Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution




Part 1

I had to leave the house.  Our lives depended on it. 

In the past, I've been scared to leave the house---that was in America, where I was often harassed for wearing hejab.  Here, in Egypt, I've felt so safe.  To a person, every single American living here has always said the same thing, "I feel safer walking in the streets here than I feel in America."

I had thought the feeling of safety here was due to the people of faith coming together for the common good.  I mean both Muslims and Copt Christians in that statement.  All were, in my estimation, creating a civil society.

All that changed last week.  What I didn't realize was that some very real sources of evil were waiting for a door to crack open.  The protests of Tuesday began the process. 

The protests  against totalitarianism and classism seemed timely---like Tunis.  School was out for that Police Day holiday but we returned the following day.  I talked with other teachers and none of us were unduly alarmed.  We all agreed that Friday's scheduled protest would be the telling day.  At that time, we all had working cell phones and internet connections.  I could go to Facebook and Blogger and post messages.  I wrote an email to my teenage son in America and told him to call my (technologically challenged) mom.  I needed everyone to know we were fine.

I thought we would be fine.  Thursday was a special day at school:  non-uniform day, January birthdays to celebrate and even a carnival outside in the stadium (organized by the high school students for local orphans).  I look back on Thursday from this new place and I almost cry for a room of innocent, happy children, dancing and laughing and eating cake.  We had famous singers with amplified music blaring through our afternoon.  I made the best out of it--as everyone has to in Egypt.  You do what you can with the constant surprises.

There was a staff meeting at 12:30 which I tried to make but couldn't.  I knew it would be about the protesting.  Already, our field trip for the week had been cancelled.  What was our principal going to announce?  I found another staff member afterwards and asked for the latest.  Turns out that nothing NOTHING at all was said in regards to the upheaval. I was shocked.

I went to the principal.  She was in a curriculum meeting.  I waited patiently.  I felt that what I had to say couldn't wait.  I was summoned over.

"Please,"  I whispered discretely,  "Talk to Mr. J.  I think he might need some reassurance.  He's shaky about staying and I can see on Facebook that all his family and friends are telling him to leave."  She said that she would and she thanked me.

I talked to my friend the art teacher on my way back to class.  Her husband was a police officer.  What did he think? 

"Oh," she tried to calm me, "It's going to get smaller not bigger.  Don't worry."

I wished that our pay envelopes had been handed out that day.  I had spent so much money the past month.  Truly, it was uncharacteristic of me to spend so much in one month.  Usually, I kept some set aside for emergencies.  I had purchased a new bedroom set for my son AND taken a trip to Luxor.  I only had 1,000 LE left.  That was around $200 USD.  It would buy us enough until the next pay---if it was soon.

Thursday night, we stayed in.  We'd gone out shopping earlier in the week.  I made sure to buy peanuts, almonds, breadsticks and crackers, oil, frozen chicken and so on.  My husband couldn't believe how much I was buying but I needed it in the house.  I needed the security of food.  I knew there was food downstairs but that was for everybody---visiting daughters and their children included.  Our food, in our house would be there to sustain us if...

If what?  If there was an unrest which disturbed the natural flow of life.  That was a realistic assessment, I thought, on that Thursday. 

Friday, my husband readied for Jummah prayer, like always.  He was more serious.  We all were.  The protests were set to return to the streets after the prayer got out.  Facebook, Google---actually every internet connection was gone. 

When he left, I tried to carry on as usual but my thoughts were with him.  While sweeping the rug from our luncheon meal, I began taking out all my pent up rage on the broom.  It broke in half!  I stared at the two halves and quickly stashed them under the stairs.  I grabbed another broom's wooden handle and replaced it secretly.

When the prayers ended, I was upstairs.  I listened for the end.  I listened for a riot.  There was none.  I heard my husband's voice downstairs.  I took in a deep breath and exhaled the tension out.  A part of me actually felt sorry for the protesters not getting a big rally as they had wished.  I went downstairs and heard on the TV that only a few hundred had been turned away from Tahir Square

I knew all the places they talked about and showed.  I've been here for a year and a half now so I've been around and made connections to Cairo.  Tahrir Square holds a big bureaucratic nightmare of a building where we went to get visa extensions.  It's across the road from the Cairo Museum on one side and from Cairo University's bookstore on the other side. 

Later, of course, as the day progressed, so did the amount of protesters.  Our concern, here in the family was for my husband's two brothers who worked downtown.  Who would go to downtown Cairo during a protest?  Ordinary working folks had to work.  So, the ones without jobs shouted in the streets while the ones with jobs struggled with protecting theirs.  We didn't want them to go.  They didn't want to go.  The look of dutiful sorrow etched on the face of Mohammed as he said goodbye to his wife and child.  While stoic practicality was on the face of Mahmoud.  Me?  I had the day off.

All of the family came over to eat that Friday.  It was a full house of daughters and grandkids.  However, we ate half-heartedly knowing that the trouble on the TV was very real for the two men.   A collective cheer went out as soon as the two men stepped in the room.  It was the most joyous we've ever been.  Alhumdulillah!  Those two men got a hero's welcome.  They ate.

