Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Be Kind to One Another

"Be Kind to One Another" - Ellen Degenres sign off message on her talk show

When we are invited to someone's home, most of us (if not all of us) are on our best behavior. We show respect and decorum towards our hosts. We use "indoor" voices when conversing. We don't track mud all over the carpet or deliberately break the china. When offered refreshments, we cordially accept and curb our eating to ensure that there's enough food to go around. We don't get into fist fights with other guests, despite how annoying they might be. We make an effort to be polite and pleasant.

As humans, we are all guests in this world, yet we don't act accordingly. We devour resources with no consideration for others, not even future generations. We pollute and wreck havoc on the environment in search of convenience and ease. We have lost all sense of right and wrong. We continually insult our host by continuously rampaging through life.

One behavior does not absolve the rest. How we act publicly should not be disassociated from how we act privately. As a guest at a dinner party, we act politely because we care about the opinion of others. When we leave a party, we don't want the rest of the guests to think that we were rude or gruff. So, we regulate our behavior accordingly. What will be said about us when we leave the Biggest Party of all? Will we be remembered as trust worthy, honest, deceitful? Will our children have clean air and water to enjoy all the conveniences we take for granted? Why aren't we thinking about these lasting impressions as much as we think about social decorum, which is eroding in and of it's self.

What a life we live where we leave bad impression wherever we go. Our impact will linger after we are gone. What a life we live where we can't even bother to be kind, to be polite, to be charitable. What a life we live where senior citizens are bullied and discriminated against because they are old. What a life we'll live when future generations, who grew up with a sense of entitlement, will take over. What kind of life do we live ?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Micro Story - Blue Light

I'm walking along 34th street on my way to Penn Station. The sun has set and twilight is upon me. I look up and see a faint ice blue light dancing in the horizon. I squint my eyes to get a better look, but I can't make out the image. It looks like a radioactive firefly. The perfect round circumference is too uniform to be the flame of a lighter. Maybe it's a bee on a tiny flying motorcycle with an LED light. 

The illuminated dot and I are walking towards each other, yet it doesn't grow bigger as it approaches. I quicken my pace in haste to discover what it is. Ten meters away, I see that the dot is at the tip of a long metal cylinder cradled between impeccably manicured fingers. A woman is holding an electronic cigarette. Her hand rapidly moves to and from her lips with a graceful flick of the wrist. Her arm is raised in a permanent V, with the elbow hovering a foot away from her body, and her nose points to the sky, signaling, "Look at me with my e-cig. I'm so hip."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Beauty in midst of Disarray

I've been back in Egypt for three months now. It has been a tiring process of adjustment and assimilation resistance. Somehow Egyptians are more tolerant of my peculiar personality than before. Though unjustifiable, for I have not changed at all. I suppose I'm much less edited and thus amplified, but I am the same person I have always been.

I must admit , I'm finding it difficult to return to the state of contentment I inhibited before leaving. I never fitted in with society's definitions of who I should be and how I should behave. I've never been happy, living in Egypt. I hate the dust and crowds. Very few things brought me genuine happiness. These things revolved around certain people. But, beyond them, I merely existed. I went through the motions everyday because I had no other choice. My only solace of satisfaction and self actualization came from work. The only beauty I perceived was watching my niece and nephews morph into human beings. I was never truthfully happy, only content. That was my life in Egypt. I had grown to accept it for what it was. I lived one day at a time.

Moving to New York, I found new avenues that excited and motivated me to live. My job there played no role. It was tedious and mind numbingly boring. But it didn't matter. Fulfillment came from else where. My colleagues were an amazing wonderful group of people. I enjoyed their company profusely. I looked forward to spending time with them every week. Most importantly, I'd eagerly await the weekends. It's in those forty eight hours that I truly lived. I divided my time between choirs and fun. I read books and wrote stores. I watched films and went to the theater. I walked around New York and enjoyed the scenery. I took in nature and people watched. It was a beautiful serene interlude. I will, forever, dearly hold those two and half years in my heart. I look back on those times, mesmerize, cry and smile.

My move away from Egypt was a lifestyle change. I exercised more. I ate healthier. I met new people. I made new friends. Everything I could not and cannot do in Egypt. Everything that makes me happy and I no longer have in my life.

The choice to move back was a rational one. I had my reasons. I do not regret it. But, I'd like to retain some of my New York being. I enjoyed being happy. Mere contentment is unacceptable. I have boxed my professional life in a 9-to-5 window. I refuse to carry my job around with me all the time. Once I step over the office's threshold, I shun all worries. It hasn't been easy, but I persist. I'd like to maintain a healthy diet. Something that has proven more difficult to do. There isn't an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. My roommates deplete my food stock. I want to continue writing, but inspiration is fleeting, as is the solitude necessary for the writing process (just had an argument with my mother to explain to her that I need to be left alone while writing). So far, I've been unsuccessful at maintaining a happy lifestyle. But I haven't given up hope.

The theater is the one true thing I miss the most about New York, together with green grass and donuts and independent bookstores and a bunch of other things. There's something electrifying about live performances. The energy from the stage is contagious. There's inherent beauty in witnessing artists creating art. In an attempt to retain that beauty, I attended a Harp recital at Cairo's Opera House. Despite the misery associated with purchasing tickets and battling God awful traffic during rush hour, the concert lifted my spirits. It was like finding a radiant rose in the middle of a garbage dump.

