Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cairo Citadel and My Social Anxiety

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From Cairo Citadel


During my semester at AUC, any time one of the foreign women had an issue, our  instructors would advise us to get an Egyptian male friend to handle it or take an Egyptian man with you to this or that. No matter how large or how small, there solution was to always have an Egyptian man by your side in order to get the desired results. Initially, to be quite honest, I found this frustrating and sexist. Gradually, I realized the blunt wisdom of this advice. I began to realize how differently my interactions with people were just based on having an Egyptian guy (or just Egyptian-looking guy) along. Suddenly the prices of things would be lower, the customer service would be more attentive and polite, and the sexual harrasment that plagues Cairo would be non-existent! People would still stare and whisper but no one would dare say anything to the Egyptian man's face.

 I never imagined there would be a point in my life where I'd gladly want a male escort when I go out but that is the case for Islamic Cairo and many of it's tourist attractions. I refuse to go to places in this area-Khan-el Khalili bazaar, the El-Hussein mosque, the Citadel,etc- alone. Some of the worst harrasment and swindling I've faced in Cairo is from people in low socio-economic classes. Islamic Cairo, with all it's historic attractions, is surrounded by government housing turned into slums and people who make a living off the naivety of tourists. I've wanted to visit the sites since I arrived in Cairo but after my experiences near the El-Hussien Mosque and Al-Azhar Park nearby, I try to avoid the area as much as possible. Thus, when my American male friend and Egyptian male friend, Omar, said they'd be visiting the Citadel, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along and have them act as deterrence to anyone who'd think of harassing me.

 The Cairo Citadel (also known as the Muhammed Ali Citadel) is part of the Muqattam hill near in Islmaic Cairo. It was fortified by the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect it from the Crusaders. We arrived at the Citadel at noon on a sizzling 105 degree day. First, we visited the Mohamed Ali mosque in the Citadel. This is the first mosque I've been inside of. The most historic and beautiful mosques in Cairo are in the Islamic Cairo area. We had to remove our shoes before walking into the marble courtyard area. An elaborate marble structure stood in the center of the marble courtyard to provide people with water to wash their hands and feet with before entering the mosque. I was very excited to see the interior! Inside the mosque was decorated in elaborate patterns, rich velvets, marble, and gold. Lamps hung from the ceiling and illuminated the interior.
the domed interior ceiling of the mosque


Behind Muhammad 'Ali's gilded mosque stands the Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad. This mosque had far less visitors than the first and looked much more subdued. The attendant there desribed for us the workmanship in each distinct column and minaret. The conquering Ottomans carried much of the original interior decoration off to Istanbul, but the space is nevertheless impressive.

After the mosques, we walked towards the palace turned into The Military Museum. I was lagging behind the guys a little and trying to catch up when 2 Egyptian guys approached me, blocking the exit, and making kissing noises and yelling, "Michelle Obama!" I tensed up for a moment and Omar turned around and barked at them in Arabic. The men crept away, making apologetic motions with their hands as I passed through the corridor. At the museum, relics of war planes were positioned in the yard outside of the museum. The decor of the museum was beautiful and ornate. It's what the Egyptian Museum downtown should look like. Elaborate winding marble staircases. rich velvets, and gilded frames lined every surface. Unlike the Egyptian Museum, the artifact in the military Museum were well preserved, polished, and safely displayed behind glass panes. It reminded me of a smaller version of Versailles.The museum highlighted Egyptian military history (and government propaganda). We wandered around the elaborate corridors as my Omar described the  historical significance of each war or armed struggle to Egyptian history. It was interesting to hear his perspective on wars we know as the Yom Kippur War and the first Gulf War, for example. I've been to a similar war museum in Seoul, but I'd have to say that the Egyptian  Military Museum was much nicer. Altogether, I enjoyed the Citadel, and being accompanied there.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Skinny B*tchin'

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I decided to split the last post into 2 different posts:
From some odd reason, I've promised my roommates that I'll go to the gym with them multiple times a week. A combination of good genes and great jeans has helped me remain an effortless size 2 since I was 15 years old. I'd managed to avoid physically strenuous activities, a.k.a exercise, until one of our houseguest put the fear of fat death  into us all. This guest counted calories like Bernie Maddof counted offshore accounts. Intrigued, I would sit across from her, eating anything from shish tawooks to Doritos, watching her carefully pick through her daily meals of salad and non-fat yogurt. I found her obsession with her weight fascinating. She found my lack of effort to maintain my figure maddening. Finally, one day while I'm munching on a chocolate bar and my roommates are getting dressed to go out, she loudly proclaims, "You know, we can't all look like you, Frenchie. Some of us have to work for it! My dad died of a heart attack when I was younger so I'm happy to watch my weight and excercise so I can live longer."  Everyone turns to look at me and await my response. There I am, mouthful of chocolate, arm poised to reach for my gummi bears, with everyone staring at me as if I'm that greedy purple kid from Willy Wonka!

What was I supposed to say to that heartfelt plea for pity and slimness?! I definitely was not about to give up my gummi bears to make her feel better... I looked over to my roommate for salvation and she graciously came to my rescue, "We're going to start going to the gym everyday"...Wait- what? What kind of save is that?! Doesn't she know that you don't negotiate with terrorists! Who is this we she speaks of?! Can't we just agree to cook without oil or something that doesn't involve leaving the house when its's 125 degrees outside? Unwilling to refute her statement in front of our house-guest and invite more sob stories and salads though, I've been stuck going to the gym for the past 3 weeks. I've grumbled enough that my roommates don't drag me everyday.

