Tag Archives: everything is possible in Egypt

January 25th

Tehrir

I still don’t feel like I’m in place that I can blog about these past 21 days; my heart is still lodged firmly in my throat.

My friends, my family, acquaintences, people I didn’t know but who I followed on twitter and felt close to in an internet-ty sort of way, were putting their lives, their safety on the line for the good of a nation… their nation.

Other friends and family were taken in by the constant barrage of propaganda on State TV and who spoke against this fight for their freedom; a fight they didn’t understand and couldn’t see in its entirety. I felt constricted by their inability to see, it was like bashing your head against an immovable wall.

I spent those 18 days glued to computers and Al-Jazeera (who did such an outstanding job at reporting from Egypt that I STILL don’t know how they did it.) I barely slept. I barely ate. I cried. I agonized. When I did sleep, I dreamt about the revolution.

I wanted so badly to be in Tehrir. I like to say that I would give anything to have been there, but the truth is that what I would have given up is my job. I’ll carry a little bit of shame inside me forever, no matter how rational and responsible my reasons for staying were.

The fact of the matter is that once the anti-foreigner sentiment took hold I would have been relegated to the side anyway, simply for protection of the Egyptians fighting.

But, whether I physically threw rocks and bandaged wounds or not, the simple fact is that I am a different person post revolution. It may have only been 21 days ago, but to me, and to Egypt, it was a lifetime ago.

I am so proud of my friends and family, of my acquaintances, of those tweeps who I may not know in person…

I am proud of Egypt.

Proud of those people.

And the moment my husband finishes his schooling, I will begin packing our bags to go back to help rebuild this country.

I may not have been able to give my blood, sweat, and tears to freeing the country, but I will dedicate them to building it back up.

Ta7ya Masr.

Poligion and Relitics

Being driven to work today we passed again the front gate for the Ministry of Defense in Heliopolis (or is it Nasr City? I can never tell where each begins and ends) and I was struck by the inherent irony of the gate decor which is comprised of random pharaonic gods and a large replica of a pharaoh holding the severed heads of his four enemies by the hair. I think that there should be a word stronger than irony for this but I can’t think of what it would be. Sardonic reality? Anyways, we’ll get back to the reason I find it ironic later but first I was contemplating the obsequious use of pharaonic symbolism in all governmental buildings. To me it always seems somehow incongruous in such a religious society but then I reminded myself, as I always must, that Egypt is a secular country ruled by a democratically elected pharaoh president who puts politics before religion- except for the fact that the laws are based on shari’ah (loosely)- so of course they would use such religiously-safe symbolism as that of the mutually despised pharaonic civilization. Its least likely to ruffle feathers.

But then I was struck by an errant thought: I was once schooled by a sister, whose particular style of naseeha came with nausea, chafing, and rectal bleeding, who told me that it was haram to vote for any non-Muslim and therefore I had committed a grave sin by voting for Obama or voting in the American elections at all. (Side note: I know the man’s not Muslim but don’t I at least get some points for his name?) So, along that line of thinking isn’t it haram then to vote in any Egyptian elections? Have the 12 Egyptians brave enough to actually vote imperiled their souls?

And thinking further, is it halal to vote in ANY elections at all? What politician out there still has a soul and a connection to religion that doesn’t involve paying off priests and imams? Am I doomed to only voting for Kieth Ellison?

At least in Egypt we’re not given the choice and I have yet to meet an Egyptian who actually took the time to vote. Maybe Hosni’s doing us all a favor out of the goodness of his heart by not allowing us to vote in non-religious politics. That must be it- its for our own good.

And the irony of the gate is that it would be just as true if they had put Hosni’s face on that of the Pharaoh and the faces of the opposition leaders on the four heads of the conquered enemies. The only things this government hasn’t resurrected are the deifying of the pharaoh (they’re still working on it) and the marrying of half-brothers and sisters to keep the divine blood pure (but money and power only marries into money and power so its simply a matter of time.)

