Interview with FPA

April 24, 2009

Check out my and the other Foreign Policy Association Egypt bloggers’ interview here.

Egyptian T-shirts

April 17, 2009

My roommates and I just love the colorful t-shirts we sometimes see people wearing here in Egypt. We just spotted someone in the Sadat metro station wearing a shirt that said “2 Times Sex a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!”

Other notable t-shirt quotes include “Orgasm donor” and my personal favorite, worn buy a muhajiba girl at AUC, “I’m the one you have to blow to get a drink in this place.”

More to come inshallah.

A Hot Night in Cairo

April 13, 2009

I first came to Egypt in the summer of 2006 to study at ALI at AUC. I was only here for two months and man was it freakin hot. When I came here for CASA it was during the summer also, so Cairo weather for me will always be hot, sweaty, and dirty. It’s actually quite nice here during the winter and it almost makes you forget what the “real” Cairo is like. I was reminded of it yesterday walking from the metro to my apartment, sweat beads dripping down my back. Oh how I have missed the glorious clanking of the AC unit, having to change my socks six times a day, and people being just a bit more on edge than usual.

I went out this evening to fax some papers to the States. I went to the Fujifilm (not an official licensed retailer) store down the street where I sometimes go to scan my written homework, and asked if they had a fax. They didn’t but they directed me to the cell phone store next door. I walked around the corner but the cell phone place was closed. The guy at the Fujifilm store told me they were praying and would be back in a half hour. Ok.

My roommate needed some butter for dinner so I went to our local “super” market to kill some time and bought some and the Caesar brand orange juice that actually tastes more like Tang, as if I don’t already drink enough Fanta and Miranda orange soda already. I saw the store manager, Mohammed, and went to say hello to him. The first thing he said to me was happy holidays. I balked for a second wondering how he knew what holidays I had been celebrating then remembered that yesterday was Easter. I thanked him and asked him how he was doing. Fine, of course, alhamdullilah, he said. He asked about each of my roommates and asked me to say hello to them for him. There are a lot of nice people in the world, and there are a lot of nice people in Egypt, but I really like this guy for some reason.

I then went to sit with Hassan, my friend who works at the corner store next to our apartment, to shoot the shit for a few minutes while I waited for the cell phone store to open back up. He had to run out for a second to fill in for one of the valet kids (I don’t know what they are called in Arabic) who was on an errand. It took him a few minutes of course to park the car because he had to wait for the two-way traffic on my one-way street to subside, then the aish (bread) guy came by on his bike and almost hit him. A woman, who I found quite attractive I might add, came in to buy some juice and candy while I was minding the store. I helped the woman gather her Galaxy bars and had to yell at Hassan to ask how much the juice boxers were.

Right before Hassan came back, Gaber, this little 2 year old kid I see sometimes around the neighborhood, wandered into the store. I have no idea who his parents are nor where they were, but this is normal in Cairo and it’s a small neighborhood so people watch over each other’s kids all the time. The pretty woman saw Gaber and immediately went to the fridge and pulled out another Galaxy bar and handed it to him. The kid looked confused at first but then took the candy, did an about-face, and walked right out of the store. Hassan came back and the woman told him that she had to pay for another candy that she had given to a little kid. I told him Gaber had come by again and he said “wow, that kid gets a lot of free chocolate.”

It’s sometimes easy to forget in Cairo that people are often just people, and how nice people can be to each other, especially when it is hot and dirty and the minibuses are plowing down you’re your street and you are sweating were you sit.

I finally made it back to the cell phone store. It was open and the guy I usually buy my phone credit from was sitting behind the counter. I asked him if he had a fax machine and he said yes, and then asked if I needed to receive or send. I told him send. “Sorry,” he responded,” “it only receives faxes.”

Who Comes to Cairo to go to Bars Anyway?

March 19, 2009

I had wanted to comment on this silly article from the BBC about the decline of Cairo’s bar scene but of course AMS beat me to it. You can read the article but you probably already know what it is going to say. Here’s Rob’s take:

1) Islam  not “Conservative Islam.” The story blames some kind of  new wave of “conservative”  Islam as if Egyptians are suddenly abandoning centuries of tolerance, cosmopolitanism and bar crawls only  after coming across newer, more dogmatic interpretations of religion.   There is no interpretation of Islam that says going to a bar and drinking alchohol is permitted.  Does that mean some do it?   Yes, of course.  But the Egyptians who drink alchohol fully admit that this is a slip or an inconsistency and notice how scrupulously they avoid it during Ramadan.

2)  The myth of the Golden Age. At no point in Egyptian history have normal Egyptians ever frequented bars and nightclubs in signifigant numbers.  Some  Egyptians do think of the 1930s and 1940s as a Golden Age, but because of the belief that this was the only era  in modern Egyptian history with a functioning democracy.  Not, as Western writers keep implying, because there was a thriving nightlife.  Furthermore, the main patrons of these clubs and bars during this period were British soldiers, colonialists, and only a very small portion of Egyptians.  The difference between now and pre-1952 is that the early period was dominated by foreign values which made it more socially acceptable for the very small percentage of Egyptians who drank (mostly upper class) to do it openly.  Once the foreigners were kicked out, it was only natural that local values would return.

