Cleopatra is Victorious

By: May Kosba

March 12, 2006

Aswan, Egypt

They marched under the torrid rays of the African sun of Southern Egypt, by the bank of the ever sparkling sapphire vein of life cracking the desert’s dominion in the most magical form. They walked, shoulder to shoulder, backpacked, endlessly. From the outside they appear to be the most perfect couple. They fit together; however, catching their hands entwined could be marked among the Seven Wonders of the World. Silence is often their third trustworthy companion on this trip, and a savior at a time of battling over a point of difference; could be as trivial as a micro-bug or heavy as a giant fossil dinosaur, it doesn’t matter, because these two can stick out enormously.

 He’s the compass of this trip and all that she can do is ride the needle. Surprisingly, he seems to know the pathway to every site like he knows the back of his hand. Impressive, yet shameful. His overwhelming knowledge of her land and history leaves her with too little input. She’s his interpreter.

Amidst the thoughtful noise filling the temporary peace pact they keep renewing to make this trip a success, for him indeed, a different type of noise forces itself on the situation. It seems that the people of Aswan are parading. She smiles, happy she can add a tip “Oh yes, today is the remembrance of Prophet Muhammad’s birth (PBUH),” and a firm in shock “Aha” is what comes out of the proud Italian’s mouth. The shock is not the product of the news, it’s the product of how the road had been enthralled and transformed into a river of chariots with some fine Arab horses, men in cotton Galabeyas dancing with their wood sticks and bizarre moves, and the olive green flags waving freely with Arabic alphabets glorifying the creator. This time his eyes could feel all the lines on each waving cloth “There’s no god but Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) is the Prophet and Slave of Allah”. Nadia’s translation was the only way he knows what was written; the main reason her presence is of importance; she is perfect at converting thoughts from one form to the other, and it’s what he needs.

They continued walking beholding a scene to be replayed only in their memories. As he captured his precious photographs, they conversed for a while and without cause the talk landed on Cleopatra; the infamous queen of ancient Egypt. How liberating it was for Nadia to keep affirming “Cleopatra is not authentically Egyptian, and even if she was, she’s a disgrace,” “she screwed up big time.” Mesmerized by her confidence, with a sly smile, Alberto replied in a broken accent “She might have been mistaken, but how come she’s not Egyptian?!” She sought the perfect response to unveil one of the most crucial historical pitfalls which most people fall into, meanwhile, feeling victorious in correcting a piece of information for the man who thinks he knows it all. “Cleopatra is a descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty, who were descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Ptolemaics spoke Greek and refused to speak Egyptian or even learn. How arrogant! Check it out on Wikipedia. Thus she is not Egyptian. I consider her a horny invader and a colonialist, and I loathe her.” she said stubbornly. With a piercing gaze into Nadia’s eyes he affirmed “Yet she’s beautiful and powerful. I see her in you.” Albert’s quote came unsheathed like a sword railed upon her scar, bleeding droplets of stunned longing to revive a memory of her first cut, ironically, his name was Albert too. Opposite to her promising victory, she defeatedly uttered “Thank You”, then decided to be as equally playful and added “Anthony” with a broken smile.

To their right lay a large parameter of serious social activity. It is hard to tell what this place is, the flying dust and scattered litter are overwhelming, but the rusted swings are enough mark to translate the massive scene into a children’s park. The photojournalist blood in his veins, banged and rushed to hold the camera, ventured around to find the perfect image kissed by his lens and a press of his lucky finger.

He surfed the river of dust and she followed, without a word, struggling to comprehend under which state of chaos this ugly scene could fall. This park simply embodied poverty and its cruel associates; dirt, chaos, deteriorated aesthetics and absence of awareness of rights and duties. All lived by a culture that no longer enjoys the merits of its giant civilized heritage when the people know those merits only existed in the temples of the city. She felt chained and in pain watching all the tourists who instead of capturing images of Egyptians celebrating, aimed their pistols, firing bullets of mockery for the world to see the perfect comedy; outweighing virgin laughs at Charlie Chaplin’s clumsiness, without a sound. The truth lost on them that some Egyptians bravely entertain a long history of marginalization, exclusion and rigidness of the desert and continue to stick it out.

Alberto, on the other hand, embarked on a photo hunting trip in this perfect oriental circumstance from the perspective of his western eye. His body language conveyed a meticulous search for the perfect angles, his moves invaded the covered women’s circles, zooming in and pointing his camera to the top of women’s heads, navigating from one circle to the other, skipping one important detail which Nadia thought couldn’t be missed; one thing is respect for those we think are of a lower class, if they are. She angrily interrogated in her fluent self-taught American accent, a proud feature as she’s always considered herself a global citizen and proper English is one tool “What are you doing, Alberto?” – “you can’t take photos of these people, not like that, it’s inhuman.” And humanity was another. He looked away, swearing in Italian and she could hear the F word shoot through her ears completing the perfectly polluted picture, impossible to undo. He searched for a communication blocking line, then promptly shot back at her sharply “Listen, if you’re embarrassed, then get out of here, I don’t need you.”

His words raided her cloudy skies and forced her into a battle, made her cause resemble William Wallace’s in a spur of a moment. She hasted to cease his reckless photographic uproar and shouted “You listen, these are unusually poor Egyptians celebrating, besides you haven’t asked these women’s permission to see if they’d like to be on your camera, its impolite and unethical.” You might be a successful professional Italian photojournalist who perfectly knows how to hold both a camera and women; I still have no clue who you are, what agenda you’re on. Your intentions might be purer than milk but if you post a photo like that and leave it to the Universe’s common sense to figure it out, it would still say this is how Egyptians celebrate, definitely and despite your intentions. This I cannot allow, not on my watch.” As the last word came out of her mouth, the seemingly eternal unrest began to unwind. She remained still in her place like a nail, while he went, his turn of struggle took over him as he held his camera, defying her will…when he was evidently biding his pieces of torn pride to return to him.

She turned to the neighboring Nile and the skies, gazing in hope that he would retrieve his conscience. A few moments later the short wait was ended by his invitation to leave the site.


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