Friday, January 18, 2008

I Too Had Hopes And Dreams

"Don't look at me this way, I too had hopes and dreams," that's what I told him as he stared back at me. I had a look of sorrow and disappointment on my face and I expected him to have the same look on his, yet his face was filled with contempt. I waved my left hand slowly and he waved his right, I moved my head to the right and he moved his head to the left. Whenever I would make a move he'd do the same move albeit inverted in a way, but when it came to the facial expression, no matter what I did, he'd still have that look of contempt on his face.

I felt sorry for him and he felt contempt for me. I looked for all the possible futures and he looked for all the possible pasts and with all these possibilities, we found ourselves in an impossible situation of having to live with each other. He's like an old companion, who shadows me wherever I go but could never really turn into a friend.

Of course I wouldn't always see him and on many occasions I would only just remember him and hear his voice. One such occasion when I hear his voice is whenever I open the fridge door. He tells me to drink from the bottle directly while causing my thoughts to drift to unsubstantiated fears of contamination. It's always him that tells me that it doesn't matter if I infect another, trying to convince me that it's okay if those I love share what I may suffer for if they discovered what I might have, they'd let me suffer too and in all likelihood disown me.

Every time I use a fork or a spoon that will be used by someone else other than me I feel that same struggle and that same inner fear, the fear that someone will contract the virus. I've read so much and I know that this is highly unlikely but when I look into the spoon that same contemptuous face stares back and tells me different. He also reminds me that people won't shake my hand even though they can't contract the disease, he tells me that they won't want me around even if I'm wrapped in a sterile wrapping. Sometimes I'd listen to him till he wears me down and sometimes he'd listen to me till I wore him down, for there was no escape from our joint fate.

I remember the time we went to Dubai after I had landed my dream job in one of the largest architectural firms there. It was perfect, a new life and a new chance to start over without the fear of being discovered, without the instability caused by that constant fear of having to spend the rest of my life in quarantine. In short it was the chance to start living out my dream. I arrived on a visit visa that lasts three months but should be changed to a residential visa. I was in a hurry to make that move and settle down. I had left everything behind in Egypt, and I wasn't really prepared to look back, and even my old companion had disappeared for a long time and I thought I had left him back there.

But one day, well into my second month of stay in Dubai I went out with an acquaintance from work. We went to a nightclub. I can't remember much about it except that it was mostly blue and dimly lit. A band was playing for the first half of the night as we drank our beers followed by tequila shots. When we had lost our senses enough they switched to a DJ with loads of house music and everyone was dancing. The loud music and the drinks made me feel like I was in a dream. I heard the words I said as if spoken by a stranger as I talked to random people at the club. I was aware of what I was saying and yet I seemed to be just an observer, looking at myself from behind a glass. I headed to the bathroom and as the sound of loud music became distant I became more and more aware of that voice. It sounded familiar to me and not quite me. Dazed and drunk I looked into the mirror and I caught a glimpse of that familiar face that I knew all too well. It was only a moment and it felt like a dream to have seen him after a long time. I shook it off though and went back to dancing.

We left the night club and I was half drunk and half sleepy but we decided to have a little snack. We walked down a street with lots of food shops to choose from, but I discovered that this wasn't the only thing in plenty. The street flooded with a plethora of prostitutes. I didn't know if my mind was playing tricks on me or if these were really women who sold pleasure, and so I asked my friend, and he confirmed that they were.

"It's a form of tourism over here, it' not exactly legal, but the government doesn't stop it either," he said.

"Yes, but how does it work here?" I asked.

"Simple, you just walk up to them and ask 'how much', and they'll tell you their prices, but alternatively they may give you a piece of paper with their number and you can call them and negotiate a price," he responded.

"Why would they give you a piece of paper instead of just talking?" I asked.

"Well lately the police have been harassing them and asking questions whenever they talked to people so they talk on the phone instead to steer clear from trouble, but it's all just for show anyway," he replied.

"But isn't it dangerous to do that, considering they might carry AIDS?" I said as my phobia started to take its old shape.

