A Child Of The Revolution

Whether she’s with her six-year-old brother, her mother or paternal grandmother; at home, in the playground, or the aquarium of Cairo’s Fish Garden; whether playful, grumpy, or getting ready for sleep, in the two years of her life Kismet has colored her environment with energy and surprise. Unaware of Cairo’s problems — congestion, pollution, religious extremism and political instability, let alone poverty and disorder — she appropriates home and city for her own immediate needs. Everything becomes a game in which she’s learning how to talk, but in the process, the things she describes, otherwise drab and melancholy, take on mystery and delight. [aesop_gallery id=”4847″] On 25 January 2011 we saw thousands upon thousands of young, unaffiliated people proclaiming that they were alive, against the odds. We became reborn activists, and for a brief moment, Tahrir Square promised us an implausibly desirable contemporary city: a place where we could be safe from honourable citizens and military abuses alike, granted the freedom of belief as well as the right to demonstrate. We dreamed of that city, and having witnessed people dying for it — so goes our fairy tale — it was difficult to let go of the dream. By November 24, 2012, however, when our Kismet arrived, tiny, wet and wide-eyed in her eagerness to engage, Tahrir Square had broken its promise. [aesop_gallery id=”4851″] I say “fairy tale,” because I’m no longer sure what people really died for. Can it be said that one died for the greater good, when the greater good itself is so riddled with contradiction? I say “fairy tale” also because I want to string the events I have witnessed into a bedtime story for Kismet: a way to explain how her mother and I participated in things being the way they are, to apologise creatively. At some level, our life together will always be shadowed by the fact that Baba and Mama, though never as mulishly unseeing as other activists of their generation, did contribute to the ousting of Mubarak. It will always be true that Kismet came into the world just as this historical achievement was revealing itself as no more than a turn for the worse, mere authority changing hands, making more room for sloganeering and violence, and for society to sink still lower. [aesop_gallery id=”4855″] Misogyny, tribalism and brute force are far more popular in Egypt than equality, institutionalism and reason. The Cairo of our dreams, like that of Ismail Pasha, the 19th Century Khedive of Egypt, is gone; we cannot even return to the semi-medieval mega-village we had always known. And Kismet will grow up in a third squaloropolis, even further removed from our fantasy. Were we fools, then? [aesop_gallery id=”4859″] In the time it takes you to form in your Mama’s tummy, ya habibti, we learn exactly how foolish we have been. After the protest, every sign points downward. Cairo is no longer safe: the so-called security breakdown gives way to muggings, roadblocks and attacks on property. Pseudo-militias have emerged, and sexual harassment edges into gang rape. Judicial abuses take on a sinister edge. Perhaps you will decide to leave the country after all; I would gladly let you. My point is, when we first saw you, Kismet, our renewed conviction in the futility of politics was almost as perfect as you were. [aesop_gallery id=”4867″] Now it is true that the unsprayed trees outside our apartment building bring no end of mosquitoes into the house, but it is also true that the birds sing in the early morning. On nights when you sleep in bed between us, all but hidden in your sleeping bag, you look like a third pillow at a right angle to the other two. Often I will have woken very early or stayed up very late, and with first light I will lie on my side listening to the birds and watching you. Your head wobbling like a grapefruit at the edge of your sleeping contraption reminds me of my own fragile position. Just as easily as you could be suffocated, crushed or starved, I could be imprisoned, declared an apostate, divested of income — eliminated with a stroke. We are equally helpless, you and I. Yet at the same time, we are each ensconced in our respective spot, not really intimidated, oblivious of the horror. As I watch you, I know it won’t be long before, woken by hunger, you cry out for your mother’s breast, but by then I will be on my daily journey through the city that I pictured so many times while I was waiting for you. [aesop_gallery id=”4863″] Now that you are with us I am going to have to think of a happier town. While we are here in relative calm, enjoying what we have, registering the encroaching madness but never intimidated by it, the three of us can look on and laugh, knowing that there will be enough affection and beauty to keep us joyfully together no matter what. For it is this as much as Cairo, beautiful, beautiful girl, that is our Kismet.

Musaddaq Street, near Sudan Street, Dokky
Musaddaq Street, near Sudan Street, Dokky
Youssef Rakha 
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