revolution

Giving context to loneliness

I don’t know where to start. But I’m afraid this is going to be a messed up, emotional blog post. I wouldn’t be sharing these thoughts if I hadn’t come to the conclusion that I’m not alone even though I feel very very alone. I’m sharing in case this makes someone out there feel a little bit better. I’m sharing because sharing helps me work through my own thoughts, even though I worry that it makes me appear desperate and needy, which I sort of am anyways. But I’m going to stop giving a fuck about what other people might think of me for a little bit. I need to write.

It’s hard to sum up what an issue really is. It’s difficult to give problems, lots of them, that all come with personal and social contexts, a title that other people will understand.

But let’s call this one loneliness.

It’s a desperate loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that probably puts people off you. That’s how desperate it is.

It’s a loneliness that often expresses itself as: Oh, how I wish I had a friend I could call up and say, “Meet you at the movies at 6pm tonight?” But that’s not really it. That’s not the source of the loneliness. The story of the loneliness is so much more complex. (more…)

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Remembering January 25

I haven’t been able to write much about Egypt’s revolution in the past few years. I have 167242_494564512476_3077619_nbeen too traumatized. But today I find myself in need of acknowledging the day, January 25 of 2011, when it all started. I need to assert that I was there. I was on the tarmac when it all happened. I was part of it from start to finish. And now it is a part of me, for better or for worse.

My husband, a Scot, asked me two days ago whether I regret the revolution happening. Are things better or worse, he asked. They are worse, I said. But the country’s political, economic and security situations can’t be the only measure of our revolution’s success. We failed in all that. We were ready to revolt. But we weren’t prepared to take charge. We simply didn’t have the wherewithal. I vividly remember thinking the day after Mubarak resigned: I’ve done my job. We’ve removed the dictator. Now I need to leave the rest to the politicians who know how to take this forward. But they didn’t. The “good ones” squabbled amongst them, leaving room for the baddies to move in quickly and spread more evil than we had ever seen.

Despite all that, despite everything the country is going through, the revolution was not a total failure and I will never regret taking part in it. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

My Friends Are My Country

I sit in front of my laptop, sometimes for hours, fidgeting between my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my e-mail account, looking for any sort of interaction, mainly from people I know, although I’m always more than happy to receive interaction from complete strangers as well.

I really miss my friends. I’ve been away from Egypt since last November. It wasn’t as if I regularly saw my friends while I was in Egypt. But I could if I wanted to. Cairo’s traffic had made getting from my home to any other point in the city a grueling task that I began to avoid at all costs. I was almost turning into a hermit. Me: the woman who cannot be held down by a whole continent.

I miss getting late night phone calls and growling in anger at the inappropriateness of the time but then putting on my happy voice and responding, “Alooo?”

I miss my friends nagging me to go meet them at a coffee shop or at one of their homes. I’d decline, they would nag more, I’d decline again because I was NOT going out in that horrendous traffic, they would insist, and then my resolve would weaken and I would put on my strong face to brave the Cairo traffic. That’s how much my friends mean to me. That is what I would do for them. (It’s A LOT. Have you seen what Cairo’s traffic is like?)

I’ve discovered I’m absolutely horrible at making new friends at this age. I’ve lost the talent. I feel like I would be forcing myself on people so I don’t even try. Everyone already has their close-knit circle of friends at my age anyway.

But it’s not only that. I struggle to find things I have in common with people here. (more…)

I Am the Palestinian Mothers

Some people belong to worlds that are small and limited to themselves, their immediate families, their work, and perhaps a few small social circles.

I almost envy people who have such small worlds.

My world is comprised of myself, my immediate family, my extended family, a small number of best friends, a very large number of friends and social media contacts, and then every man, woman, and child living in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.

It is a burdensome world I live in.

Some people are even less fortunate than me. Their worlds are so large that they encompass everyone on planet Earth and beyond. People like that have so much empathy it makes you and me look like unfeeling zombies.

I have been considering all this over the past few days. Why is it that, while I sit safely in my home in the UK, I can feel so down about everything happening in Egypt, Gaza, Iraq, and Syria? When bad things happen there, it is as if they are happening to my own family. No. It’s not “as if”. It is happening to my own family.

A few days ago I attempted to start a small creative writing project. I began writing about a woman who finds herself dead in a dark grave. It takes her awhile to gather her thoughts. Her head hurts. She almost immediately starts to think about her children. She lovingly tells us a bit about each one. And slowly it all comes back to her. In one group of paragraphs the woman is Palestinian, killed at home by an Israeli bomb while she gathered her children under her arms to protect them. In another set of paragraphs she is an Iraqi mother whose children watched in horror while she was raped then battered to death. In a third set of paragraphs the woman is a Syrian mother who died on a smuggler’s boat from hunger and sheer despair after having watched two of her younger children quietly pass into oblivion. I never got as far as writing all those paragraphs. I was physically incapable of getting that far. I put myself in the shoes of the first mother, an Egyptian woman not very different from me, who was shot while sitting in her car by thugs wanting the money in her purse. This is something that actually happened to the sister of a former work colleague of mine. I put myself in that mother’s shoes and felt so much anguish that I could not bear to continue to write. I could not possibly write about the other mothers. I would not have been able to hold myself together.