Later, I'd learn that Arcadia Mall had been looted even while Mohammed had been walking through it to take Mahmoud home.  Remember that Mohammed is the father of a little toddler.  He could have just left by himself easier but he wanted to retrieve his younger brother and make sure he got out safely.  It was then that Mohammed saw the looters and the men killed by the looters.  Mahmoud was being pulled out just in time.  Mohammed told my husband what he saw and I don't know if he's been able to tell Mahmoud yet.

That night, on TV, we saw many sights of disregard, of disrespect and destruction.  For me, seeing the burning of Arcadia Mall was the saddest.  We had gone there often as a family to see Mahmoud.  It was a fun place for us to go and get a high-class, almost American experience.  Walking through the Toys R Us was this transportive experience.  It made me believe that it's a small world.  All the restaurants, all the shops and especially Mahmoud's shop flashed through my memory.  Everything was gone.  The arcade on the top floor was gone. Mr. Boo had always wanted to go to Fun Planet but I'd put it off.  Now?  It was something he could never do.  And all those jobs!  That beautiful mosaic in the atrium!  All that was burned.  For what?  Why?

Yes, the protesters got voices heard.  I'm glad that the people can be powerful shapers of their country.  However, within that group was evil; young Egyptian men who were raised by coddling mothers to feel entitled.  They destroyed what others had built and loved and protected.

The Cairo Museum looting was something which made all of us sick and fearful.  If the country's richest treasures could be stolen what hope was there for us?

I knew that this was news going out worldwide.  I felt for my mother and my teenage children in America.  I prayed that my father's Alzheimers was preventing him from remembering where I was.  The whole time I've lived here he hasn't been able to remember.  Now would be a good time to forget. 

There are various times when I can't stand my husband, but I loved him that night. He stood in front of our house all night with the proverbial big stick. He heard gunfire surrounding our area and he stayed protecting us. The other men kept watch as well. They built barricades at the main road to prevent cars from coming in. Motorcycles were turned back. Strangers were questioned and frightened away. He had no sleep. 

No one got much sleep. I had taken my son into our bedroom and slept with him behind two locked doors. Previously, I had regretted having a cave of a bedroom with no windows onto the street but now I was very happy of this. I heard the noise outside and prayed that none of the 2,000 escaped prisoners found their way to our house. That broom handle which I had broken? I kept that by the side of my bed and I was ready to beat the hell out of anyone who tried to enter. Alhumdulillah, we all made it through---and without cell phones or police. 

The next morning when the sun shone again, I hung the wash out wondering what the day would bring. There, down below was a young man talking on a phone. A PHONE!? I ran to get mine. Vodaphone was reinstated first and the others followed suit. Can you imagine a whole country without cell phones?!

When I got another phone card, the first person I called wasn't in America.  I called Mr. Boo's grandma on the coast.  She was relieved  to hear from me.  Mr. Boo's uncle, a former supply officer in the army, got on the line to ask my assessment of the situation.  Frankly, I knew nothing more than he knew.

I gave a missed call to AbuBoo in the U.S.  Despite the time difference, I thought he'd pick up.  He didn't.  When he did call back, I wanted to know if my mom had called.  She hadn't.  I tried not to get upset at people half a world away.  They didn't understand the fear I was having.  They couldn't put themselves in my place---as I could barely do that myself.

I asked him to send money.  I didn't have my January paycheck.  If I could get that, we'd be OK.  Without it?  I could only last a month---maybe two.  He hemmed and hawed and gave me excuses why he couldn't send money.

"I'm worried about our son.  It isn't right that I'm worried alone.  You need to help him out."

When I did talk to my mom, I used a 25 LE calling card to do so.  That would have lasted through a month of local calls.  I used the time to reassure her.  I was tearful to think of her sadly watching the news events unfold.  I told her that it was all in Cairo.  it was true at the time, but that night the men took to the streets with sticks and knives to guard their homes and families.

Shahd, which means Honey, was sent to our house.  Honestly, I was resentful that her family wasn't taking care of their youngest girl.  Then, I learned that her uncle had died.  It was the uncle who had been burned in a gas stove explosion, along with his wife and little girl.  The beautiful baby girl with her unusual porcelain skin and blue eyes had been so lovely that her eventual death in the hospital affected many.  Her mother had lost her mind at the time.  Understandably, the mother went to screams again.  I felt for the young boy (just a little older than my son) who had lost his baby sister, his father and now his mother to madness.  Of course, Shahd's  mom, as the boy's aunt, needed to step in and care for the two remaining survivors.  The story was a tragedy inside a tragedy.

I heard, for the first time, from my friend and supervisor.  She was in the wealthy part of town in Mohandisen.  All her jewelery, silver, antiques,and electronics made our sparse offerings look laughable.    

She told me to go to school.  No, of course there would be no classes.  It was to pick up our salary for January.  MONEY!  Oh my GOD!  I was beyond happy to hear we'd be getting paid.  I'd have thousands to weather the storm.  The catch was:  I had to leave the house and pick it up by 9 AM.

