Friday, April 30, 2010

The Sacrifices of Living Abroad


There comes a point in any expat experience when you just want to go home. The thrill of the unknown begins to fade and what was once foreign and curious becomes common and mundane. At this point, you question your life choices and the path you chose to take. You wonder if you really are one of those travelers that spends their lives running from something, the kind trying to find themselves,the kind trying to make meaningful connections anywhere, with anyone, at anyplace, or the kind seeking knowledge to better oneself and ones world. That same feeling of longing that lead you abroad wants to lead you back home.

And now, a little over 3 months since I arrived in Cairo, I've reached that point. Cairo has been a rollercoaster-when it's good, it's enchanting; and when it's bad, it's quite appalling. Yet for the past few weeks, my mind has been on home. When I first accepted the Boren Fellowship to study/research in Cairo, I was certain it was a good career choice. The current economy in the U.S. left me in no rush to finish my M.A. so I welcomed the opportunity to take some time off to learn Arabic, something I'd always wanted to do. However, the reality is that Cairo has made me begin to rethink making a career-long focus on the Middle East.  Since being here, I've become hyper-aware of my gender and race and the restrictions/expectations placed on me because of both.  Although many women have ventured into the Middle East and made careers of shattering boundaries and breaking stereotypes, I contemplate what cost this will have on my personal life and happiness. I'm realizing more and more that, although certain things may seem inconsequential-like wearing shorts in public or moving about freely- overtime they become vital to your sanity or sense of normalcy. I'd like to in a society where I can choose what I wear. I've come to enjoy freedoms like that of speech  and want to see others enjoy it as well. I do not want to make a life in an ivory tower or an expat bubble. I want a  loving husband and stable marriage, and well-rounded children.

Already my choice to come here has contributed to ending my 1+ year long relationship. As difficult as breaking up is in the same city, it is threefolds more difficult and impersonal via Skype. A part of me wishes that I'd stayed in D.C. and enjoyed the strength and vulnerability that only comes with a loving partnership. Amidst the media frenzy about the supposed black woman marriage crisis, I found myself saying goodbye to my first real shot at marriage and I've wondered how many more times I may have to make the choice between following my dreams and compromising between something seemingly greater.

As April comes to a close, home and what that word means is never to far from my thoughts. I miss my little sisters endless teenage chatter, my mothers home cooking, my teddy bear, the girly things my best friend does to make me smile, my younger brother that still follows me around at 20 years old, my god daughters toothless laugh, and yes, my now ex-boyfriends warmth at night. However, at 23 years old, I've already realized that- regardless of how much I plan- life will go in the direction it desires with little concerns for my whims and fancies. One of the benefits of being young, though, is that I still have the flexibilty to  stop walking down a path mid-step and turn around. I have no mortgage, no children, nothing to prevent me from making bad decisions or fulfilling my dreams. Thus,as much as I miss home, I know that I came here with the best of intentions. In this journey to learn a new language, I have learned what I need to make me happy and I've have a newfound appreciation for the people and things in life that I once took for granted. When I finally do return home, I am looking forward to spending time with family, falling in love all over again and taking that loved one on this life's journey with me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Aswan and Abu Simbel


It goes without saying that I was looking forward to this trip to last week's trip to Aswan (formerly known as Nubia) in Upper Egypt and getting away from Cairo with my program. I was feeling like this kid all week! We flew to Aswan on a red-eye flight from CIA. The moment we arrived in Aswan, I looked around and was immediately comforted by the sight of black people (Thank you baby Jesus, forward to Moses, and CC Allah) As I walked out of the airport with my group, a few people here and there walked up to me and said,"Welcome to Nubia." I must have smiled from ear to ear as I thanked them. 

From Aswan, we took a private bus 4 hours down to Abu Simbel. I was struck by the natural greenery of Aswan. Beautiful flowers, palm trees, and grass bordered the fertile Nile as we drove through the small governate. Domed Nubian style homes stood next to relatively modern apartment buildings. The Egyptian Nubians now live in homes built for them by the Egyptian government because the building of the Aswan Dam caused many of their historical homelands to be flooded. The streets were wide and clean compared to Cairo. 

