This morning it is 13 degrees in Albuquerque and the school where I work as a substitute teacher has no heat in the rooms that house the culinary arts classes. Water from frozen pipes shorted electrical controls in the system days ago and things have yet to be repaired. Students are huddled around the ovens. Yesterday morning it was nine. Same deal. Huddled around the ovens. Last week a spell of sub zero temperatures around the state caused a natural gas shortage because of unusual demand and thousand of homes were without heat in the bitter, dangerous cold, especially in northern New Mexico, where temperatures plummeted to 20 below. The governor declared a state of emergency. A week later there are still homes without heat. Stalwarts from FEMA have been called in to assess the damage in Taos.
The only thing to warm the spirit these days are the many hundreds of thousands of courageous Egyptians who have broken their fear to challenge the American-backed regime that has brutally oppressed them for 30 years. Watching them, one vacillates between hope and foreboding. The US response to the uprising has been at the same time despicable and wildly comic. Reveling in Obama and Clinton’s contemptible transparent verbal contortions, I feel like one of Oliver Sack’s patients famously reacting to Reagan’s speech. That’s who we are these days, patients in an asylum, huddled around our ovens for warmth. Those not broken, catatonic or drugged laugh uproariously, if impotently, at the wicked comedy playing out before us. How long will it take this benumbed citizenry to channel its inner McMurphys and Chief Bromdens?
Out of almost nowhere the name “Egypt” has taken on a luster and significance that dazzles the rest of the world and kindles dormant hopes thought to be extinguished. “We are all Egyptians!” comes the cry, as if vicariously experiencing the spiritual and physical bravery of the pro-democracy crowds grants us license to share this exalted mantle with those who put their lives and futures on the line. In fact we are all inescapably American—taxpayers that fund the Egyptian ruling class two billion dollars a year to keep those exalted others some now claim to be under the guns and tanks ringing Tahrir Square, weapons that could at a nod from afar turn those protesters into dead people.
This system that can’t keep its schoolchildren warm spends trillions on the military with its thousand bases around the world, providing muscle for the corporations and kleptocrats that rule our lives. That we have to huddle around our stoves is of little consequence for those that lord over us with such contempt. Until we really decide to become Egyptians and break out of the asylum, their disdain is wholly justified.
RICHARD WARD lives in New Mexico. He can be reached at: email@example.com