« Respirer Paris, cela conserve l’âme. »
– Les misérables, Victor Hugo
One shot, two ways: I’ve just uncovered photos I took of my brother in front of the Eiffel Tower during our cruise along the Seine which ended up fitting this theme perfectly. When these two photos were taken, the grey clouds previously dominating the skies cleared for a while to give us just the perfect amount of lighting to light up the tower in the background. And the result:
The story of how my brothers arrived in Paris that winter of 2011 was like something from a Die Hard movie. Two of my brothers at that time were studying in Cairo, Egypt, where they have been living and studying for just over a decade since they started high school. When my mother, eldest brother and I arrived in France, my mother said they should join us in Paris after their exams were over, so they made the necessary arrangements to travel to Europe in advance from their end with the help of a local friend. At this time, Egypt had not yet caught the ‘Arab Spring’ virus, and things actually seemed alright in that aging and struggling country.
Fast forward to the week after Ben Ali was finally overthrown in Tunisia, and when Hosni Mubarak’s head was now put on the guillotine by hordes of angry and unsatisfied Egyptians. We followed very closely BBC and CNN’s live broadcast of the deteriorating state of Egypt from the heart of Tahrir Square — and things were not looking too good. Internet was cut off following rumors that millions of demonstrators were mobilized primarily through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, so we had no way of contacting my brothers. Worse, we read that Cairo International Airport had also been shut down on the very same day that my brothers were due to fly out of Egypt. That morning I remember the three of us waking up in my rue de Javel apartment, asking ourselves if those two boys actually made it out of the country or if their flight, like so many others, had also been canceled. So: to go to Orly and pick them up, or not to go?
28th January: We decided to gamble and took the metro to Orly anyway that morning, and much to our surprise and tremendous relief we actually found those two boys waiting for us in the arrival hall, safe and sound! We didn’t waste any time to get firsthand updates on Egypt, and their story certainly didn’t disappoint.
The previous day, a Friday, there had been rumors that a massive demonstration was about to occur after Friday prayers, which meant there will possibly be roadblocks, hostile confrontations between the authorities (police or army) and the protestors, and maybe no one who would be willing to drive them to the airport, which could also be completely shut down if things took a turn for the worse. So my brothers left for the airport that morning even though their flight was scheduled to leave at three in the afternoon — a good move because on their way to the airport they could already see people marching in the streets and police cars on standby and road blocks in progress. Their predictions were absolutely right; immediately after Friday prayers, things started getting pretty serious as protestors began marching in large numbers in the streets, and it was only a matter of time before these protests turned violent.
At the airport, the departure halls were cramped with passengers who were waiting for their flight out of the country, and also those who wanted to book a seat on a flight — any flight — on the spot to get them out of Cairo ASAP, but not many were so fortunate however. By this time, all scheduled flights proceeded as normal but roads leading to the airport were already blocked, and protestors had announced their intentions of shutting down the airport to prevent Mubarak from leaving the country by plane. According to my brother, their Iberian Airlines flight to Madrid that afternoon was among the last — if not the last — flight to leave the airport before it was completely shut down.
When we saw my two brothers at Orly that morning, and as we sat together in our hotel room watching the alarming state of crisis unfold in Egypt day after day, no words could express the immense gratitude we feel upon seeing them safe, alive, and finally with us. Call it fate, providence, divine intervention, or God’s work — whatever it is, I’m glad it brought our small coven together again for a reunion in one of the most magnificent and unthinkable places in the world — Paris. The last time we were together was in December 2008 in Cairo, and much has changed since then.
So, Paris: perhaps I romanticize you too much, but I know too that you are not that perfect — too many smokers and dog poop on the sidewalks, your drivers always seem to have a murderous streak in them, and I could never get those ridiculous Vélib bikes to function properly. But the reason I love you so is because you have given the word ‘family’ a whole new meaning to me, and I simply could not ask for more.