Category Archives: Thru The Londoner’s eyes

The Tumultuous Months of 2011

I know I haven’t posted anything since November, but thankfully, I’m still alive and in some ways I’m also thankful that I’m still in London. My beloved Cairo has changed so much since I left (is that a complete coincidence? :)) and I have no idea if I’ll return, but I wrote the following piece on 31 December 2011 and wanted to share it with you all here. It’s a little more personal than you might be used to, but it’s from me and about my journey in 2011. Enjoy. ~ LY.

P.S. I’ve split the post into several pages for ease of reading, so to read more, click the next page number.

Once upon a time, in a tale that held no fairies at all and in a world that is as real as the air you suck into your lungs, there was a young lady. For the sake of this story, we’ll call her LaYinka Sanni, because it’s quite a pretty name.

One night – let’s say on the 31st December 2011 – LaYinka sat to think back on the year and all that was dished out to her. For each month of 2011, she was able to mention an event that either helped to mould her, challenge her, shake her, enrage her, soothe her, console her, restrict her or free her. Each month had its own tale to tell, and in this story LaYinka recants them to you. Sit comfortably because LaYinka likes to talk, and it’ll be a long one!

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Unplug and disconnect – two verbs that refer to precisely what I had to do when reading about the current events in Tahrir Square; when it became all too much to bear. The fact of the matter is that I cry easily – my heart is easily stirred and my eyes involuntarily hit a switch where tears pour forth. I have no control over this whatsoever, and wiping away tears with my cardigan sleeves has been a recurrent action this week, and it reached a point where I thought, Khalas – bas keda! Enough.

It’s horrifying watching the news, seeing barbaric violence and total disregard for the sanctity of human life. This is not a case of drawing lots on religious or political leanings, it’s about the values that we hold as people – as humans.

I was present during the 25th January revolution, was evacuated and returned, and at every instance I knew that it was only the beginning of a bigger struggle. I will not get into the politics of Egypt for two main reasons:

1) I’m not an Egyptian, I didn’t live as an Egyptian under Mubarak’s regime and frankly I don’t know what it was like.

2) Whatever I say makes absolutely no difference to the lives of the people living through the revolution’s aftermath.

However, I will say that a true revolution takes more than presidential/ parliamentary/ military change – change begins at home, and thus there is the missing element: the revolution of the self.

And just as the fog that’s been hanging over the skies of London finally lifted today, I pray that the fog of sense is lifted from the eyes of SCAF, as well as the fog of deception to be lifted from the short-sighted who cannot see what the revolution should really be about.

Praying for peace, progress and security,

LaYinka S. (The Londoner)

A Mansion in a Dump Yard

“Haven’t you noticed how there are no bins around?” She asked.

It was close to 7pm and we were making our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral in central London. The streets were lively with people bustling to get home after working until stupendous hours (yes, 7pm is stupendous!) in the City. We’d just cleared a ricebowl each from Itsu, and the next step would have been to free our hands of the empty containers. Littering was not an option. Not because you can be fined if caught doing so (a redundant, rarely enforced law, I tell you!) but because it simply isn’t right to do so. Therefore I couldn’t understand why in the world we couldn’t find a single bin in which to dispose of our trash. Not one!

At that moment I had a ‘back in Cairo’ flashback, and found myself walking along 2asr el 3ainy street, with the smell of fuul bubbling and ta3miya frying to only then kick into empty containers and wrappers that had been thrown out of car windows or carelessly dropped by pedestrians. Why? Not just because there are no bins on the streets – this is the scene I was faced with in London; not because there wasn’t anyone to sweep the mess – the poor men clad in dirty, ripped orange jumpsuits literally break their backs to sweep up rubbish from the streets; but simply because of the mentality of the people. In my humble opinion, it really is as simple as that.

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Priceless Sort of Eid

He toddled towards me, an arm outstretched to hand me the bright yellow balloon that had been dangling from his mouth only a few seconds prior. His eyes were wide with anticipation as he watched me transform the limp deflated rubber into a round, shiny balloon. His name was Yusuf, and he and his sister lived with other young girls at a small orphanage in Nasr City.I had been briefed about the orphanage the night before the visit, and was told about how clean it was and how well looked after the kids seemed, so I’d had the chance to build a mental picture in my mind and chose to visit on ‘Eid day with friends. Was I disappointed? Absolutely… not. The flat the children lived in was clean and furnished in a practical, child-friendly manner: comfortable sofas in the front room, a large dining table for them to eat at, and a bed for each child in the bedrooms. I wasn’t impressed, more like relieved, because all too often you hear horror stories of orphans being mistreated while living in complete squalor. Thankfully this wasn’t the case for the 8 children at this orphanage.It’s easy to visit an orphanage with a face of condolence, because technically the children have lost their parents in one way or the other. I didn’t delve into trying to find out why they were there or even how long they’d been there, as that wasn’t the purpose of the visit. We decided to inflate balloons for the kids, talk to them and play with them instead.

They appreciated the fact that above all else, we saw them as children, despite them being orphans, and most of them warmed to us as we ran about the front room chasing them, throwing balloons into the air and going on a tickling rampage. I had just as much fun as they did and my thought was, It’s Eid, this is what it’s all about.

They tried to hijack my ballons, so I hijacked theirs too.

Hearing their high-pitched shrieks, and seeing their wide twinkling eyes and their bright smiles on such a special day was a joy that I would gladly pay if I had the chance, because in reality, it’s priceless.

– The Londoner

After a day of fasting…

Thirst had been quenched, hunger had been quashed and my hope was that the reward of another day of fasting had been recorded. I’d filled my stomach with dates and a shrimp sandwich washed down with Mirinda and a bottle of water, and I longed to perform the sunset prayer to also feed my soul.

Finding a mosque in Egypt has never been a difficult task, and when out and about it has always been comforting to know that there would also be a space for females to pray in, unlike some mosques in London. In Old Cairo, there’s such an array of mosques to choose from, but that evening I settled on a backstreet mosque tucked deep within the back alleys of Khan el Khalili.

The women’s section was towards the back of the small, dingy mosque, partitioned with a curtained wall, and had been a place of refuge from Cairo’s overbearing heat earlier in Ramadan when I was close to collapsing during a walk in the area. There was nothing prim or pristine about the place, yet there was something that drew me to pray there.

The last time I had been in there, I was the only person in the section, however on this occasion I walked in to find two little bodies along the back of the small space.

I became distracted and my mind was preoccupied by their story: where they lived, where their parents were, how old they were, what their names were and how they’d found themselves sleeping in the mosque. I wondered whether they’d eaten, and spotted a bottle of juice by the girl’s head.

I’ve always been a believer that there shouldn’t be any street children anywhere, that they shouldn’t have to face such a tough life at such a tender age, but the reality is that they must. Many have to do it alone, with only charity from the kind-hearted getting them through each day. Others seem fatherless as they sit with their mother and siblings on street corners, desperately hoping for people to buy a packet of pocket tissues so that they can buy something to eat for the day.

A lot of the time, they flash you an adorable smile, and you cannot help but give them the half a pound they seek, but these two cherubs reminded me that the street life is often just too exhausting for these little bodies to take.

A colleague once commented on the number of mosques there are in Cairo and asked why there are so many – the question wasn’t one that I bothered to answer. Mosques are not only places of worship for the millions of Muslims in the country, but also places of solitude and refuge for those who don’t have as much as a roof over their heads. And unfortunately, these children are from amongst them.

– The Londoner