An inch from death in a Cairo elevator

Friends [I originally posted this on Facebook], I need help writing about what just happened to me. Unless a person knows me, that person does not know if I am a good person or a bad person, if I really do want to help people or if I am just begging.

For reasons that are too long to explain right now, I am afraid of bragging or doing anything that seems like bragging. I know that I still do things that look like bragging, but I never intentionally or knowingly brag. Even worse, because of my unhealthy aversion to bragging, I don’t know how to talk about my accomplishments without being uncomfortable, so I usually avoid talking about them, and if I talk about them, I try to minimize them.

I want to talk about what happened this morning because I want to give an example of how I tend to behave. The problem is that I don’t know how to write about it without sounding like I am bragging. Plus, there are details that could be distracting (e.g., I almost died) and I don’t want those details to be the focus of the story. I want people to see that the world I want to live in is a world in which people always help each other, and because I want “to be the change I want to see in the world,” I try to live a life in which I help other people.

I don’t want praise for helping. I don’t want to be a hero. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. In other words, I don’t want my actions to be extra-ordinary: I want my actions to be ordinary. I don’t want people to read about these events and think, “I couldn’t do that.” I want people to read about these events and think, “I could do that, too” and “I want to change the world so that these events don’t happen as often as they currently happen.”

Even though I want people to think those things, I don’t want to be the person that inspired them. The change I want to see in the world is: people are good to each other. If I become an inspiration for other people, then the change I am making in the world is not what I am looking for; if I am “inspirational”, then the change in the world is: Hunter Hogan inspires people to be good to each other. I don’t want that. People should be good to each simply because we are all people; if I inspire a person to be good to other people, then I guess that is an improvement, but the motivation for being good to other people is not a sustainable motivation.

“Hey Joe, why are you so nice to people?”
“I was inspired by Hunter Hogan.”
“Who is Hunter Hogan?”

“Hey Joe, why are you so nice to people?”
“Because we are all brothers and sisters and until we are all good to each other, then all of us will suffer from the bad things we do to each other.”
“Wow. That’s a good reason. Maybe I will try that, too.”

You see? If I am “inspirational”, then it makes it harder for me to part of the change I want to see in the world. If, instead, I can share ideas that have meaning, then I can be part of the change I want to see in the world.

Which brings us back to my current dilemma. Because of my disabilities (depression, anxiety, PTSD), I am not even able to survive without help from other people. I can heal, however, and if I do heal, then I will have the capacity to help other people. I again want to use my capacity to help other people. I want to be the change I want to see in the world.

To heal, I need help. To get that help, people need to believe that I am worth helping. One reason I might be worth helping is because I sincerely, desperately, want the world to be a safer, happier, healthier place. I have the desire, the knowledge, and the skills to be one of the millions of people actively working to improve the world for everyone. Helping me to heal, helping to remove the barriers that prevent me from giving more than I receive, might be a good investment.

But I don’t know how to talk about the things I have done in the past, or the things I do each day, without sounding like I am bragging. Or maybe the problem is that I am too afraid of sounding like I am bragging, so I don’t write about most of the things I do or have done.

The events this morning are a little dramatic, but that’s not why I want to talk about them. I want to talk about them because they started as what I would consider mundane actions: actions that I would like to see the entire world do. And even though things were very dangerous for a couple of minutes, I am not going to stop trying to be good to other people. The dangerous part, that almost killed me, makes me more resolved to work towards change because the only reason there was a dangerous part is because we, the people of the world, do not put enough effort into including wheel-chair users in our society. If this building were wheelchair friendly, then I wouldn’t have almost been crushed by the elevator.

I want people to know that I am still devoted to being the change I want to see in the world. Even though I have my own disabilities, I put maximum effort into being good to people around me. I may have changed a lot, and it has been four years since I was a prosecutor, but my core motivation hasn’t changed. I want to talk about the events of today, so that people know that, today, I still want these things. If I still want it today, then it seems likely that I will want it after I heal and that I will work for positive changes in the world.

