Monday, February 14, 2011

Free at last!

I took a break from blogging.  A week's break.  I followed the events here in Egypt on TV and on the net, but I could not blog about them.  I was on a kind of survival-mode autopilot.  I slept a maximum of 2 hours at a time and in a 24 hour period I probably got 5 hours of sleep maximum.  I was exhausted, wracked with anxiety, sometimes downright scared to death, and all in all just managed to breathe in enough oxygen to survive. And in that week, Egypt--and I--have been profoundly changed.

About me--well that's not important and certainly not now.  What is important is that This Country has gone from, basically, slavery to emancipation.  I'll have a lot more to say later.

But for now, I dedicate this to Egyptians everywhere, especially to my family--my courageous husband who always gave me something to smile about in the darkest days, and to my amazing children who are half-Egyptian--and their spouses--who checked on me every day and were willing to travel here to take us home if necessary, to my wonderful and brave expat friends here who stuck it out, to my beloved co-workers and students who have always shown me the grace, enthusiasm and acceptance of people here, and most importantly, to the MARTYRS who sacrificed their lives for this change. My deepest respect and love to you all.

Opposition supporters gather round a shrine for victims of the riots in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 12, 2011. Egyptians woke to a new dawn on Saturday after 30 years of autocratic rule under Hosni Mubarak, full of hope after achieving almost unthinkable change, with the army in charge and an uncertain future ahead.

Roses lay on the list of Egyptians killed since the anti-Mubarak revolt displayed in Cairo's Tahrir square on February 12, 2011, a day after President Hosni Mubarak's ouster from 30 years in power.

Friday, February 4, 2011

You say you want a.....

I havent continued writing my diary for different reasons.  First I guess is that I spend most of my days and nights watching TV news or reading news on the net.  The live coverage is the only way we can truly keep up to date with the ever-changing situation here.  It seems that since Mubarak's last speech, the government and the opposition are playing an irritating game of handball, alternately taking turns demanding what often seems to be the impossible from each other.

I also dont feel so comfortable making my true feelings public, at least not at this time and certainly not considering the obvious "dissillusionment" pro-Mubarak supporters have against westerners (including the media) here in Egypt.  I know I am not even a millionth of a drop in the huge ocean of public rhetoric here, but still one needs to be careful.

My life has been reduced to watching TV, cooking, cleaning and surfing the net since it came back a few days ago.  It's great to be online, that's for sure.  If for no other reason it is now easier to be in touch with my kids.

I would be lying if I said there werent times I havent been afraid here.  There have been a few moments when I felt myself nearing panic--perhaps gunshots in the street sounding too close for comfort, or needing to track down antibioics for an acute infection in my tooth and realizing it was past curfew and even if I could find them, they couldnt be delivered.  I dont know my neighbors.  Am I perhaps living in a building or area where people absolutely love the president and may hate foreigners, especially Americans?

I would also be lying if I didnt say I wish there would be a meaningful change here in Egypt.  I have been coming here and living here on a  regular basis since 1990.  I have seen the deterioration of the country and the breaking of the spirits of the people.  My recent blog posts about how frustrating life has become here, and the way the people here lie and cheat each other, and take huge advantage of those they perceive to be wealthy and priviliged foreigners.  I have been swindled here to be sure, and I blame this on the fact that the masses are becoming poorer and poorer, yet with the advent of satellite TV and internet, know there is more out there and feel entitled to it--even if it must be taken by dishonest or illegal means.

The situation here in total has become quite overwhelming.  As a foreigner who planned to live the rest of my life here, and planned to die and be buried here, I am now rethinking that decision.  I am of the age that I have expected more peace and contentment in my life.  I figure I have maybe 5 good years left where I can work.  I need to prepare for some kind of retirement--something I have not done until now.  I truly did not plan on having to spend as much money as I do living here, and having to fight for absolutely everything I need, or need to be done.  I need to feel more secure, and in control of my life.  I think seriously now of returning to the USA, but I am not near to making a decision.  It will be a long process.

