Monday, November 07, 2005

On Home...(and polk-a-dot umbrellas)

I flicked open my brown polk-a-dot umbrella and held it up high, marveling as I did at how it managed to shield all four of us, giggling and snuggling, out of the pouring rain.
My umbrella, more a polk-a-dot statement, than a real mobile shelter from the storm, was usually barely enough to shield my own head. Looking at it now however; I realized it hovered above all of us, keeping the raindrops away.

A few hours earlier, other warm notions and concepts, memories and ideas had hovered above us all as we tried to revive the old "Eid" cheer with Ghorayebba, and a general "hey heyh heyyyyh" attitude. It is in warm get togethers, with people that not only share your 'origins' but your active state of belonging, that Eid, Ramadan, and even Masr, come to life and hover above us all, rather than seeming like a distant memory as one tries to revive it on his or her own.

My favorite ‘hovering memory’, was that of my last felucca ride in Cairo. Felucca rides with close friends were always ones to deeply refresh one's mind and spirit.

Catapulted by the wind into the very heart of Cairo, and yet experiencing it as an onlooker, rather than being trapped inside the grind, Cairo, or to me 'Masr' always looked and felt beautiful when seen as the Nile might see it.
The wind, breezing through us, sent both; wisps of our hair and our imagination wildly prancing, created the perfect mood for a final recollection.
We marveled at Magles qeyadt el sawra, Kobry el Abbas where the students of the 1919 movement were shot and fallen to their deaths, Cairo's age old hotels, the Manial Palace gardens, and other places that strongly signify all this country has experienced as it continued to develop and reproduce itself.
We spoke to the 'rayess' as we usually did and marveled, again as we usually did at his perspectives on our Egypt. This time he spoke of being an Egyptian from Alexandria coming to 'Masr' for work, and spoke at length of the implications of his reference to ‘Masr’ el nadahha, rather than greater Cairo. His accounts were as enlightening as previous accounts of how he was forced to vote, and yet others of how 'el nas el shoghayarra' in this country are always subject to the will and rule of 'el nas el kebeera'.

Would it always be like this?
Under another Mubarak term, if Ayman Noor had come to power, if the Muslim brotherhood tookover, if the current religious tensions increased...
Would we come back to find it different...?

Our visualization of the scenarios was strictly limited to how all this would affect our experience in our felucca ride. We were somehow in the heart of our Masr, and yet somehow viewing it from an outside perspective.

Would the Magles still be there, would the Kobry, would someone , would anyone remember their stories? Would the buildings change in colors, would more old ones be torn down? Would the pollution affect our wisps our wind, would technology decrease our humidity, would the rayess be replaced, would he have as much freedom to speak? His smile as wry, his accounts as pertinent..?

Would I ever return to find my Egypt as it was to me...
Would I recognize it? Would I hold it as dear?
Would I be the same..?
Would too many lost Eids and too many nostalgic nights and too many hovering memories return us to a home we no longer recognized?

"We are all dispossessed of our childhoods; we return to a remembered or imagined scene to find at best frayed edges and faded colors. I say 'at best' ; for many of us the changes are more than the effects of time and an altered consciousness " Ahdaf Soueif

My incessant resorting to Ahdaf Soueif and Edward Said's writings over the last week, did not seem to me as anymore than my regular interest in my two favorite writers, despite the endless reading lists provided to me by university that only came second to them...
Until I suddenly found myself, as Eid rounded the corner, frantically switching from one writer to another, basking in, and savoring their memories of Egypt, and particularly the Zamalek I love so dearly.

Said's Egypt, was that of the 40's, a place almost unrecognizable in it's description, save for the occasional streets and venues (such as the fish garden), where I could share the warmth in relating to their respective memories. Soueif's Egypt was that of the late 60's, and though the places were much more familiar, they had very little traces of Said's older extinct Cairo, and a few touches of the all the social and political events, that now constitute a significant controversial part of our history and shaped the Egypt we live in today.

It was through contemplating Said's, and Soueif's very different Egypts, that I suddenly feared, that mine too would become a memory...reduced to a set of notions and pictures in my head… and occasionally hovering above a group of our heads’…

I had extracted this quote from Ahdaf's account on Said's and her Egypt, and how much of it was now in their memory, how little actually still existed.
More accurately, I would say the quote extracted me.

It was not only the realization that as her and Said's Cairo's had slowly faded and frayed, that mine too might eventually as well, but I was also suddenly struck with, and slowly assimilating the fact that it is impossible to return to a childhood scene and find it the same in anyway.
Just as it is impossible to revive any notion , emotion, experience, perception or conception that was developed at a particular time or place, in a particular context that no longer exists.

Perhaps, then, It is best to preserve these notions, these memories, with all the people, places, feelings, music, and events that accompany them, safe and sound in our little memory boxes, and attempt in their warm light to create the same pleasant 'feelings' and 'situations' of the new context.