I want to talk about the events of today because I almost died, and that did not deter me from seeking to change the world. It strengthened my resolve to seek change. In the last four years, I’ve lost many things, including my reputation, my money, my law license, most of my family, my security, and my hope. Today, I almost lost my life. None of those things have deterred me. I don’t know if anything could deter me. I want to talk about the events today because I want people to believe that if they help me to heal, then I will not be deterred, I will not give up, I will be the change I want to see in the world. I will use my knowledge and skills as best as I can to work with the millions of people who want to make positive changes in how we treat each other.

I want to talk about the events today because the man I helped represents so many changes I want to see in the world. He comes from Darfur, Sudan, which is one of the most violent and unequal places on earth. He is a refugee in Cairo. Four years ago, some Egyptian men attacked him because he is black (racism is everywhere), and during the attack, he fell and broke his neck. He is paralyzed below his mid-chest, and only has partial control and movement in his arms. No one should have to suffer all of these things. He suffers because of something he did not choose: he was born with black skin and born in a region that has violence. Why should he suffer because he wasn’t born in America or with white skin?

But it gets worse. He is wheelchair bound and most of the world does is not designed for people in wheelchairs. Even in countries with strong laws and relatively high awareness of making things accessible for people with disabilities, trying to live in a wheelchair is incredibly difficult. I challenge everyone here to live in wheelchair for a week. Find some way to disable the use of your legs, like tie them together and put nails in the bottom of your shoes so that you don’t put pressure on your feet to cheat and use your legs. Try to bathe, try to get in bed, try to arrange your legs in bed without using your leg muscles, if your legs are uncomfortable (many paralyzed people feel sensations but cannot control the body part), move your legs without using your leg muscles, try to get out of bed, try to put on pants, hell, go try it right now, try to put on pants without using your leg muscles or without help from someone else, try to leave the house, try to drive a car or use public transit, try working, shopping, going to the doctor, going to a bar or coffee shop, try to use the credit card machine at the checkout line at the supermarket. Try it. I dare you. No matter how accessible you think your country and city is, I guarantee you will be shocked at how difficult it is to do basic tasks or to live a normal life. You will be shocked at how much time you spend making adjustments for other people. This man didn’t ask to be born in Darfur and he didn’t ask to be in a wheelchair. Why should he, or anyone else, suffer for something like this when it is relatively easy to fix?

But it gets worse. When we, all humans, exclude people from society, we hurt ourselves. American President Franklin Roosevelt was disabled and primarily used a wheelchair to get around. English physicist Stephen Hawking has severe physical disabilities that keep him wheelchair bound. Acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman has progressive physical disabilities and mostly uses a wheelchair today. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo had recurring physical disabilities. All of these people continue to contribute to positive changes in the world. How many disabled people are we ignoring who could be political leaders, scientists, or artists? When we, the entire world, do not make small adjustments, such as removing the gap between the elevator compartment and the floor so that wheelchairs can roll out of the elevator, then we hurt everyone: everyone is hurt because we rob the world of a person who could be a leader, a thinker, an artist, or, most important, your friend.

I want to talk about what happened today because I want people to think about how they can include people in society rather than how to exclude people. I want to talk about what happened today because this man has been excluded from many societies for reasons that were beyond his control: where he was born, the color of his skin, and his physical disability.

I want people to know that these are the issues I see, and these are the changes I want to help make. I want people to know that I am not trying to only make the world a better place for “white”, Judeo-Christian, heterosexual, non-poor, educated, non-disabled, married, physically fit, adult, male, fathers. When I saw this man, I helped him because he needed help. I didn’t know when I started to help him that he was Muslim, from Darfur, or a refugee; I didn’t care that he had black skin or was in a wheelchair or was a man. I helped him because he is a human, he needed help, and I was able to give him the help he needed. That’s why I want to talk about this event: I want people to understand that I really do mean that I want all people to be good to all other people.

