Never Not Thinking About Egypt

I’m struggling to make sense of Egypt and Egyptians. I’m really really struggling. I’ve reached a point

I took this picture during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

I took this picture during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

where I bury memories so deep inside of me that most recent events in Egypt are a mere blur in my head. People talk about the various huge post-January 25, 2011 demonstrations in which hundreds have been killed and all I can find in my memories is a hazy image of me sitting in front of a laptop or a television set in a complete state of incomprehension. I hear the names of people in jail or of people who have been killed and all I can say is, “Wait. Which one is that?”

Being away from Egypt for just over a year now has been a small blessing. I needed to break away from it all. I was suffocating. But just when I think I’m pushing through what I’m sure is post-traumatic stress disorder from the hundreds of events that have happened since the revolution, something new happens in Egypt and I feel like someone has a huge, hairy hand on my head, shoving my whole body into a crouch in a small, dirty, smelly sack.

I can’t breathe.

Why is Egypt the way it is? Why are so many Egyptians the way they are? Why can’t we have normal problems? And a normal life? Why has it become so commonplace for Egyptians to be killed by the police, the army, thugs, and neglect? How is it that there is no justice for the innocent while the guilty get away with their crimes scot-free? What is wrong with us?  (more…)

Marrakech: A Half Marathon to Remember

It was hot. It had been over a year since I ran in the heat. Am I up for this? What if I get heat stroke or

My pre-half-marathon breakfast.

My pre-half-marathon breakfast.

heat exhaustion? “Just get yourself to the next 5km mark, Nadia. Get yourself there, slow down, drink some water at the water station, and re-evaluate then.”

The past few months I had been running in the cold of northern England. In the past few weeks, the cold had reached a below-freezing stage where I could feel my leg muscles clench from the cold. But as long as it wasn’t snowing or raining, running in temperatures above freezing was not so bad, I eventually realized. I would always warm up five minutes into the run and that was that. All I had to do afterwards was focus on getting through the run without needing to make a stop behind the bushes to pee in public. Running on snowy, icy, muddy ground was when it really got difficult for me. It’s almost impossible to fall into a comfortable stride. I’d look for slippery spots and play a complicated game of avoid-the-invisible-mines to make sure to stay injury-free. I need to stay injury free.

I reached the first water station. (more…)

Hopeful Desperation in an Unjust and Terrifying World

This morning I woke up to find several of my Facebook friends sharing an Arabs Got Talent video. I’ve never properly watched the show nor have I cared to. But just as I’ll click on a link to a video that any friend recommends as interesting or funny, I’ll click on a shared Arabs Got Talent video every now and then too. So I clicked on this one to see what all the fuss was about.

It was a musical group of young Palestinian children from Gaza. They trained through the recent Gaza bombings. There were days on end when they couldn’t go to school but they would train as a group nevertheless. They described how difficult it is for them to see all the destruction in Gaza as they make their way to their institute to train. They tried several times to get out of Gaza to participate in the show but they couldn’t. The border with Egypt, the only way out, is often closed. But they eventually managed to get themselves across the border, onto a plane from Cairo Airport, and into Lebanon for the auditions. “We want to show the world that there is talent in Palestine,” said the youngest of the group. The group was composed of one singer and four children on musical instruments. The singer, probably around 13-years-old, had the hugest smile on his face throughout the whole audition. They played and sang a song by legendary Lebanese singer/songwriter Wadih El Safi (1921-2013) about the return of a loved one; the implied message in this particular case being one of singing for the return of Palestine. The children played and sang the song beautifully. The judges were all very impressed; so much so that one of them, a Saudi comedian, pressed the golden button that allows them an automatic go-through to the next rounds. Gold confetti dropped all over them as they continued singing the song to its end, with the youngest player on the classical Arabian instrument, the zither, crying tears of joy.

I always have a good cry when I see people accomplishing their dreams. So it isn’t strange that I had a really good cry while watching this video. But this time was different because of the context of the past few days. I’ve had a very deep-sitting feeling of loneliness and frustration since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I feel as if I’m not understood – by hardly anyone. I feel like I want to sit the people of the world down in front of me and slowly explain to them why it is that we’ve reached the situation we’re now in. I want to tell the Western powers-that-be what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. I want to tell my fellow Muslims what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. It’s all so clear in my head but because there are so many intermingled and complex reasons for it all, they get jumbled in the area just before my throat so that it feels like it all just comes out in a putrid spew of vomit. I can’t seem to find the energy or the willpower to put together a proper, evidence-based argument to be able to clarify things the way I see them. (more…)

Terrorism and the Need to Acknowledge Accountability

I have a mixture of feelings of relief, angst, and anger following yesterday’s dramatic end to the search Earth_Western_Hemisphere_transparent_backgroundfor the Charlie Hebdo attackers.

Relief, because two psychotic murderers no longer roam the streets of France.

Angst, because of the brutal backlash that has already started against Muslim communities in the West.

And anger, partly at my fellow Muslims for seemingly wanting to fully distance themselves from any accountability for the current state of the general Muslim mindset/culture. And partly at the general Western world for not wanting to take accountability for a whole context they have played a huge role in creating.

