“A Sound So Loud I Forgot to Breathe”

While this post does not relate to Jordan it covers a very unique experience I had while I was in Cairo, Egypt for one week.

This post relates to the central theme of my blog, which is my passion and interest for the Middle East, its culture, and of course the Arabic language.  This is just the beginning of my work with Arabic and the Middle Eastern culture, which I plan to dedicate my work and studies towards for the rest of my life.

Anyways, back to my visual narrative on my trip to Cairo.

“A Sound So Loud I Forgot to Breathe” by Richard Hancock.

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Blown up cars (usually government or police) such as the one in the photo above are very common in Tahrir Square in the middle of downtown Cairo, Egypt.  Tahrir became a media focal point during the Arab Spring and today is back in the spotlight with the overturn of the year old regime in Egypt.  My three American friends (BJ, Hailey, and Courtney) and I decided to travel to Cairo during our Spring break from our study abroad program in Irbid, Jordan.

During our week long stay in Cairo, we traveled to see the Pyramids, the International Jazz Festival, and many other sites.  However, the most memorable was when we decided to go to Tahrir Square.  Little did we realize the life changing experience that was about to unfold over the next several hours.    At times, we felt our lives and our safety were in danger.

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As we passed the week old blown up car, we headed to the center of Tahrir to the camp sites.  In the center of Tahrir, laid a heap of tents filled with men and women.  For some, this had become their new home since the Revolution began. I asked my friend BJ, “How do you think these people would react if we went up to them and starting speaking to them in Arabic?”  BJ, liking the sound of this idea, eagerly went up to someone standing outside of the tents and asked if would be okay for us to come in and talk.  We were welcomed graciously as it was unusual for Tahrir revolutionaries to run into Arabic speaking Americans.  However, I still could not ignore my feeling of discomfort even with their gracious hospitality.

While in Tahrir, I felt an intense feeling that ran throughout my body like igniting a circuit board.  I nearly got sick to my stomach as I pictured what had taken in this exact area just a year earlier.  It was at that moment that I realized just how special it was to have the unique opportunity to be in Tahrir Square.

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A young Egyptian man named Hassan (Hassan is in the middle of the photo to the left of my American friend BJ) invited us inside their tent.  As we walked into the tent, heat from the scorching sun bellowed out and sweat instantly began to pour as the smell of body odor and hashish became very apparent.  The young men welcomed us in typical Arab hospitality fashion, immediately offering us cigarettes and our choice of coffee or tea.  It is considered quite rude to not accept food, cigarettes, tea, etc when you are in an Arab home.  We then talked   for several hours as the tent filled many young men and some women who were eager to speak with us, share their stories, and give us their insights on the Egyptian Revolution.  We then received a huge meal that seemed to arrive out of thin air.  We ate falafel, pita, hummus, and a lot of unknown foods.  During this time, BJ and I kept a close eye on our female American friends as some of the Egyptian guys seemed overly “excited” that there were American girls in the tent.

After eating, I approached Courtney (the American girl with the big bright smile in the left of the above picture) if she wanted to go back to the Hostel or if she felt safe “hanging out” with the Egyptian revolutionaries.  Hailey (the other American girl to the right of Courtney in the photo) immediately chimed in saying, “Oh we’re staying here for sure, but you can leave if you want…we’re thinking about sleeping here for the night.”  At that moment, I realized that my friends were getting absorbed in the moment.  Some of our friends we had made at Tahrir came off as very aggressive and temperamental.  I decided to stay in Tahrir for another hour or so, and returned to the Hostel to relax with the owners of the hostel and a new friend.  Much to my surprise, in less than an hour we all witnessed something mind boggling.

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It was around 4 PM when I heard a roar from the group of Egyptian men in Tahrir, as they screamed “Sharta!” (police in Arabic).  Immediately, the Egyptian’s in our tent rifled out grabbing whatever weapon was in sight, whether a gun, a baton, a knife, etc. The men approached the cop car yelling furiously, telling the cop to leave before he faced trouble.  Anytime a cop car attempts to drive into Tahrir Square the Revolutionaries work together to remove them.  Tahrir Square is the closest thing to anarchy I have ever witnessed.  A group of the Egyptians began breaking the windows of the cop car until they ripped the cop out of the car.  I could hear the cop begging for his life, as the revolutionaries became angrier.  The cop was beat upon until he was bleeding profusely and then was thrown upon the side walk.  Then our friend Sadat proceeded to take three lit Molotov Cocktails and threw them under the car.

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As we stood watching less than a hundred yards away, the three Molotov Cocktails burst into a massive explosion that decimated the police truck.  My eyes dilated as I began to teeter with the feeling of going into shock.  I felt the magnitude of the explosion with every orifice of my body.  The crowd of Revolutionaries ripped with applause and excitement as the smell of gas stained the air and the heat from the flames with the already hot weather set a chaotic and almost hell-like feeling.  My friends and I looked at each other in awe and without words.  The only thing we could do was to capture as much of it as possible with photographs and video.  At the time, we could not grasp this unimaginable experience.

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The air was filled with smoke and it was becoming hard to breathe. I told my American friends I would meet them back at the hostel.  But, I could not refrain from taking more pictures.  My American friends decided to stay with the Revolutionaries for the evening in Tahrir Square.

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Back at the hostel, I began to finally comprehend what I had just witnessed while I relaxed with some of my new friends.  Hassan (NOTE: this Hassan is different from the one in a previous picture), on my right, was the owner of the Wake UP Hostel! Quynh, in the middle, was a traveler from Vietnam, and I forgot the man’s name to the right but he was extremely nice and worked at the hostel too.  These two Egyptian guys treated Quynh and I to sincere Egyptian hospitality over tea, food, and cigarettes. This was the perfect way to conclude my intense day at Tahrir Square.  My experience in Egypt is something I will never forget from the amazing friends I made to witnessing firsthand the Egyptian Revolution in action.

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