I am upset that he felt responsible for what happened. After I almost got crushed by the elevator, he couldn’t see me for at least 15 minutes, so he didn’t know if I was injured. He could hear me say that I was ok, but he didn’t know if I have any broken bones or anything. By the time I was able to see him, he was crying. He said, “give me a hug, thank God you are alright.” I had only met him when I helped him into the elevator a few minutes prior, but he was genuinely relieved that I was safe. He also said, “This is all because of me.” He said it multiple times. But it isn’t true: he didn’t do anything that caused the elevator to move. He was blaming himself because he is in a wheelchair and if he were not in a wheelchair, then he wouldn’t have needed help.

I know guilt. I know how it feels to carry deep guilt. He was paralyzed at about the same time I was fired from my job four years ago. I know what it is like to feel that you are a burden to other people. I could feel his pain; I completely understood what he was feeling when he said, “This is all because of me.” We, all humans, need to change our world. We need to include him and other people in society. Right now, we exclude him and many others, and we make them feel guilty or ashamed or that they are a burden to society. This is wrong. I want to talk about today’s events because I want people to hear that it is wrong and I want people to know that I am devoted to help change this.

I need help talking about what happened. I am scared of sounding like I am bragging. I am worried that my messages will be lost. I have two messages. First, all of us should work towards being more kind to all people. Second, if you help me heal, I will stay devoted to changing attitudes, minds, laws, words, and everything I can change so that more people are included in society, so that less people suffer from violence, and so that more people are happier and healthier. Whether you help me or not, I will be the change I want to see in the world. If you help me heal, then I can accomplish much more than if you don’t help me to heal and build a new life.

I also want to talk about these events because I want to discuss why I do these things, or maybe I should say I want to talk explain some things that do NOT motivate me. I never consciously think to myself, “What can I do to help people?” or “How can I be a Good Samaritan today?” I don’t look for ways to do a mitzvah or a hasanat. I don’t try to earn guanxi or practice dharma. If I see someone who needs help, I tend to react by trying to help them. I rarely think about why I am helping them or if I should help them; I merely help them. I don’t think my actions are more virtuous because of this. Years ago, I observed in myself that I had a desire to be good to other people. (This was at a time when I also still had desires to be mean to other people, so I am not claiming that I am better or superior to anyone.) I decided that I wanted to cultivate that desire: I wanted it to grow. I also wanted to lose or diminish my desire to be mean to other people. I try to think about my life and my place in the world and how my actions affect other people. I try to prefer the actions, especially habits, that I believe are generally good. When I observe that I have a desire to be mean to another person, I try to avoid being mean, I try to figure out why I had the feeling, and I try to find a positive outlet for that desire. I might want to be mean to someone, for example, because I think they are hurting someone I care about. When I am able, I turn the desire to be mean into a desire to stop the hurtful actions. The difference in motivation is important for many reasons, most especially because I am more likely to achieve my true goal: to stop the person from hurting someone else.

It is time for me to explain the events from this morning, but I am staring at the computer screen, my chest is tense, and I cannot type. Please, try to believe that I am not sharing this story because I want to brag. Please help me rewrite this so that any hint of bragging is erased.

I am staying at a hostel in Cairo, Egypt. No other city is like Cairo; in some ways that is good, and in other ways that is bad. Nevertheless, I love Cairo and I love Egypt. (I must mention that the gender discrimination here is horrifying and it is extremely difficult for me to cope with it sometimes, but I still love Egypt. My wish is that this generation of Egyptians will be make the social changes necessary to reduce the terrible sexism in every part of society.) In many ways, Cairo is part of a “developed nation”, but in some ways this is a “developing nation.”

For various reasons, including some wheelchair-bound beggars on the street, I have been hyperaware of Cairo’s lack of access for people with physical disabilities. (Oh, and the man with severe cataracts who is nearly completely blind and begs by walking around and selling tissues: his presence made me notice how dangerous it is for blind and deaf people.)

