Monday, January 23, 2012

Observations #1



1. On the microbus ride to Suez from Cairo, a man clutches a trash bag holding a metal cage wrapped in tattered newspaper. Inside, a small, white sparrow sits calmly picking at the newspaper, which displays pictures of crowds battling police in riot gear and small square photos of public figures. The man tears away at a picture of a shouting woman waving her arm to show me the bird’s white, confused face.

2. At the German Cultural Center, a group of Egyptian youth promote a new website called “18 Days in Egypt.” A young man with spiked hair and a tight blue sweater explains that the site allows users to upload media to a timeline and map. The result will be an archive of marches, battles, and funerals documented through photos, videos, and writings. He plays a well-known clip from State television: during the revolution, a man against the protests called into a live talk show crying and saying that the protesters were ruining Egypt. Seeing this clip for the first time in nearly a year, the crowd laughs.

3. In an abandoned hotel building of European grandeur, an art exhibit sits in memory of a young artist killed during the revolution. In a converted guest room, artist Ahmed El Shaer presents Nekh, named for the word a camel driver shouts to get his animal to sit down. The artwork is a computer game, played on an old fuzzy PC, which reenacts February 3rd, the “Battle of the Camel,” when Mubarak’s forces entered Tahrir square on camels to run down protesters. In the game, you pick to be a man or a camel, and then you fire at the other side, which continues to multiply, rather than disappear, as you hit them. The point of the game is that it cannot be won, and every time you lose, the game asks you to keep playing.

4. The train from Cairo to Suez groans loudly in a way that reminds me of the movie Titanic. The cabin is extremely dirty, and the doors swing open at every turn, letting in blasts of freezing air. Several young soldiers spend the entirety of the two-hour trip trying to jam folded paper and push rocks into the door to keep it from sticking, all the while laughing

5. The Cairo International Book Fair opens after last year’s cancellation (due to the uprisings). The English version of the website still reads; the “Cairo International Book Fair is honored every year by President Mohammad Hosny Mubarak who inaugurates its activities and proceedings.” 

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