I was glued to the television set as I watched events unfold live yesterday in Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes. I was awash with relief to see them come to an end. But at the same time I was horrified that yet four more had died in the midst of it all. For some reason I need to know who those four people are. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was to turn on the news, hoping more information had been released. It hasn’t. There is a connection I need to make with those remaining four.

Yesterday night, just as the events ended, I learned that a friend of mine had recently moved to France. “Today they put a pig’s head in front of the mosque,” he told me. “Several women had their hijab pulled off their heads and there is a horrifying incitement campaign [against Muslims]. People are directing their anger at Islam and not just the murderers,” he said.

Early this morning I woke up to a status from a Dutch Muslim friend reporting that within her own limited network two mosques were firebombed, two women were soaked in beer by a co-passenger on the train while being called “fucking terrorists”, the mother of a friend was pelted with coca cola bottles, a young woman was told at the supermarket register that she should feel ashamed to still wear “that rag on her head”, numerous friends of friends were cussed at, slapped, lectured on their obligation to apologize, violated, etc., while bystanders did nothing. All the victims she had heard of were veiled women, she said.

I fear for my friends’ lives and for their families’ safety.

What frustrates me the most, I think, is the constant blame game that ensues after these sort of horrific events. No one wants to take responsibility for the mess we’re all in.

There is no simple answer to the question: what makes a person become a terrorist. Terrorism is the result of a very large number of complex factors. What acutely annoys me is that most of us have a very good idea what they are.  (more…)

When a Culture Makes Information the Enemy

When I began my career as a journalist, working as a science editor at an online media organization that unfortunately no longer exists, I fantasized about becoming a war correspondent. I wanted to go into war zones and cover the truth about conflict. My naïve view was that all I needed was to be savvy about staying out of the line of fire. And I’ve always figured I’m pretty savvy. People at war, I wrongly thought, don’t target the people communicating the truth about a conflict they are involved in. It’s in their best interests for the truth to get out. Or so I naively believed.

It wasn’t until the middle of Egypt’s 2011 revolution when I experienced first hand and witnessed the targeting of journalists. My personal experience was fortunately very limited: a thug pounced on me and broke my video camera while filming the renowned Battle of the Camels, when men on camelback raided Tahrir Square.

But since then, I have become acutely aware that journalists are constantly targeted in my region and by people from my region. Journalists covering Israeli insurgencies in Gaza have been targeted and killed by the Israelis. Journalists covering the situation in Egypt are killed and jailed by the state for doing their jobs. Journalists covering the situation in Iraq and Syria are kidnapped and then brutally beheaded by IS militants.

And today, 12 people working at French satirist magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were killed by masked gunmen apparently saying God is Great.

Targeting journalists is not, obviously, something only people of Arab or Islamic origins do. It is incredibly frightening to me as an Arab Muslim, though, to see this happening in significant numbers in my region and by people from my region and religion.

I can’t help but see that much of this stems from a culture of enmity towards knowledge and information. (more…)

Looking Forward to a Year that Begins With Spring

In my head, my year begins with spring. I always feel surprised when I notice friends suddenly talking

One of many wonderful memories from the spring of 2014.

One of many wonderful memories from the spring of 2014.

about the end of one year and the start of another as the end of December nears.

It makes me feel rushed. “But wait!” someone inside my head remarks. “I’m not done yet! There’s still more to come!”

Spring is where everything starts for me. I organize my years from spring to spring. Springtime is when I try to go on an adventure because it’s usually the best time of the year for that sort of thing. Spring comes, I go on a wonderful adventure, come home, wind down, have a fabulous summer with my children, start wondering what I should do next year, and then I start training for it through the winter months until springtime and my next great adventure arrives.

Right now I’m smack in the middle of my winter training regime. In the spring of 2014 I went on a properly grand adventure. I cycled for two months across Europe almost completely on my own. It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life. It would be great if I had the money and the time to be able to commit to that sort of an adventure every year. But I don’t. So my current big plan for the spring of 2015 is to try to run a marathon. I have a one-day adventure planned that is taking me months of training to get to. I have no idea if I’ll manage to make it. (more…)

Understanding Sterlina

That was me in the mid-90s. Was I that different from Sterlina?

I often get nightmares. I used to blame them on the murder mysteries I read as a child or the police drama series I used to watch as a young adult. I stopped doing all that but the nightmares never stopped. I think my subconscious is strongly linked to my conscious. It turns all my real-life worries into horror-movie-worthy nightmares.

Last night I had nightmares of war. The part of the nightmare I remember was about me walking into a room and discovering it was full of Iraqi fighters. They were all pointing huge weapons out of a large balcony, focusing on something, people probably, not far below. I went to their leader, a rather stocky woman wearing a flowery dress with henna-painted fingernails. I was told that if I wanted to leave the room I had to have her permission. I gave her the most innocent I’m-of-no-matter-to-anyone look I could muster and told her that I really needed to go home PLUS I had to go to the toilet anyway. She looked at me very briefly, she was busy, and told me that it was dangerous out there. How was I planning on making my way home? I told her I’d walk to my father’s house which was not far away. I promised her I’d be fine. She allowed me to leave. There were many other woman in that room who were being held captive who were not as lucky. Perhaps they hadn’t tried to ask for permission like I had? Perhaps they knew too much already and could not be allowed to leave for that reason? A very young friend of mine was there. Her father’s house was close to my father’s house. She asked me to ask permission from the leader to take her with me. I woke up just as I started explaining things to the leader. I’ll never know if we both managed to leave.