Remembering Consumerism

To say that Egypt does not have a consumerist society would be incorrect. In some ways they are so much more so than even Americans or Europeans but consumerism here is different. The way we buy things and the way that things are advertised are different here so it feels different and somehow less consumeristic.

I spent this last Tuesday at City Stars in Heliopolis with the Englyptian and had an absolute blast. We browsed all of the couture stores and imagined how fab we would be if we were size six and rich. It felt so much like home for both of us, City Stars reminds me of the Mall of America actually, and except for all the Arabic being spoken we could pretend for a second that we weren’t stranded in a foreign land.

Mr. MM met us in the evening, after the Englyptian and I finished watching the Da Vinci Code sequal: Angels & Demons (so much better than the Code!,) and we all went to have my birthday dinner at On the Border. It was yummy and I ate so much that I was actually in pain.

At the end of the evening I was feeling a bit consumered out and a little off my equilibrium and it felt like a shock to return to the real world of abject poverty that you can see on every corner here. It really made me think and reassess whats important.

The taxi driver was a definite juxtaposition. He was the first person I have seen here in Egypt with Tourett’s Snydrom and it was quite severe. At first it seemed like he was almost having a silent conversation with someone and disagreeing with them but then I realized that there was a pattern to his twitching and head jerks. I can’t imagine that it was easy for his to drive with his head jerking that severely but he got us back safely.

I just can’t imagine how hard his life must be here. People who are in any way abnormal, especially when it comes to mental or physical impairments, are shunned. Add in to that he is a taxi driver, which is certainly not the easiest or best-paid job, and I just cannot fathom how much he must deal with every day.

It really made me feel greedy and ungrateful for what I have and then, just to remind me that I’m in Egypt, we passed a group of young boys herding a number of galloping camels down the autostrade.

Camels. It was hilarious.

You never know what you’re going to get here and thats both the most frustrating and yet also the most addicting thing about living in Egypt.

I went from browsing through French Connection and Mango couture clothing that goes for 1,000EGP a piece, to eating yummy tex-mex food and drinking Starbuck’s coffee, to driving past a herd of camels on the freeway, and contemplating life.

Nothing will look the same after living here.

Zuzu is afraid of the maid

Edit: I cut out the part about Egyptian politics because it made me depressed.

Today I learned how Egyptians clean carpets. #3 brought her daughter with her this morning and they washed the oriental carpets. It was amazing- they brought them into the bathroom, unrolled them, showered them down, dusted on some laundry soap, scrubbed them with a detached broom head, and then squeegied them off with the bathroom squeegy and hung them from the balcony to dry. Uff they really needed to be cleaned so its great that she offered to do it and of course we’ll pay her more for it.

edit: ok pay her a lot more. I had no idea they ask so much for cleaning carpets… I dunno, I’ll have to ask Mr. MM about it when he gets home because I am completely out of credit and couldn’t call him to ask.

#3, mashAllah, cleans better than either of the maids before her. She does a really great job and I’m so thankful to have her.

Zuzu is scared witless by her though, its absolutely absurd. With maid #2, who was terrified of cats, Zuzu wanted to hang out and watch her clean, getting in the way as much as possible. I had to lock her in bedrooms and sometimes we’d have to chase her around the house in order to catch her to lock her in the room. Now? As soon as the door rings Zuzu poofs and disappears. I know her hiding spot so once I let #3 in I go and grab the cat, who hangs onto me for dear life with every single one of her twenty freaking claws, and when I get her into my bedroom she run for the back corner and hides there for the rest of the day even after #3 has left.

I just don’t get it. Deliverymen: she hangs out at the doorway; the Englyptian: she goes up to her and says hello and even sits on her lap!; other visitors: she is skittish but still comes around and checks everyone out; the sweet maid: senseless terror from the very first time. Zuzu didn’t even MEET #3, she just ran. Its so odd because I think #3 is sweet but cats have 6th senses so maybe I should be careful around the  maid.