"That shouldn't be a problem here if they have a residential visa, because everyone gets an HIV test and has to pass before they're granted the visa, if they test positive, they have to leave the country or are deported or something"

This piece of news awaked my long dormant old companion who seemed to have been determined to visit me that night. He awakened frightened and frightened me to death. What if they were on visit visa or if they had engaged in their activities with clients that were on visit visa and carried the virus, I thought to myself.

I started dreading the blood test and I was once more surrounded by that feeling of instability. Once more my old companion surfaced and looked at me with contempt. By the end of the visit visa my fear had turned to a living nightmare thanks to my old companion who seemed to have never left me from that day. I eventually listened to him and turned down my dream job, opting to live obscurely in reality. He won that time and continues to survive as long as I'm ignorant as to whether I carry the virus.

So there we were right where we started, facing each other through a body length mirror, looking at me with contempt for blowing away his dream, he had hopes to be somewhere safe with all that he ever dreamed of. He's such an odd character, this old companion, he speaks with such contempt about those carrying the virus, and yet he doesn't want me to try and find out if I have it or not. It's as if he's stealthily willing the virus to spread if I actually do have it and willing me to live in utter fear if I don't.

The odd thing about him too is that he's right about a great many things, about how people will treat me and how they will put distance between us, even my closest friends and he's right about how my life will never be the same and none of the normalcy which I enjoy now will be taken when I cross that gate. But the only reason that's true is because of him. Yes, it's because of how he feels, and how he can never accept me. It's his desire to be in denial, even though he's my own denial.

He's taken me down a spiral of despair. He's taken me to judge, he's taken me to deny and he's taken me to look upon others with disgust. He's taken me to phobia and he's taken me to mania and all the time I knew I wasn't in the right places.

It's a horrible thing to live in fear, and worse yet to be judged by someone living inside you. But even with this fear and discomfort, I think it better and more bearable than for everyone to know and never let you forget the discomfort of their harsh judgment. Even my old companion inside, who is me, thought of everyone that had the virus with disgust and blamed them for their misfortune without even knowing their story. But he knew mine and never dared blame me.

If people should find out, like my mirror companion they won't care about my story and they will blame me and judge me and punish me. They will punish me not knowing that I have enough punishment to bear and that I carry a burden with me that they can't ever imagine, not considering that I too had hopes and dreams that have diminished with the impossibility of achieving them. There's a bit of comfort with my old companion for he knows that even with his harsh judgment some cases are beyond his evil reach. Those children bearing the virus from their mothers, children abused at a young age, those who have been raped and those whom others' neglect transferred the virus into their blood stream. My old companion cannot blame those but I know that some of these people look for forgiveness from others even though they shouldn't need any.

Once in a while when I look into a shiny spoon or a shiny doorknob or a reflective glass he stares at me with disgust, but at the same time urging me to remain in hidden shame. He is my fear and he embodies all what I fear if I find out I'm infected. How I wish I could kill him, but that would mean killing everyone who would look at me with disgust; how I wish he would change, but that would mean changing everyone around who lacks sympathy or understanding; the understanding that I too have hopes and dreams and without their help, they are crushed.

This story is a work of fiction sent in to the "Creative Art Competition" organized by UNAIDS as a part of the 2007 World AIDS Campaign, the category was 'Journalism and Creative Writing'.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I've been a fool and fools get hurt because they believe things that are not true. Yet as long as the fool is deluded he is beyond the reach of hurt. It is only at the moment when his eyes are opened to his foolishness, when he sees the error of his ways that he actually gets hurt. Ironically though, it is at this exact moment that his foolishness turns to wisdom and it is the wise man inside him that starts to hurt. The fool is gone with all his delirium and foolish joy and all that remains is the suffering wise man.

I've often wondered if the fool is wiser than the wise man, for the fool never allows himself to suffer and he disappears just before the hurt kicks in. He never allows himself to hang around long enough to suffer and manages to save his skin just in time. He may be wiser than the wise man in that respect; by choosing not to bear the consequences of his own delirium.

