About their little things…

We met at Friday as usual…

We were sitting in a circle… very close to each others… we were trying to conquer the cold outside with the warmth of our intimate conversation.

Today's session was about the power of symbols… how  are big meanings represented in little actions or little things… freedom can be represented by bird's wings.. A country by it's flag.. a memory by a piece of paper or a photo.

For any artistic form of expression, we need to know how to express things with their symbols… because this is one of the elements that gives depth to our art work.

Each one in the circle was asked to get some thing that represents him or her… we put our things on the floor and each one started to talk about how is he/she represented in that thing.

stories flowed… one after the other.. layer after a layer…. how many layers do we have deep inside our selves… how do we hide our thoughts.. fears.. dreams and longing in the way we dress or in the things we carry…..

After telling our stories, we had a reading exercise… a short story that was followed by a set of questions about the symbols… how it reflected the author's life and feelings.

Being very full with meanings… we did a writing exercise that started with this sentence ” people think that I am……” and each one of us wrote his own thoughts.

Writing is still a challenge for the youth… they didn't develop their style yet and they always think about writing as a school assignment. This time they spoke their minds freely.. after which I introduced them to facebook notes and they were very curious about how to customize security settings.

At this part, we were done with the writing part and the photography session started.

Each participant had to pick a piece of paper that we prepared before the session.. each paper contained a single abstract word: belonging, fear, love, colors, waiting, etc.. they were divided to groups of 3 and each group got a camera and were left for 1 hour outdoors taking photos that express the words they had.

We were amazed by their creativity !!!

Then Seif introduced them to some rules of photography to help them develop their shots and creativity.

By the end of the day, Seif told me that he didn't expect that the youth had such layers deep inside… I smiled… I was actually overwhelmed with their stories….


The Third Tale

The afternoon…

The tiny streets of old Cairo are completely blocked… the car can barely move few inches in ages…

I avoid looking at the clock in front of me… I close the windows,, turn on the AC and let the music flows with the angelic voice of Fairouz the great lebanese singer… listening to Fairouz is like looking at the sky… both are open horizons of peace and satisfaction….

I escape the crowd and fall into my own thoughts….

I remember the morning session.. the small acting exercise we had.. I smile… I wonder how many approaches we can use to engage the youth in a learning process… today is our first photography class… Seif and I wanted to start with a warm up exercise to widen the group imagination and raise their attention… They became engaged… then we asked them to split into smaller groups to write down which topics are they interested to cover through photos, videos or written material… They spoke their minds to some extent… still they are not used to the participatory education process… the educational system in Egypt depends on the flow of knowledge from the teacher to the students.. that's why we feel insecure when somebody asks us to share our knowledge or to speak our minds… one of the challenges here is to liberate the group from the trap of  the”right or wrong answer” and to extend their options in finding the suitable answer for each one of them.

After we had discussed the topics together; Seif took the group to Al-Mouez street in old Cairo where they are going to take their first photography class. I had to stay a little more time in Al-Mokattam because Mahmoud had to have some shots for the documentary film there. Mahmoud is a film director.. he was assigned by global voices to document for our project through a short movie.

I thought that Seif must have started the photography class… I can imagine him walking down the streets with the group teaching them how to look for the story in each photo….the rule of thirds.. how to imagine eyes for each object and how to talk to scenes…..

Mahmoud noticed that I was totally taken by my thoughts.. he turned off the music and asked me to make use of the time we are spending in the car by taking extra shots for the film.

I corrected my position and waited for his coming question… he asked: “what do you expect from the youth? do you expect that they may turn to be professional writers or photographers?”

I paused… took a moment to think…

” I don't expect anything from them… and it doesn't really matter how they are gonna be in the future… I know it's my role to open up their life choices…. I'm giving them an extra tool to know themselves… I expect that some of them may like photography and some may not… at least they had the chance to know what they are and what they are not…….”

