Egypt

That elusive “inner peace”

For a short period of time, I had found my inner peace. It was heaven. I had made peace with the big IMG_1688existential questions of life by deciding it was all right not to have all the answers. I stopped allowing other people’s lives, interferences and reactions affect me. I felt focused. I felt relaxed. I had accepted that life would never be perfect but that I’m very blessed nevertheless.

Heaven on Earth, I tell you.

You know that inner peace? I seem to have misplaced it and no matter how hard I look for it I can’t find it.

I still know somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s all right not to have all the answers.

But some questions are really bugging the heck out of me. Not that I’m doing much to figure them out. The big questions just need so much time and energy. I’m tired of the big questions. I want life to be simple and straightforward. Why isn’t life simple and straightforward?

And then there’s people. What the FUCK, people?? What is wrong with you lot?? (more…)

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Nadia: The Self-Appointed Facebook Superhero Unable to Save the World

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. (more…)

Behold the crap-fighting science warriors

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a reputable science institution to participate in one of their newsletters with a piece on the state of science journalism in the developing world. The piece I wrote is below. It was politely rejected because the science institution was worried it might be seen to be destroying bridges with countries it works with. We can have a separate discussion on bridges worth maintaining and those that are not. As a journalist, however, it is my duty to say things the way they are. Science journalism in the developing world is in danger for so many reasons. Below I explain a couple of them.

In February 2014, the Egyptian armed forces announced in a press conference that their engineering department achieved a “scientific breakthrough” by inventing a device that diagnoses and cures HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C virus, and a variety of other illnesses. The device, they announced, had a 100% success rate. Looking curiously similar to a metal detector, it purportedly worked by using electromagnetic waves.

This happened at a crucial time in Egypt’s post-revolutionary history. Only a few short months earlier, the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown. Shortly afterwards, Egyptian police massacred hundreds of protesters at a sit-in supporting the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to government. Egyptians had been living in instability and insecurity since the 2011 Revolution and the Egyptian army was positioning itself to appear as the country’s knight in shining armor. Media outlets in the country rallied to hail the army’s new breakthrough and a large number of Egyptians celebrated the success through social media.

This crap really happens from well-educated, well-travelled, well-connected people living in the 21st century—the Age of Information.

Voices of reason, fortunately, still do exist, although sometimes seeming as weak, in comparison, as the squeak of a mouse. (more…)

When Egypt imprisons the good guys

Within less than 24 hours of each other, two of my former bosses were forcibly detained by Egyptian

Hisham Gaafar

Hisham Gaafar

security forces. Both of their whereabouts are still unknown.

Hesham Gaafar was working in his office in the city of 6th of October in the suburbs of Cairo when armed Egyptian security forces entered the building. He was detained and questioned, money and documents were removed from the NGO’s safe, and all company computers were confiscated. Although the female employees were allowed to leave, the men were detained in the building for ten hours. They were then released and the offices of Mada Foundation were sealed.

Mada Foundation, founded in 2010, is a civil society nongovernmental organization dedicated to developmental journalism. The organization focuses on developing capacity building projects for the media. It also develops projects to empower women and Egyptian families. Hesham Gaafar is the head of its board of directors.

Hossam El-Sayed was at home when armed Egyptian security forces showed up at dawn, frightening his

Hossam El-Sayed

Hossam El-Sayed

young children and wife. Hossam has a serious heart condition that necessitates regular medication. He was not allowed to take his medication with him. Hossam is the managing director of Kenaya Media Partners, a production company that also provides consultation to media organizations.

I have known both of these men for 15 years from when we worked together at IslamOnline.net. It was at IslamOnline.net, where I worked mainly as its health and science editor, that I learned, through people like Hesham and Hossam, lessons in tolerance, acceptance, inclusion, journalism professionalism, and critical thinking.

Both Hesham and Hossam have dedicated their careers to building an egalitarian society through processes of constructive dialogue.

We have reached a critical phase in Egypt if men such as these are imprisoned with no clear charges made against them and no lawyers given access to them.

