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!
I’ve been wanting to write about Ramadan before the thin crescent of the moon declared the beginning of the month of self-restraint, but I’m having a little difficulty with my pen at the moment (hence very little writing’s been happening).
Ramadan 1432 AH (2011) commenced on the 1st of August – it started without much fanfare for me, as the previous day was one of the most exhausting working days I’ve experienced in Egypt thus far, and one which I shall not dwell on.
There had been anticipation of great difficulty surrounding this year’s fast because it’s within the throngs of an Egyptian summer, so the first day was very chilled and I stayed at home with my sister (who was here for three weeks – I’ll blog about our not-so-exciting escapades in due course!) and accepted an invitation to break our fast in true Egyptian style.
Tonight is the 7th night of Ramadan and the second that I’ve actually spent at home. Every Ramadan night has been peppered with an Egyptian spice, whether it be breaking fast with very dear friends, meeting other expats and sharing a bit of ‘now we can eat’ joy or having the pre-dawn meal overlooking the Great Pyramids themselves.
I’m hoping Ramadan slows down a little. I don’t want it to to be devoured, but to milked on slowly so that I can pause often in thought and reflection, and travel within myself to do a little bit more self-discovery.
My highlight thus far has been spending an hour at the top of a minaret that overlooks Cairo with the Quran as my companion. An experience that I really cannot allow words to try to describe, because they’ll only come lightyears away from the emotions that enveloped me at that point in time.
I wish all my fasting readers a very blessing-filled Ramadan, and I promise to try to make some writing pit-stops soon.
Love, as always,
– The Londoner
p.s. I know I’ve failed to describe the joys of the month, or the sparkling lights that illuminate every street, or the Ramadan lantern (fanous) that is in abundance here, or the great happiness seen on the faces of the destitute as unknown donors drop off food along streets. I promise, I will. God-willing, I will. ~ T.L.
I snapped. It was coming, but it wasn’t the take my shoes off, apply some Vaseline and swear profusely kind of snap, it was a push her hands off my back, mutter “Get OFF me”, give the dirtiest kissing of the teeth and cut my eye so deep that I’m sure I saw a slit in her throat… under her niqab… beneath her hijab. You get my point.
As you know, I’m non-confrontational (no, don’t laugh… the above was not a confrontation), but that 50th lady to push me onto the metro yesterday was a match to the petrol of frustration that been spilling every time someone’s pushed me on or off the metro.
It’s not that there is any need. There is a beeping sound that tells passengers when the doors are going to close, and they usually close about 10 seconds after the beeping starts, but in this case Aunty Rush (that’s what I’ll call her) must have heard beeping in her head and thus felt she needed to push me ahead to get onto the train faster.
I know Cairo is crowded – I can never forget that when I get on the metro every day – but in this case, it was in the middle of the afternoon (after I’d been for a post-surgery check-up at the dentist) and the trains weren’t crowded. Maybe she’d been shut in between the doors before – that happens when brave people (or maybe stupid) decide to jump through the doors as they are closing – or maybe her clothes had been trapped between the doors – it easily happens. But in my foreign eye, I could see no reason except that she wanted to get on quicker.
The following tweet sums up the invasion of private space issue in Cairo, and I couldn’t have said it better. Of course, we have the non-generalisation clause attached, but he still articulated it excellently.
Egyptians and the respect of personal space are 2 sides of different coins in different pockets of different pants on two very different men – Joseph Adel (@JoeyRation)
– The Londoner
I recently received a message asking about safety in Egypt, how it was settling in as a woman and how I dealt with living in Cairo. The answer requires several blog posts, but I sent the following reply instead. This could be the start of a ‘Surviving Cairo’ series (sounds like it would need its own blog, actually, but let’s scrap that idea for now!).
I understand the concerns of your family regarding Cairo’s safety, as it isn’t in the most stable political position at the moment, and recent happenings are a cause for concern. However, I generally believe Cairo to be safe, and I honestly wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t the case (especially since my employer would have all British nationals evacuated as we were during the revolution!).
Having said that, I have what I believe to be the advantage of being a woman of colour and a wearer of a headscarf, and thus my experiences might be somewhat different from someone who is openly viewed as being foreign. People usually can’t work me out because I dress as a Muslim woman, I’m black (like a Sudanese or even Nubian would be) and thus do not get hassled or bothered… and people make the mistake of speaking Arabic to me as though I would understand! This is all until I open my mouth and English spills forth; I am more of an amalgamation than some can handle, so I stick to the ‘From Nigeria’, response when asked where I’m from – London is not believable!
You mean Cairo? Honestly, on the outside it looks pretty much the same, despite being very different.
Cars are still double-parked on the road, women still push and shove to get on the metro (despite clearly entering and exiting through the wrong doors), the leaves of trees are still camaflouged by dust, cars still sit bumper to bumper in traffic and they honk as loud as ever. Yes, this is still Cairo cosmetically, but I’m all too aware how the revolution has changed this bustling overcrowded city in ways people never thought it would.
I returned on Thursday 24th February, and upon stepping foot out of the airport, memories of my first time struck me quite clearly. This is definitely Cairo, and although the smell wasn’t offensive in the least, it was distinctly laced with Caironess (and please, don’t ask me what exactly that is… but if you’ve been here, you’ll know what I mean).
There was an obvious sign of change: army tanks dotted on our route home. They didn’t actually seem menacing, but more decorative – beige amongst the sepia of Cairo and the desert. An almost beautiful sight.
Upon reaching the entrance to the building I live in, a wide, bright smile cracked onto the face of the building’s doorman. It was as though he had been greeted by a long-lost sister. I guess he thought that I would never come back, but little did he know of my feelings of yearning to be back on sandy soil.
I will get back to posting about my adventures out here. I didn’t know how much I had taken Cairo for granted before the evacuation, and since returning I’ve made it my mission to get out more and see Cairo – it’s good, bad and beautiful.
It’s great to be home!
– The Londoner