Who knows.

Edit: I am also now missing something that would be VERY odd to steal. We use one of those long-handled plastic slotted cooking ladles to scoop kitty poop and its gone. I thought maybe she washed it and put it in the kitchen but its not there either. I have no idea and if she did take it thats a REALLY weird thing to take. I’m just curious, she has a cat at home herself, where does her cat poop? She doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the litterbox and she dumped trash into the box this morning. Not speaking Arabic is a huge hassle.

Feckin’ Thieves!

Today as I was getting out of the taxi to walk into the office I forgot that my cell-phone case/cover/pouch/whateveryoucallit was on my lap and it fell to the ground without my noticing. Near where I got out there was a man dusting and wiping down all of the cars either as part of his baweb job or for some other reason- you find a lot of poor people wiping down cars for spare change. I went about my usual route of going to the corner kiosk and buying a pepsi and then walking into the office and setting my stuff on the table when I realized it’s absence. I quickly went through my purse and then ran outside again to look for it. The whole thing took like three minutes.

The taxi driver had pulled up to the corner and was chatting with the office manager and I ran over to see if I left it on the seat. No luck. I ran into the street to see if it was still there. Nope. Then I remembered the man who had been wiping down the cars.

He was mysteriously about ten cars away, still wiping non-chalantly, however you could see that he had stopped wiping mid-car, and then skipped the ten cars to start over again.

I pointed him out and the taxi driver went over to him and came back thirty seconds later with my phone cover.

Yep.

Bloody thief. He saw where it fell from, the taxi driver had parked his car so even if he hadn’t been able to stop me he could have given it to the driver, and I had walked right past the same spot a second time after buying my pepsi. He literally meant to keep it.

Ever wonder what is fundamentally wrong with Egypt? Thats it right there.

Worthless, scumbag, thieves.

And don’t a single person even say anything about being poor because in the end of life it doesn’t matter how much money we had if we were honest before GOD.

No matter that I have my phone case back, he will be judged by his intention which was to steal it. I hope when he fries he remembers why.

Also, if shariah law were still enforced he would have lost a hand.

My anger is not about the cell phone case itself. I could buy another one with only minor inconvenience. Its the principle that it was not only easy for him to return it, but that he LEFT THE AREA to hide what he did. As if he would escape notice and get away with it. I am pissed because he lacks the simple humanity of returning it.

In the states 99% of the time someone would have stopped me or ran to catch me to give it back. Remember that- every single one of you who read my blog and think that living in a “Muslim” country is so much more closer to “Islam” than living in a “pagan” or “unbelieving” country.

I have yet, I swear to you, to see the same level of Islam here as I saw almost daily in the United States of America.

Hello Sweat Glands, It’s Been Awhile

1.) The day after I blog about how fabutastic spring in Egypt was it turns hot. Like hot, hot. Hot enough for me to walk around going ‘holy crap! its hot!’ However in reality it is only 1/10 of how hot it gets here in the summer. The weird thing about Egypt weather, that I’ve noticed at least, is that the weather changes in the middle of the night. Over the past month or so everytime the weather warmed up I noticed it at about midnight to 2 am. Its so odd to walk outside and think to yourself ‘is it really hotter now than it was at 4 pm?’

the cat just farted and it was horrible. i need to stop letting her lick my roz-bi-laban bowl.

Last night after I finished blogging and got ready for bed I passed by the window and felt the warmer than it was during the day air blow past me. I woke up this morning afternoon covered in sweat. Yummy. It just reminds me that I seriously need to be out of here before summer really kicks in because otherwise I might lose whatever weak hold I still have on my sanity. Let me repeat that: weak hold.

