Thursday, February 24, 2011

At Eighteen

Isn't it interesting when you come across old journal entries or letters? I found this entry that I wrote when I was eighteen years old, my senior year of high school, on the brink of so many things. It is interesting to me to see where my thoughts were back then, how I processed things, how I viewed the world. I don't agree with everything I wrote, but I will type it just as I found it:

I thought I knew all there is to know of world hunger and pain
My pride rides high above itself, blinding my eyes, and making feel as though I have every right to be proud
I know less now, than I did before of what life truly consists of

I spend my days in a perfect bubble, crystal clear and unrealistic
One day though, my bubble will burst, leaving my mind in such a state of shock, my mentality will be perverted
Four walls around me these eighteen years have served as shields, separating me from life's realities
a balance of unbearable pain and real joy
I spend my days in my bubble trying to do what I can to help, but never really willing to push it to the point of bursting
in fear I would break

What is this pain? My mind can't comprehend what I would do if my world would shatter
There I'd be, part of the life of those in agony I'd watched while inside my circle of perfection
I'd be on the outside yearning to once again be within my paradise now transformed to hell

Now i get it, now i see what it really means to live
to experience real horror and grief when your insides feel they've been torn and shredded and death is what is longed for
I'd feel trapped in the pool of madness for my bubble would no longer exist and I'd understand for the first time, real faith and what it takes to have it
for I'd for the first time have small glimpses of real hell

My days are spent surrounded by junk and trash that this culture lifts up in praise, cutting me off from reality and building walls of emptiness and pride
Pride, something so thick blocking my sight that I don't even notice its existence
God loves me, I'm His creation, chosen by Him for eternity. But I look not at the truth of what this really means
Rather what I wish to see and believe

Am I willing to burst through the walls of pride and chisel my way through them to the bottom of the pit of humility? To take a sharp object to my bubble and burst it intentionally of all I've ever known?

If this is what it takes for me to see reality in this world for what it really is...then yes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

As I sit down to relax tonight, the call to prayer is echoing through these cement walls. Every time I hear it, I still find myself stopping whatever it is that I am doing, and I listen to it. Car horns continue to honk, street cats screaming,'s the most horrific sound. The neighbors next to me are fighting with one another again. The walls are so thin. As I headed into the grocery store this afternoon I noticed the shelves fully stocked, and I didn't have to wait in line for check out. It's as if nothing happened, all is back to "normal." But is it really?

Typically, I have to plug my nose as I walk around the huge pile of trash that sits a couple of buildings down from me. I don't even want to know how many mice inhabit that thing...i always count at least six scrawny cats digging in it. But today, much to my surprise I saw a group of families with brooms sweeping up the dust and picking up trash. WHAT? since when did the people of Cairo care about the cleanliness of our streets? This is a first.

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I meandered through Tahrir Square taking pics of tanks, and seeing first hand the damage done by the fires and looters. A personal encounter was surreal after our only exposure to it being CNN. On the curb, sat a serious looking man selling Egyptian flags. I leaned over to ask him the price and he replied, "Enti Mosria?" which means, "You're Egyptian?" I replied that I wasn't, but that i lived here. He stated something really quickly in Arabic that I didn't understand. I thought he was telling me that because I wasn't Egyptian he would not sell me a flag. Embarrassed, I quickly walked away from the group of onlookers staring at me, the strange foreign girl. Suddenly a group of men started waving me back to the man with the flags. "No no," one of them said. "Because you are not Egyptian, the flag for you in FREE." HUH? i said. Putting it simply would be to say that in Egypt, no one ever turns down money. I tried to pay him, but he kept refusing. Definitely a first.

Something is different, but no one can quite pinpoint what it is. People have changed, but in contrasting ways. After multiple conversations with my Egyptian friends, as well as some foreigners, two drastic differences stand out. First, people are kinder than they have ever been. It is as if a heaviness has been lifted. For the first time, a girl at the grocery store smiled at me, and spoke to me in English. Normally, I find the check out girls rather sassy. I smiled, answering her in Arabic, which made her grin. Even taxi drivers seem less intense. During the time the city was on lockdown, people found themselves in situations where they had to get to know their neighbors. Families began relying on one another for support, even loans of cash and food. The men spent the nights guarding the streets with other men in their neighborhoods, and suddenly new relationships were blossoming. I heard that even after things calmed down, many men still would head down to the street just meet with the other men for tea in the evenings...a time of fellowship they had grown accustomed to during the nights on guard.