This morning, at about 10:30 a.m., another guest at the hostel wanted to leave. It was the man in the wheelchair, who I shall call E, and his brother, who I shall call M. The hostel is on the 6th floor, so of course, they needed to use the elevator. Some buildings here, including this one, require a key to use the elevator. E and M have only been here for one night, so they didn’t know who worked here and who didn’t. When I saw M walking around looking confused, I smiled and he spoke to me. (Again, I don’t consciously think about these things, but when I notice that someone is confused, if I believe that I might be able to help, I tend to automatically try to help.) He told me that he needed to use the elevator.

I found the receptionist who had the elevator key, and she activated the elevator. The elevator is small, old, and it has a large gap between the compartment and the floor. It is impossible to roll the wheelchair into the elevator. Another import feature of the elevator is that it is the old style that has internal doors and an external door. For the elevator to move, all of the doors are supposed to be closed. And, when the elevator is not on a floor, it should be impossible to open the outer door and enter the elevator shaft.

E and M had a small sitting chair with them. M placed the chair into the far side of the elevator. M lifted E by the arms and I lifted E’s legs. We moved E from the wheelchair, outside of the elevator, to the sitting chair, inside the elevator. M then removed some pieces from the motorized wheelchair and was able to collapse the wheelchair so that it was thinner. M moved the wheelchair into the elevator, and he got in.

I moved to get into the elevator, but E and M insisted that they didn’t need help. I said, “You needed help getting in, so you will need help getting out,” and I got into the elevator with them. There was barely enough room for all of us and to be able to close the inner doors, which open into the elevator. We descended to the first floor, and that is when we realized we were going to have trouble getting out.

Many elevators only have one door for entering and exiting. This elevator, however, has two doors, on opposite sides, for entering and exiting. The doors you use depend on which floor you are at. When we got into the elevator, we used one set of doors, and E sat in the chair in front of the other set of doors. On the first floor, however, the doors to exit are on the other side, and E was sitting in the chair that blocking us from opening the doors.

We didn’t have any room to maneuver, so I opened the doors behind me. On the side was a small alcove : it was a little shorter than the elevator compartment, the same width as the elevator, and the depth was approximately the width of my shoulders. After open the doors, I stepped into the alcove. That gave M some room to move E, but it wasn’t enough room. I pulled the motorized wheelchair as far into the alcove as I could. It was heavy, the angles were awkward, the space was small, so I was only able to get it about 70% of the way out of the elevator. I was up against two walls in the alcove and the motorized wheelchair was right next to me. The back of the chair, with the motor and battery, were next to my legs.

This gave M a lot more room to move E away from the doors. But the space is very small and a sitting chair is designed for sitting–not for moving, so it was very difficult to move E without causing him to fall on the ground.

A well-designed elevator safety system would prevent the elevator from moving if any of the doors were open, and one set of doors were already open: the doors that let me stand in the alcove. But I have been at this hostel, and in Cairo, long enough that I knew that the doors that were open would not prevent the elevator from moving. If someone on a higher floor called the elevator, then the elevator would go up. I would be left in the alcove, and the wheelchair would be crushed as the floor of the elevator lifted it and smashed it against the concrete ceiling of the alcove.

As M was moving E, I was thinking about these things and assessing my risk. I figured out that if the elevator were to move, then if I pressed my body against the side wall, then I would be ok. I then remembered that if the doors next to E were open, then the elevator would NOT move if someone called the elevator.

Related to my aversion to bragging, I have been trying not to act like a know-it-all so often. I feel that I am too quick to tell people the equivalent of “you should do it this way,” so I have been trying to stop doing that and I have been trying to find different words so that my words sound more like, “have you considered doing it like this?”

So I was standing there and trying to decide if I should say, “please open the other doors a little so that the elevator won’t move.” I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to distract them because moving E was difficult and I didn’t want him to fall out of the chair. Plus, I don’t know how to say in Arabic, “please open the door so the elevator won’t move.” E’s English is pretty good, and M’s English is low but functional. Still, the language barrier would likely have caused me to spend a full minute trying to say open the door. If I just left them alone, they might get the door open more quickly.

While I was thinking about all of this, I looked at M had not been able to move E very much. I started to say, “open the door” and I reached over the wheelchair and put my arm into the elevator to point at the doors on the other side.