I know I want change here.  But I am not a citizen and in reality do not have the right or privilege to work for it.  As a foreigner, I need to tread lightly.  I am considering my options.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Revolution Diary

The internet has been out here since last Thursday night...hence my lack of posts.  This might be sporadic...I wanted to write more but I am nearly exhausted from the sheer magnitude of events this past week.  May Allah help us here in Egypt!

Thursday, Jan 27

(I am writing this on Friday morning, after having found the internet taken down in Egypt.)  I left work late afternoon on Thursday.  It had been a long week with me teaching extra periods and keeping full-time hours.  I hadnt had the time or energy to blog and was truly looking forward to the weekend.  I knew I needed to sleep for a few hours once I got home before I would have the energy to do anything else at all. 

The protests in Egypt had started with Police Day on Tuesday, Jan 25.  It was a national holiday so most companies, and all government offices, were closed.  We had read snippets on Facebook and elsewhere online that the Egyptian public was planning protests for that day.  The general tone was why, especially in recent months when prices had skyrocketed and jobs were scarce, should the country celebrate the hated police?  They were seen as ruthless oppressors and murderers, rather than the protectors of society.  There was much corruption among them and they ruled with an iron fist.  They were incredibly arrogant, abusive and used to getting their own way.  They were actually out of control in the general society.  There was little disagreement that over the years, Egypt had become a police state, and the police were charged with enforcing Mubarak's state of emergency law--and more.  Worse, they were above the law, not just the law of the land, but the law of human decency.  While protests were not a new phenomenon here in Egypt, they have generally been small and tightly contained by the police forces.  I assumed Tuesday would be no different.  I admit there were more protestors in the streets than I would have imagined, but still I blew it off, thinking this will end that day and once again everything would return to the status quo. 

On Wednesday the protests continued, and grew larger.  One of my students, from a poor and volatile neighborhood, did not come to school.  He had informed a classmate that it was too dangerous in his neighborhood to leave the house.  While he made it to school on Thursday, another classmate, from another area in Cairo--also poor and filled with protestors, stayed home.  On both Wednesday and Thursday, on the ride home from school, our bus was forced to circumvent the regular route due to police roadblocks in 6 October.  Still, the police presence was not as large as it was in Cairo, and we felt fairly safe out here.   

There had been discussion in the media on Thursday that there were massive protests planned for after communal prayers at noon on Friday.  This was to be expected, and at the time we still had internet access, and could read English language Egyptian newspapers.  Facebook was alight with news, instructions, etc for the protests, although by that time Twitter had been disabled in Egypt.  It didnt take long for the government to realize that social media was a huge aid in planning and carrying out the protests.  From Thursday evening on, I was glued to the television.

Friday, Jan 28

We awoke early in Egypt to find our internet access totally shut down.  In addition all mobile phone services were cut.  Not only couldnt we make phone calls, but SMS messages were disabled as well.  The Egyptian government thought this move would thwart protestors, but it did not.  It only angered the citizens and made them more determined to assemble and get their message across--that Mubarak had to go and nothing else was acceptable.  I should add that it soon became obvious  these protests had been planned well in advance, and very thoroughly.  It was clear alternative means of communication were used to keep all  informed, and I think plans were made well in advance for just such a situation if lines of communication had been cut. 

Friday saw massive numbers of Egyptians protesting after communal noon prayers--the mosques being used as a rallying point, although it has been said that worshippers were tear-gassed as they tried to leave the mosques!  Mohamed Al Baradei, the noble prize winner who had returned to Egypt on Thursday to offer his services to the Egyptian people in any capacity they chose, and with some people thinking he might be a possible president one day but at the very least, was now seen as one public voice of opposition, was placed under house arrest.  But not before he and others suffered from tear gas inhalation while they were still in the mosque.

While Cairo, Alexandria and Suez cities have been the focus of the media, protests took place all over Egypt.  Truly no area was exempt--from the farms, to the Delta to the Upper Egypt area known as Saiyeed and further south, to Porta Said and Fouad and into Sinai in the north.  We learned Friday that protestors were assembled here in 6 October, and the police were obviously still out in force.  Automatic gun fire could be heard, and in some parts of our town, the acrid smell of tear gas filled the air.

