Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Four Funerals, a Wedding and an Ode to Amr Salama.

I just returned from a wonderful trip where I spent two weeks in my beloved country, Egypt. I was always told by my parents that I will only realise the value of Egypt when I reside abroad, and even though I did live abroad for a couple of years back in my teenage years, I didn't really feel the same bond and attachment I do now. Maybe because I was young and reckless, or that because I knew once school's over I am going back home - or that my short stint abroad was just temporary.

It's been a little bit over three years since I embarked on my Egyptair flight to Dubai. It was a Friday and out of all days in the year, it was Mother's Day, out of all the days! I was excited, afraid, honoured, and to same extent, determined. I have been waiting for that moment since forever. Living in notion that great things happen to people who work abroad - maybe it was the media or the way I looked at my peers who went abroad and triumphed with fortune and fame. I always said that going abroad was the solution to many of my problems, financially at least. I just wanted to get out - not knowing what to do next. The plan was to land a good job abroad - it wasn't a mean to an end; it was the end of my vision. I was shortsighted and didn't know what to do next.

I've always had problems with goal-setting and time-management, regardless of what I've accomplished in my life or what I managed to do in my years of existence, I will always be the first to admit that I faltered and never lived up to my potential. Why? Because I always looked under my feet. I never had a clear plan. Whenever I wanted to do something, I went on to do it. I could stop a project in the middle to pursue another project and so on, just like I stop reading a book to start another. Those who know me, personally or virtually through reading this blog - if you exist - will know quite well what I am talking about.

I don't know when I will take a one way ticket back to Cairo, but I hope that when that happens, I will be a different person than the one who left that sacred land on the 21st of March, 2014. By different, I don't mean materialistically, but one who knows what he wants and the path to achieve it.

I have stopped using social media (Facebook in particular) since June 2015. My account is still there but I didn't log once and will never log since. I gave my password to both my wife and sister so that they can check my inbox every now and then. Some people until this day prefer to text me on Facebook instead of calling my number. Even though social media is an important tool in my line of work, yet I delegate all its duties to my team, which happily take it upon them as they're looking for more time to be on it rather than off it, to my delight of course. Some people I met in those two years, whether at work or outside of it, ask me why haven't I accepted their Facebook friend requests and when I start to explain why I am not on it, they get bored and lose focus.

It was my sister's wedding!!! My beautiful, lovely and only sister, Farah. She got married to one of my best friends, Hatem Al Deeb, and I don't think that I would have ever picked a better man for her if it was down to me. I was very emotional at the wedding. My wife and friends told me that I looked stressed. I did try to stop my tears from flowing and of course I was very emotional! Farah is not only my sister; she has always been the baby of the family, the one we always spoil and take care of. She will always be a baby in our eyes, no matter how old she gets or how much money is in her bank account. I wanted my father to be there that day, walk her down the isle and hand her to her husband. My only consolation is that my dad loved Hatem deeply, and this really puts a smile on my face.

So, during my break in Egypt, I found out that four people have passed away - after they had already died and got buried, bar one, which is yet to take place as the person's body is overseas and still a lot of bureaucratic paperwork to be completed before the body is back in Egypt. Receiving news late has been a constant for the past few years since I stopped using social media and so I can't complain.

Amr Zada. Apart from the fact that Amr is known to all Zamalek Club fans because he is the son of Hany Zada, a reputable Zamalek Board Member, Amr went to the same university as me, alas a year older, and we had a lot of common friends back in the day. The last time I saw Amr was probably back then, in 2002. We never talked, but maybe we sat beside each other at the stadium cheering for our beloved club Zamalek in a derby game. I don't know, I really can't recall, but I always admired his love for the club. It was well documented in university and I respect his father for everything he has done towards the club. Amr died in April last year.

Randa El Nouri. I had forgotten that name until I received a message asking me about funeral details. I was shocked. Really. I haven't seen Randa for maybe ten years now. I got to know her through Hatem Saleh, and there was a time when I used to see her every day. She was a beautiful spirit. I don't know if she was Egyptian or half Egyptian, but I always thought she had Palestinian/Syrian blood because she was whiter than the rest of us and her family name is not Egyptian. I always believed she was different than the rest of the girls she used to hang with. She was veiled, didn't curse or go to obscene places or wear obscene clothes. She was different. I got to know that she died from cancer, which spread through her breast, liver and bones. She was suffering from cancer for the past five years and not a single person knew, except her mother. My heart cries out from the pain that she must have endured, all alone, without any supporting hand. I am sure it was her wish not to tell anyone. I don't know if I would have involved my friends and family if I was in her shoes, but I know that she is much more courageous than me and anyone out there.