That’s precisely when the elevator began to go up.

The wheelchair was still partially in the elevator, so the elevator lifted the wheelchair. My left arm was over the wheelchair, so the wheel chair lifted me. The ceiling is lower than the elevator compartment so my head hit the cement ceiling very hard. The wheelchair was jammed between the ceiling of the alcove and the floor of the elevator, so the elevator stopped moving.

I’m not sure if I consciously pulled my arm out or if I merely fell back to the floor (less than two feet). In any case, I noticed that I was on the ground and in the alcove. I could see the wheelchair hanging mostly out of the elevator, and the elevator was still pushing to ascend. A good safety system would detect that much resistance to elevator ascension and it would halt the elevator, but this elevator is either too old or the safety system was not installed. The elevator kept pushing against the wheelchair and it eventually dislodged the wheelchair and caused the entire wheelchair to fall down into the alcove. It hit the ground next to me and fell into the empty elevator shaft. Like most elevator shafts, there was about four feet of space below the floor level of the elevator, and the wheelchair fell down there.

While the elevator was moving, it was too loud to yell up to the E and M in the elevator. The elevator stopped, and I heard them yelling down to me and asking if I were ok. I might have been a little dazed from hitting my head, but I am unsure. I feel like they had to ask me two or three times before I finally replied. I yelled up to them that I was ok and asked if they were ok. They said they were ok.

I was a bit disoriented or dazed or something: my mind was not functioning as quickly as normal. I analyzed the situation to see if I were in danger. It took me a minute, but I was able to see that I wasn’t seriously hurt and that if the elevator moved, I would be 100% ok. As long as I stayed in the alcove, I was safe.

I waited for a minute or two or three–I’m not sure because I think I was a little dazed. The elevator hadn’t moved and no one was around to try to help me get out. I couldn’t exit because the door on the other side was closed and it only opens when some physical switch is triggered. I was unable to find the physical switch to unlock it. Skipping a bunch of details that are not important to the point of the story, eventually building “security guard” came down. He went into the basement and turned on the light. That is when I could see that the area below the first floor opened into the elevator shaft. I climbed down so that I could get out of the alcove and the elevator shaft.

The wheelchair was at the bottom of the elevator shaft. After I climbed down, I pulled it out of the shaft and into the basement. It was very heavy and there was a lot of garbage and junk in the way: large pieces of broken wood and broken plastic containers and who knows what else. Getting the wheelchair out was tough, but the old man “security guard” helped me pull it out. I then walked up the stairs.

I had assumed that E was back in the hostel, but when I got to the fifth floor, the floor below the hostel, I found his sitting in the sitting chair. He was facing away from the stairs and towards a door for some business. Fridays are the weekend in Egypt and Muslim countries, so the business was closed. M was trying to manage the chair, getting help, and other things, so he wasn’t there. E was sitting alone, in the sitting chair, facing the wall, by himself, and unable to move or turn around.

I walked up to him and he already had tears in his eyes and when he saw that I only had a couple of scrapes, cuts, and bruises, he started crying. He put his arms up and out and said, “Thank God you are ok ; give me a hug, give me a hug, give me a hug.” I gave him a hug and I was equally happy to see that he was ok. That’s when he said while crying, “This is all because of me.” He felt so much guilt and shame that he couldn’t make eye contact with me.

At this point, I knew very little about him. I knew he was black and from Sudan. I didn’t know his name. I knew he was in a wheelchair and staying at the hostel. Nothing else. Not one detail. Nevertheless, I felt terrible that he blamed himself for what had happened. It wasn’t his fault that the building wasn’t wheelchair friendly. It wasn’t his fault that the elevator moved and didn’t have safety features to keep it from moving. I immediately told him that it wasn’t his fault. I explained that it was the world’s fault for not making small changes that would have prevented the entire thing.

