Sondos Shabayek is full of stories — those of her sources, the people she talked to in her role as a reporter; those of citizens with dreams, disappointments and clear voices who took part in The Bussy Project, which she oversees; and, very recently, those human stories that came out of Tahrir Square.
Shabayek, in her mid-twenties, wears a comforting smile as she speaks, and her unwavering passion is accentuated by her choice of oriental accessories and bold colors: yellow, red and green. “I had to let go of my accessories, which are an important part of my identity, during my stay on the square. That was my sacrifice to the revolution,” she says jokingly.
Almost as an afterthought, she adds: “I went down to protest, not because I was an activist -- I never was. I wasn’t a member of a party. I went down because I was fed up, and I wanted to say that out loud.”
During the 18-day period following January 25, the young woman experienced an uprising that saw the nation’s political scene upturned, old rules thrown to the wind and the former president removed. And, on a personal level, Shabayek says she changed too. “I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do amid all this. I’m thinking perhaps I should study documentary filmmaking. More than ever, I want this now. What happened during the revolution made me realize how important proper documentation is.”
Her face may be familiar to many on the local cultural scene as the head of The Bussy Project, an Egyptian re-working of the play Vagina Monologues, where men and women talk about sexual oppression, privacy, freedoms, harassment and their simple dreams.
And as an extension of this project, which is centered around storytelling, Shabayek is preparing a Tahrir Monologues performance, where in front of a large audience regular people are given a podium where they can tell tales of the near-epic transformation that the country has gone through.
“What happened gave me courage. And many youth underwent a similar transformation. We’re not passive anymore, we feel empowered,” she says.
“Now, we have no fear. The revolution felt right, even in times of doubt. And after January 25, my faith in the people was restored.”
It’s the human experience that touches Shabayek the deepest. Of her memories of the square and particularly of the tent city that sprouted in the middle, she mentioned “neighbors” from other governorates -- people she might not have befriended under other circumstances.
Shabayek and a group of friends set up a series of tents as a shelter for whoever planned to stay for prolonged periods of time in Tahrir. Around these tents, other makeshift shelters sporadically mushroomed, as more and more people flocked into the square. By the end of the revolution, the camp was akin to a small settlement, harboring an amalgam of protesters from all walks of life, representative of the many faces of this country, of accents, and social and educational backgrounds.
“In the tent next to us, our neighbors were from Mansoura. Sleeping in the square, of course we socialized with everyone. Notably, there were many Ahmeds: Ahmed Kiko, Ahmed MSN,” Shabayek says, her smile widening. The nickname “MSN” resonated humorously with the spirit of a revolution that was organized on Facebook, and which utilized social networks, like Twitter, to promote its cause.
“One of those boys had lost two brothers in one blow on January 28, when the police were most brutal. He was unshaved, very quiet and gloomy, with dark circles around his eyes all through the revolution,” she recalls. “When Mubarak stepped down, he went home, showered and changed into his best clothes and came back to the square. He told me, ‘Now I can accept condolences for my dead brothers.’ It was touching. I will never forget that.”
On that day, when former Vice President Omar Suleiman made the historic announcement, Shabayek was ecstatic. “I hugged and kissed half of Tahrir,” she says. For days after, her parents told her how proud they were, and some of those who opposed her and the revolution became apologetic. On some level, the latter was therapeutic. “But I had already lost some friends because of the conflicts between people during the revolution -- one of them a very close friend.”
She was always in the square, in the thick of it, even when “Tahrir looked like a war zone.” Shabayek was bruised and beaten up during the protests. “I was caught in a stampede once and was badly injured,” she says. “People were walking all over me.” Some nights, she barely got any sleep because of the ongoing chants, and using the bathroom was a recurring challenge, considering most restaurants and hotels around the square were closed.
But at the end of it, she misses it all.
“It all went away so fast, it was like a dream,” she says reminiscently, her eyes trailing off. “I think I have post-Tahrir depression now.”