Posts Tagged society
Tip tap tick tack clack clack clack… I like the sound you make when I type, but not when others do. Other people’s typing noise annoys me. It tells me that they’re typing away and saying everything while I sit here with a knot in my stomach and a load on my chest. When things crowd up inside it becomes too chaotic to put in words. And the more they pile up the more you feel you’re about to explode.
That’s when music steps in.
I resort back to my traditional treatment. I do it a la 90s Arwa. I turn on the music loud and clear, put on my workout gear, and dance to the beat. I throw myself up in the air and I roll on the floor and I close my eyes and I see nothing. My body takes over and it takes me to places inside my head. One move creates the next and I don’t know which part of the room I’ll be facing after that ambitious twirl.
My cat twitches his ears and sits like Bast staring at me with disdain. Reliable warm lap no longer available. I did want her to get off the couch and chase me around the apartment, but whatever she’s doing now looks stupid and thank God it doesn’t involve me.
How do you kill the social self in you? You see, my social self isn’t the decent smiling hello-how-are-you-today kind. Social self here is the mask I used to put on when I’m with most people I used to know. With every beat their faces flash at me. I wonder what they’d think of me if they saw me. And somehow the thought of them elates me, because finally I’m having an honest moment. I’m being the person within. I took off the mask, shed the layers the years have carefully stitched around my edges since I was 19. Layer after layer after layer of social selves that coexisted together like it was the most natural thing in the world to be all of that and still find your real self at the end of the day as you crawl into bed.
I’m still struggling with words, Keyboard, so give me a chance.
I have so much unfinished words I’ve written that my social selves won’t let me share. And whenever I try to write something new they take me back to my unfinished work and hook me there. They’ve got me by the scruff of the neck.
Wow I’m so rusty! It feels weird sharing this. It’s like doing the dance while everyone is watching.
But if people were to matter then those social selves are not going anywhere. You see, it takes a bit to be able to stand naked to the world. But to my credit, whenever the world’s instilled thoughts became too much for me to handle and began to choke me I’ve tried to shock it with a daring plunge. Some were good decisions and some weren’t. In some I was truly naked and in others I was a new social self only in hiding. But I’ve always taken a plunge approach to change in my life. With time I’ve discovered that those plunges are my reset button. That’s just what I do when things are really, really jammed in my head.
Recently I’ve discovered that that fear of standing naked to the world with nothing on to define you has crippled me all my life. The inevitable social question of “what do you do” had to be filled instantly with something, anything, or it’s death to me. Most people filled it up with answers like “I teach, I write, I make, I sell…” For years now I’ve had no answer to that question. My classic answer was “I used to…” for quite some time until I discovered how sad it was.
Still can’t get naked?
Watch me crawl on the floor now to the sound of those drums and you’ll get your answer.
Of course I can! My naked answer is “Nothing.”
My nothing is filled with so many possibilities that I find it liberating. It’s the closest I can get to the fresh child who believed she could become a figure skater, or the teenager who wanted to run off on a motorcycle with a custom made boyfriend, or the 20 year old who wanted to start a career in film making. It’s the richest I can ever be, because it is mine the way I want it to be. It’s nobody else’s and it’s definitely no longer what someone wants it to be. Behind the nothing that everyone sees – that vain social nothing that shames people – is the fresh, soothing silence of a new beginning.
And I know that I have to do this dance, naked, in front of that same condescending world, to put an eternal shield on my beginning.
How badly can you want something? What would normally be the thing to do when you are placed with someone who has authority over the thing you want so much and withholds it from you? Would you walk your talk, confront them and live up with the consequences? Would you speak with fear of being denied your thing and so you acknowledge the authority lest you wake the beast?
My story today may not be that dramatic, but little violations of my rights everyday can turn me into something I’m not pleased with.
