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Story of an On The Run

I do not personally wish to delve into rhetoric about the recent looting and riots in London, because as it stands, I’m an outsider looking in as I have not lived in London for a year, and don’t feel best placed to pass opinion.

However, I witnessed part of the Egyptian revolution and could not have been more proud to have seen a country that had been silenced for 30 years, awake from slumber, and I only hope that the politicians in the UK do so before the country spirals into more destruction. And speaking of destruction, I witnessed just that outside my window during the Egyptian revolution at a Mobil/ On the Run petrol station.

From the time I moved into my flat last year, this petrol station had always been buzzing with vehicles passing for either a refuel of petrol or people stocking up on food and drinks (and in a lot of cases, cigarettes as well!).

Bustling with pollution

They decided to close shop on the morning of Friday 28th January 2011 – they could sense the dangers of the protests were bigger than most people thought…

Day of Protests, Day of Closure

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Teachers of the Taste of Hunger

It was the 5th day of fasting; the sun had begun to dip behind the domes and minarets of Mohammed Ali mosque nested in the Citadel in Islamic Cairo, and my sister and I were on our way to an iftar.

Our destination was Mokattam – a small town planted at the summit of rocky mountains. To reach there one must take a taxi to snake up a sun-battered mountainside, on a steady incline.

It was at a stop at a traffic police manned intersection that I noticed a black, blacked-out 4×4 slowly pull up on the other side of the intersection. It was the ‘roadside shooting’ kind, although it was missing the heavy hip-hop bass and gleaming rims. So ordinarily it wouldn’t deserve a blog post, but it was the sight of a small group of poorly clad people rushing towards the passenger-side window that made me whip out my notebook.

An old man hobble-ran towards the group, one arm outstretched and the other awkwardly placed on his side to help him balance in his mini sprint. Some people were walking away from the car by the time he reached them, each with what looked like a white  polystyrene package in their hands.

Food.

Kind hearts seated in their luxurious ride were delivering food – by hand – to the poor so that they too could share in the joys of morsels caressing the back of their throats.

My eyes welled up. The charitable in Cairo are many during Ramadan and it brought back memories of the night when I gave bags of lentils, rice and beans to an old lady who sat on the side of the road at the end of Ramadan last year. Her joy still tugs at me as I wished I could have done more and given more to her. I couldn’t help but allow fat tears to roll down my cheeks when I turned away from her, just as I saw a thin streak of light on the cheeks of the desolate as they clutched their food parcels for the day.

My tears were bittersweet: a mixture of joy for their joy, and guilt towards my lack of gratitude for being sustained without hardship. Poverty is real here, and knocks you in your chest when you step out of your lovely furnished flat. It’s when we have to join the nation’s foodless that our eyes and hearts open a bit to the reality of hunger pangs and parched throats. We only taste a bit of it.

The poor are one of the greatest teachers for me here in Cairo, and I’m grateful to be taught the many lessons they have to offer, even if they are only remembered for a while.

– The Londoner

What’s his ain’t mine

The back of his washed-out jeans left a clean circle from where he’d been sitting. I didn’t know the make of the car, but it had a thin layer of dusty residue all over its body. He was throwing melon seeds into his mouth as he idly sat on the bonnet, his companion laughing along to whatever was being said.

It was an odd sight as I’d never seen anyone sitting on their car before, and then it became obvious that it wasn’t his car at all as he jumped down and hailed a microbus with his friend.

Clearly, I was left in a state of wonderment: eyebrows shot up, jaw dropped slightly and then the delayed head scratch of eh?! The young guy had been sitting on someone else’s car, with no care or concern of any sort of reprimand. Switch the situation to London, and what you would see – or rather, hear – is someone screaming, “Get the f*** off my bloody car, you f***ing p****!” No, I kid you not.

There is an unspoken rule that what’s mine ain’t yours and therefore, what’s mine can only be touched, removed or likewise with my permission. To do so without permission you are looking for the back of your head to be slapped, or any other sort of consequence.

Although I’ve been in Egypt for 9 months, I still have this ingrained in my psyche, and do not feel comfortable leaning against someone’s car as I wait for a friend, or put my feet onto a car’s bumper in order to tie my Converse laces. What’s his (or hers) is his (or hers) and I have no right to abuse that. I’m thinking that if Egyptians adopted this line of thinking, there would be less abuse of property and increased respect for one another.

Wishful thinking of a Londoner? Maybe, but one can always wish.

– The Londoner

Surviving Cairo

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!

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Breakfast at Lunchtime

I needed to take a break. We’d been at it for a few hours and I could feel that my head was telling me that I needed to re-fuel, and my voice was close to cracking due to not drinking much water during the session. I had a goal to get the recording over and done with within a set time-frame – I wanted to finish before 3pm – I had a bus to catch to Sharm.

“Do you mind if I eat my lunch?” I asked her.

She only pulled her eyes away from the computer screen for a few seconds. “Er, yeah sure,” she replied.

The tempo of her fingers across the computer’s keyboard had changed its rhythm, and her eyes were not following the lines on the screen as closely as before.

I pulled out the plastic bag that contained the round container that held my lunch, which was in fact the leftovers of last night’s dinner of green lentils, stir-fried vegetables and a little seasoned Egyptian rice. I’m always quite pleased with myself when I make something exceedingly delicious, but we’ll leave the tooting of my horn for another post!

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