Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Last Day in Cairo

My last day in Cairo, there was an attempted coup d'etat, apparently, by Mubarak's Republican Guard. The four top men under the reviled former Minister of the Interior were arrested on charges of ordering the murderous horse-and-camel attack on peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir on the day that came to be known as "the battle of the camel". Various business tycoons/former ministers had their assets frozen; some were in jail.
Meantime, I was trying to find one of the crescent/cross pendants I'd seen worn as a symbol of Muslim/Christian solidarity. I tried several shops on my island neighborhood of Zamalek; many of them were closed, unusually, and there seemed to be unusual tension among the soldiers guarding the various embassies, particularly the Libyan on the next block. Following up on a tip, I went looking for the elusive pendant in a hole-in-wall shop down a tiny winding alley known only to a few Zamalek residents. It was eerily deserted, and I jumped when I heard a voice behind me; but it was only Ayman, a young carpenter who has done work for me. "Did you come looking for me?" he asked. When I explained my errand, he told me all the shops were closed.
The next day, on the long trip home to N. Carolina, you are met everywhere by references to the new Egypt. Boarding yet another flight in Paris, the security agent at the gate asks if I had been in Egypt for the events, and adds "shukran", (thank you in Arabic) as he hands me back my passport. The passport control agent at Atlanta remarks, "it must have been pretty hot in Cairo there for a while, but things have calmed down, haven't they."
I find a stack of magazines among the humongous pile of mail on my kitchen table at home, and as I flip through a Glamour magazine, I see that Egyptian women demonstrators have made it on the list of year's most glamorous under the heading: brave glamour.
But the threads of N. Carolina life must be picked up. I find a voice mail requesting a pre-interview phone call for Frank Stasio's radio program. And this morning, jet lag or no, I have to go to Duke to meet a French author whose visit I helped organize for Alliance francaise.
And the elusive pendant? I wasn't able to buy one before I left, but a friend who knew I was looking for it immediately insisted I take hers, and dropped it off for me before I left Cairo. That's Egyptians for you.

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