Against the odds, three young women with no abortion rights refuse to be victims.
It is an extremely dangerous mental game, but there’s nothing better than playing on your own ground, not the enemy’s. To subdue him without compromise — that is pleasure. There is something mysterious about playing the game on your own turf, something that makes you stronger despite your weaker position, you who were yesterday weaker, exploited, and blackmailed. In a game of unequal power relations, you have to know your place. You either play by your enemy’s rules and on his ground, or you pull him gently onto your ground and achieve a victory.
We played a game that perfectly surpassed his despicable game. We were at his mercy. Now he is in our grip. And despite our difficult position, we pulled together the courage of three young women, none yet in her thirties.
I didn’t give virginity too much thought. I wouldn’t marry a man who would consider it a question of my honor. All this nonsense with which I was raised by my conservative family collapsed the first time I realized that my body is mine. I am Tasneem. I have been living with my family in a Gulf country for years, where I met my partner. He was a foreigner there too, having escaped the hell of war in his country. We went out for several months before deciding to sleep together. I felt secure with Adel and hoped to create a life with him.
Like many women, my period is not regular. It comes once on time, and then three times, it’s late. When it was late this time, I thought it was the usual delay, especially since it had come the month before. But I felt a kind of premonition urging me to take a pregnancy test. Perhaps because when I’d missed my period previously I wasn’t in a sexual relationship, and because we only relied on the pull-out method. I’ve always hated hormonal pills.
The test was positive. I was in shock staring at the result, thinking: Maybe there is something wrong. I took three tests, one after the other and they all came out positive. Of course, I wept, feeling hopeless.
I didn’t go to work that day, but left home at the usual time. I called Adel, who rushed to our meeting place. He tried to calm me down, and said that he wouldn’t leave me to face this catastrophe alone. It wasn’t easy to reach out to anyone regardless of how close we were: We are both Arab foreigners there, and if the news got out, it would spell the end for both of us.
We sat there brainstorming and thinking. Based on my calculations, I couldn’t be more than six weeks pregnant, so we thought it would be easy once we got abortion-inducing medication. Although I work in the health sector, it turned out to be impossible to get the pills, since they are only sold at public hospitals and require a medical prescription. Abortion is criminalized there, which meant it was particularly risky for foreigners. I was scared I would end up facing the destiny of a domestic worker who was arrested and deported after she left her newborn in a public garden because she couldn’t have an abortion. Or that of a classmate who had to tell her family about her pregnancy, after trying to end it for six months. Her family took her back to her country where she had an abortion but she has been locked up at home ever since.
Family! My extended family had killed a young woman for suspecting that she was having sex, and forced another one to get married when they found out she was in a relationship. I wasn’t even close to these two: I was pregnant. I was shame itself. If it would end with a fight or punishment, I might have been able to talk with them, maybe get help. But they would believe that death is what I deserve for betraying their trust in preserving my body, their honor I mean.
I was scared of the least injury or illness that would send me to hospital where I would have to do the compulsory blood test and my pregnancy would be discovered. Also, the residency laws in that country require the regular renewal of health insurance. I looked for my residence papers in a frenzy to check my health insurance expiry date.
Thus, my family was not the only cause of my panic and extreme fear. I was also scared of imprisonment and deportation. Everything would collapse in one moment.
There seemed to be no hope of getting hold of abortion pills, so I relied on information I read on the internet. I learned that those large doses of contraceptive pills could induce a miscarriage. I’d take 10 pills in one go. I read the same about cinnamon and pineapples. The same with Vitamin C, so I’d take 12 tablets at once. I’d do sports and anything I thought would help. I read that taking large doses of progesterone hormone would increase the fluids in the uterus, causing a miscarriage. It was another failed experiment: I took six tablets and then after three days of continuous bleeding, I felt optimistic and took the test, only to find I was still pregnant.
Time was not on my side of course. As days and weeks went by in failed abortion attempts, the situation grew more critical. I found out about my pregnancy in October, and decided to travel to Egypt in February. I had run out of patience and failed attempts, so I packed my things and headed to the unknown.
I was not in touch with any of my old friends except one close childhood friend, but I was scared to get in touch with her. I didn’t know anyone who’d had an abortion in Egypt. So whether it was the Gulf or Egypt, the situation was very similar after all. The same confusion and the same dilemma. But, at least in Egypt, it would be possible to get abortion pills on the black market. I would be able to have a blood test and an ultrasound scan, to visit a doctor and receive medical care.