I then turned Fairouz on again… and the cars started to move…

The Second Tale


“Stories are our way to tell that we once were here.. we once existed…”

Two years ago, I went hiking with my friend Marwa through AlNaour mountains in Jordan… she was holding her camera and capturing the elegant nature through her lens…. she turned to me and said that she was not good at writing stories… she can perfectly capture a scene through her camera but she can not tell a story.

I smiled and told her that a story is a series of scenes… to tell a story you have to have meomry.. and memories are a series of pictures with sounds.. smells.. movements and feelings… you can not think of your father as a word… when you are saying a word you are actually visualizing life.

I started my first story telling class in Mokattam from the “visualizing life” point…. We were like 10 people.. sitting in Alwan & Awtar space for the first story telling class.

Story telling is about sharing… some people are intrinsic by nature.. they find it very hard to share a story… they are afraid to expose theirselves to others.. sometimes they are afraid of getting others bored of their story.. they miss their finest details in order to quickly finish the tale and get rid of their worries.

After we had had the orientation session the week before; Sara, Mahmoud, Seif and I discussed together what's the best entry topic that we can start the story telling class with in order to break the ice and get people inspired to talk.

I started by asking the group what makes a story a  good story.. in other words.. what makes us listen to some stories and don't listen to others?

They took a moment to think… and then Mohamad said that truth is what really matters.. fake stories are unpersuasive.

I smiled at him.. Mohamad is the youngest among the group.. he is 11 and he is brilliant… the way he thinks before he talks.. his hand gestures and his words.. all give him an older appearance to his actual age and his questioning eyes.

Islam was the second to talk… Islam is 18.. a hyperactive person.. and a very talented rap songs’ writer. Islam said that every story needs a teller… and that he gets attracted to tellers with good style and spirit.

We went on identifying what makes us listen to a story… how can we tell it… and how to share memories together.

Our topic for today was friendship… our intimate memories with our friends…

They all took a moment to visualize their scenes…..

Islam talked… at the background of his words I figured a school… the play ground… interfering voices of students and the ringing bell… the typical egyptian class room.. the teacher and the smell of the new books at the beginning of the year. Zooming in into the scene you can find Islam and his friend Hassouna and the story….

After each story we had a short discussion.. about the quality of the scene and the content of the story…. Sara was trying to probe into the stories and asking reflective questions.. like “what makes Hassouna your best friend.. what do you have in common and how do you support each others”.

Shortly after,, Mohamad talked… his words drew a camp… little children from different Arabic countries… different dialects…. the breathtaking  joy of knowing and learning… freedom…

Mohamad chose to tell about his lebanese room mate.. and the way they interacted together.

I asked him.. “why did you choose to tell about your friends from the camp and not those in the school or neighborhood ?”

His tone changed a little when he replied ” I don't have any friends here.. they think I'm different”.

Basma talked at last.. she told her story with her friends from Minya in upper Egypt…. the scene fades out as she talks about her childhood in that far governorate…  she described her feelings.. more abstract words that can only be felt with a hazy picture as one gets to talk about his own self.

I felt I'm crowded with pictures.. and I began to think about the writing and photography classes… I think we have alot to capture here 🙂

will be back after our coming writing class.. stay tuned 🙂


Azza, Seif, Mohamad, Tema, Ahmad

Tema and Mohamad

The First Tale


The holy month announces itself…

Driving my car through the tiny streets of AlMokattam district,, the car goes through the ups and downs of the unpaved streets… I drove slowly in order not to hit a running child or the groceries stretched at the shop fronts.

I smile when I see Ramdan Decorations hanging between the buildings… for a second I smell my childhood essence at my grandmother's house in Manyal… Ramdan is different in the old and relatively poor districts.. it's more vivid and sensual here than in my home place.

I park my car and walk to Alwan and Awtar (A&A) building… Today is my first meeting with Azza Kamel the founder A&A and the team who will be working on the project.

