I was three years younger than the woman who writes today, 13. I was a thirteen-year-old kid, too exhausted, always fighting and screaming, finding it impossible to get her narrative across and to hold back her tears. Told to smile and look pretty but also bite her tongue and stop getting into mindless, scandalous arguments with people twice her age. “You’re being rude and disrespectful, what do you know to have an opinion, how much did you endure, what did you see in your years?” To care for the little things that make up a thirteen-year-old. “You look like a crazy woman in her twenties, for god’s sake just act your age,” they would say.
I’d just had a massive argument in Arabic class, which I turned into a debate class 10 minutes in, following the twin bombing of two churches here in Egypt on Palm Sunday, about religion, politics, and what a fucker the human mind is, in much nicer words then, but you get what I mean. God bless my teacher who didn’t shut me up and instead, let me clap back at all 29 of my classmates. She (my teacher) took me aside and kept repeating that she believes in me, told me never to shut up, back down, or compromise – told me to withhold and encourage my “power” to grow.
Posters were hung in solidarity all over Maadi, further explaining that this is a terrorist act of no religion and that we do not tolerate nor will we ever accept the spill of blood, that we pray for those who died in the unfortunate bombing. I remember one particular poster reading, “الدم المصري كله حرام”.
Instant translation: All Egyptian blood is forbidden.
However, I could also remember sensing the hypocrisy along every inch of the road, especially how almost everyone around me was faking remorse, to a certain extent.
I remember crying through my final school period and the entire ride home, I wiped my tears like I was used to doing and went to my momma with a pen and paper in hand, sitting her down, and drawing out a cross in the heart of a crescent- hugging. This was when I couldn’t speak and wanted to showcase my own heartbreak and pain, but also give out love and kindness to the world I live in. Kindness that does not wait on anyone or asks for anything in return (but kindness).
I didn’t want to keep on fighting every second of my day – shouting into deaf ears, so I thought about a statement both clear and silent.
Despite having both my parents disagree, I gathered the couple of hundreds that were hidden in my nightstand drawer and headed to my local jeweler in Maadi to get it done. And just like that, on the day of the 29th of April of 2017 (19 days after the brutal bombing), I had a striking symbol hanging loosely from my neck and close to my heart – which no one approved of, of course.
The twin-bombing wasn’t the only driving force for me to decide on this pendant, it was my breaking point. And looking back now, I don’t know what mind I had because what kid “suddenly” decides to have a symbol like that as a necklace instead of having pretty beads?
I didn’t think it through nor do I wish I had, yet I never thought having such a pendant would be scandalous and notorious for disruption nor did I think I’d have to endure stares, comments, and whispers wherever I went. I thought having it would be enough to silence the world, I got it so I don’t have to keep wasting my breath on explaining sweetly and kindly like a little girl should how we’re all worthy of life, because we’re all human.
But no, I was wrong yet again. It struck even more controversy, anger, and disapproval which at first I couldn’t navigate. Because having your teacher give you the ultimatum of either taking it off in his class or leaving was hard. Having your friend’s mother scold you for believing in such an ‘atrocity’ was hard. Having passers-by giving you odd looks was hard. Having people shamelessly come up and ask you which religion you follow is hard. Having your beliefs and thoughts belittled, having to bite your tongue and nod, having to shrink for others to feel comfortable -especially older men – was so fucking hard. Bearing in mind I was thirteen and scared from my own community, scared of talking because I might end up saying the wrong words and God forbids offend someone as if they haven’t been offending me the entire time.
However, as I grew up, knowing that there was tossing and turning at the mere mention of my name fueled me. Seeing smiles of appreciation and subtle nods whenever I walked by old lanes, engraved with hardship and rebellion, in Old Cairo destroyed the little frail girl in me. Because though I didn’t know what I was getting into, I knew that now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There are times when fear engulfs me and I find myself tucking my necklace under my shirt, these are times when I can’t take any more unsolicited comments or times when I do not have the energy to retort just as disgustingly back. And as much as I want to stop doing that, I acknowledge that it’s okay for the limited times I’ve done it since it’s for my safety.
There are so many stories I carry now, of conversations I’ve had with vendors and goods I’ve been gifted by merchants. These stories I carry so close to my heart and love recalling them with friends or people I’ve only just met. Like a burst of pride or a surge of happiness dawns upon me when I do.
I’ve been wearing this pendant for three years (and a bit), I’ve learned so much more about people than I ever thought I could just by wearing a crescent and a cross. Because in heated arguments on such “sensitive and taboo” topics, debates on power and competency, witnessing eyes of the oppressed first hand, but also sitting with the wealthy, and the depressed, it takes a fraction to find out all that is behind a riot/movement, a forbidden street, or a story of deception.
The ploy is never bluntly shown, but lies between the sentences that haven’t been thought of:
Pretending to be accepting when you vomit hatred and intolerance.
Showcasing love and harmony but praising Abdel Nasser’s decision to kick out Jews from their rightful land.
Praising leniency when you can’t even accept my necklace enough in a sitting.
You appear kind but will refuse every conversation on beliefs because you know that’s when your dogmatism shows.
You act smart but believe Zionism is Judaism, KKK is Christianity, ISIS is Islam.
Differences scare you; you’re unable to decipher and comprehend them so you shut them down yet still you refuse to accept that you are indeed petrified- you see the power.
Today I write, angry and fuming but also tired and exhausted, unable to channel said rage. But today I write, completely proud of the young woman I’ve grown into these past 3 years and there’s not a thing I would change about her.