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.

An Egyptian View on Americans

April 15, 2009

I had to slip into the Semiramis Hotel in Tahrir this morning because both the ATMs at the old AUC campus as well as the printer in the computer lab were broken (I still don’t like the new campus and want ALI and CASA to move back to Tahrir). I went to the business center, which by the way is not a good place to print things unless you want to spend 6.5 Egyptian pounds ($1.15) per sheet.

Anyway, the guy working there, Tamer, told me he had lived in Delaware for 10 years. His English was really good. Egyptians often ask me what I think of Egypt, so I asked Tamer what he thought of America. “It’s a country, just like other countries,” he said. I asked him what he meant by that because he kind of smirked when he was saying it. He said that Americans are really ignorant, more so than Europeans. I asked him in what way. He said that “Americans think that the government and police here just beat us up all day long, and that we all ride on camels, and that we kill women here if they refuse to wear the veil.” I asked him if people really said that to him, and if they had maybe been joking. He said yes they did, and no they were not.

Now I know there are ignorant people in the USA, just as there are ignorant people everywhere. And I know that Americans may be more ignorant of certain things as a whole than people from other countries might be as a whole, as I have ranted before. And of course I can’t speak for all Americans nor can I presume to know what all Americans think or feel or know about. I don’t think this guy was lying about his experience. Maybe he was exaggerating a bit, but I certainly find it surprising, and disappointing, that in his ten years in the US this is the kind of stuff he heard, or the kind of stuff people were saying to him.

So that’s just a view from the other side.

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.

مذكرة من مذكراتي عن حياتي في مصر

March 11, 2009

أنا باخذ فصل خاص مع معيد عشان اتمرن على العامية فطلب المعيد مني ان اكتب كذا مذكرة عن حياتي في مصر ففكرت ان ممكن يكون مثير لبعضكم اذا كتبت بعضها هنا بس مش عارف اكتب في وردبريس كويس والنقطة اللي بنحطها في اخر الجملة مش شغال فمعليش حنجرب بقى

بعدما خلصت البوكس النهارده رحت اقعد مع صاحبي حسن اللي بيشتغل في المحل جنب شقتي فكنا نتفرج على القناة الثانية المصرية ومسلسل مصري مش عارف اسمه بس على اى حال كان كذا مشهد في المسلسل مع ستاتا كانوا بيرقصوا مع رجال في دسكو وبيلبسوا هدوم مش محترمة قوي ولمحت الى المحل قللى دامنا وشفت علامة مكتوب عليها “اذكر الله

فكنت اتامل المشهد دا قياسا الى ما شفته على الشاشة فقلت لحسن ان ساعات انا متلخبط في مصر عشان مش فاهم الناس بيتصرفوا ازاي وساات اذا هو بتشوف حاجة من التناقض مع المشاهد دي مثلا في ناس كثيرة متدينيين في مصر بس في نفس الوقت في معرفة عن تصرفات زي اللي شفناها في المسلسل

فتكلمنا عن الزبيبة وحاجة زي كده وقلتله ان في امريكا عندنا ناس متدينيين كمان وناس مش متديتنيين وناس مؤدبين وقليل الادب كمان وانه بس الدين مش موجود يعني في الشوارع زيه موجود في مصر وانني بس شايف الاختلافات دي بشدة وواضحة قي المجتمع المصري

حسن قال انه فهم اللي قلته وان هي كده في مصر وطبعا فاهم دا وقال كمان ان بغض النظر عن كل دا اهم حاجة ان يكوم المتدين مؤدب واذا حد ميهتمش  بالدين قوي لازم يكون مؤدب كمان وانا مش شايف ان دا تبسيط الامر وانما حسن بيشوف الامر زي كده وهو مش غبي ولا مش متعلم بس وبافتكر انه زي مصرييين تانيين اللي ما لهومش دعوة في الموضوعات الغريبة اللي باسال عنها ساعات

وانا مش عايز اقول انه مش واخد باله على حاجات او قضايا مهمة بش انه غالبا مش بيفكر في نفس الحاجات وعلى نفس الطريق اللي بافكر فيها انا كامريكي ساكن في مصر

في الحقيقة مافيش قصد لعرض دا بس كنت عايز اكتب حاجة انا متاسف

Coming to America

February 2, 2009

I just wanted to quickly share something that I hear often from average Egyptians I meet on the street.