Amr Samir. Couldn't really believe it when I was told. Not that I thought he or anyone is immortal, but it was just very random. Again, I haven't heard of Amr since forever or knew his whereabouts. My story with Amr is interesting because he was friends with my childhood friend, Mohamed Abou Shady, and when Abou Shady says a person is genuine, then they must be really genuine. Later, after I knew him, Amr got engaged to the sister of my closest ever girl best friend, Shimo. I was invited to the engagement and I loved how Amr and the girl danced. I was amused at the fact they got engaged because I always felt they are so different, but love knows no differences; of course, I should have known better. A few months later they broke off their engagement and I always taunted Shimo and her sister that the hotel they held their engagement at is cursed because both girls got engaged there and later off broke it. I haven't seen Amr since, even on TV which he is famous for (Amr was a TV presenter), due to my low interest in the programs he presented and also down to the fact that since I moved to Dubai, I rarely watched Egyptian TV. I was told that Amr died of heart attack in Spain because he worked out on an empty stomach. Seeing pictures of how fit he was sends shivers to my spine. A lot of us, males, would have killed to have Amr's body. Just the thought of how he could die from working out sends a reminder to each and every one of us. That same week another international footballer, Abdelhak Nouri, who's 20 years old and one of the future stars in Netherlands, collapsed on the pitch without being touched and suffered permanent brain damage. The whole football world is sending tributes out there to Nouri just like Egyptians are mourning the death of Amr.

