Guide Walking through Fire: The Later Years of Nawal El Saadawi

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He is the representative of the majority party, and, to boot, that party is in power, rules under its President Mostafa Al-Nahas Pasha. His shoes have thick heels with a crescent of iron nailed to them and make a shattering noise.

The Later Years of Nawal El Saadawi, In Her Own Words

But that day the stifling atmosphere, the smoke, the lack of oxygen and the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air had deadened my senses, put me in a kind of daze made worse by a painful headache running down at the back of my head to my neck. Like me he was seated in the last row, but on the opposite side near the window. Between us was a long row of empty seats.

He wore a white shirt with an open collar, no tie or jacket or sweater. He stood up, walked without haste up to the platform and stood behind the lectern. When he began to speak it was. He went straight into the subject, into what was necessary, important.

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We need unity of the people. Our eyes met across the long row of empty seats. He did not wear sunglasses, so I saw his eyes as they met mine for a short moment. But in that moment I saw light in them leading to more light, two open windows leading to his depths, to an ocean where I would drown, to a world unknown.

Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi

I walked back home. It was an autumn day in the month of November The sun was setting or had set a few moments ago. I reached Abbas Bridge as the rays of the setting sun spread over the sky in a carnival of colour: blue, green, indigo, orange, gold and silver, intermingling in the clouds, taking on different shapes that resembled the many heads and arms of the dancing goddesses in ancient India and Egypt. I continued to walk through the night as it enveloped the world in a thick blanket of dark silence where nothing moved except a soft breeze and the occasional flutter of leaves.

The waters of the Nile flowed by, calm and unhurried, the way he walked. His voice echoed in my ears, wafted through the silence. My feet continued to move over the ground at the same pace, as though I could go on and on until I reached the end of the world. I arrived home later than usual. My mother lit the stove to heat a dinner of chicken broth, fried rice and chicken for me.

I devoured the meal like a hungry child. She sat in front of me watching me eat as she used to do when I came home from primary school. Her eyes seemed to see into me. Her voice penetrated through the barricades I had carefully built around myself. I buried my face in my plate trying to avoid her eyes. Something like a cloud, a shade of doubt passed over her face. Did my mother have a special sense organ like the tactile horns of some insect through which she could feel certain things?

Or was it my eyes she read into like an open book. I went up to the mirror and stared at my face. My eyes looked the same. A deep black with a sparkle in them. Maybe the sparkle had increased a little.

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  4. This girl standing in the mirror, was she same girl I saw every day? We talked, lived through the experience of love and marriage and of having a child. Yet from it all, what remains in my memory is this silent encounter lasting no more than a second, this moment which can never be lost, will never die. I always remember this particular moment — of all the moments we passed together — as the most important, the most lasting in the six years between our meeting and our separation.

    We met and parted, met and parted again and again, yet each time what brought us back to one another, despite everything, was. Was it a language, a magic code that belonged to another world, to a world which is not ours, expressing itself away from time and place and words?

    A moment outside the universe, outside all natural law, outside the logic of reason and mind? Yet to me it seemed the most logical, the most natural moment of all, a moment which forced its way into mind, into memory, into time and place, into history. Otherwise how can I explain that in all of those six years, this is the moment I recall, although it only lasted for a second or maybe half a second of time. Between our meeting in November and our divorce in January , my life was changed more than in all the preceding years of my life.

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    In those same years Egypt also underwent important changes which ended in the collapse of the ruling system. Ahmed Helmi was one of the freedom fighters who took part in the guerrilla attacks on British troops occupying the Canal Zone. With others he helped to pave the way for a change in the system. The freedom fighters were the fuel of the revolution. They were the unknown soldiers who fought and fell in the front ranks, who paid for the revolution with their blood.

    Some of them died in battle, others survived. Yet when it was time to celebrate the revolution and its victories, no-one remembered them. Unknown soldiers have no names, no faces. They become a piece of stone engraved with a few words that crumbles into pieces with the passage of time. In the small auditorium the student leaders made fiery resounding speeches calling on the students to join the ranks of the freedom fighters. But they themselves never travelled to the Canal Zone to fight.

    Not one of them was hurt, or received so much as a scratch despite the battles that were going on.

    Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi by Nawal El Saadawi

    They made speeches, then went on their way to graduate on time, rose up to be ministers, to be rulers wielding power. Sometimes I run into one of them by accident in a meeting or a conference. We exchange a few words about the old days, but not one of them ever recalls the freedom fighters who interrupted their studies and went off to fight in the guerrilla war.

    Before leaving to join the freedom fighters, Ahmed Helmi asked my father for my hand in marriage. My father had always supported the struggle against the British, always waxed enthusiastic when mention was made of the freedom fighters, but marrying his daughter to one of them was another thing. Marriage, my son, is a responsibility.

    Nawal El Saadawi: 'Religion is all politics'

    The word shabka filled me with terror. Was I being hooked to the bridegroom? At the age of ten I had learnt how to drive bridegrooms away. Not once had I dreamt of myself wearing a wedding dress. But love was a different matter. It carried me up into the sky on wings like a bird. I became Zahra, the North Star, full of light, and by my side up there in the heavens was suspended another star full of light, a spirit without body, just two eyes, and nothing else material that would touch my body, apart from the ring around my finger with his name engraved on it.

    What will people say if he marries you without buying one? What people, mother? What shall I say to them, Nawal? The value of a bridegroom was measured by the price of the shabka he bought for his bride. This was the case in all families, including that of my father and mother. In the School of Medicine, when my student friends heard that I was refusing to accept a shabka they gasped. Nawal, you are absolutely crazy.