Friday, July 30, 2010

I Have Given You My Soul, Leave Me My Name

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My name on a necklace. 80LE


In preparation for my return to the U.S., in the upcoming weeks I will be wrapping up this blog. If you have any suggestions for posts you'd be interested in reading or questions or comments about Cairo that you'd like me to address, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.


"Don’t be silenced. If you’re talking about your experiences, that’s important – more women/girls of color need to be writing about their experiences in the world. If you’re fighting the good fight and writing about oppressed, marginalized identities, don’t get discouraged when you get blowback, and take a breather if things get too heated."

-Tasha Fierce of 
http://redvinylshoes.com/blog/

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Maadi Suburbs of Cairo

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Roommate listening to the Call to prayer from the mosque outside our balcony

I made the move from Downtown Cairo to the suburbs of Maadi at the beginning of the summer. The degree of harrasment downtown finally reached a level that I couldn't excuse any longer. During my time living there, downtown Cairo felt like an amalgamation of all the worst aspects of human kind were being unsuccessfully suppressed there.

Maadi can sometimes seem like a different world. The area is populated by many expats and foreign families. I stumbled upon Cairo's version of Chinatown here where many Chinese food restaurants, Japanese sushi bars, and Korean BBQ restaurants were sprinkled around the neighborhood of Asian families! Like Zamalek island on the Nile, Maadi is an area meant to cater to foreigners taste as best as Egypt can provide. Metro Market, a completely Western supermarket, sits right off the El Maadi metro stop filled with splurge imports from Fruit Loops to Earl Grey tea. English is widely spoken and understood by those providing service in the stores and shops. Traditional Egyptian stores and markets are also available and well stocked all over Maadi.
McD's drive thru in Maadi



on Rd. 9, One of the many Chinese food restaurants in Maadi

When one first steps foot into Maadi, you assume that the Egyptians who live here are accustomed to foreigners and more open-minded. In reality, you soon realize it's the other way around; it's the foreigners in Maadi who are accustomed to the Egyptians and no longer feel obligated to abide by their social norms. Many foreign families here have private drivers, nannies and maids,and send their children to private school which limit their contact with the locals. They send the maid to do the shopping and have the driver take them to the latest restaurant and pick them up so that hey don't have to bother with taxis or public transportation. Their children are in private school in their national language and don't need to speak Arabic. Their homes here are elaborate fortresses and the dusty old apartment buildings carefully hide the modern lofts inside. Many of the nice villas also come with their own security detail.My current apartment beautifully blends ostentatious crystal chandeliers, hard wood floors,and old world charm. Foreign restaurants shops,and posh cafe's line the streets. It's one of the few parts of town where you will find foreign women, or their Filipino maids, pushing children in strollers and wearing short sleeve shirts with their knees bare. Maadi  is comparatively lush compared to other parts of Cairo. Tree lined streets and grassy lots, both a rarity in Cairo, are haphazardly displayed around Maadi with some semblance of urban planning.  Maadi is also relatively quiet compared to the rest of the city in which the honking of cars all day and night blocks out the any other sound.
One of the many walled off villas in Maadi
Boys playing soccer outside of my apartment
Maadi has been a welcomed relief from the rest of Cairo but it is not without it's share of nuisances. Many Sudanese woman live in Maadi and the local boys have cultivated ways and means to harass them and anyone they mistake for Sudanese. Thus, I've been known to fire off a barrage of insults on perverts that have gotten to close as they try to proposition me and even had to dump a bottle of water on one teenage boy who wouldn't leave me alone as I waited for the AUC bus. In another incident, My roommate's behind was groped by a passing car as she walked down Road 9 on her way to a restaurant. However, the harrasment here is less frequent than it was downtown, which isn't saying much. At times, the service at local restaurants leaves much to be desired and one can suddenly find that the price of products change drastically when the "foreigner price" is applied. For example, a tailor tried to charge me 140 LE to tailor 2 dresses and a coat when the "Egyptian price" was only 50 LE. I ended up taking it to another tailor who only charged 70LE. Another trade-off to living in Maadi is that it quickly becomes a "bubble". Living downtown, I was forced to speak Arabic almost all the time because so few people could communicate well in English. I've noticed that I practice speaking Arabic a lot less in Maadi which is definitely a downside. Overall, however, Maadi is one of the more pleasant areas in Cairo. The setting is more tranquil and pretty, there are fewer people and less traffic, and one can enjoy some semblance of home as well as the best Egypt has to offer!