 I just wanted you guys to feel my pain.

Update: Sigh, somehow Blogger deleted my entire 6/28 post. I apologize to those who were not able to read it beforehand

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ode to the Porcelain gods...

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I'm pounding on the door, "Jess, I need to use the bathroom!"
"I'm in the shower, can it wait?"
"No, I need to use it NOW"
"Ok, just come in"
"No, you need to get out!"
"oh....OHHH. G*ddammit Frenchie"
(uncontrolled laughter from my other roommate)
I'm hopping from one leg to the other, "Don't make me laugh! please!"
After what feels like an eternity, Jess unlocks the door,dripping wet, and glares at me before bursting into giggles. I run past her and make it to the toilet just in time!

This is how I spent my Wednesday and Thursday, alternating between being curled up in a ball in bed, stomach in knots, and praying to the porcelain gods from both orifices. Ah, food poisoning, it's a right of passage for most travelers. Somehow, I've managed to avoid it for months now. Most people I know succumbed to food poisoning as soon as they arrived in Egypt but I thought I had a system that kept me safe. I didn't eat food from street vendors and always checked the expiration date on everything I purchased. Halas, a shish tawook from my favorite Egyptian fast food restaurant, Kazaz, did it to me...Kazaz, how could you?! I've been a loyal customer for so long and this is how you treat me?! I thought we had something special! I've even bragged about you to my friends. I loved you so much I was willing to share you with others as long as you'd stay in my life! It will never be the same between us...

I called the pharmacy and they delivered some medicine to me. In case you ever need it, the Arabic word for food poisoning is  Tassamom...Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go!

Update 7/1/2010: Apparently, this sickness is referred to as Pharaoh's Revenge. Mara in Egypt has a great post with advice for dealing with this case of food poisoning in Egypt.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Black Hair Salon in Cairo! BeaBeauty Salon

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I found a salon, Beabeauty, that specializes in weaves, braids, micro-braids, lace-fronts, and perms. Two Cameroonian woman run it from a room in their home. The room has been renovated to resemble a salon- hair dryers, sinks, etc. I made an appointment to get a sew-in weave done and was pleased with the results. The sisters have a large supply of weaves,extension, and perms that you can purchase or you can bring your own. I purchased a pack of 10 inch yacky for 200LE and also paid 250LE for the styling. Several other custmers milled in and out while I was there.  A lot of women have asked me for information on salons that specialized in black hair in Cairo. This is the first salon I've found of this nature and I will continue to share more information as I come across it.

Update 7/23/2010: If traveling to Egypt and wanting to keep your hair in braids or weave, bring the hair extensions with you. It's impossible to find weave here. Many of the African women bring weave with them from different countries to sell to clients here but their products are often overpriced and not good quality.

Beabeauty Hair Salon
El Maadi Degla St 232
No. 15 Ground Flr Flat 1
Tel: 02.7545.444
Cell: 011.1106.209, 010-3451.025



In the News:
Kinkosis- An Iranian-American discusses having "black" hair
Change Egyptian Expats Can Believe In
Debating Non-Violent Islam

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hip Hop Connection at El-Sawy Culture Wheel

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I came down hard on rappers the other day but, like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with hip hop. I love the self-assuredness, the resilience, the beats, the brutal honesty, and the lyrical genius that makes itself evident in the art form. On the other hand, I hate the misogyny, the violence, the materialism, and the lack of accountability that plagues mainstream rap. This past Saturday, we attended the Hip Hop Connection concert at the Culture Wheel. The concert was advertised as a spicy musical experiment that counts on the inter-cultural bonds created by common forms of artistic expression. Five Hip Hop groups from four countries across the Euro-Mediterranean exchange their styles and ideas about Hip Hop in search of common grounds. Hip Hop Connection presented the outcome of this experiment in a joined performance. Featuring: Y-Crew (Egypt), Les Gourmets (France), the Berlin Allstars (Germany) and Ayben (Turkey). Hip hop in its purest form spoken in Turkish, French, Arabic, English and German- gotta love it! I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer talent of the performers. Their lyrical talent and energy captivated the crowd even when we didn't understand what they were saying!



Hip-hop lovers in Cairo:















A video clip of Turkish rapper Ayben freestyling to a Busta Rhymes beat...hot fiyyah!



In the News:

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Globalization of the N-Word

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“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”-Carter G. Woodson



I loathe the N-word. It is a verbal manifestation of mental and spiritual oppression that has endured even after the removal of the last vestiges of physical bondage in America. Consequently, imagine my horror when I heard an educated, young Nubian man refer to himself as a n*gga. Certainly, this is not the 'industrial, political, social and religious emancipation’ of the universal negro that Marcus Garvey was referring to! Black intellectuals in the U.S. are scrambling to call themselves any variation of a Nubian King or Queen yet this Nubian is consciously calling himself a n*gga?!...The proliferation of American rap music amongst black and non-black people around the world allowed the N-word to become globalized. With very little consideration for the inherent racial inferiority implied by the word, the complacency of the post-Civil Rights-era black American has allowed this remnant of America's racist past to become an everyday part of the global lexicon and synonymous with black culture. 