When I dressed that Saturday morning, I really didn't know if I should try to look Egyptian or American.  Which look would keep me safer?  The police were no longer in charge.  It was all army surrounding us.  Based on my husband's advice, I opted for a more American look with jeans and a long top.  As I adjusted my hejab in the mirror, I thought of the quote, "For those of you who are about to die, we salute you."  I dismissed my gallows humor.  I had to be brave...as brave as my husband.  I had to leave the house.  Our lives depended on it. 

Part 2

I thought of Queen Elizabeth II's mother who had refused to leave London during WWII.  She had said that her place was beside her husband .  Reading it years ago, it had seemed oh-so-royal.  Here, it made common sense.  You don't leave from your protector in a time of war.

Have no doubt.  Whatever you are hearing about a happy, "carnival-like atmosphere" among the protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, it is a civil war.  Even if thousands or tens of thousands gather, they are still a minority.  I knew that I would be putting us both at risk by leaving the house that morning.

Many thoughts came to me on that long walk to the school.  Women were all tucked safely inside in our neighborhood.  Only the little naughty girl with the pigtails was playing outside.  The barricades were up on the church's street.  There were the guards whom we used to pass all the time when we stayed in our first home.  I got nervous and let my husband take the lead as I followed behind.  He started to talk to the guards.

"I'm guarding my home all night and guarding the church here all day," said the big guy in Arabic.

The little guy started to speak, looked me in the eye and said in English, "Sorry,"  and then he called me by my honorary mother's title.  "I didn't recognize you."

That moment of a police officer remembering  and addressing me by name startled me.  He seemed so kind, yet who was anyone anymore?  They both advised routes to take---if we really had to go (which we did).  We said goodbye and I parted with "Allah mak"  God with you because I really did wish that Allah protected them and the church.

The walk was surreal.  Gone were the tourists.  The tourist shops had guards with anxious eyes.  We took a quiet side street.  My husband greeted a man who greeted him back by name.  It startled me again.  As much as people seemed like strangers, we did have many connections.

I saw a streetsweeper.  In Egypt, it's an actual person with a palm branch broom.  I watched her and could have almost cried.  She kept Egypt going in her simple way. 

We turned the corner and  I saw a young boy carrying a tea tray to some men plastering a brick wall.  It was such a slice of everyday life that it made me remark to my husband, "That is so Egyptian----like it used to be."

We passed by our first group of young guys.  These dudes could have been very nice for all I know but I knew who was destroying Egypt and it was young men.  I tensed up and my husband had to pull at my hand to get me to go.

Once at the main street, which we had been avoiding until now, we could see the military presence.  Never before in my life have I see so much military power in one place.  Amazing!  Restaurants closed.  The hotels were open but empty.  The Square belonged to the soldiers.  Only a few cars to trouble our crossing.  We walked right next to the soldiers.

They were so young!  They were the same age as the young guys doing the damage.  We walked hand in hand.  Normally, we don't hold hands as we walk but the only way I could carry on through that walk was with my husband's grip on me. I never asked him. He knew.  The first soldier we passed saw us and touched his gun in the holster.  No joke.  No false move.  Tank after tank of young guys with guns.

My husband said that it all made him feel safe.  For me?  I felt very scared.  I saw the cars getting stopped and searched.  Though it was a long way to walk, it was taking as much time as if we were sitting in a taxi; stopped and waiting.  The only difference is that I was getting extremely close to the men protecting the Square and it was upsetting me.  I knew I had to chill or my nervousness could tip off a solider that I was suspicious.  My U.S. passport was in the bag.

Once past the line of tanks and soldiers I could let go of my husband's hand.  Really, I was embarrassed to be so fearful.  The whole country was fearful.  The only thing that kept me going was knowing that my money was waiting for me.  Except...

When we got to the school, the gatekeepers told us that there would be no money.  The banks had closed.  We had nothing.  Another co-worker had been at the gate with us.  She drove us back past the tanks, past the men with the automatic rifles just standing on the side of the road.  We weren't stopped and searched.  We got out, thanked her profusely and walked the rest of the way home.

My husband had not slept.  Neither of us had eaten.  I was dejected beyond belief.  I had failed.  All that effort for what?  It was time for us to eat before we talked.

I went to the kitchen to help with getting the food out. Mohammed's wife was in charge.  I was going to keep my mouth shut--but (if you know me at all then you know) I couldn't.  She kept the gas burning even after the pot was off and she was planning to peel and mash the boiled potatoes before returning them to the stove. I tried to tell her in Arabic, "That is money!  That gas is costing money!  Please turn it off."

She wouldn't.  She would only turn it down.  I bit my lip and helped her peel the potatoes so she could get the pot back on the stove quicker.

Then she started on the scrambled eggs for the grandma.  We already had boiled eggs on a plate ready for the table but you don't mess with the matriarch of seven kids.  A huge glop of butter was dropped in the fry pan and again I couldn't keep quiet.  When I told my sister-in-law that half a cup of butter was too much, she argued with me.  She told me that she had to cook with that much butter or the grandma would be mad  at her.  Again, I tried to tell her, "That's money!  There's no more money!"  Why didn't she understand that none of us who normally worked were bringing cash in the house?!

