I was sitting on the deck overlooking the Red Sea. Israeli security officers (most who looked around 18 years old) had completed around two hours of questioning and searching me. They had pressed every sock and scarf with a security device, ripped open soap and had me strip extra layers. They asked me tons of questions–where are you going? Who do you know? Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Arab, Egyptian, Palestinian? Why do you live in Egypt? Why not Israel? What do you know about the ‘conflict’ here? What do you think? They quized me on Judaism,which I know nothing about.
Then they asked me to wait. Since they had asked for friends and families phone numbers I assumed they might be calling to verify my answers to questions or confirm I really had extended family in Tel Aviv. An announcement played over the sound system, interrupting my break in the sunshine. First in Hebrew, then Arabic, then in English. It was something along the lines of, ” do not to be alarmed by gunshots because the Israeli security needs to blow up suspicious passanger luggage.”
I went inside to check on my bag. I had left it unattended, where they instructed. It was still there so I went back outside.
Moments later a man came outside and introduced himself as the manager on duty. And then, “I’m sorry but we had to blow up your laptop. “
What….all my client case notes and testimony, writing, pictures, music and applications. Years of work. NO!!!! What?? Are you insane?? What were you thinking? THAT’S ALL MY WORK!?
After much yelling, crying and frantic phone dialing (don’t be alarmed if I called you repeatedly this morning), he took me outside to see the wreckage. It turned out it hadn’t been quite blown up, but rather shot through with three bullets. We were able to extract the hard drive, seemingly unscaved. Thank goodness…
Security had never asked for my password. Was it my peeling Arabic stickers on the keyboard? Or something else during the questioning which set them off?
Toward the beginning of the search an officer began clicking through the photos on my camera. She froze on a picture of graffiti, which read “Fuck” scrawled next to the Jewish star of David. “Why do you have this picture?” She asked me rather aggressively. “Because I was disturbed by it too,” I answered. She didn’t press the subject but continued clicking…presumably looking at pictures from a photo exhibit about Israel’s January attack of Gaza.
Though I usually delete all my pictures when uploading, unluckily I had clicked save rather than delete when uploading this set and never got around to manually deleting on my camera. Whoops…
Among other suspicious item; an Arabic phrasebook, a journal entry that mentioned a Palestinian(yes, they even flipped through my journal), stamps from Syria, Qatar and the UAE, Palestinians in Palestine guidebook, and a map a friend had drawn with a main street in Jerusalem, the central bus station and my intended hostel. “Who are you meeting there?” They asked me.
Anyway I am in Jerusalem. Years of my life and my RLAP work is not destroyed. *sigh*. Insha’allah I will like Israel better tomorrow….
There are always a few animals visible in my neighborhood–donkeys, stray goats etc, however tonight, walking home from an Egypt-style Thanksgiving, an unusual amount of cows, sheep and goats stood tied in the streets.
Tonight is the eve of Eid-al Adha or “Festival of Sacrifice, a Muslim holiday commemorating biblical Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Many families who can afford to, will kill animals around 7:00 or 8:00 a.m (after the Eid prayer) and not eat more than 20 percent of the meat themselves. According to Islam, the rest is divvied up between the poor–i.e. the sacrifice.
As I began snapping pictures my Egyptian friend began getting defensive about the tradition. My purpose, my curiosity is in no way to criticize Islam or the practice. For me it’s not about religion at all, but rather about making the connection between what we eat and where it comes from. Though for months I’ve walked past hanging animal carcasses nonchalantly, I have not seen animals killed or the whole carcasses butchered. Though in the States I often look for cage free and organic labels, like many I am happy to eat meat without much thinking about where it comes from or how live beings turned into yummy dinners.I have never looked into the eyes of an animal that would later end up on my dinner plate.
Here’s some of the animals I saw walking home tonight. They’ll be killed, prepared and and feasted on tomorrow. (PS This post was Mostafa’s idea).
As the game progressed the Egyptians looked more sullen and spoke even less.
I poked my Canadian coworker.
This is strange. It’s like the Egyptians are bottling their anger and disappointment.
Though no sports fan, I enjoy sitting back and socializing over games with enthusiastic friends, sharing their excitement and learning a thing or two about the complicated world of sports so many swear by. (It’s similar to my fascination with religion…)
Yet, this game,the outcome of which would determine whether Egypt or Algeria would compete in the World Cup in South Africa, was different. No one talked, snacked or drank and tension filled the air. Though all day Egyptians had laughed, dawned flags and face-paint, now few looked like they were actually enjoying the action.
