About My Blog

I Spent six weeks in Egypt before spending a year in Germany. This blog covers the best summer of my life. If you are looking for my posts while I was in Germany ask me, and I'll be happy to share them but I have been asked not to share them publicly. Feel free to visit my brothers blog of his year in Germany or my new blog

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What a day!

Today was one of the best days since getting here. No one part of my
day stuck out but as a whole it was just great. Every part of my day
was perfect including right now as I write in my airconditioned room
at midnight.

My ili class went really well and I really like what we are learning
now because it's really practical and simplifies life a thousand
times. Just in the last few days I feel that my Arabic has progressed
much much more. I talked to a cab driver today and he understood the
questions I asked and the statements I made. I think the real sign of
progress is that I can now pick out words of other peoples
conversations, the news, music, movies, etc. I still have difficulty
reading but every morning I practice as we drive to school. I think
that kids just learning to read in English whether they are American,
British, or foreigners should have to be driven around and read every
sign they can to the best of their ability. Traffic here is slow
enough that I can pick apart each letter and than say it aloud or in
my head as we roll by in the car. There are also enough signs here
that my morning reading sessions don't bore me and the words rarely
repeat. It doesn't help my vocabulary because many of the words are
streets, neighborhoods, companies, names and so on.

After ili I got my nap and I managed to get two and a half hours
before waking up to a text from georges our director. He asked us to
come downstairs for our afternoon class a bit early because Mina had
met some Iraqi refugees and invited them to speak with us. Mina has
an uncanny ability to meet people. I dint know how he does it but it
seems that every day he is talkling to someone new. I got firsthand
experience today watching Mina work hi magic on the cab drivers later
in the day. He not only got us three cabs in three minutes, he had
the cab drivers working together, and most importantly they were
calling him "Mina" within minutes. If anybody has trouble meeting
people them they really need to meet Mina and take lessons.

We came downstairs to the patio of the school at 3 30 and met with six
women (later a man joined the group). I would never have guessed that
they were Iraqi and not Egyptian but apparently it is very apparent to
Egyptians. The six women came from three families, a mother and
daughter, and two sets of sisters. The mother was a very strong woman
but she spoke kindly and softly. She was amazingly smart and well
spoken and obviously very caring but it was also very easy to see the
pain in her past as well as the five girls. Two of the girls were
among the prettiest girls I have ever seen and they all ranged from 14
to 18 and then the mother was probably in her fourties. The mother
said that they fled five years ago after the civil war broke out
between Sunnis and Shiites so the girls all had different experiences
and different memories. The mother spike the most and a few of the
girls spoke quite a bit and the rest were silent almost the entire
time. They spoke some English but georges and Mina still translated
our questions and their answers. At first we asked them questions
like how they felt about America, whether they would return, how life
was in Egypt, and how they felt before the US invasion. The responses
were emotional but eyeopening and surprising. It's hard to listen as
people talk calmly about leaving their homes for school and work and
seeing corpses on your sidewalk. Or how their father was kidnapped and
beaten by Shiites and even how one of the girls had a bag thrown over
her head and then was saved because of her screaming. They spoke
calmly about these obviously damaging events but afterwards some of us
agreed that we might have cried had we been in another setting. Some
of the most interesting comments were that they don hate americans,
and they don't blame americans for what is going on in their country
now. They say they rely on the united states to maintain the situation
and keep it from getting worse. This made me think about the US plans
to pull the troops out. I know that the war has gone on too long and
it's time for it to end but righ now the Iraqi people still at least
have respect for us and out military. If we pull out and leave them
without fulfilling their needs we help noone. To me it seems that the
people who are radically supportive of immediate withdrawal are just
just as detrimental as those who say we have to stay there until all
the WMDs are found and destroyed. Our relationship with the Iraqi
people is hanging on a thread but it's still possible to save it.
According to the women with whom we spoke Iran is the main threat and
main cause of violence in Iraq now. Someone asked if they were Sunni
or Shiite and she said "we don't know, we were always just Muslim, we
married Sunnis and Shiites and had Sunni and Shiite neighboors. Then
the influence of the Irani Shiite leaders reached Iraq and the civil
war began". This was surprising to hear but even more surprising to
hear was that they were threatened by both Sunnis and Shiites because
nobody knows who is who. This is obviously problematic and
detrimental to the well being of Iraq. The fact that Iraq has not had
a fully functioning government for four years is a huge issue, if the
US army leaves without a) sealing the borders and b) establishing a
government then it will easily fall under he control of Iran. The man
added at this point that they need a government and a leader not a
democracy. He explained that people must feel that they want a
democracy. Under saddam Hussein life was good, people followed rules
and Iraq was prosperous, everyone had enough money. He was a dictator
and he did torture people but he tortured guilty people and only
people with enough power to harm him. Now however people are tortured
everyday either by the US military, sunnis, Shiites, the "government"
etc. and these people don't even need to be guilty or even suspected,
just associated or have potential information. Towards the end they
all said that until the people demanded democracy they needed another
saddam Hussein. Someone who was strong and could make the sunnis and
Shiites stop fighting, who was respected by all the people and could
restore electricity and water.

