I have a little story...
...and it goes like this:
The first time I saw him he was standing in line waiting for the medical checkup. While I managed to get there in my Speedos, he was only wearing cheap, worn-out cotton jockeys. Utterly disgusting, I thought. But didn't give it more thought. I was more occupied with pondering the 1 to 3 years I'd have to spend in this shit hole, my well-paying job I'll have to forgo, and how I’d manage to live with similar white-jockeys-wearing guys.
When the inevitable happened and I knew that I'll be spending my year there (while my world was tumbling down, and the earth shaking beneath my feet), I saw him for the second time. This time he was standing with a bunch of his friends and laughing. The bastard, I thought, he must have had his luck and escaped this shit. Involuntarily, I moved nearer, trying to hear what those army-evaders were talking about. All I heard was a guy telling him "your mom, son of a bitch, will throw a real celebration for you when you're back in your shitty village....at last, she'll be able to get you out of home for three years...” I didn't believe it. They're cool with that? I can't stand the thought of spending 400 days there (I was already counting the days), and they're laughing about it. Then I thought that's probably because they don't have any job out there, and they practically don't have a life. The army is actually a step up for them. Yeah, that's it. That's the reason they're happy. Yeah, it is...
Three weeks later I saw him in boot camp. He was sitting beside me in mess. I was disgustingly, playing with the strange looking food in my plate. I was thinking about the daily insults, the exhausting drills, and the long hours we had to stand under the burning sun in attention. It was too much for me, I pushed away the food. "Gonna eat that ya dofaa?" he asked, calling me this hideous term that I hated. "No" I replied. He immediately pulled my plate, and gestured me a thank you. Typical, I thought.
Shortly after I was transferred to my base unit, I saw him coming through the gate, holding his mekhla (sort of the military handbag). Obviously he recognized me, because he came in my direction, with a wide smile across his face, and as soon as he was near, dropped the mekhla, and hugged me. I was puzzled. "I can't remember your name, but I remember you" he said. "You never knew it" I said in a typical deadpan fashion. He was hurt. I thought I should make it better. "My name is Wael" I said as I forced a smile. "Ahmed Hassan" he said enthusiastically. "You're a university graduate, right?" he said as I walked him to the barracks. "Yes, I am" “I guess you're having it easy" he said "you're out of here in no time" "10 months!" I protested "that’s a lot of time". "10 months! I have 37 left" he said in a hurt voice. This time I didn't sympathize. You're not missing anything out there, I thought.
A couple of months later, I was standing on guard, when it happened that his shift was the same time as mine. On that night I wasn't able to smuggle in my little mp3 player, so I was pretty much bored to death. He moved closer, and started whining about the army. This would be a long night, I thought. A couple of hours later, he asked me: "so what are you a graduate of?” I told him. "And how much do you pay as fees there?" he asked. Unlike my fellow classmates who went to the army, I had no problem answering this question. I didn't like to lie, and I never thought it was something to be ashamed of. So, I told him. "60000 pounds a year for college!" he exclaimed. I nodded. "And I ended up in the army, nevertheless" I said trying to smooth-out the situation. He didn't consider my last remark, and went on "I'll never have 60000 pounds in my whole life”.”Surely you will" I said trying to lift his spirit. "What 60000 pounds ya am Wael?" he said in a broken voice "we're really poor people..." And then he went on telling me about his family, their little home in a village near Mansoura, his dream to work as a menady for a microbus driver "I can get 500 pounds a month doing this" he said in an excited voice. This time I was really interested. In some level I felt a connection with him. He had a life that he had to forgo to get into the army. But more importantly he had a future to dream of. He had aspirations and he had hopes. This I could relate to, I thought.
Since this night on the gate, I really started to like the guy. Despite having a hard life, and a harder time in the army, he was very funny nevertheless. He would joke about officers who call him names while he is driving them around. He would joke about how he didn't see his mom for 2 months while we, stationed in
The day I was leaving the army for good was the last time I met him. In his typical, smiling manner he told me that he will be transferred to Rafah to serve in the border guard. An officer was being transferred there, and wanted to take him there with him. I promised him to keep in touch. I never did.
I did hear about him though. Three months later, his name was published in Al-Ahram under the headline "The name of the Egyptian Army martyrs in the Rafah border clashes", and next to an article be some guy trying to play the incident down because of "political considerations"
This story isn't fictional. Although I don't think I knew the guys who were killed on the border, I will never be sure, though. But even if I didn't, somebody else did. Because they all have families, hopes, and aspirations just like Ahmed did, and nothing, absolutely nothing can justify their murder. I can't stop thinking that it could have been me, a relative, or a friend who received those deadly bullets. I wouldn't care whether it was a Palestinian, an Israeli, or a godamn mormon who pulled the trigger. The tragedy had happened, and nothing could bring back those very real people who were killed.
What's tearing me apart, though, are people who, sitting in the comfort of their homes, demand to cut the killers some slack, because they're being killed and harassed themselves. How about: no we won't cut them any slack! If they grieve for their dead and pray day and night for vengeance, it is only respectable to our dead that we do the same.