I've been a fool and now I suffer.

I hadn't thought I'd let anyone close enough to suffer such a blow. I was prepared for almost anything but life has a way of breaking you down anyway, breaking past your defenses in the way you least expect it. It takes its toll on you, walking past your guard unrecognized in the seamless clothes of a spy underneath which, the costume of a friend. One day you wake up to realize that the enemy has taken over your walls and defenses without tearing them down. Like a Trojan horse you've taken your enemy in and now your walls are crumbling from within. You've lost the battle before you even fought and all your defenses stand as they are, but you've collapsed from within.

You were once a powerful fool with a fortress that was hard to take down and now you're no longer a fool but you also no longer have a fortress. You've been defeated and your pride does not want you to believe that you have been defeated without a battle, and you react as though there's a battle to be fought.

You're weak, defeated and broken. Don't act like you're still fighting.

't is but a dark battle upon which my insides were spilt and trampled upon by my enemy, ruthless in his indifference, unaware in his ignorance of the hurt he is bestowing upon me; His ears deaf to my cries and his words swords to my heart. My back stabbed and stabbed and in my own foolishness I've asked my stabbing enemy to protect my bleeding back and protect it he does, with more stabs. My pride keeps me on my feet, and keeps my wounds remain so deep, and if I'd only fall and rest my battered back, I'd be able to get back on track.

I've fallen from a great height, I've fallen well out of sight, out of sight from all those who looked up to me, out of all the places I was meant to be.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year's Pet

People treat the new year like it's a new president. It's as if the old president has stepped down and gave way to a new one that will fix everything. The first of January is just like any other day you live, you're not suddenly one year older, it's not suddenly the end of a year, it's just another day. Time isn't even aware that we've divided it into years.

It's as if the new year will wipe a slate clean, as if it will erase the sad part of the past. If only it were a new birth, that would make sense, but nothing is born. If you want the new year to be better, work each day to make yourself better. The year has no say in this, events don't wait for a year so that they happen. A good event doesn't wait for a good year to happen and a bad event doesn't wait for a bad year. The energies of the world are agnostic of new year's day.

There's so much pressure to celebrate a new year, or to become a new person and make resolutions. These pressures are as short lived as the day itself, midway through the month of Jan all is forgotten and you're back to living again. All those resolutions of being a better person, speaking wisely, gossiping less, working out more, getting angered less and being more dedicated to what you're doing will disappear, just like they've disappeared last year. Not many people can remember their last year's resolution for a very simple reason, they're not resolute.

The fact is that if people want to be something, they don't forget all the year and decide it on new year's. If they really wanted to do something they'd be working at it all year round. I do admit that there's something appealing about a new year and a fresh start, perhaps wanting to wipe a slate clean, forgetting all the bad history with a friend or lover, forgetting all the harm you've done others or the harm that's been done to you. But all this is not about the new year, it's about the fresh start.

Who changes overnight? Who decides to be something and becomes it overnight? It's a myth, it's the illusion that people can change at will and dramatically. There's no such thing as a new year, but there's a new day, and if we can treat each day like we treat the new year we'll be better off. We can celebrate a new day in our own way, we can make resolutions, we can evaluate what's really important. But what am I saying... I'll have none of that ... all these things we delude ourselves into thinking. Change happens when we decide to be resolute every day in our lives, not just special occasions. No one really has the energy to do that every day but I suppose it's better to be so on more days than not.

I don't know how people expect the year to have been good if they've done nothing about it and they don't intend to do anything about it. The government will still be corrupt at the end of 2008, people are still going to be cruel, and we're still going to do the things we always do... and at the end of next year we'll make new resolutions and we'll feel optimistic again like some beast has gone and been replaced by a pet. But our pet is turned into a beast each year.

Not Like My Country

A lovely heartfelt poem that expresses most of what we want to say about our country, it's a plea to whoever's listening and a cry many that have been lost in the wind.