Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hate and Love

It’s the first day back to school! I can’t tell you how excited I was to return to St. Andrew’s today. For the past two weeks I’ve felt pretty lazy and useless, and too much time to sit around and think is never a good thing for me. So, back to work it is, and what I joy! I missed seeing the teachers and students and staff so much. One of the teen students came to my office to inform me that she’ll be “traveling” on the 26th of this month, meaning she will resettle, specifically in New Mexico. What?! No warning! I was so sad to think of her leaving I actually cried, right there in front of her. Thing is, in past years this was so common; people were resettled all the time. Since the peace in Sudan, however, resettlement has mostly stopped. Of course, this is a happy moment for the student and her family, so I reminded myself in those tears that they are also tears of joy for her future, even when my selfishness wishes her to leave at the end of the term, not now. :-)

While the day was full of joyous hugs and kisses as we reunited with each other, it was also full of sadness. I spent a good portion of the day talking with students and teachers about the violence that ensued last week when Egyptian authorities raided the camp where thousands of refugees have held a 24/7 demonstration for the past three months. From what I know (which may be incorrect…I’ll keep searching for the truth in this), the ‘leaders’ of this demonstration finally signed an agreement with the UNHCR in which the UNHCR would offer financial assistance for housing and interviews on refugee status (esp. for closed file people) in return for the evacuation of all demonstrators in the camp area. (For the past few months, the UNHCR has been trying to meet the demonstrators’ demands, but has not had the resources or authority to fulfill such demands, such as resettlement to a western country.) Unfortunately, the leaders did not inform the demonstrators about their end of the bargain, and they continued to live in the grassy area in front of a mosque in Mohandeseen. After another week passed, the Egyptian government had no choice but to surround the area and demand the refugees leave the area. The refugees refused. Finally, around 3:30am on December 29th, police started firing water cannons at the protestors.

Women and children tried to hide under blankets, already chilled to the bone in these cold Cairo nights. Violence irrupted, and a stampede followed. Egyptian police were clubbing the refugees, and the refugees fought back. Only 27 deaths have been reported, but all I’ve heard in the past week is that the number is much higher—like 200 to 300 people, mostly children who were trampled.

Every refugee I spoke with today had a friend, family member, or clan member die or sent to jail in this mess. Our teachers have been quick to respond. Many are housing the homeless demonstrators for the time being, and just as many have spent this holiday break helping others look for lost loved ones. Some are in jail, some are dead. On my desk is a list of eleven children (including their name, age, and tribe) who are still looking for their parents. John Peter showed me a photograph from BBC, pointing out his friend who was being forced into a bus.

One of our students, an 8-year old boy who was at the demonstration, was badly beaten. His younger sister, four years old, was sent to jail for 2 weeks until Dick was finally able to get her out. She came to St. Andrew’s yesterday with her mom and brother, explaining that every time she tried to cry in the jail someone would cover her mouth with their hand to silence her. Another student , whose mother had been badly beaten (with broken arms and shoulders), has been traumatized and spent much of the day talking about her feelings to one of the teachers. All of the students are traumatized. Mariam tried to get her students to talk about it, first by asking them what came to mind when she said the name of the park where we took the field trip on Dec. 22nd. They said such things as “good food, reminds me of home, fun bike riding, good games.” Then she asked them what they thought when she said the name of the park, and the class grew silent. Finally some said, “babies dying, water, cold…” As I was discussing this with Mariam, one student brought her a drawing of the park (by this point Mariam’s class was in Art), showing violent police officers, crying children, and many exclaiming questions of “Why?!”

I’m holding a teacher’s meeting on Wednesday to discuss ideas of what we can do to help. What we really need is a professional counselor; someone who speaks Arabic and would be willing to serve us for awhile. Some are concerned the children won’t talk to any Egyptian right now, so we aren’t sure where to find an appropriate professional. Then again, maybe it would be beneficially for them to talk to an Egyptian counselor. Right now what I fear most is the hatred that is breeding within the hearts of Sudanese and Egyptians alike.

It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America. This afternoon I downloaded one of his speeches to read and ponder. King spoke so strongly of nonviolence, of peace, of justice, of love. No matter how much people continued to hate him because of the color of his skin, he never let hatred enter his heart. Ironically, last night I watched the three-hour movie Gandhi, and found myself thinking about such issues of hatred and love. I thought, “Gandhi is a great man; I wish I could be filled with that much love even when those around me are beating me down.” I find I’ve often failed at filling my heart with love for the people who have demoralized and harassed me this year in Egypt. Sometimes I really feel like I’m being weak in this way; that I need to have thicker skin and a kinder soul. I went to bed last night feeling encouraged to wake up today with greater love than the day before. Now, I pray that our Sudanese and Egyptian friends can do the same.

Gandhi once said, “People fight for two reasons—for change or for punishment. I say leave the punishment for God.” I hope in the days to come we all fight for change, and fill our hearts with love as we do it.

News articles: (The man in the photos is our teacher’s


  • At 1/22/2006, Anonymous Sarah said…

    Sarah-Ironically, I was discussing how nonviolence was the path to success that MLK used as well just this past week. We were discussing how our administration and others of the past have failed to see how successful this method was for getting things done. IT is ignored that violence hasn't solved much [worldwide] besides anger, death, fear, and hatred. This is true for the past 40 years. As you said in an email to me, that the anger you understand many Arab people to have toward the US is not helped, only fostered, by this war in Iraq. I can only wonder what a nonviolent--perhaps concerted international aid--approach would result in....


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