I’ve been wondering what it was in my upbringing that made me feel so close to other Arabs. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 30: One’s Country vs One’s Basic Human Needs

Egypt is currently in the throes of a pre-presidential-elections circus. Although I’ve

Mantova

Mantova

been made generally aware of what’s going on these days, mainly from my friends’ discussions and posts on Facebook, I’ve been able to blissfully protect myself from the details. I have suffered more than my fair share of post-revolution and post-counterrevolution trauma to want to go through more of the same.

Many of my revolutionary friends have already left the country. Some of my friends are so disenchanted that they have asked relevant questions such as, “When do we call a country our home?” “Why do we feel a need to be patriotic to a country that gave us so little and destroyed so much?” Muslims believe that we can roam in and feel attached to all of God’s Earth. Why this attachment, then, to a particular piece of land whose boundaries were drawn as such not by God but by the actions of conquerors and as the result of wars?

Presidential candidates have started their campaigns and have made television appearances. Most of us believe we know what the result will be: another military man will take charge of our country with the blessing of a large number of Egyptians. Sometimes I think we deserve what’s coming to us if that’s what Egyptians want after everything we’ve been through. The revolutionaries failed miserably in forming a post-revolution united front, the Muslim Brotherhood fucked up in the biggest way possible whilst they were in government, and now it’s time for us all to pay the price.

I’m waiting for the counter-counterrevolution. That’s when I’ll start taking interest in the state of affairs in Egypt again. In the meantime, I have much greater concerns of my own.

Like finding suitable spots to pee on Italian roadsides. (more…)

Dream Diary: Of Alien Pharaohs and Human Rebels

My dream last night:

A people, who are not of our kind, have arrived to invade Earth. Their origins are unknown to me, but they wear pharaonic garb so I shall refer to them as the Pharaohs. Among the humans, a small revolutionary movement has developed. Their work is made doubly difficult, for in addition to the Pharaohs, Earth is also occupied by undead. The undead eat any creature whose body emits heat. They live in underground tunnels, each inside its own cocoon, emerging from their cocoons at very regular intervals to sense around their general area for body heat. When they sense body heat, they leave the warmth of their cocoon to hunt the nearby creature and eat it. When they do not sense heat, they go back into their cocoon to hibernate until the next food-sensing time arrives; less than an hour away.

Among the human rebels was a female scientist. I partially watched this dream through her eyes. She discovered that the Pharaohs had widely distributed canisters that had the potential to destroy all. She knew that if she could find a way to remove the effect of these canisters that she could possibly spoil their evil plot to take over Earth. (more…)

Memories of an Egyptian Revolutionary

On March 5, 2014 I am due to give a talk in Barcelona to mark International Women’s Day. The talk is titled, “Arab Spring or Desolate Arab Winter?” It continues to be very difficult for me to prepare for this talk, as it involves delving into my experiences of those fateful 18 days and the events of the three years that followed. Finding the ability to sit down and face the demons of Egypt’s recent history – and my own –  has proven to be difficult. Images keep coming back to me of things that happened to me and others while in Tahrir. And it reminded me of a blog post I wrote little over one month following the Revolution. I repost it today as a reminder of memories that can never be erased.

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It’s been very hard for me to even consider writing lately. When I write, I share my soul. And my soul is dark these days.

This man's image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

This man’s image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

Egypt – and Egyptians with it – has witnessed since the start of 2011 some of its most difficult and its most triumphant days. Within a period of less than three months we have experienced the full range of human emotion in its utmost intensity: curiosity, wonder, hope, fear, desperation, anger, absolute loss of fear, grieving, resolve, steadfastness, and more hope, fear, desperation, anger, loss of fear and grieving. Festiveness, light-headedness. Looking death in the face and accepting it should it come to take us. Hope, indignation, anger. And boom! Triumph! Then exhaustion. The most intense exhaustion one can imagine. Mental and physical. And a return of grieving. Followed by hope. Then confusion. A continuous unrelenting state of confusion. But always, ALWAYS, there is hope.

In my head, images from the past two-and-a-half months go round and round and round. I keep them in this state of constant motion. This way they are only a blur. But every once in awhile, an image will jump away from the blurry mass and bam! A jolt of intense memory electrifies me. (more…)