When I was a small child, I arrived at a lot of incorrect conclusions about life based on assumptions, incomplete pictures of the world that grown-ups gave me, and innocent misunderstanding. Grappling with a big world without having been alive for very long sometimes led to confusion about where things come from or why circumstances are the way they are. I understood certain concepts as “rules” of the way the world worked, without having lived enough to have experienced counterexamples.
Unfortunately for me now, I have a vivid recollection of the majority of my childhood, and so I often remember these misconceptions as something that I have only recently shed. So, my initial childhood misconception might arise in my mind as a reflex, but then I must remind myself that we don’t think that anymore because we learned otherwise.
So, I bring you this special series on childhood misconceptions that distorted my worldview.
This installment of the series is on a piece of incorrect knowledge where for some reason, for a good amount of my childhood, I thought that if someone was ever in danger and ran into any place of worship, no one could chase them in, and they were immune to any form of harm. I thought that this was a universally respected form of sanctuary, and even the evilest of the evil in the world understood that they simply would not be allowed to follow someone into a place of worship if their intention was to harm them. And even if they tried, they would be forcibly prevented.
I think this was before I found out that authorities still chase people into places of worship or can fail to prevent others from destroying places of worship altogether because someone they are targeting might be inside.
I don’t remember what debunked this misconception for me, but I remembered it at an odd time this year.
When I was in Egypt last month, some of those participating in the sit-in that started in Tahrir Square, Cairo from 8 July until 1 August were involved in a march on 23 July that went from Tahrir Square to the military headquarters at the Ministry of Defense. I went there, and the military and the people protesting were set up to occupy an area near a large mosque.
If you read any of my tweets from that day on my Twitter timeline, you will see that they are mostly about how badly I had to pee.
It was unbelievably hot that day, as was every day I was in Egypt during that trip, and I am really obsessive about keeping hydrated. Even in the coldest of weather, I consistently consume a few liters of water every day. I just have to or else I get really desperately crazy.
I had been through a lot of water before leaving home and another bottle of water on the way there, and so I pretty much had to pee well before I even arrived.
I stopped caring about the protest and started caring about the fact that all the businesses, shops, restaurants and pharmacies on the way to the military headquarters closed early because of the march/protest, which meant no public bathrooms.
I was on the verge of going door to door at the residences to ask to use someone’s toilet, but none of the locals seemed particularly pleased that there was a protest happening in their area. They didn’t seem like they would be particularly open to letting a stranger piss in a room inside their home.
If I got stuck in the area where the protest was happening, I was almost certain that someone would see me wet myself in public that day.
The protest escalated into a riot fairly quickly, and people began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at each other. Masses of people started running, and whenever I’m in a situation where a shit ton of people are running in one direction, I find it best to run in the same direction to avoid getting trampled. I hadn’t even realized it, but people were running because the military fired some shots in the air to intimidate and disperse people. I didn’t hear it because I was thinking about all the worst possible scenarios for me and my bladder in this situation.
My mind had wandered off to wondering whether I would be excused to go to the toilet if I was arrested. I wondered whether I would be put in a cell with a toilet, and if there would be other people with me in the cell who could see me pee. Or perhaps I would be taken to an office and there would be a bathroom next to the office that they would let me use. I wondered if I could get solitary confinement for the privacy privileges.
Luckily, running with the stampeding people helped me get out just before the riot police came in and closed the exits, tear gassed protestors and started making arrests. If I had been knocked down by tear gas I would have surely done it in my pants.
As I was running, I was very quickly out of breath. We went back past the huge mosque, and I wondered if anyone would notice if I just slipped into the mosque and claimed sanctuary the way I might in my childhood imagination. I figured the mosque must have a toilet, and hopefully a fairly clean one. If the rules of the world really were the way I used to believe they were, I would be safe. And best of all, I wouldn’t have to run. Running while burning to pee and being tremendously out of shape made me care much less about my own well-being (but admittedly, so did not hearing the gun shots).
But the world was not that way, and so I had to hold it until leaving the area, being ignored by the local bus driver we tried to wave down, and finally finding a taxi under a bridge which took us to a supermarket in a different district of Cairo where we met a friend who took us to a coffee shop and I found a bathroom.
And waited a very long time outside the door.