Mahmoud Abd El Wahab Salama. It feels weird to write about someone who has no connection to me whatsoever. Mahmoud Salama is the father of famous Egyptian film director, Amr Salama. We are of the same age, however I don't know him, personally, at least. Amr and I never talked. As a matter of fact, I used to make fun of Amr without knowing him. Stupid of me yes, but stupidity has always been a part of my nature. I first heard Amr's name eight years ago from a girl I was getting to know. She told me that they liked each other the year before and he even proposed, but her family rejected him because he was a 'film director', a job that is/was not appreciated by the girl's family. Back then, Amr had just directed his first movie, 'زي النهاردة' - On a Day Like Today - which I really liked, even though I didn't admit that to the girl or to anyone at the time. Maybe I was feeling all macho and felt that it wouldn't be appropriate to say the truth about someone who liked 'my girl' - she was 'my girl' back then. I used to taunt her by labelling him "مخرج الروائع"- Director of Masterpieces - whenever I used to read an article about him in her presence or hear his name. In 2010, I joined Twitter which consumed my entire day and night. I was obsessed with Twitter (and social media in general, back then). I used to secretly check what Amr Salama tweeted. I never followed him because I felt that it would destroy the legendary macho status I built for myself, even though the girl and I were no longer associated and not even on speaking terms. Then came the revolution in 2011 and Amr was very vocal. I used to taunt him in my tweets without directly mentioning his name, and, again, make fun of him. The only time I came face to face with Amr was under 6th October Bridge, in March 2011, or was it April? I can't remember. It was the constitutional elections and he was probably going to the same public school to cast his vote, because we are both part of the same district, Agouza. Amr was going to vote 'No', which he had made very public online and there was even a TV advert before the elections that had different celebrities; writers, movie stars, CEOs, etc. and Amr was part of it. I voted 'Yes' even though I really didn't care, but I remember tweeting about it saying I met "مخرج الروائع" - Director of Masterpieces - on the way home and went on to say that he looked defeated because the majority will vote 'Yes', which actually happened, and I don't know why, but it gave me a sense of joy that Amr was defeated that day. I think we had eye contact that day while I was walking past him, I always wondered if he knew who I am. Later that year I published my first (and only) book, 'Sorry I don't Smoke' and it coincided with Amr Salama publishing his first book, 'شاب كشك' - Shab Koshk - meaning a guy who hangs around a street kiosk. Even though my book was in English and Amr's book was in Arabic, and both were totally irrelevant, yet I felt down and bruised. My book received a lot of positive reviews and became a bestseller, but its success was tiny compared to what Amr's book achieved. I did buy Amr's book, secretly again. I loved it. It spoke about me, him and our entire generation. Amr's second movie came out the following year, 'أسماء' - Asmaa -, and it was really a masterpiece. By then, I had no more bitter feelings towards Amr. I think I grew up. The word bitter is a big word but I can't find the right term to what I actually felt at the time. Was it envy? Was it jealousy? If an outsider looked at it, they would point out that he was the one who should have been bitter/envious/jealous not me. It was me who had won the battle because I proposed and wasn't rejected. But the funny thing is that when you think of it, the girl actually liked him back, way before I enter her life, and their story only ended for a reason out of their hands. However, it was me who had those negative feelings not him. I would never wish bad things to anyone. I never wished bad things to Amr, or to anyone. It's not that I didn't want to see him successful, it's just that maybe, I wanted to be successful too. And maybe I did (was), but I always felt inferior to him. It's the same feeling you get when you go to the gym, and even though you have a good body - according to your standards - but the moment you see the person beside you taking off his shirt, you admire his muscles and want to have them as well. So this is probably the best way to put it; the coloured truth is that I was the one who felt defeated in comparison to Amr. After 'Asmaa', Amr's reputation soared in Egypt, deservedly. In 2014, the year I moved to Dubai, Amr wrote and directed (he always wrote and directed his movies - on one occasion he wrote and another person directed/and on another occasion he directed someone else's work) his third movie 'لامؤاخذة' - which means 'Pardon', however the English title for it was 'Excuse my French'It was my last month in Cairo and I was busy preparing for my engagement and finishing up errands before I travel. I didn't get time to watch it - or maybe I didn' want to watch it because it would reminded me of my inferiority again. I watched that movie at home, here in Dubai, last week, and my God, it was one of the best features I've ever watched on-screen. I don't need to keep it a secret anymore. I mentioned earlier that the first time I heard Amr's name was from the girl. But, that's only partially true. I have known Amr Salama even before that incident. I have been blogging since 2006 and back then, the blogging world in Egypt was nascent and I remember stumbling upon Amr's blog in those early days. The title, 'A Visual Storyteller', caught my attention and I wanted to know who's that dude. I checked the site now while I was hyperlinking it but it seemed that many of the posts were removed. So when the girl told me about him, I acted as if I didn't know him. The same way I used to act whenever I heard his name from my friends during our usual ahwa conversations. I acted stupid, something I am a master at, in a bid to show others that I didn't know who's that unimportant person they're talking about. Deep down I knew this person was going to achieve all what he desired because he was determined, and his writings were brilliant, at least that's how I viewed them. One of the best blogposts I've ever read was written by him. It was an interview of himself and if my memory serves me correct, its title was 'عمرو سلامة يحاور عمرو سلامة' - Amr Salama Interviews Amr Salama - but I tried to look for it now online and couldn't find it. He had drafted an interview with himself, playing both the interviewer and interviewee. I loved that idea and used the same plot in a different manner to write one of my own blogposts, one that people praised me about. A year ago, I read 'Awaken the Giant Within' by Tony Robbins. The only reason I picked up that book was because I watched a video of Amr talking about it at a TEDx conference many years ago. He had mentioned that this book changed his life and led him to quit smoking. Amr is back smoking now, at least that's what his Instagram pictures tell, but that book is the greatest self-help book I've ever come across. If there is one book I would recommend to anyone, this will be it. I love the cinema and I love movies and I love reading and I love writing. I used to go to the movies alone since I was a little kid just because I enjoyed the allure - a feeling that I still get till this date every time I set foot in a movie theatre. My wife goes crazy because I am never on time and she's very punctual, yet the only place I am always on time to and make a fuss about is going