Saturday, July 19, 2014

six hours forward (3)

Pardon the radio silence--J and I were taking a little vacation in Dhahab at one of our favorite places on the Red Sea. Internet connection was sparse at best and we were busy being on vacation. We boarded the plane back to Cairo happily tired, with potential sun poisoning, and newly engaged.

But that particular story is reserved for my habibi and me, at least for the time being. There was a big moon, a shooting star, and Mohamed Barakat's theme song stuck in my head. كمال.

Today it is Saturday and I am exhausted. For the majority of this trip thus far my body has betrayed me. The night before our Dhahab departure I accidentally ate meat(I've been vegetarian since...well...for a long time now, at least thirteen years). The meat was hidden under a delicious slab of salmon and a bed of lentils. I stretched a full fork of it to J. Why does this taste SO good I asked. He took a bite, looked at me with an affirmative nod and gave me one word: bacon.

Of course. BACON.

So that wrecked my guts for the next few days. Yesterday the painful gut returned along with the dull throb of head pain that refuses to ever really, truly leave. I haven't been sleeping that great unless I take a sleep aid, which renders me useless and sluggish the next morning. Once again normalcy becomes some far fetched luxury. I'm used to the guilt and anxiety that comes with the chronic pain, but I was hoping that travel might magically free me of those woes. My body, however, appears to have a death grip on discomfort. Here is hoping I can climb that mountain at some point today.

Yesterday J and I ventured to Tahrir Square. During my last visit the area was blocked off by tanks, soldiers, and barbed wire. This time we walked right through and stared out over the square as traffic flowed busily around its center. A simple yet intense moment for me here. I hold quite dear to me the images of Tahrir during the revolution. And there we were, where it all happened, yet nothing really remained. There is the vandalized memorial in the center of the circle, and nearby some sawhorses tangled with barbed wire, at the ready to block off he road if shit should indeed go down again. J explained that it is one of if not the most important traffic hub in the city. She was, in fact, busy with busses and taxis.

There is something to be said about that feeling/moment of disconnect and connect--when there is one place, a single location, that has witnessed so much. I suppose it is history itself that I'm trying to express/explain here. It is not just the square but also what is around it--the Egyptian Museum, for example. The ultimate history--mummified remains and gifts of pharoahs. The burned out remains of Mubarak's headquarters stands here as well. A shell with scars of black smoke riding its sides, empty squares in place of busted glass. This is a standing ghost, a testament of the 2011 revolution. It is a powerful thing to see.

2011 wasn't the beginning of Tahrir's exposure to the peoples energy. In 1977: the Egyptian Bread Riots(uprising to protest Mandated termination of state subsidies on basic foods). In 2003: mass protests against the war in Iraq. In January of 2011, over 50,000 people occupied the square in protest of then-president Mubarak. By the beginning of February, over 300,000 people occupied the area. The revolt lasted nearly three weeks until Mubarak stepped down. I recall watching all of this unfold at work in Pittsburgh--each day I turned on the live stream to Tahrir, compelled to follow this revolution for reasons I still don't quite understand(an eerie bit of foreshadowing to me being here perhaps, as J and I weren't together then and he wasn't working here yet anyway).

Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution

I could not turn away from it, crying daily over reports of protestors in clashes with police, and oh my tears at the footage of celebration which followed Mubarak's official announcement to step down. All of this of course followed with the events of June 2013--when thousands of Egyptians gathered in the square again to oust new president Morsi. This is when J started working here.

I felt overwhelmed standing there looking over the square yesterday. I though of so many Egyptians who must pass this area daily, who might have lost a loved one during police clashes...who may have themselves stayed there night after night screaming voices raw for their people. And there we stood on a Friday afternoon under strong sun and normal traffic flow.

normal flow of Tahrir

I asked J if it was safe to take a picture and he shook his head sadly no. Not there. Police were surely on the watch for such things.

I pause here to say there are many times when I want to take a picture--many, many times, especially in Zamalek where I am staying. I want to show loved ones back home the intricacies of the island neighborhood--the signs of various business, the buckled sidewalks and double/triple parked cars along the street. I want to take pictures of the beautiful dust-covered buildings, the sag of overloaded laundry lines, the insanity that is Egyptian traffic. But Zamalek hosts many international embassies, all guarded by soldiers, and taking photos might raise unnecessary suspicion.

During my visit, there has been evidence of the police stepping up there game a bit, being more police-like. When we returned from Dhahab, a policeman confronted our driver and seized his papers, due to where he was parked and that it appeared he was picking up tourists(us). J had to go with the driver to show proof of residency so the driver could have his card back. I stayed in the car, doors locked. Just this morning, all cars double parked on our street were being booted by police. On our walk to Cairo Kitchen for lunch we counted nearly ten of them. You aren't really allowed to double park but most people do. An odd sight to see. I always make sure to affirm with J what exactly I should do if a policeman asks to see my I.D or doesn't give it back, or if I am grabbed on the street(this hasn't happened but I like to be aware).

Ramadan continues, and is nearing its end. I have enjoyed being in Egypt during this time--I knew very little about this religious observance before arriving. During our time in Dhahab I enjoyed a few of the Ramadan drama/soaps, especially Mohamed Barakat's show(I will most likely have his theme song stuck in my head until the end of time).

I have ten days left in Egypt. My time here continues to be amazing, despite a sour stomach and growling head. Small potatoes compared to the presence of my love. Long distance suuuuuuuuuuuucks(u's have been added in attempt to express the true crappiness of said distance). We have done well apart but we are most certainly better together. When one of us dare mentions the upcoming departure the other one immediately shuts us up. In honor of that I'll stop speaking about it. Right now I am here, and thankful for it. As my life continues and grows and becomes more, I realize that I have many homes, many places to call it. How proud I am that Egypt is one of them.

More soon. Fatigue is wrapping its burly arms around me.

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