Friday, February 4, 2011

Memories of Egypt

If I haven't gotten much done this past week, blame Al Jazeera English, which I've been watching online for their coverage of events in Egypt. I wake up every morning hoping that Mubarak will be gone. I guess partly I'm a news junkie, and part of it is remembering the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, but I also have personal memories of Egypt from a trip I made years ago. I was only in my twenties at the time and had never really been out of the US much, and never been to a "third world" country. I'd like to say that it was a great experience which broadened my horizons and my understanding of the world, but that wouldn't be true. I was sick much of the time and I kept having panic attacks (I didn't know they were panic attacks until years later; at the time I just thought I was dying) and deep down I just wanted to go home. The one thing that epitomized the foreignness of Egypt for me was the fact that I couldn't get regular American-looking bread, even on sandwiches.

Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young.

But eventually I did rally, and I found myself collecting specific images. The crystal blueness of the Mediterranean Sea, unlike any water I'd ever seen. A donkey pulling a cart in the middle of insane Cairo traffic. Schoolboys with satchels yelling English at us and reaching up to touch my hair (platinum blonde at the time.) Unemployed men standing around the street, hoping to get tips for opening doors for people. The cemeteries at El Alamein. A rest house in the middle of the Sahara desert. The statue of some forgotten pharoah at Luxor, worn down to just a foot. (Talk about Ozymandias!) The call to prayer, at evening, dawn and noon, echoing up and down the streets.

We had come to Egypt at the invitation of Samir, a friend of my future husband's. On the way to Alexandria, speeding across the desert, he mentioned that anyone who had three speeding tickets in Egpyt faced a mandatory 20 year prison sentence. He added he already had one ticket on his record. I got the feeling that, having lived in the US, he knew things could be a lot better in Egypt but he accepted his government for what it was.

The Egyptian people no longer want to accept this, and I hope they succeed. They deserve better.

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