Two weeks ago, I went back home for a week.
Yes! That’s me sadly and proudly at the same time. I’ve only been away for 6 months, yet I am always nostalgic; every minute, every second of the day, home is always in my mind. I see it, feel it, hear it, and smell it in everything I do.
Back in my younger years and with my very early trials with writing, I had a piece where I tried to explore the meaning of the word Home! And by home, I don’t just mean your family house -although this could be part of the bigger meaning- but by home here I refer to homeland, home-country, my Egypt!
Believe it or not, but when I was only 12 or 13, I held the pen and I tried to analyze why we Egyptians, despite the dark ages we went through for the last 32 years or more, are adamantly in love with our country. No matter how much we go around in daily life cursing the day we were born here (in Egypt), mocking and ridiculing harshly ourselves, and dreaming of a chance to run away, the instant we get it, we couldn’t just be happy and put Egypt with its problems and irresolvable issues behind our backs.
Though there are certainly much exceptions to the rule, what am saying, applies mostly to anyone who has had a chance to flee the country, whether he or she has lived abroad their entire life or for just a couple of years; the sense of yearning never stops! Comparing everything to home never ceases, and the constant feeling that “this cannot be it”, makes a 100% sense of stability an uprooted claim in a foreign land!
Deep down inside they all know; that’s not it! One day they need to go back home. May be they will choose to do so when they are younger to try and start there all over again, or when they retire, or when they die to be buried in the soil of their own land.
But in the end, they all or most of them know they will go back home. I may not exaggerating if I claim that almost every Egyptian living abroad on business contracts or as an immigrant or a citizen of another country live his daily life keeping an eye on the slightest chance when he can actually go home.
So what is home? And why are we always so attached to it? Why is it so difficult for us to simply let go, if it is that bad? Is it just us as Egyptians? Or is it something that everyone anywhere in the world has towards home?
Well, I guess the answer to all of these questions is: I don’t know. I don’t know why we can’t bear to live in our home-country, yet we can’t live without it. I don’t know why for those who are living outside, anything that’s happening inside still matters, and casts shadows upon our lives. Things are not as enjoyable when home is not ok! The sun is not warm enough, or bright enough when skies at home are filled with black clouds!
But I do know that when I went back two weeks ago, I knew I was Home. And Home was beautiful. It was so good to just be there.
When I first touched the airport’s ground, I was unexplainably happy. I laughed at the loud angry words flying back and forth between the tired airport workers. I felt home among the ancient-as-time face features. I mocked myself when I noticed my nose wrinkling to the smell of pollution and smoke hanging in the air. I felt warmth flowing from me towards the luggage jack-of-all-trades helper. With open heart, I welcomed the customs officer’s doubtful unnecessary aggressive looks at me, I actually found it funny. I was full of patience on my way to my house as I got stuck in the famous Cairo traffic, this traffic that was an inspiration for hundreds of stories.
Everything on the way from the airport to my place, and it’s not that much of a distance, was whispering in my ears thousands of reasons why my homeland is my homeland, and why I continuously yearn for it.
My eyes were filled up with old authentic buildings, embracing the very essence of heritage, burying our ancestors deep down into eternity. My ears were amused with the endless talk shows and funny crazy radio discussions; my mind was drunk with all the towering billboards posting Cairo’s buzz; Churches and Mosques so old, standing stubbornly against the sneaky hands of time as witnesses to Egyptians fighting relentlessly for their dignity under the same dictator, who only assumed different names; while the ancient humongous encompassing trees, some of them older than several world countries, rose up so proudly as a breathing proof to Egypt’s roots in the beginnings of time.
Oh, and the people, the people and once more, the people. Good is still part of them, in their hearts and on their faces you can see it, despite the nervousness and irritability caused by the anxiety, poverty, confusion and frustration, Egyptians are still Egypt’s secret, and Egypt is still the secret of the Egyptians.
At that particular moment, Egypt was pumping loudly with life!
It was a very strange situation when I would wake up every morning insisting not to take a look at social media channels or TV, and just go out and about running my errands; Everything was just fine on your land Egypt.
Typical Cairo and crazy lovely Cairenes, beating desperation, pollution, traffic, hunger, and anyone who tries to steal away their right to live, on day to day basis.
People went to work regularly, teenagers walked hand in hand after school day by the river bank, talking about love and a little bit of politics, feasting on grilled corn and spicy broiled chickpeas sold over the carts by the busy corniche. Garden City, one of the oldest elegant neighborhoods in modern Cairo, previously home for the Pashas and the aristocrats, radiant with elegance like an old and wise grandmother, the more she grows the more beautiful, lovely, and important it becomes.
The Egyptian Opera House still played its tunes. Over the Nile, feluccas and boats danced to loud noisy party music, mingling with the more elegant classics coming out of the larger Nile cruisers used by the rich for their own parties. As always, Egyptians were celebrating their weddings and enjoying their time, till the break of dawn over the Nile page. Art in Egypt is still living as an old but healthy man, giving birth every day to a new baby.
Everything was just fine on your land Egypt!
Now that might be an artificial look upon things, because certainly people were not going around doing their daily errands happily as if nothing has happened or is happening. There were shadows, a sense of insecurity, and uncertainty that wasn’t there before. There were long queues of trucks and buses waiting in line beside gas stations for their turn that might come in hours or might never come!
