EMBED IN EGYPT
I can’t remember which came first. Was I obsessed with history first, and found photography later in order to live in history? Or did my love affair with photography lead me to dive into history?
I remember the early days of 2011, glued to my screen, night and day, in my home in Brooklyn for news coming out of Egypt.
Soon after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the news moved on from Egypt but I could not.
The region was swept into turmoil.
“Too much watching the news kills the poet inside. Egypt will be completely forgotten,” I thought.
Images of the revolution were burnt in my memory. For ten months, I sought for ways to get there.
I began compiling lists in my wandering mind about people I hadn’t met and a place I’ve never been to:
Bookshelves, sleeping, weddings, funerals, death/sign/fire, people leaving, regular life/people, the countryside, amusement parks, theaters …
I got to Cairo, finally, in November 2011. It was around the time of Eid. Little did I know that the friends I made on the night of my arrival and the experience ahead would change me forever.
I knew particles of life that I kept wondering about but I did not have “an idea” for a project. Hemingway’s words echoed in my head:
“I DID NOT CARE WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT.
ALL I WANTED TO KNOW WAS HOW TO LIVE IN IT.
MAYBE IF YOU FOUND OUT HOW TO LIVE IN IT
YOU LEARNED FROM THAT WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT.”
I was inexperienced and my approach naïve. Looking back, that fits with my original hopes and with the mood of this chapter in Egypt’s history.
The first saying I learned in Arabic was “Kull Haga mumkina,” which means “Everything is possible.” On good days, this attitude was a key to unlock the heart and release childish curiosity. On bad days, it helped keep the mind anchored in the face of unpredictability.
On November 19th 2011, I woke up to a text message from a local friend. It read “Stay away from Tahrir!”
To wander the streets, as a foreigner, in times of turmoil is not easy. No matter where I am, most honestly,
it is always an internal dilemma between seeing it for myself and surrendering to my fear of the speed at which violence can take over. Egypt was, for me, no exception.
I could already smell the tear gas from my hostel room. That day, I did go to Tahrir. In a week, the Parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place. Though the protests and sit-ins went on since the fall of Mubarak, this one seemed different.
There is a surrounding feeling when things are about to unhinge. Even I, a newcomer, could sense this in Cairo. The days following November 19th were a milestone in the historical timeline of post-Mubarak era. More than forty people were killed at the clashes on Mohammed Mahmoud Street in a matter of days. The elections went on — for some, like nothing happened and for others, perhaps because it could change the course of things for the better.
Violence existed alongside everyday life.
These parallel realities define the texture of my experience during the sixteen months I spent in Egypt. I was “embedded” between 2011 and 2013. I existed in a particular reality the umbilical cord of which was made of universal values. We were, at times, full of hope and, at times, in frantic search of it.
In the fall of 2013, I began editing my photographs to rehash the reflexes, reflections and layers of intuition triggered during my Egypt journey. The photographs I made and the journals I kept became the replay of memories.
One journal entry reads:
“Our youth consumed by those who came before,
we [had] jumped into a time travel.
It was like falling in love:
A time to be free.
A time to be doomed.
Little by little, in the discovery of each other,
we began to find ourselves.”
As distance and time increased between the then and now, the “embed” began to feel like a silent movie. I wanted to hold and hold onto it. And so, the book "Embed in Egypt: A Story without a Beginning" was born. It would be a permanent mark of this period.
“A lie to tell a truth.
A time of the unknown
and the lives in-between.
A time that no longer exists.
Time, there was not.”