Monday, October 03, 2011

Ruminations from one revolution to another

Since i've come to London - perhaps it is the distance, i have lots of dreams, nightmares, daydreams, flashbacks and many other instances, where i'm catapulted back to the more intense days of the revolution, and most often, or more particularly on the 28th.

I guess it's most probably because there wasn't ever the luxury to reflect or ruminate in Cairo, partly because there was constantly 'no time' , and partially also because everyone has been through what is equally and if not definitely more difficult, talk about an instance often turns into a competition of instances, and so reflecting on anything that is not the present or the future, feels at times dishonorable.

I've tried to avoid this trip 'away' for a long time, bas felt weighed down with the guilt of all the stories i've collected, the workers who built the dam, the Nubians displaced by it, the resistance of Porstaid of 1956, and people who resisted (and continue to resist) in suez from 1967 - 1973. Theirs are also stories that were silenced in a military-state written history; somehow in the question for 'national independence' one straight, creased out story had to be told, and the creases and folds and contradictions of a glorious state, and the stories of a people's resistance that did not always feel honorable fell out. There are also the everyday stories we now know well, of the fears and suspiciouns, the moments of weakness, the inability to unify against a common enemy that i felt people needed to get off their chest... My relationship with the generation of the 50s, definately changed drastically in the interviews from before the revolution to after.

Before the revolution i was a grandaughter. There was a strong sense of responsibility towards me - a girl coming 'all the way out here' we llewa7daha! in pursuit of el 3lem el akhruh taweel... that is no to mention that there was this general air of disapointment towards a generation not interested in how the highdam that provides their lives with light and internet was built, and the 'true story' behind why and how the English left and who chased them out.

After the revolution i became a comrade of sorts :) I came to represent a generation that was 'not so bad afterall' poets of the 50s and 60s wrote poems of apology towards the generation born in the 70s-90s. Part in apology part in encouragement , that the revolution must continue, and part also in warning, for we are a mutahawereen generation after all :) I felt the significance of the poems were not only about an ehda2 (i am late to post them but will do so soon), bas also that Kamel Eid who wrote those poems to encoruage the resistance in the 50s and 60s, will have also acknowledged our own resistance in 2000s. So it's not only about comraderie, bas this decision taht history should be a continous stretch.

My quest becomes not to write a history of 'us who are forgotten by it' , but to continue el masaar - 'write so they know how we did it'. hehe

Tab3an all this comes with the natural guilt that i may not necessary write what everyone expects me too. That is besides the fact that the Arabic translation of this dissertation is expected well before i even expect to finish the PhD!

All said, i cannot claim or conjure enough humility to be any less than honored to be doing these interivews. Post-revolution interviews have also warranted alot of trust i may not have been granted before. LIke giving me a peek into their diaries.

The diaries tell so much of the ordinary. Like, how 'scary' something was. How the sudden rain pours on the 5th of November, 1956 put out a fire started by British paratroupers that was anticipated to envelop Portsaid. I was told, secretly in a whistper, by many how this was actually a miracle. "You needn't write it down.. i know it's silly, but i went up to the roof stood in teh rain, and feel to my knees and prayed.. my father in law was a priest and he led us in prayer... all around you you could hear prayers from all the different religions and voices that made portsaid.. but miracles have no place in history..."

I heard the story of the miracle, and the weeping, by two others only, and both told me i could delete it off the recording. I've always relished the insignificant details people tell me in interviews (like when they fell in love, when they got drunk and lost in Russia when they were sent for training, when their loved ones died, or moments when they were terrified and did something dishonorable when arrested). I felt/feel those 'irrelevant' moments, were those who catapulted me into their lives, into the period, and lately, also helped me familiarize with them. In Madam Gizelle's diary entry, she took me through the details of the Cairo fire on the 26th of January 1952. When she talked about it in more detail after reading the entry, i found myself debating the fire and discussing it like it was teh fires on the 28ht of january 2011. I actually got carried away until she had to correct a geographic detail htat made me realize she and i were discussing events 59 years apart - almost to the day :) It was eerie. More so kaman as Madam Gizelle was 28 years old on the 26th of January 1952 - almost exactly as old as i was on the 28th of January 2011. And all the more because she went to an english school and our memories threaded in and out of different languages. We spoke in arabic when recounting el hetafaat and certain details and in english when lost in ideas, memories and reflections.

