Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Dream Slayer in the City of Time

Hard to believe that Mubarak was already head of state when I reached Cairo more than a decade ago.

Hard to realize as well that despite all computer modeling programs, “scientific” methods of socio/political analysis, the wave of turmoil now arching through the Middle East, from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt was largely unanticipated. Hard to know how and where it will end but two things are palpable: overstaying in\at power destroys structures of governance and makes “orderly transitions” nearly impossible (Haiti is a prime example); and believing that only death can part one from power harms the very cause one espouses. Indeed, the Cause itself becomes subsumed to the issue of maintaining control and power.

I reached Cairo at the end of an inordinately long sojourn in the West. When I was awakened on my first day there by the 5 a.m. call to prayers blaring from loudspeakers in minarets all over the city, I realized how one dimensional my life had been. It was, I think, a factor in my return to Hatha/Ratha yoga practice.

It was here that a Palestinian publisher told me of how all these rich Arab women brought their children and nannies to a children's literature bookfair;  while the mothers sipped coffee, the nannies chose books for the children who spoke to them "in your language..."  All the nannies were Filipinas.  "Very soon," the publisher said, "Tagalog will be a power language."  I could only smile and say "it's a beautiful language," not adding fat chance of that happening, when we're experts at denigrating our own. 

Two persons I kind of knew were then under repressive attacks: the feminist Nawal El Saadawi, whom I was fortunate enough to have met at a European women’s conference, and the Nobel Literature laureate Naguib Mafouz, one of whose stories appeared in an anthology where one of mine (gasp!) was included. Nawal endured house arrests and death threats; Mafouz would be stabbed in the neck by fundamentalists in an assassination attempt.

Thus I was goggle-eyed in Cairo, trying to process as quickly as possible its many layers of history. Time was ascendant in the city – from the pyramids in the horizon to the Coptic cemetery of crumbing tombstones one stumbled upon to an 11th century breathtaking mosque where the attendant was kind enough to let loose with a chant to show off its acoustics. While buying souvenirs, I was asked where I was from and when I said Philippines, all the men (most shopkeepers were male) said, “yes, yes, we like Philippine women.” At which I asked what they thought of the city’s top imam saying that charity practiced and funded by the country’s top belly dancers was neither acceptable nor appropriate. Silence.

The Museum of Antiquity is impossible to describe; there was just so much wealth, not simply of gold and gems, but of art. I drooled over a pair of alabaster oil lamps, wanting to run my hand over them (not allowed) to see if a genie or two would appear. Through my half a day’s meanderings through the museum, the words from Bhagavad Gita looped through my mind: “I am Time, destroyer of worlds…” – a favorite quote since I was ten years old.

Hard to believe that in a city chockfull of relics of vanished powers, someone would believe that one could hold on forever to power.

The upshot is an accumulation of rage among people deprived of the right to their own vision. Because that is what dictators, power-hogs, self-centered cliques convinced that they alone know what’s good for a country, a nation, a people, do: they kill dreams.

And because dreams are based on hope, they kill hope as well.

It is the ultimate individualism. -- #


Sheridan said...

Never thought of power-hogs as dream murderers! Great metaphor.

Anonymous said...

What would you do with three magical wishes granted by a genie Ms. Rosca?

Ninotchka Rosca said...

What else would I ask for but more and more Time?

CesarLumba said...

Marcos killed my dreams, N. I was ready to go back to the Philippines in 1972 - after 5 years in the U.S. - but Marcos declared martial law and put my friends at U.P. Padre Faura in jail. No way I would go back to the Philippines then. I didn't think Marcos would be President for life. But he was. And there went my dreams.

Great post, N.


Ninotchka Rosca said...

Thank you, Chay.

Dream slaying is physically murderous as well. The recent Tunisian revolt was triggered by a young man dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire, after police again confiscated his fruit-and-vegetable vendor cart.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

To sfauthor:

Yes, I'm familiar with the books in the link. At the moment, I'm going through the Upanishad.

Sorry we can't okay your comment as we try to keep others' website links away from this blog.

aL.g said...

Dreams never die. It is intertwined with hope. While there is hope, we can dream and fulfill our dreams. Woe to those who will try to kill or dash it. For it always stay in those who were left behind....