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Maybe somebody sleeps somewhere.  But Cairo never sleeps.

Maybe the streets empty, the haze evaporates, the roar quiets.

But Cairo never sleeps. Never.cairo

He is a compelling note that Olfa Tantawi from Liberation Square. This explains much what Egyptians feel.

the Tahrir square story is unbeleivable. Today, already thousands of people are there and more and more are flooding the streets, all my friends and relatives are either in the square or on the way to go. These are people whose relation to politics and activism used to be to read the story in the newspaper and discuss it over lunch or dinner. Everybody is there right now including my 70 years old aunt. despite the attacks and the fear we all feel safe and happy.Yesterday, I spent the day there, late at night I went back home. Behind the safe doors of my house, suddenly it was a vaccume of fear. We had to watch the Egyptian media’s false propaganda. They told Egyptians that the protestors in the the Tahrir square are causing serious damage to the economy and endangering the safety of the country. In other, allegdly, more independant Egyptian media channels, some of the most influential writers and analysts were trying to sell to the people the idea that it is time to go home, you made it people, just give the current government enough time to make it right again. Actually among the Egyptians there are those who just want their lives back to normal and beleive that the present achievements, Mubarack’s promise to leave office, is good enough.

Angry and worried I shifted to the news flowing from other International media channels. As usual, their intense focus is on the fights, the bloodshed and the terror, they ask questions about who is leading, what about the Muslim brotherhood, and the other opposition leaders, they speak to irrelevant people, who do not make part of the event , but just like the media they are observers. sunddenly in my safe warm home, I am worried, afraid and unsure.

Than again today back to the square to find the that the number of those who support the uprising is increasing tremendously. The charm of the Tahrir square is attracting more and more people, some flew all the way from the United States, Canada, Germany, London and even South Africa to be there in the square at this very moment of ultimate hope. Others are coming from different Egyptian governorates, simple people who came a long way because they beleive that this is a true revolution fighting for their rights and they were determined to give it all their support.

One very simple lady from the rural Fayoum governorate told me,” I am here to support the youth.” she posed and added,” when Mubarak’s grand son died we all felt for him , we dressed in black and cried for the innocent child, why on earth is he now doing this to our sons? How many mothers are now crying for a child who is dead or lost. ”

Many analysts in the media speak of Egypt’s economy, they say that the economic growth did not trickle down to the poor and this is why this is happening. This is too simplistic. This revolution is not about poverty or need. The people in the streets from all walks of life , rich and poor are their because they want freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom.

In the square amazingly there is no anger and no violence, People are singing and clapping their hands. they form circles and forums and indulge in heated discussions that usually ends with laughter or songs. The pro- Mubarak camel riding thugs, on the oher hand, are poor ignorant people paid, reportedly, by wealthy busnissmen, to fight for the man and for his gang’s short sighted business interests, this is poverty and hunger at work, people are selling their souls and swords for the highest price. But the freedom fighters in the freedom square (Tahrir means freedom) are truely, innocently happy souls whose aim is to get their Egypt back from the hands of a regime that abused and exploited the country and the people for over 30 years.

It is a revolution lead by young intellectuals. It started as a virtual idea in the social media. They did not at the time, just ten days ago, think that it could lead to such an astounding uprising. One young blogger told me that they did not think that one can simply set a date and a time for a revolution, “we used to joke about it saying let us meet tomrrow at cilantro after the revolution, or we better do this or that thing ahead of the revolution.” Although it started and was fed by the connectivity of the internet, once it started rolling, people already were connected even in the absence of the internet and the mobile phones. Awreness and beleive is a super network that connected people.

In the media they speak of an international community afraid of a power vaccum, they speak of a fear from Islamic radicalism, others speak of the absence of the building blocks of democracy. This is exactly because they do not undrestand the nature of this revolution, the people, literally for the first time in history, are taking the lead and deciding for themselves, the government will continue to make its concessions and offers, and the street is the judge. It is a different process where the voting is a continuous process, as the street reacts to the government announcements and measures

The absence of a person or a group of persons as a recognizable leadership group or figures is intentional. The intellectual young people who started all this are actually leading by spreading awareness among the people in the square, rather than by giving orders and this is making the pressure of the street crowds even more forceful. Simply because it is the people rather than this or that specific name who is reacting and deciding.

The media should make a drastic shift and start asking the right questions, they should discuss the needed, on the ground, garantees that will make sure that the present regime including the new vice president and prime minister, at the end of an interim period will effectively let the Egyptians choose a new Egyptian administration. The people need a guarantee that whoever rules will at the end of the day month, yera go back to his home knowing that his initial identity is an Egyptian citizen and not an everlasting ruler. uptill now the Egyptian government failed the transparency exam, trying hard to hide what is happening in the square from the eyes of the world. They continue to speak a language that is not reflected in actual measures such as the announcement of new parliamentary election in three or six months with guarantees of international and judiciary monitoring.