The performance was held in a makeshift open area stage on a Wednesday evening, early September. Temperatures were too high to accommodate for outdoor activities. The musicians melted under the added heat of spot lights. We sat on bare boned banquet chairs that were very uncomfortable. The audience unapologetically chatted amongst themselves during the performance. Many people popped out of their seats to get a better vantage point for their smart phone cameras. Despite all this, the musicians, centered around Dr. Manal Mohei El Din and her harp, closed their eyes and lost themselves in the music. Their heads swayed to the rhythm. Their energy infected the audience, who soon enough clapped along with the beat. A smile emerged from my lips. I forgot the heat. I forgot the traffic. I forgot contentment. I was happy for two hours.

The beauty of art is that performances stay with us. We reminisce the experience and relive the moment.  Every time I hear Elqamh El-Liela, I remember the recital and smile at the memory.

Since June 30th 2013, Egyptians have been bombarded with fund raising themes. Donate to Charity. Donate to rebuild the country and renew prosperity, despite paying ever increasing taxes. We are assaulted with beggars and hobos who have sprouted on every corner. These are all noble causes, but charity should also extend to one's self. Donate an evening to yourself. Experience art and be touched by the performance. Support local artists and appreciate their work. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solidarity – Freedom For All


Solidarity - Union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests

In 2011 I made a conscience decision to leave Egypt because I had a premonition that sectarian rule will reign supreme. Not that I had the ability to see into the future, but my logic told me that Egyptians will elect parties running on a religious platform since it is easier to believe that a religious man can be trusted and will do the right thing, than to debate candidates and comprehend their ideologies. Logic also dictated that there is nothing holy about politics and that politicians hiding behind the cloak of righteousness and religion, whether be it a beard or a veil, are nothing more than a fox in sheep’s clothing. Thus I moved to the US.

While living in New York, I participated in stand-ins and protests against the Brotherhood (I will not associate my beloved religion with this group) because I firmly believed that they would infringe on the freedoms of our nation and that their only loyalty was to their group and no one else. I didn’t want my niece to grow up without the freedom to choose how she dressed, what she did with her body, and to be deprived of the chance to become anything she wanted to be.  Having moved away from the apex of events, I had a more objective view. I was liberated from the fear of a future lost and doomed destiny. This doesn’t mean that I was objective throughout the entire Jan 25 revolution, on the contrary. I was among the group of people marked with the moniker “The Party of the Couch – Hezeb El Kanaba”. I firmly stated that Mubarak wasn’t as bad of a tyrant as Tahrir painted him to be, and I still stand by this statement. Sequestered for 12 days in a small Cairo apartment with my mother, brother, sister, and her three young children, not knowing if I had a job after the curfew, not knowing what kind of future my niece and nephews would have, completely giving up on any kind of future for myself, I was appalled that a bunch of kids who did not work and thus didn’t pay taxes would demolish the country and bring it to a standstill. I feared a civil war. My world was shattered in a matter of days and I couldn’t envision a life beyond the moment. I wished someone would go down and just gathering everyone in the streets and reset Egypt back to my normal operating procedure. I didn’t care about the freedom of others as long as my status quo and the safety of my family were maintained.

While in New York, although my future was still MIA, I reflected on the situation more clearly. I am not going to justify my change in stance, for my convictions within 2011 were wrong. Yet, as much as I loathed the brotherhood and everything they stood for, I supported their freedom to practice politics in the state. I support the freedom of those who support the brotherhood as much as I support the freedom of those backing the army and Al Sisi. To me they are exactly the same. I roll my eyes at inane Facebook and Twitter comments, but I support the freedom of these people to express their point of views despite how stupid they seem to me. Although I was among those standing at Etihadyia on June 30, enjoying the festivities, I didn’t support the ouster of Morsi, as it didn’t help the implementation of democracy in the country. Yet, I was happy and relieved when he left and I can understand the elation of my friends still living in Egypt upon the departure of the brotherhood. I don’t support any criminal actions performed by the brotherhood’s leadership or members, or any citizen for that fact. I personally believed that Sisi remaining as minister of defense and a counter force to an elected president would have been better for the country, yet I respect the freedom of those who voted for him or Hamdeen, as well as the freedom of those who boycotted the entire process. I firmly believe that democracy represents the freedom of citizens to practice politics and participate in the process accordingly to their desires. I also believe that Freedom is absolute and cannot be segmented into acceptable freedoms and regulated ones.

With the ouster of Morsi and the ascendance of Sisi, I became somewhat optimistic. I saw a future beyond the moment. I admit that my optimism was attributed to pre-2011 status quo, yet the pragmatists in me wouldn’t rest on her laurels. I knew that Egypt will not rewind to a time before the revolution and that Sisi is not Mubarak. I was apprehensions because I didn’t know his political tendencies. I feel that he is leaning more towards a socialist state than capitalist. I fear protectionism of industries and nationalization of corporations akin of Nasser era. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that Egypt would revert to the worst of Nasserizm and Bushizm with the infringement of citizens’ basic freedom to peacefully protest, express their opinions, censorship of media, and intelligence surveillance of Egyptians.  We are being bullied by the state and the government. Within the last few months we have witness atrocities of the most cowardly nature. The cancelation of a satirical TV show or dramatic series seems a silly issue but it exhibits a weakness I wasn’t expecting of the Sisi regime. If the rulers’, government, and citizens cannot take criticism of any kind, how will we evolve.