Unfortunately Mr. MM is really not fully on board the USA-train; yesterday he brought up the idea, once again, of staying here. He likes to switch up the reasons but this last one was the pig flu and the craptacular economy. He reasoned that neither of us are going to find jobs and we might die. (BTW I believe he was maybe probably kidding.) Just a few days ago he told me that one of his aunts was so desperate to keep him in Egypt that she offered to fund an English Education business for me. All mine; I’d manage and teach if I wanted to. The only thing is that I am not a business person and I am not interested in building a business (unless its selling FABULOUS clothes for Muslimahs in the States) and I am even less interested in staying here.

Things I would need to stay here:

  • A nice flat thats fully air-conditioned and that I don’t have to worry I’m going to be kicked out of.
  • A car.
  • A maid. (We usually have that now but the last one up and disappeared.)
  • I don’t have to work if I don’t want to. (I technically have that as well but any money I bring in gives us a good cushion.)

Life is Egypt is possible to get used to. If you so choose of course. Its like deciding that living with a schizophrenic roommate is do-able when in reality getting a new roommate would be so much better.

Two hours ago we had a goat going bat-sh*t outside our window.

Read that again, please.

A goat.

My first thought was: ‘is one of our neighbors having a sacrifice or did a goat just wander into our garden?’

And I live in a place WHERE BOTH THINGS ARE PROBABLE.

Sure I can get used to tantrum-throwing farm animals, but do I want to?

To be honest I have softened my viewpoint of Egypt. I think by now that I have been so thoroughly bitten (quite literally over a million times by mosquitoes but thats not what I mean) by the Egypt-bug that I can never ever leave Egypt completely. The thought makes me homesick. Also I must admit that Egypt, Cairo especially, is such a fount of insanity-derived creative juice that I can’t not write. It drives me to writing; its my muse, so to speak.

But do I want to stay here now? No. Do I like the idea of coming back when Mr. MM has an American law degree and the ability to bring down big bucks? Definitely.

I like the idea of being a pampered housewife, ok whats another word I can use? Housewife implies things like cleaning, which are quite prominantly not in my fantasies. Ok, being a pampered writer who may or may not teach a class or two at the AUC but has all the time in the world to haunt coffee shops and write. I could do that. I’m not even high-maintenance so pampered doesn’t mean spiffy clothes and italian leather purses. But I would need a nanny. Hm… Mr. MM may not like that.

Anyways, I can iron those details out later.

I lost my train of thought, where was I?

Oh yes, Egypt. I could live here again, but in much different circumstances. Egypt is a place where it is hard to be anything less than rich. In most places money makes things easier but lets be honest: middle-class in the west is a-ok. Most people in Egypt scrape by at the level of poverty or below. Mr. MM and I are middle-class here, but for me middle-class Masri-style is a big step down from middle-class ala americani. Its hard.

So to come back here it would have to be with money and a good amount of it. Thankfully the exchange rate is pretty good so we wouldn’t have to have that much.

And what about life here? Yea, its tough. In fact things are snow-balling here (ok not literally, did I mention that its really hot?) in terms of living condition and social harmony. Everyone is feeling the pinch of poverty, unemployment, corruption, the disintigration of respect and social morality, and loss of love for your fellow man. A month or so ago I finally realized what it was exactly: they have nothing left to lose.

Mr. MM and I were driving to Alex and a young man literally stepped off of the curb and into oncoming traffic as if he didn’t care if he got hit. Not exactly suicidal but without a thought of the consequences. To everyone in Egypt who reads my blog: watch the people on the roads. They have nothing left to lose.

Young men heckle and harrass because once they finish their almost meaningless education in schools that don’t care about them and with teachers who take bribes or have a personal vendetta against them they only face a future of probable unemployment and no hope for marriage for at least another ten years. They have nothing left to lose.

Women walking down the streets in the hot sun with small children while carrying the weight-equivalent of another two small children on their heads decide to cross a free-way, dragging said small children behind them, dodging cars and making people slam on their breaks, when in reality there is a pedestrian bridge a matter of 1/5 mile up the road all because they have nothing to lose. Ok, maybe a couple of children. But they’re almost starving, unable to imagine how they’re going to feed themselves and their children for the next three days. They have nothing left to lose and so extending the effort it would take to carry their things and children that far just to cross safely doesn’t add up for them.