In Abu Simbel, we boarded the Nubian Sea, the cruise ship where we lodged for the 4 day excursion. Once we were settled in, we visited the 2 temples in Abu Simbel built by King Ramses II, Large Temple for the God RA' Horakhti and the deified king and the smaller temple for the goddess Hathor and Ramses' deified wife. Nefertari. The Egyptian Egyptologist serving as our tour guide informed us that Ramses spent much of his life in Nubia and ruled over it for a period of time. I noticed that no merchants were selling souvenirs and hounding tourists at Abu Simbel. As I walked around with a friend, we went to visit a small bazaar nearby the temple. The Nubian merchants greeted us, invited us to take a look inside their stores, and didn't bother to try to hound us to buy their goods. A few asked me if I was Nubian or where I was from. The genuine friendliness of the people was a welcomed change from Cairo.

The view of Abu Simbel from our window

Over the next few days, we visited several other Nubian Temples down the Nile such as: Kasr Ibrim, the tomb of Pennut,  Amada, Der, Abd Bnoud, Wadi El Seboua, Dakka, Kalabsha, and Moraka. What struck me about the Nubian temples in comparison to the temples and burial chambers I'd visited in Cairo was the colors and intricacy of the carvings. The leapord spotted coat on one relief depicting a king still shown vibrant shades of gold and black. The pillars had large and deep carvings of beetles, flowers, and bees in them. Our guide often lamented this or that painting or carving was inferior because it strayed from the traditional Egyptian style of the time but I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity and craftsmanship in each Nubian temple.

At the Temple of Wadi el-Seboua,  8 Sphinxes glined the path leading inside. An Alaskan history buff from my group casually made the comment that the sphinxes had "Nubian features". His observation sent the Egyptian women, including the guide, into a frenzy as they fervently insisted that the sphinx clearly looked "Egyptian" (whatever that means). A bit taken aback by the fervor, the Alaskan man nodded and stepped back into the safety of the group while I chuckled to myself. From that point on, our guide was quick to point out to us why certain statues or reliefs  looked Egyptian, not Nubian. LOL. She did include a reference to a book I'd like to pick up in the guide she printed for us. The book is called The Nubian Pharaohs and it's reviewed here.
                                                       An inscription by the Nubian king Silko c recording his victory over the Blemmyes

The Temple of Kalabasha, best depicted the "clash of civilizations" that went on in the region. The  temple was built in a Ptolemic and Roman style  for the King Amenophis II and dedicated to the Nubian god Mandulis, the equivalent of the Egyptian god Horus. Inside the temple, a detailed decription from the Romans forbidding the slaughter of pigs inside the temple was carved near a Nubian inscription recording a military victory. Christian crosses similar to those of the Crusade period were also carved into the monument like ancient graffiti.

Aside from touring, we spent a luxurious 4 days on the cruise ship, the Nubian Sea. The ship was cozy and welcoming, the staff was courteous, and the food was amazing! I can' remember the last time I had the pleasure of enjoying 3 meals a day or lounging in my bikini under an umbrella beside a pool. Watching the sunset each night on the Nile reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about life, traveling, and exploring new cultures and sights. I returned to Cairo relaxed and looking forward to another excursion to Aswan soon :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

MSA Grammar is Kicking my Butt!


Modern Standard Arabic grammar is kicking my butt right now! I just can't seem to get it. Heck, I just realized yesterday we were learning a new verb tense. Here I am trying to master the present tenses and we''d already moved on to the past tense a week ago! I make high marks and comprehend the material in all my other MSA courses, it's just grammar that's making a complete fool out of me right now. When I first began this semester, I was doing well in all my MSA courses but my Egyptian Ammaya was lacking. I was given a tutor and a language partner for Ammayya but unbeknownst to me MSA quickly got very complicated! I was still trying to grasp why it was necessary to have so many second and thrid person tenses. Is it really necessary to have a specific pronoun and verb tense for them, those girls, those boys, you 2, you guys, and you girls? Sigh...

