[This is a syndicated post from the blog: Dear Seif.]
Yesterday, I had a lot of negative thoughts clawing at my head while driving back from work. The off-duty policeman that shot a microbus driver in Maadi a few days ago… The horror stories that teachers told me about, such as students being herded out of a school bus and stripped of their money by criminals (apparently that story was spiced up through the rumor grapevine)… I was frowning throughout the drive; the uncertainty that we were living in was eating away at me.
As I neared home, I saw a bunch of teenagers hunched beside the sidewalk. They were holding large paintbrushes and were methodically painting the sidewalk black and white. My frown immediately melted away and I found myself smiling – the kind of smile you get when you see a baby walk for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the emotion of wanting to stop the car and hug them all. I was contemplating that for a few seconds, but a quick look at my rear-view mirror showed an impatient driver pressing up on me. All I could do was roll down the window quickly and shout, “Bravooooooooooooooo!!!” while giving the kids a thumbs up. One of the teenagers looked up, smiled, and nodded his head in thanks.
I still had a smile on my face when I reached home. The kids were only 14 years old or so. They could have gone to the mall, watched a movie, or went shopping with their friends. No one would have reprimanded them for having fun instead of serving their country. But they didn’t go to the mall; they chose to paint the sidewalks – and they painted the whole block – it actually looks so clean and beautiful!
After reaching home, I picked up a few things and decided to go to a cafe close by to do some grading and teacher stuff. As I passed by the sidewalks again, the smile came back. I saw a car at an intersection, and although it was my right of way, I slowed down to let it pass. Had I not been in a good mood, I probably would have accelerated to establish my right of way.
At the cafe, there was only one man and myself sitting at the top floor. He cleared his throat to get my attention and then said, “Excuse me… do you mind if I smoke?” Ever since the Revolution took place, this was the second time someone asked me if I minded if they smoked. Before the revolution, I would be in the middle of a smoke-fest and nobody would even bother to ask if I minded.
Just like the question caught me off guard the first time, it caught me off guard the second time. You know I hate the smell of smoke, and I usually give “The Frown” at those who are inconsiderate enough to blow smoke our way – especially when you and Lara are with us. But I found myself smiling and telling the man, “I don’t mind. Thank you for asking.” And despite the abhorred smoke that violated my nostrils and clung to my hair and clothes, I was happy.
Painting sidewalks and showing courtesy are not going to create any earth-shattering changes in our country. But it shook me. It is so easy to get flushed down with negative thoughts – it makes you feel hopeless, anxious, paranoid, helpless. But a simple act of kindness – even if it’s a person smiling at you as they hold open the door for you – is contagious. It makes you feel empowered somehow; it makes you feel like you want to do good and “pay it forward”. It gives a person hope.
I still want to hug and kiss those teenagers. If I see any more of them doing anything proactive, I’m going to be that crazy lady that stops in the middle of the road for a cuddle.
I know I am starting to develop that annoying habit of leaving you with a piece of advice towards the end of my letters… I tried to resist, but I can’t help it (maybe it’s because my dad keeps repeating all sorts of proverbs to me ever since I was an embryo up till now…). ”Think Positive.” Two simple words that hold a lot of truth. You can either see Egypt spiraling downwards towards doom and gloom, or you can see the potential behind things. Which ever attitude you choose, you will rub off on those around you. Wouldn’t it be nice to see people painting positive everywhere?
Your positively positive mother, Rania