Tuesday, February 01, 2011

interloping, or, thoughts on revolution and not having a place in it

Evan and I went down and over to the United Nations area on Saturday to see what we could see in the context of the Egyptian protests (dare one say revolution? probably not -- at least not yet).

I don't wander to the far east side very often, and was reminded again as we walked towards the East River along grandiose 42nd Street (oh how I love Grand Central Station, nestled there all gorgeous and ornate and low amongst the ugly, big and tall of the modern era) of that odd feeling of being a foreigner in my own hometown.

There were probably close to a thousand people gathered across the street from the UN, fenced into a holding area, armed with signs and megaphones and more headdresses than I've seen gathered in one place.

I felt out of place.  Too pale, to red-headed, too mono-linguistic, too (let's face it) ignorant to fully understand the proceedings.  I was anxious abut the people with microphones wandering the crowd looking for a quick sound byte.  I was ready to confess that I was there only to be another body; a body to be counted but a body without a voice in all of this.

It made me feel detached from history (my own and the world's) in a way that was new.

I've been to protests before, have marched on Washington in support of women's reproductive freedom, have marched up 8th Avenue past Madison Square Garden in protest of the Republican National Convention, have stood in the winter cold on the eve of our Iraq invasion, shouting for peace.

But this, this felt different. The people gathered there, wrapped in the colors of Egypt, holding aloft between them the Egyptian flag, carrying drawings of Nefertiti and Cleopatra and signs of Mubarak crossed out in decisive unwavering red, belonged to a history I could only dream of as a child, obsessed as I was with both Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game and Lloyd Alexander's tales of violent revolution in Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen.

What struck me now, as a grown woman with no ethnicity to speak of, no heritage but that of this infant country of ours, no real connection to another land or another people, was a certain wonderment at what it must be like to have such a vested interest in somewhere else.

It made me feel unanchored in ways I had not expected, but also a little bit grateful to not have to absorb this complicated and probably at times heart-wrenching duality.

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