Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back in NYC....

Yes, I know. I realize that this blog has lost its drawing factor of being written from Cairo, and perhaps you'll no longer find it very interesting because of this fact. However, I'm going to justify the continuation of my writing on the basis that a) I still have experiences and photos from Cairo that I want to share b) the Revolution and my interest in what is happening in Egypt, is far from over and whether or not I have something to say about it, I can at least share information with those of you who may not be following the developments as religiously as folk like me and c) blogging requires no justification :) That being said, everyday I reflect on my experience, albeit it very short. Indeed its effect upon me was immensely powerful. I continue to be moved by the people I spoke with and met, the images I saw, and the sheer magnitude of the changes that Egypt has undergone and continues to embark upon. The atmosphere was intoxicating. I find myself longing intensely to be back in the midst of it all. And yea, this absolutely miserable cold, sleet-rain-snow mixture here might be helping. Could go for a stroll along the Nile under perfectly sunny skies...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Festival Friday

Friday, being the holy day and the start of the weekend in Egypt, had naturally been the day for the largest gatherings in Tahrir Square. The Friday that I was in Egypt, March 4th, was especially significant because Ahmed Shafiq had stepped down as Prime Minister the night before. He was very closely tied to the Mubarak-NDP regime and his removal was a key demand of the protesters and of the revolution itself following the resignation of Mubarak. Furthermore, that Friday the new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was appointed and it was being reported that he was going to visit Tahrir and speak to the revolutionaries.

That morning I was invited to a delectable home-cooked authentic Egyptian brunch with Sarah at her boyfriend Hassan's family home in Maadi. Absolutely wonderful people, delicious food. It was such a beautiful sunny day and a warm breeze came in through the open windows as we gathered around the TV to listen to the live coverage from Tahrir Square. We watched as thousands gathered in Tahrir, waving Egyptian flags and waiting excitedly for their new Prime Minister. Hassan's father discussed the revolution with me as we waited, speaking with an infectious passion about his country. Essam Sharaf came to the square and the room was quieted by Hassan's mother, an amazingly intelligent woman who was part of the Kefaya movement. She kneeled next to the TV, ear glued to the speaker to try and catch every word.

I wish I had taken a video of this moment. Even in that room, away from downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square, the air felt electric. This was truly a special moment, for Essam Sharaf was held as "one of them." Hassan's family members repeated, he is "one of us." Sharaf had been in Tahrir during the revolution. He was a technocrat that revolutionary leaders had suggested as a possible leader to replace Ahmed Shafiq. Previously he was Minister of Transportation during Mubarak's reign, but he resigned after some public transportation tragedies occurred and what he called the administration's unwillingness to take these problems seriously. It was particularly moving to witness this event in the home of such a kind and welcoming family who had been so personally involved in the revolution in many different ways. I was humbled to be sharing this moment, witnessing this history with them. After Sharaf finished speaking, Hassan's father said "This revolution is a fairytale." He had the biggest smile on his face.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Qasr El-Nile Bridge

The other day I decided to walk across Qasr El-Nile Bridge to get to Tahrir from Zamalek (the island in the Nile where I lived my first summer here) after I had been wondering around. It was another beautiful day, perfect temperatures and sunny skies and the walk across the bridge isn't an usual stroll to take. The view of the Cairo skyline along the Nile is simply fantastic and four iconic giant bronze Egypt lions guard the entrances to the bridge. But this bridge has become yet another symbol of the revolution struggles. It leads you straight into Tahrir Square, and this bridge saw some very infamous battles during the revolution. If you watched any coverage of the revolution you most likely heard the name of this bridge at least once. Specifically on January 28th, the Friday of Anger as it is known here, there was a huge battle between peaceful protesters and riot police. Police drove trucks into crowds, fired tear gas and shot them with water guns and bullets during prayer. On February 2nd, the Day of the Camels, molotovs and rocks were hurled between revolutionaries and Mubarak's thugs from the Bridge and the surrounding streets. There are unbelievable videos of these clashes on YouTube.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


This amazing bowl of carbohydrate deliciousness is Egypt's national dish: koshary. It's an ecceltic mix of rice, various kinds of noodles, brown lentils, crispy onions and chickpeas topped with a very tastey tomato sauce. I always add the spicy hot sauce as well. This of course was one of the staple meals that helped fuel the revolution. Sarah told me that bowls of koshary were handed out in Tahrir Square for free on the days with millions of protesters; keeping people's spirirts up and the energy to continue the fight alive.The other night we went to Koshary Hind in Heliopolis to get my fix.

