November 19, 2014
In Blog News
US citizen Mohamed Soltan has been in an Egyptian jail for over a year, and on hunger strike for nearly all of that time. He has smuggled a letter out of prison to mark his 27th birthday today (November 16th). There is also another hearing in his trial today, and the judge in charge of the case is the same one who sentenced the Aljazeera journalists to lengthy jail terms, as well presiding over the trial of known activists Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abdelfatah. The text of Soltan’s letter is as follows:
For the first time in the pre-season, I came late to JV basketball practice. I had made the team at 336 pounds, during my junior year in high school, even though all of my classmates were playing varsity I was just happy to make the team. That day, Coach Slappy looked at me as I entered the gym, and without giving me the chance to explain my tardiness he put his index finger up and circled it in the air, directing me to run laps. I was OK with the punishment for the tardiness, but what I wasn’t OK with was his insistence on the “finger-circling” when I asked and continued asking as I ran, “How many laps coach?”
That day I felt that I had received the worst punishment. I could have ran 100 laps had the coach let me know how many laps I needed to run, but the psychological punishment was, for me, nothing short of torture. That day I ran 29 laps around the basketball court, but every lap felt like it would be the last one. By the time Coach Slappy remembered to tell me to stop I was mentally and physically drained.
I remember this story as my 27th birthday, my second in prison, approaches and as I finish 290 days on hunger strike. One hundred and fifty pounds lighter and exactly 10 years later, I am sitting in an underground Egyptian dungeon reflecting on that basketball season and its relevance to my current circumstances. I have lost the sense of hunger; I lose consciousness often; I wake up to bruises and a bloody mouth almost daily; and physical pain has become the norm, with my body numb as it eats away at itself. None of that is as painful as the psychological torture that the ambiguity of my detention (which is under an indefinite temporary holding law) is imposing. This is a dark and gloomy nightmare; I have no clue about how it descended on me so suddenly; I don’t know how long it will last; nor do I know how and when it will end. Although it is a much more extreme feeling than that of Coach Slappy’s punishment, it is nonetheless similar; mental and physical depletion. I do not know how long until this “punishment” ends, so every day passes like it is the last, slow and excruciating.
And just when the rare tears filled up my eyes as I went down memory lane to that basketball season, it all began to come together. That year I stopped smoking sheesha, lost 60 pounds, worked extra hard every practice, and moved from benching the JV team to 6th-man, to a starter. By the end of the year I was on the varsity basketball team with my classmates.
I realised then that, on that one day when Coach Slappy decided to punish me, he was testing my mental strength, my potential, and whether I had enough heart for the game. He kept this up for the rest of season, and I was certainly transformed into a better basketball player. My mental strength would be cultivated through these tests because I trusted him and that he was making me a better player.
I could not help the tears flowing down my bony cheeks as I thought of my weakness and inability to fully trust in God’s wisdom as much I did Coach Slappy’s. There is no comparison of course; this current test is much more extreme and definitely more painful, but just like the former made me stronger so too is this going to make me stronger. Just like I was prepped to be a better basketball player, I am being moulded by God to be a wiser human being, an effective leader, and a stronger advocate of freedom and peace. My coach’s words, “Hate every moment of training but love and cherish every second of victory,” are ever-so relevant today.
A ray of optimism has lit my heart. That’s the thing about birthdays, anniversaries, New Years, etc.; they inspire reflections over the past, thoughts and emotions around purpose, priorities, plans, future and hope.
I wipe my tears and, just as I begin to prepare for night prayer to thank God for all His blessings, I smile as I remember what I told myself 10 years ago during the 29th lap: “This has an end.”
Lieman maximum security prison
13 November, 2014