12 February 2011

Hope is the thing with feathers

Watching the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia followed by the Egypt protests has, to make a gross understatement, been tugging at my innards. One minute my heartstrings are being pulled by the courage and bravery displayed and the next my guts would twist themselves up in knots of worry that would make an Irish sailor envious. I've visited both places. In both, the food was amazing, the scenery spectacular and the people cause the word "hospitable" to fall far short of actual reality.



Tunisia is where some of Shithead's immediate family live. While I wouldn't cross the street to piss on *him* if he were on fire, I adored his family. Or I guess the present tense is more apt; it's not like one can just flip a switch to the "Don't Care About These People Any More" position. Well, I can't. Bully for you if you are coldly able to excise out little bits of your heart sans numbing agents.

When Nuclear Relationship Armageddon II: Revenge of the Nuclear Relationship Armageddon occurred, his mother told me that I would always be one of her daughters. When his father passed away, they called me to let me know because I was "part of the family". About six months ago, one of his siblings made one of those social media overtures, personalizing the message by saying how much they missed me.

Ouch.

Not too long before the social media overture, I had discovered that Shithead was putting common friends & acquaintances on the spot by asking how I was doing. My reaction could probably be summed up as Not. Fucking. Cool. At. All. You. Egotistical. Fucking. Cocksucker. Throw in a good few more uses of the word "fuck" in adjective, adverb, verb, & noun form. And a lethal urge to beat the everliving shit out of any thing that crossed my path. I was incised, not to mention absolutely mortified, that he would put these people in such an uncomfortable predicament.

So when his sibling sent me a message, I took a very deep breath & diplomatically explained that their brother had been putting people in an uncomfortable position and in the interest of keeping said sibling out of a similar situation, I would be declining the social media overture but would be delighted to grab a coffee whenever they next passed through Rome.

That was the point where I basically extended my No Contact Rule to include said family members. To his sibling who professed to miss me. To the mother who professed that I would always be part of her kin. To all of them. No more Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas or the like. I refuse to put his family in the same position as he put friends in. After all, they're his family and not mine.

Hardening one's heart is different from excising bits from it. Right?

I've followed the Jasmine Revolution reportage & the social media streams, replaying in my mind Shithead's facile claims that Tunisians need a dictator lest they take things to extremes, stories of crack downs on Muslim fundamentalists, whispers about how everyone was a spy, rightful cliams about Tunsia's comparatively liberal laws. I look for indications of how thing might pan out.

I worry if they are okay. I worry from afar. Silently. Doing the right thing is usually the hardest. And it sucks.

I visted Egypt in '99. You'll never guess with who....oh. Yeah, you got in in one. Good fucking guess. That was the first time Shithead and I were dating.

Note to self: In your next life, if you don't want your memoirs to have such frequent mention of scatological pseudonyms, don't date fucking idiots for a total of 7 years.

The memories I have of Egypt are indescribably dear to me. If I had to pinpoint why, it would probably be attributable to the fact that I was a bit of an Egypt mythos/archeology freak when I was a kid. And maybe because it was the first time I had ever travelled with a boyfriend. Hell, it was one of the first times I actually had something that could be defined as "a boyfriend."

My eyes still water at the memory of Cairo's pollution. The incessant honking. How late every one stayed out. The ubiquitous queries for baksheesh. Getting peeved with the guide clicking my mount into a trot without warning as he lead us on horseback around the pyramids. Shithead bouncing like a disjointed rag doll  in the saddle as he and the guide moved ahead & I dawdled, taking my time to enjoy the scenery without being rushed. Kicking my mount into a gallop down the side of a dune to catch up to them, wind in my ears, riding low over my horse's neck. Reigning to a stop in a spray of sand and their astonishment. (Don't mess with Texas, y'all) Puzzling out the numbers as Shithead attempted to pick up the Egyptian dialect (The Egyptian imperative for "Look" apparently means "Fart" in Tunisian).

Travelling up the Nile on a felucca with a motly group of fellow backpackers and a small orphan boy whom the two boat captains had adopted. Said orphan who brazenly decalimed "Small boy don't smoke" when we caught him puffing on a cigarette in the hold, the cherry of his cigarette in the starry evening giving him away. Nubian drumming around a campfire, complete with some Nubian weed & water bottle bong. The damp chill of the Nile at night, kept at bay by heavy woolen blanket strung around the boat supports. The backpacker smugness when one of the package tours steamboats came puffing along, sterile and speedy and boringly disconected. The black streets of the captain's village as we tromped to his one room home for dinner, not an outdoor lightbulb to be seen anywhere except the center of the village. The mud walls of his house as they proudly brought forth the luxury of a bottle of Coca-cola while his wife & her realtives hennaed my hands.

In the souk of Cairo on a Friday, realizing that my boyfriend was ahead of me in the crowded narrow alley and therefore the hands on my hips & the penis pressing into my butt weren't his. The subequent girliness of my freak-out, as there was only room to flail at him over arm style. Shithead understanding enough Egyptian to pick up the buzzing about a foreign girl attempting to beat the crap out of some man. The frotteur making a dash for it, followed by Shithead, followed by me, like some Keystone cop serial. The frotteur dodging 3 lanes of traffic & jumping over a small retaining wall, continuing his escape. Shithead not far behind him, coming to a screeching halt after jumping over the wall, which had covered a contingent of Muslims praying, his sandal landing about 3 inches from someone's head. Attempting to calm down, people coming up to us, asking what he had stolen & telling us that they had caught him. Shithead explaining that the frotteur had touched his 'wife' inappropriately. The ominous mutters of the crowd as they assured us he would be taken care of. Haraam. Haraam.

There are many others, but the memory at the forefront of my mind these past 18 days has been of the last day of our trip. Having returned from Luxor to Cairo, our room overlooked Tarhir Sqaure.

That afternoon Mubarak was scheduled to drive through the square and police already lined the square well in advance, each on holding a loop of rope with a curious metal loop/hook thing attached. Shithead & I had fought, basically because he had asked me to marry him then recinded it 24 hours later after a bad dream had during an afternoon siesta.

Even though I was never ever the girl who fantasized about weddings while growing up and logically well appreciated the "too young, moving too fast" argument, well, Dude, you'd be pretty fucking moody as well after a recinded proposal.

So we argued and he went out. I stayed in the room as I was feeling a bit fragile and shitty in general (and oh godamn, if timetravel is ever invented I am so going back to this point and shaking my past self while saying "Big. Fucking. Neon. Sign. It says 'He's not worth it'."). And after the souk incident, I was really in no mood to pull my normal travel trick of aimlessly wandering around a city quarter. A weeping foreign girl wandering down the street would probably be like having a big sign around the neck reading "Take advantage of me. Please."

I slowly noted that the honking was dying out and, after a while, it was eerily silent. My eardrums didn't know what to do. I poked my head out the window. Evenly spaced apart for as far as the eye could see, the police had formed a barricade, each holding the metal loop with the rope slipped around the metal hook of the next like a human crochet chain. There was no traffic. No honking. Few people on the sidewalks.

A cop looked up and motioned me to move away from & close the window. I remembered then our receptionist that morning warning us to keep the window closed & that ther would be sharpshooters lining the roofs as well. I hastly complied, leaving the window cracked a bit to enjoy the lack of traffic and occasionally taking a quick suruptious peek.

Somewhere I have a photo of that 20 minutes. Of Tarhir Square silent, ringed by police, traffic free while tears dried on my cheeks.

Twelve and a half years later I watch videos of Tarhir Square.



I'm still crying, but this time it's for a much, much better reason.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. 


- Emily Dickinson

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