But that's not the only thing that has changed. People are bolder. Plain and simple, they are definitely gutsier. We are not sure how much of this has to do with the lack of police presence, but we are all on watch...much more aware of our surroundings. Do I feel safe in Egypt? Absolutely, In all of my travels (17 countries), I still feel safer in Egypt than anywhere else in the world. I am not kidding. That aspect has not changed, even will all this country is going through.

What is my response? I am thankful...I get to witness this unravel right before my very eyes. I get to talk with Egyptians, hear their stories, their politics, their reasons. I get see for myself rather than relying on the exaggerated western media. Do I think things will be tough? Absolutely. The Egyptians have a difficult road ahead. But they are aware of this and rejoice in knowing their voices have been heard. People like me who have lived a life of freedom cannot possibly understand this joy. We just can't. We are in a different element of reality. In my 15 months of living here I have experienced just a glimpse of what it means to have my American freedoms taken away....just a tad. But I haven't lived it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I rolled over to look at the clock, 6:30am…really? On the weekend!? Frustrated that I was wide awake and church wasn’t for 4 more hours, I decided to get online and check the news since things had been so crazy with the protestors all week. But my email site wasn’t loading…NO, I thought, tell me they didn’t block GOOGLE, too!

The night before, Facebook had been blocked, which was annoying, but not that big of a deal. I then checked several sites, none of which were loading. My internet connection…perfect…full bars. Hmm…it appeared all sites were simply that…blocked. “You are kidding me”…I kept saying. I needed internet to call the states, or use skype, or anything that would allow me to contact my family back home. Then I realized, contact with those on the outside was out of my control.

I ran to get my cell phone trying to remember the extra digits to call the states…I didn’t care the price, I was beyond ticked at this point. It was ringing! With both my parents on the line I basically said that it appeared internet was cut and they probably wouldn’t be hearing from me for a while. “How are we supposed to reach you?” mom asked. I thought for second…"you won’t be able to. Well, I guess you could call this number back..." but word was that they were preparing to cut mobile networks as well. “I’m sure it will get turned back on soon mom, no worries, they can’t keep us cut off from stuff that long,” I said with full assurance. “They can do whatever they want,” daddy said.

As I hung up the phone a new reality struck me…my freedoms were slowly being taken away. All these issues between the Egyptians and their government were now making more sense to me…being an American wasn’t going to help me with “freedoms” in this situation.

About twenty minutes later, my cell rang. It was daddy. He was reading online back in the states that the government had indeed shut down any access to the internet connections in Egypt. Amazing that he was able to confirm it before I was. As he was reading to me about the “day of rage” planned for today, my stomach started to turn. For the first time since my move to Egypt 15 months prior, I was concerned for my safety.

I then spoke with a friend of mine who has been living here for 17 years. “Get out some cash to keep on hand,” she said. “Enough for a plane ticket to a nearby country.” My mind was spinning. As much as I adore opportunities to explore new countries, these weren’t exactly the circumstances I liked traveling under.

Total chaos of expats swarming the Cairo Airport filled my mind. I’ve lived in Egypt long enough to know that stressful situations are not easily soothed here…chaos only multiplies in a city of 25 million. If we were told to evacuate, the process of getting all of us out of here wouldn’t be pretty. This wasn’t like “Plan your vacation to the country of your choice,” it was more like, escaping a fire. BUT, I then was reminded of the fact that things may not get to that point. It might not get that bad. Maybe …

After making breakfast, I decided to call my sister in the states to explain the situation. It wouldn’t go through…followed by a call to a friend here in Cairo…blocked. Phone connection was lost…there was no way to call out.

I sat there for a second in a daze. What does all this mean? How long are they planning on keeping people cut off from others? They can’t do this. But they just did. My mind was whirling. There I sat alone in my tiny flat, not sure what to do next. I was thankful church was in a few hours and I could re evaluate the situation with others. But once I was home again, connection to the rest of the world or even the city would be non existent.

How was I going to know if school was on or cancelled for Sunday? How would they let the families know? How was I going to know when it was safe to be outside again? How could I know ANYTHING? It was a rare feeling I hadn’t experienced prior…I didn’t know what to do. I quickly began to get dressed, and planning for the fact the day before me was unknown. The rallies were supposed to begin at 1pm, right after prayers at the mosques. So much I didn’t understand. So much I wish I could.

Church was almost empty... clearly, something was up. Because we live north of downtown, we thought we may be able to get a hot lunch in at a restaurant before getting “locked” indoors. As we enjoyed our food, the tv blaired with news displaying pictures of riots and angry police. It seemed across the world, when in reality, it was just across town…like 12 miles away. At one point, a table of customers near us turned the tv to face them, I quickly asked them to move it back so we too could see what was going on. They obliged.

