Eve of Election Day or Why I am in Cairo

A while ago, on the eve of election day,  I was having dinner at a Swedish restaurant here in Cairo. Beside my table were several foreigners. Somehow - maybe it was from watching too much of the Bourne movies, or fine, Gossip Girl - my spy-detective/gossip boy tendencies were triggered. Listening in on their conversation, I figured that they were journalists from different countries come to Egypt to report on the election. I know, I know. I shouldn't be listening in on other people's conversation, but what can I do, they were speaking very loudly. Yes, yes! I blame them for making me listen to their conversation, for making me sin.

Anyway. It was fun listening to their different reporting experiences in different countries, their difficulties and joys. Oh journalists, they're just like us. After a while they started talking about the revolution in Egypt that happened several months ago in Tahrir Square, right outside the restaurant we where in. One guy said that when he was sent to Egypt from Libya, he wasn't expecting any big news to come by. He even asked his boss  if the gathering of people on the streets was worth the trouble of flying all the way to Egypt.

Then BOOM. The revolution happened and Mubarak was removed from office. The journalists said that it was a pleasant surprise since they don't usually get to report good news when they're sent to the field. And it's true. The events in Tahrir Square months ago has allowed, not just Egyptians, but many people around the world to be hopeful. It was an affirmation that the universe was not all crap and disillusionment, that goodness can come from its seemingly random shuffling of our individual lives.

And now there we were. Tahrir Square was unusually quiet. It was hard not to believe that this was the calm before the storm. Days ago, parliament was dissolved by the courts and military men took hold of government reigns. From what my few Egyptian friends tell me, the top two candidates for election are not very promising. They don't seem to be the right folks to solve Egypt's problems.

In the midst of all this, one journalist said that he thinks nothing will change, that everything will go back to how it was before the revolution, that things won't get better. Wow. Way to be hopeful dude. Here, have some prozac.

But still, I get what Mr. Negatron was saying. Given the most recent events, it's easy to believe that things would turn out to be as crappy as the journalist believed. But, as in the scene where Frodo and Sam stood at the edge of Mount Doom, surrounded by flame and lava, hope is not lost.  That the trick is to keep moving forward. The revolution has shown that change is possible. While there will be many obstacles along the way, the people of Egypt must not give up. There will be more bad leaders along the way, poverty will not be eradicated in the next decade or so, but there will always be hope for as long as the people want hope to exist.

This hopefulness on my part comes from my own experience of having been born and raised in the Philippines, where we hold revolutions every 3 years, where we eat  disappointing economic and political news for breakfast, where many of our leaders collectively represent a cesspool of human filth where change remains on our doorstep, waiting to be fully let in. But it is also a country of a people known for their resilience in the face of the most horrific and traumatic tragedies.  Each day is a revolution, a struggle to change, to hope, to live.

Sitting in that restaurant, pretending to eat and not listen in on my neighbor's conversation,  I was more convinced that I made the right decision to study Arabic in Cairo. I could've studied elsewhere, maybe in Morocco or even in New York. But I persisted in going to Cairo knowing the tensed current political situation because I knew that this experience, witnessing such events unfold before me,  more than learning Arabic, would prepare me for development work. Beyond that, when I leave,  I will take with me the hope for change and goodness that burns in the hearts of many Egyptians as my own hope for change and goodness in the world. 


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