Instead, she rushed past me to the room of waiting men and complained to them that I had taken butter out of the pan.  They didn't have one thought to piece together between the three of them.  I was indignant. I had just risked my life to bring home money (and failed) only to have what little money was in the house wasted by carelessness. 

The grandma blew up at me for my attempts to curb eating habits.  My husband then blew up in general.  I blew up at my sister-in-law for not just keeping quiet in the kitchen.  No one enjoyed the food.  My husband didn't even eat.  I ate in anger.  The eggs cooked in butter sat swimming in fat.

Somewhere in the uproar my husband had told me that if I didn't like it here I could go to America.  I pondered why I was in this country anyway.  Why be here if I had no money and no safety and nobody understanding the need to ration and conserve? 

The phone rang and I listened, then fell into tears.

It was my supervisor again.  She apologized for the money not being there and told me that all the Americans were leaving Egypt.

Part 3

"I don't know what I'm going to do," I told her.  I was in shock. 

My husband rushed to my side and tried to find out what had happened.  I couldn't speak.  A million thoughts rushed through my head and none of them made any sense.  I had just been told to leave by my husband.  I now was being told to leave by my government.  My school was telling me there would be no money and that was the same response from AbuBoo previously.  I only had Allah.

I gathered myself together and explained the situation.  My husband tried to comfort me.  I explained without any more hysteria that I needed to pray istakkarah.  I needed to be careful.

Apparently, Mr. J had already made it out of the country with his wife and child.  I knew his emotions.  When you are an adult, you can stay longer and stay living on the edge but not when you have a child. 

I had brought my son to Egypt to give him a better life.  I was dealing with a country in turmoil, crime sprees, food shortages, lack of connection, loss of businesses, friends, and money. 

There was also the curfew to contend with.  Staying put in our house was alright because I kept myself busy.  My feeling was that the outside world was going to hell so I had to make the inside of our apartment as clean and organized as possible.  I began pulling things down from the tops of the armories.

"Why are the suitcases down?" was my husband's worry.  He thought I was leaving.

I wasn't---at least not yet.  If I did leave...could I simply go to the coast?  There was no trouble on the coast.  Maybe I could stay with AbuBoo's family.  It would cause friction...maybe even a divorce here.  I still wouldn't have any money.  Were schools open there?  Round and round I went.

I didn't feel I could go to the U.S.  There was no money to travel.  Even if I begged money from my mother, she would welcome us for a short term but not the long haul.  I couldn't leave everything here and simply be lost in America with nothing.

This wasn't about me and my man.  It wasn't.  Not having my relationship being the main focus of a life decision was a bit of a first.  I was being very practical.  Yes, I felt for him and his family and I knew they were stuck.  Was I?  Was I stuck here---with him and them?

I prayed istakkarah.  I wanted Allah to direct me.

I went back downstairs.  To add to the problems, my son was the naughtiest he'd been in a long time.  He wouldn't stop being a goof.  He wouldn't shut up.  He wouldn't settle down.  All of us wanted to hear the news on the TV and he wouldn't let us.  In hindsight, I know now that it was all too much for him but at the time, I simply couldn't cope.  Shahd, the little niece staying with us, kept staring at my every move.  I tried to reprimand my boy with everything else going on and then the grandma yelled at me.

I couldn't take it.  I yelled back.  And see...the matriarch can yell at you but you're not supposed to yell back.  Once I started yelling, I couldn't stop.  Everyone was telling me to stop and I couldn't.  It was the release of every stress I'd been accumulating.  I had tried to stay calm and trust Allah and it just wasn't working any more.  My husband hit me in my arm.  Everyone had lost their minds.  Really. 

I decided I could leave.  I could pack only our passports and my camera and go.  I got my son dressed and headed for the door.  The family tried to stop me.  I resisted them.  I thought I could go to my friend's house down the street and leave for the coast after that.  I thought that I didn't have to stay in a crazy country with crazy people.

They locked the door and wouldn't let me leave.  The friction was still there but so was the love.  They cared about us and feared for our safety.  It was terrifying to stay and terrifying to leave.  I had to stay.  We had to trust.  It was not an easy decision but it was the only one I could make.

Later, I called my co-worker and learned that she'd had a meltdown too.  It was inevitable.  She had put all the important documents in a bag and talked to her husband about their plan.  They would leave if the violence in the street escalated and if the food ran out. 

Why hadn't our boss called me?  My co-worker told me that the principal was under such stress in the wealthy area of Cairo.  Her house would surely be attacked by looters since it was above posh stores. 

The next day, I did get a call from my boss, who also apologized about the money not being there.  She told me that honestly she'd been in a kind of shock.  She hadn't functioned like a good employer because she simply wasn't functioning.  She had never in a million years believed that her country would fall apart.  She hadn't even stocked her pantry with food.  She had been in complete denial. 

At her house, there had been similar freak-outs among people locked together with the political revolution raging outside.  There had been upset and yelling and she advised me to find some place to be by myself and away from the others.  I valued her advice and knew she was right.  None of us were used to that much time confined together---let alone in a time of stress.