Pastor and his wife invited me to come over so I wouldn’t be alone. As they drove me toward my flat to pick up my things, barricades stretched across streets preventing any crossing of traffic. Men standing side by side formed a wall, at all the key entrances to my street. How was I supposed to get home? Hundreds of security men with masks and shields lined the entrances of my neighborhood around the block and across major highways. I guess this was due to the fact that the presidential compound is right around the corner form me. Detour after detour prevented pastor from getting home. It was best for them to leave their car, and walk. As we crossed, I noticed the security officers were tense…I didn’t deal with the usual comments and flirting…they were very focused on their duty.

As we arrived in their flat we immediately turned on CNN. Having our access to cell phones and internet cut had left our minds in a total state of perpetual curiosity. There we were, in the middle of everything going on, yet relying on CNN for our information. For 11 hrs straight, we sat there, our eyes glued to the tv. President Mubarak finally made an appearance 7 hrs after he was scheduled to address the Egyptian people. As we listened to his words and read the cold expression on his face, we could see he was ticked…not backing down, as he fed his audience of hopeful Egyptians loads of fluff. “Uh oh” we thought, as he was wrapping up. That is NOT going to do it, the people in this country will take that as a slap in the face. And they did.

Curfew had been set for 4pm, so the next morning we headed out to pick up some items at the grocery store on the corner. As we slid through the chaos of an obviously panicked group of shoppers, things felt tense. People were buying everything they could get their hands on. Amidst the commotion and confusion my cell phone rang…phones were back on! It was my boss. “Where are you?!” she said urgently. “In the grocery store, why?” I calmly replied. I sensed she was calling to alert me about something.” It’s getting bad,” she stated. “They are looting. Some of the biggest shopping centers in Cairo and Alexandria have been looted and burned.” There was no police presence on the streets of Cairo…

I felt the need to drop by my flat a few blocks away to check in on things. As we rounded the corner, there right at the end of my road stood military tanks. The military had arrived and set up camp right next to my flat. As we walked through the barricades of military guards, I noticed a calmness in my neighborhood that wasn’t normal. Then, I heard a loud commotion. I searched for where the noise was coming from and quickly realized a mob had formed around the bread stand across the street from my building. People were angry, shouting…there was not bread. This made me feel uneasy. If food was already running out, then it probably was an indication that things were progressing quicker than anticipated.

We made our way back to Pastor’s house where we continued to watch CNN. As night fell and the curfew was being enforced, the only sounds we heard were tanks moving across the street. Eerie. I headed out to the 8th floor balcony to get some fresh air when my phone rang again. “You aren’t alone, are you?!” the voice on the other end frantically stated? “I am not,” I replied, yet slightly startled by the tone. “Why?” I asked. “You don’t know?” she replied. “Know what?” I said. “What is going on???” “Go look down at your street,” she said. As I leaned over the balcony I saw groups of men armed with sticks and knives pacing in front of our buildings and on all the surrounding corners. “Do you see them?” she asked. “How did you know?” I replied. She continued to explain to me that groups of neighborhood watch gangs had formed all across Cairo to protect their families from the newly escaped prisoners and looters swarming the streets. They built barricades with stones, ladders, and barrels to keep cars from driving through.

As the evening proceeded, fires were popping up in various locations where the men were stationed to guard our buildings. They weren’t planning on getting much sleep. I headed to bed only to be suddenly awoken at 2am to blood curdling screams, the shouting of a mob of people, and gun shots. In unison, pastor, his wife and I dashed to the balcony to see what the commotion was about. I stood frozen, as gun shots were fired just below us. “Stand back,” pastor’s wife said. “Bullets can ricochet.” We were terrified. Never had I ever experienced this feeling of total chaos right on my doorstep. Things were spiraling out of control, and there were not police to protect us. The balconies across from us were packed with anxious spectators fearful of the sight of commotion symbolizing the shift in stability of their once safe neighborhood. Nobody knew what to do.

Over the course of the next few days, we were on curfew, only able to be out for certain allotted hours per day. With limited minutes on my cell phone, I was in constant communication with my daddy and one of my bosses here, who is currently in the states. The decision was made late Tuesday night that it was indeed time for me to leave. I awoke early Wednesday morning to beautiful sunshine. But it was certainly a sad feeling to head over to my flat to pack up, not knowing how long I would be gone.

Some gracious friends in Prague opened their home to me, and I arrived late Wednesday evening.

Still a lot I am unsure of, but resting in His hands is where I will remain.