In the News:
Redevelopment of Cairo aims to trade chaos for elegance 
Why Egyptians don't revolt
PETA in Cairo : Spice up your life, go vegetarian
Wealthy Egyptian business families venture abroad
The Nubian dream: Caught between old and new

Monday, July 26, 2010

One Good Thing About Music, When It Hits You Feel No Pain

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My Microsoft Zune mp3 player took it's millionth and final fatal fall this week (I ditched my Ipod for a Zune last year). When it initially fell, I just picked it up and kept walking, unperturbed. Later on, when I got on the bus and tried to listen to a NPR podcast, the screen read 'unavailable'. I tried another podcast and several songs thereafter and received the same message over and over again! I tried turning it off and then back on only to be met with the 3 most devastating words you can encounter when you're abroad: "Contact Customer Support". I kept walking around the empty house and singing to myself in the absence of music and hoping to resurrect my Zune somehow, "One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain..." 



In an instant a music collection that spanned 1500+ songs and 5 years, and dozens of podcasts from the NPR to DJ Divsa, was rendered silent. To me, music is as expression of emotions, a reflection of events, and a source of solace or joy. You can always tell how I'm feeling by the type of music I'm listening to at the moment. I had playlists that comforted me during some of the most difficult times in my life, energized me before a night out on the town, motivated me during a workout session at the gym, sang hushed lullabies to me as I slept, provided that necessary bit or romance to set the mood, etc. My music had no regard for genre, age, or language barrier. Most importantly, however, I used my Zune to block out the harrasment on the street in Cairo. It provided the perfect distraction to render the loudest and most ignorant street harasser into a comical pantomime. Sometimes I walked around the city with my music on just to view the contrasting sights through the lyrics of artists like Norah Jones and Immortal Technique.


I realized a few days before my Zune's death that both my roommates would be returning to the U.S. this past weekend. Everyone else I know has left already or is leaving Cairo as fast as they can during the 1st week of August while I'll still be here a few more weeks after that. Although, I was saddened at the thought of being in Cairo (alone), I was surprised to realize it was my Zune's death that really made me feel vulnerable and anxious to leave. It rendered my world silent and in that silence I was reminded of all the things I wanted to block out. Suddenly, I wanted to go home and complete in the U.S. whatever I hadn't already finished here. It seemed to me that there were pressing matters that needed to be attended to and I could only to get my life back in order State-side. After several frantic, spur of the moment calls to Continental Airlines, reassessments of my time table and goals, and lengthy debates with myself, however, I've decided to stay in Cairo the allotted time...unless Continental does find a seat available on an upcoming flight then DUECES . Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name..and they're always glad you came.


On a side note, I want to lend my full support to the activist dedicated to the passing on the Dream Act, a proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress that would offer immigrant students in the U.S. without residency status a conditional permanent residency status and the opportunity to get a college degree. Education is a right, not a privilege.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nominate Black in Cairo for a Black Weblog Award! Contest ends July 25!!!

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Hey guys,

If you love this blog and appreciate its insight, or if you just like looking at the pictures and wondering when I'm coming home, please take a moment to nominate Black in Cairo (http://blackincairo.blogspot.com) for Best Travel Blog and Best New Blog categories using this quick nomination page: https://3eighteenmedia.wufoo.com/forms/2010-black-weblog-awards-nomination-form/ CONTEST ENDS JULY 25TH so don't delay!

Run and tell your friends-all of them- to do so as well :)

Merci! Shukran!

La Bodega Restaurant pt.2

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La Bodega's is still my favourite restaurant in Cairo and has the most prompt and attentive service hands down. A few weeks ago, my roommates mother treated us all to dinner at La Bodega's. This time we got to see the dining area of the restaurant as well as the bar. As usual, the food was spectacular.












In the News:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Zenfully Yours,

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According to a Japanese legend, two devout young monks were walking down the road when they saw a beautiful and finely dressed young woman standing before a large mud puddle. She explained that she had no way of crossing the water without ruining her garments. The first monk instinctively shied  away from female contact, but the second monk immediately picked her up in his arms without a word and carried her safely across the obstacle.


A few hours later the first monk said, in an accusatory tone that betrayed his own fear of the woman and the incident, "How could you have picked up that lady? Don't you know that the rules of our faith strictly forbid us to touch a member of the opposite sex without suffering serious consequences? Aren't you eaten alive with worry over what may happen as a result of this?!" His friend smiled and then replied, "I put that woman down back at the puddle. Are you still carrying her?"

Like the first monk, many of us carry deep fears and worries over unforeseen circumstances and events beyond our control. In truth, some of these fears we picked up many mud puddles ago. As long as we remain mired in anxiety over such situations, we cannot fully hear the inner voice which speaks to us in the present and gives us the strength and guidance to navigate the inevitable trials of life. Thus, in order to tap into the truth of our intuition, we need to release such stress as much as possible...

