Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Omm il donia

For 10 days, I managed to forget everything from my daily life. I didn't even remember what it was like to work, or have the cold Canadian air brush up on my skin. It was my first complete disconnect. While most of those around me felt the need to constantly update people at home, I felt the recollection of my day when asked was a burden, mostly because I couldn't actually express what I felt. It was also the first time I did not look forward to a trip, due to the fact that I knew there was a high possibility of disappointment in the form of not reaching my initial destination (Gaza). With that being said, my journey back was as long as my journey here, so I had time to reflect and write for everyone: letters from Cairo.

Arrival - Christmas Day
Dear whoever cares to read this,

I've slept an hour on three plastic chairs located in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport. My back must be broken. I arrive to Cairo after spending the flight talking to a fellow marcher who used to be a big executive at Motorola. She's awesome. The weather is nice and our cab driver is attempting to give us a tour at 1am. We're not having it.

Day 1 (officially)
Dear whoever cares to read this,

We wake up early, eat foul because we're in Egypt and take a self made walking tour around Cairo. "Show me the meaning of being lonely" seems to be the hip ringtone here since I heard in on two people's phones. We find old photos of Jamal Abdel Nasser at a photo studio and end up chatting for over an hour over tea with the owner. He gives us the photos as a gift (I got a sweet one featuring a young Gaddafi) despite us refusing his dinner invitation. Staring is common here, and I must get used to being the object of all glares. We sing songs while walking the Nile. Check into the apartment in Maadi where I'll be staying. Word is: border still closed and the French delegation was denied access to their buses. Therefore, they camped outside their embassy and have no intentions of moving. Count on the French to strike right. Near fatal crossing accidents: two.

Day 2
Dear whoever cares to read this,

We attend our first orientation meeting and meet some of the other delegations. We walk over to the Qasr el nil bridge and hang messages to those in Gaza. The police quickly break up our peaceful demonstration and remove all letters from the bridge. First encounter with Abu Shanab, more on him soon. Later on, we are to go on the fallukas on the nile and drop 1,400 candles in commemoration but we are stopped. We hold a vigil on the nile surrounded by the Egyptian police. My voice is already leaving me because I spend all night yelling "El Horriya li Gaza" (Freedom for Gaza).
Day 3
Dear whoever cares to read this,

More meetings, sleep continues to lack but I don't care. By now, we are experts at crossing the street. We attempt to brainstorm a variety of methods we can get into Gaza. This is supposed to be the day we leave for Al-Arish, but the Egyptian government has denied anyone with a foreign passport permission to pass to Al-Arish whether with buses or via public transportation. We protest under the October 6th bridge.
We take our chants and spirit to the UN offices. We wave flags, banners and build mock embassies. Many people are attempting to get the support of their embassies which gives us all the same message: NO. Friend spots Dahlan near the Palestinian embassy. Attempts to hold back his anger. We show solidarity with our French brothers and sisters and visit the embassy where they are camped out, surrounded by the riot police. I manage to insult a "secret service" officer by asking him "who are you anyway?" Big trouble, little yuppie. We visit Heliopolis for a change.
Day 4
Dear whoever cares to read this,

Much to do today. After getting no help from the Canadian embassy, I head over to the Syndicats des journalistes for a protest there, followed by one at the same place protesting Netanyahu's visit with Mubarak. Codepink, one of the organizers of the march, are negotiating with Suzanne Mubarak who agrees to send two buses with 100 delegates instead of the 1,400 currently in Cairo and they can only be people who have never visited the region before. What is this a tourist destination? The French side of les Canadiens comes out and we talk to other groups about protesting at the buses the following morning. Many groups are on board, some however continue to forget the reasoning behind the march and would like to get on the buses. We find a really rad song while attempting to look for something else and it stays trapped in my head for the next few days.

Day 5
Dear whoever cares to read this,

I'm running on one hour of sleep and at the buses it's chaos. The decision makers apologized for their quick and faulty decision. Massive support against the buses departing ensues, but there are still many getting on board, mainly for personal reasons, some with none at all aside from the march, whatever their reasons may have been, people got on and off the buses. We chanted, attempted to remind them of the goal, some people got off the buses. When most of the crowd left, some people got back on the buses. A total 0f 60 people departed for Gaza and the bus picked up people in Al-Arish who were under house arrest or detained for attempting entry previously. A total of 84 people went to Gaza despite the Gaza Freedom March organizers in Gaza urging them not to. We visit the French embassy again and head to some meetings. Drinking lots of tea, koshary count: two. Furthermore, I have mastered arguing with cab drivers who try to rip me off.