If things continue this way here I imagine that Egypt will crumble in ten years. Maybe less.

Egypt was a beatiful, safe, peaceful country 35 years ago. Fifty years ago Cairo is said to have rivaled Paris for beauty. I have hope that Egypt will be that way again someday. But not now.

Thanks Mubarak. Just putting that out there.

Did I mention its getting hot? I sure hope Mr. MM doesn’t decide that he can’t leave Egypt. I’d really be lonely without him. On the upside I have told him that if we are here in the summer I’m moving to Alex.

He thinks I’m kidding.

I’m not.

So Thats What She Meant…

Last night around 8 PM my mother-in-law called Mr. MM’s phone. Mr. MM was in the bedroom taking a nap so I answered her to say hello and to tell her that he was sleeping. I only speak rudimentary Arabic and my mil speaks only a good handful of English (really good English actually, considering she never studied it) but we still completely missed the mark with each other on the phone.

I could tell she sounded upset and in Arabic I told her that Mr. MM was sleeping when she asked if he was there, and she sounded relieved. She asked if he was ok and I said yes, sleeping. I asked her what was wrong and she answered me with a whole lot of Arabic that I did not understand but I picked out the words “Sayed Hussein.”

It was something like this:

Me: Fi haga mama? Inty kwaisa? (is something wrong mama? Are you ok?)
Mama: Arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic Sayed Hussein arabic arabic arabic arabic.
Me: ….. Sayed Hussein…..
Mama: Arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic Sayed Hussein arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabic arabicSayed Hussein.
Me: ….. Sayed Hussein…. msh fahma… (I don’t understand.)
Mama: Msh fahma… tab ok. Mr. MM kwais? Inty kwaisa? (you don’t understand, ok. Is Mr. MM ok? Are you ok?)
Me: Aywa, alhumdulillah. (Yes, thank God.)
Mama: Arabic arabic kolu kwaiseen alhumdulillah. (Everyone is ok thank God.)
Me: (really really REALLY confused by this point) Alhumdulillah….?……
Mama: Ma’asalama (bye)
Me: …. ma’asalama.

I offered a couple of times to wake Mr. MM up, because she really sounded upset, but she said no so I didn’t. I carried on my merry way watching CSI Miami and The Tudors (omg I love that show) and then I went to bed only to receive a call from my Mom from the states, calling me to find out if I was ok. Wtf. I asked, whats going on? And she tells me there was a bombing in Cairo.

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!

Of course my family at home is freaking out, Gramma I’m ok. Don’t worry. The thing about it is that this happened in Khan el Khalili which is requented by two groups of people: tourists and Egyptians selling things to tourists. I, and my in-laws, are neither one of these things, except for DU who has a silver shop in Khan el Khalili but on the other side of the area, far from the bombing. Alhumdulillah he is fine.

Most everyday Egyptians do not go into the quagmire that is Khan el Khalili because it is a nightmare of bad traffic to get into and a worse nightmare of bad traffic to get out of. I’ve been in Khan all of maybe 2 or 3 times in the 8 months I’ve been living here.

I was concerned that they had blown up the Sayed Hussein mosque, which they didn’t. I don’t mean, in any way, to downplay the loss of life, especially that of a 17 year-old girl. Its sad and its horrific and I hope that they catch the guys who are REALLY responsible for this, although I doubt they will. But I am also a tiny bit relieved to know it was not the mosque that got blown up. The Sayed Hussein mosque (for all its being a tomb) is such a central figure in Cairo history and to lose it would have made an absolutely horrible situation a whole lot worse.

Pray for the families of those who have injured and pray for the family of the girl who lost her life.

Muslim or not, this is a tragedy.

(Gramma, stop worrying about me, I’m fine. Love you.)

Is it Wednesday? Can I be Random?

