2020 - 2022
play this recorded sound for an echoing read

During the early days of lockdown in Europe, which my home city Cairo followed shortly after, my brother who lives in Germany would message me. He asked me to listen to unusual sounds of birds in the early hours of day. He said it was a sign.

When Birds Sang Again is a story of watching a city and a family strive. I have seen the emptiness of streets of Cairo during COVID-19 pandemic and my personal toll that came with it. Seeing my beloved, wary city in lockdown. Taking refuge in my home. Keeping the same distance from strangers, friends and family alike – anyone who doesn’t live and eat with me, including my uncle Mustafa, who taught me everything about Mathematics. And my friend Eslam whose hugs comforted me.

This forced reality of physical distancing has deeply affected my emotional wellbeing. In a culture that celebrates physical affection with loved ones and family, especially the elders, as a show of  bond and respect, this imposed distancing made many of us who care for our elders vulnerable. Astray. 

I listened to increasing sounds of birds, including my own, through the quiet of lockdown as arms reached for empathy and conversation and I wondered if it was their relief  of  our cities becoming quieter or their comforting us for our collective grief - for everyone we had lost without a farewell.

I wondered if it was just us staying by our windows longer.
Hoping to hear a sound we got used to, all over again.

I wanted to call you back but I was watching the news

Our elders were kept
in separate rooms
when birds sang
we see the clear sky now
and long, uncut grass

A few days ago, he asked me
why I no longer kiss his hand

When I come home, I would kiss my mother’s right hand, then swiftly lean on it with my forehead.
I would do the same to my father. It’s a tradition I grew up with.

To show respect to my elders.

When birds sang
and streets emptied
and gatherings were banned
do you hear them now?
with their warnings
and public announcements

and daily counts

and rooftop prayers

I’m sharing this story as a solace, and affirmation, to so many of us who still worry for their elders, those of us who lost them, those who still ask their mothers to be careful shaking hands with others. Those of us who dream to be hugged and touched by a stranger again without an unspoken stress. Those of us who cannot yet dream of traveling because they don’t have a European Union approved vaccine available for them. Those of us who are waiting for everyone else to tire out of traveling so that they may have a chance of seeing the world. To those of us who want to go to their own exhibitions and not get told the pandemic is making it difficult for them to get a visiting visa.

when it's all over? What happens