Learning to Live Out a Blog Post

My thoughts are miles away in Cairo today as frequent contact with my daughter,  Annie, and other friends keeps us updated on the news that doesn’t make it to the paper.

For those who have missed some of the recent happenings, Egypt is once more on the front page of newspapers. The hope and unity from the Arab Spring are in question as discouragement of the ruling military has reached a breaking point. Thousands are demonstrating in Tahrir Square and the interim cabinet resigned yesterday.

Anytime you have a family member in another part of the world, particularly a close family member, you are more naturally drawn to that place. In our case, because Egypt was our home and two of our children have their precious “Certificates of Birth Abroad” from Cairo it is even more natural to have our hearts drawn toward the region.

It feels a bit like last January and my mother’s heart is finding it hard to concentrate. Annie can’t get to her apartment. The fighting is too close and the tear gas is too strong. Even as I write this, it feels a bit like fiction. What? The tear gas is too strong? My daughter can’t get home because the tear gas is too strong?? It sounds like I’m making this up! But I’m not! It’s real. It’s reality. And she is someway, somehow coping with the displacement and anxiety. She is staying with a friend just a few minutes away, but far enough to be safer.

Just as I’m concerned for Annie, Annie is concerned for her cat. Her cat is alone in the apartment and the food is gone. I get it. It’s those little things during times of displacement that can hit you the hardest. An animal that relies on you, and you paralyzed from outside circumstances, unable to help.

It’s times like this when I realize that I am called to live out my blog posts. It can be far easier to write about the God of the details, and far more difficult to live it. It is one thing to passionately speak of Capsules of Hope, or Connecting the Head and the Heart, or any number of other blog posts where I share my heart, but I’m not called to write alone. I’m called to live out what I believe, what I write.

So today I publicly claim how difficult it is to live out a blog post. But I also claim that even though it’s difficult to live it, I still believe that God is still the God of the details, God of the distracted and sometimes He is even the God of the blog post.

Casting a Stone

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe cast a stone of judgement in a sweeping indictment of all Egypt through an op-ed titled: “No rights for women; No freedom in a nation”.  With broad strokes he criticizes a country and a movement ending with this final prediction and judgement:

“The Egyptian uprising has inspired flights of excited rhetoric about freedom, reform, and a new beginning for Egypt. But the sickening assault on Logan is a reminder that much of Egypt’s cruelty and corruption had nothing to do with Mubarak or his regime. No nation or culture that subjects half its population to the degradation suffered by women in Egypt and so much of the Arab world can ever hope to rise to greatness.”

Contrast this with the voice of Nawaal el Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist who has been both a political prisoner and exiled from Egypt for years under Mubarak’s rule. Nawaal el Saadawi is not so pessimistic as the columnist and one can argue quite substantively that her knowledge of Egypt, Feminism, Women’s Roles, and the current events in Egypt surpass that of Jacoby’s.

“Women and girls are, beside the boys, are in the streets,” El Saadawi says. “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy, and a new constitution where there is no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslim and Christians, to change the system and to have real democracy.”

That Logan suffered a horrific indefensible act is undeniable; that it would be used as a tool and reason Egypt will never achieve democracy is also wrong. For those who want a more thoughtful response can I urge you to read this roundtable discussion by several young women in Cairo after seeing the movie 678.  I appreciate the honesty voiced at the beginning of the discussion by Kelsy “Sexual harassment happens everywhere, and that’s one thing I took from the movie, that we can’t blame ‘culture.’ This is not Egyptian ‘culture.’ Yes, it happens a lot in Egyptian society, but it’s not something that’s ingrained in the ethnic identity…this is a global thing and it happens everywhere and could happen to anyone.”

I too have lived in Egypt and have had my share of uncomfortable harassment. It isn’t right, and I don’t make light of it. I too have been in tears while walking in my Cairene neighborhood over the sense of vulnerability and shame that come from public harassment and touch.  The answer to the problem does not lie in ceasing to “walk in one’s neighborhood or to work” as Mary Roger’s suggests. In fact, the Egyptian film industry tackled this subject with a film released in January titled 678. Unfortunately Jacoby is either unaware of this film or chooses to ignore it.

With the stone that is cast is the unspoken message that America is free from exploitation and corruption, thus it is “more worthy” of democracy. This is a troubling assumption.  Whenever I turn on my television or pick up a magazine, there are examples of exploitation of women and it seems important to recognize that demeaning of women is far more insidious than inappropriate touch. Consider the perception of  many Muslim women about the way women in the west are treated from my post yesterday Challenging Assumptions. – “The perceived promiscuity, pornography, public indecency and lack of modesty were equal, in the eyes of those interviewed, to a degraded status for women.” If the columnist wants  to talk degradation of women, let’s be fair and not exempt America from this problem and the conversation that should surround the problem.

