The Missing Drop


Gas Mask Made in the USA prayer Tear gasSaturday 29th January 2011

I awoke this morning after a night of fitful sleep. My eyes were still burning and my chest was tight; the after effects of a teargas attack. My whole body ached, presumably from where I had been so rigid with fear, whilst attending the demonstrations in Downtown Cairo.

I barely lasted 1 and a half hours protesting, before fear drove me back home to El Maadi. Riot police did not hold back in attacking the peaceful protesters and began firing teargas canisters almost immediately. According to reports, police began attacking people as soon as they left Friday prayers, some even entering mosques.

To begin with my friends and I were at the back of a large group of demonstrators and only wafts of teargas were coming our way. Surgical masks soaked in vinegar were providing us with good protection from the gas. Unlike my friends, I had no tears streaming down my face, just a burning sensation in the back of my throat. As the gas came closer, I joined in the shouts of “Yarrup”, “Oh God,” and “Allah Wa Akhbar,” “God is the Greatest.” Finally the effects of the vinegar wore off and as a canister landed close to us, we were engulfed in the gas.

It is difficult to describe the horror of teargas. I felt as though my lungs were on fire and I gasped to catch my breath. I had to resist the urge to rip the mask from my face in what would have been a futile attempt to gulp in fresh air. I could see Snoopy just in front of me, as he and his friend Omar held onto each other tightly. I clutched at Snoopy’s arm, gasping and reaching. I tried shouting “Yarrup” and “Allah Wa Akbar”, by my voice was barely a whisper. As we got away from the gas Snoopy asked me if I was ok but I was incapable of speech so I just squeezed his hand even tighter. Poor Snoopy, I probably crushed his hand. We stumbled into safety and people began passing around water and Pepsi to wash our eyes. This is supposed to help but I found it made my eyes sting even more.

We found a small curb outside a shop, where we sat in an attempt to calm down. None of us spoke; we just stared blankly ahead of us. I was comforted by the sight of masses of people praying the Asr prayer right in front of us.

I started to feel that I wanted to leave and return home, but I feared that it would be impossible. It seemed as though the police were attacking us from all sides. Snoopy must have read my mind as he asked me if I wanted to leave. I admitted that I didn’t know and that I was really scared. I told him that I would wait and see how things progressed, but as we approached the crowds again, I felt that it was no longer possible for me to be brave, so I told him I would leave.

I reassured Snoopy and his brothers that I would be safe and I headed down the road towards an area where there were very few protesters or police. Fatigue was really beginning to set in; I guess I was in shock. I asked a man where I could find a taxi but he told me that it wasn’t safe and that I should take the metro. He insisted on walking me to the metro. I tried to tell him that I was fine and that I could manage but he insisted and I didn’t have the strength to argue.

I found him buying us both tickets for the metro and he escorted me onto the platform. I felt as though I could barely walk or talk and I was shaking all over. As we sat down on the station chairs, I found myself in tears. I suppose I was exhausted and emotional.

When we changed trains at Mubarack station, we found tear gas moving along the platform. We ran to the train and scrambled against the crowds to get on. The man escorted me all the way back to Maadi, where he insisted on buying me chocolate and Pepsi.

The man’s name is Karim and he is a typical example of the warmth and care I’ve been shown by the truly amazing people of Egypt.

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