Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Coming of Age


They were faces in my eyes.

Flashes of brown and black as I snapped away.

Click. Shout. Click. Voice breaking. Click. Sob.

Members of the Bedouins, nomadic tribes in the Sinai, were holding a press conference in a tiny office in Cairo a few days before they were holding a major demonstration, generally called a strike here, in Al-Arish, a city in the Sinai.

They spoke of experiences that shot shivers up my spine. Sisters raped, brothers thrown in jail, detained, shot, killed, homeless, tears, raised voices, fists in the air.


A group of us were at this conference, which was sponsored by the Democratic Front, a new political party in Egypt. The Bedouin cause had been adopted by this party, as one of their grievances against the government.

Journalists asked questions, people had tears in their eyes, tempers flared.

The Bedouins, supported by the Democratic Front were going to hold a strike in three days; a strike to protest the government's treatment of their people.

Enough was enough, they declared.

Later on, we found out that we, as journalists, were offered a chance to go cover the strike in the Sinai that weekend.

Bring it on, we thought.

Hold up. This is dangerous. We don't have press passes, we don't know who is driving us there. There will be police. Will it become a riot? Guns? Shooting?

We had discussions about going to this strike with our professor and with each other. Our professor recommended we not go but was leaving the choice up to us.

We were pumped. We were ready. We were journalists.

And we were scared.

I woke up the morning of the strike, preparing to leave with two other reporters, my closest friends on this trip.

I assessed the trip in my mind. We don't know who was taking us across to Al-Arish, which is 45 minutes away from Rafah Crossing - the border with that Egypt shares with Gaza. We don't know where we would be staying that night.

The Bedouins at the conference promised to get us to the strike regardless of how and when. They promised to get us there.


I felt it in the their desire to have us there. To have anyone there.

Can anyone hear me, I thought I heard them say. My sister was raped. My brothers, shot.

Am I worth your time? Am I worth your life?

Wait a minute, I thought. Do I even know you?

I pulled on my socks as I sat on the bed. There is a risk, I heard a voice saying in my head. Is it worth going?

We don't know who is taking us. We might get turned away by the police at the checkpoints. So many ifs and mights. Oh, and the possibility that we might get shot by security.

It’s my birthday on July 4th. Will I ever see the day I turn 23? That’s absurd. I will turn 23 and I will moan about getting older.

The idea of not being alive for my 23rd birthday because there was a minute possibility I wouldn't come back from a Bedouin strike was ludicrous.

Getting shot? Oh, come on.

I was scared, but not fearful for my life.

This might be the Middle East but I was aware that getting shot was so rare, that the possibility of it happening was near to nil.

I want to be a foreign correspondent. That‘s why I am on this trip. And even though I didn't expect to be faced with the prospect of being smuggled into an area of high contention to cover a story on this trip, I imagine that I will be doing it some time in my life.

Might as well start now.

Was I trying to prove that I wasn't scared? No. I was scared.

But there wasn't a moment that I did not feel safe. Once the feeling of security dissipated, I would throw in the towel and say that this job wasn't for me.

Until that morning, I felt safe about going.

I sipped my diet coke, anxiously waiting for our Bedouin driver to call our translator. We waited in silence.

We slept. Two hours went by before he called. He said he was going to meet us and take us to another man who was then going to drive us to the village where the leaders of the strike were at.

Another driver? Wait a minute. This was getting too sketchy. He then changed the route that we were taking.

This didn't sound right.

We knew the Bedouins wanted us there. But we had to trust the people that were taking us. And frankly, we didn't.

We called it off.

Not because we were scared. Not because we feared for our lives.

But because there was no trust. And I didn't feel safe anymore.

Are you worth my life? Only if I trust you.

There was light on my face. A tiny candle shone in front of me as my friends sang happy birthday. Everyone smiled and laughed, jazz rang in my ears, and I was happy.

As I smiled at the candle and thought about what I wanted most in my life. I thought of my niece, my sisters, my brothers, my family, my friends.

My sister was raped, my brothers, shot, I heard the Bedouins say.

Is any story worth dying for? Their story could be my story. Their family could be my family. Family is family wherever you go.

What means the most to you, probably means the most to someone else.

If they want their voice heard through you is it that bad to give it to them? They don't have one of their own.

Would I give my brother my voice?

I blew the candle out.

Happy Birthday.


Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Marium, I am moved by your story. I was in the Sinai last year, with Bedouins. I will make this comment short, because I don't know if I've gotten the signing on, etc., right yet. They deserve better.

Marium said...

thanks lauren...they definitely do..just to clarify some points:
- we are working here as journalists and write for hte arizona daily star.

-the strike didnt end up taking place but the democratic front is still backing the Bedouin cause

-funny fact: The man who was going to drive us to Al Arish was going to take the "dirt road" that no one knew about to get there. If he was caught driving journalists, he would go to jail, especially since he was taking the back road and we had no press passes. Moreover, it is apparently well known in the region for police security to fire at bedouin drivers for no apparent reason...dont know if thats true but its scary enough. So our driver dude called us and told us that he was going to drive us to another guy, Mansoor who would take us to Al-Arish.
-Our translator made some phone calls to some of our bedouin contacts in the south of the Sinai. They were not involved in the strike. Mansoor turned out to be Mansoor, the wanted outlaw dude of the mountain who was apparently under house arrest by the government, ran away and was hiding it out in the mountains. Mansoor was freaky. And he was gonna be our driver.
-needless to say we started thinking,...Mansoor is gnna drive us to Al-Arish, when he is wanted by the government and was gonna be the driver for 3 American girls and one egyptian who works for the BBC.
-Yea, we no longer felt safe.
-But its still a cause worth fighting for, and reporting. Even if it is for Mansoor the mountain outlaw.