Tahrir Square, July 8, 2011

 

For three hours in the Square today, I handed out a referendum written by an artist. The sun was hard. In the morning, a big white canopy billowed above the garden in the center of the square. As I walked down Tahrir Street I saw it changing above the crowd. I went underneath in the evening. The fabric billowed in the wind. The tent took the shape of a garden pavilion. It changed into a parachute and then into a flower.

A man approaches me and asks me where I am from. “I am Egyptian,” I say. Looking at the papers in my hand, he says, “It’s not good that you are doing that.” The survey is called, “What does Tahrir want?”

I nod. “Ok.”

“But you are going to have trouble. Don’t be upset.”

“I’m not upset.” I show him my ID, and he says, “Keep it in your hand.”

“You shouldn’t be doing this. Someone, one of these people, could beat you.”

“Ok. Thanks.”

“The people in the Square, they don’t understand…you look…you should stand with your friends. Don’t be alone. Someone will beat you.”

Only later am I angry, because the great majority of people spoke to me in Arabic, taking me for an Arab; some spoke to me in English, taking me for a foreigner; nearly all of them spoke to me with respect. A few challenged me, and I responded, “All of this talk because of how I look?”

I talk to you under the white tent which moves like a sea above us. You say that your mother was a dark black woman, and her mother was light with green eyes. You say that everyone in Egypt looks different.

“Anyone can be Egyptian.”

A woman next to me says to a man that she is Egyptian. I am upset because I know that she is Italian.

“We forget about our diversity.”

I imagine a room covered in portraits of my beloved, and we call the room Cairo. I stay awake all night listening to men destroy it. Yes, I am concerned for the young boys, but I am also worried about the architecture.

When everyone leaves the streets, Midan Talaat Harb is the most beautiful place on earth. And Hoda Shaarawi Street is a pathway in a forest, where I walk amongst the jinn and the dogs.

 

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