I was lucky in that I had gotten an SMS message out to my children in USA--before the mobiles had been cut here, giving them my home phone number.  Only some landlines were working.  My daughter called me as did my son.  I assured them that until then we were OK, but only Allah knew what would be coming on this impending Friday.  They told me they had arranged for service to Egypt on their mobiles and home phones.  Thank Allah they could contact me.

As Friday unfolded, massive numbers of protestors descended to the streets with only ONE message...Mubarak must resign.  Many protestors were killed, particularly in Suez and Alexandria.  By sunset Friday, many police stations across Egypt had been set on fire, as were buildings everywhere.  It was a shocking sight to see a huge skyscraper, the NDP building in Cairo--headquarters of Mubarak's government--set ablaze.  Flames rose up through the building and the black smoke obscured the views.  This was surreal---the literal destruction of the symbol of this corrupt regime.  In addition, the Antiquities Museum, housing mummies and other artifacts from Pharoanic times, was determined by protestors as being in danger--both from fire and looters, and so was ringed by vigilant protestors to protect the priceless contents.  Tens of police vehicles were burned in every city, and on the 6 October bridge near downtown Cairo, protesters tried to rock police box vans over the rail into the Nile.

By Friday evening after sunset, the hated police presence was disappearing and the military moved in.  They were welcomed by the protestors, literally, with open arms.  The army basically has a history of being protectors of the people, unlike the police who are seen as the persecutors of the common person.  I wondered what Saturday would was obvious Friday's protests were successful in getting the message out that the Egyptian people had "broken through the wall of fear" and would not relent on their demands that Mubarak and the entire NDP had to go NOW!  It was also clear that the public would not return to their former state of standing by with hands tied while their corrupt regime profited, getting richer and fatter by raping the country and its people. 

In all this time, from Tuesday until Friday, Mubarak uttered not one word to his people.  In fact until now, no one actually knows where he even is.  Last report he was in the resort city of Sharm al Sheikh.  Must be nice.  Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

Finally late Friday evening, Al Jazeera English, CNN and BBC were all announcing Mubarak would be addressing the nation.  It wasn’t until approximately 12:30 AM the next day that he finally appeared on state TV, defiant as ever and deemed as being “arrogant” (no surprise there) by a western reporter.  A translation of his speech can be read here.  His comments were not surprising, painting his tenure as president and his positions as correct, but ceding that the public had a right to air their grievances and that he was listening to them.  He claimed to be speaking as an “Egyptian” and not as their president.  He offered that there would be some reforms in his rule, starting with the sacking of his cabinet.  He asked for their resignations—not a new move in his history as dictator--and President Obama would later remark that “a shuffling of the deck” was not an answer.  In short, he was not going anywhere, and didn’t even address the issue of that being the only demand of the people.  God knows what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, Jan 29

Today brought more demonstrators to the streets.  The police had totally disappeared from the scene and the military rolled into cities and towns across the country, still being soundly welcomed by the people.  Friday’s protests had brought many deaths of protestors in Suez and Alexandria in particular. 

News reports featured hysterical relatives of many dead waiting outside the morgue in Alexandria, and gruesome pictures of bloody sheet-draped bodies inside were very disturbing.  It was particularly poignant that most of those relatives demanding entrance to the morgue to claim their relatives were apparently very poor and at the bottom of the economic ladder.  I do understand most were killed by rubber or live ammunition fired by police, and that surely it was a random firing into the crowd, yet as a mother my heart was breaking that these people were obviously from the poorest classes.  Mothers in black slapped their faces and tore at their clothes, and I couldn’t help thinking perhaps the dead children had been their only source of hope—not to mention financial support—for the future.  In any case, these sons are all of our sons, and God willing they have died as martyrs.