How, however would I apply this to my own home.
Would I bear to live in it, if I no longer recognize it? Will it be as easy to return?
Will I still feel part of it? Or will I like a foreigner, find it impossible to adapt, like a grandmother, constantly rant and rave at things 'were before'.

"The best is to consider that we have a home nowhere, and only then does one really love the world..." Edward Said (Out of Place)

To the best of my understanding, Said found his situation as an exile, one that worked to his extreme advantage, that "Never feeling fully adjusted, always feeling outside the this metaphysical sense is restlessness, movement constantly being unsettled, unsettling others" (Representations of the Intellectual) , this "willed homelessness" as he described it, gave him the power and ability to truly make the best of each of his experiences, to see the truths in all of them, rather than constantly compare certain experiences to others, holding them against each other, or simply trying to revive the old ones ignoring the new ones.

I tried to compare Edward's description of his "willed homelessness" to my frantic attempts to create the Ramadan and Eid atmospheres of my old life, what he would call "the earlier and perhaps more stable condition of being home" in my new one here in England.
It was my strongest blow and realization that I was quite far away from home, when I failed to re-create that atmosphere and homeliness and discovered that a new sort of experience was on call.

Perhaps if I stop trying so hard to link my Egypt, if I let go of the powerful notion of it as my only home, to which I must inevitably return, and for which my every effort exerted, every experienced endured was dedicated to, I would settle in more easily in this new world, and perhaps be a little less torn to return to my other.

Perhaps though Said's awareness that there was no home to return to gave him a "unique pleasure" and a heightened sense of awareness to all that went on around him, what I imagine would be a sort of 'emancipation', perhaps I too would be able to emancipate myself in realizing that as I was to grow and change, so would my country, and that for either of us, this change might not necessarily be for the best. But it makes us both wiser and richer.

I do not feel homesick in London. That is , I do not feel particularly 'exiled’ here, or much like an outsider. Perhaps, of course it is my conscious will to come and begin here, but also because it is the world with which's literature and language I have been introduced to the world. It was both the language of instruction of my education, and the country of which most of my literary background and experiences had originated.
The people, their nature and accent are no less familiar to me, than any other people I had grown up with, its transport system, its streets, its venues, not at all unfamiliar to my eye or mind. And perhaps these are all things one should be wary of to ensure that one is never too familiar, never too comfortable to feel the 'jolt' of awareness that unsettlement provides, to keep one alert and understanding, to keep one critical , skeptical, questioning, probing, unsettling those around them at all times.

I do not feel like an outsider in London. But it is before I sleep, almost every night, that I recollect and reminisce bits and pieces of my Egypt, the one I am not too sure I will re-experience again..

I remember the owner of the kiosk in Aswan refusing to take money for my drinks after a short conversation,
I remember the women I worked with in a micro-credit project in Moqattam telling me that tomorrow was bound to be a better day, no matter how drastic her situation was simply because "no matter how dark it gets at night, the sun will come up every morning.." punctuating it with a smile..
I remember the little boy wandering up and down the Nile banks of Garden City, selling necklaces made out of seashells he collected off the beach 'back home' in Arish, where he lives on weekdays, and my internal dilemma of whether this is unjust child labor, or whether his excitement at the sales of his creative produce are worthwhile..
I remember how we were attacked in the last protest, my disbelief at the looks in the eyes of the amn markazy, and the shake in my belief of Egyptian 'values',
I remember my expidatory walks down El Ghoreyya with my father,
my love for downtown's architecture and all the various civilizations it symbolizes,
I remember how easy it was to go jogging in the club, or walk into any cafe and know I will meet someone I know..
how much I love our traditional walks in Zamalek..
how colorful and noisy and musical and chaotic my shisha infested Egypt was in Ramadan,
how easily a 'nasty' government official can be turned over with a smile, and strong attempt to break the sarcasm, and how you can be suddenly transformed from 'despicable enemy' to trusted confident as she starts to describe her husband with "Shuf el raaaagel.." (Will you take a look at what that man's done...")

I miss it. And I Love it.
And I am no longer optimistic about finding it again.
"At Best", because I too, will have changed.
Perhaps it is up to one to consider all with;

"Pessimism of the Intellect and Optimism of the Will". Gamsci.

Though one may see all the negatives or pitfalls of the situation, one considers all with the will to make it and see it in a better light. Or one is at least hopeful. Somehow.

No. I may not be 'homesick' in London.
But I cannot deny that every time Yenassam 3alaya el Hawwa men Mafra2 El Wady;
I think to myself; "Ya Hawwa, dakhl el hawwa... [1]"

[1] From Fairuz's Song "Nassam 3alayna el Hawwa"

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