All this tab3an makes me regret deeply not working harder on keeping a diary during events. Something i think we all should. I tried a few times in January - but holding a pen/pencil could never be so difficult. There was never anytime, and when i did, my hands hurt like it was the winter cramping my muscles.. though it felt like something more. I inscribed short sentences on whatever pieces of paper i could find. The few words i wrote in very crooked handwriting said very little, but exhausted me emotionally to write. As if in writing i would be admitting that which i cannot afford to write about.

On the 25th - any writing was optimistic - something was starting, had started, and we would be in it and with it till the end , regardless of what that end would be; our very own, or anyone else's. From the 28th onwards , and particularly on that day it was uncertainty. So my diary entries read exactly that : "Uncertainty, i don't know what's going to happen. trying very hard" or "the army. the army's in the streets", or " i really don't know".

An untitled diary entry in mid february read " Death makes all things personal".

On the 28th of January i went to Alexandria. On the 25th of January as night fell and it seemed the media and journalists pulled out, and as our phones stopped working, 'we' knew something was going to happen. The decision to spend the night had been blown through us, a conviction whispered iwth all our hearts and sealed with the the 3 boys trudging around and through the square chanting "El gada3 gada3 , wel gabaan gabaan, we7na ya gada3 7anbaat fel midaaan". We collected money, we bought fool and kusharey and distributed them, people distirbuted tissues, there was juice, there was water. And soon, there were blankets.

As danger became more and more imminent, the mobilization started. Human chains had to be formed around the midan. For Yahia and i the decision to spend the night came easy, casually. I don't think we even discussed it - the night was a happy continuum, especially once our eyes and lungs had adjustd to tear-gas and we all knew the effect of shouting 'ethbat' when a ripple of panic came through teh crowds, or the shooting got a little crazy. But there was constantly a tormenting question of how far one would go. This is always difficult if you're two and want to stick together - but it's also very difficult on the personal level. And this tormented me throughout the revolution.

Would i join the frontlines? Did it feel fair to have others fight on my behalf, what use am i sitting in the middle , protected? As they 'mobilized us' towards the edges, i felt very uncomfortable, i did not bode well in confrontations, i did not want to be put in a position where i had to be aggressive, and usually when faced with aggression i'm hit with an almost child-like sensitivity - why does he want to hurt me so much? I've done NOTHING to this man. my fight is not with him...

My first confrontation with state security batons was in the fall of 1998, my next most memorable event was in 2005, and in 2011, except for karr and farr, i avoided being in direct confrontations all i could. I keep being told by random people that my skin will thicken after being beaten a few times, but i find that doesn't happen. I just don't like it - i never ever remember the beating, frankly i don't remember ever being touched, though i remember , particularly in 1998 seeing the baton rise and fall. What i do remember with most clarity is the look in the eyes of the green-eyed CSF soldier whose baton connected us in 1998, and the men that kept trying to grab at us through the human shield that formed suddenly around us girls in May 25, 2005. There was such an angry look in all their eyes, always something like "what i'm gong to do to you now, you'll never forget..."

I would still avoid that to save my life. It still haunts and embarasses me as cowardice. But the trauma of escaping stray bullets, is much easier to deal with than the trauma of seeing someone intentionally fire at me. I struggle to deal with that.

Thankfully my dilemna did not last long on 25th, as the heavy shooting started, and we were chased throughout downtown Cairo with heavy teargas and CSF soldiers appearing at every corner. Our day ended in Midan el falaki, after a significant tour of the streets surrounding it, though a number of our friends continued the chase throughout Cairo.

I'll never forget when the gas cleared a little and people re-grouped and we started chanting "Al shaab yurid esqaat al nidham", it was the strongest most powerful chant ever. Our voices were in powerful unison and blared through the still quiet of the night downtown; they ricocheted off the buildings in the narrower streets, and the lights came on one at a time in the buildings surrounding us, in no particular order... people stepped out into balconies with their hair in handkerchiefs, in their striped pijammas, rubbing at their sleep drenched eyes...

It was like a metaphor to the city awakening to the sound of a revolution :)

Something was beginning, and it was rippling throughout the country as one mind, heart and soul lit up after the other. The night was the last of good sleep before the struggle began for us all, and it extended far far beyond tahrir.

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