It was a class that I had been looking forward to. It was in June 2014. Ten of my Reiki students from across the sprawling metropolis of Cairo, Egypt, accomplished and committed to their practice, about to start into their Master’s level training. The class was being held in my usual venue, a lovely 16th-floor apartment, owned by one of my students just off the Nile in the prosperous central-Cairo district of Zamalek.
The first day of the class passed by. It was productive and enjoyable; some intense training and practice took place high up there in that tower block overlooking the Nile River. It was fun and very moving to feel and engage with the group energy as it flowed, gathered, fluctuated and swirled around the apartment. The energy was massive and many of us were getting light-headed.
The second day of the class was much the same. Time was given to discussion of the practice of various meditations within the Reiki canon and how to deepen understanding of the mechanics of the Reiki healing method. We broke for lunch and then did some point work in a treatment context. As far as I know, this is a method that is exclusive to Jin Kei Do. Anyway, the students loved it. It was one of the highlights of the class: everyone loves the feeling of powerful soothing energy coursing through their bodies; either as receiver or practitioner.
Then this happened: this is the text of the Facebook status that I posted at the time:
“It was almost the end of a very powerful Reiki class that I was teaching in Cairo when my students and I noticed thick smoke billowing up the side of the building to the 16th floor where we were located, at the top of the building. Heading for the apartment door we found our way down barred by thick smoke. No fire escape. No other way out. For some time we were all gathered in a back bedroom with the window open as the rest of the apartment slowly filled with smoke. One of my students: Omar, a real star, soaked towels to put around the door frame and checked that there were towels for others to put over their faces, then dowsed the door in water.
“Eventually someone, not sure who managed to get the fire door to the roof of the building open. We covered our faces and dashed through the acrid smoke. There was almost zero visibility as we headed to the roof. We were confronted with having to cross to the next building — 16 floors up, over a thin metal ladder that people on the other building were stretching across the gap for us. It wasn’t safe but everyone made it across, then down through some offices. Someone offered us some water which was very gratefully received. Composing ourselves just a little, we set off down to the street and stood… dazed, frazzled, shaking, bewildered. Down on the street, I gave out Reiki certificates to my students. We took photos and not knowing what else to do, sat quietly in a cafe to think and get a sense of balance. Talk about traumatic.
“Sometime later I went back into the gutted building with two of my students to see the apartment that we had abandoned. The apartment was in fact fine. The devastation on the way up, however, was unbelievable. Whole floors were destroyed. The stairs were covered in chunks of massive concrete that had fallen, black and burnt. Window frames were twisted. Burnt-out door frames gave way into devastated apartments. The climb up the stairs through the rubble was hot. Everything was hot and soaking in the water from the fire hoses.
“Sadly, one person lost their life in the fire. The boab, who sat on his stool at the foot of the steps leading to the building glanced at us. His face and hands were blistered and burnt from the fire, but at least he was alive.“
In the end, it was lonely standing there on 26th July Street. The bustle and traffic of Cairo continued all around. My students had all gone home. Inside me, there was a silence and a stillness. An intense numbness. I’d been in dangerous situations before. I knew what that the energy of possible death felt like. That feeling had not been present that day, 16 floors up in a Cairo tower block. Even so, it was an experience that left all of us numbed and shocked. Getting across that ladder with a 16-floor drop between its rungs, as it rattled and shifted precariously between the ledges of two buildings was something you don’t forget easily.
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