Regardless of my opinions, whether agreement or disagreement, I call for the immediate release of activists, journalist, the deregulation of media, and the prosecution of any and every criminal activity that has been proven with concrete evidence beyond any doubt. If for anything, it will give the country a clean slate to start anew. If the president will not intervene, I call upon the constitutional court, namely Egypt’s only living former president Adly Mansour, to right the wrongs and to be our moral compass. To any Egyptian who calls for the right to vote, the right to a respectable existence, the right to safety and stability, we must all standup for what is just. For today the freedoms of someone external is being violated, tomorrow it will be yours.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Serenity Now - Egyptian Edition

Having moved back to Egypt, I've been observing the general atmosphere. Although I've only been here a week, yet not having the sanctuary of knowing that I'll soon retune to a place I prefer, I've become more attuned to my surroundings. I'm not going to catalogue everything that is wrong with the country, or compare it to the US. There's no benefit in doing either. This piece is rather a reflection on our ability as Egyptians to live in Egypt. 

In 2011, I made a conscious decision to leave the country. Everything bad, everything disgusting, everything appalling about Egyptians came out after Jan 25. Although, I willingly lived and worked in Egypt for the entirety of my adult life, the country - post Jan 25 - suffocated me. I decided to leave, in order to continue loving it. It make sense that all our bad habits would surface midst the turmoil Egypt is witness at the moment. When something boils at high temperatures, all impurities and imperfections rise to the top. Egypt has been simmering for the past twenty years. Hopefully we can skim off the layer of scum soon.

Now, after three years of toil, the country has digressed to the dark ages. The neglected streets, power outages, and exaggerated prices are reminiscence of the 80s. Yet, the worse thing about Egypt at the moment is the overwhelming sense of negativity that permeates the country. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look, every breath I breathe is saturated with negative vibes. Everyone I talk to, they are all complaining, all the time. Whatever happened to Al Hamed Lellah, Thank God. Do we have nothing for which we are thankful? I understand that Life's a Bitch, with a capital B. All of us endure the hardships of living in Egypt and life in general. The last thing we need is to be burdened with other people's aliments. We can offload every once in a while, but our only dialogue has become a constant array of whining and moaning. If you are unfortunate enough to glimpse at local TV programs, you'll be assaulted with a slew of national "newah" complaints, or God awful soap operas. Our streets are void of smiles and laughter. If you greet someone with Al Salam Alaykoum, you either get a begrudged mumble in reply or nothing at all. When have we become such a miserable nation. The most enduring thing about Egyptians, was our ability to smile and make fun of dire situations.

I'm a firm believer in Karma. If we wallow in negativity, we'll only reap negativity. Life is too short to spend it being angry. I try to be positive as much as I can. I try to ignore all the little irritants and not bother myself. I try to maintain relationships with people I truly value and care for, and shun those who emit negative energy. Each morning, I'll try to start my day with reciting at least one positive thing about living in Egypt. I expect the list to be short and brief. I also expect it to grow with every sunrise. Hopefully, I'll discover things I couldn't see before. Hopefully, we, the Egyptians, will embrace happiness for a better future and remember that smiles and greetings are charities for our souls.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Kiss

Him: "Have you ever been kissed?"

Her: "Romantically?"

Him: "Is there another kind?"

Her: "Definitely. I've been kissed by my mother, my aunts, my uncles, and my niece and nephews. Of course, I have to coerce them into kissing me. They oblige me for the moment, yet they're getting at the age where kissing will not be an option."

Him: "I meant romantically. Have you ever been lovingly kissed on the lips?"

Her: "No. I have never been kissed 'lovingly' on the lips."

Him: "May I kiss you?"

Her: "What? No! Why? What? Do you want to kiss me?"

Him: "I think it's such a waste to go through life not knowing how it feels to be kissed."

Her: ................................

Him: "I'm sorry if I have upset you. I didn't mean to."

Her: "No, I'm not upset. I'm just looking for the appropriate words. You seem to be coming from a sincere place. But, I don't want my first kiss to be out of pity. I want it to come from a place of passion, lust, and yearning. I want the moment our lips touch to be electrifying that it sends sock waves throughout my extremities and I collapse in his arms and have to peel myself away from him. I'm also not a fool, I know it probably won't happen like that. But when it does, if it does happen, I want it to be out of love, out of desire, not pity. Thank you for offering but I'm gonna have to pass."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daggers in my Heart

My only solace in life
Pain & suffering to suffice
An atonement, I'm still alive

Every day's a battle
That I survive
One breath at a time

Hope's darkness
Sucks me in, to begin
To find light at the end

No light is found
Air, space, time 
Are wasted 

I'd give my minutes to the ill
To bid their farewells
My days to the young
To remain sincere
My years to the wise
For humanity, to devise

My minutes, days & years are not mine
To give away
They're my burden
To bear
To carry
To despair
To stay

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ode to A Gray Pubic Hair

A few weeks before my thirty sixth birthday, I woke up at my usual time of 6:00 am. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, mid June. Sitting on the toilet and contemplating the day ahead, I looked down and there it was, a gray pubic hair. Instinctively I shouted at my crotch, " Nooooo ! This can't be happening. This is so fucked up. I haven't used you yet, you can't be aging !" 