By following the example of the second monk, we can put the past down and walk on. See your past experiences as teachings that have guided you to this present moment, rather than ties that bind you to inaction.  An endless array of opportunities and possibilities to contribute to any situation lie before you. Immerse yourself in this good, and the hurts will have no place left to make their home.


I've been having a stressful few weeks trying to balance a myriad of issues here and back in the States. A friend of mine sent me this fable as a show of support. I liked it so much that I had to share it with you guys. I hope you can reflect on it when you are contemplating difficult situations!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Throw It In the Bag!

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I've slowly discovered new places to shop around Cairo. Currently, many of the sotres in City Star and City Centre malls are having 50% off summer sales. Of course, the Egyptian stores are always cheaper and have a more unique styles but the mall does have a familiar quality that's the same in any country. An HM is an H&M whether its in Cairo or California. Some pics from the City Centre Mall and some of my latest shoe finds:










*I had to take a picture of that Lapland shirt. The irony was priceless

In the News:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HOW TO CATCH A CAB IN CAIRO

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Taking a cab in Cairo is always a (mis)adventure. After my first experience with an a**hole cabbie, I've developed a technique for taking cabs based on experience and  learning from the experiences of others. There are 3 types of cabs in Cairo: the black and white cabs are the most common. They are usually very old cars, no air condition, and un-metered. Some people prefer the black cabs because you can sometimes haggle for a cheaper price than with the white cabs. The white cabs, which I personally prefer especially when traveling alone, are newer, air conditioned and metered.  The least common cabs are the yellow cabs. These cabs are the only cabs that are regulated by dispatchers. I have no sustainable experiences with these kinds of cabs because they are still quite rare. One most request a pick up well in advance to catch these cabs. Here are my basic rules for catching cabs.


RULES FOR TAKING CABS IN CAIRO

Black Taxi:
  • Keep small coins and bills on you. Cab drivers will always claim not to have change
  • Always pronounce the name of your destination in Arabic to avoid being taken for a ride
  • If you are familiar with your destination and the cost of getting their, do not negotiate the price beforehand
  • If you are not familiar with your destination, ask someone else how much it will cost to get there. When a cab driver pulls up, negotiate your price BEFORE getting into the cab.Often, if a driver doesn't agree with your base price or destination, he'll refuse to take you and drive off. Don't worry, another cab will soon pass since there are literally hundreds of black cabs on the road. Generally, cab rides are more expensive for foreigners and most range from 5LE-10LE.
  • Most cab doors open on the back passenger side. Women, if it can be avoided, DO NOT sit behind the cab driver or in the front passenger seat
  • I prefer to avoid talking to the cab drivers. Often, cab drivers will make sexual comments to foreign women or offer you camels in exchange for your hand in marriage....it's best to simply avoid the small talk 
  • Ladies, avoid eye contact in the rearview mirror. This will most likely be misconstrued as an invitation
  • ALWAYS get out of the cab to pay! Hand the money to the driver from the passenger side door
  • Quickly scurry away. Most of the people I know have developed a brisk jog to get away from aggressive cab drivers. There is no guarantee that they will not try to get more money out of you or chase you down so its best to get away as soon as possible

White Taxis:
  • Keep small bill and coins on you at all times
  • -Like the black cab, pronounce the name of your destination in Arabic and see if the driver will agree to take you there. 
  • Always make sure that the white cab is using his meter. If a white can driver is trying to haggle with you about the price or insisting that his meter is broken, walk away.
  • Once you're in the cab, KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE METER. White cabs are sometimes easier to deal with because you can avoid haggling over the price; however, they can also try to rip you off by rigging their meters to move incredibly fast. The meter should go 25 piasters for every 0.2 kilometers. If, for any reason, you are suspicious of the meter, have the driver stop, get out, pay the metered price and just catch another cab
  • Avoid small talk and eye contact as well
  • ALWAYS get out of the cab to pay! Hand the money to the driver from the passenger side door and quickly get away

In the News:

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Word on Islam...

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 We've been able to discuss a variety of complex and controversial issues on this blog open-mindedly and curteously. The majority fo comments I recieve only further add to the discussion in a meaningful way. However,an anonymous comment left on one of my older posts has made me realize it's time to have that talk on Islam. I'm not Muslim. Although I am knowledgeable on Islam, I don't claim to be an Islamic scholar or well-versed in the Qur'an or the Hadith. However, even someone with  just a superficial recognition of Islam as a monotheistic faith should know that Arab ≠ Muslim ≠ Egyptian. I find it necessary to state the obvious because some may come to the conclusion that Islam is to blame for all the various shortcomings that have crippled Egypt. Personally, I find Islam alone as culpable for the issues that plague Egypt as Catholicism is to blame for drug war-torn Mexico (aren't they devout Catholics?!) and I hope my readers will also look for a deeper understanding of Egypt .