When Algeria scored the single goal toward the beginning of the match, there was complete silence. Did that really, happen? I squinted at the new “1” marking Algeria’s score, the replays and those around me. Though I was at an extremely crowded outdoor cafe, with tons more surrounding, there were no boos, or any other insults yelled at the offending goal.
Maybe they’re collectively not optimists? I wondered. During the previous game, which led them to this tie breaker, they scored in the first moment and last. They had needed to win by at least two points to advance and they had done it. After such a victory, the lack of optimism throughout the entire game surprised me. Rather than being a fun, social experience, the game seemed intensely personal to the Egyptian viewers.
The game ended and spectators rose and dispersed. The loudest noise was employers at the cafe forcefully stacking the cheap plastic chairs. We hurried out of their way.
The people can’t handle it, he explained. They’d go crazy. There’d be riots.
He also thought it would lead to less opposition toward Mubarak because as the primary supporters of the football team, Egyptians would environ the regime with their nationalistic aspirations for the team. Driving away from the cafe, our cab driver shared his views.
The next evening, another Egyptian friend and I sat in traffic in Zamalek. A natural occurrence in Cairo, we didn’t think much of it until we encountered riot police blocking entire streets and gangs of screaming boys donning Egypt flags and loud words.
In the past days, what seemed like it was going to be a losing M3lesh (whoops) for Egypt, quickly blocked from memory, has turned into a national and international attention steeling debacle. Though security concerns were present from the beginning, (BBC reported 15,000 security forces were at attention at the game in Sudan) because of pre-game violence, including Egypt attacking and injuring Algerian players in their bus and Algerians ransacking Egyptian businesses in Algeria, the level has quickly escalated and gained international attention.
Last week both nations recalled their ambassadors, leading the debate to switch from football to Arab unity and the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, used the opening of the World Economic Forum to call for peace between the two Arab nations. BBC has also reported that Amr Moussa asked Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi to mediate. So practical…
Verdict of the moment? Seems like Egypt might as have well won the match for all the trouble and politics being squeezed out of the plays.
Some links I referred to–though I’m in no way saying they’re all reliable news sources–part of the fun is the rumors. Part of the interest is the unverified facts and motives of the reports.
We perused the Sephora, we weren’t quite sure was a Sephora, one more time. I was drawn to a Spiderman cologne, which ended up smelling like lemon cleaning substance. Nadia headed to a shelf with a scent she knew. “Need a tester?” I offered. Nadia declined– “I know this one,” before liberally squirting.
She sniffed her wrist and offered it to me. Ughh…something was wrong! It doesn’t smell right, she lamented. Too late.
We headed out of the ”Sephora” laughing.
Our suspicions seemed confirmed. We were now pretty sure the store must be hiding a disclaimer or facing a lawsuit (if anyone bothered to notice or care).
I’m non-material, don’t much like shopping and have little brand loyalty. Despite, it is always surprising when you realize the product you’re seeing only shares a similar name and packaging style. This applies for food, clothes, makeup, jewelry, accessories etc.
Sometimes the differences are very easy to spot, as Nadia and I discovered last week. Others are are less obvious if you’re not suspecting.Plus, the practice obviously isn’t confined to expensive brands, to which the shampoo example attests.
It happened to me a couple months ago with shampoo. I bought a bottle, which I could have sworn was Herbal Essences.
Silly me right? But hey, it even had the same picture of the fruit/flowers, green top and pink color.
The other thing I find most entertaining about the whole brand knock-off practice, is very often descriptions and product details are spelled completely incorrectly too, raising the question–is the brand misspelling always purposeful? Very likely if these fakes were trying to be legitimate they would have typos, which would give them away despite
Back in Mohandaseen Nadia and I have moved from the “Sephora” to two amazing accessory stores which beckoned with their glitter and lights. Beside the photo-worthy brands featured here, highlights were a large selection of snake sunglasses (Nadia modeled every pair), belly-dancing beads and endlessly shiny, big and beautiful earrings.
Diagonally across the street from my office there is a juice stand headed by “Captain Jack.”
It took me months to start going here because there is another, bigger, juice-stand next store. But after going the first time, with the preference of a coworker, I never went next-store again. (Though I still wave “hi!”)
Also interesting, we’ve discovered Captain Jack and crew are coptic Christians while the guys next store are Muslims. Nothing to do with the deliciousness of their juices of our preference, but I wonder if it contributes to competitiveness, rivalry or other customers’ choices in any way.
