A City of One's Own

A City of One’s Own

Kyria Lysoon… Kyria Lysoon…Kyria Lysoon

The man’s chanting is drowned by the pulling of the brakes and the screech of the train slowing down on its tracks. He does not get on. The station at the heart of the city is never empty; there is a never ending exchange of travelers getting on and off under the cold florescent light.

Kyria Lysoon, he chants again.

I do not move. I miss the train as I look at this man who seemed to have been there just for me. No one else would understand. For them, he is just another man driven mad by his city.

Giza, 1999

By the dim light peeking through the tree branches and pouring through the window, I am arranging my grandmother’s photographs of faces which have become so familiar to me. The faces are all worn out, smiling; carrying something heavier than their features could carry. They could be called ‘authentic Egyptian faces.’ Even the children seem to have their years and wrinkles outlined for them.

My grandmother’s photography was a window to a Cairo I would never have known on my own: a Cairo whose edges I have not reached till now. The faces of Dahshur, Mansuriya, Kerdasa, Gold Island, Manyal, Dokki, Giza, Old Cairo became my friends.

The faces of my grandmother’s friends, of my cousins and me, of the places where we sat and ate éclairs as she drank her coffee, never made it to the pile of photographs stacked on the table waiting for her grandchildren to arrange them and place them correctly: a summer job for the little ones.

Cairo University, 2010

Other Literatures in English: Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club is being discussed. Ram, Ghali’s protagonist, an elite Copt who has no money, living in Egypt post ’52, argues that the true Egyptian is not just the fellah, or the man who rides the tram. A true Egyptian is one who has a sense of humor.

Throughout the novel, there is in Ram a desperate need to claim Cairo for himself, to have a share in her heirloom, right next to the cucumber seller. Humor is his only proof of belonging.

In my grandmother’s photographs and in others sold next to hers, Ram’s face as I imagine it does not appear.

Tahrir Station, 2011

Kyria Lysoon, the man cried. I remember Ram and how Kyria Lysoon was the only thing he said in Coptic.

If only the man had been there, praying, when people were being arrested, pulled off of trains for looking uneducated, for being dressed in a way that does not agree with Police and Military social standards. They might’ve been saved by this man’s plea.

“God have mercy. Kyria Lysoon. Ya Rab Ir’ham.”

And yet I know that had he been there, no one would’ve understood. Unless they were Copts or read Ghali, they wouldn’t understand. God’s mercy would’ve passed those under the ground. It would’ve over looked those whose faces have been worn out by the streets of Cairo.

“There is…no God but God… No God but a God… No God, No God.”*

You can never have Cairo to yourself. You surrender to the city instead of trying to make her your own. In the late hours of the night, in the early hours of the morning, she is not yours.

Even if you have her for a moment, there will be no one there to see her giving in to you.

She refuses heirs. And yet when Cairo needs a face, when she is to be photographed, those whose skin has been rubbed raw by her cruelty are first to pose.

The man sitting on the coffee shop, the paper seller, the shoe shiner, the boys and girls selling flowers and packets of tissue paper, the girl whose eyes are my first memory of vegetables, carrying a cabbage on her head: Cairo’s faces. Reluctantly, Cairo is seen through them. Yet she is not theirs.

Ram and I do not have the right features.

Cairo, 2012

For a moment the streets are his. His boyish face, stenciled onto a white sheet, huge, held by ten others, cradles the sky above him. Cairo has surrendered. To him, today she has let go and given him her streets and her people.
There is no humor coming from the people’s chants and yet there is no mistake. These are Egyptians. They inhabit her city.

There is no God but God

A coffin passes. And even though he is not in it, Cairo has given her streets to him today.

After 16 years of running around her corners, Cairo is Gika’s today.

There is no God but God. The Shaheed is His beloved.

For a moment, for that fleeting moment of mourning, Gika is Cairo’s beloved today.

November 26th, 2012

*Ghali, Waghuih. Beer in the Snooker Club. New Amsterdam Books, USA: 1999

"A City of One's Own" was written for and published in Dutch translation in Cairopolis: a project by Jan Beke. It was published in Beljium in 2013 by SNOECK publications.

About Cairopolis the book


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