The reality is that it's difficult to learn a language and it's dialect simultaneously. I was downright offended when I learned that Egyptian Ammaya drops the ق sound in most Arabic words like قرأت (Khara-too, I read) and replaced it with an ء or ا (aa sound or a gluttaral stop). For the future, I've decided to shift my focus back to MSA because it's more formal and complicated than Ammayya. It will be more useful to me in the long term to have a better grasp of the formal language that most official business, government, and media outlets use than focus on one country's dialect. Later on when I have a better base in MSA, I'll explore a dialect. Now, I really need to get the present tense verb conjugations memorized before the next test...

Conjugation and Translation
3rd person
يَسْمَعُ (he hears)
يَسْمَعَانِ (they hear)
يَسْمَعُوْنَ (they hear)
تَسْمَعُ (she hears)
تَسْمَعَانِ (they hear)
يَسْمَعْنَ (they hear)
2nd person
تَسْمَعُ (you hear)
تَسْمَعَانِ (you hear)
تَسْمَعُوْنَ (you hear)
تَسْمَعِيْنَ (you hear)
تَسْمَعَانِ (you hear)
تَسْمَعْنَ (you hear)
1st person
Masculine & Feminine
أَسْمَعُ (I hear)
نَسْمَعُ (we hear)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another Perspective: The Typical Cairo Travel Review


CNN International posted an article by one of their travel tip staffers living in Cairo. Although I agreed with most of his statements about the "crowded, chaotic, polluted and noisy" city, there were other parts that made me raise and eyebrow.   As I read the article, I chuckled  to myself at the points of unfortunate, superficial reflections of a Western, white male completely unaware of his surroundings. Admittedly, I'm still bitter about my experience this past weekend. Here are some highlights:

And despite all the stresses of life here, Egyptians manage to remain by-and-large polite and friendly, with a raucous sense of humour renowned throughout the Arab world.- I guess I'd think people were polite and funny as well, if they never tried to touch my unmentionables in public or didn't hurl racial slurs at me as I shopped. Must be nice...

In Cairo, tourists stick out; there's no getting around it. Spend a few years here, and you will develop the "I've seen it all" look that Egyptians are so good at, and no one will give you a second glance.- EVERYONE notices tourists! Tourists are like prey with their fanny backs and Lonely Planet guides. There are slick men who specifically hang around near tourist attractions and Tahrir Square  to lure tourist into scams and tourists traps. Some of my favorite scams:telling you the Egyptian Museum is closed and insisting that you follow them to a nearby "bazaar", the friendly guy who offers to take a picture of you with your camera then refuses to give it back until you pay him, and the "tour guides" at the Egyptian museum who offer to take you on a tour of the museum for a ridiculous amount of money, eventhough they don't know one Egyptian dynasty from the other.

There are hundreds of tourist shops where you will be invited in "just to look" and for a cup of tea, but in general Egyptians try the soft approach to trap the tourists. So my advice is go ahead, allow yourself to be trapped.- ...I'm uncertain as to why anyone would, in good conscious, advise you to "allow yourself to be trapped" anywhere. Some store owners at tourist shops can be quite pushy and aggressive. If you aren't interested in buying something, it's best to not stop at all and continue on your way.

What seemed to him as standard advice clearly wouldn't apply to everyone. Cairo is an experience of your own that depends on multiple factors, some you can control and some you can not.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Struggling with Sexual Harassment by Egyptian Men


Ironically, before I went outside today, I was determined to write another 'Things I've Learned..." post about the dangers of all/none statements that can lead to prejudice. I wanted to reflect on 2 young, Egyptian men I'd met at AUC and their struggles with love in a Muslim country. One had spent his life in boarding schools and is now agnostic and the other is a Christian who had grown up in Bahrain. Both were well traveled, sweet, sensitive, and complete gentlemen with heartbreaking love stories. I wanted to highlight their stories as a breath of fresh air to contrast the negative way I've discussed my interactions with Egyptian men. I have been struggling with my own growing aversion to Egyptian men and trying not to assume they were all walking monuments to depravity. Therefore, the post was going to be a reminder to myself that one can never generalize all or none of any group. Then I went outside and met the average Egyptian men and now that other post AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN...