I traveled with the excuse that I needed to renew my passport. I sold my gold jewelry, and Adel and I pooled together our little savings. I would be staying with my uncle in Cairo. I contacted an online friend and asked him if he knew of a doctor who does illegal abortions in Egypt. I had never met him before, and so I felt less ashamed asking him. He gave me the telephone number of a well-known doctor, who was the first doctor I visited on my abortion journey.
I went to the doctor. Of course, my assumption was that I was at most in the fifth month, so up till the sixth month I could still have an abortion like a colleague at university had done. I did the ultrasound scan and was relieved that the main burden was now over. But then the doctor told me: “In a week’s time you’ll be in your seventh month. It will be a human being. Some women give birth at this time, and the newborn survives.”
I left not knowing where to go or what to do. He had blocked all the ways out. I am not a suicidal person ever, even in my worst times of darkness. Yet I remember that during this Uber ride I was actually thinking that the only way out was to kill myself.
I called my online friend. My hands were shaking. He told me about someone he knew who had been in a similar situation and had gone to Europe to give birth and never come back. He told me to do the same. I was just crying more, so then he told me about a friend, a senior student in his last year of medical school who had done some training in the gynecology clinic of Qasr al-Aini Hospital.
I called this young doctor and sent him a copy of the ultrasound scan. He reassured me telling me while it’s true that if born now, the baby would be alive, they wouldn’t survive for more than a few minutes without an incubator. He told me he could help me get pills that would induce bleeding over two or three days. He said I’d need to be staying with someone who would then take me to a hospital and say it was a miscarriage.
But I had nobody with me, and I had no marriage certificate that the hospital would of course ask me about, and the fetus? What if it came out before I reached the hospital? What would I do?!
Before hanging up, he seemed to remember something and enthusiastically told me about a doctor I could see before going for the pills option. This was the second doctor I saw. The examination was extremely humiliating: He treated me like a sex worker. And even if I was one, it shouldn’t justify his disrespect. He asked for 40,000 Egyptian pounds for a cesarean section, about $2,500. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have that much money, he said that I would have to deal with the fetus myself, so I left his clinic even more desperate than after seeing the first doctor.
I was in touch with Adel at every step, since he could not travel with me because of the restrictions connected to his nationality. Here I am all alone struggling to survive, while my partner contacts me on the phone. That was the maximum support he could give me.
I was in the taxi on the way back to my uncle’s, on the phone, talking and crying … I was trying to sound vague, so the driver wouldn’t know why I was in this state and report me to the police. But I couldn’t hold myself together.
There was just one idea in my mind: How am I going to get myself out of this mess? It’s no longer just the abortion, but having to get rid of an aborted fetus — a corpse. Both doctors had said to me the fetus was almost fully grown, and it would be more of a premature birth than an abortion. I felt extremely lonely, and overcome with the wish to die, to vanish.
Adel could not understand all of this. Perhaps if he were around, he wouldn’t have suggested that I buy abortion inducing pills and smuggle them into the Gulf country. Perhaps he would not have suggested that I take a step that might cost me my life or freedom or my family’s reputation at the very least. Perhaps he would have understood that there is nothing called, “Have an abortion now and we’ll handle the aborted fetus later.” Perhaps he would have realized that the crime had now become two.
Our conversation ended with a fight. I hung up on Adel. The last thing I needed was someone unaware of the extent of this catastrophe. Back at my uncle’s house, I sat alone sorting my thoughts. I then called my cyberspace friend, who said that he had run out of solutions, except for one.
He gave me the number of a relatively well-known young woman, saying that she would help if she heard my story. I was taken aback because I knew her name quite well, Salma. I was one of her many online followers. Everyone knew about her interest in fashion and travel. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind that this woman who never wrote a word about these issues is the same person who secretly helps women access abortions. She extends her hand to every woman who knocks at her door in hopelessness and desperation. An unknown knight, covering her face.
I got in touch with Salma and she was willing to help. She gave me the address of a doctor who had recently done an abortion for a woman pregnant from a rape. When she found out I was alone, she told me she couldn’t accompany me to the medical examination, but insisted on being with me during the abortion itself. I went for the medical check. He was the fourth doctor on my journey. There was the one we can call the straightforward doctor; the young doctor in training who offered to provide me with abortion pills; and the slut-shaming doctor who demanded 40,000 pounds.