Today’s protest was much larger than yesterday.  Each day the number of Egyptians in the streets grows.  There is anger and inspiration in Mubarak’s message to the people…anger that he has not even addressed the demands that he leave office, and inspiration in that his arrogance makes the public even more determined to force him out.

Another day with no internet although mobile phone service has been restored—still no SMS messages in or out though—apparently this is still disabled.  I’m wondering why Mubarak just doesn’t acknowledge the fact that despite no internet and SMS messages, the protestors continue to assemble at key points throughout the country.  Give it up!  Nothing will stop the people now so why not give us back the internet?

My friends and I talk regularly throughout the day.  Most of us are western women and converts to Islam, married to Egyptians.  So far we are all coping well, and there is a strange calm among us.  I think we all feel what will be, will be and that Allah is in charge.  We simply pray for the best.  I’ve gotten phone calls from nearly all the men I work with and also some of my students, asking about me and volunteering to bring me anything I need from outside.  I am touched by their kindness and feel as if I have a real family here among my friends, coworkers and students. 

However as the day wears on, I can honestly say I am becoming a bit scared.  Reports from family and friends here, along with news accounts, have revealed that police masquerading as ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to riot, loot and murder.  Nightly neighborhood watches have been set up by the men in every neighborhood, and women and children are being protected and asked to stay indoors.  Doors and gates are locked day and night, and anyone seeking access to a building must be known to the residents before they are allowed to enter. 

It is interesting that these grassroots security patrols have apprehended many men who, once captured, are found carrying police ID cards and government issued revolvers!  In addition, it has been confirmed that almost simultaneously, many prisons have been broken into and prisoners freed.  Many news comments have indicated these prisoners have been freed on purpose by the government, as has happened often throughout Egypt’s history, when the government decides to squash protests of any kind.  Many thugs—know as “baaltigia” here –are either plain clothes police officers or newly sprung prisoners sent to wreak havoc in the streets, in the hopes that demonstrators themselves will be blamed, giving the powers that be the excuse to turn on their own people.

News reports say the US Embassy has urged no Americans travel to Egypt unless it is absolutely essential.  The aiport is jammed anyway, and many airlines have suspended flights.  Delta, perhaps the worst airline in the world anyway, was the first.

I hear a lot of noise outside close to my house tonight, and gunfire in the distance.  I relaxed when I realized a lot of the close noise is from the neighborhood patrol; they have set up a kind of campsite a few yards from my building, and built a fire to keep warm.  They patrol the area vigilantly and have used dumpsters, concrete slabs and metal poles to block access into our area here.  They are all carrying pipes or sticks—I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them had guns.  My neighborhood is upscale but not finished.  Many buildings are still being constructed, so the number of actual tenants is small but the area is filled with “bowabs”—watchman and guards from Saiyeed who were hired by the building owners to protect their properties in the construction stages.  I used to be mildly annoyed with the noise the bowab children made and also a bit frustrated with their raising chickens, sheeps and goats in the dirt street here.  But now I am glad they are the major inhabitants, because Saiyeedis usually always have a rifle handy, and we may come to need the protections of firearms any time.

The gunfire in the distance scares me a bit and makes my dog go crazy.  She is out in the garden barking loudly which surely will be a deterrent to would be robbers, as most Egyptians—even criminals—are afraid of dogs.  This dog has been my protector and friend for over 9 years now, and I have no doubt she would give up her life to protect me.  I am thankful I have her, and my friends joke that if the neighbors were ever tired of her barking before, surely now she has become a heroine.

Sunday, Jan 30

US Embassy has announced citizens are urged to leave Egypt and flights will begin leaving on Monday.  We have been told to call the Embassy here to arrange.  However, funny thing, the Embassy doesn’t answer, and news has flashed across the screen the US Embassy is now closed!  So, my question is, what are Amereicans here supposed to do now?

Monday, Jan 31

I didn’t blog much yesterday because I usually blog at night and by then I found myself completely exhausted and too tired to do much other than lay on the couch and watch TV. 