In 1926, H.W. Fowler wrote in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage that the N-word is “felt as an insult by the person described, and betrays in the speaker, if not deliberate insolence, at least a very arrogant inhumanity". Throughout American history, black people were enslaved, maimed, murdered, raped, and terrorized with the legal support of the U.S. government. Scarcely a few decades after the black community made great strides in overthrowing the most blatant aspects of  institutionalized racism in America, this generation champions their freedoms and honor the sacrifices of their forefathers by calling themselves  n*ggas. I can already hear the chorus of moans and groans from those who have been conditioned to believe that the N-word is now used as a word of "empowerment" and "endearment" to show how we can "reclaim" our history and identity. This group of apologists maintains that the usage of the N-word in the largely black genre of American rap music and through daily interactions between African Americans has nullified its racist past.
 In spite of this claim, one can never separate a word from its connotations, denotations, and historical past. The N-word was established as a word to dehumanize black people and reinforce the idea that to be black is to be ignorant, child-like, and 3/5th of a human being, if even that. The word became a brand, used as a justification for unspeakable acts of cruelty, injustice, and crimes against humanity throughout America's history. The shock and condemnation amongst the black community towards Michael Richard's (a.k.a Kramer's) racist tirade in 2006 exemplifies how the N-word remains wrought in an unspoken history of pain and shame. Simply dropping the -er and adding an -a belies an ignorance of history and insolent disregard for the social, political, and physical sacrifices of African Americans. Despite arguments in the contrary, there is no self-empowerment in referring to oneself and one's people as a racial slur. By embracing the N-word, we contribute to silencing our ancestors, bolstering racists and neo-Confederate apologists, and white-washing the horrors of American slavery and Jim Crow.
I have been approached with "what's up my n*gga" by the sons of Cuban exiles in Miami, Algerian gangs in Paris, Korean hip-hop heads in Seoul, Sudanese ‘lost boys’ in Cairo, and so many others worldwide. Each time I hear it in my travels; I'm left with a sinking feeling of despair. With no thorough knowledge of U.S. history amongst them, it's very clear where foreigners learned such a phrase. Dr. Martin Kilson of Harvard University describes my reaction as the "typical sensibilities of African-American citizens" to have a “deep dislike for public expression in American media - newspaper, radio, television, magazines, and books - of the epithet n*gger". However, I'd argue that this is a oral Pandora's box of our own doing. Our lack of self-reflection and willingness to embrace a racial slur has allowed superficial rap lyrics and unaccountable, corporate-owned entertainers to shape the worldview of black American culture through the lens of  the N-word.

It is impossible to believe that we can actually restrict the N-word for use by "us" and to empower "us". We have no more control over its usage that we have over the use of any other word in the global lexicon. It's now okay for others to use the word because we us it.  Thus, instead of continuing the struggle of WEB Dubois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to have us viewed as equal to all other men, we have allowed their sacrifices to go unnoticed by this current generation and rendered ourselves nothing more than glorified n*ggas once again. Perhaps this is why Marcus Garvey made the provision that, "I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa; there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there."

Accordingly, in an article discussing the N-word, H. Lewis Smith reflected that, "After almost 400 years of conditioning, a community of people have become immune to, or accepted, the adverse implications and negative effects the term, and all it encompasses, imposes on their mind state, and ultimately their life’s success." It is detrimental to spread our culture of lack of accountability and introspection to the rest of the world. Worldwide, hip-hop music has become a cultural phenomenon; resistance music. It is the avenue through which those who suffer through unspeakable hardship give voice to their hopes and dreams, champion political activism, and break down barriers. In America, we've bought into the idea that we are n*ggas and allowed corporate-owned artists to brand us as such to the world, selling our legitimacy and history for a price. Let us seek to debunk conventional black apologia for the N-word and demand that those who claim to represent us- from Souljah Boy to Jay-Z and Talib Kweli- expand their vocabulary and refrain from using the word. In our schools and neighborhoods, let's take the time to educate the youth about the true meaning of the word and redefine our communities. 

From the Nubian man struggling for equality in his homeland, to the Sudanese 'lost boy' who escaped Sudan and walked across 2 countries to seek refuge, to the young black man in the housing projects of Brooklyn dodging drug dealers and crooked cops to make it to school on time, we are not n*ggas. No, we are the embodiments of the dreams of Malcolm, Huey, and Martin. We are the living testaments to the failure of five-hundred years of colonialism, imperialism, and enslavement to kill our spirits and obliterate our race. We are resilient fortitudes of strength, pride, creativity, and intelligence. We owe it, not only to our forefathers, but to all the people of colour that continue to face genocide, civil war, occupation, rape, imperialism and modern day slavery, to reject the N-word in all its forms. Afrika Bambaataa referred to the members of his 'Zulu Nation' as Kings and Queens in the hopes that they would one day live up to the lofty titles that he bestowed upon them. This is the image of black America that we should portray to the world through our music and seek to emulate


In the News:
How and Why Hip-Hop Has Been Political-but Will that Continue?
Feeling a Little Uneasy These Days (the N-word in South Africa)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Refugee Day: War Child

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I am a refugee. Under threat of death, my family escaped the Duvalier regime of Haiti in the dead of the night in 1986. It took years of living in fear and exile before we were granted asylum to the U.S. My story is just one of many from refugees worldwide. Today, on UN World Refugee Day, I hope you can take some time and watch the story of Emmanuel Jal, a Sudanese "lost boy" and child soldier turned international hip-hop star and activist. You can find the documentary, War Child, here.