I have never been obsessed with age, for it is but a number. Yet, I have always been amazed with the notion of growing older, growing up. I remember the first time someone bestowed me with the ominous "ma'am". It was physically painful. I swore to never utter the word. Even if the woman I addressed was a hundred years old, I'd refer to her as Miss, and hopefully people will repay me in kindness. My niece and nephews call me by my first name, unadorned with any title. I actually cringe when called auntie by some misguided youth. It's not that I have no desire to be a ma'am or auntie, I simply don't feel like one. I never did.

I was in the fifth grade when the idea of elderliness first dawned on me. Meeting my best friends during recess, I kept tell them that, " We're in the FIFTH grade! I can't believe that we are in the fifth grade. This is so huge." They didn't respond with words, they just gave me what-the-fuck looks. Still, in the feeble mind of an eleven year old girl, fifth grade somehow amounted to the threshold of adulthood. It marked a point of no return, where all innocence was lost amidst the hardship of life. I can't help but wonder if certain milestones change who we grow up to be. I'm inclined to believe this is true. I wonder how different I'd be had I married and became a mother, had I studied Literature instead of Management, or had I stayed in touch with my childhood friends. The possibilities are limitless.

As the years passed, I didn't put much thought into aging. I didn't mind the additional responsibilities that came with each birthday. Yet, I desponded at the external displays of maturity we were expected to exhibit. Apparently adolescent young ladies could no longer have pig tails or wear jeans and sneakers everywhere. All of a sudden I was expected to have bangs and don skirts, stockings and high heels for crying out loud. The ability to balance one's self in high heels is allegedly a god-given gift to any woman. I acquiesced for a while until I discovered my own sense of style and confidence to dress for myself and not others. And yes, I have a special place in my heart for stilettos.

My family didn't make a huge deal out of birthdays. Nevertheless, I got a somewhat shindig for my sixteenth. I had a couple of friends over for cake and a bit of dancing. Although I turned sixteen that day, I didn't feel any different than I did at fourteen. Something must had been wrong with me. I was never a youthful person. I opted out of parties for the company of films and books. I was more at ease with my older sister and her friends than kids my own age. I always amused that I had an old soul. Yet, in my heart of hearts I knew that I was an eternal six year old. If I could, I would dress in nothing but shorts and t-shirts. I'd run everywhere instead of walk, and I'd skip into work every morning. I've always felt like this, regardless of my age. Thus my confusion in attempting to reconcile with the physical manifestation of my aging body.

I'm not the same person I was a year ago. I know that. I'm not the same person I was in college either. For one thing, I can hold my own in any discussion on most subjects, or at least I can fake interest.I have discovered my self esteem and can admit mistakes and defeat with grace. I'm at ease with who I am. However, each wrinkle that appears on my brow fills my heart with dread that my body is conspiring against me. Now, that I have finally learned how to enjoy life, my body is getting in the way. It's becoming a hindrance. I can no longer read for hours on end without getting glass-burns (red irritation on my nose where my glasses rest). I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without taking a moment to catch my breathe. I can't be outside without sunblock. I reaped what I sowed. I abused my body when I was younger. I neglected to exercise and indulged in every unhealthy food choice available. And for that, I'm truly sorry. I vow to turn back time as much as I can. I have commenced my first every beauty regime of facial cremes and body-basting lotions. I workout on regular bases, and eat consciously. Most importantly, I allow myself to embrace happiness where ever I may find it. I allow myself to laugh without the concern of crowfeet. I allow myself , a well-read perpetual six year old silly old fart with a decaying molecular structure, to be the person I am without loathing or judgement. I'll never be able to align the internal and eternal me with my external self, and that's just fine. For I am who I am and will always be.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Chance Encounter

This is my original story chronicling how a Christmas holiday spent exploring NYC helped me cope with the emotional turmoil of leaving my home and family in Egypt after the Arab Spring.



A Chance Encounter
By: Amira Badawey
All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standing here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’ it’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’ he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe I hate to go

Leaving on a Jet Plan echoed in my head while I packed my life into two suitcases. I was preparing to leave my home, my family, my country and move to the US. I sorted through my belongings, selecting what to take. I wept, knowing that I’d be leaving behind loved ones, a lifetime of memories, and a future of dreams.

