Written by Haisam Elkewidy
January 28th, 2011.
Three days ago, I would have taken all of this for granted. Rumors spread across the Internet like a vicious parasite wanting to infest a corpse. I could recall how nobody listened, or even paid attention, to the details. Their negligence cost them dearly as the consequences transcended the possibility of reconciliation.
Standing near the rim of Mokattam’s hilly slopes, I watched the entire Cairo populace occupy as much of its streets as possible. My gut always told me never to believe the stories; assured me that this nation was inherently shielded from all forms of harm. Though when I thought about it, I realized this country had been preoccupied numerous times before.
The battleground filled up the vast expanse of Cairo and beyond, as the sound of breaking glass repeated itself in a monotonous orchestra. Towering plumes of fire blocked off roadways, intersections, and even entire neighborhoods. Citizens screamed by the hundreds, the vast majority of them carrying cotton banners upon which were inscribed “The people demand the downfall of the regime!”
And I watched this all from over three hundred meters in the air, firmly grasping the handles of a hang glider setting course for a haven near where I used to live. I reckoned this was a much more exciting solution, then walking through the calamity that this uprising had become.
Steering the hang glider mast, I attempted to pray to the winds in the hopes that it would guide me to my sanctuary. Crossing barren patches of desert, with only thin streets closing the gap between it and civilization, I monitored the collision of two large forces right on the ground. They were comparable to a swarm of locusts from my point of view. Only I knew better than that; reality would strike me once I descended to the ground.
I aligned the hang glider with the lenient trade winds, passing Mokattam and hovering over grid blocks of buildings, finished and abandoned. Protestors had scaled the building walls, somehow, and shouted out various slogans while ascending to the rooftops.
I was now flying over the Fifth Settlement. If there were any dreams of urbanizing this arid section of Cairo, they would get delayed even further than they already were. More people occupied the ground than buildings at this point. I checked Google Maps on my phone before taking this leap of faith. My target destination was a straight glide to the far east and, to my dismay, right next to the headquarters of Central Intelligence (also called El Mokhabarat). The universally approved cliché’ that this was the most peaceful sector in Cairo had been completely disproven; as the echoes of their agony were as loud to me up in the air as they would have been on the ground. Their cries appeared to have the potential to reach the heavens and beyond, whatever lay up there.
Still wanting to take the risk, I doubled down on the handles and aligned the mast towards my destination. A heavily fortified school in the distance, Arkam American College, guarded its children as though they were all its own. Most institutions prohibited their students from entering the schools, to protect their loved ones against the incurring violence. But they stood out, and offered protection so as to stay on schedule. The haven appealed to me as a middle-ground between my two conflicting personalities; that of a rebel and the other of a parents’ child.
I aimed for the roof, and protestors surrounded the institution still. First, I wondered if any other classmates sheltered inside the school. Then, I tried to figure out if any of the rioters had infiltrated the sanctuary itself. Finally, after I asked these three questions, I evaluated the credibility of my initial assumptions; that Arkam American College was, in fact, the haven I had sought after all this time.
But it was far too late for that now, as my hang glider already dived into the roof. I had to find the closest staircase available now.