The Bawwab's Daughter

I was staying with friends in Maadi, a noisy, dusty suburb south of Cairo. One of the most striking features of this neighborhood — actually its own city — is that many of the expats who live there persevere in the spurious claim that it is quieter and greener than the neighborhoods of the city center. In any case, there is no dispute about this: Maadi is far away from the city center and, unlike Cairo, no one would travel hundreds of miles just  to visit it. Despite my strong objections to the place, I was enjoying myself with my friends, sleeping late, staying up late on their terrace, smoking cigarettes and talking about how our lives were changing as we entered middle age. It helped that their beautiful child was often there to gleefully punctuate our conversation or to deflect it into gentler, brighter directions. It was not hard to forget that the country was in the midst of a revolution.

While I was staying there, I spent much of my time thinking about the past and comparing the present to before January 25. And then comparing everyone and everything — friendships, buildings, streets, music, food, air temperature — to how I remembered them to be 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, even 20 years before. I know it is wrong to judge current experiences by past ones. Invariably, the comparison is not generous and gets in the way of experiencing the present as it is. Yet, I found myself engaging in this behavior despite myself. I walked through city with a camera to record the changes. I talked with friends, and heard their stories about the revolution. I wrote these down and looked at the photographs and considered how malleable a city of concrete and flesh could be when time does its work. Though I considered some of these changes to be improvements, most seemed to be a loss: gone were the tram lines, one of the last urban links to the 1919 Revolution; gone was the Friday market in Imbaba with its incomparable displays and bargains; gone were some friends — this one emigrated to Spain (still owing me money), that one dead from lung cancer in his mid-40s. His death affected me more than I thought it would: I had no friend here who loved me more than him. (Read More)