OPEN DOORS, CLOSED HOMES
I was only seven years old when we were relocated. I remember a Christian friend of my mother who described how happy they were with the new housing units that they moved to in al-Zawiya al-Hamra. We all were so excited about moving. My friends and I used to talk for hours, imagining how life was going to be in the new apartments. We used to picture the new bathrooms and count the number of showers that we would take in the morning and evening. We were very happy while we were helping my mother pack our belongings. It was only when I saw them removing the door of our room that I felt deep sadness, pushing me to weep very hard. Without realizing it, I found myself holding the door tight screaming, “I do not want to leave, I do not want to leave,” but of course my parents and siblings would not allow me to stay. We all were crying when we moved.
A twenty-two-year-old woman describing her feelings when her family was relocated
The “door,” as noted in chapter 1, had a special significance in Sadat's infitah, or “open-door policy.” This policy, as stated by Sadat (1981) himself, aimed to “open the universe … open the door for fresh air and remove all the barriers and walls that we built around us to suffocate ourselves by our own hands” (12). While Sadat's policies aimed to open the door to the outside, at the local level doors were utilized to enclose and separate nuclear families from each other. The modern family was perceived as a nuclear family that occupied its own separate apartment and had a door that enclosed its activities and defined its separate boundaries. Doors have a special significance in how people depict attachment to the old location and current interaction in the new project. As the above narrative reveals, the door mediates the relationship between the social actor, the housing unit, and the larger community. The door is recalled when people remember the past and point to how space connected them in Bulaq while it separates them in al-Zawiya. Many used to live in rooms that opened on a common hallway (fasaha), and the building (bayt) had one door that enclosed them as a unit. The statement “We did not use to close our doors” is made to signify a complex set of relationships, manifesting security, closeness, trust, and honesty, that is said to have characterized the old location. In comparison, el-masaakin are formed of residents who come from different parts of Cairo and various Bulaqi alleys. The security that was guaranteed through long-formed relationships was disrupted, and the basis for leaving doors opened was shaken. Simultaneously,
Since relocation, the door has become more important in mediating the interaction between the family and others. It has become the entrance to the family's life, its exit to the outside world, and the gate that is used to communicate with others, establish or restrict relationships with neighbors, and express solidarity with the rest of the community. In short, it is the “gate” that regulates the inclusion and exclusion of others from the family's life. This is not to say that the gate is rigid. In fact, because the rules that regulate this gate are flexible and change according to the context, the door becomes the locus of tension with others. Closing the door can be translated as separating your world from others when there is tension between neighbors, especially in el-masaakin. The door symbolizes and reinforces the distinction between “us” and “them” when there is tension between neighbors.
The special importance of the door is revealed on a daily basis because it functions like a thermometer that indicates the fluctuation of the relationship between neighbors. The families of Um Mahmmod and Um ‘Emmad are two of the few families that continued to live next to each other after the relocation. Their memories of their life in Bulaq have created a sense of closeness between the two families and openness between their apartments that is not common in other blocks. The two women think of themselves as sisters, a fact that is manifested in how the children of each family call the other woman khalti (mother's sister). Although physically the two apartments are separated and have their own wooden doors, there is a continuous flow of news, objects, and people between the two units. The doors are usually open (especially in the summer) from morning until late at night. This changes, however, when there is tension between the two families. The number of visits decreases rapidly, and some members who are directly involved in a conflict may stop talking to each other. In this context, the door gains more significance. How one opens and closes the door signals feelings of anger, disrespect, and frustration. When a young woman of the two families slaps the door hard while one of the neighbors is passing, she is making a clear statement about her anger. If she closes the outer door of the apartment while her neighbor's door is open without looking and asking for permission from
The door and the ability to enclose the family's life introduce a new definition of privacy. Families’ reactions to this new possibility vary depending on their members’ education, economic status, and religious views. There is especially a marked difference between the better offand the needy. The needy (such as Um ‘Emmad and her family) see in the door and the growing separation from their neighbors not a positive change that protects the family but a barrier that reduces interaction and cooperation within the community. The relatively better-offfamilies (such as Um Mahmmod's) see in the door a welcome development and tend to introduce physical changes to their units that secure more visual protection. This can best be exemplified by the wall that has been introduced to create a space that mediates the interaction between those who are standing at the door and those who are inside the living room.