Start of The Day of Rage
Friday is my weekend at work, and while I was aware that Egyptians would be taking to the streets after the Friday prayers (both Christians and Muslims), I was on a mission to fine-tune the lesson plans for my new group of young learners at work.
My new flat-mate – who is incidentally also a work colleague of mine – doesn’t have a Friday weekend, and I bid her to be safe as she left the house that morning, because no one knew how the events of the demonstrations would unravel.
I’d had BBC and CNN on as I scrawled notes of games that I would be playing with the kids, when I heard our rather annoying bird-tweet doorbell go off like a siren of some sort. As I made a dash for a hijab to enquire about who was at the door, N. burst through the door in a madness of panting that exuded from the depths of her lungs.
“What!” I demanded, “what’s going on?”
“It’s madness! It’s crazy! There are police everywhere… gas… gas.., they’re using gas. I… I… I smelt it. I got a whiff of the gas in… in… in the taxi!”
My eyes bulged immediately. “No flipping way!” I rushed back to the TV to get the latest updates as N. also updated me on the situation at work. There would be no classes for two days. A no-brainer and a bit of common sense exercised at last, especially considering we’d been working during the protests of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
We settled in front of BBC to get the latest updates, to see the horrific use of violence by the Egyptian police and our bloods began to boil further, especially since we were affected by the severity of the forms of communication we so longed to use.
About an hour later we heard some shouts. Not the ordinary, “Ya basha! Amla eh?” kinda shouting, but chanting shouts. Protesters in our part of town? I thought. Seriously? Then the logic of it clicked into place. We live along the Corniche, where people have been using as a route to get to the protests.
We made a dash for our cameras, ready to take some shots and record this momentous event in history. I felt slightly honoured to be able to witness aspects of the event, as the Egyptian people finally stopped complaining amongst themselves and now made their grievances known to the world.
It was at this point that I craved to be able to understand and speak Arabic fluently. I wanted a slice of recognition of what they were chanting. I caught snippets like, “Wahid, itnayn, talata (something, something) Masrayya…” I was bashing my hand against the iron railing outside our front room windows due to frustration of my lack of complete comprehension.
The crowd was an amalgamation of generations, of levels of wealthiness, religiousness and gender. It was awe-inspiring, and I must confess that there were a few “Power to the People” shouts coming from our window out to the crowd. Other onlookers seemed rather unmoved, something I could not understand. I understood that some people didn’t go out (although I don’t quite know why), but to stand with arms crossed in a stance of defiance was totally alien to me. Did they not believe in what the protesters believe in? I may never know.
There was a round of about 4 large groups of protesters that passed by, each one louder, larger and eclectic. It was warming to see women in the crowd – the clearly religious (in terms of dress) and possible Christians (you can never be quite sure of these things). All the while we filmed, took shots and chanted a little ourselves, as the hair on the back of our necks stood upright from the sheer excitement of it all.
Once the crowd had died down and we’d eaten lunch we wondered what to do with ourselves. The Internet connection was dead and there wasn’t even a hint of a signal on our mobile phones. There was an electric charge in the air and the sky was so enticingly blue that it felt almost depressing to just sit at home in front of BBC replays all afternoon.
“Let’s go to Maadi,” I suggested, since Rehab, Alex and City Stars were almost impossible to reach.So we got ready and jumped on the metro to Maadi, only 5 stops away. There is an additional story to add to this – one that occurred during our journey, but I don’t want to shift the focus of this post onto me, so it’ll have to wait, I’m afraid.
Maadi was unperturbed by the events unravelling in the centre of Cairo. The streets were still clean, people were still sitting outside Cilantro, enjoying a Panini in Beanos and strolling along carelessly. It seemed like a different world entirely, and we were secretly glad that we had found a haven to be able to drink coffee, indulge in a naughty cake and doodle words onto paper in our notebooks, all in the comfort of Costa Coffee.
We encountered an interesting elderly Portuguese couple, but their story is for another time, because after the adhan (call to prayer) for the sunset prayer was called we heard raised voices and snippets of some sort of a curfew. I stopped writing and focused my hearing in on the muttering.
“Army are coming… have to go… really sorry… no one on the streets… I’m sorry.”
I turned to N. “Did you hear that? We have to go.”
She swung her head around to also listen in, and then an American lady confirmed to the Portuguese couple.
“Everyone has to leave. They’ve imposed a curfew and they want everyone in their houses.”
I shook my head a few too many times; unbelievable! In Maadi too? There is a large majority of foreigners who live here, why do we have to evacuate the streets here too?
Our waiter apologetically gave us our bill and we promptly threw in some cash – we were the last customers in the cafe. I asked one of the seniors what exactly was going on, and he confirmed – once again – that we should go home, and that the army would be out on the streets, arresting people who broke the curfew. I cheekily asked whether they would arrest us.
“We’re not Egyptian,” I retorted, “What would they do if we stayed out on the streets?”
“Well,” the manager began, “They would say, ‘Please go into your homes’.”
“Would they arrest us?” I asked daringly, I do like a little bit of excitement in my life, I must admit.
“No,” he responded, evidently unmoved by my excitement, “they would just ask they you go home.”
This was the beginning of a very eventful and interesting night…
– The Londoner