Zenab


ĄTell your friends please donít be afraid, come visit Egypt and see what is changing here.ď Her eyes glint with tears, which she holds back as she offers her hand and continues, ĄIím Zenab. And I am so happy to see you. We are so happy. It is very good, Mubarak is gone.ď I take Zenabís trembling hand in my own and stammer my introduction in response.

ĄI...Iím Erin. Itís nice to meet you Zenab. Iím very happy for you too...ď

Zenab is not the first to talk to me in Cairo. During my days walking around the city, men grin and wave from every shop and street-corner, excited to see travelers in the midst of Cairoís charged political atmosphere. The protests at Tahrir Square have deterred most of the tourists. Streethawkers drop their wares to yell at us, ĄBeautiful, beautiful, thank you for not afraid!ď The men rattling backgammon pieces in the cafes of old Islamic Cairo wink and smile, nodding in silent approval. The heavy smog of the city itself, irridescent in the already piercing March sun, seems to embrace us in gratitude. Thank you, travelers, for coming back to us. Thank you for not being afraid of our revolution.

Yet I stand outside the age-worn public toilet below the Sultan Hassan Mosque and hold Zenabís hand shakily, my breath gone. I know nothing of Zenabís history, she knows nothing of mine. But the warm joy in her eyes is unmistakable. I can imagine her childhood, her education and her job. She is dressed like a professional working woman, in black trousers and a smart violet blouse, her hair fastened behind her in a matching scarf. My eyes move from her hand in mine to her intent stare. We lock eyes in a moment of complete understanding; she, a primly arranged young Egyptian woman with satiny brown eyes and a courageous smile; I, sweaty and sunburned, a foreigner rooted by her passionate greeting. In this moment, I can understand that for Zenab politics are the tip of the iceberg; the question between us is one of humanity, and freedom. Freedom is holding the hand of a stranger and knowing that she recognizes you.

I am acutely aware of the differences between us, but their weight is countered by the hot presence of our sweating palms, still locked together. The rumble of a crumbling ancient city filled with battered dreams of modernization fades behind our gaze. Stray puppies whine and pant on the sidewalk beside us, and an old woman approaches the toilet entrance where we stand. I can hear my companions stepping up behind me curiously; eyes trained on Zenabís Iím saying, ĄZenab, this is Claudia, and this is Nora, they are my friends.ď Claudia and Nora are hot and thirsty, ready to go on. I know they are looking to me for some explanation of my sudden immobility. Questions hang in the air, waiting to be answered- but they can wait. All I can see is Zenabís beautiful smile. I stop talking, and smile back.

E Mallon

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