An estimated 2 million people have been killed and million have been displaced by the violence in Sudan. Many Sudanese refugees have come to Cairo, where the UNHCR is located, to seek asylum. Although Sudanese refugees account for sixty-eight percent of Egypt’s refugee population (according to calculations that exclude the Palestinians), little has been done to address this community's needs. The Sudanese are often unable to obtain adequate medical care, education, and legal status in order to pursue employment opportunities.Furthermore, the Sudanese refugees have been subjected to documented cases of police brutality, blatant racism, and lack of access to basic social services.
A briefing on Sudanese refugees in Cairo can be found here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lakers-83, Celtics-79...Heartbreak

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I'm going to pause from my usual pontificating to describe my pain at witness the Celtics lose in such a close game during today's NBA Finals. I'd be the first to admit that I'm no die-hard sports fan. I inherited my love for the game of futbol from watching obligatory Sunday afternoon matches on UniVision with my father as a child. I've accepted that being Haitian means I must love futbol like I love freedom. Heck, we can scarcely have one without the other! All I know about basketball, admittedly, I learned from the rants of my ex-boyfriend during the 2009 NBA Playoffs that became his mistress.

With the World Cup underway and all of Cairo covered in World Cup paraphernalia, I've been sucked into the spirit of sportsmanship! When my Celtics-loving friends suggested we stay up to watch the NBA Finals at 4 a.m., I was more than happy to oblige. I crawled out of bed at 3 a.m. and we made our way to Sports, a sports-themed lounge, in Mohandasseen. The place was almost empty at that early morning hour so the staff at Sports was happy to put the game on all the flat screen TV's for us. Surprisingly, Sports did not have a liquor license or a bar but they did have plenty of good food and sheesha. I order hot wings which were surprisingly good. They even had BBQ sauce, a rare condiment in Cairo. The wait-staff was friendly and helpful, consistently asking us if we needed anything and making sure we were comfortable.

My friends and I were outnumbered by the Lakers fans present but we steadfastly held on to our belief that the Celtics would win and our hatred of Kobe (It should be noted that I'm not even certain as to why I dislike Kobe. My ex-boyfriend had conditioned me to equate Kobe with an evil unparalleled. Thus, I unquestionably hold on to the belief that he is b*tcha**ness incarnate). I was just as surprised as my friends to see how I enamored I became with the game. I cheered the Celtics on and argued with the TV about every call the referee's made against the Celtics. I didn't even exhale  during the last 1:45 seconds of the game! When the Lakers won, I was crushed. I went home at 8 a.m. with the weight of that loss heavy on my chest and my head hung low...This, this feeling of defeat and hopelessness that comes with watching your team lose, is the reason I am not a sports fanatic. I can't deal with the emotional roller-coaster, the constant threat of heartbreak!
 Sigh, now I'm depending on Brazil* to win the World Cup and redeem us!

leaving Sports at 8am
Sports Cafe
37, El Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz St.
Mohandaseen
3345 8425/8426/8427

SideNote: I'd like to thank all my Twitter followers,blog readers, and those who've commented on my TWiB article  for being consistently supportive of me and offering me constructive criticism when necessary. Your comments, questions, and concerns are greatly appreciated and well received! 
*Also, thanks to FlyBrother for the link to the documentary on the Brazilian soccer team visiting Haiti! Go Brazil!!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cleopatra ain't Black, Noise in Cairo, and Current Events

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From Essence Blog: Another White Actress to Play Cleopatra- It seems that black folks in the U.S. are quite perturbed that Angelina Jolie has been cast as Cleopatra in the latest story of the queen's life. Debates have been raging all over the web as to why a black actress wasn't cast in the role of the "African" queen (Interestingly enough, when some name actresses they feel are more fit to play Cleopatra, only the name of mixed, light-skinned actresses like Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams come up... So much for our "African" queen) 


The notion that Cleopatra was black or African is based on no historical fact or evidence. It goes hand in hand with the attempts at historical revisionism that plagues some Afrocentrics. Cleopatra was of a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Macedonian Greeks who colonized Egypt and established themselves as Pharaohs over the people. Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, was of clear  Greek descent and her mother is unknown. Although the Ptolemy's were fond of interbreeding to maintain their royal blood, the men did keep concubines of all ethnicities and often raised the children of those unions as their own. A BBC team found that Cleopatra's sister, Arsinoe, was half African and half Greek, likely the child of a concubine. The scientist that made this discovery neglects to identify what he means by "African", treating Africa as a monolith instead of the diverse continent that it truly is.  Also, the fact that Arsinoe and Cleopatra were only half-sisters, sharing the same father but not the same mother, was never brought up. Regardless, no evidence has surfaced as to the identity of Cleopatra's mother or her racial mixture, if any. It's possible that her mother was of black Nubian or Egyptian Arab descent and Cleopatra was half African. It's also possible that Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim and has no real Hawaiian birth certificate. Yet, with no evidence to support this and all depictions Cleopatra from her time contradicting that theory, it is more likely that Cleopatra was Ptolemaic Greek and inbred, as was the practice of the time. Thus, Angelina Jolie is just an accurate depiction of her as anyone else. Throughout history, we have our own black Queens to be proud of, no need to fight over scraps.