Hard work always pays off, or so we’re told. Study diligently and you are rewarded with high grades. Put in the time and effort at work and you get a promotion. Yet, a single incident can eradicate all the hard work and in a heartbeat you lose everything. One of the first phrases our parents teach us in Egypt is “In Shaa Allah”, if God is willing. Can you take us to the amusement park? In Shaa Allah. Can I get more allowance for doing the dishes? In Shaa Allah. We learn early on that we are not in control of our destinies, for everything is by God’s will. Nevertheless, we’re expected to strive at achieving life’s rewards. We must work tirelessly and maintain the patience of Job. When the coveted promotion goes to the boss’s inept nephew, people condole us with “God wasn’t willing for it to happen. He has something better in store for you.” When we lose everything we’ve worked for, all our hopes, all our reasons for being, it is God’s will. We are helpless. We can only pick ourselves up and start over, while thanking God for his mercy, for we are better off than others. Mourning our loss is a sin. “Do you object to God’s will?” we are accused, “This is a test. Patience and perseverance will get you through. God will reward you, if not in life, then in the afterlife.” We are programmed to endure hardship with a sliver of hope for a reward after death. 

Spring is a time for blossoming and prosperity. However, the Arab Spring hit Egypt like a hurricane, destroying everything in its path. The revolutionists wanted to dispose of the country in its entirety and start anew. The economy and every other domestic system crumbled with the crush of the political structure. The only form of communication to survive the tumultuous birth of democracy was argument. Everyone was fighting with everyone. If you didn’t wholeheartedly support the revolution, then you were against it. If you dared to criticize the situation, you were pinned with a scarlet letter of traitor, democracy hater. Egyptians only saw the world in black and white. White being their opinions and black was all the others, the naysayers. I had lost my country, my job and life savings were soon to follow. I sought refuge in leaving Egypt, while I still loved it. As I stepped off the plane at JFK with a tear stained heart, I was certain that I would fall apart after a few weeks. Yet, I survived the first year and was planning a vacation. 

For the past twenty years, I had been the good student, the obedient daughter and diligent employee. I was exhausted, always rushing to meet deadlines and working tirelessly to secure my career. I continuously did what I was supposed to do, when I was supposed to do it. And In the process, I became dull and humorless. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed out loud, the last time I played hooky to go to the movies, or the last time I merely had fun for the sake of having fun. I decided to spend Christmas break in New York and enjoy myself as much as I could. Yet, solitary tourism was a grim notion. Not having someone to remind me of the memories, someone to smile with over the mishaps was disheartening. My insecurities about being a thirty-seven year old single woman unfolded. The thought of spending ten days with just me, and no other human contact, was daunting. Surprisingly, I received a message from a friend, Magdy, saying that he would be in Philadelphia for the holidays and might come into the city for a quick visit. 

***

On The night before the beginning of my vacation, I was as excited as a child on her first day of school. I woke up the next day with a smile on my face as I rushed through my morning routine, eager to get to the city as soon as possible and rendezvous with Magdy.

I arrived at Penn Station at 8:30 am. The streets weren’t yet littered with tourist. I leisurely walked around without fear of stumbling over sightseers. Hidden snuggly in my jacket was a faithful travel companion, my digital camera. I took it out and captured the memories for future returns. I photographed Macy’s window displays along 34th street, the statue at Herald Square, the Christmas tree at Bryant Park, Radio City Hall, the enormous holiday decorations lining 6th avenue, and the Cartier store disguised as a gold and red glittery gift. I spent the majority of the day roaming Rockefeller Plaza. I enjoyed chocolate dipped macaroons from Godiva. I browsed the merchandize at the NBC experience store, reminiscing about Seinfeld and Friends. I admired the Chinese silk tunics on display at the MET shop and scrutinized the overly priced Egyptian memorabilia. I obsessively glanced at my phone, checking for missed calls or text messages, although I knew there were none. “This is ridiculous”, I thought, “Am I expected to spend the entire day tethered to my phone, hoping it’ll ring?” I decided to call Magdy. I looked up the familiar number and dialed. The phone rang for a while and then it went to voice mail. I left a message, 

“Hi! This is Amira. I just wanted to let you know that I’m already in the city. So call me when you get in and we can meet up, . . . or whatever works for you. . . . um. Okay, looking forward to seeing you. Byeeee.” 

I wondered aimlessly around the Plaza. With nothing better to do, I decided to ascend Rockefeller Center to the Top of The Rock and observe Manhattan. 

It was a sunless New York winter day with clear skies. I could see as far as the George Washington Bridge. Forgetting my fear of heights, I surveyed the magnificent Manhattan horizon. It is always the unexpected that brings so much joy. If Magdy hadn’t stood me up, I would’ve missed the best view of New York City. I sat on a large leather bench and took in the sight. The sheer size of Central Park was overpowering. Although it looked more like a winter horror than wonder land, it was captivating. As I rode down the psychedelic elevator, I checked my phone. There were still no messages, but to my surprise almost ninety minutes had passed. My ticket included admissions to MoMA. I wasn’t sure if Magdy was coming. Ever the planner and always the hopeful, I convinced myself to call him one last time. There was no answer. I reached for my guidebook and headed north on 6th Ave in search of the modern arts.

I started on the last floor of MoMA and worked my way down. I looked at exhibits and paused on occasion to read the descriptive plaques. My heart wasn’t really into it, until I came across “The Scream”. I couldn’t stop staring at the painting. It was smaller than I expected, yet quite poignant in the expression of agony. The distorted face conveyed congealed shock, pain and fear. I could’ve been looking into a mirror. During my first year in New York, I was overwhelmed with the newness of the experience. I missed my family and the familiarity of little things like the metrics system and Celsius degrees. I missed Egyptian food I rarely ate but always had the convenience of consuming when I got the urge. I frequently ended in bed, crying and catching my breath between sobs. Washing away the tears, I was always surprised by the person staring back in the mirror. I didn’t recognize myself. I was a stranger. An old stranger agonizing over what the future might hold. “The Scream” evoked all those tearful nights.

