In a book titled “Tomorrow, God Willing“ a Norwegian anthropologist writes from her experiences befriending a family in a poor neighborhood in Cairo. The book gives a portrayal of life in Cairo primarily through the perspective of Umm Ali (Mother of Ali) with others from the extended family lending their voices to the narrative. It is one of my favorite books for a variety of reasons, one of those being my love for the city of Cairo and Egyptians.
The prologue quotes Umm Ali saying: “I like talking with people, Talking together makes wise. Where had we humans been and what had we understood if we did not tell each other what each of us thinks and feels….it is a life necessity to be able to talk.”
She then proceeds to let the author enter her world, a world of loss and tragedy, poverty and joy, anger and love and then communicate those stories on paper. She gets the importance of ‘talk’ in communicating the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.
The back streets of Cairo are an unlikely setting and Umm Ali perhaps an unlikely source of wisdom, but wisdom it is. She viewed talking as a gift to “purge you of sorrow/anger and invigorate your soul”. This quote from an Egyptian woman living in poverty with no education. In light of a media frenzy over the power of words over people, Umm Ali recognized their power in the best way possible. To communicate in order to express her feelings and life story and in doing create understanding between people who don’t live or think in the same way that she or those around her do.
Cairo is a city of over 16 million people. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of stories but sometimes one story is all it takes to “make wise”.
- Egyptian Blogger’s Account of a Vigil in Cairo (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)