Excerpts from 2008 NYT article, A City Where You Can't Hear Yourself :
Noise — outrageous, unceasing, pounding noise — is the unnerving backdrop to a tense time in Egypt, as inflation and low wages have people worried about basic survival, prompting strikes and protests...This is not like London or New York, or even Tehran, another car-clogged Middle Eastern capital. It is literally like living day in and day out with a lawn mower running next to your head, according to scientists with the National Research Center. They spent five years studying noise levels across the city and concluded in a report issued this year that the average noise from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. is 85 decibels, a bit louder than a freight train 15 feet away, said Mustafa el Sayyid, an engineer who helped carry out the study.


But that 85 decibels, while “clearly unacceptable,” is only the average across the day and across the city. At other locations, it is far worse, he said. In Tahrir Square, or Ramsis Square, or the road leading to the pyramids, the noise often reaches 95 decibels, he said, which is only slightly quieter than standing next to a jackhammer.


Egypt in the News:
NYT: American Man in Limbo on No Fly List
WP: Obama is Too Friendly With Tyrants
AP: Demonstrations rock Cairo after brutal police beatingProtesters detained and released
Racioulisicious (not about Cairo, but related): Black Women, The Streets, Harrasment

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marina, Egypt

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One of my house-guests invited my roommates and I to the private resort town of Marina on Egypt's Mediterranean coast last weekend. Her friend had a family beach house there. My roommates and I jumped at the opportunity to escape Cairo for a Mediterranean getaway only 3 hours away! 

When we arrived, Marina seemed  to me to be a South Florida suburban community that had been planted in the Egyptian desert. Beyond the high gates and the security checkpoint lay manicured lawns, flower beds, and even a man made private beach! We kicked off our street clothes and changed into our bathing suits, women in bikinis and men in swim trunks, immediately. We were looking forward to the feeling of sun on our skin. Once we trotted over to the man made beach, we were surprised to see that the beach was conservative. The owner of the beachhouse had not thought to tell us that the beach was conservative so we were unprepared to change into anything else. Our barely covered bodies were met with hard stares from the women in burkinis (pictured on the left), curious glances from the children, and jeers and propositions from the men still in their street clothes on the sand. The people watched every move we made as we played in the water or walked along the beach.

Late into the afternoon, my roommates and I left the others on the beach and returned to the beach house to shower. I'd taken a dip in the man-made beach to find that the water was murky and had a strange after taste. When I reached down to grab some of the muddy sand at the bottom, I found my hand covered in black soot! I couldn't wait to wash the unfamiliar water off my body! Once we were done showering, we changed into long sundresses befitting the laid-back vibe we'd imagined the beach town would have. Making sure to cover our bare arms with sweaters or shawls, we began to walk into town for dinner. To my surprise, the private resort town was filled with the same uncouth people that plagued Cairo. Having enough money to afford access to Marina clearly didn't mean one had class. Cars full of young men passing by slowed to make lewd comments at us. Having grown accustomed to the ignorance of Egyptian men, my Somali roommate and I barely glanced at them. After a few kilometers, however,  my white roommate snapped and began to meet the insults of the  men with a fleet of insults of her of her own, making the situation quite amusing to me and quite possibly worse lol! 

Unfortunately, matters only got worse when the men joined us for dinner. Our multicultural group seemed to scandalize the other diners and the wait-staff more than our bikinis had earlier. People openly pointed at us and made disapproving comments as we ate. At one point, I looked up from my conversation to notice a hijabi woman staring at me unabashedly for more than 15 minutes. Later on, I found that the blogger at Life with Maya described a similar experience when she took her adoptive Ethiopian daughter to another resort town in Egypt, Ain Sokna. Frustrated, I leaned over to my friend- a blonde hair, blue eyed all American type- sitting next to me and planted a kiss firmly on his cheek. The hijabi woman leaped out of her seat as if it was her cheek that my cold lips had unexpectedly touched! Scandalized, the gossipy woman walked over to her friend at another table and drew her attention to our table. We all doubled over laughing at her reaction!


That night, we went to the newly built Porto Marina, a huge structure filled with expensive shops, condos, restaurants, a boardwalk, and a venetian river that snaked through the center.  Gondola's glided through the river with families contently snuggled inside. I was grateful for the fact that fewer people were out that evening than earlier in the day. We were able to explore the boardwalk and go largely unnoticed. We watched the France vs. Uruguay World Cup game on a flat screen in a coffee shop. The futbol game immediately changed the mood in the coffee shop. Suddenly we were arm in arm with Egyptian fans cheering for our team or booing the other! Audible gasps were heard when the opposing team had the ball. When France or Uruguay scored, fans patted each other on the back and high fived. As the game ended with a tie, we left the coffee shop feeling exhilarated by the sportsmanship and comradery! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

May the Hand of a Friend Always Be Near You...-Irish Blessing

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Based on my interactions with Egyptians, I've subconciously categorized them into 2 categories: 
Category One includes the poor people on the streets who seemed to have made it their duty to make my daily encounters with them as inconvenient and  unpleasant as possible by harassing me, trying to cheat me out of money, making any number of ignorant and bigoted comments, or unabashedly staring me down. The second category is composed of the small, elite AUCians I interact with on the campus or at chic bars and restaurants. This group ensnares the majority of Egypt's wealth and, for the most part, are willfully unaware of the social, economic, and political situation of the country they live in. Most have gone to Western schools in Cairo or lived abroad. This group is more prepared to discuss the latest Hollywood starlet than the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt. When looking for intellectually stimulating discussions, this group is about as abstruse as Perez Hilton.