*gasp* Shocking:

In England they did a study on the “Doner kebab” (or in Americanese we would call it a Gyro) and found that as well as being incredibly unhealthy:

Six kebabs were found to include pork when it had not been declared as an ingredient, of which two were described as Halal. (source)

Ouch. I’ll be up-front, I don’t restrict myself to “zabiha halal” when I’m in the states because of this reason; its expensive, its hard to find, and you can never be entirely sure- unless you butcher it yourself- that it is actually zabiha. Case in point I know of a small pizza and chicken wings place off of Larpenteur and Rice St in St Paul (for my fellow paisanos its the shop next to Club Kristal) that had been originally owned by Muslims and the food was labelled as “halal” and “zabiha” so I knew of a number of Muslims who would eat pepperoni pizza there because it was halal. The shop changed hands to some Mexicans who I was friends with, of which one of them was Muslim and the rest were not, they co-oped, kicked the one Muslim out, and stopped buying the meat “zabiha.” Heck, they may have even started buying pork products by now as they are not constricted by their religion, and yet in the window and on the menus it still said “zabiha halal” and Muslims were still coming in to buy food (last time I was there.)

So, really, there’s no way of knowing unless you are butchering the animals yourself.

Moving on but still talking about animals…

There was a small ray of hope for me today in terms of Cairo not being all hate and corruption: puppies. Those of you who have been to or live in Cairo know that it is liberally populated by feral dogs and cats so seeing animals starving in the streets is a daily occurence. Two days ago I noticed a couple of new puppies living in an abandoned lot near my house. They are very young and extremely emaciated, you can count all of their ribs and vertibrae from 5 feet away. Every morning I see them and my heart breaks a little wishing I could adopt them and feed them but knowing that I cannot and that I don’t really have any food I could give them, I have to walk on by knowing that they probably won’t survive. This morning I was greeted by the sight of a pile of shredded bread left at the gate of the abandoned lot for them and them wolfing it down like the hungry little wolves they are. Humanity strikes again. There are some warm hearts left in this cold world.

PETA-free

I reckon the Middle East is number one on PETA’s sh*tlist.

I have never seen carnage on the scale of that which I saw yesterday. The streets here, quite literally in some places, ran red with blood. Between the state of the feral cats and dogs, and how pet shops and farms keep their animals, not to mention all of the horses and donkeys and their poor shape, Egypt is just not a happy place for animal-lovers.

Eid al-Adha, which is the holiday currently going on, is in celebration of when Abraham (as) took his first-born son to be sacrificed for God but then a ram was put in his place. So Muslims usually sacrifice animals on this day usually sheep/goats but if they have a lot of money then a cow or a camel.

In the back-yard the two cows were slaughtered and chopped up so by the end the yard was a big muddy pool of blood. Or a big bloody pool of mud. And then when we were walking up to catch a taxi we walked past what I thought was a huge pile of garbage about 4 feet tall dotted with the skins of sheep. I thought that a couple of people had ditched the skins of the animals they slaughtered only to come to the realization that the entire ten foot by ten foot by four foot pile of bags were filled with goat/sheep and whatever else skins. And later on in the evening we were walking up a street in Nasr City and I was watching where I was walking because it was wet, I realized that the puddles in the road were actually red with the blood of slaughtered animals.

I guess PETA ain’t welcome ’round these here parts.

Geddou Ali had a farm*

E-I-E-I-O

It sounds like barnyard fun here right now. There are two cows tethered in the back yard and a goat** in one corner with cats in the street fighting and a pack of dogs howling.

Happy Eid, its sacrifice day tomorrow.

Blessings on all and a happy holiday!

*Geddou Ali is the Arabic version of Old MacDonald. Mr. MM and I had a disagreement as to who came up with the song first. It was totally the US.

** The goat was a present from Brooke’s fiance for Eid. Who does that? Hi honey, I love you, have a goat. The even more absurd thing was that she is terrified of it.

A goat. She is scared of a goat. Egyptian women really milk the damsel in distress act.