I told him, “You are my brother. I love you, and I will always help you. I know you would do the same for me.” The receptionist walked by at one point, and I said, “It shouldn’t matter if someone is female or male, if someone is white or black, if someone walks or uses a wheelchair; we are all human and [we should all be part of society.]” (To be 100% honest, I don’t remember exactly what I said in the [brackets]. That was the idea I was trying to express, but I cannot recall what I said.)

At least five times, he told me that I should leave him and go back to the hostel. I told him that I was only going back to the hostel once he was either back in the hostel or on the first floor to go wherever he was trying to go. He felt guilty about everything, but I kept repeating, “You are my brother. I love you, and I will always help you. I know you would do the same for me.” He stopped telling me that I should leave him.

We talked about a lot of things. That’s when I learned all of the other details about his life. He taught me a few new Arabic words. We talked about his injury. He asked me why I was in Cairo. I told him that I was healing. Eventually, we figured out that his paralysis happened at about the same time that I was fired. We talked about what it feels like to not be able to do the same things we were once able to do. Of course, his life and his injury is more severe than mine, and I am not claiming that my problems are the same as his. Still, he and I bonded. We could relate to each other through our experiences. We both understood what it was like to feel helpless and alone, to spend too much time thinking, and how being around good people was so healing.

He told me about his injury, but I am not a doctor, nurse, or medical professional, so I didn’t know how to evaluate what his needs were. He felt so guilty that he refused to tell when what his needs were. But compared to most people, I am good at “reading” most other people, even in different cultures. I could tell that he was uncomfortable in the chair, but I had no idea how to help. I asked him multiple times, but he insisted everything was fine. He was sweating a lot, and I asked him if was hot. He told me that the injury causes his face and head to sweat. He then pointed at the small, inflatable inner-tube on the floor that was originally in the seat of his wheelchair.

I learned that pressure on his spine causes him to sweat and that the inner tube relieved the pressure so that he wouldn’t sweat. I said, “Great! Let’s put the cushion under you.” He insisted that it was too hard. He insisted that it would take two people. He felt guilty about the idea of me helping him more. I felt horrible that he was sitting in that chair and sweating as if he were running a marathon. I said that M was able to put the cushion under him without help, so I could do the same thing. E didn’t have a response to that argument, so he stuck with the “it’s too hard” argument. Pro tip: don’t argue with a former trial lawyer. I kept asking him how we could move him.

Eventually, I used my training and experience from swing dancing to figure out what to do. He put his arms around my neck. I held the tube with my left hand, and I put my arms under his shoulders so that I could support his weight. With a straight back, I simply straightened my legs, and that lifted him from the seat. I slid the cushion under him, bent my legs, and he was settled on the middle of the cushion. We were extremely lucky that we positioned the cushion in just the right place on the first try.

I could immediately see the difference on his face. He had a pained expression before, but now he looked relieved. The sweating stopped almost instantly and he didn’t sweat again. I was happy that he finally told me what was happening and that we worked together to make him more comfortable.

Another thing we talked about is that people need to be good to each other. We agreed that he and I were going to change the world. For the first third of the discussion, he could not look me in the eye because he felt so much guilt. For the second third of the discussion, he slowly looked at me more. By the end, he was completely comfortable looking me in the eye and speaking with me. It was wonderful. We live in very different worlds, but in HIS words, we are all the same on the inside. We all have the same heart.

At some point, I looked down the stairwell, and M had moved the wheelchair so that it happened to be in the open area in the middle of the stairwell and it was clearly visible from the floor we were on. I told E about it and said I wanted to move him so he could see it. Of course he insisted that it was impossible or too hard. Of course, he lost that argument. He taught me how to move him the 10 feet to landing so he could see his wheelchair.

Eventually, a friend of E and M arrived. The three of them insisted that I should go up to the hostel and everything was ok. I insisted that I wasn’t leaving them until E was either in the hostel or on the first floor. They lost that argument. It took all three of us to move E up the stairs, and I cannot imagine how they would have done it without my help. I’m not superman, and the other two were much stronger than I am strong, but moving E, who is partially paralyzed, while he is sitting in a small, fragile, sitting chair was very awkward.

