Memoirs of a Mother

Rania Zaki '97 tells her 7-year-old son what it felt like to be part of the historic change in Egypt

I am an Egyptian mother of two children, in the midst of both inspiring and scary times in Cairo, Egypt. I teach language arts to amazing high school students, and I've assigned them to keep a journal/scrapbook of the revolution taking place in our country. I've written a diary entry a letter to my 7-year-old son and I've posted it on my Facebook page. I received feedback from my students as well as my foreign friends abroad. My friends told me that the letter served to give them a more personal side to what is seen in the news, something raw and relatable. That is why I decided to post it publicly. It gives you a slice of life. What happened with my family happened to many other families, too. Some have not been so fortunate to have a loved one return. They will not be forgotten.

Rania Zaki '97 with her son Seif

The Day Your Dad Joined the Protest on "The Day of Wrath"

Dearest Seif,

Being 7 years old right now, you are witnessing a piece of history that you may forget about when you are older. I am writing to you today about what you and I have seen and been through on January 28, 2011, the day your dad decided to join "The Day of Wrath" protest.

Your dad [Waleed Nassar '96] and I had a "moment of wrath" when he came to me after the Friday prayer, sat beside me on the couch and told me in his ever-so-calm manner, "Rania, I'm going to the protest." I flew off the handle. I told him that a day named "Day of Wrath" meant it was certainly not going to be peaceful, that his primary duty was to protect his wife and children, that some people go to a protest and end up in the morgue, that he can support the protest in any other way, that thousands of people were going to be there and the demonstration didn't depend on him. I said all sorts of things, anything to keep him from going. He told me that he was going to do his duty as a father, and that meant speaking up to provide a better country for his children to live in. I shouted at him as he closed the door, "It is clear that your priority is not your family!"

He left. You called to me from my room and said, "Mama, baba left a note on your bed." It was a piece of paper that contained cash, an ATM card, and your dad's bank account number and password written down neatly. I felt extreme sadness, anger, anxiety. I was paralyzed for a moment, before deciding to pray.You joined me too, and when we finished, I told you to make a wish to God. With our foreheads pressed to the ground, I heard soft footsteps behind me and turned around to find your dad kneeling down beside me. "I didn't want to leave without telling you that I love you," he said, with tears welling up in his eyes. I gave him the biggest hug my arms could muster, and in the middle of my sobbing, he told me calmly about all sorts of technological things such as how to track down his phone by GPS so that I could know where he was when the phone lines were activated again.

And so, he left again. I was left in the hands of Al Jazeera live news coverage and my imagination. At first, I saw the water cannons being sprayed on the protesters on top of the 6th of October Bridge. The water cannons were followed by tear gas. The tear gas was followed by rubber bullets. The rubber bullets were followed by firebombs. Five people had lost their lives, the news reported. I was crying so hard I had to sit a few inches away from the television to be able to see through my tears. When bloody images came up, I would scream to you, "Seif, go draw me something! Draw me anything a dinosaur ANYTHING!" I didn't want to appear hysterical, but I was, and you knew it. You sat beside me, patted my hair and said, "Mama, it's okay. Salamtek ya mama, salamtek ya mama." It was you who was comforting me. [Your sister] Lara was marching up and down the TV room chanting, "Baaatel! Baaatel!" and I thought to myself, "I hope that one day, I can look back at this moment and laugh."

I saw someone who looked like your dad, even dressed in the same clothes as your dad, stretched out lifeless inside a car. I felt myself becoming light-headed, and my speech became a little slurred. I wanted to call your dad to make sure he was safe, but the phone lines were purposefully cut. I sat even closer to the TV, waiting for the clip to come again to verify if it was your dad or not. All other clips came except for that one. My hysterical sobbing made you lose your cool, as you kept asking me, "Mama, are you worried about baba? Is baba going to be okay?"

Hours later, 9:15 pm to be precise, the doorbell rang. You and I ran toward the door. I opened it, and as soon as I saw your father, I flung my arms around him and cried like I never cried in my life before. To get to us, your dad walked many, many kilometers on foot. He walked so much, the soles of his feet were covered in blisters. He managed toward the end of his walk to hitch a ride in several different taxis, and the drivers refused to charge any fare. Your father had been in the midst of all the tear gas, rubber bullets and firebombs we had seen on TV. The next day, despite being exhausted, your dad unscrewed the metal rods of his camera tripod and went to the street at night to protect us while we slept. Gun shots were being fired all over the place, but thankfully, you were fast asleep.

What I want to conclude is: Although I disagreed with your dad about going to the protest, I know that he did it for you, he did it for Lara and he did it for the future of his country. Dad made it back from the protest, but others did not. Most of them were youth, Seif. Remember this revolution; remember the people who fought and died trying to achieve a better life; and remember that your dad was a part of it, despite your mother's famous wrath!

Be proud and dream big.

Love you,
Your hysterical mother, Rania

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