Today we went to our local “Fuji film” store to scan my writing homework to send to my professor. We spoke for a minute with Osama, who works in the store and is probably is his mid to late twenties and is unmarried. He asked where I was from in the States and then told me that he has family in California. He said they have been there for forty years and are happy but do not have very much money. I asked him if he has every visited the US. He said no, rubbed his fingers together in the universal $ sign, and said he wished he could go.

Again, the socio-economic culture in Egypt does not afford many of its citizens the opportunity to leave the country for the US or Europe to either work or to “start a new life.” At least half of the Egyptians I meet-those who are not students at AUC-want to move to the US or Europe in order to work, but are completely financially incapable (the majority of students who go to AUC have either already been to the US or likely have the financial means to go) . It is easier for Egyptians to go to other countries in the region, most often the Gulf, to earn money and then come back to Egypt to start their own businesses, help provide for their families, etc. The New York Times and other papers have written extensively on this.

Anyway, it feels akward sometimes to come from such a privileged place when I am speaking with friends on the street whose unattainable dream is to move to my country.

“Egypt Teacher Tried Over Beating”

December 21, 2008

Something which has made it into the mainstrean news lately is this story about an Egyptian teacher who beat his student to death for not doing his homework.

I don’t think this issue needs really in depth analysis (when have I given any, anyway?), but education as a whole remains a huge problem in Egypt. From lack of funding, students’ apathy, poor materials, widespread cheating, focus on final exams as opposed to the actual learning of material,  and this,  unqualified teachers and inappropriate methods of teaching. As the article points out, it is hard to find teachers  as the work is hard and the pay is next to nothing. So you get people who really should not be dealing with kids on a daily basis, and things like this happen.

I also want to point out that hitting children is something that I have seen more than once since I have been in Egypt. While a friend was helping a 10 year old who lives on our street with his homework, he stood slapping the kid in the face when he wasn’t getting the problem right. The kid did not seem happen but certaintly accepted it, so maybe an interesting question would be was the teacher really in the wrong for hitting the student in the first place? Or did he just go way, way overboard in doing it.

A Couple of Smiles and a Little Bit of Rashwa

December 6, 2008

I went to a party last night in downtown Cairo with a couple of friends and there happened to be an empty spot right outside of the building so we parked and got out. A policeman walked over to us and was about to say something when I said to him “salaam aleikum, is there a problem or are we ok?” He said, “well you are not really supposed to park here.” My friend Islam, who drove us, also said hello and asked him if we should move.” The policeman hesitated for a moment and then replied “I walked over and saw two smiling faces, so what could be the problem?”

I asked Islam if we should give him some rashwa, a bribe. Islam said that we didn’t have to, but that it would be nice. Islam gave him 10 Egyptian pounds, about $1.8. He then explained that he thought that policeman was exceptionally friendly, and that they are usually not like that, and because this guy makes no money it would be a nice gesture to give him some rashwa. I asked Islam how much the guy makes. He said he probably makes about 120 pounds a month, abouit $21.7.

Big Pimpin’ Abdel Halim

December 6, 2008

We are doing presentations of songs and famous Egyptian singers in my amiyya class and I chose to present Abdel Halim Hafez, the “Dark Nightingale.” I did not know much about him other than that he has a beautiful voice and is one of the most-loved Egyptian singers, and in doing a bit of research on him I came across an interesting fact. Hip-hop producer Timbaland re-recorded two bars from Hafez’s song “Khosara” which were then used in Jay-z’s hit “Big Pimpin’. This of course caused a lot of controversy because Timbaland did not credit the song and was accused of copyright infringement, etc. However, I think he got off the hook because he did not sample the music but rather re-recorded it. Regardless, he should have credited Hafez at least out of respect to the man who was such an Egyptian musical giant.

If you have never heard Abdel Halim, I strongly suggest you check him out. A number of his albums can be found on Itunes. Abdel Halim also acted and here is a clip from the movie “Fata Ahlami (The Man of My Dreams)” in which he sings “Khosara.” See if you can recognize the first two bars.