The story of the tahrir squre is not about who is with Mubarak and who is against, it is about a truely civilized, very peoceful people who decided to regain control of their destiny. This is a total super change. It means that they have given up their let go attitude, they have broken the seal of fear that has been stamped allover their bodies and soul. they will for ever be responsible and work to rebuild the whole country.
Craig, in Shaa Allah, in ayear time you should come for a vist I beleive and hope you will find avery very different Egypt. See you then

Olfa

CROSSING EGYPT BY TRAIN—On a rack above me in a crowded train hurtling through the night, someone has stuffed luggage – a box of carefully tied twigs holding belongings.

This is poverty, I tell myself.

Because of this poverty, there are families in Egypt who sell their young daughters to rich men.

Someone with a local community organization that knows of such things, tells me of a small village in Upper Egypt where most of the young girls have been married off to wealthy men so that their families could have money.

I hear from her, and others, about brokers who allegedly arrange these marriages, and who find ways to get around the government law that bars anyone under 18 from marrying.

These community organization workers talk also about so-called pleasure marriages arranged by brokers. It is a business deal where wealthy tourists marry village girls for the weekend or for the summer. And then the men dump the girls.

The teen brides another young woman regularly meets as part of her job a community organization in Cairo deeply upsets her.  The woman, whose name in Arabic has the same meaning as prayer, has thrown herself into the work, telling herself this is what she must do.

Young women 14- or 15-years-old are married to men 20 or 30 years older than them for money for their families, she explains with a sad shrug.

The community activist cannot think of someone being sold that way. Nor can she bear to hear another story of a young bride who went off to a world of wealth and came back months later, discarded by the husband, and dumped back into poverty.

Because of poverty there are people here who turn to selling their body parts, mostly kidneys. I can’t tell how widespread the problem is, but there is much talk of it in the newspapers and among local organizations who tell of poor people who have sold their kidneys to dealers, who scout the slums for sellers.

They say the sellers sometimes don’t even get the money they are promised and often they are left sick and damaged permanently from the surgery. They talk of gangs who operate these scams across the Middle East. There’s a story in the Cairo newspapers about arrests of one such gang that operated between Jordan and Egypt.

Because of poverty, there are street children who are victimized in countless ways. Some of them have been scooped up in the smaller towns, and shifted to the big cities where the abuse only magnifies; prostitution, drug dealing, thievery. They have to beg for themselves, for their families, or for whoever manipulates them.

Because of poverty, underage children work in factories and the fields in violation of Egyptian laws that mostly bar them from working if they are under 14 years old, journalists in the country’s smaller cities tell me.

But because the families are poor there are no complaints from them. There seem to be countless community groups struggling to deal with this problem that does not vanish.

Because of poverty, people seek out smugglers who promise to take them to jobs in Europe. But more often the voyages are fatal death trips in boats that barely get beyond the Egyptian coast.

I talk with the head of a community organization in a mid-sized Egyptian city who boils all of these problems down to poverty, and that helps me understand the child brides and the trafficking and child labor and the people who say it isn’t an issue because there is nothing to be done about it and it is a custom, not a social plight.

He doesn’t think you can do much unless you understand the root causes.

So, I understand why on the train that pulled out just before mine from a town in central Egypt there was a group of young men clinging for their lives to a door on the outside of the last car. They couldn’t afford a ticket so they were willing to risk their lives on the railroad on this dark night.

And I understand why some of people mulling around in the dirty, decades-old train have a look of unease. It is because they are headed for Cairo, looking for a job and better life. But decent-paying jobs are rare in a country where many earn no more than $2 per day and in a city where swelling crowds are doing the same as them.

And so I understood too the luggage of twigs.

Hot wind rustling by. Rustling dust-caked leaves. Hot, hot, sun-baked wind.

Desert wind whispering in a muffled voice. Wind rushing though mansions and villas and lovely Art Deco and French and Italian fantasies and crowded collapsing, airless grey blocks of cement stuffed as well into Cairo’s Garden City. Some of these relics of another time in Cairo are stunning, some are abandoned, and some are exhausted, perched on the edge of surrender.

Here, where I’ve lived among the ghosts of Garden City, Cairo, Halas.

Among the cry of the family, father and mother and two tiny young children, that lazily trolls its cart through the sleepy Friday streets behind a small boney donkey, selling watermelons. Massive dark green watermelons. Watermelons, the father shouts. The streets sleep on. Among the young soldiers clumped outside the hotels and embassies and foreign agencies and homes of the rich and politically powerful. Among the bowabs and sweating deliverymen on their bikes and scooters and people who park cars by saving places for them with rocks on the streets or clean them daily by temporarily wiping the desert’s embrace off them, and among the maids and one small, elderly garbage man who seems glued to one spot on one street, forever brushing away the desert’s dust even though the desert ignores him.

Halas.

Among the wild street dogs too tired from the heat to stir on the day of rest.

Among the broiling ochre-colored buildings that shimmer in pulsing heat. Tan. Light tan. Tan. Shades of tan.

