The very poor and the very curious (photo: Vincent Zandri)
The present tense of Egypt is solidly rooted in a past tense of revolution, assassinations, military crack downs, religious ferver and, of course, its rich heritage of stunning antiquities, both discovered and yet to be excavated. Amidst all this is a sense of instability and anxiety. While the new president is described to me by my Cairo fixer, Dendera (not her real name), as a moderate, he is also a card carrying member of the Muslim Brotherhood. And this is precisely what has her so concerned.
Fresh kill for the feast (photo: Vincent Zandri)
Dendera is a small, richly tan-skinned young woman in her mid-twenties who is both very well educated and career-minded. So much so she has shunned the notion of a boyfriend since her life is so busy with school, work, and her extended family. She has a kind smile, a soft voice, huge brown eyes and she has made the decision to always wear a scarf around her head to hide her hair when in public. She is religious, but not fanatically so. She believes in equal pay for all. Men and women. She wants to have a life which includes traveling beyond the borders of Egypt. But when she tells me this while standing outside the massive, ancient sea-side castle in Alexander, her characteristic smile begins to fade. She shrugs her shoulders, lowers her head and walks on.
When I catch back up to her, I try and cheer her up by telling her that if she ever gets to New York she must look me up. She perks up and regains that smile. She tells me she'll message me on Facebook. That during the revolution, Facebook and Twitter became so important to the young protesters. A cheap and effective way to communicate to the rest of the world one people's passion for freedom and a break from the old tyrannical ways. That freedom was exercised however briefly until supreme power was handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood. When I ask Dendera if it will be possible for Egypt to maintain the freedom that so many died for in the streets of Cairo while maintaining a government run by Muslim fanatics, she shakes her head, looks one way and then the other.
"No," she whispers.
But that whisper, however quiet, hits me like a scream.
We walk silently for a while along the hot pavement. On occasion, Dendera's hand brushes up against mine. The touching sends a wave of electricity up and down my spine, as if I were suddenly sixteen again.
"Don't forget," I say, after a time. "You can find me on Facebook."
"I will message you," she says.
"New York," I remind her. "I will be your guide this time."
"I would like to see the Statue of Liberty. Is it true that it's possible to climb up insider her?"
"It's true," I confirm.
"Lady Liberty," she says. "This dream is something I carry for one day."