I love going to work in the morning.
Not only because I love my job, but because my trip there (only 20 minutes!) is always filled with interesting sightings and people. Whether an especially precarious load atop someone’s head on a bicycle, clothes waving in the wind or half-understood conversations with the neighborhood tawla champ or a fruit-seller, my walk is never dull. The short journey is always filled with waves, smiles and sabah el-khair (good morning).
As I become more comfortable with the sights and sounds, I increasingly notice how beautiful and unexpected things are around every corner.
I feel like I could walk this way my whole life, and something new would draw my attention each time.
Cutting through the alleys, I stall to gaze at an unexpected courtyard, a nursery? with flowers painted on the walls, men polishing elegant furniture, or knots of garlic or bright clothes catching the sunlight.
I talk about Cairo a lot to friends and family across the world. I want to convey my passion, the beauty, the community, the ‘differentness.’ But there’s only so much words can say.
So today, enjoy the walk with me!
Today there are an abnormal amount of Egyptian flags blowing in the wind, hanging from car windows and painted on children’s faces.
It’s around 4:30 p.m., 3 hours pre-game time and the horns in the streets are already louder than I’ve heard to date….maybe they’re trying to be heard in Sudan, where the game is taking place.
Here’s what our beloved Tahrir looked and sounded like after the game Sunday. Egypt won 2-0 but needed to win by at least 3 in order to proceed to the cup.
Today’s the much anticipated final shot!
Autumn in Egypt. Pshhh.
When September came and went with my airconditioner humming–no change in the weather, foods or styles, I buried my thoughts of cool fall breezes, fresh apples, sweaters and cozy boots, and embraced Cairo’s seemingly eternal summer.
After all, I can only miss macouns, pumpkins and bright leaves so much when guavas and dates are abundant and the sun never misses a beat. (OK sometimes it’s thwarted by pollution).
Yet a couple weeks ago I noticed all was not as static as I supposed.
The first thing I noticed were carts with men who roasted sweet potatoes. I wondered if they were the same men who cut and sold passion fruit all summer long.
Then, walking to work one morning, I thought the air smelled different.
Maybe it was in my head, but I caught a whiff of a scent, which in the States, I would swear without hesitation, was distinctly Autumn. I thought of piles of brightly colored leaves and children heading to primary school.
As I walked through the market, I had to admit, things has changed while I have been busy at work.
Apples, bananas, pomegranates, oranges, guavas and bright orange persimmons were everywhere and decreasing in price. Mangoes, pears, fresh dates, peaches and plums were no more. And Nadia (an RLAP coworker and friend) and I discovered measly remnants were all that remained of our beloved figs, which we had indulged in since June.
(Moze (banana) season in Cairo!)
And the markets are not the only businesses changing up their stocks.
Over the last month, store mannequins have finally adjusted to resemble the appearance of the majority of women on the street–silhouettes hidden in bright layers.
Though I initially brushed the polo-style sweaters off as a silly fashion gimmick, time has already proved me wrong.
A couple weeks ago, Mufas(an Egyptian friend) showed up with a sweater tied around around his neck, superprep style. Days later, he wore the sweater over another shirt as we waited for friends outside Cairo Jazz Club.
(My Mom visited!)
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked, glancing at my bare arms. “Do you want to wear my sweater?”
“No!” I said, stoically refusing to wear such a garment when it was at least 70 degrees.
Yet a couple days later, I found myself stuffing another layer into my bag as I rushed to work and adding another sheet to my bed because I was chilly.
So a couple months later than I expected, at degrees which I’d rush for shorts and Tees at any other point in my life, I find myself excitedly donning sweaters and eyeing boots in store windows.
I only wonder how my body will feel about sub-zero Boston and NY in a few weeks….
*Fashion pictures coming*
It’s the end of another long workday at RLAP, I rise from my laptop, in conversation with another coworker across the room. As I walk by *Samira, a favorite Iraqi woman who has worked in our office as translator, in St. Andrew’s library and most recently as one of our start cooking teachers, pokes my right hip.
“Ahh you are getting fat!” she scolds me.Her inquisitive eyes look over my stomach, covered by a thin purple t-shirt and draped with a veil going down to my thighs. She shakes her head with concern. “Your form, ” she mourns, “it’s because you sit at a desk all day,” she concludes.
Our legal director, Stephanie, and the other remaining intern in the office look on horrified.