I threw on my usual Cairo uniform of wrinkled t-shirt and jeans to go grocery shopping today. As I walked back from the fruit stand 2 blocks from my apartment, I noticed two teenage boys following me. One kept walking behind me and trying to whisper perversion into my ear. When that failed, he walked a couple paces ahead of me and kept looking back while the other walked behind me. In no mood to be bothered, I tried my usual techniques for avoiding street harassers 1) I slowed down and 2) walked over to a cop. The guys walked off quickly so I took the oppurtunity to cross the street and continue home. Out of nowhere, the 2 crossed over to me and began making lewd gestures. Nearing my apartment, 3) I walked into a store and pretended to admire scarves s that they wouldn't know where I live. Usually, most men would get bored and walk off by then but these 2 lingered outside. 

I was running out of patience with them so I walked outside again , quickening my step. When one approached me and tried to reach for me, 4) I yelled loudly in English and flayed my arms for him to go away. He was momentarily surprised and confused so I hurried to my apartment building. To my dismay, he tried to follow me into the building! At this point, I flipped out, cursed him out, and shoved him back out the door. He had the nerve to raise his hand as if to slap me! Prepared to murder him in broad daylight if he dared, I stared him down until he lowered his arm and walked back outside.

Quite frankly, I find it hard not to completely despise Egyptian men right now. The constant sexual harassment, disrespect, and lack of regard for a woman's most basic right to walk from Point A to Point B in peace is disgusting. Unlike in other countries where a man will occasionally pull up in his car and flirt, someone will gawk at you or try to touch your hair, or a woman will have to endure a few amusing marriage proposals, harrasment in Egypt is ceaseless, viscous, and psychologically draining. In a report by Reuters, 2/3 of Egyptian men admited to sexually harassing men. The forms of harassment reported by Egyptian men include touching or ogling women, shouting sexually explicit remarks, and exposing their genitals to women. Contrary to popular belief, this BBC interview highlights that  it has nothing to do with what a woman is wearing. Even women in full burqas and niqabs are sexually harassed. In my observation, harassment seems to be a means of inflicting discomfort in order to assert some form of power over a woman. The many shiftless,unemployed and sexually repressed young men are bothered by seeing most women moving about in public with a purpose to their step and money in their pockets. Harrasment is a way to ensure that a woman "knows her proper place" in society.

Reuter also said that 83 percent of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed. Nearly half of women said the abuse occurred daily.  98 percent of foreign women saying they had experienced harassment in the country...The survey said most of the Egyptian women who told of being harassed said they were dressed conservatively, with the majority wearing the Islamic headscarf. The Egyptian government has half-heartedly tried to adress this widespread issue but nothing concrete has come out of their efforts.The harassment is to the degree that, the one time I went outside and no one was in the street to sexually harass me, I was genuinely taken aback! My roommates and I almost ran outside and played and skipped in the street with joy! None of us could figure out what was going on. It was right after Passover and Easter...Had God struck down all the first born sons again?! The next day, my instructor informed me that the day before was Sham El-Nisem and most Egyptians were at the park with their families.

While sexual harrasment seems harmless on the outside, it leads to a break down of the moral fabric of society. It's a bit hypocritical to impose a way of dress on women based on Islamic views of modesty when men whip out their penises to the first blonde that walks by. The objectification of women in public is also perpetuated by the next generation of young boys. I've seen boys as young as 10 make perverted grinding motions to women walking by (gee, I wonder where they learned that?!) and call them things that no little boy should ever repeat. Furthermore, what begins as lewd gestures can quickly turn into violence against women. Most importantly, it serves to further silence women in the Middle East and push them back into the shadows. Although, there are arbitrary penalties for harrasment, only 2.6 percent of women report it to the police. In actuality, sometimes it's the police doing the harassing, making it difficult to find someone to speak to. Once, a woman does report harassment, she must then endure a long legal process in the slight hopes that something is actually done. 