This was so intriguing because in the US we are told that the people
hated saddam Hussein and that the people were miserable under him,
these were refugees, the outcasts of their country saying that they
needed him and wanted another leader like him. I understood everything
they said and when they talked about the people needing to want
democracy it struck me that our nation, the symbol of democracy,
became a democratic nation because the people wanted it, not because
someone came and said "you need a democracy". I've thought abou that
since then and I still can't think of nation, still existing where
democracy was established and maintained without the will o the
people. Ultimately it was one of the best discussions I had ever had
and I wish that all Americans had to do what we did today and talk to
the people of Iraq and understand what they want not why we want.

After asking our questions we invited them to ask us questions because
we felt bad bombarding them with question after question. It was
mostly the mother who asked questions and her questions were difficult
to answer. Our group is obviously educated and open enough to other
cultures that our answers did not reflect the answers the majority of
americans would give. We explained this time after time and they
seemed to understand. She asked questions about the hijab and how we
felt abou women wearing, how we feel about the Iraqi people, or
Muslims, and also about terrorism and torture. It was the second time
this week that someone mentioned America as terrorists and torturers
and I think that's something we don't realize. Operation Iraqi freedom
is an act of terrorism in their eyes, they combat us just as we would
combat terrorists on American soil. This doesn't mean that we have to
hit them harder because they hate us, it means we must respect them as
their own people and as a sovereign nation and they will not bother
us. It seems weird that she said she loved the united states but also
that she thought we were a terrorist nation. I think this respect is
something we as Americans don't have, we think all Muslims are
terrorists so we hate them or we hate them so we stereotype them all
as terrosists, one way or another this is wrong. As long as this
mindset remains in the US, the two sides can never reconcile. The
last thing I would lime to point out was her comment about Barack
Obama. She said that he is better than Bush but that he cared to much
about his military and not The situation in Iraq. With all of the
support for withdrawal, the focus of US efforts has been on the
military, and not on the Iraqi people, there are still conflicts in
the streets and homes without water and those should be the priorities
of out army not our own miltary. I do support a withdrawal of the
troops but after today I realize more the importance of staying there.

As my perfect day went on, Mina, 9 students, and myself visited a
church carved into the mountain near the citadel. The church was
amazing and a feat of architectural genius despite being naturally
formed. The pews were carved into the mountain just as the altars,
sculptures, and other statues were. The full church must have held
more than 5 000 people just in seats and I imagine many more stand. It
was empty when we were there but this did not detract from it's
magnifigance. I enjoyed the church but the highlight for me was the
neighboorhood it was situated in and the view from one of the
buildings in the complex. The neighboorhood is all Christian and among
the poorest in Cairo. The community is made up of garbage collectors
who sweep up, bag, pile, transport, sort, recycle, and burn all of
cairos trash. Trucks are seen with massive loads of trash tied down
and men are seen sweeping highways but until today I had no idea where
the trash went until I was on the roof ofthe building. Looking out of
Cairo starting at your toes and then lifting your head slowly you must
pass over a mile ove garbage before a trace of Cairo is seen through
the smog. This is not a sight seen by many tourists but it was
beautiful and disgusting. We looke over the community we had driven
through to get to the church and we realized that we hadn't driven
through a neighboorhood, ghetto, or slum, but an actuall garbage heap
which happened to have buildings on it. Garbage was on roofs, hanging
out of windows, being eaten by pigs and goats, sorted by children,
stacked, slept on, burned and just about anything else you could think
to do with trash. One roof had thirty goats on it and a pile of
natural waste which I suppose was their food. This wasn't a small
building either, it was at least 5 stories high and the lower levels
were also littered with trash. When I realized which community this
was I remembered something I had heard last fall about Egypt. When the
swine flu rolled around Egypt had the smart idea to kill all of it's
pigs, i thought at the time about how a seemingly educated country
could be so dumb as to think that the pigs were actually spreading the
disease. Turns out this country is smarter than I thought, as a 80%
Islamic country they have a Christian problem, one of the largest
communities of Christians in Egypt is this garbage community and guess
what their main source of income is. That's right, pigs. Last year
the roofs we saw now covered with goats would have been covered in
pigs. Mina explained that there is some speculation that the swine flu
and killing of the pigs was an act of terrorism agains the christians.
I remember PETA being angry at the slaughter but now I realize that
the US, UN, and every christian group should have been outraged as
well. I don't say that that is the exact truth but the reasoning
behind it makes complete sense.

This was my great day of discussion, sights, and reflection and it's
one of the best days of my life and I don't know how it could get
better. As I look at my clock now I see that I've been writing for
over and hour and twenty minutes and I just hope you all read more
quickly than I write. I'm going to Alexandria and Luxor this weekend
so I won't have Internet for a few days I don't think so this is my
last post until Monday. But I will try to have several posts about my
weekend. Until then dear reader....


Maisie Taibbi said...

I've been following your blog since you started writing... I think it's SO amazing what you're doing. Really inspirational. Give me a call when you get back; I'd love to see you.
Much love and GOOD LUCK,

Jan said...

I would need your number gurl!