He said: “It’s not my first time doing this, there has to be trust between the doctor and patient. I will get rid of the fetus for you after the abortion.” When he examined me, I didn’t feel comfortable about how he did it or the way he looked at me. He then said: “How are your breasts doing? Show me.” I told him that my breasts were swollen and painful, and the nipples darker than usual. He pinched my nipple and laughed.
I ignored my intuition. I was running out of time and options. My discomfort was not as important as getting rid of the pregnancy and saving my life. I put on my clothes and sat on the chair in front of his desk. He reassured me that this was not his first time, and repeated again the importance of mutual trust. He explained to me that he would give me a pill to take the next day, which would induce labor so that he may then help me give birth naturally rather than by cesarean section which would leave a scar. That way, my family would not know I had an abortion, and most importantly, he promised to get rid of the fetus.
He began praising Salma but then said she had completed her mission by putting me in touch with him and that he was not comfortable with her being part of the abortion process. I had been counting on Salma being with me.
I did not tell Salma what the doctor had said and just confirmed that I would be meeting with her and the doctor the next day. But when I told Adel, he said, “Don’t go. That’s it. Let’s look for another doctor. I don’t feel comfortable about him.” I had no idea what to do. I was alone and scared of everything, including the doctor himself. That was Thursday. On Friday morning, I had arranged to meet my childhood friend for breakfast. I was about to tell her everything.
I didn’t know how she’d react but at least she’d know if anything happened to me. I didn’t get the chance to tell her. The doctor called asking where I was. When I told him I was with a friend, he shouted at me: “Are you playing the fool? I tell you that we have to handle this quickly and you tell me you’re out with a friend? This is irresponsible. You have to come to see me immediately.” So I left my friend, to find the doctor waiting for me in his car. He told me we would start now, but that it wouldn’t be possible in the clinic because it was the weekend, and he had an apartment we could use. I agreed. He passed by a hospital where he worked, and a nurse inserted a cannula in my vein. Throughout the ride he kept saying: “Don’t be scared. I am a doctor, and a police officer as well, so there is nothing for you to worry about.” I didn’t know if he was trying to calm me down or scare me even more.
He took the Suez Road, taking me to who knows where. He was heading to an old apartment that he owns in one of the new cities. He said it was safe there. I sent my live location to both Adel and Salma on Whatsapp. When it stopped, Salma rang me again and again, and rang the doctor even more.
We arrived in a strange neighborhood. He stopped at one of the buildings, all the same gray, the same height, and the balconies with laundry ropes stretched across. I thought we would be taking the stairs up. But no. We went a few steps down where there was a door behind an iron gate locked with a big padlock.
Inside, there was more dust than air. It was totally dark. The windows were blocked off by wooden planks, as though opening them would let in a monster of some kind. He headed to the power box and a faint ceiling lamp came on. He asked me to go in. Old takeaway packaging, a worn-out ceiling-fan, pillows with dark brown stains were scattered on the floor. He had gone ahead of me to one of the rooms, and I followed him. There was no light there as the lamp was broken, but I could make out worn out pillows and wide cushions of non-existent sitting room furniture. He asked me to sit on them.
I turned on my phone’s torch. He watched me as though he was enjoying the discomfort showing on my face. The pillows and cushions seemed to have blood stains. The scene was nauseating. It brought home to me the situation I was in, and my need for this man’s help to the extent that I was willing to be in this rotten place, without light, without air, placing the remains of my hope to survive in his hands. He asked me to take off my clothes so that he could insert the pill into my vagina. I did. I opened my legs, closed my eyes, and held my breath.
His hand kept coming and going over my clitoris. I didn’t want to annoy or insult him, or push him away forcefully. I was trying to avoid any confrontation because I didn’t know what he could do to me while we were in this place, disconnected from the world.
He said we should wait ten minutes. My phone had no network connection, so I couldn’t get in touch with Salma or distract myself. It was as though the situation was giving me more time and torturing me slowly. The doctor’s phone still had reception. Salma kept calling him, a second time, third time, and tenth time. He gave me his phone and asked me to reassure her. I did. I hung up only to find her calling again.
He told me he had to check that the pill had dissolved properly. He inserted his hand into my vagina and found the pill still intact. He pretended to be disappointed.
He said: “You have to help me. The pill has to dissolve now.” He said that I had to be wet. I didn’t get it. Sighing as though he were explaining something to a stupid student, he said, “There has to be secretion. If you want, I can help you. Or I can leave you to masturbate.” I didn’t say a word. He tried to kiss me on my lips. Terror engulfed me.