Thus, like most foreigners in Cairo, I've found myself slowly drifting into an "expat bubble", not wanting to deal with the unabashed superficiality of the elite crowd at all times- but finding myself doing so more often that not- and feeling even less inclined to be bothered by the masses. My Cairo circle of friends is made up of foreigners from various countries in Africa and the West and a select few AUCians. The other night, I asked a group of foreigners to think of a single average Egyptian that they'd consider a friend and, after much discussion and debate, none of us could come up with a single name. I'm very uncomfortable with the inherent elitism that has become my daily life. Usually when I travel, I enjoy walking around and talking to the regular people. In Greece, for example, I learned more about the realities of their financial crisis from talking to unemployed college graduates I met in stores or in cafes than reading the Economist. The Greeks were friendly and gregarious. In Cairo, however, it's a lot more difficult for a foreign woman to wander around striking up a conversation with people for various reasons.


A few months ago, when I'd first joined CouchSurfing.com, I was pulled into a conversation thread about Cairo lead by an Egyptian writer for an up and coming magazine. Last week, she emailed me and asked if I'd like to go out for coffee and continue our discussion in person. She seemed cool and down to earth so I jumped at the opportunity! We met at Costa Coffees, Egypt's equivalent of Starbucks, and immediately hit it off. She had studied at one of the public universities in Cairo and worked in the nonprofit sector to address some of the issues Egyptians face. She was well-read, intelligent, and actively seeking to promote change in her community- my kind of girl!


 I asked her for an Egyptians perspective on several things I'd found unfamiliar or perplexing in Cairo. We discussed what I'd perceived as the apathy or complacency of the majority towards the government regime and the corruption in every aspect of life. She explained to me that it was difficult to conceptualize when and where the security apparatus would strike. At times, one could speak negatively about the government, expecting a consequence and nothing would happen. At other times, one could make a seemingly benign comment and suddenly be detained. As an example, she told me about her friend who was detained and tortured for making a derogatory comment about a powerful local business man. It was never clear what would be permitted and what could cost you your few freedoms so most Egyptians preferred not get involved. 


We discussed everything from the trash in the streets to Obama's foreign policy towards Israel and the rest of the Middle East. With the flotilla raid debacle fresh in everyone's minds, she was understandably disheartened by what she perceived as a contradiction between Obama's speech in Cairo and his actions in dealing with Israel and the peace process, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other issues in the region. At the end of our conversation, she lamented how difficult it was for her to make friends with foreigners and break into expat circles. I told her that we had the same issues when trying to make friends with Egyptians! We decided to get a group of our friends together and have the same type if discussion and cultural exchange in the near future. I'm looking forward to it! I think it will be beneficial for the expats to get to know the country through the eyes of its inhabitants and for the Egyptians to see us in a different light as well!




Showing me Love: I'm So excited to share my article on #TWiB, a popular current affairs and opinions site - [Black In Cairo] Afrocentrism in Relation to Egypt Pt. 1 - http://twib.me/4N leave a comment please!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Color Complex in Cairo

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We have a few guests staying with us this week, one being an Arab girl. Late one night, we- my white American roommate, my Somalian roommate, and I- got in a conversation about boys with her. Typical late night girl talk. When asked about our preferences in men, we all listed an unreasonable, maybe even delusional, list of characteristics. When it was our guest's turn, she thought for a moment and said, "Olive skin"...


The conversation moved on as conversations do but I was struck by the weighted nuances of her very first qualification. In Egypt, and much of the post-colonial world, lighter skin is perceived as a favorable trait signifying everything from education level to social class. Navigating the streets of Cairo, flipping through Egyptian televisions channels or magazines, and talking to Egyptians makes it painfully obvious that the colour-complex is alive and well here. Skin bleaching creams are stocked on the shelfs at every grocery store or pharmacy like beacons of hope. Images of lightened actresses with horrendous  bleach blonde hair and coloured-contacts grin back from the pages of magazines and billboards. Those who are not pale enough to fit such a narrow and foreign image of beauty are automatically lightened in photographs and images. I didn't even realize that former Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat was black/Nubian until a Sudanese friend vehemently pointed it out to me! After doing a little research, I finally found an undoctored picture of him in the library where his dark brown skin shown radiantly, untempered by technology. 

In my Egyptian Arabic class last semester, the instructor insisted on teaching us the words for light (white), dark (black), blonde, etc in order to describe people. Black people, can you imagine having a black teacher teach a multicultural class of foreigners the words to describe the complexion of various black people: red-bone, high-yella, etc?!  I was quite exasperated by this because, when asked pointedly about the Egyptian's preference for light-skin by a smug blonde, the instructor insisted that no such preference existed. However, both myself and the blonde fired off examples from our interactions with Egyptians that refuted her claim, albeit from opposite perspectives. The otherwise unexceptional blond was regularly pursued by Egyptian men because of her pale features, blue eyes, and natural blond hair. She found herself subjected to everything from unprovoked marriage proposals to unrestrained sexual harassment. The Egyptian men were fascinated and obsessed with her physical manifestations of a Euro-centric standard of beauty that their own women could only achieve through strategic breeding and a careful alignment of recessive genes. On the other hand, the same men who were willing to lap up her bath water, yell samara at me regularly in the Cairo streets. The word is at times sung to draw attention to me as a black woman or hurled viciously at me to deride me as a "darkie". (I have yet to be called abd, slave, a slur reserved for the darkest of Africans but God help the person who ever does call me that) Regardless of the context, I've come to resent the word and those who use it as much as the blond did the ones who invaded her personal space simply because she was ash-ar (blond). 

