Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Observations #4

19. The Home of the Nation museum is the preserved house of Sa’ad Zaghlul, an anti-colonial activist whose exile was one of many sparks that caused the 1919 revolts against British rule. Today, his home is a dusty relic of early 20th-century Cairo, where dusty gramophone players and desks sit in dusty rooms practically untouched. Dusty taxidermy birds eerily watch over walls covered in photos and paintings of Zaghlul in his many poses: standing, sitting, orating, listening. Our tour guide is a young women who speaks at a bored, blazing pace and does not let anyone linger in the rooms, which are lighted when we enter and darkened when we leave. “This was his meeting room,” she says, “though he didn’t meet here a lot because he was exiled.” We enter the dining room: “They ate at 1:30PM here every day. They sat in these chairs. The food came from that door. Any questions?”

20. At the tomb and museum of colonial-era political agitator Mustafa Kamil, all of the paintings and sculptures were stolen during last year’s uprisings against Mubarak. All that’s left is Kamil’s immovable granite tomb. After a policeman guarding the entrance tries to tell us there’s nothing to see, an older tour guide takes us in. “Who was Mustafa Kamil?” he asks, before answering in an excited monologue about all of the man’s achievements agitating for freedom from British rule in various European capitals. He concludes with a brief video about Kamil, displayed proudly on his Blackberry at a size of one inch by one inch.

21. In our neighborhood, they’re running out of gas. Today, about fifty older women clustered around the gas cylinder distributor trying to get refills. Kids rolled them down the street, making the familiar sound of empty canisters scraping the rocky dirt roads. An old woman saw us trying to make our way through the clogged alley. “Foreigners!” she shouted to us,  “Don’t be afraid!”

22. At the Cairo International Book Fair, Dr. Phil translated into Arabic is a big seller.

23. The first thing a young diplomat tells me when I mention an interest in journalism: “Don’t try to be a hero!”

24. Judges in charge of the investigation and prosecution of American NGO’s suggested that one of these NGO’s, the International Republican Institute (headed Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood), is trying to break up Egypt into multiple states. One judge said that evidence against the NGO included “maps taken from IRI’s office that had English writing on them and divided Egypt up into provinces. That seemed an attempt to link the organization to the widely propagated conspiracy theory that the US and other Western powers are seeking to carve post-Mubarak Egypt into four separate countries.”

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