Today my post is dedicated to Dr Hany Hamam; an amazing human being whose life path took him to the study of medicine and then to cosmetic surgery. I want to dedicate him this post as a thank you for showing me the better side of life and for his generosity, his integrity and the gentleness with which he treated one of “my” street girls as he changed her life.
I arrived at the shelter today at 6pm. This is the latest I have ever been. It was darker than usual. It hadn’t occurred to me before that the charity, with its sparse financial resources, would make do with the TV light in the evening to save the electricity counter ticking. I felt ashamed that this explanation only crossed my mind after I had automatically reached out to switch the lights on. I went up, the first floor was empty and dark, the second floor hosted everyone around the TV. I immediately noticed that Leena wasn’t there today, Mama Madeeha tells me her mother has come to take her. She moves her lips to one side, as only Egyptians know how, to express her sadness at the situation. She’s upset because this isn’t a family visit for Leena, her mother is taking her three days to spend on the street with her. Taghreed adds, three days if she actually does bring her back. Shams toddles hurriedly my way with her arms in the air saying “mama” demanding I carry her. She does not know that I have come up specially to see her and hug her and take my own dose of the love that these children have become a huge source of to me.
Me and Taghreed and her 4 month old son leave and go back down the stairs, in the dark this time. Taghreed tells me she’s learnt the way down by heart and not to be scared. A little ashamed of myself, I take out the torch in my bag to light the way down despite her reassurance (and yes, I have a torch in my bag, as well as a million other random things!) We wait for Mr Emad, the duty manager and 3am Ashraf who’s working unpaid extra hours this evening to drive us to 6th October City; a journey that takes us just under three hours in the Cairo traffic. I am in my element in this little micro bus. I am humbled by the amazing people sat in the front, giving their time and effort for a cause that is so dear to my heart.
During the three hours that it takes us to get to Dr Hany Hamam’s clinic, Taghreed tells me of the times she looks in the mirror and remembers how she got this scar. She does not spend long telling me how, but instead, excitedly tells me how well this doctor has been treating her in the times she has previously been to him. Dr Hany had written to me on twitter telling me he wanted to help the girls who had the rape scars, that he was a cosmetic surgeon and offered to perform these procedures free of charge. I was not in Egypt at the time and to be honest, ashamedly I could not keep up with all the offers of help that were flying in at me after the few posts I had written about the girls. But, I did pass his number on and I returned to find out that Taghreed has been to have the surgery and she was going today to take out the stitches. She tells me how clean the clinic is and that he treated her like “The Lady Taghreed” and joked with her and had asked her for her name. She had answered “My real name or my fame name”? She had joked with him and said “Abo Lahab” in answer to her real name. She told me this had made him laugh and she’d liked him ever since.
It may seem unremarkable to you, reader, that the doctor treated Taghreed with kindness and respect. If it does, then please let me explain. During the journey, she tells me of her child birth experience in comparison. She had been to the university hospital “Dimirdaash” in down town Cairo. She tells me that as soon as she walked in, in pain, she was asked where her husband was, what the scar on her face was, who was going to vouch for her. She said because she didn’t have a man with her, the doctors were able to use her to teach the younger doctors without her consent, so that after one doctor checks her dilation, 20 other hands were in her. They had also told her not all patients get anaesthetic when they were cutting/stitching and that they would only spray a little on. She tells me this story shaking her head with a slight smile and tells me that if Dr Hany had seen how they had treated her, she was sure they would all be in some trouble.
There were other stories Taghreed tells me on our journey, she tells me she doesn’t want to eat till Leena comes back – these two have a very special bond. She recalls the time Leena’s mother had taken her for two weeks and bought her back to the shelter naked with chicken pox and with more lice in her hair than all the lice she had ever seen in her life. It’s more moving than I can find words to write to hear Taghreed speak like this. I am amazed at how wrong I was when I first saw her. I had judged her as harsh and quite cold and dangerous. Her tenderness as she hugs her 4 month old, speaking about someone else’s child with such concern and helplessness is painful. She jumps from one conversation to the other, from stories of her fathers beatings, to being tied up in the institutions and beaten, to the freedom and fun on the street, to the friends she used to sleep with on the rail tracks, to the social workers that took her once to KFC. The two stories she always comes back to are of her friends whom she can’t find anymore and to her worry about one day not being able to afford her son’s education. But just as quickly as the concern appears, it leaves her eyes as she remembers stories of kindness or risk that she choses to tell me.
Taghreed’s stories are interrupted as we drive through 6 October. She points out at all the empty flats (as I had done before her) and asks me how comes there are so many empty buildings and so many people sleeping on the street. On her first journey here, she says all she could think about was how to come her on her own and just live in one of those rooms with her son, have a door shut behind them for safety. She had thought that she could grow some apples like the 6 she had stolen one day for her and her friends when they hadn’t eaten for three days and then when they had money, they had gone back and paid the fruit seller who in return for their honesty refused the money had given them 6 more. She tells me people who steal because they are hungry shouldn’t be punished and that all of Egypt were hungry. She laughs and kisses her baby telling him he would have an education and make 200-300 pounds a month and never go hungry.
We arrive at the surgery. Taghreed guided us. She said with pride, “I can tell you where this building is between a million buildings”. We go up the three floors and she holds in one hand her son and in the other a present for the doctor – a candle that the girls produce in their workshop. It has been specially wrapped for this occasion. We are greeted like old friends in the surgery and Taghreed proudly offers her gift.
I am in owe of the man we meet inside. He tells me that a person either always loved his country and never knew it, or that the 25th Jan revolution shone a light on this love. Either way, I understood what this man was saying. I felt his need to not function on a personal level but make society function with him. He is a man who has performed over 130 surgeries for Libyans who have come to Cairo and 15 Syrians. He told me he follows my tweets about street children avidly and to consider him one of my team. His humbleness was indescribable.
I went in to the operating room with them thinking I would support Taghreed while she took out the stitches. But again, she amazed me with her resilience and strength. She did not once flinch as the stitches were being removed, despite the blood that was oozing out of the wound, and despite the tears gathering in the corner of her eye involuntarily. I tried to hold her hand, but she pulled it away because she was counting stitches. It was an amazing change to her face, the flesh that hung out of place previously, a constant reminder of her trauma, her weakness, her history, the scar that haunted her with it’s memories was no longer there. Despite the psychological trauma, who’s scars were deeper and not visible to the eye, the responsibility in the form of the child that Taghreed was left with, the daily reminder in the mirror, was no longer there. We left his clinic with one less burden to deal with, one less reminder of a life full of challenge, full of violence, full of fight.
As we were getting into the car, Taghreed turned around and asked me to bring my camera to the shelter tomorrow because now she was no longer ashamed to take pictures with her son.