I’m so sorry for the delayed post! The past days were thrilling but busy. I met great new people, explored new parts of Cairo, and returned to Alexandria!
Friday’s “Day of Rage” was underwhelming, with no major protests materializing. Nathan and I spent the day feeling out our neighborhood. The atmosphere has been consistently neutral. People typically don’t peg me as a foreigner because, according to many, I look Egyptian. Looks towards Nathan have generally been curious rather than hostile, though some people have been hostile towards us for being foreign.
After exploring the area, Nathan and I spent the evening talking with folks on both sides of the revolution. Our friend, Sherif, who supports the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) not because of their ideology but because Morsy was elected, argued that the MB’s grievances against the army are legitimate. Ehab and Emam argued the opposite. I will post very soon about theirs and others’ views on the state of Egyptian politics in a separate post devoted to that.
Friday night, Ehab told me that I really have to learn ‘amaya (the local Arabic dialect). As all my Arabic-studying friends can understand: MSA is so useless!
On Saturday morning, Nathan and I ventured to Tahrir Square with Ehab. A memorial to martyrs of the revolution has been erected in the middle. Ehab’s brother, Halim, is memorialized there. Halim was an extraordinary man. I am so sad that he was murdered, and I hope he has found himself into Allah’s gracious arms now. I would write a small bit about Halim separately so it does not get lost in this post. At Halim’s memorial, Ehab said to me: “We are all brothers and sisters. I have lost many brothers and sisters in the revolution.” Key takeaway here: there are good, truly good, humans on all sides of this conflict—as in most conflicts. Remembering that these are good people fighting for what they really believe is right—whether they support the army or the Muslim Brotherhood—is so important, and so frequently forgotten.
After Halim’s memorial, Ehab took us to meet Gassem. Gassem is a fifty-plus year old revolutionary currently living in a tent in Tahrir. His skin is dark and rough like a tree trunk from his weeks and months under the Egyptian sun, protesting one inadequate ruler or another. Gassem says that Egyptians’ fight is for basic rights—for food, sanitation and security, and true representation in the government. With respect to the United States, he says: “The Egyptian people do not need the U.S. government. We need the U.S. people to stand up for us” to prevent the U.S. government from undermining the revolution. On that note: he believes that the Jews run the U.S. Congress (maybe he’s not so wrong?), and that President Obama’s brother runs the Muslim Brotherhood—which is why Obama supposedly supports the Brotherhood. My bet is that you’ll never convince him that these two claims are contradictory. But, I think it’s important to take stock of these—perhaps crazy—assertions. A huge number of people in Egypt believe this stuff which affects the U.S.’s influence here. How has U.S. foreign policy let these conspiracy theories become commonly-held beliefs?
Saturday evening, Nathan and I went to our friend, Sherif’s, home near Helmayah. He has a beautiful apartment, and a wonderful family: his mother, father, and brother, nicknamed Tiger. They are all such stand-up people. I was honored to be invited over. I was also so happy that Sherif’s father, Mostafa, had the interest and patience needed to talk to me. We spoke in Arabic, with translation help from Sherif or Tiger, occasionally. It was such a pleasure, and he encouraged me to continue my studies, and continue recognizing how privileged I am to live in America.
Sunday and Monday were a blur. Sunday saw Nathan and I at Al-Azhar Park. This park literally—actually literally, not figuratively—has the only grass fields I have ever seen in Cairo. And they are awesome! It was so nice being surrounded by greenery, with great views of the surrounding city, including the Cairo Citadel.
Sunday night, I walked alone through Tahrir Square. As I wrote above, I blend in well alone, and that lets me spend more time observing people around me to try to learn more about them rather than having to be aware of my surroundings more defensively. Tahrir was pretty empty right before curfew, so I grabbed a quick photo of the square before moving towards a beautiful wall of graffiti at the square’s south-east. That wall has evolved over time, from bearing images of ancient Egypt to revolutionary slogans to, today, the faces of martyrs. Since taking photos discretely is difficult in an empty environment, I got done pretty quickly and headed home.
Monday was my fourth time at the Pyramids, and my first time ever riding a horse! Our guide taught me how to control the animal, and pretty soon, I was galloping over the sand by the Pyramids. What a great time! I grew reading fantasy novels wherein heroes ride their trust steeds, etc. etc. and I can definitely see the appeal. Getting to know a horse has to be like making a friend, since riding one requires you to trust and care for them even as you demand their obeisance.
Today, Nathan and I made north for Alexandria! The North-South trains have been on-and-off for the past weeks due to the military’s orders and people throwing things onto the track to screw with the government. So, we opted to take the faster, cheaper, and definitely stupider option of a microbus. The microbus is a small, four-row van. Today, ours held 12 people plus a couple hundred pounds of luggage stuffed around the seats. (Most of that was ours…) Needless to say, leg room was nonexistent. The driver was a young guy, maybe 18 years old? He drove like a madman, swerving between other vehicles at up 100 KPH, but he got us to Alexandria. Along the way, Mohammed, a young man sitting next to me, struck up a conversation with me. The conversation began about our respective paths to Alexandria. As for me: I’m from Puerto Rico, but I study in America, and I am visiting friends in Egypt. Our talk then—incredibly and awesomely—shifted to religion. Explaining agnosticism through mediocre Arabic and hand gestures to a young man studying to be a Muslim sheikh was such a challenge, but so rewarding! We taught each other a bit of Arabic and English, respectively, and talked about the Big Bang. It was glorious.
Once in Alex, Nathan and I settled our rooms, and met up with my amazing friends, Amany and Sara. I must take a moment to say how absolutely blessed I was to meet these incredible people and others when I studied in Alexandria last summer. Amany and Sara are among the kindest people I have ever met, with ambition for their futures and thoughtful insights about the current state of Egyptian politics. We all had an amazing evening reconnecting—and in Nathan’s case, getting to know them—over dinner at Bamboo.
Bamboo is a small Indonesian restaurant hidden away near Raml Station. It is run by Susie, a vivacious and wise Indonesian grandma whose life story is the stuff of Hollywood movies. Susie met her future Egyptian husband while she worked as an air hostess in Bombay. They fell in love, and he eventually tracked her back to Indonesia where—if I am not mistaken—he asked her father for permission to marry her, and then convinced her to do the same. Her hubby is successful, and when they returned to live in the Middle East, Susie was afraid that she’d become a stay-at-home wife doing mostly nothing with her time. Fiercely independent, Susie decided to start up her own restaurant, named Bamboo, which has become one of my favorite restaurants in all the world. The quality of Susie’s food is matched only by the quality of her company. Whether it is singing karaoke, dancing, or sharing wisdom, Susie is up for anything.
I had an amazing time tonight, and I can’t wait to continue living the beautiful life in Alexandria for the next few days before heading back to Cairo, and then on to Ethiopia!