Andy Young, Khaled Hegazzi, and the Sweet Potato Boy of Tahrir Square

The Room 220 Happy Hour Salon with the creators of Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas will feature readings by contributors such as Andy Young and Khaled Hegazzi, who will jointly present their essay, “The Ibis-Headed God of New Orleans,” which corresponds to the map “The Mississippi Is (Not) the Nile: Arab New Orleans, Real and Imagined.”

The husband-and-wife duo co-edit Meena magazine, a bi-lingual literary journal based in New Orleans and Alexandria, Egypt. In one of its first features, Room 220 interviewed Young and Hegazzi about their thoughts on the then-nascent Egyptian revolution. In 2012, Press Street published Young’s book of poetry about watching the revolution unfold, The People is Singular, which features photographs from Tahrir by Salwa Rashad (read an interview with Young about the book here).

Recently, Young and Hegazzi teamed up on an excellent piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Before the Inevitable Ending: Time, Nâz?m Hikmet, and the Sweet Potato Boy of Tahrir Square.” In it, Young threads together work by Turkish poet Hikmet, Egyptian poet Zein al-Abdin Fouad, and the killing of a young sweet potato vendor in Tahrir Square to explore poetry’s capacity for slowing down time in the midst of pandemonium. Young and Hegazzi worked together to translate poems by Fouad to accompany the piece:

SINCE 2011, one of the mainstays of Tahrir Square, and the advent of its on-and-off occupation, is the presence of sweet potato sellers. Among the flags and protest banners, the throngs of citizens, and the hawkers of gas masks and cotton candy, the black metal potato stoves puff like small train engines. Twelve-year-old Omar Salah had been selling sweet potatoes for two years when he died in early February this year. He was shot twice by an Egyptian army conscript, “accidentally,” outside the gates of the US Embassy.

In Egypt, over the last two and a half years, thousands of people been killed by some type of authority attempting to contain protests — the police, the Central Security Forces, the Ministry of Interior, or, in Omar’s case, the army.

Regardless of who does the killing or holds the power, each death represents a stopped narrative, a ripple of grief, a person. As the deaths and their implications accumulate, as the blame is (or, in most cases, is not) assigned, the names blur and are replaced with numbers. Living in Egypt, I am constantly aware of, constantly overwhelmed by, the number or protests, the number of arrests, and especially the mounting number of the dead. Still, there was something about Omar’s death that stopped me, that made me want to know who he was. To remember his name.

Read the entire article and poems at the Los Angeles Review of Books.