I happened to be in the Attaba metro station this evening, on my way to work from a modeling shoot when the escalators gave out. Thankfully I was not on one of them. It was just my luck, as I decided that climbing six long flights of stairs was preferable to being sandwiched between a sea of men and teenage boys on the escalator. Good call, because then THIS happened. There was an electrical failure, and the four escalators going in both directions stopped abruptly. Some people fell as others were squished, and many were badly injured. Mass panic ensued. People were screaming and crying and jumping over each other to escape. Others were trying to capture the magnitude of the crowd with their camera phones-- there were already thousands of us without each arriving train replenishing the stock.
I was standing in the middle of a stairwell, trapped and pressed up against men of all ages. Normally this would have been my worst nightmare (and their dream come true), but they were too frightened to even consider taking advantage of our proximity. Not that it would have mattered. We had bigger things to worry about, like being trampled in the impending stampede. I scoured the area with my eyes, trying to plan an exit strategy should a massive tidal wave of humans descend upon me. But it was futile. We were packed airtight, with no conceivable way out except over peoples' bodies. That's when I thanked God that I was tall, and simultaneously cursed myself for deciding to go back to the photo studio to pick up the brush I had forgotten there. Had I said screw it and continued my original descent into the subway, I would have been out before this clusterfuck happened. But no, I had to go back and get my damned brush... because I have a problem with my memory these days, and I'm trying to work on myself. It's so bad that earlier this morning on my way to the shoot, I forgot my phone in the house. I didn't realize it until I was two metro stops away from my destination, though. I wanted to call my agent to tell him I was arriving and that I needed the studio address. But when I put my hand in my pocket, I didn't feel the phone. I freaked out, assuming it had been stolen or fallen out. At that point, not having the address of the studio I was going to, I didn't know whether I should cross to the other side of the metro and go back home, or get out at the station my agent told me to and hope for the best. I opted for the latter. I didn't want to just not show up. I did that the last time tragedy struck the night before a modeling session, and I didn't want these people to thinking I was unreliable. I figured I could at least make an effort to find an internet cafe and ask my agent for the address via Facebook. Luckily for me, I didn't have to go too far. The studio was directly above the metro exit, and my agent was standing on the balcony, looking down and shouting my name.
Anyway, my sojourn in the Attaba metro station was near-death experience number I don't know what. I lost track a while ago. But this time, it was poetic. Once again, I found myself rubbing shoulders with death as I watched the people on the upward escalator to my right being devoured by this monster escalator-turned-accordion. It had suddenly decided to work, but the entire station was so crowded that the people at the top of the escalator needing to get off had nowhere to go. The escalator didn't care though. It continued moving under their feet, shoving each passenger into the one in front of him, while everyone at the bottom of the escalator was too defiant to obey orders NOT to get on.
I was awash in panic at the sight of bodies slamming into each other. I panicked even more thinking of the massive panic attack that was about to overcome my body. And it would have, except that a voice inside me told me to cut the crap and (wo)man up. I obeyed. I took a deep breath, and fixated my thoughts on how much I wished I had my phone with me. At least, if things took a turn for the worse, I could call someone to let them know how I'd be departing. Obviously that wasn't a possibility now.
But you know who you can call when you don't have a phone? God. He doesn't have a phone number, but somehow people like me always know how to reach him when we need him. Only when we need him. But God's not stupid. He's onto me. In fact, he set me up today. He made me forget my hair brush in the studio. He then made me decide to go back and get it, so that I could arrive just in time for the Attaba escalator fiasco. Most interestingly, he made me forget my phone in the morning so that when I found myself looking death straight in the eye, I'd have no one to call but him. I was not unaware of this, nor can I say that I didn't appreciate the symbolism. Indeed, it was epic. Here I was, literally underground, being escorted by god out of the depths of hell via the stairway to heaven. Or was it someone else escorting me?
Four months ago when I was back in the US teaching at a dance seminar, I had a dream one night after suffering a major panic attack while driving. I dreamt that I was in an Arab country, walking up a long flight of outdoor stairs that looked like the stairs in the Casbah section of Morocco. The stairs in my dream were long, wide and white, and there were droves of people to my right and left. All of a sudden, a tall, faceless man wearing a white robe appeared out of nowhere and latched onto my right arm. He pulled me up the stairs with him, bypassing everyone at at a shocking speed. By the time we reached the top of the staircase, I had fallen in love with this strange man, and pulled his face close to mine to kiss him. I was shocked to see the face of my Syrian boyfriend Mohamed from ten years ago. In real life, Mohamed moved back to Syria and joined the Free Syrian Army. He was murdered by the Asad regime in August 2012. But in my dream, he was happy-- actually he was laughing at me when I tried to kiss him.
Whatever you make of my dream, one thing is for certain. God gave me an ultimatum today: pray or die. I made my choice. First, I admitted to God that I was aware of what he was doing. Then I asked him to rescue me from the depths of Attaba. He, in turn, acknowledged my request. I made my way up the stairs, wahda wahda, one by one, unscathed, until I got to the top, fifteen minutes and eighty feet later. I was supposed to transfer to another line, but I decided that my half hour tour of hell was more than enough for the day, and that I'd continue the second leg of my trip by taxi.
This is where I'll say that the potential for massive catastrophe in this country is horrifying. I see it on a daily basis, mainly with traffic, building codes (or rather lack of), and the like. This is a place where chaos reigns supreme, where obstructiveness is a national trait, and where authority is ignored unless armed. Add to that the fact that the swelling population overwhelms the country's fragile and outdated infrastructure, and you've got yourself a nice recipe for death soup. Which, in the larger scheme of things, may not even really matter... because the sun doesn't give a shit. It never has.