In conversations with older Egyptians, they sight many factors that have led to what Egypt has become today: the millions in aid the U.S. spends annually to bolster the corrupt and repressive regime, the high unemployment rate amongst single young men, and yes, the radicalized Islam being spread by Saudi Arabia. They all say that it didn't used to be like this, 70, 50, even 40 years ago. Amongst other things, these factors have create deep rooted societal issues that the Egyptian people will need to address head on one day. However, focusing on Islam alone as the culprit for issues here or in the broader Middle East is a short-sighted and simplistic tactic to avoid discussing the complexity of issues that one will always encounter when a society struggles to embrace modernity yet still remain true to its own cultural norms. 


Whether discussing Christian America's high divorce rate or Muslim Afghanistan becoming a haven for terrorists, religion plays an ever-evolving role in every society but it should never become a scapegoat for the moral decay of its followers  Lackluster believers and the strong arming of religious interpretation by corrupt leaders happens in every faith. One doesn't have to look far to see how Christianity has been used to justify some of the worst crimes in humanity or how fanatical Orthodox Jewish settlers have promoted occupation and violence in the name of Judaism. Thus, regardless of what your religious background, let he without sin throw the first stone.


For more information on Islam, please read Suhaib's comment and check out his website


p.s.- Congratulations to Spain on winning their first World Cup (Ada an Ieisha want me to be nicer to you, so there).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cuba Cabana

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the outdoor seating area of Cuba Cabana
one of the inside tables
the entrance to the indoor Restaurant


When I recovered from food poisoning, my roommates and I went to Cuba Cabana in Maadi for my first meal! It took me so long to blog about it because, although the decor was nice, the food was simply bland and forgettable. Even the Chicken Ceaser my roommate had managed to be tasteless. The menu was what I imagine Egyptians think Cuban/Hispanic food is with an Egyptian spin. No arroz con pollo in sight but there were tortillas and pasta dishes.On a more positive note, the restaurant itself looked very nice. The outdoor area was designed to look like a lush, tropical paradise with hanging foliage, comfortable wicker chairs and sofas, totem poles, and a small rock formation alongside a small steam in the center. A huge bar claimed one wall and shisha and fruit cocktails were freely dispensed as many of the guest watched the game on the flat screen TV outside. The decor inside contrasted with the Disney-like tropical look on the outside. Inside was decorated in dark purples in the art deco style furniture Egyptian restaurants like to us to signal how hip they are. 

Cuba Cabana ★ (2 stars for the decor and 1 star for the food) 
Address: 28 Rd. 7
Phone Number: 23783300
Area: Maadi



In the News:
African inventors - submit your projects to Makers Faire Africa: http://bit.ly/chrY80 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sufi Dancing

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On Monday night, a group of us went to Islamic Cairo to see the Sufi dance. The dance began with 2 men playing wind instruments in the balcony of the Wikalat Al Ghouri. An assortment of drums, wind instruments, and a singer's heartbreaking cries for forgiveness soon created a deafening array of sound. The dancing began with men in white beating their tambpourines and spinning in circles.  Then 1 man in a colourful costume soon entered the stage and spun for almost 30 minutes! 2 others joined him and the display of colour and sound was mesmerizing and dizzying.

According to Wikipedia, Sufi dancing is a physically active meditation which originated among Sufis, and which is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a customary dance performed within the worship ceremony, through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal. This is sought through abandoning one's nafsegos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one's body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the solay system orbiting the sun.



Name:Wikalat Al Ghouri








Type
Dance & Performance
Address:
Mohamed Abdou St., Off Muezz St., Al Ghoureya
Area:
Islamic Cairo


Shows run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 8:30PM-10PM.  ENTRANCE IS FREE!! The box office opens 2 hours before the show and closes once they’ve sold out . We arrived at 7:45pm and there were still seats available.
More information on the Sufi Dance in Cairo available here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What are YOU Going to Do about Racism?!

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During the week of the U.S. vs Ghana game, there was an air of racial tension in  our household. I've mentioned my 2 roommates before, one Somali girl and another American girl of German/Irish descent. My Somali roommate, who'd gone to school in Maine. My other roommate had grown up in a largely homogeneous Mid-Western city.