Mahmoud welcomed me.. I have known Mahmoud sine 2007 and he is one of my favorite writers.. that's why I asked Mahmoud to join our project to teach the youth we are working with ” creative writing classes” The aim of these classes is to use writing as an expression tool through documenting the daily life through articles and stories.. He invited me to a cup of tea and we had an intimate conversation till Azza finished her meeting and was available to talk to me.

She was wearing my favorite color combination… white chemise and beige pants.. Although it was my third time to meet Azza, I failed to determine her age…. She looks very young, but when she talks.. I felt the time growing in her eyes… I don't know but I felt comfortable as if I was talking to my mother or sister.

Azza listened to my presentation on the project.. She said that she liked the idea when she read it in our previous emails. she took the conversation into more practical point… how many participants the project will include.. what kind of support do I need from the NGO and how can we select the appropriate participants.

We agreed upon holding an orientation session about the project to different groups of youth enrolled in the NGO activities and to make some sort of personal interview with those who show intrest to join our project.. I think that our resources can cover like 15 to 20 participants. We agreed upon holding this orientation session on Saturday.

While I was talking to Azza, Seif arrived… His face was flushed of the heat outside and the heavy bag on his back… He dropped the bag and sat next to me.. Azza welcomed him.. and I introduced him as a perfect photographer.. he smiled and took a sip of the water glass that Mahmoud brought to him.
Azza asked me if I want anything else.. I thanked her and promised to meet her soon.

I turned to Seif and smiled… Sief is that kind of persons who bring alot of happiness everywhere he goes. He is 18, studying applied arts and you can hardly find him without his camera.

Seif listened to me while I was talking about the project. I told him that I met the group of youth who we are going to be working with in a workshop last February.. that I was amazed at their artworks and that I felt along our training process that they feel detached from their space..

I told him that I plan to work on two threads with them.. the first thread is the story telling thread. I mean.. we will have a weekly story telling class.. in which we are gonna choose a word to tell our stories about.. for example,, family, friends, love, authority, dream, religion and places we love. From the stories, we can figure out life.. and from the stories.. we will have a very rich material to write about.. to capture in photos and videos or even to tell in sound clips.
And here comes the 2nd thread… the writing, photography and videography classes.

we paused for a second then he asked: ” why do you want them to tell their stories?”

- ” to discover their relation with their place and surrounding” I answered promptly.

He seemed unconvienced and then asked: ” and why do you want them to discover their relation to their place… this might be uncomfortable if they couldn't accept it.”

I paused.. as if I was for the first time thinking of his words… I finally said ” I'll be talking now about Nesma.. not about Mokattam or the youth here… I started to know myself through stories.. stories I tell to the others about myself and my life.. and stories others tell  me about theirselves and their lives.. I began to notice my abilities and layers… I knew that I love Manyal more than nasr city where I'm living now.. I knew that when I smile while I'm talking about my grandmother's house… I knew that I'm kinda of a quiet person who preferes genuine things to modern ones. I needed to know to be able to act.. I needed to know to be who I am now.”

Agroup of children entered the place.. some of them came to talk with us… we then changed our place to be able to concentrate in planning for the photography class.

This was all for today.. will be back after the orientation session to tell the second tale 🙂

Meeting with Youth of Alwan Wa Awtar

The Mokattam Blog Tales project is currently recruiting youth part of the Alwan Wa Awtar NGO to take part in a series of citizen media workshops that will begin in August. The project is being coordinated by Nesma Geiwely of the Namaa Initiative, which is partnering with the Alwan Wa Awtar organization that is operating in the neighborhood. On July 27, Nesma met with three youth of the center to let them know that they will be beginning in the following weeks. The youth were very excited about the new project and promised to talk to the other youth to organize them for the first storytelling workshops.

Nesma meeting with the youth in the Alwan Wa Awtar computer lab.

When asked about their activity online, the youth mentioned that they mainly use the internet to chat with their friends or to use the social networking site Facebook. They are eager to find out ways to upload their own original content and make connections with others around the world.

Nesma and three of the youth participants outside Alwan Wa Awtar computer lab