Upon exiting MoMA, I walked straight to Penn station. It was early, not yet dark, but I had no desire to remain in Manhattan. I wasn’t hungry, despite only eating the macaroons. It’s amusing how things changed over the course of the day, how harshly they turned from sweet to sour, from light to dark. My feelings were dark, a mixture of blue sadness, black anger, and gray melancholy. I was homesick. I was lonely. I was angry for being homesick and lonely. As the train moved away from Manhattan and back to Long Island, my disposition darkened with the skies.

***

I had planned to see a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the next day, but I wasn’t in the mood. I decided to stay in and watch TV. The rest of the holiday wasn’t any better. Every morning, I forced myself to get out of bed, to get dressed and do something, anything. Every second, I forced myself to breathe in and breathe out.  I saw a couple of movies and I caught a cold. I went to an outlet mall seeking retail therapy to alleviate my somber trance, but to no avail. Each evening, I had dinner in bed and counted the days until the end of my self-induced sequester.

On the last Saturday, I had a ticket to see The Nutcracker. Lincoln Center was a vision out of the enchanted forest. Snowflakes cascaded onto the fountain and an animated toy train circled a large Christmas tree atop Avery Fisher Hall. I stood outside admiring the view. My mood lightened as I watched children catch snowflakes in their mouths and tourists pose for photographs. Entering the David E. Koch Theater, a smile emerged and remained plastered across my face throughout the entire performance. My joy didn’t deflate during intermission. Nestled squarely in the middle of a bank of seats, I was privy to the interactions of those around me. I sat in my place happily thumbing through the playbill and eavesdropping on their conversations. As the final act came to an end, I jumped out of my seat with jubilance and applauded with all my might. I understood why The Nutcracker was a cherished Christmas tradition and why families continue to attend the performance whether with their six year old daughters or grown sons. Clara and Fritz invite us to venture to their amazing dreamland, where gingerbread soldiers battle mice and little girls are crowned princesses of the Sugar Plums. A land we can revisit as often as we please as long as we hold the memory of The Nutcracker in our hearts. A land I was fortunate enough to witness in all the glory of the New York City Ballet.

I woke up the next day still basking in a dreamy state. My sadness, anguish and melancholy were fading, not so much for the imminent end of the vacation but rather the joyful aftertaste of The Nutcracker. I resolved to spend the day in my small town of Rockville Center, sleeping in, checking Facebook and Twitter, and eating at a local diner. 

One topic in particular was trending in the Egyptian Twitterverse that day. The country’s political unrest had devastatingly devalued the local currency. The elected government did nothing to rectify the situation. Instead, they adopted a passive attitude, blaming the old regime and never putting any solutions forward. Everyone was tweeting about the economy free fall. Comprehending the complicated tapestry of Egypt’s infant political system was as vexing as following the online rants. I escaped to Facebook, yet the Egyptian Pound’s plight followed me. The virtual arguments were taxing. Rather than justify their rational, people hurled insults at one another. I responded to tweets and posts with humor to deflect the tension. Soon after, I was frustrated and my earlier exuberance melted away. “To Hell with this”, I thought as I turned off my computer, got dressed and left for Manhattan. Not wanting to spend the day stewing in an endless political debate, I jumped on the train and retreated to New York City, hiding from the chirps of my twitter account.

I exited Penn Station and walked up the familiar path to Time Square. It was December 30th, preparations for the New Year celebration were underway. A large crystal ball hovered over the busy intersection of 7th avenue and 47th street. Two stages were erected to accommodate TV presenters. The area was packed with crowds of people. I turned left onto a side street to escape the masses. As I walked down 46th street, passing Broadway marquees, I noticed a poster promoting Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I bought a ticket for that night’s show. 

The play had nothing on Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. The cast stumbled around Maggie and Brick’s bed while shouting out their lines. The performance finally ended after three agonizing hours. As I stood up and turned around to put on my coat, I noticed James Franco in the seat behind me. I was overtaken with the urge to proclaim “That’s James Franco”, but to whom? Should I have told the couple to my left, who spent the entire time sipping wine and kissing? Should I have told the lady to my right who was chatting with her husband? I stood there looking left to right, following some invisible tennis match. On a whim, I decided to complement his acting, but for the love of God I couldn’t think of any other movie besides Pineapple Express. “You are a sophisticated thirty seven year old woman who enjoys the ballet and Tennessee Williams, how can you praise a stoner movie?” I scorned. After a while I finally remembered one of his worthier performances, thus saving face, but not for long. As I conjured up enough courage to approach him, his back was turned. That didn’t stop me, for I was hell bent on talking to him.  I tugged at his sleeve and he turned around. His face was five inches away, if I had tripped, I would have fallen into his arms. I gave him my most poised smile and said, “I liked you in Milk.” He nodded and replied with a silent thank you. For a sane person, that would have been enough. But I was running low on sanity that day. Instead of walking away, I gushed, “This is such a big deal. I have been in New York for a year and you are my first celebrity”. As soon as the words flew out of my mouth, remorse followed.  Concealing my blushed induced embarrassment, I looked down at the floor and wished him a happy holiday. Mr. Franco’s response was quite charming and gracious. He smiled, with all his face, and wished me happy holidays in return. Although he was smiling in amusement to my comic reaction, I chose to believe that he was simply smiling at me.