I did however, early in the day, have the wonderful opportunity to go outside with an American friend here and her husband.  He had found an ATM machine in the Industrial Zone where she and I work, and he volunteered to take me to get money.  I was able to get 1500 LE which is about $250.  Added to what I have at home, I felt safe that I could weather the next few weeks if things don’t improve.  However the reality is soon there may be nothing to buy anyway as food supplies are dwindling.  We stopped at a Metro market and it was fairly crowded, but calm and orderly.  I got the last bag of flour—in case I have to resort to baking my own bread—and a bag of powdered sugar—there was no regular sugar to be found.  They were also out of eggs and regular milk, and most frozen vegetables.  There was no rice—except some expensive basamati and I already have that at home.  No tomato paste either so it will be hard to make traditional Egyptian foods once I finish my four jars.  I think I could live on the food stores Ihave here for at least a month, maybe longer.  I have plewnty of tea and sugar, and lots of dried beans, rice and macaroni.  I have onions and potatoes and cheese and pita bread in the freezer.  I think we will be ok.  I pray so, insha Allah.

I watch TV—or listen to it all day and most of the night.  Last evening I rearranged the furniture in the living room so that our longer couch is facing the TV.  That way I can sleep in the living room as well and check what’s happening on TV throughout the night.  I also like to be in the living room because my windows face the street, and I can check often to see the neighborhood watchmen patrol the area.  They make me feel so safe thank God.  I would love to offer them some tea and cookies or anything really, but my husband is stuck in Alexandria and I don’t want the people here to know there is an American staying alone here.  So I pray for these men and ask Allah to keep them safe as they protect our neighborhood from the looters and thugs—whoever they may be!

Protestors are calling for a million man march tomorrow in Cairo, from Tahrir Square to the Presidential Palace.  Palace???  I hate to even use that word and it has become a symbol of all the greed and corruption in this country.  The president, the government and the richest businessmen who have made deals with the government live like kings here, while at least 40% of the population lives beneath the poverty level here.  Those considered to be above the poverty line don’t live much better.  I will write more on this tomorrow, as well as my feelings on this whole political mess.

Meantime, I talk to one of my kids everyday—they take turns calling me, and are very, very concerned with events here.  Until now I have to be honest and say things are not so bad here, and we are doing OK, though worried what the future will bring.  My son seems to be mapping out a plan “in case he needs to come to Cairo to get me”—haha—his words, not mine.  I am in no way thinking to leave, and pray I am not forced to by conditions here—this is my home now—and I am more proud than ever of the Egyptian people.  Truly, as FDR once said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  They keep saying on TV that the Egyptian people “have broken the wall of fear” and it is true.  They have determined to not quit this protest or ease up on their demands.  They say they are willing to die in the protests.  What the people had become, under 30 years of oppression, was horrible.  Those were the Egyptians I didn’t know and didn’t love.  But these same Egyptians, have been transformed.  Their true characters are shining through.  I am anxious to see more of the real Egyptian people I once knew and loved.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why do I get so upset here?

Yet why do I prefer to stay?  Well I cant answer the second question--not now at least, but I can address the question of my post title...Why do I get so upset?

Do I have to write the usual caveat--that there are so many GOOD things here--so I dont offend Egyptians and Egypt-lovers?  Should I even care?  It's my blog so I should write whatever I want, right?

I think I'll do that and not give a damn about being all PC.  And so...

If you take the populace out of the equation--disregard the Egyptian people for a moment and concentrate only on infrastructure, goods and services--Egypt is hard enough to deal with.  Roads are rocky and bumpy (drivers are worse), electricity and water go off on a daily basis--even if it's just for a sort period of time, losing internet connection is as easy as losing socks in a dryer, and there's no Walmart here my friends.  Despite all the new "superstores" like Carrefour, Hyper1 and Spinney's, there is no such thing here as one stop shopping!  There's always at least a few important items you cant find at one store, and have to go to another to buy.  I can get sauerkraut at Hyper, for example, but have to go to Carrefour to find American coffee.  There's my brand of salad dressing at Spinney's, but linen choices there suck.  A shopping trip for groceries and some household items involves going to 3 stores.  It's an exhausting endeavor and usually I only have enough energy to get to one store a day.  And so I wait til the next weekend to resume my quest.  And in the span of 3 weekends, I have finally gathered all that I need, have one weekend "off" and then have to begin the whole quest again for the new month!  Now to some this may seem ridiculously silly and spoiled.  But when you have to deal with all the other crap here, every aggravation becomes a mountain you can not climb.