to the movies. I missed flights and trains before, but I am never late to a movie. Two years ago, August 2015, while I was sitting home here in Dubai, alone, because my wife spends her summer in Egypt, I was having one of those intellectual quiet moments with oneself. I was drowning in debt (still am) and was brainstorming ways to add to my income. I kept asking myself what do I love to do. What is my passion? How can I make money off my passion? Most of the things I listed involved writing. I work in PR and there is a lot of writing involved, but the writing I enjoy is different. I want to write about things I love, things I care about, causes that I believe in. I want to write self-help, fiction, drama, you name it. I want to write about my life, which is the reason why I created this blog in the first place, and the world around me, my friends, their dreams and our journeys in life. I want to write about the people who died and are unknown to the world because they are not celebrities. I want to write about love and hate, controversies, new beginnings and sick endings. Then it hit me, why don't I write a screenplay? Let's face it, people read books anymore! On the other hand, everyone watches movies! Theatres are still filled with people. Even those who stopped going to theatres sit at home and download movies/shows off the internet or watch Netflix, etc. Show business has always been constant, even if it changing in form now due to the digital revolution, but it will always be there. I had an idea of the movie I wanted to write about. I started writing without any direction. Of course I am writing it in Arabic but I needed guidance because I didn't know how a script should look like. I found a website with Arabic movie scripts which to my delight included the script of Amr's first movie, 'On a Day Like Today'. Out of all the scripts available, this is the one I downloaded. I wanted direction. I didn't know how to divide scenes or any of those logistics. It wasn't easy (still not). I stopped writing for a while, due to lack of confidence in what I am writing (inner demons always trying to break your dreams) or due to life in general and the fact that I have a job that consumes most of my day. Every once in a while I got my collar up and started writing for days and days before I stopped for months. My wife was the only person who knew about my ambition to write a screenplay. A year ago, I was speaking to Shimo and I told her about it. She told me that there are screenwriting workshops/seminars that take place in Egypt, and she mentioned Amr Salama hosting them. She sent me a link to a workshop that he developed ages ago called 'الأفلامجية' - Movie Addicts - which was developed/conducted by both him and another screenwriter/director called Mohamed Diab. I loved the workshops and it gave me guidance. During the workshop, Amr and Mohamed both mentioned a book called 'Story', by Robert McKee, as the bible to any screenwriter. Automatically, I downloaded the book on my Kindle. I even flew to Sweden last November to attend McKee's popular 'Story' seminar. A 3-full day seminar that I would have never known about if it wasn't for Amr (and Mohamed). On the last day of the seminar, McKee allowed us to have brief one-on-one discussions with him in case we had any questions. As I was taking his autograph, I wanted to tell him that there is a guy in Egypt called Amr Salama who's probably the best screenwriter/director in the Arab world today, who admires him deeply and would like his autograph, but I didn't ask for it because I thought McKee will probably think I am weird, and I was also shy to ask for it. However, if I ever meet Robert again, I will ask him for another autograph dedicated to Amr and will find a way to deliver it to him. Maybe Amr had already met him. Actually when you think about it, I am sure he did. Maybe he attended one of his seminars or bumped into him at an international movie festival or something, but anyway, I would ask him to write Amr an autograph. Throughout the past year, I have been following Amr's progress in shooting 'الشيخ جاكسون' - Sheikh Jackson - his latest movie, which I am sure would be as mind-blowing as his previous films. I mentioned earlier that I am off social media, however I still check news, and even though I don't log on my Instagram account, yet I check what people in my circle of interest are doing, and since I am aspiring to be a screenwriter, then I need to be updated with what Amr and others are doing. A couple of months ago, Amr posted a picture of his father and asked his followers to pray for him because he was sick. I was praying for Amr's dad every day since, and he was in my prayers throughout the holy month of Ramadan as well. Two weeks ago, while I was away on vacation in Egypt, and technically 'off' the internet and newspapers, I discovered that his dad had died. Amr's father, Mahmoud, passed away on June 29th, just a day after my brother's birthday and a day before my sister's wedding. I felt really sad and had I known earlier, I would have gone to the funeral and paid my condolences, even if he doesn't know who I am. I am sure many 'unknowns' to Amr went to the funeral, either they were fans or people who knew there would be cameras and celebrities from the showbiz industry attending, and hoped they would get their fifteen seconds of fame there. I would have gone and paid my respects to a man whose son is someone that inspired me throughout the last decade. I could tell that Amr loved his father (believe it or not some people don't these days) and I am sure Mahmoud was proud of his son's achievements in life. I don't know if I will ever finish my script or work in the showbiz industry, or even make a living out of writing and my passions. My father died two weeks after my engagement to the girl was over. I started drafting this blogpost two days ago, and just today, the day I finish it and about to upload it, I read an article that says Amr Salama broke off his engagement, two weeks after his father's death. In another world, a perfect one, I may say, Amr and I would have been bestest of friends with all of our unusual similarities, unparallelled controversies and the proud personalities we wear. Amr took the leap and did what he always wanted to do. He quit his work to pursue a dream. He didn't let life stand in his way. He didn't moan about it and he clearly doesn't regret doing so. People like Amr made me realise that there is still hope, in myself and my ambitions, in the world I live in and my future that I dream of. I may have won an imaginary battle that Amr didn't even fight me in, but, I have lost the real war that I was so determined to win. People come into your life for different purposes, so thank you, Amr Salama, for everything you have done for me. Maybe one day Amr and I will sit together and talk about all this? Maybe. One thing I know for sure, if I go back in time, I would have entered The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Zamalek where I once saw him sitting all alone with his MacBook in 2010. Back then, I pointed and told my friend, Hesham Foda, to look at 'مخرج الروائع' - Director of Masterpieces - sitting all alone probably working on some crap. This time, I would tell him to continue walking without me, and go inside, march to Amr's table and ask him to be my mentor and life coach, because with a person like Amr by my side, I know I would have been able to fulfill a huge deal if not all of my potential. One problem though, had I done that, there wouldn't be an interesting story to tell or write about.
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