I've found myself completely avoiding lower-class Egyptian men. There is an internal debate going on inside me where one side continues to warn me against the dangers of blanket generalization and stereotyping groups and the other side bluntly points out that I get sexually harassed, have lewd and/or racist comments and gestures made towards me, or someone tries to touch me inappropriately everyday and if I'm not on guard, I may get seriously hurt one day. Thus, my survival instincts are winning out at this point and I view all Egyptian men in the street with suspicion and disgust.  I'm determined to be a part of that 2.6% that reports each and every pervert from now on even if nothing comes out of it. Sexual harrasment in Egypt goes beyond just an annoyance, it's a violation of your most basic rights, personal space and safety. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Good Morning Heartache


Sunday, April 11, 2010



Crossing the street in Cairo is death-defying. My mother is concerned about terrorist attacks while I'm here, my only concerned is making it from one side of the street to the other alive! The video also touches on Cairenes love for honking their horns. All night and all day, you can hear cars honking below in my downtown apartment. During weddings, they even honk to a sychronized beat!Once, I overheard a kid at AUC lament that he wasn't going to able to make it downtown this weekend so that he and his friend could ride around honking their horns! I've had dreams of ripping the horns out of every car in the city ...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Afrocentrism in Relation to Egypt Part 1


Afrocentricity is inherently contradictory since it embraces the two countries that self-identify the LEAST with Africa: Ethiopia and Egypt- A.H.

When my friend posted the above comment on Facebook and Twitter, it sparked a very big discussion and some controversy. Although I don't completely agree with his assertion, I’ve wanted to write a post on this topic ever since I first arrived in Cairo for Arabic studies. I was going to wait until I’d visited Aswan in upper Egypt, where the Nubian people reside,  but I've received several requests to touch on the subj ect.Thus, this will be part #1 and I will write a follow up on this post after I chat with the Nubians , insha'allah

From egyptian museum

Before arriving in Cairo, I’d just finished Egyptian-Sudanese authors Kola Boof’s book entitled  Flesh and the Devil and it had left a very big impression on me. The book is a love story that is rooted in blackness and Afro-centricity in a way that I’ve never read before. The characters werent fair and white as snow but charcoal black and sensual. Instead of championing  Egypt, Nubia, Kemet, Ethiopia and other East African civilizations or painting the lighter sons and daughters in the African diaspora alone as beautiful, Boof’s book was firmly grounded in the strength and beauty of pure blackness as found in Sub-Saharan and West Africa.

Having come to Cairo with a knowledge of the poor treatment of the black Sudanese in Egypt and the recent comments of  Egyptian newspaper editor Abdel-Bari Atwan who, on Obama's election, said, "Obama would be referred to as an 'abd' [slave] in some parts of the Arab world", I was not expecting to be “welcomed back” to the “Mother Land”. Although, Egypt is in Africa, the country has gone through several invasions and extensive measures to carve an  Egyptian national identity that paints the people as not African or even Arabs, but solely “Egyptian”.  Thus, the question remains, does it make sense to ground Afro-centrism in a culture that openly rejects all things black?

Afrocentrism began as a rejection of a  Eurocentric and (c)overtly racist, Western perspective of history as taught by the education system in America. Afrocentrism sought to re-instill a sense of historical pride and self-worth  in black children and expound the many contributions of Africans, people who look like us, to world history and development. Challenging the idea that black people were lazy or only useful as a labor force, Afrocentrics  reminded the world that Africa housed the oldest and wealthiest civilizations, largest libraries, ancient languages, greatest thinkers, and some of the most important inventions in the history of humanity. One of my favorite books, The Worlds Greatest Men of Color (I and II), details the many world famous and not-so famous  ideas and thinkers, leaders and stars of African origin. Rejecting the Greeks and Romans as the original great thinkers and inventors of their time, Afrocentrics point to Europe's links to ancient Egypt as the source of the Roman and Greek knowledge and broadly concluded that the ancient Egyptians were black.

