We’re misplaced gods,” he explained to me. “We’re misplaced gods stuck in mediocre places with mediocre people who don’t appreciate who we are. And it’s affected the way we see ourselves.”
Mahmoud explained that so many of us Egyptians, I’d say those of us particularly who were involved in the revolution – it takes a certain kind of person to get involved in that sort of thing…someone with dreams and passion who is willing to place their life on the line, quite literally, for something they really believe in – so many of us have struggled for a large part of our lives to break through moulds and to create change for ourselves and others around us. It’s almost the only thing we know how to do. We excel in survival mode, he said. Then we find ourselves somewhere peaceful and safe, which is nice for a bit, but then we have no idea whatsoever what to do with ourselves.
He said, you were the mother of four children who wanted to break out of the mould given to that type of person in Egypt. He’s right. I love being a mother. But I realized early on that I had so many other things to give as well. It’s not that anyone stood in my way, per se. But it was bloody hard trying to figure out how to be my own person. I lived in a society that glorified a certain kind of motherhood and a certain kind of womanhood. I didn’t relate. And that context I found myself in didn’t help me understand what my potential might be in order to make choices for myself about where I wanted to go in life. I didn’t know what the options were. I had to figure it all out from scratch.
I was very very very fortunate. My path crossed with so many different kinds of people who were on their own journeys, trying to figure things out for themselves. My mind opened. Opportunities arose. I lashed onto them. And I began to dig a path for myself that I could say was my own. Damn, but it was bloody hard.
And now, like Mahmoud said, I’m safe. I live in a small but nice house in the north of England. It’s quiet. So quiet that when I go back to Egypt for visits my senses are sent into an overdrive of shock. In England, I go out for nice walks, runs and bike rides in the surrounding countryside. No one cares about what I’m wearing or what I’m doing. I can just be. I don’t worry about how I’ll afford to get decent healthcare when I need it. I don’t get anxious every time I need to leave the house to run a simple errand. I know I can get to the supermarket and back home within half an hour, without having to deal with ridiculous traffic. I can get most of my official paperwork done online. It’s not that the UK is perfect. I have my gripes. But I’m safe. Things are so much easier. I don’t have to struggle day-to-day to get the simplest things done.
I don’t want that to change. I need that safety. The mere thought of having to go back to Egypt one day to live and deal with everything that involves brings me tremendous anxiety.
But, if Mahmoud is right, then I’m not in my survival mode anymore. I’m not excelling. I’m not rebelling. There’s nothing to rebel against. That’s not true. I’m sure there is. But I’ve been rebelling against other things for so long that the things people might rebel against here in a country like the UK don’t resonate with me as strongly. In Egypt, I was rebelling for my basic right to be the person I wanted to be. I was rebelling for other people’s rights to do the same. I was rebelling for democracy. I was rebelling against corruption. I was rebelling for a society I so conflictingly loved and despised at the same time. They were my people nonetheless. No matter what I felt they were doing to me, they were my people. We were in it together. We were going to deal with it together.
I’ve lost that fight, and with it I’ve lost something important inside myself. Sometimes I’ll tell myself: Why don’t you fight for a cleaner environment? I think that’s important. But I can’t get myself riled up for that fight. My fights felt like they were at a much more basic level: the right to be. I felt, and still feel, so so so strongly about that. And now that I am, and I see people around me being, I feel stuck.
There’s also that sense of invisibility. I’ve never been invisible before. Ever. Even as a child. I’ve always had this crazy self-confidence about me. I’ve always been seen. I don’t know how to handle this new and unwanted power of invisibility I seem to have gained by living in Leeds. Yesterday, while talking to Mahmoud, I told him how I had been trying to use that invisibility to learn to be more humble. “Maybe I just needed to learn humility, Mahmoud,” I said. “Nadia, you’re a misplaced god,” he responded. I don’t need to learn humility. I have potential to do so much more in life but I don’t know where to put it now that I don’t have a struggle.
Mahmoud said he thought I should try lots of new things and see where it took me. That is something I’ve told people so many times along the years. People have seen my passion and wanted to get some of that but not known where to look for it. “Try lots of new things,” I’d tell them, “and you’re bound to stumble into something.” That’s how I’ve found my different passions along the years.
The pandemic is partially to blame. But I’m also lacking inspiration and motivation in peaceful, quiet, safe and somewhat mediocre Leeds. Cairo was a city that was busting at the seams with inspiration (as well as oppression…it’s a city of so many contradictions). Cairo has a population of some 21 million. That’s a crazy number. Yet, honestly, if you leave your house at any time, and go anywhere in that expansive city, you are bound to bump into someone you know. It’s like everyone at the very least knows someone who knows someone. I have no idea how many people I know in Egypt. I couldn’t possibly count them. That’s what it’s like. Here in Leeds, when I’ve needed to get witnesses for official documents, I’ve felt at an almost complete loss. I know some people. But no one here really knows me.
I’m not feeling down. I’m not looking for sympathy. Really, I’m not. I’m just trying to figure this out. I think the more I understand why I’m feeling the way I am, the better positioned I’ll be to find a way out.
Right now, I know that I need to dig in and wait things out until I get vaccinated and it’s safe once again to mix with people and to go places. I don’t want to spend more time in front of a computer, communicating with people through various social media applications or learning new things on the Internet. I know I don’t want that. I know that’s not healthy for me. So it’s a matter of having some patience and waiting this pandemic out until I go back out into the world and try some new things again. Maybe I’ll find a new passion. Maybe I’ll find something I can put my god-like potential into. Maybe I’ll find a way to get back that headstrong, confident person I’ve almost always been.