On my way back to Penn Station, I noticed a bounce in my step. I was dying to tell someone, anyone, that I had just met James Franco. I almost shouted it out to complete strangers. Skipping down 8th Avenue my smile widened with each leap. The darkness dissipated into New York’s aura. As the sadness, anger, and melancholy lifted, I could see more clearly and out in the obscure crowd I noticed a face, someone I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. She looked up and smiled. We ran towards each other and embraced. The first thing she said was, “Oh my God, you look so old.” This took me by surprise, for I had forgotten how painfully honest she can be. Then I remembered detecting glimpses of her throughout the week. She was present in my passion for The Nutcracker and disdain with the political discourse, in the ferociousness of my humorous tweets, the spontaneity of planlessly riding into the city that Sunday, and the giddiness of proclaiming My First Celebrity. At that moment, I decided to hold on to her, to hold on to me. A me that existed before the seriousness of life took over, before I was burdened with the responsibilities of making a living and riddled with the guilt of disappointing my mother for never marrying. A me who made her own luck. A me who allowed herself to be silly and relished the experience. Since 2011, I’d been living the life of a victim, grieving the loss of my country and predictability of my life. I’d been pursuing the negatives and neglecting the positives. By approaching James Franco, I took control of the situation. I changed it from “Seeing James Franco” to “Meeting James Franco”. I made that happen, and I can make my time on earth a great and memorable experience. I have learned to savior the little things in life and embrace happiness, even when it comes in the form of a chance encounter with James Franco and the pleasure of bragging about it to everyone I meet.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Frankenstonian Dictatorship

Late January 2014 I was on holiday in Egypt. Jet lagged and unable to sleep, I got hooked on BBC's Sherlock, watching all three seasons consecutively. I was already aware of Benedict Cumberbatch, for he was all over the place in 2013, yet I wasn't intrigued enough to learn his name. I regrettably referred to him as the English Cucumber. Sherlock was my tipping point. I have been on a Cumberbinge since.

It is such a shame that in the larger moviesphere, Mr. Cumberbatch might be known for Star Trek into the Darkness and The Fifth Estate. Not to fault his performance in either film, God knows I do not want to anger his Cumberbitches, but the man has such an artistic range with twists and turns that Khan or Assange do not do him justice, despite his tribute to both characters. A quick YouTube search returns remnants of amazing performances by Cumberbatch as he engages his entire faculties to convey sentiment. He breaks your heart with a single tear drop cascading down his long face. He imparts consonance with a constrained um and menace with a smirk. Those of you who know Benedict Cumberbatch only as Sherlock have simply tapped the tip of the iceberg.

While cyberstalking researching Mr. Cumberbatch, I came across Danny Boyle's Frankenstein. In 2011 Danny Boyle adapted the play for the Royal National Theater in London. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller portrayed Frankenstein and his creature simultaneously, iterating the roles each day. Available on YouTube are various clips on the making of the play and snippets of the performance. Reviews bestow special praise for Cumberbatch's creature as he was recognized with an Olivier Award for his performance. Upon watching the small clips, I was enraged, angered for not being blessed with the opportunity to experience Frankenstein live. The production was broadcasted in certain cinemas in limited release. I scoured the internet in search of future showings. My efforts were in vain. My heart sunk further, for it was set on seeing the full performance. Then I had an epiphany. If the play was shown in cinemas, thus it lives on film. Somewhere there was a digital copy of Danny Boyle's Frankenstein.

Try as I may, I couldn't find that lone digital survivor. Surely I could stream it! No, I could not. Surely I can get it on DVD! What ever the price, where ever the location, I did not mind. I would have paid hundreds of dollars and waited months just to see Cumberbatch's Creature, and possibly own it for life. But no DVD existed. I was beyond angry. I was annoyed. My desire to see the play intensified with each failed attempt to locate the filmed footage. I was insulted by the depravity of  accessing something I strongly desired. This took me back to a time not long ago when I was growing up in Egypt during the 80s and 90s. Back to a time when access to books and movies where restricted. If one could afford to buy books with bloated prices due to taxes and tariffs, one couldn't always find what they were looking for. The scarcity of bookstores, pre-Diwan, and censorship made it difficult to find certain materials. Even Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian Nobel laureate for literature, was not spared the scrutiny of narrow minded censors. Films were butchered and violated in the name of virtue. During my school days, video tapes smuggled from abroad were a hot commodity, with Silence of the Lambs and Basic Instincts at the top of everyone's choices. Yes, we congregated around a friend's entertainment center and giggled at the stylized sex scenes, but we also enjoyed an unadulterated version of Oliver Stone's JFK. With these forbidden fruits, my disdain for censorship was born. As years past, Egypt became enlightened and technology advanced. With satellite television and the internet, an abundance of content is available literally at my finger tips, but not Danny Boyle's Frankenstein.