I owe so much to these men and to other former colleagues at IslamOnline. I owe my free mind to them. Egyptian authorities are imprisoning the builders of society while criminals, terrorists and corrupt officials run loose.

There is something seriously wrong about this.

The NHS: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

When you start wondering whether it’s better to be treated in Egypt rather than in the UK, it might be time for the British healthcare system to undergo a revolution.

At the end of last month, a Guardian link appeared in my Facebook feed that immediately touched a nerve. In an article titled “The doctor won’t see you now”, Victoria Coren Mitchell wrote about her difficulties in gaining access to her GP.

As a newcomer to the UK, I have had my own, admittedly different, issues with getting the kind of medical attention I believe I need when I need it. I made a comment to that effect on the Guardian’s Facebook post of Mitchell’s article and was taken aback by some of the responses I received from readers. “You still got time change your mind and go back to where you came from,” was one type of comment. A couple of others told me that GPs knew better than me whether I need a referral to a consultant. My comment was about my complete and utter inability to get a referral from my GPs to see a consultant about a condition I had they were unable to treat.

Although very frustrating for me, the condition I was talking about was a chronic skin condition I have had for years. I had seen several doctors over the years in Egypt, where I’m from, who were also unable to properly diagnose and treat me. My misplaced optimism that I might finally resolve the issue by visiting a British doctor is not the biggest of deals. I’ve had the condition for years. I can continue to live with it if I must. Or the next time I’m in Egypt I can easily schedule an appointment with another top-notch dermatologist and hope I might get somewhere.

I convinced myself that because my condition was not urgent or life threatening, it was all right if it was not treated. I had made three different visits about my condition to three different GPs in my local surgery to no avail. All three refused to refer me to a consultant until I tried their suggested treatment, none of which worked, and I completely gave up going a fourth time. Because of this experience and another, I no longer visit the GP with anything that I think can be delayed or ignored; a dangerous thing for anyone to decide. Despite all this, I still believed that getting access to the right doctors in the UK would not be an issue with more serious conditions.

That is until my British-born-and-bred husband, a Caucasian Scot (according to the comments made to me by some Brits on Facebook, this distinction seems to be important), fell off a horse and broke his collarbone while we were on holiday in Egypt. (more…)

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Guest Post: Myelofibrosis and Willing to Live

“Diseases are only rare until you know someone with that disease” – Amy Dockser Marcus Myelofibrosis_MF_awareness_badge

I first read this some eight years ago in an article in The Wall Street Journal, but I only understood what it meant when I suddenly found my life turned upside down.

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis – a rare type of blood cancer where the bone marrow cells, which are responsible for producing the different cells of the blood, die off and are replaced by fibrous tissue.

These fibers disrupt the body’s normal production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen to all organs of the body); white blood cells (which protect the body against invading diseases); and platelets (which help the body form clots when we are injured to stop bleeding and allow our bodies to heal).

Before this, I never knew what myelofibrosis was. My quick reading on my phone as I drove back after getting my results from the clinic showed that it is a fatal, rare disease that usually hits people over 60, with an expected lifespan of two to seven years after discovery. It very rarely affects young people. Every new piece of information I read came as a shock to me – I was in my early 30s, I was part of a small and very loving family, and I realized I had an untreatable type of cancer.

I spent several weeks in a very, very dark place. I was confused, desperate and had nowhere to turn. The only thing that kept me going was support from my partner who stayed strong to help me through this confusion – even though it was confusing for them as well. (more…)

Cheaper Than Coal

Another guest post from my 18-year-old daughter, Somaya. Egypt and the broader Arab region are on her mind.

Cheaper Than Coal

By Somaya Abulfetouh

The most precious things that may cross your mind

Are the same things that could turn you blind

They shine so bright and drive people mad

They control even the strongest lad

Gold as bright as the sun

Silver as white as the moon

Diamonds, oh I want them by the ton!

At the sight of crystals some might swoon!

Which, you ask, is the most precious?

