The Right to Return
Disclaimer: I didn't write the following post. It was written by Nora Younes and it touched me by how beuatifully written it was when I read it on her blog so I decided- after taking her permission of course- to translate it and post it over here. The Translation doesn't do the post justice, but if you like it, then please drop by Nora's blog and leave her a comment. Thank you! Sunday morning in the American embassy to obtain an entry visa after being invited to participate in a conference for civil society organizations.. Complicated security measures.. The Egyptians working in the embassy are extremely polite and cordial.. The appointment has been arranged in a previous call, and the application filled over the phone, and paper requirements identified…a 5 by 5 picture with a white backdrop where the 2 ears are clearly shown…In the consulate building while checking my papers: “This picture won’t do. The size is millimeters less than 5 by 5. There is a photographer in front of the embassy and one in the Tahrir complex.”
On Isis street,* metal and cement blockades on every corner… A closed Bazaar.. A tiny door with no sign and 7 people lining up in front of it.. I realized it should be the photographer.. I stood in line on the street pavement…The room is 3 by 2.5 meters… The man uses a digital camera to photograph 5 people, connects the memory stick to an HP printer and the excruciatingly slow printing process starts and everyone has to wait.. He then takes on another 5 people, and so on.. A hustler in the middle of his hustle.. I started talking to the photographer.. His working hours are those of the embassy.. He rented these few meters from the Bazaar owner whose business got shot after they turned the area into a militarized zone and tourists rarely walk by anymore.
In line.. A woman in her late 30’s..wearing a short-sleeved beige suit with a very wide sailor-like collar made of light industrial cloths.. There is a stripe of dark blue lining the jacket and the sleeves.. The slightly slanted way the cloth is folded told me it was home tailored… Her shoes told of her current state… right in the middle.. not high enough for high heels and not low enough to give her comfort.. the heel is scratched from long walks and hitting the pavement.. her hair is black, dark and shiny.. with short bangs in the front and the rest is long.. It’s pretty obvious that she cared about how she looked today.. Heavy eye shadow, lipstick, a huge and short necklace made of intertwined white and yellow gold and a long gold necklace on which hangs a crucified Jeses, bow-headed.. Her hand clinged to her mother, an overweight lady in her 60’s, wearing a short-sleeved black dress, with her gray hair tightly tied to the back.. and a man I figured to be her older brother.. wearing big glasses and speaking the dialect of upper-Egypt.. Finally, a child I guessed was 11 years old.. The talk is about immigration.. and the tension occupies the voices.. I looked back at the cross.. Maybe they live in Shoubrah**, the necklace might came from a jeweler which her mom used to buy from on installements since her twenties.. the tailor of her suit could also be the one who tailored her college cloths.. or maybe she has a talented aunt who has a sewing machine at home. Everything in that family seemed old and familiar.. as if time had froze for them in the end of the 60’s.
The consulate building.. I started realizing the place’s dimensions and people’s movement with the repetition of entry procedures.. The Photographer had repeated my picture 3 times to show my both ears and failed.. He resorted his failure to my curly hair that keeps falling forward every time I put it back, an excuse which I didn’t really buy.. I decided to immediately leave if they comment on the picture.. Yet, they accepted the papers promptly and politely.. I handed in my passport in window # 2 and headed into a large waiting room.. I estimated 60 people inside.. My eyes widened as I walked in and I started to sob.
Through the speakers, few minutes separated American voices speaking broken Arabic: Samira Yousef Ghaly***, immigration window # 4 Mounir Habib Shohdy, window #12 Ahmed Imam Aly, window # 3 Wagih Naem, window # 7 Aida Tadross, window # 13 Hisham Saleeb, window # 5 Samira Yousef Ghaly again, window # 9 Soliman Naguib Sophie Mounir Nader Grees Iman Mahmoud Wedad Sabrah Nagah Saleeb Ansy Abadair Narges Georgie Amr Adel Mohamed Hassanein Samy Aleim Showky Barsoum Amira Zaky Ahmed Abdel Haress Janet Kamal Aly Zeidan Maryam Raphael Galleela Refaat I broke down completely
“We are from Alexandria..My daughter now has the American citizenship after winning the green card lottery 9 years ago.. In the beginning she lived with my relatives who immigrated shortly before her.. She then shared a residence with 3 other Egyptian girls.. Now she is married.. But the church wedding was here, in Alexandria.. I travel and come back every year in order to get the green card and be able to bring the rest of my children.. I have a daughter who is married and unemployed.. and another who is a doctor but suffering... I also have a son who is a business student in Alexandria University… No, the recent incidents of Alexandria isn’t the reason.. It may strengthen ones heart as we eventually leave the country, but we have been having it rough for a long time now.. I am currently retired I was a general manager in the internal revenue and taxes authority but that was back when times were still good.”
Nora Younes, window # 7 A glass separator and phone set on the right.. I felt extremely repulsed.. I wanted to go back to my seat next to the Egyptian lady. “Do You speak English?” “Yes, I do” “Please put your second right finger on the red light to take your finger print. Now the second left one and don’t press too hard.” “When shall this end? I have to go back to work” “30 minutes maximum.. Please go back to your seat and we will call you for the interview.”
I looked for my friend but couldn’t find her.. I took another seat between a veiled woman and another with black shiny hair, short on the front and long every where else.. She was in a short-sleeved striped shirt.. and seemed very nervous.. “Do you think they will grant me the visa?”, I asked her “why wouldn’t they?” “Because the relatives I have there aren’t close ones: my mom’s cousin and her children”.. She pointed to a plastic paper wallet resting on her lap: “I brought them a signed and stamped letter from work, and my salary stump…You think that’s enough?” I felt confused… I asked her if she had anything to come back for, she replied “Yes, my husband”.. I took a deep breath.. she asked “What’s your name?”.. “Nora”..“Nora what?”..“Nora Younes”.. she didn’t find in my answer what she was looking for.. I asked her: “and your name?” “Janet” she said.. I didn’t need to ask any further.. In this small waiting room of the homeland they are the majority, temporarily.. for the Great Exodus had already started years ago.. and I don’t think it will stop any time soon.
With heavy steps I took my car out from the Omar Makram Garage as I thought of Rasha Sabry.. My lifelong friend who left to catch up with her sister and her aunts and was shortly followed by her parents in a year’s time.. I ran home to frantically look for the telephone number of Doaa who lives in Moqattam as if there was only few hours left before she goes as well.. The years suddenly shrinked.. Is this anything like when the Jews left Egypt in the 50’s? Damn it.. why did they go?.. and why are the Christians leaving now?.. The country’s native citizens are leaving it to the settlers!!! No No NO.. The Egyptian society is losing its most beautiful attribute.. diversity…Goddamn it.. who’s next? the secularists and the communists and.. and… Panic sets in.. I have to do something.. How do I stop them from leaving? How to bring back those already gone? Can we bring back Egypt’s Jews as well? Where is Egypt? What’s happening…What’s going on??!!! By Nora Younes * The street on which the American embassy is located in Cairo. ** A predominantly christian neighbourhood in Cairo. *** All christian names are in red.