He sat beside me and put his hand on my arm from behind me, saying: “Tasneem. Don’t you trust me? I am an experienced doctor. I told you that the most important thing between a doctor and patient is trust.”
I understood that helping me meant having sex with me. Here and now. I was at his mercy because I had engaged in sex. I had sex for love, so why shouldn’t I have sex with him in return for helping me out of this crisis? It was as though I were here because of a consensual sexual act, and would not leave except through an enforced one. I had to choose between saving my life and blackmail sex. An internal overpowering voice kept telling me, “Leave now, and if you are left with no other options then come back and give him what he wants.”
I said to him: “Just leave me and I’ll handle it.” All along, Salma did not stop calling the doctor. He’d hang up and she’d call again. He put his phone on mute but he was getting more and more agitated and seemed unable to stop himself from checking the phone. Suddenly he was all in a fury, saying:
“OK. It’s over. Fuck this. Who does she think she is?” He told me to get dressed. On the way back in the car, there was a horrible silence. Then he said: “Find yourself another doctor. I told you from the beginning let’s keep her out of this. I can’t work when someone is looking over my shoulder.”
We reached a public place where Salma was waiting for us. She acted normal with the doctor, while he was mostly silent, keeping his words brief. She was cracking jokes to reduce the tension, then she said she was going to the toilet and asked if I wanted to join her. I agreed.
Now that we were alone, we could talk openly. “Why weren’t you answering my calls? Did he sexually assault you?” I cried and told her what had happened, and that he had asked me explicitly that she should not be present. Salma hugged me and said: “Do you want me to leave? Tell me what you need.” I answered at once saying that I wanted her with me, so we agreed she would be with me even if the doctor objected.
When we went back, Salma acted as though I had not told her a thing. She then suggested that we go to his clinic, so that he could give me the abortion pills for us to start the procedure as planned. He did not object, but it was clear he was furious. We went to the clinic where he gave me the actual abortion pill, not the fake one that he had given me in the morning. His examination was normal in Salma’s presence. He then said that the effect of the pill would start in a few hours, and that I should come back at seven in the evening, so that the three of us would go to his apartment where he would do the abortion.
Before leaving the clinic, Salma asked me to wait outside for a few minutes. Afterwards, she told me she’d implied that if he helped me with the abortion, he could have sex with her instead. Apparently, he started drooling like a dog. I felt that Salma knew how to handle these matters.
I went back to my uncle’s house. We had lunch, and I told him that I would spend the night with a friend. He called my mother to check that was ok. An hour later, the contractions started and I got in touch with the doctor.
In the car with the doctor, I was obviously in excruciating pain despite the painkiller shot he’d given me, while he said to me: “You are a low person. Ask the girl who I helped before you. She did things with me, and we became good friends. But you are a piece of trash. I didn’t get anything out of you. Not even a kiss.” I felt like saying to him: “I don’t care. Just put an end to this.”
We picked Salma up on our way to the apartment. Neither the doctor nor I knew that Salma had sent her live location to one of her friends, who was now following us to the apartment. The road was long and tedious, and the pain unrelenting.
We arrived, and as I entered the apartment I felt more at ease than I had in the morning, knowing that there was a woman looking after me. I could now focus on my pain and fear of the abortion, without the threat of rape or murder hanging over me.
But when Salma entered, she seemed apprehensive. She followed me into the room with the pillows and said: “This place is filthy. If there is another place, the home of a woman I know, would you like to go there?” I rushed to the bathroom to throw up again. As I leaned on Salma’s shoulder walking back from the bathroom, I told Salma I agreed. She said that her friend was on the way. Salma went to the doctor in another room, and I heard them fighting:
The doctor: How dare you tell someone and even give them the address? Do you two think this a picnic to which you invite your friends?
Salma: Tasneem does not feel comfortable and this place is unclean. And of course, we have told others where we are. What if something happened to us here?
The doctor, in a rage: Are you shitting me? You are going to get us in deep shit.
Salma, keeping her cool: If we are getting in deep trouble anyway, then it might as well be in a cleaner place than this. My friend is here. I’ll open the door for her.
Salma’s fight with the doctor marked the first moment that I felt safe since I found out I was pregnant. It was the moment I felt that there were two women, both prepared to pick me up from here. There was no going back. He cannot now threaten not to proceed with the abortion if he does not have sex with me or Salma, simply because we know his name, the place of both his clinic and this apartment, and his car registration number.