In theory, I have no issue with Afrocentrism. All of humanity and civilization originated in Africa and the contribution of African people should never be denigrated. I firmly believe that it is important to instill a sense of self-worth in a black child by teaching them that their history did not begin when Europeans made contact with Africans and eventually denigrated them to slaves. The beginning line in Kola Boof's book illustrates this idea perfectly, "Before the White people created time and sailed on ships to bring it to us- we lived forever". Beginning black history with slavery, reinforces the idea that black people are only relevant and valuable in relation to Europeans and we were nothing before contact with whites. It also subconsciously reinforces the idea that everything noteworthy originated in Europe. I’ve heard many African Americans express a complete ignorance of Africa beyond monkeys, AIDS, and naked, poor people. In reality, they have no more knowledge of Africa or Africans beyond the "historical" descriptions left by 19th century slave-catchers or missionaries that are reprinted in their history books. A people with no sense of where they come from have no idea what they are capable of accomplishing. As Bob Marley said, “ If you know your history then you would know where you're coming from. Then you wouldn't have to ask me who the heck do I think I am"

In practice, my critique of Afrocentrism (and Eurocentrism) lies in the attempts at historical revisionism and its preference to embrace civilizations in Eastern Africa, such as Egypt (Kemet, Nubia) when, in reality, the African Diaspora that Afrocentrism seeks to empower originated from the lands on the other side of the continent in Western Africa.  We should not completely reject Egypt; however, one should seek to separate ancient Egypt from present-day Egypt. 

Muslims invaded Egypt around 639 A.D. Before they arrived, Copts and Byzantines lived in Lower Egypt and the kingdom of Nubia thrived form Southern Egypt to Northern Sudan.  In the Kushite Period,  Nubians ruled as Pharaohs and intermixing continued between the two people for centuries before Eurocentric ideas of beauty were imposed as the standard and Nubians became a subclass.  The ancient Egyptians have been colonized by and inter-bred with (or bred out by) Arabs, Turks, French, Greeks, Romans as well as Africans. Egypt today actively seeks to distance itself from everything black. Although there are black people here and even amongst the lightest skinned Egyptian, one can find ‘negroid’ features and hair, the blackest Egyptian wouldn't refer to himself as "African". Contrary to ideas of a great black civilization, bleaching cream is widely sold at all pharmacies and drug stores. Dark skin is looked down upon to the extent that “dark” (samara) is a used as a slur and images of darker skinned entertainers are lightened in all major media outlets to give them a more Mediterrean complexion. When Nefertiti was discovered to be black by scientists from the Discovery Channel, it caused a public outcry in Egypt!

Consequently, Egypt is actually an interesting paradoxical inversion of what it should be as taught to us by Eurocentrics and Afrocentrics alike. To base a movement for black empowerment on a society that openly rejects people that look like you is counterproductive. What is the point of debating whether or not Nefertiti and Cleopatra where black when we forget that King Ansah of Ghana had the Fante people watched for European ships, and prevented them from coming ashore for years so that they could not capture and enslave the Fante people? Or that Queen Nzingha of Angola fought a successful 30-year war against the slave traders of Portugal until the Portuguese negotiated a peace treaty with her in 1656?  Is that history not relevant to us in the African Diaspora? Why call yourself a Nubian King or Queen  when the Nubians, a people you have no actual blood ties to, are not long dead but remain as an oppressed minority in Egypt constantly being pushed out of their historical land?

For Afrocentrism to achieve it’s goals, it should minimize its focus on ancient Egypt and begin to focus and embrace our direct ancestors in Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, etc.  Equal merit should be placed on the great kingdoms of Timbuktu, the Ashanti, and others in order to dispell myths like "all" Africans sold other Africans into slavery and that blacks were poor and helpless before whites "saved" them. Never should we forget the contributions of Egypt to the world or that of black Africans to Egypt but we should not seek to champion Egypt alone at the expense of letting history forget the rest of Africa. Present day Egypt is not that land of proud Africans that Afrocentrism claim but one that derides all things associated with blackness. It's not necessary to seek to impose blackness on those who don't want it, or never had it, or fight over history's scraps when the truest of Africans have been black and proud before it became a catch-phrase. 

La Bodega Restaurant


An email from Mina over at the  Sending Postcards blog asking for my Cairo restaurant recommendations reminded me that I should enjoy fine dining in Cairo a little ore beyond the Sweet Chili Doritos ( those things are good!) at the snack stands on the corners. Thus, I made a list of places I want to visit based on recommendations from different sites and I've decided to make a better effort at reviewing the restaurants where I eat. Of course, I began with Easter Sunday brunch, as any self respecting member of the Talented Tenth would.