We got upstairs and put him down at the top of the stairs. I was exhausted because I have not been getting enough exercise (depression/PTSD), and because the entire ordeal was physically taxing. I sat on the floor to catch my breath. At the top of the stairs, it happens to be the smoking area for the hostel. There is a bench and a table. M and his friend sat on the bench. The receptionist stood across from them and spoke with them. The way everyone was positioned, E was facing me, had his back to the receptionist, and had his side faced to the bench. Basically, he was excluded from the group of the other three people. I wanted to rest and shower (I got very dirty and sweaty) but if I left, E would have been sitting in a way that would physically exclude him from the conversation.

I asked him which place he wanted me to move him to, and I gave him three options. I didn’t give him the option of staying put. I think the receptionist felt a little protective of E, and she insisted that I leave him there. She didn’t see the dynamic that the arrangement of the chairs created. E also felt guilty, so he insisted that he was fine. I spoke to him. I moved around and made jokes and said, “If were going to speak with people here, I wouldn’t sit where you are sitting.” I did some silly things, like sit between the two men on the bench, put my arms around them, and said in Arabic, “I like this!”

I could see in E’s eyes that most other people were oblivious to this issue. He was surprised and happy and a little sad that I could see that he really did want to move so that he could be physically part of the conversation, but that his brother, M, did not understand it. Everyone insisted that I go shower and that E was fine. I insisted that I was going to move E so that he could be part of the conversation. They lost that argument. The solution was small: I rotated his chair so that he was facing the bench and didn’t have his back to the receptionist. His face and his eyes told me that he appreciated that I insisted on including him. (During the conversation, I explicitly said that it was important to position E so that he was part of the group.)

I left. Later, M and the other man took E to their dorm room. Sometime after that, I went back to my room to get a power cord, and I noticed that E was laying in bed. During our conversation, he had mentioned how he hated being stuck and just looking the ceiling and the wall. He said he would turn on the TV and flip through the channels, but that nothing would satisfy him. He also mentioned that he didn’t think his English was that good (it is good for Cairo) and that he would like to learn more. I saw him just laying there. The room doesn’t have a TV or a radio. He doesn’t have a computer, smart phone, or regular phone. He was just laying there.

As I was getting my power cord, I remembered my copy of the Quran. Each page has both Arabic and English because I wanted to use it as a way to learn to read Arabic. I realized that he could use it as a way to improve his English. I took the Quran to him and opened the shades on the windows so he had enough light to read and he was able to do something. I don’t know if he enjoyed it or if he read anything, but at least he had an option to stare at something other than the wall.

That’s the story. Oh, so that no one freaks out: I am ok. It’s been about eight hours now, and I have a slight headache still. My pupils seem normal, so I’m not worried about a concussion. I was a little dizzy, but that stopped after an hour or two. I have a small scrape on my left hand. On my right hand, at the base of my middle finger, I scrapped the skin and it is approximately the same size as my pinky fingernail. Also on my right hand, I seem to have jammed the base knuckle of my pinky. There is very small, but very dark bruise, and it is slightly swollen. It hurts if I curl my fingers into a fist or if I put any pressure on it, including typing. I don’t think it is broken, and I am sure I will make a full recovery. I’m fine. Oh, and my watch strap broke. The watch belonged to my grandfather; he was a rural boy from Alabama and he shipped out of New York City for Europe during World War II. He bought the watch in NYC, and I have it now. The strap is not the original, so I don’t mind, but I’m not going to throw away the watch.

There: that’s the story. I write too much. I want to share this story with strangers, but I am too worried about sounding as if I am bragging. Strangers who read about me in the newspaper, on the internet, or from the ethical complaint don’t have many good stories to read about me. The major story they have available makes it seem as if I am a sexual predator. That’s not who I am, but unless I tell these strangers more about me and my life, they don’t have any reason to doubt the official story from the government. I want to tell people about who I am, but my fear of bragging goes back to fourth-grade, when I was only nine years old. I’m not going to be able to fix it right now.

Since I can’t fix it, can you help me tell this story?

I originally posted this on Facebook.

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