Salma went out for a minute and came back with her friend. Samar looked like an important woman in her thirties, although she was not past the age of 25. Her hair style, her high boots, and the way she pulled her expensive phone out of her coat pocket said it all. The wedding band on her hand as she tried to push away the stale air to breathe made her look like the wife of a police officer or an army general. A woman of importance who came to put an end to the matter, a savior.
As if she had planned her entry into this place, the way the Ultras planned their entry into the Cairo Stadium. Ready and prepared. Grumbling and provoked. Lowering her eyes checking out the filth, then raising her eyes from the ground to the doctor with the same stare of disgust and contempt. With every step she took, the sound of her heels announcing the countdown for leaving the pigsty. Her posture that of a pacha’s daughter who has just arrived from the city to the stink of cattle shit all over the village. There is no doubt that her entry, her snobbery, and her intended arrogance confused him.
He was disconcerted having expected to see a young woman in sneakers, like Salma. Once he saw her, his plan to undermine her was up turned. He felt despicable. That is what appearances do to men who think that they can subdue women. They exert their power, then realize that power comes in degrees. A woman’s class and confidence in her connections make a man feel small and insignificant, make him fear that this woman in particular will bring his end if he challenges her.
Samar was not well connected, but was confident in her decision to host the abortion. She was a young woman, just like me and like Salma. But her information about the situation as relayed by Salma, made her quickly aware of what she had to do. Why not? Samar herself had been in the same situation a few years ago, and she already had years of personal experience and sensitive political encounters. She was not the wife or daughter of anyone. She was herself, with her personal experiences, in an intended confrontation with the doctor.
He gathered the remains of his scattered dignity, and asked her if she was sure her place was safe. Samar did not respond to him and instead asked Salma where I was.
When she saw me, she said, “Don’t be scared, my dear. Everything will be fine. Would you like to come to my place?” This was the second time I was asked what I wanted to do. I had almost forgotten that I could want anything. Though I was in a general state of confusion, both times the question triggered a definite decision. And so, we left the worst place I had ever entered in my life. I left the place in which I had been about to succumb to the doctor. I left it, and left behind my hopelessness and weakness.
He took his car and caught up with us as we were heading to Samar’s place. The road was long and the contraction pain unbearable.
In my mind I thought fuck it, God. Remove my ovaries. I don’t want to be a woman anymore.
As the speed bumps hit me from the outside, the contractions hit me from the inside.
Samar and Salma were addressing me, each telling the story of her abortion in such a way as to ease my suffering, or at least divert my attention from the pain. We arrived at around one am. My whole attention was directed to comparing the two apartments — Samar’s and the doctor’s. A comparison that ended with quick deserved gloating about that poor guy, who thought that he was playing the game on his ground imposing his rules. Then the tables completely turned.
I felt comfort. It’s over. He is not playing in his playground. He is not the one in control. He now has to face reality as a fait accompli.
At no point did Samar or Salma leave me alone with the doctor, even when he asked them to go. They asked me as usual, and I said I wanted them with me. The doctor did not object, and started pumping the morphine through the cannula. I lay on the bed with a medical bed sheet below me; Samar to my right and Salma to my left, while the pain was eating me up. They were both embracing me when I opened my legs to their utmost for the last time.
I was screaming in pain. Salma tried to get me to be as quiet as I could so that Samar’s neighbors wouldn’t start wondering what was going on. The doctor made the incision in the fetal sac and asked me to push. One, two, three, and the baby was out — coming out unexpectedly easily.
I raised my head to try to look. Salma and Samar gently pushed me back again, tears in their eyes, but I saw it. They said: “Thank God for your safety.”
Oh God! I felt relieved. As though everything had calmed in a second. But I also felt guilty, especially having seen it. I remember that moment very clearly. It is as though I’m reliving that moment again … I wish I had been able to do it earlier, but there was really nothing that I could have done more.
Before the doctor removed the placenta, he put the fetus into a black rubbish bag where it took a few breaths and left my body forever. Salma took me to have a bath, while Samar was already inside preparing clothes for me. I closed my eyes. When I’d closed my eyes at the doctor’s apartment in the morning, I was frightened, fighting alone in an unfair battle. That doctor had been my last hope: I intended not to come back from Egypt before I’m done with the fetus, or we are both done together. When I shut my eyes in the shower, the battle was over, and I had won. I survived.
The warm water came down over my head through my hair as if it were washing away all these thoughts and all the fear. Replacing terror with safety, fear with relief.