I told her that my husband was keeping the house safe but that it was so hard on him, even if the others helped.  My boss admitted that for her family the guard duty was too strenuous and so they had brought in a big burly village thug to guard her property.

I laughed and said, "Sometimes, it's hard to be married to a tough guy, but right now I sure wouldn't trade him for an intellectual."

It was true.

Little by little my husband and I patched things up.  I washed his clothes, which I had vowed never to wash (since I was working outside the home) because now he was working and I wasn't.  I made good with the family. 

I woke up to the fact that Shahd hadn't asked to come to her grandma's.  In fact, my husband confided that her disabled father might have wanted her to stay with us since he couldn't really protect her.  That was sad. 

I took Shahd up to our apartment.  We looked over a mish-mash of hand-me-down clothes which hadn't yet been on my boy and we picked out an outfit.  Then, I took care of her;  showering, shampooing, getting her dressed, brushing and braiding her hair and brushing her teeth.  I was a bit ashamed that I had not made any effort before then.  I've always loved this little girl.  Mr. Boo fosters hopes of marrying her (and having two kids--and yes, he's picked out names for them already).  I can only say, "astragferallh."  I found myself in survival mode and really fell flat in some areas.  Inshahallah, I've learned some lessons of the importance of keeping quiet, calm and helpful in times of stress.

Part 4

The following morning, I was once again at my apartment window hanging up the morning wash (with more of hubby's clothes) when I saw the grandma in the street.  Yes, she had opened the door and was determined to sweep the rubbish off the street.  The door was wide open!  Where was everybody?

I ran downstairs and had her come inside.  I found out that my husband and his brother Mahmoud had gone to the market.  Mohammed was asleep with his family in their apartment.  It was down to me to convince the grandma to stay inside.  I tried my best and went back upstairs.

Sure enough!  From my window view I saw her exit the house again.  She was going to finish her sweeping job even if it meant that criminals might kill us all.  I ran downstairs again and call for her to come in just as a group of men came walking up.  My husband might know everyone here but I don't---especially the men---so that group scared me.  I got her inside and had her come sit with me in my apartment.

When my husband returned, he brought the smallest bread I've ever seen in Egypt.  Usually, our pita bread is the size of a dinner plate.  The day after the riots, the size shrunk to the size of a salad plate.  Now, I was looking at a pita the size of a teacup saucer. 

"Alhumdulillah," was all you could say because you knew some people didn't have any bread at all. 

The grandma started baking bread later that day.  I was grateful for her work ethic.  She was not going to let her family go without good bread.  Bread is such an important symbol for Egyptians.  If you hear a person begging, they ask for bread not money.  Soon, I thought, there are going to be a lot more people begging.

I realized that I needed to request CNN a couple times a day to keep understanding the fast changes taking place.  Before then, I would listen with the rest of the family to Al Jeezera or local news ---in Arabic and what I didn't understand, I would ask for translation. That was causing stress on all sides.  This was better, although it meant having to read the schizophrenic crawl at the bottom scene go from taking about killing and looting in Cairo to "Charlie Sheen admitted to rehab."

I did have a drop in my stomach when I saw Anderson Cooper arrive in town.  The man who traveled to Indonesia after the tsunami, and Hati after the earthquake was now here.  He said that he always was flying in to the countries when everyone was trying to get out.

The idea, by the way, of the American government, "flying everybody out," is false.  The American government was flying out only the non-essential consulate staff and dependants.  It had nothing to do with us Americans living and working here.  We were on our own. 

My son's father called and I told him the truth:  times were tough.  I was trying to explain it better when the thought occurred to me:  someone else could explain this better so I asked my husband to speak to AbuBoo.  This was something huge; a real first.  Those two talked about the safety of my son.  Inshahallah, we would keep him out of harm's way.  I was proud how patient my husband was with a man he didn't particularly like.

Another night of guarding but with more calmness.  The presence of the army was helping stabilize the community.  Alhumdulillah.  My husband no longer spent every moment outside.  He would come in and get warm.  He would not, however, return to our apartment upstairs.  He kept alert downstairs no mater what.

In the morning, I got another call from my supervisor.  The money would be there.  Really!  So, we dressed quickly.  The slated pick-up time was only 20 minutes from when we got the call.  The men would only be giving out the money for one hour.  After that, there would be no money available for a long time.

My co-worker arranged to pick us up at the main road.  All we had to do was walk six blocks or so.  Those blocks had vigilante justice patrols with sticks, clubs and knives stopping cars and buses.  They were not going to let any bad guys in.  We walked on by without getting stopped whatsoever because my husband and his family are well known in this area.

After our big to-do, this was our first chance to talk.  My husband told me that he didn't like to hit my arm.  I told him I didn't like him to hit my arm either.  And I didn't like to yell and I was sorry for that.

"I'm a good man?"  He asked me in all seriousness.

"Yes," I answered.  "Very good.  I'm walking with you, yes?"  I answered in Arabic.

We crossed the main street with ease and in a way it saddened me.  There weren't enough people!  I missed the hustle and bustle at the intersection.

