The days go by
The days go by
And I ask myself
Am I Arabic?
Am I European?
Am I White?
Am I Black?
I am African
My ancestors built the pyramids
I am African
From the North to the South
I am African
From the inside and out
I am African
I can’t hide it anymore
I am African
Where else am I supposed to go?
Africa, I love you Africa
Africa, From New York to Congo, From Chicago to Cairo
Africa, we all come from Africa, we all must go to Africa
Im going to be buried in Africa
I can never forget the alluring moments of my childhood summers in Egypt. In these intimate moments of melancholy, the glowing sun would clash with the Blue Nile waters in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. By geographical contrast, in the Mediterranean Port City of Alexandria, Palm trees would complement the sun and inundate the light blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. At night, beautiful Egyptian women would walk along the beaches barefoot with city lights illuminating behind them.
It is reminiscing on these moments that I remember that at the end of the day, I am not European, nor Asian, I am, in fact, 100% African. I am African like Jesus, Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, Naguib Mahfouz, Umm Kulthum, Mandela, Malcom X, Youssef Chahine, Fela Kuti, Jimi Hendrix, Jacques Derrida, Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Bob Marley and Aimé Césaire. I am African the same color as God.
My Grandfather from my Dad’s side is dark skinned originating from the Southern Egyptian city of Qena, which is situated on the East Bank of the Nile, north of Luxor. With his curly hair and glowing eyes — he would start his mornings on his balcony in old Cairo by sipping on a cup of tea and smoking a cigarette while passionately reciting Sufi Islamic poetry and vernacular poetry by Ahmad Fouad Negm.
In these precious moments, he would often gaze at the sun intimately. Indeed, like many Egyptians, my Grandfather had an affectionate relationship with nature, and often spiritually communicated with the Nile River and the Earth. Most importantly, he was most often in direct conversation with the sun — which represents life and order sustained and renewed in an ongoing way by creatively passing through death and chaos.
By contrast, My Grandfather from my mother's side is from Mansoura, a city in the Nile Delta with almost a myriad amount of farmland around it. He is known as a Fellah, meaning farmer, which are perhaps the closest living descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Indeed, Fellahin’s lifestyle seems to have changed little over the centuries — as pictures on ancient tomb walls show people farming in the Egyptian countryside (Pateman, Hamamsy, 2004).
Notably, the Fellah’s love for the Nile is infinite — my grandfather would say. He would often sing about it as if it were his lover and often compared it to a beautiful night as did the renowned Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafiz. When my Grandfather would talk about the Nile, tears would flow down his soft checks like rain. He would emphasize its gorgeousness, its blueness, its infinitude. Many farmers like my Grandfather are often in direct conversations with the Nile. Indeed, as one scholar notes, "Never perhaps were a people so profoundly influenced by environment as the Egyptians were by the land of the life-giving Nile with its unique and miraculously ordered seasonal phenomena”.
Similarly, the Greek Historian Herodotus notes that the earth, river, sun and climate in Egypt have a strikingly special significance and are completely distinctive. Most peculiarly, however, was how these elements of the natural order participated in a cycle of recurring transitions that passed from one state of being and order, through death, to a renewed state of being and order. In doing so, humans have the opportunity to rise to a more qualitative life now and to eternal life in the afterlife, thus confronting the inevitable losses and deaths which punctuate our existence on earth. This is exactly what my Grandfather told me when I was grieving the death of a family member or was attached to useless material positions. He would often tell me: “Take life simply, take life as it comes, never hide your true feelings, confront and express them”.
He would advise his often angry and moody son in law to creatively process all his negative feelings that were stirred by chaos, thus creating a transcendent tranquility. He often compared human emotions with a flood, meaning that if our feelings are creatively channeled, our souls would be like fertile land and a prosperous Nile Valley with rich mud. By contrast, if our feelings are concealed and inauthentic, our souls would wash away in darkness. He often emphasized collaboration, and love, as did the Nile Valley dwellers who channeled the silt-laden inundation, regulating the just distribution of the muddy waters to the surrounding fields.
I remember at a young age, me and my older brother had gotten into an argument during a summer in Egypt. I was incredibly hurt that my older brother said something vicious to me, so I slapped him in the face. Before things escalated, my Grandfather pulled me aside and told me to let out my anger in a composed yet creative way so that I can monopolize on it to create something truly divine. In other words, I converted unconscious energy into conscious energy by facing, processing and integrating the negative experience into my conscious awareness, thus becoming more enlightened and mindful.
My Grandfather from my Mother’s side had a beautifully humane quality to him. He would often say to me “Blacks and Whites all the same, Muslims, Christians and Jews all the same”. He especially envisioned Egypt as a special land where Muslims and Coptic Christians blended together in a land full of rich history — “We are all people of the book” he would say. He would get exasperated when he heard Sectarian rhetoric against Coptic Christians and would say: “Copts were here first”.
