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Thursday, November 24, 2011

its hard to understand

It's hard to understand what's going on in Egypt right now. For days and days the police and the army have lobbed teargas canisters into crowds of protesters, the plume of smoke around Tahrir square now looks like normal everyday mist. The crowd of people is ever constant, when I go home they are there, when I come to work they are there. They see the sunrise and they see it set; they live under the glare of streetlights and television cameras. They organize field hospitals and sing freedoms songs, they accept donations and arrange things in such a way that those in most need get them first.

Hundreds of people injured, this is a huge number at least until you make your way down there and see the makeshift ambulances on their never-ending shift. At the worst of times two men per motorcycle race to the frontline, Mohamed Mahmud Street, on a bike pick up anyone who's fainted and bring them back to the square, they have enough time to put the body on a stretcher before they have to race back again. The traffic of these bikes is endless, they hoot and swerve and save all day long.There is a terrific clang at these times, the protesters beat out a tune on a metal railing, they pick up a chant and sing it aloud, they surge forward and ran backward. 

Chaos.

Then you walk down a couple of streets and there you find shops open. Enterprises with glass displays going on with the business of business. People walking to and from work, koshari being sold on the streets, taxi drivers haggling with fares. The metro is kept on. It has a stop right below Tahrir, one that leads to downtown. This is one of the busiest stops since it connects the two lines and leaves its passengers very close to the epicenter of Cairo commercial life. The crowds getting here are numerous, suffocating and sufficient enough to make you think there's nothing going on. Walking up the metro leads you to the first signs of protest, a wrinkling of the nose, people selling gas masks and in the first days of the protests a handout of vinegar to anyone who put their hand out. Some people are going to the protest some are going to work, to life, to live.
Calm.

I was in the office on Tuesday, the day of the biggest crowds and a TV was blaring right outside the door, carrying the sounds of Tahrir from less than a kilometer away to me. As I read about the protests and the protesters demands I could hear them come from the screen, loud, larger than loud, louder than life, the sing song continued. It ebbed and it flowed the beat of the drums the boom of the teargas canisters, anguish and defiance. But I was safe, less than a kilometer away I was safe. There's a beautiful garden that overlooks the Nile, it has benches strewn all over it, and it's across the Nile from Tahrir separated by a bridge made famous by its four lions.  the water flows ever so slowly, and there are falukas (boats) paddling up and down making a splash so small you can hardly hear it. vendors walk up and down selling sodas and water, there is always a group of young musicians strumming their guitars peacefully and playfully, I was here when my father called to see how I was, "don't worry am far from the square" I told him as I looked guiltily over and picked out the outlines of the entrance to the square. A place where there was no peace, people bleary eyed both from the sheer exhaustion of having stood there for days and days and the constant adrenaline rush that leaves your body sore and sorry.

There's a shisha cafe i love its near my office on my way to the metro, they see me and know exactly what to bring. It looks the same people sitting down smoking shisha and talking until you look closer and see the gas masks on their faces. There are gas masks everywhere now. On the metro, in the office, on the faces of little children, accompanying them are faces sprayed white. When the teargas gets too thick a white substance is sprayed on your face that works wonders, however it leaves a stain, its a reminder to all who see you that you were there. BOOM rang out the loudest sound i had ever heard, louder than a car backfire, louder than the volleying of a teargas canister and i was startled but life goes on, everyone was soon back to their pipes and so was I

Contrast.

It hasn't been a year since the eye of the world was last focused on Egypt; it hasn't been that long since pessimists said Mubarak would never step down, it hasn't been that long since the last round of 24 hour news coverage. It has been 10 months since the last regime cracked down on protesters so hard the world had to pick sides, it has been 10 months since the people of Egypt last took to the streets and didn't leave until their president did, it has been 10 months since they last had a shower of teargas so strong and long it felt like God was pouring it down and so they remember what to do. They and ask for donations of blankets for the cold, vinegar for the gas and blood for the sick. They set up field hospitals and send out field ambulances, they know what to do when the crowd starts to run, hold up your arms and say stop. It’s the same generation that went through this only ten months ago.

Ten months ago they had the army if not on their side at least on the governments, now they are calling for the resignation of the Field Marshall Tantawi. The army blames the police but the army is the government, if they're not the ones issuing the orders to fire all the teargas in the world into Cairo and Alexandria who is? If it wasn't the army who stormed Tahrir on Sunday dressed in military fatigues and carrying full riot gear, clearing away the square like only the threat of imminent violence can who was it?

And the square bleeds at the height of the clashes standing in one spot too long means you might faint, picking up a teargas canister and throwing it back is a sign of bravery and an inspiring act but its futility is also all too real as they are thrown so far back into the crowds all you do is transfer the gas. There were nurses everywhere lining Mohamed Mahmud then, they give out vinegar and a white liquid which when sprayed into the eyes takes the sting away immediately. There is determination in the air. Life does continue in the streets around downtown but it's not exactly the same as before. The streets are a little less crowded with people, they are quieter than usual. The hustle and bustle, the hooting of cars has faded away and been replaced by a sense of expectation the closer you come. Something is happening here and you can feel it.