There was the car.  We jumped in and took off.  Check points were still in effect.  We saw others getting searched but not us, thank God.  We were able to make it to school.  The other cars there told us in advance that people and money were waiting. 

We did get our pay.  I was so relieved.  Money isn't everything but without it you can't buy anything.  Alhumdulillah for getting paid! 

It was also nice to see familiar faces and even to joke and hug with people we missed.  I learned one more American teacher had left but only to Greece and then she'd be back when school reopened.  Good plan.

When we got home, both of us could finally relax.  We would be OK.  We were done traveling to school for a while.  We were financially sound for a while.  My husband hadn't showered in days so he remedied that.  I could just lay on the bed, close my eyes and rest.  It was the first time in days that my husband had been in our apartment for more than a few minutes.  It felt almost normal.

My mom called.  She had gotten a little worried from watching the news.  We talked for an hour.  It was good to spill.  I had my boy watching a movie on the computer with earphones so he wouldn't hear a thing.

The next day, I even got my internet back. 

It almost seems normal now

...until you see on the news that the horses and camels from down the street from us in Giza arrived in the Tahrir Square and protesters tried to beat them up.  The resulting melee looked straight out of "Gone with the Wind."

...and while reading my boy his bedtime story we had to move out of his room at the front of the house and back into my windowless room because of gunfire outside somewhere.

...and my dad called.  I had not spoken with him for over a year.  He had seen the news and did worry for our safety.  He wondered what our escape plan was.

I told him that my plan was to stay in Egypt inshahallah. 

15 comments:

Umm Aaminah said...

Salaam sis. Thank you for sharing what it's like for the normal people stuck in Egypt. I pray all my brothers and sisters overseas, may Allah protect you and guide you, amin.

Our Rewards Await Us said...

Alhamdulillah you are safe. I'm glad to "hear" from you. I pray that you find your way to wherever you are meant to be...whether it's back here or to stay there. Be safe!

Umm Aaminah said...

Salaam sis. I had a question: when did you get married? Did I miss a post or did you not blog about it?

Confused... :-)

Yosra said...

Ameen to that du'a. Ya, we need some powerful prayer!

Asalamu Alaykom Umm Aaminah,

Ya, I did marry. I've hinted at it but wasn't really going to put it out there until I got to the right place in my narrative of the first year here. Sadly, the events of the recent week have made it impossible to keep quiet on what's been happening in my personal life. I mean...I'm happy enough with my guy...I just wish I could have given the news the way I planned. Oh well! Alhumdulillah for marrying BEFORE all hell broke loose over here LOL!

Asalamu Alaykom ORAU,

You know I'm always glad to hear from you too! I'll have to pop over to your blog and see if you've posted any news. I hope good news :) And "yes" safe is where it's at!

it said...

hello, i come here from our mutural friend, carolyn. i commented on her link to ythis blog post of yours and thought i should post it here, too:

yosra, i am so glad you have an internet connection again and we, americans, can finally hear words straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. now that you are becoming more politically aware, what do you think of this opinion piece on a...l jazaeera:
http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/2011228022611887.html

do you still think the people protesting are "crazy" and you (as one of your commenters called you) are one of the "normal" ones?
do you think the disenfrachised are merely pawns who have been made to go "crazy" for a bigger political agenda that remains yet unseen but it just as much pre-planned and manufactured?

you are a very good writer and i could very much relate to what you were writing because the republican national convention was held in my city of saint paul and i got to see firsthand how a policestate works.
indeed, i empathized with your quandry of even how to dress the day you went outside.

there seems to be a theme in your life, and maybe this theme could be said to be a human one, but i cannot help but notice how often youb mentioin in your blog posts both before and after this revolt that there appeared to be a great lack of communication even between husband and wife. and the fact that you were not allowed to say anything back to "the matriarch" even tho she was using all your butter.
and the woman you were teaching english to confessed such cruelty to you under the veneer of all the happy servants.
your own family, kept you imprisoned against your will the night you wanted to leave. how do you feel about that now?
do you think they have a right to do this to you and that is a loving act?

i'm sorry if my questions seem detached or too personal, i'm really trying to figure out why and how people stay in such denial and do not communicae to each other, as i see the same thing happenign here. and i feel there will be many housewives making blog posts like yours, over here, in the near future. i can't seem to get through to people that they need to start gathering a supply a food, at the very least.

what advice would you give me to get through to people who are comfortable that this can happen to them, as well?

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Ana,

Thanks for posting your comments and questions here. I value your thoughts because you are here on this earth with some supersonic artistic genius. Best wishes for you and your family.

Now, for what you wrote...

I have always been politically aware except in America I had a voice whereas here (since I'm not a citizen) I really don't. Al Jazeera's piece is for the most part on target. But they label those in galabiyas "the downtrodden" and I'm not sure if that's how the actual people in lower classes feel about themselves. They were OK with there place as long as they had enough. However, the climbing prices made it impossible to feed everyone and send the kids to school and so on.

The protestors are not "crazy" but rather a mix of well-intended people along with some evil hoodlums. I liken it to a fun highschool party being crashed by jerks who want to rile up some chaos before someone calls the cops.