To reiterate, My Grandfather never cared about one’s religion, race or class like many of his fellow citizens did. Instead, he cared about the purity and beauty of one’s soul, and like the Ancient Egyptians and Coptic Christians, he believed that a person’s heart is the battleground which one’s true character manifests. He would often embody Ancient Egyptian mythology into his daily ethos by saying: “keep your intentions pure, distinguish between right and wrong, act kindly, respectfully and responsibly”.
Moreover, he would claim that a beautiful soul must have a balanced heart that embodies virtues such as truth, justice and morality thus referencing the Egyptian goddess Maat. In regard to social class, my Grandfather remained a Fellah at heart, despite his prestigious social status due to his numerous crops. He never engaged into Egyptian elitism like his wife. In fact, he often gave money to the poor and treated his maids with the utmost respect and dignity. He highly disliked Egypt’s corrupt and unjust rulers and would protest against the British occupation under the King Farouk as a University Student. “I was born a Fellah and I will die a Fellah” he once said. The British, like the Romans occupied and exploited the recourses of Egypt, and My Grandfather found this to be unacceptable.
Indeed, My Grandfather never forgot his roots. “I was born a Fellah and I will die a Fellah” he once said. He would pray for the Fellah’s flourishing and thought that the Fellah is the most important and prestigious person in Egyptian society — “Without the Fellahin, we would starve to death”, he once said. Truly, he reminds me of Shenoute, a charismatic leader of a large Coptic Church White Monastery in Upper Egypt during the 4th and 5th centuries.Specifically, Shenoute and his fellow Monks constantly reached out to respond to the needs of the poor and destitute by constantly praying and working to free them from their dehumanizing condition.
Despite my Grandfather’s attempts to help me work the earth of the heart, Western modernity, consumerism and societal expectations can often make me into an angry young man that never has the time, desire or the proper tools to work the earth of the heart. I remember times when my Dad would call me useless and stupid, and I would feel an enormous amount of pain that I wouldn’t process in creative ways. I remember all the false and hurtful things that have been said about me by others. I don’t forget those who love me, and I don’t forget those who betray me.
At one point during the summer of my Freshman year of University, I became extremely angry and began thinking that the whole world was specifically plotting against me. I began having temper tantrums and it seemed that all the ancient wisdom that my Grandfather had taught me had been traded in for Western benevolent narcissism. All the anger that had been stored in the earth of my heart corrupted my innocent, warm and pure little heart into an evil and corrupt heart. My repressed rage became beast like and disordered, and I began lashing out at my poor mother for no reason.
Indeed, all this anger was gradually brewing inside me and was waiting to be released. The most traumatic memory of this dark period that I became angry about was an instance when my father lashed out at me for dying my hair blonde and said he would disown me if I didn’t dye it back its original color. After this experience, I felt powerless, belittled, cheated, humiliated and controlled. I remember thinking that it was such an unreasonable response to such a silly thing. My dad’s position was probably that I would be looked at negatively by his family in Egypt, who would start saying that he might have a homosexual son. The irony of this is that his mother would often dye her hair blonde and her father was Turkish with blonde hair.
Even though my father’s position was unreasonable, dogmatic, meanspirited and stupid, I later began reflecting from a psychoanalytic perspective why I decided to dye my hair. Indeed, it may have been out of self-hatred for my African features such as my unconventional black, bushy, afro like hair, and its curls. Was I conforming to the White Man after all the years of feeling shunned and different? After reflecting on this experience, I truly worked the earth of my inner heart in a creative way. I made new observations and philosophies out of this negative experience and learned to love myself more. I used writing as a creative outlet of release and wrote a piece criticizing my father that was similar to “Kafka’s Letter to His Father”.
After this dark period of my life, I began returning to my roots, and I decided to trade anger for melancholy. I began revisiting my grandfather’s favorite author, Naguib Mahfouz and his musician, Umm Kalthoum. I began listening to music from Algeria, Mali and Nigeria. I became African again and I loved it. My identity has made me channel my feelings in unique ways, such as poetry and film. When I am upset, I always remember my Grandfather saying: “Take life simply”. Indeed, like the ancient Egyptians, my grandfather was always focused on the party that is this life, and not the next. To him, death is not an end, but a new chapter.
In the times of uncertainty and turmoil that followed the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, my Grandfather assured me: “Don't worry about Egypt, it is in all the holy books, Jesus lived his childhood here”. Indeed, Egypt shaped the first five years of Jesus’s life apropos the way he thought neurologically and cognitively — thus influencing who he is as a man. When Jesus moves to Egypt from Palestine, he internalized an African pattern of meanings that predispose him to think, judge, and act in characteristically Egyptian ways. How fascinating is it to think that I spent some of my childhood in the same land as Jesus? I am African the same color as God.