Tahrir Pilgrimage Part Deux

Ever-present in the background surrounding Tahrir Square is the burnt remains of Mubarak's National Democratic Party headquarters. Sitting along the Nile next to the Hilton Hotel, personally I remember it as being nothing special. Just a looming, ugly concrete rectangular structure that in a sense characterized the regime's stagnation, oppression, and disconnect with its own people who are vibrant, colorful, and full of life. Now it seems to serve as a constant reminder of the darker days of the revolution, of the sacrifices made and the lives paid. Simultaneously a visual scar of suffering and pain and yet a symbol of victory and the end of an era. Since I've been here I've heard from several people that they hope that the building doesn't get taken down.

Black marks of smoke line the broken windows, charred skeletons of buses and cars sit in the parking lot, papers and torn books cover the grounds, graffitied phrases taunt the shadows of the regime's former authority. Peering through the closed gate I felt like I was on the set of a movie. A movie I had been watching unfold before me for weeks, but never able to grasp, fully comprehend or believe because it was so magnificent and at times too heart-wrenching to bare. Watching the building succomb to the lick of flames on Al-Jazeera just a few weeks ago, and then standing next to its hollowed remains was to say the very least, surreal.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tahrir Pilgrimage

I'm finding it really difficult to start this post and put together the words to describe what it was like for me to experience Tahrir (Liberation) Square yesterday. In truth I'm fairly certain that I won't be able to adequately describe what it feels like to be in the middle of Tahrir. When I say it felt as though I was making a pilgrimage to some kind of holy place indeed I mean it fully.

Despite Mubarak having left some time ago, Tahrir is still very much alive with revolutionary spirirt. Activists are still putting up tents in the middle of the Square, well aware that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of the revolution's goals, and they insist that all of their demands have yet to be met. From their tents hang signs with manifestos and lists of their demands, caricatures of Mubarak and the regime, commemorations for the martyrs of the revolution.

Surrounding the inner circle of the Square are stands of all sorts: people selling tea for a pound, nuts, falafel sandwhiches, fruit, popcorn, sweets, water and pop. Several boys wander throughout the Square and the surrounding area with three small plastic white cups of paint - red, white, and black - offering to paint your hand or face with an Egyptian flag or a heart. I was tempted but noticed only children had really done so. Figures! People sell red, white & black headbands, Egyptian flags big and small, plastic and cloth, flag pins, I <3 Egypt t-shirts, laminated cards that hang from many taxi rear-view mirrors with the picures of martyrs, and mock license plate signs that say "25 January" in Arabic. Traffic still flows around the circle, and one must cross the many lanes to get to the heart of it all. But this is constantly happening as people come and go from the Square, so it is surprisingly very safe and easy to do so with some bravery, creativity and confidence - that next Peugot won't hit you, right?

Tahrir Square is very much this kind of festival-like atmosphere that families come to see and be a part of, where people sing and dance in celebration of their country and revoltion. The sense of pride and nationalism is overwhelming and permeating throughout the Square. And yet perhaps what striked me the most was the contined ferver for change and the dialogue that is happening within the Square. Everywhere you look there are groups of people in discussion - be it heated or casual, humorous or intense - on the political, economic, social situation in their country and the way forward. Of course I couldn't understand everything that was being said, but one doesn't have to speak Arabic to recognize and appreciate that clearly Egyptians from all walks of life are together in this Square, debating and sharing ideas and opinions on the things that matter most to their country. I couldn't help but feel absolutely amazed and humbled by this. I have never in my life witnessed or experienced anything like that in the United States. Undoubtedly there is much we can learn and continue to learn from the revolution here in Egypt.

I woke up this morning to the clinking and clanking of construction on a building nextdoor. It seemed to me only right; I imagined this as the literal sounds of many people working to rebuild a country. Represents so much of what is going on throughout Egypt today. I liked waking up to that sound.

The weather is beyond perfect and the skies seem extra blue and clear. Much more so than I remember the Cairo skies being! Goals for today: eat fateer (delicious crepe-like dough covered with sugar) from my favorite stand near AUC in downtown Cairo, make first pilgrimage to Tahrir Square, perhaps walk across Qasr Al-Nil Bridge...attempt to get some research in there somewhere?