There was fear of stories you hear from the night before; someone who was raped or someone who was kidnapped, or forced to turn in his car, money and personal belongings at gunpoint and in the middle of day before everyone. (These things never happened before in Egypt)
There were more locks on the doors; there were sadness along the perpetual streets of Cairo’s down-town. For above the loud noise of the street vendors who have mercilessly occupied Tahrir Square, an attentive listener can hear the long-ago grace and culture of the years, that this part of Cairo has seen earlier, moaning in pain, mixed with the blood of those who died, crying over what this once-upon-a-time cultural beacon of Cairo was rendered to.
There was all of that and probably more.
But against this dull backdrop of awful news about security breakdown, looting or murder incidents, or conspiratorial civil disobedience here and there, Egypt was still too big for this. It was still accommodating us all. There were an unmistakable sense of hope and optimism in the hearts of people side by side of fear. But it was that optimism and sense of responsibility, which didn’t bring about Egypt’s downfall yet.
I am an Egyptian, and I believe it’s all going to be fine, because:
– During the very first few days of the revolution and with the treason of the police authority as they withdrew from almost the entire country, and with the security gap that took place until the army fully took over, there were responsible honorable policemen who didn’t budge. They refused to obey the orders and leave. They remained there to fulfill their role.
– With the panic that occurred among the expat community and the chaos caused by all of them trying to fly out of the country, the airports still functioned with the police officers and other employees helping people out as much as they can. They did this on their own. They had no authority to take orders from or report to at the time. Mind you, the state with all of its representations from police to ministries and public service were going through a complete meltdown.
– With all those who choose the completely wrong time to strike for extra money and benefits, when they well know that the government is outstretched and is trying to recover, the vast majority goes to work, they try to work even harder and actually deem these actions as irresponsible.
– While some cab drivers strike by cutting a pivotal down-town bridge, which can paralyze central traffic for hours, there are other taxi drivers who do their job and just want to be able to continue doing it safely.
– Against every fanatic religious speech coming out of a mosque or a church, there are tens of others advocating unity, tolerance and togetherness.
– Against all the odds and obstacles the poor truck and bus drivers face every day to find gas for their cars, they still wait in line and hope they will eventually have enough to keep them running for couple of days. They transform the wait to social gatherings and jolly good time.
– With such an economy crash, the Children’s free Cancer Hospital is still receiving donations.
– The Children’s Free Heart Diseases Hospital in Aswan is still receiving donations and operating regardless of the silly propaganda launched viciously against it.
– Despite the state of turmoil and ordered intentional chaos, Hurghada, Sharm Al Sheikh, Luxor and Aswan prove Egypt is irresistible for people from all around the world, even with the hideous media-distorted exported image of the country.
– People still go out to the parks and go on weekends to watch movies and shop in the never-stopping buzzing malls.
– People share their food with the poor.
– When a fight breakout in the street, people still come out of their way to calm fighting parties.
– When an accident occurs on the road, people come out of their way to help one another.
– Because now and at the hike of rumors of lack of security and dangers down the street, I still ran all of my errands alone in my car safely.
– And most important of all, because this is not the first time the Egyptians have had a revolution for their basic human rights, and it will not be the last, as long as there will be oppression and as long as their leaders will continue to disrespect them.
So when they say; Cairo’s traffic is an irresolvable problem, I will say; the roads will continue to open their arms for us and the people will make way for each other, probably making new friends in the process.
When everyone is scared it is going to be a dark summer for the Egyptians because of the power cuts, caused by lack of gasoline and our dying economy, lack of management and vision, I know Egyptians will light up their home-made candles. We will come together around the fire like our ancestors did. We will enjoy the togetherness on hot summer nights, and we will light up the skies with our laughter and chit-chats.
When it is claimed there will be no mobile phones very soon again because of the recurrent power cuts, I can’t help thinking; So what?! Haven’t we always lived without them? In fact, we might go back to enjoy the anxiety and surprise that come with the waiting. Yes, we will wait to see a friend or a colleague or an acquaintance without actually talking to him/her few seconds before, we might again feel the sneaky excitement when our land-line phone rings, wondering who might this be!
Oh, also no computers or technology? Better honestly. We can make use of the slowdown in tempo of life. We will go back to pens and papers and a quieter stimulating life rhythm when a minute used to have a value.
But they say we will also run out of Gas at the end to burn it in our cars. Fine, less pollution, more strolling, and the distance will bring us closer together. We will walk, bike, or go to work on horse rides! Didn’t people live before without cars?
No imports- no problem, we will learn how to feed ourselves.
We are Egyptians. We will adapt as we always did along the centuries.
But no matter how you try to make us regret our revolution, I personally won’t! I may have not been part of it in person, I may have had my doubts and fears at moments, but I surely know that for this dictator the game is over. This era is gone, even if he can’t accept it and is dragging us backwards with him, master planning this entire anarchy scenario (the oldest trick in the book). We may not be having our best of days, but that’s the case with the best of nations nowadays!
I will never look at the past and wish for it with all its fake lights and good-for-nothing oppressing buzz. On the contrary, I will always dream of a better life, look for the future, regardless how dark the media, the government, the ex-regime try to make it look.
The light will come as always from within us, and that’s the beacon that your conspiracies and lust for power will never put off.
I will always yearn to go back.
I will always plan to come back. I will always dream for my children to come back. I will always dream for my grandchildren to keep going back. And I will always hope Egypt continues to make them proud life-makers Egyptians, like the one that I am.