The night before the match, my Somali roommate and her Kenyan friend visited  nearby Restaurant 55.They did not have a reservation and were stopped at the door. Often at nicer establishments in the suburbs of Maadi and Zamalek, there is a bouncer to keep unwanted individuals out. Some places insist on "reservations", even if its just a bar. The bouncer let countless white patrons in without asking them for reservations or I.D. but called the manager to inspect my roommate and her friend as they stood waiting on the side of th entrance. Upon sight of them, the management told her they were full, although she could clearly see that wasn't the case- and turned her away. When I saw her the next day, she was frustrated to the point of tears. 

This scenario is one we often deal with in Egyptian establishments, especially in Maadi and Zamalek. Usually it plays out like this: A black person is stopped at the door and made to prove that they have reservations. Even with reservations, management is called to inspect you and your I.D. You'd continue to be hassled for several minutes as the bouncer weighed whether or not you were worthy of entrance, all the while letting white patrons in with a subordinate, Chester cat smile. Your I.D. would be cross referenced to the guest list, hushed phone calls would be made, and then you're cross referenced again. Suddenly after 10-15 minutes, both owner and bouncer would become extremely apologetic for the inconvenience, hand your I.D. back, and lead you to your reserved table. At other times, without "reservations" and sometimes even with them, the establishment would flatly refuse you entry under the guise of being full or some other excuse. Sadly, When we wanted to avoid this hassle, we'd bring a "token" white  or Egyptian person along. Unable to justify granting entry to part of the party, the bouncers would reluctantly have to let the entire mixed group in.When my Somali roommate told my other roomie and my roomie's Egyptian friend about what happened, she was met with the apologist proclamation that, "There's no racism in Egypt! I have black friends," from the Egyptian. 

To be quite honest, I wish I could say that I met the days events with the poise and grace that comes with a lifetime of dealing with discrimination but, I did not. Unfortunately, there is a hardened cynicism that becomes a coping mechanism when one deals with constant racism from an unlikely source- the poor, largely illiterate people of color in Egypt- or the denial of racisms existance from those who you consider to be your friends. Thus, when my white roommate asked me during the Ghana game if I'd also faced racism here in Egypt and in DC, I dismissively told her that racism was just a fact of life when you were black. Ignoring my tone, she continued to probe and ask questions. Finally, she asked me why I didn't do something about it. I was instantly offended with what I perceived as the privilege in her tone! As if it was my duty to take up the mantel of bringing enlightenment and racial tolerance to the East! "Why don't you do something about it," my Somali roommate and I both demanded. "Well, because I'm white. It doesn't effect me," she said. 

Hurt and insulted by her dismissal of our question, I  decided she had a voyeuristic curiosity into the challenges black people confronted and she claimed didn't effect her. For the remainder of the evening, I tried to avoid continuing the conversation. That night, I didn't want to educate, elaborate, comfort, and enlighten. I was tired of the world where my self assured, intelligent, and outspoken nature was perceived as being an "angry black woman" and ill-bred bigots felt comfortable enough with their  notions to confront me with it daily. Instead of telling her all of this, I did to her what I didn't anyone to do to me. I made assumptions about her based on her background and the way she looked and let the opportunity for an honest racial dialogue pass.

Self righteous in my indignation, I allowed the tension to  remain in our house. A few days later, she came in my room and asked to talk. I was still hurt and offended by her comments but I'd promised my friend, Matt, that I would talk to her about these issues when the opportunity arose. Equally, she was offended by my presumption that she was willfully ignorant and that she'd intentionally meant to hurt me. We had an open and honest discussion. I admitted to her that the constant fight to have my humanity recognized had made me callous in the way I'd addressed her that night. I expressed to her how I felt  that she was being flippant and dismissive of my experiences as a black person when she'd demanded to know why I didn't do something to confront racism. In turned out that some serious miscommunication had happened. She thought I was referring to a single individual and I assumed she wanted me to educate each and every bigot from here to DC! I asked her if she cold imagine stopping to confront every man who sexually harassed her in the street. The thought alone struck her as dreadful and she could then understand why I didn't feel that every bigot was worth my attention.She apologized for offending me and openly admitted her lack of knowledge and experience in this area. In the end, we embraced each other in a hug and released the burden we'd both been carrying. As Egyptian border police lawfully murder Sudanese refugees-men, women, and babies- on the Sinai border, Islamophobia spreads through Europe, and Arizona and many other U.S. states pass xenophobic immigration laws, the question remains timely and relevant. Regardless of the colour of your skin, What are you going to do about racism?

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr. 


My roommates aren't morning people lol




Articles  I shared with my roommate on this issue:

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