I’ll end with two statements, one paraphrased from Canonball : “It was reported this week that CBS correspondent Lara Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while in Egypt. Undeniably troubling news, but we must keep two things in mind. First, let’s hope (perhaps naively) that American media can resist sensationalism and avoid blowing this one incident into reports of how Tahrir Square was a place of unequivocal danger for women…As we’ve discussed here before, sexual harassment/assault in Egypt is a complex issue, so let’s hope that the high-profile nature of this incident doesn’t lead to a lot of unfounded generalizations.”

The last is a thoughtful paragraph from an article in Slate by Sarah Topol, that distinctly challenges the op-ed piece cited:  “Perhaps more important than if Tahrir changed men’s minds on harassment, it has obviously changed women’s concept of themselves. The protests empowered a generation of women who saw they could be taken seriously on a political stage that had previously been dominated by men. All of the women I speak to say they will fight harder for their political and gender rights. None of them are staying out of politics anymore.”

Readers – what do you think?  Would love to hear your opinion.

The Holy Gift of Laughter

One of the holiest women I have ever known did little with her life in terms of worldly success; her gift was that of bringing laughter with her wherever she went, no matter how dark or how grievous the occasion. Wherever she went, holy laughter was present to heal and redeem”. ~Madeleine L’Engle

Tahrir Square 2.1.11 courtesy of Christina Rizk

In a post that I wrote last week, when the uprising in Egypt had not yet gained the momentum or attention on the world stage that it now has, I spoke about the indomitable spirit of the Egyptian people voiced in the phrase “Tomorrow, God Willing!” Along with this I am always amazed at the good-spirited humor and laughter present in my interactions with Egyptians. Whether they are correcting my Arabic, telling a story, or describing daily life there is a lightness and humor that is ever-present.  Perhaps this humor has been present since the Ancient Egyptians lived royal lives and left a legacy of mummies and tombs or perhaps it’s more recent. Regardless, it is a gift.

One doesn’t have to look far to find things to complain about in Egypt, which is one of the reasons we are seeing a revolt. Dust is thick in the air, masses of people and noise are ever-present, the infrastructure could never be called either efficient or organized, and the country has been in a type of recession for years – but in the midst of this there is a remarkable spirit. That is why this humor and ability to laugh is so remarkable and makes Egypt a country that gets under your skin so you want to go back, and back, and back…

Reports from the ground confirmed this good will and humor that had been present in the anti-government protesters until Wednesday.  With the infiltration of pro-government counter protests bringing with them a violence and a questionable authenticity that spirit was severely challenged.  Hundreds wounded and we don’t know how many dead. A frantic call for medical supplies and people to Tahrir Square went out over social networks and gave a picture of the desperation of the wounded.  Friends and family(daughter) on the ground continue to express the need for Egypt to get a‘long overdue, more accountable, more democratic, and more socially conscious’ government.

The ability to laugh at life and laugh at and with each other is both holy and a healer. The ability to talk about experiences whether shared or otherwise  is restorative.  Unni Wikan ,who I have mentioned in the past, penned these words over 10 years ago but as I read them it feels like she wrote them recently:

“For the people I know in Cairo, life implies suffering and problems to a degree we can hardly fathom.  And yet they do not have enough with their own.  With them there are practically no limits to people’s willingness and ability to engage with one another.  Is it because they are mentally more resourceful than we are? have more time than they do? or more compassion of their fellow beings? The answer lies elsewhere, I believe. What they do have that makes a real difference is a conviction, a tried and true belief, in the frailty and fallibility of human beings. Whereas in my society, we stick to the pretension that being perfect is possible…”

As I think about these protests and the future for Egypt I know it  will take all the resources and resilience available

Tahrir Square 2.1.11 courtesy of http://christinarizk.virb.com/tahrir-square

to Egyptians to continue hope in these next days.  I am looking and longing for the day when Egyptians can once again express these gifts and experience the holy and healing power of humor, laughter, and talk.

Authors note: The book “Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art” by Madeleine L’Engle is where I first heard laughter described as a gift. I have a couple of people in my life who have this gift – the first being my husband, he is quick to see the humorous side of a situation and challenges me on my tendency towards over analyzing. The second is my friend Marty,  making cakes and playing games with people in Cairo  simultaneously keeping track of a revolution in her back yard and tanks going down her street.  A posting on her Facebook page says that Day 1 she made ‘Revolution Cake’;Day 2, ‘Curfew Cake’ and so on bringing a lightness in the midst of chaos. The third – my sister-in-law Carol.  I’d go do flood relief in Pakistan anytime with her by my side!