After making reservations, I dragged my friend Jessie to La Bodega Restaurant (★★★1/2)  Sunday because the reviews said it was moderately priced and the dining experience was exceptional. It is composed of four parts; the restaurant, the bar, a cocktail lounge and the Barten, all of which occupy the whole floor and are spread on two large apartments.  Bodega's is located inside the Baehler Mansion with a bar on the first floor and the restaurant on the second. When we arrived, the place had just opened at noon and no one else was dining. Having the restaurant to ourselves, Jessie and I sat at a table for two near a window to enjoy the view. The restaurant has a subtly expensive decor that doesn't overwhelm your senses by appearing gaudy or nouveau-rich. Dark woods are complimented by old paintings in exquisite frames,high ceilings, and colorful old curtains. The waiter immediately poured bottled water into our wine glasses and presented us with the menu before returning with a basket of bread. Unfortunately, the bread wasn't fresh. I also realized that the restaurant was actually on the expensive side of the Cairo dining experience, not moderately priced as the review had said. 

Although the original review I'd read of Bodega was also brunch review, Bodega had no breakfast menu. All the dishes are Mediterranean style meat and seafood, with a vegetarian option, making for a hearty lunch but a heavy brunch. The waiter kindly informed us that the restaurant had a 100LE per person minimum as well. My instinctive reaction upon  hearing that was to bolt out of my chair but I calmed myself, sat erect, and I reminded myself that that was less that $20 for a gourmet meal...not necessarily going to break the bank anytime soon. Besides, everything on the menu sounded delectable!

We began with appetizers, Jessie had a salad and I had the seafood stuffed crepe. I'd expected a bite sized appetizer that would tease my empty stomach and leave me wanting the main course. Instead, the waiter presented me with a large crepe the size of a hearty burger and deliciously stuffed with an array of seafood and vegetables. I was full before the next dish was brought to our table!

I followed my crepe with the Moroccan Chicken dish. The dish is was amazing... The chicken was well marinated, every bite left an unexpectedly pleasant mint after-taste. I couldn't even finish it all and I had to take it home in a doggy bag. Jessie had the steak which was rich in flavor and tender, I know this because, although I don't like steak,  I tried it so that I could review it for you lol. After we ate, we chatted and sipped our drinks at our leisure as the waiter refilled the bread basket and our water glasses. Other  patrons began trickling in for lunch as we were leaving. I'd definitely return to La Bodega to try another delicious dish on their menu or the bar.

157, 26th July St., Zamalek
Tel: +20 2 7350543/ 7356761

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shopping in Cairo


Shopping in Cairo can be outright depressing. City Star Mall, the epicenter of fashion, is unrealistically expensive for imported and name brand goods.  City Stars is huge and has everything a chic, new mall in the U.S.  or U.K. would have. The alternative Egyptian stores lack any sense of style, coordination, our practicality. A “hip” Egyptian store for women will have a bedazzled long-sleeve shirt with a random American phrase plastered on the front in some gaudy neon shade (think Rave stores circa 2000) over several mis-matched layers of loose-fitting clothes and complimented by an ankle-length denim skirt…. The ones that sell sensible clothing leave the senses dulled with their combinations of polyester and cotton blend draped sadly over the mannequins.  It’s enough to make a fashionista cry.  Cute skirts or dresses of a modest length and reasonable priced are impossible to find! sometimes the niqabs are the most fashionable clothes amongst the selection...My friends and I have come to conclude that women wear sexy lingerie and stripper heels underneath their niqabs and burqa's because stores like the one pictured above are always conveniently next to stores like this one:

What Cairo lacks in stylish clothing, it makes up for in the purse and shoe collection. I’m very serious about the shoes I wear on my feet. They don’t necessarily have to be name brand (although I’ve been pining away for these Jimmy Choos for H&M and I was devastated when the collection didn’t premiere in D.C.) but they must be exceptionally fly.  My friend @DAJEB and I even had a Twitter beef because she dared proclaim that her pump-game (i.e, the quantity and quality of fashionable pumps she owns) was sicker (i.e. more noteworthy in a positive way) than mine.  Not one to be publicly insulted, I launched a full fledged beef with her of the likes not seen since “yo mama” jokes were popular and Elton John vs. Madonna had us on the edge of our seats.  Assertions from me about that the intensity of my pump game is "so sick God said 'let there be light' so he could check my foot work" were followed up by @DAJEB with comebacks such as " then he pointed to mine and said 2 u "u aint got deez"... *shots* fired.