Among African refugees, who have come from all over the continent, and who patiently line up for benefits outside an agency’s office in an old Garden City building. Among the old and the elderly woman who lives by herself in a vast and darkened relic of an elegant mansion with all of her cats and all her memories of a different time. Among the young families who head towards the Nile for a refreshing breath of air at night. But not now. Not in day time. Not in this heat.

Among the church bells ringing and mosques’ calls to prayers.

Halas. Halastu.

Among the people waiting and hoping for a break in the heat; maybe  a breeze, a flutter, a sigh of fresh air.

But like the wind, I’m gone. I am a ghost too of the Garden City in the desert.

Halas.

DOKKI – Heat, billowing heat and smoky gray and tan air ahead. No wind above, no breath below.The desert is the city. Traffic swells and taxis scamper like small black flies, finding places to squeeze in, to squeeze by, to slide by where there’s no room.

Eighty-thousand taxi drivers in Cairo slither through the tightest openings on the road and in life. Eighty thousand squeezing by and by. Read “Taxi: Tales of Commuting,” by Khaled al Khamisy, www. shorouk.com.

As we slice through traffic ricocheting like a cue ball, the driver begins singing. This hasn’t happened before. I am going to be late. Look at the traffic ahead.
Sometimes they shout or scream or sit sullenly or laugh or joke. But he sings before the cassette begins and sings all the way through. Love songs. Deep, rich dramatic songs about life. He sings as he flips the cassette and sings what’s on the other side. Middle-aged. Balding. Worn, sweat-stained shirt.

In between he hums. Traffic is pulverized. It is hotter than a laundry iron pressing down on a shirt. The horn dancing is reaching a crescendo. No one wants to be here. I don’t see anyone else singing.

His car is a tiny black worn-out, beat-up, wobbly, overheated, suffocatingly hot tin can with a heater that doesn’t turn off and a broken door that doesn’t open and cracked windows that do not roll up or down. It is a relic. It belongs in a museum: like almost every other taxi on the road in Cairo.

“Do you read newspapers?”

“No time.”

“Do listen to the news on the radio?”

“No time.”

“So when do you rest?”

“Fridays after prayer. For a while.”

He sings on and I wished I had sung too.

Garden City Street Sign

I live among ghosts. Ghosts of hundreds and thousands of years ago. And ghosts of days not so far off that I can still see the shade where light shone in their last days.

I share my nights with them.

I walk the narrow, winding streets and hear them rushing around, adjusting the new gas lights in their ballrooms or setting the candles to light their way or dressing up for fancy gatherings and worrying about their city, their Cairo, their world, a world that long ago vanished.

My Trance

I live less than two long streets from the Nile. The river that runs through Egypt’s soul rushes by within a quick step of where I live and I often pause to thank the cool breezes it brings.

I walk in a trance in Garden City’s streets. Lovely old mansions and palaces of the self-appointed and royally anointed rich. Houses carved out of stone and wood with imagination and humor and great ambitions. Grand ballrooms and grand entrance ways and large windows that look out from wooden balconies that lean out onto leafy streets from behind delicate wood and metal lacework.

This is what Garden City was when it was planned in the early 20th century. A strange piece of a fantasy from another place– a verdant Europe – imposed on the sun-baked, dusty, wind-swept banks of the Nile; and on the other shore of the city that stands not far from where Pharaohs ruled and built their pyramids so they could descend into permanent life in the underworld.

While Cairo bakes, it is cool in Garden City because of the rows of trees: palms and rubber trees and everything kind of warm climate greenery that you would imagine.

While this giant city of 18 million roars with an onslaught of horns and shouts, the streets in Garden City are hushed except for the birds atop the trees that somehow still find enough water to flourish. While the crowds pass on nearby streets, it is impossible for them do so here. The streets are too narrow, too winding and they go nowhere.

Where there are fancy new suburbs that could be anywhere, and breathless bare brick slums collapsing and slammed together on dirt alleys that have not changed since the days when Cairo was a city protected by thick walls, Garden City is a fantasy left over from a special moment in Egypt’s long history. Paris on the Nile, it was. London and Rome and who knows what other cities were models for its fantasies, too.

When I meander, I look up and wonder who danced in that empty ballroom. I look through the metal gates and wonder what that driveway once looked like. I peer over the thick cement walls of an estate and ogle the lovely greenness on the other side. I stare into a wide open doorway, struck by the lush setting of chandeliers and marble. I count Art Deco and Greco-Roman and Victorian and every kind of design possible. I also count drab, grey and crowded slabs of buildings mixed among jewels of the past. I wonder where they have gone: the people who built these places and who spent their childhoods here. The people who worked here, sweeping the steps and serving the meals, who built here, who fell sick and died and who were born here. I wonder what they would think if they return.

Sometimes they tell me. But that’s our secret.

When I walk at night on the streets with only a few lamps, I watch the birds in the tall trees next to my apartment house flying in the night-time light that is a brown hue because of the desert’s dust swirling in the air, too. Hamseen time.

I live among the ghosts and dust from the desert and the wondrous, thunderous morning call performed by birds in broad old trees eternally swabbed in dust.

I live in the Garden City in the desert.

August 2017
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