There's no such thing as a Home Depot--nothing even close.  You have to go to one tiny store for electrical items---store is really an oxymoron--it's more like a kiosk.  Likewise for traditional hardware items--that's a
whole other place, as is paint and brushes--oh and let me not forget plumbing supplies, door locks and hinges---all in separate places.

Now, if you cant manage--once you have found everything, to actually use/install/repair it yourself, you need to call someone in to do it.  No jacks-of-all-trades here!   Everyone has their specialty--a plumber might be able to install a faucet, but you have to get a plasterer to fix the 5 foot hole he made in your wall.  You need a plumber to connect your water heater, but an electrician to rig up the pipes--dont ask me why!  An electrician can install wires for lights, but a carpenter has to drill holes for the fixture itself.  And speaking of carpenters, they range from someone who simply pounds nails al the way up to one who can make you a bedroom set from scratch.  And between the former and the later, there are a hundred different levels and a hundred different men to do the job.

Now we get to the frustrating part...NO, amazingly, we hadnt arrived yet.  The really really really bad part is......for every one honest man here who is willing to do the job correctly--and not over charge, there are a thousand looking to rip you off for as much money as they can sucker you out of, as well as doing a piss-poor job.  This might range from charging you 5 extra cents for each screw, to thousands of Egyptian pounds for building you a table and chairs.In truth, there are more liars, swindlers, con men and just plain criminals here in one city block than I ever heard tell of in America!  Bernie Madoff has nothing on Egyptians.

Workers of all kinds will smile in your face, swear on their sainted mother's grave they will do exactly as you ask for the price you agree on, but in the end, you will over-pay, rip your hair out with the crappy results, and end up hiring yet another con-artist to clean up another's mess.  And this cycle continues, again and again.

I was going to say more about the con-men here, but now I dont have to!  This says it all.  No one is immune, not even your own family members!  The ultimate con.....

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I cant even title this post, I am so crazy upset!

Sometimes I hate this country so much, not only can I not blog about it, I cant even talk about it. It's taken me days to get up the oomph to write this post.  Egypt has a way of sucking you in, letting you think you have finally mastered the intricate art of living here, and then, BOOM! Some thing or things go so badly awry, you realize this great lady Egypt has been f'ing with your head again, and she is most definitely enjoying it.  She must, because she certainly does it often enough!.  I have been suffering for days--more like weeks actually- but today have become absolutely furious.  I have, once again, definitely reached my tolerance--and sanity--breaking point.

I want to write about it, but right now I can't.  I am so burning mad about all the sh#t that happens here, and have been seriously trying to figure out a way I can go back to the USA.  And what makes all this so much worse is, I dont see how I can do it.

I dont know how I can manage to go home!

I will write more--after I calm down enough to make sense.  Until then...

Friday, January 7, 2011

A fun linkie

Make a favicon for your blog!  Dont know what a favicon is?  Check here!

Abu Dhabi bound?

In this post, I forgot to mention that several months ago--when my husband's current job position was unstable, he applied to teach in a university in Abu Dhabi.  He had really forgotten about it until last week when he was called into downtown Cairo for an interview.  He was told he would receive their response in the next month or so.  Two days ago he was offered the job!  WOW!  Deep breath.  It sounds like a wonderful opportunity with lots of perks.  I never imagined living in the Gulf.  In fact I would have refused to even consider it.  But from what I hear it is nothing like Saudi Arabia--thankfully--and in fact is more like America--an "Islamic" America???  Hmmm.  This requires a lot of thought, and many prayers for Guidance.  Despite everything, I am not sure I really want to leave Egypt.