I’ve digressed, as I was saying, Cairo has a pretty good selection of purses and shoes, especially stilettos, booties, boots, and sandals. Unfortunately, most of the pumps here are either round toed or misshaped. It’s difficult but not impossible to find something higher than 2-3 inches. Leather goods are also of high quality.  The stores  are usually crammed with everything the owners could fit into the window which can make the shopping experience overwhelming. To find cute things, it’s necessary for one to window shop diligently, standing in the window admiring each and every shoe covering every square inch of available space in the store window, otherwise you’ll really miss a gem.  In Egyptian stores, shoe’s range from 30LE to 150LE. Thus far, I’ve purchased a few pairs from downtown and the Ramses Nile Hilton “Mall” (It’s more like a debilitated shopping center than an actual mall) across fromt eh hotel by the same name. I’ve also visited Arkadia Mall. Its apparent that it once had a lot of potential but now it’s a hang out spot for local teenagers.  The only redeeming quality was the Toys R’ Us and the oddly placed Diesel store amongst the usual Egyptian goods.

Replica designer bags are also in abundance here.  Unlike most cities where you’d have to find that certain street in town where you can get a $100 “Louis Vuitton “, in Cairo, knock-offs hang proudly next to other purses in most respectable stores. The selection and brands are so widespread and so identical that it’s actually baffling to imagine how Louis Vuitton and Gucci remain afloat. Growing up in Miami has given me an eye for spotting fakes. Without a second look or close inspection, many of these bags can even fool me! A quality replica purse can cost about 150LE. However, the non-replica bags and leather goods are also really nice.  They make up for the sheer lack of style that hinder most clothing in Cairo. 

Here are the pairs of shoes I've purchased in Cairo with a close up of my favorite pair:

Take that, @DAJEB

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Joys of a Police State- #6April


As I walked to the bus this morning, I noticed that there was almost three times more police presence downtown than usual. Not only was the riot police out with their huge vans for rounding up people but also very intimidating looking officers with brand new uniforms and AK-7 paid for by U.S. tax dollars were standing every few feet down the street. These guys weren't the usual scruffy street kid wearing a hand me down police uniform that I usually see on the street. They stood erect with brand new embroidered uniforms and serious looks on their faces as they held on to their guns. Plain clothes cops also watched the street from their cars. My first thought was that someone had called a bomb threat to AUC.  Later in the day, I received an email alert from the U.S. embassy:

Date:   April 6, 2010
To:     The American Community
From:   Embassy of the United States, Cairo

Subject:        Warden Message No 12: Demonstrations in the Downtown Area-April 6, 2010.
This warden message is being issued to alert U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Egypt that demonstrations are planned by opposition political groups for today, April 6, commencing as early as 9:00am.  According to reports, the opposition rally will gather near Abdin Palace and proceed through the Tahrir Square area and culminate in front of the People’s Assembly complex.  Although there is no information on the number of protesters expected, any gathering will likely cause significant traffic disruption along and near the anticipated route.  There is already a heavy police presence, and any gathering has the potential for confrontation and violence.

U.S Citizens are advised to avoid the affected area.  Americans should anticipate lengthy traffic detours, delays and disruptions, and should plan their routes and travel times accordingly.  The American Embassy reminds all U.S. Citizens that even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  In addition, due to the large police presence, the U. S. Embassy reminds U.S. Citizens of the Egyptian Government prohibition on photographing police and security activities which are considered sensitive national security element

Demonstrations are illegal under Egypt's three-decade old emergency law. Usually, I'd be out with my camera documenting the days events but even I am showing restraint. AP reports that "security forces were especially sensitive to members of the media attempting to record the demonstration and went after them. Several heavyset plainclothes policemen tackled and beat an American freelance photographer when he tried to take pictures of the rally, taking his camera and briefly detaining him when he asked for it back....Media crews were also attacked and photographers' cameras were confiscated."

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