I was in Egypt nine months before the towers fell.
The people spoke to me in Arabic Roh Rohi
but I spoke back in English so they called me “American”
/I never called myself American.
America never called me American – not without a hyphen.
It was the first of February 1957, and in the entrance of Prince Abdul Munem’s palace, a young officer stood facing the prince. With the usual sternness, the officer told the prince that he must leave the palace immediately.¹ Without saying a word, the prince went back inside and came out carrying a suitcase. He smiled at the officer and walked toward the southern wall of the palace.
At first the officer was astounded by this, as there was only one entrance to the palace and it was located in the northern wall. His amazement only grew as he watched the prince open the door of a room built against the southern wall and step inside it. Thinking he must have been duped and that his assignment had not been successfully completed, the officer went into the room and yelled furiously at the prince, threatening to use force to get him out of the palace. But the prince claimed that because the room was not part of the palace and he did not actually own it, he was still allowed to stay and live in it. He told the officer that his father had given the little room away a long time ago. He also informed him that Sheikh Abu Annoor was buried inside. He pointed to a structure in the middle of the room covered with a thin rug. “Don’t you see the tomb?” he asked. He then whirled his forefinger around in the air, pointing around the room, and asked the officer: “Would you really nationalize a shrine?”
A few days after the sunset-to-sunrise curfew went into effect, the members of this jolly family began to feel run-down. Their apartment had all the needed emergency supplies—food, water, first-aid kit—in addition to entertainment options such as reading materials, television and video programs, and Internet, not to mention a landline and a personal cell phone for each. Still, something kept irking them and leading them to feel that they were leading a prison life. They felt as if they were living in a rather spacious dungeon, yet a dungeon all the same. Inside that dungeon, in a matter of days, they began to notice that their weight was steadily increasing. Their bodies grew heavier as time weighed down on them. None of the entertainment options could lighten them up. Besides, the sounds of gunshots and explosions were within earshot, inviting gory images of sniper operations and assassinations. They intimated to each other in a variety of ways their fear of unconsciously slipping from despondency to despair.
Mohamid Abdelazim sips tea from the fourth floor of an unfinished apartment building in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza. The building is owned by Mohamid’s father, and from where Mohamid stands, he can see the peaks of the Great Pyramid above a dozen other incomplete red brick apartment complexes. Through empty windows, Mohamid watches cars racing around the curves of Ring Road as it twists away from Giza.