I don't think that the disenfranchised were used by anyone as they really signed up to protest and made a person-by-person decision to be there. It wasn't a certain area of town, or workplace, or place of worship. It was a very real cross-section.

Thank you for liking my writing and for being able to not only get the meaning but the feeling. It probably was a lot like this at the RNC for a few days. Now, multiply that by thousands of people in a whole country and for over a week.

Theme to my life? Wow...that might have to be figured out in retrospect. I'm not sure if I have a theme at this point. I better come up with one---and FAST!

The miscommunication is something I could probably explain more. I am not in a house with tons of English. I usually speak Arabic here at home. Only my husband understands my English very well...or somewhat okay...or sometimes hardly at all. But, we've managed to communicate and I like those moments of struggling to understand---love them actually. The only problem is that when there's an emergency, you really need IMMEDIATE understanding and that isn't possible always.

The butter incident: Buttergate? Well, the grandma lives on the bottom floor and when we go down to eat it's in her house. It isn't actually all her food (since I help to pay for it) but she feels like it's hers. She is a very rotund 70-something lady who thinks food is love. I'm not going to change her thoughts one bit. The way to deal with her is through my husband but he was not dealing well with the day after the night of hell---no one was. It doesn't make us look good but I wanted to be honest about the amount of stress we were under.

The English lesson turned therapy session is something which I've faced before. You help someone shed their vocal inhibitions and they start spilling secrets. I don't like that part of teaching. I like a professional distance. In the end, that's the main reason why I stopped going to their house even though I was offered obscene amounts of money to return.

Being "imprisoned" wouldn't be the first time in this home. Women are not expected to have the same freedoms walking out the door. I can work within the framework and see how being free is in the mind. Love is a funny thing. People do things to love one another which really don't feel good but if you stay open, loving, giving and forgiving you don't get upset in that moment. Do they have a right to lock the door? As long as I'm signed on as a family member, they do. Family is way more important than the individual over here. I've been an individual enough and I'm okay being part of a group.

Your questions were fine and I don't have a problem with any questions which eminate from a good place.

You absolutely won't be able to wake people up to this dire set of event happening in America. It could happen anywhere. Egypt's haves and have-nots are really too simmilar to the fracture in the US.

Yosra said...

What I would recommend for households anywhere in the world is this:

1. Don't rely on technology to connect you. That technology can be taken away or crash. Have all the important landlide phone numbers with you as well.

2. Know how you would store emergency water. What do you have to stockpile water if you suddenly needed to? Where would you put it?

3. Never let your food supplies go to nothingness. You need to always have food on hand because at any time the stores or banks could close. And think about which food is actually a good source of energy and what is simply cr*p.

4. Keep cash in the house---even for one month of buying food and supplies.

5. Surround yourself in your home with things (pictures, books, music, furniture, etc.) which enliven you if you had to be there for a long stretch.

6. Would you be safe in your home if riots broke out? What would you need to do to protect yourself?

7. Do you have local connections? There are so many folks with "internet friends" that they forget to talk to their neighbors. Really, the people you live next to will be the ones to keep you safe in an emergency. Be nice.

8. Are you spiritually grounded? Could you make it through a hard time with your current practice or beliefs? If not, then what do you need to do to get stronger?

9. Do you have a good medicine shelf of the basics? If you wait until you're sick to go out then that might be hard to deal with in an emergency.

10. I should think up one more to make an even 10. Okay, people are going to hate me for this one but...keep your dirty clothes piles from building up too high. If you run out of water and/or electricity you will wish you'd been busy days before.

Matt said...

I was fascinated by the account related in this blog, and frankly amazed at "it"'s comments.

To "It": this isn't a video game and real people's lives are at stake. It is clear that where-ever you come from, politics is essentially a game to you.

Shame on you.

For those of you in Egypt, keep everyone you love as safe as possible.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Matt,

I'm glad that you read what's been happening for me and those I love. We are safe as we can be. Actually, tonight it hasn't been too bad and some of the cousins came over (even staying past the curfew).

"It" is a person and she is a very thoughtful person. I love her a lot and if you knew her you'd love her too. If you didn't like what she wrote, it's OK...I didn't mind.

I think most people are trying to figure out Egypt and Egyptian politics for the first time and it's hard to get a grip on it. I've been immersed in everything Egyptian for the last decade but even I can't really predict the next day's events.

What I wish for, though, is peace.

Peace to you, Matt, and thanks again for reading and commenting.

Salma @ Chasing Rainbow said...

Wow Yosra. First, salam alaikum. Second, reading about the happenings in Eypt last year is so interesting, as I watch how the country has changed so much in a year.

I am so happy that you lived to tell. We kept asking family there what was going on and they said so very little.

I like the advice for households in case of emergencies, my hubby who's from Yemen always thinks of the basics.
Many people in the West just don't have the reality of war, and disaster (which is good), but we should always be prepared.

Blessings to you and yours.

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam Salma,

Thank you for reading. It's been almost a year now since I first posted this. You reading it made me re-read it. LOL! I felt like I was reading someone else's story. It is so distant from this moment.

Yes, the advice for emergencies is something which no one will take seriously but I felt is was my duty to share.