I was driving home last night, trying to arrive within less than 30 minutes on a route that should in any other city take 10 minutes. I started my journey with my car crawling among other cars in a pool of chaos. I managed to get near the area where I lived around 7:30, exactly 30 minutes later. To my surprise I found that the street I normally take to reach my home was blocked with police rails and two officers were standing there. If I missed that street it would take me another 30 to 45 minutes of turning in the chaos to get back to a previous spot and choose another street. I had no option.
I spoke to one of the officers. “I live right there and I need to get home quickly.”
“Sorry madam, prohibited. There’s a tashreefa.”
Tashreefa has no literal translation in the English language, probably because there is no equivalent to the phenomenon outside our world. It is a deliberate blockage of streets in anticipation of a prominent politician passing in his bullet-proof car. The streets get decorated by soldiers, human beings that are placed on both sides of the road from beginning to end for hours until the sacred passing takes place. Until then the street is literally out of order. No forewarning, no easy access to alternative routes. You drive there, get stuck, and discover that it’s a tashreefa.
My blood began to simmer. “You cannot deny me access to my own home. I must get there now!” He went to speak to a higher authority sitting on a chair with its back to the street and busying itself with some papers. He came back with the same answer. “It’s prohibited, madam.”
At this moment the simmering grew to a boil. I found myself opening the door and charging out of the car in an anger fit I usually describe as an out of body experience. I suddenly acquire a much higher voice and begin to say and do things I have no control of. I walked to the “authority” on the chair and ignored the officer’s calls after me.
“I need to get to my home. All I demand of you is a little respect to my basic human right as a citizen of this country!”
The man’s eyes were wide open staring at me in disbelief. “You may take the next street.” I began to fume. “The next street is a one-way street and if one of you catches me he’d charge me 1000 EGP, and there is no way I can enter it since it is equally blocked with cars trying to get to the already blocked road we’re in. So now please allow me to get into my home. You may search me if you will. I have no weapons. I need to get to the child that is waiting for me there!”
I had no idea who that child was, unless I count my cat as one.
Predicting that he would not be rid of me soon, he waved at his subjects to allow me in. I walked to my car without another word and drove in. It was a party in the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Black cars, black suits, black dresses. I was thrown back into my black mood. I drove with so much fury and kept cursing out loud alone in the car.
I got to my home and all I could think of was how many of us end up being reduced to basic levels just to protect our rights to go by in the streets of Cairo with no hassle. What’s more important, I was alarmed at the things I said. I said “please.” Please?? What the hell was I thinking? Was I so afraid he’d let me do the 45 minutes turn and I was secretly begging for his mercy? A “child”?? What child? I lied!
Is it the systematic subordination we’ve been subjected to in our society for so many years that made inner submissive cowards out of us? Has the hierarchical system of authority been passed down to us individuals, making us oppressive to those below us and submissive to those above?
Yes. As children many of us went to schools where we were beaten by teachers for speaking in class or for not doing our homework. We were yelled at and humiliated in front of our peers in class. When we grew up we became used to laws and regulations being issued overnight and executed with no consideration of any say on our part.
The spark that I see in the eyes of Egyptians as I look at pictures taken some forty or more years ago no longer exists. The people I see walking in the street have a look of defeat in their eyes. The women have lost their glory, lines of exhaustion and fatigue have carved their ways on their faces. The men have lost their sense of self-worth. The little sense of control they still aspire to have is practiced on their children or wives.
Egyptians have been systematically neutralized by a smart centralized authority that has reigned above them for so many decades. They used to revolt, but now they can’t get more than a hundred people to stand still in a demonstration. A culture of prohibition overrules everything. I can’t get a refund in a shop, I can’t change my order in a restaurant, I can’t enter certain restaurants because I cover my hair. The list continues.
Inside me there’s a free soul longing for harmony with its surroundings, but sometimes I feel like it’s forever caged inside the body of the hesitant person I have become. I don’t know how long I will further have to wait until it is out, but I’m going to keep trying to unshackle it bit by bit until I, all of me, am free.
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