I've found this to be an interesting opportunity to observe how the effects of colonialism continue to manifest itself in people of colour. I've seen Egyptian men ignore drop-dead gorgeous black women or Arab women of a darker complexions to pursue a quaint white woman that wouldn't merit a second glance in the U.S. I shake my head in amusement as Egyptian girls risk being disowned by their fathers just to parade the latest blond hair, blue-eyed (and non-Muslim) foreign exchange student on their arm at AUC. I've watched as family members linger disapprovingly over the face of a darker skinned child and move on to lavish praises on his/her lighter siblings. The darker child was born after midnight dooming them to dark skin, they'll claim. When speaking to Egyptian colleagues about their background, they proudly note a supposed European or Caucasian ancestor to explain their cherished fair complexion but will neglect to mention the obvious African ancestor that gave them their curly hair, wide hips, broad nose, and often times, caffe con leche to caramel-brown complexion. The ancestor that brought them these traits remains locked away in the folds of history as if his descendants were light-skinned mulattoes trying to pass in the U.S. circa 1920. 

I'm content and comfortable with the fact that my African sun-kissed complexion excludes me from being any more than an observer and, at times, a scapegoat for the colour complex here. Admittedly when Egyptian men try to explain to me (or, more likely, offer themselves solace) as to  why they noticed that I happen to be attractive and black, two phrases always escape their mouths: "You look like an Egyptian" or  "You're not really black because..." Meant to be compliments, they only invoke in me a mocking sneer* or a disapproving sigh as I quickly bring the conversation to a close.I have no desire to seek acceptance amongst those who base their image of beauty on people that reject them.  I refuse to succumb to colonized minds and will continue to wear this color black until they make something darker. Quite frankly, the black community has enough of it's own issues without me burdening myself with the unnecessary/uninvited ignorance of others...


Update:





I want to make it clear that this is not solely an Egyptian issue, but one that affects people of color worldwide. By raising awareness of the colour complex, I hope we can begin an honest discourse that leads to us loving ourselves and or own innate beauty without comparing it to others.




*ugh, I know I shouldn't sneer b/c it can lead to wrinkles (and wrinkles are not sexy) but the nerve!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Butcher

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In Cairo, the familiar and the exclusive mix into a steady beat. The melodic honks of outdated cars mingle with the purposeful clunk of donkey hooves.  Without a second glance, women in business suits pass old men in galabeya’s relieving themselves in narrow alleys. Dirty street children beg for money in perfect, plaintive English while tourist ruffle through the pockets of their expensive clothes and mumble salutations in comical Arabic. Young men leer and jeer at women, eyes twinkling with mischief as older men spread out their prayer mats in any space available and begin salat. Flies, stray dogs, and ally cats battle for scraps in the piles of trash in the street beside expensive condos and  5 star hotels.  Women in burqua's expertly navigated Mercedes Benz's down debilitating streets. A line from Shantaram describes my initial feelings upon first sight of Cairo: “I was a little unnerved by the density of purposes, the carnival of needs and greeds, the sheer intensity of pleading and scheming on the street.”

Unfortunately, surrounded by contrasts, one becomes desensitized to the human condition. The street children, the lewd young men, the pious Muslims, the ghastly poverty all become common and unexceptional.  The sights and sound all mesh into a steady melody of daily life. Like someone living in any other big city dweller, I’ve found myself becoming standoffish and abrupt no longer taking time to smile or greet other passersby’s or take notice of the unfamiliar. My steps are purposeful and important. No longer do I have the luxury of staring in astonishment at the contrast around me or to yearn for casual human contact to make sense of the unusual or disconcerting.

A few weeks ago, I met a butcher that and reminded me to stop and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It was midday when I stepped outside my old downtown apartment to take a few pictures of the regular daily scenes. The butcher across the street had just received a huge leg of an animal I can’t even begin to name. He hung it proudly in his doorway, hoping to lure customers to the otherwise empty shop. From across the street, I snapped a photo of the meat while he was gazing proudly up at it. He looked over at me, smiled and waved. I nodded cooly at him, not wanting to attract unwanted advances, and continued taking pictures.

Eventually, I crossed the street and took more pictures of the neighborhood from different angles. I stood outside of his shop to take a particular photograph and, pudgy and balding, he came outside to watch me. In Arabic, he asked me what I was taking pictures of and why. I pointed to this and that and mumbled a few words. He smiled broadly at my half-hearted response and proceeded to fire off a dazzling array of questions as if we were old friends. Not wanting to be impolite, I tried to answer as best as I could until he far exceeded my Arabic vocabulary. Unperturbed, he returned to a more elementary vocabulary and introduced himself to me and then dragged his young son, Muhammad, outside to greet me. I glanced down at Muhammad, a child no older than 6 or 7 who should have been in school that day instead of helping his father at the shop. At first glance, Muhammad looked like any other street kid- dirty and barefoot, in tattered hand-me-down clothes complemented by a wise beyond his age expression. As I stared at him,  he gave me a shy, dimpled smile that made his thoughtful features look radiant. Instinctively, my heart melted. I’d never been much of the unapproachable, big city type anyway...