When I woke up this morning, I tried to figure out what it was I was thinking about the day before that would have stimulated this nightmare. An aspect of this dream is reminiscent of the days of revolution in Cairo in 2011. But I realized that wasn’t what brought this one to the surface.

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook posted an article about an 18-year-old Dutch girl who converted to Islam, wore a face veil, and soon after fled from the Netherlands to Turkey by train, crossed the border into Syria, and married a Dutch-Turkish fighter.

Her story freaked me out.

This morning I figured out why.

Had the Internet been around when I was that age, that girl could have been me. (more…)

The Trials and Tribulations of a Wannabe Runner

I’ve said this so many times already but I’ll say it again: I absolutely, whole-heartedly, from the

I look anything but sexy when I'm running. As you can see, I didn't even bother buying this was I was so under-impressed with my sexiness.

I look anything but sexy when I’m running. As you can see, I didn’t even bother buying this one I was so under-impressed with my sexiness.

innermost part of my soul detest running.

Even so, or perhaps as a result, I so want to be a runner.

That is how mentally deranged I can be sometimes. And now that I’m running, I have absolutely no idea how I can maintain this runners’ lifestyle.

I’ve dabbled in running for a few years. It’s never been anything serious. I used to resort to it as part of a larger training regime. I never trained to be a good runner. I ran (let’s call it jog instead) to diversify my workouts. Jogging on my treadmill at home was a handy way to get in half an hour of exercise before going to work some days. That was pretty much it.

And then I married a crazy Scotsman. He runs and partakes in running races and triathlons the way I eat basboosa (the most delicious Egyptian sweet you can ever imagine). I accompanied him to a couple races and thought they looked “fun”. He encouraged me to run a bit more and to participate in a couple 10km races. It was ugly. But despite the fact that I repeatedly refer my readers back to my horrible memories of being passed in my races by a limping 50-something-year-old stroke survivor, countless overweight people, the elderly, tiny children, and once (get a load of this) by a blind lady, I persevered. I’ve kept at it. I ran my first half marathon earlier this year. Who would have thought that I could run 21km? I wouldn’t have.

But is that enough for my deranged mind? No. I need to run faster. I can no longer accept (I couldn’t to start with but now I REALLY can’t) watching little kiddies so easily pass me by when I run the weekly 5km race, called a Parkrun, in the UK. I just won’t have it. So now not only am I trying to be able to run longer distances, I’m trying to run them at a faster pace. AND IT SUCKS!  (more…)

Travel, a Longing, and the Ultimate Destination

There is a longing inside of me. 

I can suppress it for weeks at a time. But eventually it resurfaces in a way that I can no longer ignore.

There is a longing inside of me.

That longing has shown me how big and beautiful the world beyond my tiny little one can be. It has shown me that within me lies another world the depths of which I’ve barely touched.

That longing has taken me places. It has taught me things. It has pushed me beyond every limit I thought I had.

There is a longing inside of me.

That longing has placed me face-to-face with my fears and anxieties and has told them to go fuck themselves because I’m going to do this anyway.

That longing has shown me how I can be incredibly weak yet exceptionally strong in the same moment.

That longing has made me dream. (more…)

The Excitement – and Frustrations – of Being a Beginner Runner

Less than two years ago, my husband gave me one of his old bikes and we joined a group of beginner cyclists for a one-hour

This is a picture of me (in the back in a pink shirt) from last weekend's Parkrun, doing my little running shuffle. That little girl ALWAYS beats me to the finish.

This is a picture of me (in the back in a pink shirt) from last weekend’s Parkrun, doing my little running shuffle. That little girl ALWAYS beats me to the finish.

outing. The cycle started with a small hill. I completely failed to get up it. I broke down mid-hill and threw a tantrum that lasted several hours. I was upset with my husband (who else do I have to blame for life’s miseries?) because I felt he had set me up for failure. The bike I was using was not a nice road bike like everyone else’s. It probably wasn’t even the right size for me. How was I expected to do hills anyway? And we should have started by going off on our own until I had more confidence and strength to join others.

A month later, my husband took me to a beautiful rural area several kilometers away from our house. I cycled there on my brand new, properly fitting road bike. For reasons known only to him, we ended up on some extremely steep (for me) hills. I threw another tantrum. I got off the bike and walked up the steepest hills. My legs were not strong enough to pedal up. It just wasn’t happening. And again, I was angry with my husband for setting me up for failure by taking me to the steepest hills in the country, or so I believed at the time.

Three months later I cycled with my husband from London to Paris in three days.

One year after that I cycled solo 5630 km from Lisbon, Portugal to Tallinn, Estonia.

If not for that whole experience, I would have given up on running by now.  (more…)