The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Life in Cairo

 Graffiti in Cairo: "Imagine Tomorrow." Photo by Parastou Hassouri. 

Graffiti in Cairo: "Imagine Tomorrow." Photo by Parastou Hassouri. 

the other day i walked down the street wearing a dress but it might as well have been a sign saying hurl abuse at me but don't you dare think about stopping or before you know it there'll be a voice in your ear telling you exactly what you are to them or a hand between your legs telling you exactly what they're going to do to you so shut your mouth and open your eyes and keep fucking walking, walk past the kid at your feet who hasn't eaten in three days selling tissues under a billboard that he can't read selling mansions where kids selling tissues aren't allowed to exist, past the building that casually leaned against its neighbor and the train that tripped and fell or flew and the prison where all your friends hang out, past the battles you thought were romantic once upon a time but turned out to be just as dismal as the soon-to-be-banned pop song blaring from the radios you can't shut out as you maneuver between cars that haven't moved for the past five hours and puppetmasters that haven't moved for the past five decades, past all the posturing and mediocrity and melodrama and even faster past all the absurdity and horror and heartbreak, skirt around the mounting piles of trash/teenagers being taught lessons at police stations in lieu of functional education systems, and while you're at it, you might as well pick up a state-authored paper from a dusty stack and catch up on what's happening in an alternate universe near you but be sure to avert your eyes and what remains of your heart from the actual news you can't access on the four hundred and twenty four blocked websites about a person being tortured for asking a question or taking a photo or wearing the wrong t-shirt or having an opinion or an imagination or some really shit luck, watch your step though for that dripping air-conditioner and collapsing bridge and animal carcass and particularly that stranger who doesn't know if he's more outraged at the idea that you appear to have a vagina and an undercut or a penis and multiple earrings, but you don't have time to wait for him to figure it out, you need to pick up a useless document signed by a man making ersatz peanuts even before they floated the currency who won't give it to you for a reason he won't tell you at an institution that will ensure that you are traumatized enough to never attempt to ask for it again, but don't panic, just take a fume-filled breath and pirouette around the brain that exploded on the sidewalk because it was shot for getting too close to the truth or maybe it just combusted spontaneously when it realized that it's trapped in a body that's trapped in a place where you're not allowed to think speak move touch sleep leave hope try share eat — if you can't afford it or if you happen to be hungry when the sun's out during the holy month of ramadan — hide fight rest gather breathe feel fuck act yell be dream heal dance die with any semblance of fucking peace, a foreign word reserved for mystical people (spies and whores, naturally) in faraway lands, all of whom, you are informed about fifty times a day, are conspiring to pillage the generous resources pouring out of the orifices of your three-thousand-year-old civilization like blood from that mosquito you killed on your thigh or from that woman who wanted to place flowers on a monument on the anniversary of a day you wish with everything you have you could forget, but you can't unlive unfeel unsee any of it, not even the fifteen minutes you spent skimming the hundreds of comments vilifying some kids who waved a rainbow flag at a concert that somehow still make you seethe and sigh and sink even though you'd think at this point in your life it wouldn't hurt this badly given that you already fucking know, goddammit, that almost everyone around you is unwavering in their conviction that what is different is sick and must die, but even that doesn't hurt as badly as realizing that the handful of people who don't think that are too broken to save people who are actually sick from dying, and so be prepared to spend a relatively alarming portion of your youth at burials where you're pointedly told not to grieve out loud because crying is of no help to the dead. praying, however, is encouraged at all times.

Habiba Effat (@HabibaEffat) is a copyeditor and an occasional writer with independent Egyptian journalism platform Mada Masr.

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