Salma and Samar bathed me. I stood naked for the first time in front of women. I did not feel shame. On the contrary, there was an intimacy that I had never experienced before. One was drying my body, while the other was dressing me. One was drying my hair, while the other was brushing it. Such a scene of kindness and intimacy had never crossed my mind. We went back to the room, and I lay down on the same bed. I sent a message to Adel and reassured him that it was all over. Samar prepared a light meal, while Salma sat next to me urging me to eat.
Tasneem: What made you do all of this for me? You gave me the doctor’s number. Your help could have stopped at that.
Salma: When I was in this same situation, I was alone, so I don’t want any woman to go through that experience.
Every time I think of her words, I cry the way I cried in her presence and then hugged her and thanked her. From that time on I’ve had a strong belief that I too can do the same. If a woman finds herself in the same situation. I won’t do less than what Salma did for me. No one should go through such an experience on her own.
Salma gave the doctor a sum of money I handed to her before I fell asleep, and asked him to wait until the next day for the rest. He reluctantly agreed.
As he was getting ready to leave, Salma’s fears grew. She went back to the room. Opened the wardrobes. Looked under the bed. Opened all the drawers. She was afraid that the doctor would take his revenge on us by leaving the fetus at Samar’s place and report us to the police. Salma did not let him leave before she made sure that he had taken it.
The doctor left, but after half an hour he called Salma to tell her that she owed him another 3,000 pounds, demanded by the cemetery guard to have the fetus illegally buried in an unknown grave. So, the whole amount was like 20,000 Egyptian pounds, $1,330 (USD). She agreed and hung up.
I woke up a few hours later to find Salma and Samar sitting smiling at me, though showing signs of lack of sleep and exhaustion. We had breakfast together exchanging smiles of victory. We talked about the night that would remain memorable till the end of our lives. We were in the morning of a victory after a bloody battle dominated by fear and governed by terror. I thanked them both and left heading to my uncle’s house.
Along the way I realized my view of the world had changed. I wasn’t annoyed by the crowds the way I used to be. Everything was clear now and I was of course proud of myself that I went through it all, and got out of it. I wished I had been able to stop it earlier. I wished … I thought of the moment I saw the fetus coming out of my belly. And as much as I feel bad about it, I know I had no other options.
A few days after the abortion, I went once more to the first doctor I visited in Egypt. I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t developed an infection during the abortion, and that I wasn’t suffering from any medical side effects.
As I was traveling on my way back to the Gulf state, one of the airport officers there asked to give me a pat-down as there was liquid on my clothes, so she must have thought I was smuggling something. The liquid was milk that leaked from my breast. I was thinking about what I should say if she asked me about it. If there is milk in my breasts, then where is the baby? Neither my passport nor ID says that I am married. What could she have done to me?
Three days after my return, I found voice messages from Salma asking about my health and telling me that she had visited the sexual blackmailer at his clinic. He was expecting to sleep with her, but she had gone to confront him, telling him he had blackmailed me for sex. He defended himself saying that he had just made an offer that I was free to refuse. She explained the situation in simple terms to him — that there were unequal power relations, that I knew if I did not agree to sleep with him, he wouldn’t perform the abortion, and I had no other options. In the end, he apologized and said he’d apologize to me too but Salma told him not to contact me again.
Salma told me that she had put an end to her acquaintance with the doctor after threatening him that if he did this again, she would ruin his future. I felt this was another victory.
But also, I felt like trash. I had convinced myself that I would give him what he wanted as long as he would put an end to my pregnancy. I felt I had let myself down. I knew that I was going to suffer in Egypt, but I thought that I’d be exploited financially. I didn’t imagine I would meet someone who would want to fuck a woman seeking an abortion.
It’s true that I went back to my life, but it wasn’t my normal life. There are things that have changed because of the trauma.
There are singers whose songs I’ve stopped listening to. The songs, for instance, that I used to listen to in the car on my way to work in the morning. I can’t smell oranges as I feel about to throw up because it reminds me of Vitamin C. I sometimes feel all of a sudden as if I’m swallowed up by grief. And sex of course has changed. Even the way I relate to my body and the way I see myself in the mirror has changed.
Among the things that have changed is my work. The way I deal with my colleagues has changed.
Nobody can bother me now. Before the abortion I used to go along with uncomfortable conversations and keep silent sometimes. But now? I stand up for myself. When someone annoys me, I feel like saying “You have no idea what I did to survive. To be alive here and now.”
The italicized texts in “On Our Ground” are direct quotations of women interviewed by the author.