In my last days in uniform, Antar would accompany me wherever I go. He would sleep next to me in my  guard  shifts and  wake  me  up  if   I fell asleep.  He was a  scary  one year  old  to  many,  a  deep loving  dog  to  few  of  us.

The Dog Sat Where We Parted

A PERSONAL project of my one year long path through service in Egypt. I had to do it. Army service is obligatory for all eligible men here. I could not travel or work unless I do my time. 

Apart from endless guarding hours, miles of walks everyday, caring for the ill and tending for the wounded as a doctor, I spent my year of service on a trail around the country. I spent most of it in solitude. Suddenly, my aspirations, dreams, feardoms, even my haircut looked just like everyone else’s. It was one of the greatest challenges in my life; to be stripped away of my indiviuality, to submit and to find comfort in a stranger’s company who looked and dressed just like me.

I have been marooned.
I have been taught to obey. To follow orders
I have been rediculed
made fun of
thrown in jail
I  caught a geko
I raised three dogs
I heard a snake but never saw it
I cried
a lot
I grew plants. I watered them everyday. Sometimes every other day.

I don’t have a name tag. I’m a soldier. Dressed as a soldier. Referred to as a soldier.

I saw the last lunar eclipse in awe. It was once in a lifetime. I saw the eclipsed moon and our milky way. Together.

I shaved my head like everyone else.
We wore camouflaged skin that appealed to sand.

You get us the ration this time. Tell them you’re a doctor.

There we sat. We listened to radio waves and cosmic noise. Waleed knows how to work the radio in remote places

There was sat in the scorching heat

A jerboa came to me soon after sunset. I could barely see. I knew what it was.

I would always see it from a distance but never so close. You would know a jumping jerboa if you gaze long enough into the desert.

It let me pet it.

This blessed land
This mountain on which you
stand guard
that was ours before
you collect sand
While I collect stones
To say I have been here
when my uncles ask

It grew to the confines of my gun. It fell off its nest and stayed with me for two days. I heard it sing and fly away when I was asleep.

Abdul Nasser said he wanted to travel after he’s done with the service. Hiro said he will start a business in Libya with his uncle.

“Is there any Libya left?”

I will take a break after all of this is over. Saeed told me he will take the boat to Italy.

Antar: An Arab knight whose solemn sword shines as much as his poetry. Whose horse reaches for both the weak and his lover.

We promised each other we would keep in touch afer our service is over, like egrets on the banks of a Nile.

We were reminded of how our homes smelled like. How we found friends in strangers.

What remained was a signed photograph and a long grass that hasn’t been cut.
One photograph of peers and a print of a tree that was once half a meter tall.

Stories of conscription are rare because they live in closed circles of intimacy, told from father to son or from relative to another.

As a space restricted by its legal boundaries, military service partakes in the imaginary of the journey of initiation. Many myths surround it. Cinematography fantasises about it and states idealise it.

From the state’s point of view, conscription is the primary tool for forging a man’s character and instilling a sense of the fatherland. Yet, the “school of men” is where the dreams of conscripts decay through silence and solitude. It is where individuality fragments and appearance melts under the uniformisation of attitudes. In The Dog Sat Where We Parted, Mahmoud Khattab, photographer, writer and doctor, describes his personal experience of conscription. Through writing, drawing, surreptitious pictures with a cell phone, and above all, a meditative knowledge of the passage of time, Khattab found meaning. The linearity of the story is the same linearity that marks the steady frequency of time. “I grew plants” / “I took care of some dogs / Especially Antar / Who was always with me / Long nights watching the stars and constellations."

In this work, photography is part of the broader project of resilience because it aligns with the routine of all other actions.

This photo journal, designed as an auto-ethnography, introduces a new and ambivalent understanding of conscription. The internal conflict between individuality and duty to the nation culminates in a search for pure poetry that transcends both spheres.

The photographer’s notes from the field also suggest an emanation of masculinity that is inseparable from care and sensitivity under the leaden blanket of the “school of men.” Both an observer and a subject, Mahmoud Khattab tells the story of an inner journey of self-healing and catharsis.