Note: Broadcast and digital journalism junior Lenah Hassballah returned to her home in Cairo, Egypt, for spring break and witnessed the protests in Tahrir Square on March 18. Hassaballah was born in the United States but has lived in Egypt for most of her life. She attended high school and part of college in Cairo before transferring to Syracuse University. For Hassaballah, the Egyptian Revolution was personal, and witnessing it from afar on the television was, in her words, "not enough."
March 18, 2011.
I had waited for this day for more than two months, since the first protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
It wasn’t enough for me to cheer watching the television screen, stuck thousands of miles away from the action. It was not even close to enough. My joy at seeing Egypt’s revolution was mixed with sorrow and longing that I was so far away.
Fast forward to March 18. Today is the day. I had flown to Cairo for spring break and now, I could hear their chants as I approached Tahrir Square. My heart raced faster as I drew closer to the Square, and closer to my people.
Clutching my Flip cam in one hand, and my grandmother’s hand in the other, I marched into Tahrir Square, stopping just a few feet from the actual protest to take in the whole scene.
Almost instantly, the owner of a wooden ice cream stand approached me, with a knowing look in his eyes and said, ‘Welcome back’.
I had no idea who this man was, but couldn’t contain my smile as he brought me up to speed on what was happening today. He handed me a flyer with facts, figures, and the protesters’ demands.
This was the wakeup call for me to stop daydreaming and get down to business. From the corner of my eye I could see army soldiers lining up and getting ready to move toward the protesters.
I hurried toward the crowd before the soldiers could block the street off. A pang of fear was evident on the protesters faces, and the man leading the chants on the podium could see that, and was quick to switch up the chants.
“Hey you with the army stripes and hat! We’re your brothers not terrorists! “
“Peaceful protests with no violence!”
And there was no violence.
As soon as I turned my flip cam on, people took notice and started to scour around me, hoping I would ask them for an interview. Egyptians are well known for their infatuation with cameras, and I loved it.
The other thing they are well known for is their intense emotion and passion. It didn’t matter if the camera was on or off, people spoke to me with such fire in their eyes, and a deep-seated passion.
In unison, they clapped, chanted and sang, following the lead of the man on the podium. The man at the podium was the loudest and fieriest, and I knew I had to interview him.
I was pulled up on the shaky wooden structure with hoards of people, and very warmly welcomed.
The man at the podium looked over at me, standing beside him, with some surprise.
The man paused for a moment, put his mic down and said, “It is amazing, isn’t it?”
I smiled back and offered my enthusiastic reply.
“This is definitely the highlight of my experience.”