3)  Who’s angry about this? It’s certainly  not Egyptians.  This is a total non-issue in Egyptian media and Aswany’s view on this being a bad thing is not shared by the overwhelming majority of Egyptian intelectuals.   Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not some puritan and sometimes I wish Cairo was more like America.  But it’s not.   It’s a different culture, so complaining about those differences in these kinds of articles is pretty pointless in my book.

Agreed, this is Alaa Al-Aswany journalism.

DOS Report and Stabbing in Khan Al-Khalili – Egypt Foreign Policy Blog

March 1, 2009

Here is a post from the Egypt Foreign Policy Blog on the recent Deparment of State report on the human rights situation in Egypt as well as some other news.

Egyptian Boy

December 6, 2008

Here’s funny video made by a friend parodying the popular “American Boy” song (which I am embarrassed  to admit I’ve never actually heard).

Gulf Arabs in Egypt

November 27, 2008

We were just sitting chatting with Mohammed the barber when I remembered that I saw him sitting with a Yemeni man the other day is new to the neighborhood. Mohammed told me that the man was here on vacation and was renting an apartment for a few weeks because it is cheaper than a room in a hotel.

Gulf Arabs come to vacation in Egypt quite often, and I have yet to hear an explanation of this phenomenon other than the one I am about to share. Mohammed told me that Gulf Arabs, especially the more convervative Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, come to Egypt to “go out with women.” This means everything from just speaking to women to sleeping with them. In these countries, Mohammed explained, the women are all covered, most often wearing niqab. I wanted to question this stereoptype as I hear it often and I think it’s generally useful to do so, so I asked Mohammed if he was sure that this was really the reason people from the Gulf come to Egypt. He said, “well yesterday when I was speaking with him he asked me the best place to fine women in Cairo, so yes, I am sure.”

He added that to Gulf Arabs, Egypt is known as “أمريكا العرب.” “The America of the Arabs.”

The Same 20 Questions

November 19, 2008

If you were an American wandering the streets of Cairo these days, you might be asked the following questions upon meeting Egyptians:

1. Where are you from?
2. What is your religion?
3. What is your name?
4. What do you think of Obama?
5. What do you think of Israel?
6. What do you think of Bush?
7. What do you think about the invasion of Iraq?
8. Can you teach me English?

The Dry Cleaners

November 11, 2008

There are about 4 dry cleaners on our street. One of them, called Iran Clean (we live on the corner of Iran and Zahraa streets), usually gets our business. Every couple of months Iran Clean hires a new delivery boy, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. The kid working there now, who for the past few days has been wearing a blue Incredible Hulk hoodie, is very nice. He just brought my dry cleaning over, 2 shirts, which cost 7 Egyptian pounds ($1.27). I am not sure if I am paying khawaga (gringo) prices, but either way that is still pretty cheap. I had a ten dollar bill and gave it to him, and he said “I’ll go get you change and come back.” I told him to keep it. He was speechless. $0.54. I am a saint, I know.

Sexual Harassment in Egypt

October 23, 2008

I haven’t written much about this but it is a problem that not only my classmates face on a daily basis because they are foreign and are therefore considered to be “loose” by many Egyptian men, but a problem that Egyptian women, veiled an not veiled, face as well. This is a landmark ruling in a country that has chosen to ignore, both on a legal/political and social level, a frankly disgusting and unacceptable phenomenon.

Egyptian Sexual Harasser Jailed

The BBC and Reuters reported a few months ago on polling that was done in which over two-thirds of Egyptian men admitted to sexual harassing women in the streets. This harassment is both verbal and physical.

Just to give you more of an idea, I’ll share a few stories:

1. A girl on my program almost went home for good after she was constantly harassed near her home. In one incident a man grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her, and in another a man touched her crotch.
2. My roommate’s girlfriend is constantly glared at, whistled at, and told things like “sexy, so sexy,” often even while he is with her.
3. My professor told us that a few years ago she would find holes in her pants from men spraying hydrochloric acid out of syringes at her while she walked by them on the street. The men were eventually arrested and justified their actions by saying that my professor was inappropriately dressed in her slacks.
4. Someone spit in my classmate’s face last week while she was boarding the metro.
5. An American-Egyptian classmate from 2006 told me a story about a security guard who chased her down the street and threatened to throw her in jail if she did not kiss him after he saw her hug a male classmate in the street.
6. In 2006 and more recently last month mobs of young men have physically harassed women in the street, groping them and ripping their clothes.

I could go on and on. The arrest and subsequent sentencing of the man in this case has caused an uproar in Egypt and will hopefully bring this issue to the forefront of the public sphere. One of the biggest problems regarding this phenomenon is the social taboo on Egyptian women dealing with anything sexual. It is a big deal that this woman actually reported that she was harassed because most of these things go unreported for fear of social repercussions.