No one EVER believes that life can change so drastically in an instant. Maybe those born in countries struggling with war and conflict can understand. I hope that this never happens in America. Allahu alim.

Thank you for your time and energy. May Allah bless and reward you for all your efforts with your sisters :)

Yosra said...

From Anonymous Who Wishes to Remain Mostly Anonymous:

"Tahrir Square holds a big bureaucratic nightmare of a building where we went to get visa extensions"

Heeheehee... I really have to stop reading for today! Such random memories all this is bringing back!

I can most definitely second the description of the Immigration building. Oh, what a nightmare. Man ... to relive that moment when they were shutting down for the day but only returned my husband's passport and couldn't locate mine AT ALL, rudely telling me "ghadan, ghadan inshaAllah," whilst they sipped tea and smoked. Alhamdulillah, after much, ah, "uncharacteristic" protesting from me, and calm prodding from my husband, they literally happened across it accidentally in a shoe box on the floor while lookkng for something else.

Alhamdulillah for that, cuz I fully intended on remaining in that building until it was located, eight months pregnant or not. I couldn't fathom leaving my passport there -- not with all the stacks upon stacks of papers and cigarette smoking ... nope!

Okay, I really must desist. I'm hijacking your comments in the worse way, sorry haha.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Anonymous Who Wishes to Remain Mostly Anonymous,

Eight months pregnant stuck in Mogamma and they've lost your passport?! That's enough to give me nightmares.

Funny that it was in a shoebox. I, at least, had mine in an unlocked drawer.

Honestly, everyone wants an American passport in Egypt, but once they have it, they treat it like dirt. Weird.

Where was your baby born? Egypt? States? On a plane?

Love and Light :)

Yosra said...

From Anonymous Who Wishes to Remain Mostly Anonymous:

Wa alaikum as salaam!

Yeah, no... I had to have my babies in the States LOL. I was really dead set of having this fabulously orchestrated midwife assisted waterbirth in my childhood home with not a painkiller in sight... so Egypt definitely wasn't going to cut it. Alhamdulillah I was able to have just the experience I wanted, and repeated the exact same thing (same mkdwife, bedroom and everything!) a few years later with the next kid instead of delivering in the remotest region of Yemen.

Oh, and there's nothing like getting your important paperwork ( birth certificates and passports) done back home mashaAllah!! :-D

Asalamu Alaykom Anonymous Who Wishes to Remain Mostly Anonymous,

I totally understand your thoughts on childbirth in Egypt for sure. I've only had to go through a miscarriage here and that was bad enough.

I had to laugh at "Egypt definitely wasn't going to cut it" because OH YES! They WERE going to cut it (scheduled c-section that is). Natural childbirth is really an oddity here. Women have gotten used to appointments for giving birth. Sigh...modern maternity is not an improvement!

Love and Light!

From Anonymous Who Wants to Remain Mostly Anonymous,

Baahahahahahahahaha! You're RIFHT, they would indeed cut it! That was my first encounter with learning just how truly pervasive elective c-sections are in Egypt. Being that it was my first child, I went dutifully too all my prenatals in Giza, and would talk with the women who were likewise pregnant and waiting to see the OB. EVERYONE of them was having an elective c-section. Many were first time mothers (not that having a prior c-section NECESSITATES having subsequent c-section, alhamdulillah a dear friend of mine just did a successful all natural VBAC two days ago!!) and just assumed it was the easiest way of birthing. Why go through the "unnecessary" pain? Anyway, it's such a controversial subject, best left to baby blogs, but yeah ... I felt like I was battling it out with my OB. He was a very, very old man and he kept talking about how they keep up with the medical standards in England -- that's where he studied -- as if that meant any thing to me. Me and the AMA disagree on just about everything related to kids, but I'm no doctor so what do I know? Just a mother is all!

Anyway, I was over him belittling me and being condescending, rolling his eyes and saying stupid things like, "well you want the baby to take a bath right? Can he take a bath?!" After I just expressed my desire to opt out of the HepB, vitamin k and eye drops. Actually, doctor, no, my kid won't need a bath right away, and I won't subject myself to your condescension.

Yeah ... between that and the women obsessively getting ultrasounds when they weren't even necessary was a bit much for me. I got one scan and was frightened to see how my baby reacted and wasn't sold on the "oh! He's active, that's good" thing. Never did another one after that for him nor my other kid. And alhamdulillah both were healthy and perfect and amazing! Midwifery is such an amazing thing and I'm so happy midwives like my beloved Shannon are keeping it alive!

MashaAllah, sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I'm still in 2011 and haven't reached that stage of your life! That's such a trial, and can be difficult to reconcile, inshaAllah you're in a better place!

Love, halimah

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Mostly Anonymous Halimah,

No worries about the miscarriage. It was a harder time getting over the physical symptoms than the mental/emotional. I went through July and August still really not well. By September, I went into the doctora again to find out why I wasn't all better---AND I was starting a new school. It was very stressful.

My husband wishes we had been able to have that baby---not really a baby when it stopped being viable. I say "alhumdulillah". I've been able to provide for my family without such a burden/blessing.

Love and Light!