Watchfires

1 February 2011, morning

Watchfire

In my last entry, I wrote of our happiness and increased feeling of security now that we have moved to our friends near the pyramids.

When it was properly dark the men and the young men went to the bottom of the garden to stand guard. The family lives in a communal  compound of three houses with the grandparents in one, a set of parents and their two children in another, and another couple and their daughter in the third. Next door in another plot live a brother-in-law with and his family and his parents. The property has two entrances which, in the current circumstances, present a bit of a problem. One entrance is at the end of a cul de sac, and we rely on the neighbours who maintain a vigil at the top of the street. The garden entrance is on an unlit, unpaved and unpatrolled road. This is where the perceived threat is and this is where the watchfire has been lit each night since Friday, 28 January.

The women and girls stayed in watching TV for a couple of hours and then went out to join the men. A small fire burned in the street creating a barrier to any passing car. The men and the gardeners were armed with big sticks, trimmed and shaped over the past nights. The sticks are physically beautiful and redolent with meaning. Passing cars are stopped and the password requested. Yesterday it was bowaba – gate. Today it is shagaa – courage.

A couple of cars passed, one with a man carrying a machine gun. A neighbour paid $2500 a night for armed guards. Periodically gunshots are fired as warnings. One, two or many. We listen for three, which might mean the shots come from an intruder.

After a couple of hours we went in for a fix of talk shows. The men did another shift but women were sent home to bed.

At night we turn off all lights except in the one room where the TV is and like the rest of world are glued to BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.

The neighbourhood watch, militias, or what ever you want to call them are amazing. Good humor, camaraderie, and respect characterise the interactions. Everyone is greeted with the usual salutation — Peace be with you. The incomer responds, “And also with you.” The temperature is taken, information exchanged and the car drives on. The dignity and respect accorded others is one the most impressive qualities in the Arab world.

I mused on communications during the American War of Independence and of how neighbors worked together for something bigger than themselves while taking responsibility for their own security.

I am honored to be witnessing these transformational events.

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About Cleopatraknows

I was living and working in Cairo. Now in New York City, which is another city that never sleeps.
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One Response to Watchfires

  1. Andrea says:

    Wow! It is nice to hear this. I hope you are still safe out there.

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