Thursday, February 25, 2016

Am I lonely?

It is 1.16pm in Cairo's neighborhood of Dokki where I am sitting at a quiet(ish) cafe (because do we here in Egypt really know what silence is?) with my coffee and computer, my two best friends, and think about what I'm feeling. Two tables down, I am sharing the cafe with a 60-something man who is gazing outside, enjoying his shisha, by himself. It looks like we share that we both brought our best friends to this cafe today, and despite the picture of two people sitting in silence, appearing to do nothing, by-passers will probably pity us because we look lonely. The truth is that they are probably right: I haven't spoken to anybody in person, other than the waiter and the fruit man that sells me my daily bag of strawberries outside of my house every day, in almost 48 hours. Am I lonely?

For a person that is widely known as a social butterfly who loves talking, my everyday life would surprise people. I never understood how I got a reputation like this in the last two years, seeing how I went to less than ten house parties (out of 150 at least) in the year and a half I have resided in the busiest city in the world. So I like to converse, sometimes get quite enthusiastic about a topic and, of course, don't show so much as a glimpse of my actual personality when I go to a superficial drinking fest on a weekend, so how do people come to conclusions about my personality? I am clueless about this because I know they almost entirely get it wrong. Just like those people who walk past this cafe and see me sitting here alone, every day, not noticing I am smiling inside...

I don't need to emphasize to anyone that those who truly know and love you are the people that will erase the feeling of loneliness inside of you. Whoever doesn't know this has big lessons to learn. Beyonce, loved by everyone, probably doesn't feel as much comfort from a Staples arena full of fans as she does from her husband and daughter. I have felt lonely in my life very often, and I was always surrounded by friends. That is because company does not drown out loneliness. Being understood, cared for or appreciated does. We don't need many, we need good people. And that cannot be everyone. And even those we choose might not choose us. Finding someone to fill a void that may exist is a blessing so rare we need to accept it doesn't come easily.

It will be hard for me to ever feel truly lonely again as long as I know I have the people in my life that I do and who I truly deserve, however, most of them are unavailable to me for a hang out or coffee date. And because my computer is the link to them, I take technology on that date. Who I long to truly spend time with is myself though, and because my computer is the link to that, it is sitting here with me right now. That man has his shisha and thoughts, I have my fingers and thoughts. I get comfort in knowing that as long as I type up these blogs, my diary, job applications or writing assignments, I have my own purpose, and immediately I feel comfort; comfort that I won't be sitting here alone for the rest of my life doing my own work, but that it will soon tear down personal or professional walls that I really don't need in my life.

The collective of people is nice, I enjoy talking to them sometimes, but in a crucial time like this, where my growth needs to be the priority, they are a distraction. The truth is that most days I prefer my solitude to the meaninglessness of most encounters. I am closing my door to anything but my thoughts because I believe that only I, and maybe some of the selected few I share a heart with, should influence and guide me in the right direction. It's not loneliness, it's a decision to listen to only myself. The number of people I talk to has decreased, and the ones I do talk to now are helping me on my goal of discovering the next piece of myself. And discovering what I am like in solitude, surrounded by nothing than ambition, is not a piece I have figured out yet. Sure, this is a phase, but a needed one that is quite hard to realize in a place where solitude virtually doesn't exist. But that just means I have to try harder... 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Coffee: A Writer's Best Friend

This time two years ago, I had never drank coffee other than when I was four, according to my mother, slurping her brew when she would leave it out of sight for a moment. As a result, I went through thirteen years of high school, four years of college and about a year and a half in the workforce without the poison that, today, makes the work possible that is created on this space. Two high school diplomas, two degrees and a pretty successful journalism career later, the things I have to create today are much harder to achieve than these laughable Master degrees that appear to have been handed to me if I was able to acquire them without a drop of coffee. And the overwhelming question I have now, almost two years into my coffee career, is: "How was I able to do fourteen hour library sessions and allnighters at the city council counting ballots without coffee?"

The kind of efficiency that is necessary to be self-employed is through the roof, and since I consume no other drugs that could help me stay awake when I am simply unable to sleep due to deadlines or pressures, coffee is the stone I can kill two birds with: stay awake and improve my performance. Every writer will know that focusing, researching and writing is a lot easier when wired on coffee. If my heart is racing, my feet can't stay still and my eyes are wide open it appears to be easier to fly through work, and the fact that this behavior sounds pretty unhealthy but I couldn't care less proves that me and coffee share more than just friendship. It's love!

