I'm living in Maadi, a Cairo suburb, watching events unfold.
It is amazing how you hold onto an idea, draw strength and resolve from it. Yesterday the word ‘civil war’ began to hover on the edges of conversation. My friend Paul was beginning to sound doubtful about staying then today I talked to Denys, who still has shrapnel in his body from a bomb thrown in Cairo in 1948. He was very calm and said, “The people are unarmed.” In other words, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and former Yugoslavia there can be no effective division into armed conflict. The army has overwhelming firepower. Immediately everything feels better- even though nothing has changed except the contents of my head.
It goes in stages. You start laughing at the people with weapons. Then you pile up the sticks and the knives. I even found an old headhunting dao from naga land- a real one my grandfather told me, and he got it there in the war. So I have my headhunters machete by the door. Then you start carrying a weapon- a stick or a knife- to protect who you are with. And the door- first double locked, then you advise others to put the fridge against it, then the other day – after a lot of shots and sounds of running outside, my mother in law and I move the sofa, two armchairs, a suitcase and old sixteen mil camera case, some plywood boards from an old wardrobe to thoroughly barricadde ourselves in. It was weird because I didn’t want to offend my mother in law by saying she was putting the chairs in the wrong place just as we are supposed to be fighting for our lives except it feels like moving the furniture about. Plus it isn’t science- who cares how the furniture goes- it just needs to be a massive pile of it. My son creeps in and calls it his den then he says for the first time he is scared. No you’re not I say. He looks down shamefaced. Then later I go into his room and he has barricaded his bed with all his toys. All of them. It is quite impressive but weird and a bit unsettling too. There are kids of seven and eight running in the street with bits of pipe and sticks. I saw one guy today with a pipe still with a tap at one end. It still didn’t look as funny as you’d think.
Then the family we know- two girls and their mum, they are so completely unfit their barricade left them all breathless, building it they had barely the strength to lift the heavy furniture. Always be fit enough to build a barricade.
The noises. Their significance- dog, scream, shout, whistle, the looters round Paola’s flat all whispering to freak out the residents they knew were hiding on their balconies in the shadows looking down.
Well Friday and Saturday, especially Saturday were hairy nights. Then Sunday night was quiet except for one burst of running and shouting and shots outside. Now all night it is completely quiet and the sky is clear. No pollution at all. For the first time I can see the Wadi Digla hills from my apartment. Clean air- an unintended benefit of civil unrest.
Now it is all waiting and watching and wondering how long it can go on for. Boredom interspersed with moments of anxiety.