Watching as Muhammad stole curious glances at my digital camera, his father asked me if I would take a photograph of them. Muhammad’s eyes lit up at this request and I happily obliged. There, on a busy Cairo street, I stopped being so self-absorbed and took a picture of the butcher and his shy son standing next to the meat that would earned their livelihood. I showed Muhammad the picture and he giggled and skipped away to hide shyly behind his father.

Jolly and talkative, the butcher continued to talk to me about his shop and ask me about myself. When I couldn’t understand a question, he would frame it in another way or just ask another. Happy for the company, he didn’t much mind it if I couldn't form a response to his question or if I didn’t quite comprehend what he was saying.  On several occasions, he made me laugh with his flurry of language or he would laugh at my quizzical expression as I tried to keep up with what he was saying.

The next day, I went to a film store and printed the photo of Muhammad and his father to give to them as a thank you for just being kind and welcoming towards me. When I presented it to the butcher, he gave me a disarming smile and proceeded to show it to every person in his shop before storing it safely away to give to Muhammad later. Since then, every time I walk by, he shouts my name and waves fervently and I wave back with just as much enthusiasm.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

FoxNews Incorrectly Labels Egypt on the Map

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...It's a wonder why the viewers of FauxNews are always so well-informed, globally conscious, and open-minded American citizens. The entertainment network-it really can't be considered fair and balanced news- may want to hire professional geographers next time it discusses issues in the Middle East...




Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Got My Herr Did at an Egyptian Salon!

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Yes, you read that correctly! I let a non-black woman do my hair! For those of you who haven't heard, hair is a big deal to black woman. Because our hair texture is so unique, it's difficult to find non-black people that can properly maintain it. Even shampooing black hair can turn terribly wrong and end up in tangles  if you don't kno what you're doing! I've been observing the texture of Egyptian womens' hair and the technique they use to straighten it. Like black women, the textures range from tightly coiled, coarse curls to loose waves. Most of the women go to the salon weekly to get their hair flat-ironed straight. A few black female expats have recommended that I try the Egyptian salons instead of my futile battle with the creamy-crack (permanent relaxers). Because all the women I've known who regular visit Egyptian salons have natural, non-chemically processed hair, I was hesitant to take their advice. Relaxed hair is more fragile than hair in its natural state.

This week, my new roommates and I threw a birthday/house-warming party. I am currently 2 months post-relaxer and I've been tying my hair into an ever-lasting ponytail so that I can avoid combing through my thick new growth.Nonetheless, I really wanted to look nice for the party and actually dress up so I spent the entire week whining to my roommates that I didn't know what to do with my hair. My Somalian roommate suggested that I just go to the Egyptians and let them flat iron it. I considered this a last resort for some time until she went to the salon by our apartment and got her hair done. She returned with her naturally curly hair sleek and shiny. Ok, I thought, it worked for her but we don't have the same hair texture. They could still totally screw my hair up...

Finally, the day of our party came and I had no desire to battle my tresses myself so I took a deep breath, said a couple Hail Mary's, and trudged over to the salon nearby. Fatma, the beautician, greeted me with a smile and took me over to the sink to wash and condition my hair. I'd brought my Wave Nouveau moisturizer and I asked her to put it in my hair to serve as  heat-protection. She then sat me in front of a mirror and pulled out a rounder brush and a blow dryer. Oh gosh, this is going to be painful, I thought. I'd like to see her get through these thick roots with just that! I braced myself for what I was certain would be an agonizing experience.

To my surprise, it didn't hurt at all! Fatma parted my hair into fours and rolled the rounder brush through each sections as she held the blow dryer to my hair. The technique was what I've come to know as the Dominican Blowout except that the Dominican salons usually precede this process with a rollerset under the hairdryer. After the blow out,  she flat ironed my hair to get any remaining curl out. She worked so quickly and efficiently, that I was surprised when we were done. I looked in the mirror and admired the weightless and bouncy feel of my newly straightened hair. I finally exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled! I loved the end-results*!

All Egyptian salons use similar techniques to straighten hair. The cost is about 20-30 LE (approximately $4-6). Although I wouldn't recommend the technique on a regular basis b/c of the harsh effects of direct heat being applied to your hair, it's nice for a special occasion.


*the crimp in my hair is my fault b/c I tried to wrap it to shower later on 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sandstorms!

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On Wednesday, I awoke to the entire city covered in a strange, dull yellow glow. It was my first time experiencing a sandstorm in Cairo! According to TourEgypt, a phenomenon of Egypt's climate is the hot spring wind that blows across the country. The winds, known to Egyptians as the khamsin, usually arrive in April but occasionally occur in March and May. The winds form in small but vigorous low-pressure areas in the Isthmus of Suez and sweep across the northern coast of Africa. Unobstructed by geographical features, the winds reach high velocities and carry great quantities of sand and dust from the deserts. These sandstorms, often accompanied by winds of up to 140 kilometers per hour. I took  few pics around my neighborhood of the  afternoon sky. These pictures were taken at 3 p.m.:





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