Yes, I am in a relationship with coffee because I rely on it, have an emotional reaction to its appearance and can't live without it anymore. It even makes my heart beat faster, who else can do that? A coffee being served makes me happy, and when it's gone I miss it because, well, it's delicious, and well, I need it. We are all humans that could probably sufficiently survive by ourselves, but life becomes so much more easy when we can share our troubles with someone. I don't have a someone I can share my problems, workload or exhaustion with, so I had to start considering coffee as my potential partner in crime. And I can't say I regret it.

As a writer, however, not drinking coffee can actually hurt a career. Since I don't have an office or a boss that tells me everyday what I have to do, I seek out cafes in the surroundings that offer a good thinking space. Now I could sit there every day and order an orange juice, but what does an orange juice do? It may be healthier, but it definitely will not improve my performance writing pieces I am solely responsible for at all. Without the caffeinated kick I highly doubt I would fight my procrastination as well as I do. The psychological soothing of a coffee next to my laptop when I am ready to write for an entire day is unprecedented, only to be relieved by the replacement of a glass of wine once the writing is done. Coffee really is a perfect beverage both for taste and kick, and I wouldn't be as successful without it... literally!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Giulio Regeni: Did Research Die With Him?

Sometimes shocking things happen at a pivotal time in your life. Sometimes you don't love anyone for years, then you meet two hotties and can't decide. Sometimes you lose someone in your family and the next day your dog dies. And sometimes you feel very insecure as a researcher, journalist and woman in Egypt and then the news reaches you that a man that you sometimes saw around, a handsome Italian PhD student, was found dead in a ditch adjacent from your home and the foreign authorities believe he was killed for being a regime-critic. When that happens, it feels like there is one too many straws on the back of the camel you're riding, and all you really want to do is go into hiding and wait for the moment to pass. But when was that ever possible?

This feeling of despair, not knowing what the next step should be and how to even properly react to Giulio Regeni's death last week is faint in my body compared to the magnitude it must have in his mother's. The tragedy, that a bright, promising young man is now dead and nobody knows why, is just one factor in mourning this loss. Far greater of a significance for all of us who didn't know Regeni personally is the significance his death has for our fears and danger. Because his fate could have been all of ours. Whether it was an accident that killed him, or the suspected intelligence everybody is prone to blame, Regeni would be alive today if he had just chosen not to be a researcher in Egypt.

As a person very similar to Regeni, I am affected by his death beyond my normal tendency for sympathy. I am not shocked that I in fact catch myself rethinking what I am going to write in this blog. Many believe that his death sentence was his personal opinion about the regime I live in, and my thoughts on said regime could equally put me in danger. If the measures to maintain the "order" that is present in this country include handling critics, even if they are foreign, like Regeni's case, then everybody I know in this country could be suffering the same fate. And yes, we could all be subject to accidents every day; the international media, who obviously don't dislike criticizing Egypt at any given opportunity, however, seem to be sure that the torture signs on the student's body were not the result of street thugs.

I wish it wouldn't have to take the death of somebody I feel connected to despite never having consciously spoken to him to make people realize that this threat we are living under is omnipresent. And while I believe we shouldn't be scared of evil and therefore avoid the good, it is crystal-clear that the mere suspicion of the regime being behind such an incident is ruining our possibility as researchers to exist in this country. Research, knowing, the truth and thorough, unbiased analysis are my passion, hobby and profession, and now I am too affected by fear and suspicion to be doing either of them. My life changes with the news, as it had after Charlie Hebdo or Newtown, and this time the change isn't just an increased amount of sympathy, belief in free speech and desire to not be alone anymore. This time it is the realization that what I am chasing to achieve in my life is no longer feasible for me where I am.

Even if Regeni was merely the victim of unfortunate events (which, of course, makes it no less sad, however less life-altering for a female researcher like me who is now debating if her lifetime aspirations are worth the danger they are putting her in), the fear that that is not the case will never cease. Nobody in this country would even have faith in an official ruling that the regime had no play in it. This country is poisoned with suspicion, and truth simply does not exist. So if I cannot rule out that I am in fact putting my life at risk with uttering criticism of any part of any given society, is the life I am hoping to live possible in Egypt? I don't know anymore. And although my feelings towards the death of Giulio Regeni are of a non-emotional, non-personal yet saddening nature, the tragedy behind this horrendous murder is like the clouds over Cairo these days: dark, damaging and trapping us inside where we feel like we may have found security from all of that... I mean rain...!