I’ll tell you none; I’ll tell you blood is.

All the above, compared to a soul

Become cheap, cheaper than coal

The blood of your friends, your family, your children!

Not even those, but your country’s citizens!

The people who live on the same planet,

Why should you make of killing them a habit?

What more value does your blood hold?

If theirs is cheap, yours is not gold

Oh, what a funny world this has become!

It’s become so dark, all the days are dun

No, not dun, more like red

When all our days are filled with dread

In the papers, on the news

All we see is sadness and blues

Where is the outrage, where is the ruckus?

How can you let murderers live among us?

Raise your voice, make a change!

Kick and thrash till you break the cage!

News That Eats You Alive

I live-tweeted a whole revolution in 2011. I posted pictures, videos, I wrote a few blog posts…but mainly I tweeted an almost minute-by-minute account of what was happening during those 18 fateful days in Egypt.

I wanted the world to know. I wanted the world to hear. I wanted the world to see.

I’m not sure I knew what I expected the world to do once they knew what was happening, but it was important to me for the world to be on our – the revolutionaries’ – side. It was important to me to have the events documented as historic evidence of what we went through and what we faced.

I am very aware of this when other things happen in the world.

Yesterday, three young Muslims were shot to death, reportedly execution-style, in their U.S. home in what seems to be a hate crime. Two days before that, 22 Egyptians died trying to get into a football match. The police played a major role in their deaths. A few days before, news surfaced that ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive while in a cage. A few days before that, a terrorist attack in Sinai resulted in the deaths of 32 military personnel. Three weeks earlier, two gunmen killed 17 people working for a media outlet that published cartoons mocking Islam. In the days in between, a young Egyptian mother was shot dead while demonstrating in Cairo, ISIS executed God-only-knows how many civilians, people in Syria and Iraq are being killed and tortured, there are countless political prisoners rotting in Egyptian jails…it just goes on and on and on.

Every single life is important. Every single one. Every single life is a story; there are mothers and fathers and siblings and spouses and children and friends. Every story is worthy of being told. Every story needs to be heard, needs to be seen, needs to be known.

When horrendous and great things were happening in Cairo between January 25 to February 11 – and beyond – I needed the world to know the details. I needed the world to know how I felt about it all and how it all impacted me. I am a person. I have a story. I need my story to be known.

Every single person deserves that same amount of attention from the world.

But by becoming acutely aware of these stories and the reactions to these stories, I am, oddly enough, slowly losing my hold on reality. I am slowly becoming more and more anxious. I am slowly feeling more and more helpless. (more…)

Betrayed

My 18-year-old daughter, Somaya Abulfetouh, wrote this poem in light of last night’s horrible events in Cairo. She has given me permission to publish it on my blog.

Betrayed

By Somaya Abulfetouh

A boy of sixteen leaving his home

Once in the street, he kicks a stone

His mother sleeps, her door open a crack

She has no doubt her son will be back

A man and his wife go out to root

He wears a jacket, she wears her favorite boot

They’re happy and giddy; it’s their favorite team!

For a long time that’s been their dream

A girl of fourteen bids her father farewell

He tells her not to be late; she tells him she’ll be well

She checks behind her back out of habit

She’s so innocent, like a little rabbit

The boy of sixteen never got home

The man and the wife didn’t die alone

The girl of fourteen was not well

Who calls their families, who’s the one to tell?

Children and men, what did they do?

They had no ticket; they couldn’t get through

Is that why they died? Is that your excuse?

They shouldn’t be punished, not even a bruise!

“You should be protecting us, you should be our safety!”

“If you’re the ones who kill us, what should our fates be?”

Everyone wants to know what this is!

They all shed tears for all the injustice

If a mother worries when her child leaves to school

And a husband can’t let his wife out the door

If every time a man leaves so he can provide

He isn’t sure he’ll be home that night

How can they call this their home?

How can they live if they’re that death prone?

No one should have to go through this much pain

If this is a drought, when will come the rain?