Day 6
Dear whoever cares to read this,

This is the day we should've been marching in Gaza. We find out early that some of the delegation is trapped in their hotel, surrounded by police due to the staff being informants.
10AM: We walk up from the subway as we attempt to divert attention from ourselves since all week we have been followed. All of a sudden, a flash mob of 500 begin running on the street in Tahrir Square, Cairo's busiest place. The police go crazy and attempt to push us on the sidewalk by any means necessary. Many are kicked, punched, pulled by the hair, pushed. I was lightly elbowed in the mouth and police attempt to carry me out as I hung onto my friends. When I screamed in Arabic, they panicked and let go of me. Finally, we were in the confines of the gated sidewalk. The police had beat many of us, including a 12 year old Dutch-Palestinian girl. From 10am to 4pm, Tahrir Square was Gaza Square. We even create a mock washroom. We talk to those poor soldiers who have no idea what they are doing and are completely on our side, merely afraid of their government. Ideally, we would've spent NYE there, but we lost a lot of people who were not allowed to return if they left the sidewalk.
Instead, we celebrate NYE again in Tahrir lighting candles for Gaza. The Palestinian flag spread out on the pyramids photo makes the newspapers. Cabies seem to have moved on from El Hantour to this song.

Day 7
Dear whoever cares to read this,

Israeli embassy time. This one caught the authorities by surprise. There was no one, all of a sudden, there were hundreds. The embassy was close to the French one, so it was easy to gain the support of our French comrades. We took over the sidewalk and the bridge. I had the opportunity to chat with one of the soldiers who looked like they had been recruited from the near by casting agency they were so young (what is this Israel?). They asked us when we were going to stop our protests because it's been five days and they are getting tired. They were also scared to ask me questions because their superiors behind them were listening in on the conversation. I noticed that when they found out I was Arab, they showed me more respect despite it being the opposite for Arab males. Tonight, down time in Zamalek.

Day 8
Dear whoever cares to read this,

Walk like an Egyptian. Today is saved for the Pharaohs, the cruelest people the world has ever seen. By now we are all accustomed to the 1 out of 4 Egyptians being informants thing, so we are no longer paranoid. We are now the "celebrity" hooligans wreaking havoc in Cairo. We know this place. It has consumed us. We take the metro and meet up with our Scottish friends in Giza. Looking over the slums of Giza, this government represents the Pharaoh's of the 21st century. To enter the pyramids, Arabs pay 2EP and foreigners pay 60. I'm Arab with a foreign passport, but I'm Arab therefore I pay 2EP. Security asks me for Arab ID, which I don't have. I argue with him, probably yelling things like "I'm more Arab than you, this is retarded, etc etc." but I end up having to pay 60 anyway. I'm more eager to cause chaos at the pyramids now.
I ride my camel, nicknamed Baby Boo up to the third pyramid, pretend to take photos and be some lame tourist, then we start climbing. Police officer yells no climbing, we say we're crossing. Yelling continues. We get to the other side and get down. The photographer from the newspaper arrives, the officer turns around to talk to his informants, we grab the banner, run up the pyramids, take the photo, then begin getting chased. The cops take our bags and fetch inside. They take our banner, ask us for our cameras, call for back-up, accuse two people from our group of being Egyptians (they have American passports) and accuse them of being journalists. They are desperately seeking to find photos. What they did was a) prepare for the longest chase of their life, b) embarrass themselves in front of all tourists and c) attempt to arrest us for no reason. The police chased us from pyramid three all the way to the entrance. I have never seen a human being turn so red. Before I knew it, every officer in Giza surrounded us, including an archeologist who told me he had to fill a report about the incident, to which I responded, "and report back to who? Pharaoh himself?" He wasn't so pleased, naturally. Later on, we end up in a cab with a driver who asks us if we're Algerian. Then he goes on a rant about Algerians and what they started after the soccer match, followed by 30 minutes of a CD with songs consisting of the word Masr. A little too patriotic. He's crazy and we can't wait to get out because we're scared of mentioning anything rai. I'm 99% sure I'm getting deported.

Day 9

Dear whoever cares to read this,

No, we did not get deported. Instead, we are on the train to Alexandria. We took the wrong train so we had to stand the whole way. We also made the newspaper. The beach is wonderful, and I can actually see the sky, smog free. Whoever says Toronto is smoggy has never left Canada. It's a blessing compared to Cairo. We walk around, visit the library, explore the city and realize how Arabs do not know how to maintain monuments. We don't eat fish like we're supposed to because we over ate at lunch. Alexandria has a street car. We take photos of Arabs posing like Arabs and even have a mock photo session of our own. We eat ice cream, we act like Syrians, we act like Palestinians, we act like foreigners, we analyze responses. Upon our return to Cairo, I am stuck with an idiot cab driver who is taking me the wrong way (I know my way by now). I make him stop me on the side where an argument commences with the police. He urges me to get back into the car but I get another cab instead. Try to rip me off why don't you.

Day 10

Dear whoever cares to read this,

This is tourist day. We visit Khan El-Khalili and the mosques around it (the Fatimid dynasty fascinates me), and we also visit Salah El Din's citadel. I finally visit a woman I considered my grandmother in Canada who now lives in Cairo. I've known her since I was six and she's my favourite person in the whole world. I drink sugar cane juice, I eat koshary, we discuss politics. I'm so happy to see her and so sad to leave. I spend the last hours of my time drinking tea at The Australian Hostel. We've formed friendships with the staff. I bid farewell to my partner in crime and return to my hotel. My flight awaits, alongside a dose of reality and cold weather.
more to come.


  1. Oh man, i've been waiting for this one, Danah. Glad you're safe.


  2. an (anonymous) fan :)11 January 2010 at 03:27

    Please keep posting.. I really enjoy and get a lot out of following your blog.