Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 December 2009 - 6 January 2010
Issue No. 979
New Decade's special edition
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Wirelessly wired

Imagining himself 40 years from now, poet and essayist Omar Taher, Egypt's literary equivalent of a post-modern comedian, writes a letter to his present self

Dear Omar, resident of the first decade of the new millennium:

My greetings from the fifth. I feel very nervous, because you are forcing me to use a completely extinct technology: the technology of letter writing. Imagine having to communicate with a person from the time of WWI, having nothing to go by except Morse code!

You ask me how we communicate with each other in the fifth decade. The government discontinued what you used to call smart ID cards (those with the national number) a long time ago, requiring my grandparents to hand them in. Their principal drawback was that you could forgetfully leave them at home. Instead, the government now implanted an SIM-like card into each person, and connected all the cards through a single network, making everyone open to everyone else (or, to put it more precisely, disgraced!) You can simply dial the card number of the person you want to communicate with, and he will immediately find out all that is going on in your head and your soul without the need for a single word.

It is an advantage, since it has completely eliminated lying. Hatred, as a consequence, has come to dominate our world at the present moment.

The Black Cloud (that particularly pronounced bout of seasonal phenomenon of air pollution that dogs Cairo) has taken control of the atmosphere. So much so that it is hard for us to see each other, which makes the new IDs useful in yet another way.

The Black Cloud is in fact among the post- millennial world's Seven Wonders, turning Egypt into a tourist destination at the start of winter. At this time tourists from all over the world come over here to acquire that distinct Black Cloud tan.

If you are old enough to remember a time when Egyptians were proud of an architectural achievement they called the High Dam, you may be interested to know that we are now living in a time when we are proud of a similar achievement known as the High Exhaust Fan. An enormous Exhaust Fan has been constructed at the gateway to Cairo, which takes in the Black Cloud and stores it for export to Israel at a low price.

Over the last few years the world has gone through a series of absolutely crazy economic crises, which altered the value of the Egyptian pound. Your banknote is now an antique treasure, since it has been replaced by a single, unalterable note at the value of LE8, with the price of everything measured against LE8. A disk of bread, for example, costs five LE8s; a litre of petrol 90 LE8s. But don't you ask me about incomes. I have the same job you have: a writer at an electronic magazine (the age of paper came to an end after paper became a form of human nutrition in many countries).

At the start of every month I receive five million LE8s, most of which covers the instalments of my home exhaust fan and my Iranian-made helicopter. I'm sorry: the word "helicopter" could give you the impression that I am rich, while the truth is that we are currently going through the hurricane of cheap Iranian domestic choppers, the way you went through the hurricane of the cheap Indian tuk-tuk at the start of the millennium.

The entire people at present rely on air transport. The ubiquitous microbus has disappeared, replaced by giant aircraft piloted by killer drivers -- basically the grandchildren of the microbus drivers of your time. There are also the even bigger and far more overcrowded Public Transport Planes, out of whose windows citizens can be seen dangling while in the air. The rest use private helicopters like the one I own.

Transportation has changed, but we suffer from the same problems as you -- especially that of finding a parking space for your plane, whether downtown or in the Nasr City thoroughfare of Abbas Al-Aqqad. It is still prohibited to use mobile phones while in the air, although seatbelts are no longer deemed necessary, since it is now required for all passengers to wear working parachutes on top of whatever else they are wearing.

The police is no longer in charge of traffic but the Air Force. You ask me about walking on the streets, and I say: the extremely strong currents emanating from the Exhaust Fan at the gateway to Cairo have messed everyone up.

The era of apartments and villas is long gone. Each of us lives in a capsule one square metre wide, constructed out of digital walls.

They are smart capsules that change according to your will. Say you need the bathroom, then central drainage tubes suddenly jut out of the walls, and they deal with whatever exhaust you end up producing. If you thought of the kitchen, then the walls provide a menu of ready-made food, with which they eventually provide you in the form of concentrate pills (my favourite is the rice-with- molokheya -with-homegrown- chicken pill). When you want to receive guests, the wall transforms into a video conference hall. As for spending private time with your wife -- well, you can do that in your private aircraft.

The capsules exist in new cities like Wadi Al-Natroun (in your times, the site of historical monasteries). There are also shanty capsules in Old Cairo (Sheikh Zayed and 6 October and Tagammu -- all new developments in your time, if I am not misinformed). There are also holiday capsules on the shores of the Qattara Depression and the Salam Canal. My capsule is part of a compound for young journalists in the Eastern Desert, and I am in the process of acquiring a new capsule in the Western Desert. The idea is to digital kick down whatever walls separate the two so that I end up with a bigger capsule somewhere.

The age of fuul and taamiya is over. The popular meal is now grilled goat a la Arabian Gulf, since the countries of the Gulf are now extremely poor. Oil has completely dried up in this region, and the best known video clip depicting this catastrophe -- broadcast by every electronic paper in the world -- showed a Gulfie emerging out of a deep well in the desert with a glass less than half full of oil, which he hands the owner of the well, who then draws a gun, sticks it in his own mouth, and pulls the trigger.

After that, Gulfies flocked to Egypt in search of some livelihood. They opened chains of Gulf food, which made goat, maqlubah and kabsa pills the most popular cheap food in Egypt.

You might ask me where the oil went, in that case. It appeared in a completely unexpected place, I say. For a while the celebrated video clip showed a large number of Sudanese people dancing around oil gushing out of a well in an equatorial forest.

My good friend: I am not writing to tell you that life is hard. On the contrary, I write to say that Egypt is living its best days, after it has finally managed to host the World Cup in Toshka, which is now an Olympic city. These days we celebrate not reaching the finals (we did not make it past the first few rounds) but because we managed, after all those years, to get our own back at the Algerians at the Om Durman Stadium -- by beating the Om Durman team 1-0. The stadium was in top form: you could hardly see the seats or the people in them for the number of new Egyptian flags there (the colours have not changed, but we have replaced the central eagle with an emblem of the Exhaust Fan).

The stadium shook to the sound of millions chanting the national anthem as one: "The thing I like about ya, the fact that ya so sweeeeeeeeeeeet..."

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