The makers of the play state that their production was meant to be seen in the theater. Anything else diminishes from the experience. An opinion I can respect as their artistic prerogative. Yet, filming the play indicated that the creators intended for it to been seen in a medium other than a live performance. So, why limit it to a cinema screen? I have no doubt that the live performance was electrifying and moving in ways not transpired to remote viewership. In an interview, Miller states that the play was created in a manner to provide every member in the audience with the same experience, allowing Frankenstein and his creature to be viewed in the same light regardless of seat position. Am I to infer that a larger than life cinema projection provides a similar perspective. What difference does it make and why must the creators dictate how audiences enjoy their creation? Why film the play and not give access to the masses?

As a teenager I didn't have the means to travel to London, Paris or New York to view illustrated art in museums. The only resources I had were prints and art books. I learned early on that I had a proclivity for  Degas and Monet. Yet, nothing prepared me for Monet's magnificent  water lilies when I had the opportunity to see it in person years later. Visiting MoMA in Manhattan, I sat on a bench in front of the massive canvas, jaws wide open in awe. The visible brush strokes gave the drawing a third dimension, transporting me to the 1800s as I stood before the landscape, breathless. The years spent admiring a small print of the painting, inspired me to go to the museum in the first place. I am sure Mary Shelley intended for her Frankenstein to be read not seen, yet that did not stop her from attending theater productions of her master piece. Shakespeare is meant to be seen not read, yet who amongst us doesn't have a favorite play they secretly read every year. The creation of art is a selfish act. Artists seek to relate their point of view through their work. Once the art is publicly released, it belongs to the audience to do with it as they may. Artists cannot, nor should they, control how their work is received by others. Nowadays, there is so much talk about political democracy and freedom of speech. What about the freedom to experience beauty and to be inspired by it. Who will uphold such freedoms if not artists. So, to the creators of Danny Boyle's Frankenstein, I petition the release of this magnificent creature into society to be loved and to be marveled.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fall to Fly

I close my eyes and step off
Will I fly or will I fall?
Find myself not wondering which
Embrace both, life is what it is
We fly to fall and fall to rise
It happens, just a matter of time
Embrace both and move on
For the sun shines everyday
In clear skies or behind a cloud
The sun's there, it'll be found
Smiles endure pain, Agony endures joy
One without the other, doesn't exist
Together they intensify and persist
Joy Happiness Lonely Goodbyes
I am I and will always be until I die

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Are you a ball or a balloon ?

Last year, I enrolled in a creative writing class. I had several motives for approaching the class. I wanted to learn how to write fiction. I also hoped to meet new friends. During the class we developed inspirational lists, a rendition of topics from which we find inspirations for our stories. One of the lists was titled "Obsessions". Each student wrote down the topics they just couldn't stop thinking of. The instructor told us that Obsessions are good. As writers, we should fuel our obsessions as they generate the most passionate pieces.

My list of Obsessions contained many items, one of which was Loneliness. Having moved to the US two years ago, leaving behind my family and friends back home in Egypt, I have been struggling with the challenge of coping with the expansive alone time I have on my hands. This theme isn't quite new. For seven years, I have been preoccupied with mental reflections on being single, otherwise known as spinsterhood. This topic has often intertwined and interacted with Loneliness. I wasn't brave nor confident enough to blatantly incorporate these sentiments into my writing. I masked them behind characters in my stories and vague poems. I also started working on another project titled 'Notions Of Love', where I watch and review popular romance movies while analyzing how Hollywood distorted our perception of romance. I came to the realization that my true obsession is relationships. I'm intrigued to learn how relationships work, what shapes and controls interactions among people. My focus is on romantic relationships, namely how and why we fall in love. I can only infer that my interest in the subject matter steams from my lack of knowledge. I have never been in a romantic relationship and therefore they remain a mystery to me. I don't know how they work nor how people in a relationship act. I don't have any first hand knowledge. My hypothesis are based on the examination of other couples. Having stripped my obsession of any emotions -  moving from Loneliness to Romance to Human Relations, I can observe more clearly without the influence of pink or grey colored glasses. I suppose my interest also steams from a pure desire to learn and expunge my ignorance. I also harbor a deeper desire to decipher the puzzle of why some people remain coupleless.

Some of the questions that came to mind upon reflecting on human relations were - Why do we want to be in a relationship? Why do we tether our happiness and self worth to other people? Are we really designed to live in groups and to have a mate? Is it a genetic disposition or a result of cultural paradigms?  When we find that one person with whom we connect, do we become a ball or a balloon? Balls interact with humans, bounce off of them and gain momentum. They do roll away on occasions. Sometimes they find their way back and sometimes they are lost for ever. Balloons, on the other hand, must be tied down, otherwise they'll fly away from humans. Balloons spend their entire life trying to escape, until they finally give in and deflate. So are you a ball or a balloon? Maybe that explains why some of us remain single, forever. We are the tenacious balloons who can't be tied down. We enjoy roaming the world, flying high, and discovering ourselves along the journey.

So, when any of you fellow singletons get the 'Why Me?" blues (you know what I'm talking about), take a vibrant red balloon to the nearest park and let it loose. Sit back and watch it soar, gleefully prancing alone.