After being in Egypt, and in particular with Iraqis, for over 6 months I’m neither concerned or surprised by Samira’s remarks. At a party a couple months ago a different Iraqi woman poked at another interns fat and similarly advised a course of action. Once, twice in a day, clients asked Stephanie if she was pregnant when she wore a slightly baggy shirt.
A former figure skater and someone who takes pride in her body, I’ve reached the point where these comments are amusing rather than traumatizing. Though I don’t go to the gym here, (no time!) I do yoga at home (occasionally,) walk a lot and eat a relatively healthy array of foods. (Well if you subtract all the oil and frying). Plus, I cannot be too concerned since my clothes still fit!
Not limited to Iraqis, I’ve had similar experiences with Egyptians. After not seeing an Egyptian friend for a couple weeks, he greeted me with an enthusiastic, “You gained weight!”
“What?!” I said, not reacting with the same nonchalance I showed to Samira today.
“No, it’s good,” he tried to assure me. “It’s in the right places. Egyptians like women who aren’t too skinny.”
Though I explained how my American culture typically views weight, how the youngest boys know women don’t like to hear such comments, he was only amused.
As we walked out the door moments later he commented on how my butt filled out my jeans.
Though my Egyptian friend might have approved, Samira is having none of it. ”You must do 10 minutes of Arabic once a week,” she prescribed.
“You mean aerobics,” I correct. “But I don’t think it will help. If I’ve gained weight it’s because you cook me too much delicious food.”
Brendan, a fellow Northeastern student and coincidently RLAP legal intern, draws her attention to his stomach. Our Iraqi friend is undeterred.”You’re a man. It’s Ok…but Lily! ” Laughing, trying not to, I nod seriously in agreement. “Obviously women like men with bellies.” Missing my sarcasm, Samira insists any weight Brendan gained is inconsequential.
I ask Samira if the aerobics can be belly dancing and she raises her hands and slightly shakes her hips.
“So, is your only concern my stomach?” I ask, remembering another time when an Iraqi commented that my cheeks looked fuller.
“Yes,” she verifies, seemingly slightly concerns I’m stuck on the subject. “Here in Egypt, you’re normal, you’re how they like it.” Unlike my Egyptian friend, she at least has one part of American tastes right. “In America they like skinny,”
She does a model walk, raising her hands and shaking her hips slightly. “You must walk like this in your bathing suite in America. I’m tempted to point out I’m destined to spend the next few months in freezing Boston. Instead I just smile, nodding at the severity of my new challenge.
” You’re Ok now,” she confirms. “But I like you. I want you to be number one!”
The last word: I’m looking forward to some belly dancing classes!
*I’ve changed her name in an effort to not put her on the spot. Though, I actually think she’d be flattered by the attention.
Ten students (American, Canadian and Norwegian ), our Iraqi teacher Azhar, a couple Iraqi friends and myself, are squeezed into St. Andrew’s modest kitchen. Some students jot notes, while others cut onions or mix a concoction containing surprising amounts of garlic, spices and oil.
It’s RLAP’s second Iraqi cooking class, a fundraiser to support out work providing legal, psychosocial and cultural advising, as well as English classes to refugees in Egypt.While working as a legal advisor can become completely consuming, we’ve got to escape our endless interviews and piles of testimonies once in a while. Cooking delicious food and earning money to sustain our work seemed like the perfect break from the routine.
One of the best perks of my work Resettlement Legal Aid Project (RLAP) is the constant flow of sumptuous and inspiring Iraqi food. From frequent parties on weekends–whether a birthday, holiday or a resettlement case won–to homemade lunches sent to work, there always seems to be something to celebrate and a willing Iraqi ready to prepare the goods.When the topic of fundraisers arose it seemed natural to share our wealth of food knowledge with the wider Cairo community.
Some highlights of our first two classes are: 19 students (and me!) with hints about Iraqi cooking and newfound lust for Iraqi food, expats buying meat, (there’s a stereotype here that many expats never learn how to cook and buy meat in Egypt) hilarious translation bloopers (the first teacher who taught only speaks Arabic), new friends and connections(everyone seemed to leave the class with someone’s contact info).
And what caught me by surprise?
Cooking was only one of two draws to the class. More than one student loitered outside the kitchen, questioning our Iraqi friends about their lives rather than the culinary traditions. Working and socializing with Iraqis on a daily basis, it seems I’ve lost all sense of what thoughts about Iraqis and Iraq conjure for many other Americans. Will I get a reality shock back in the States in a few weeks?
Classes and menus are arranged on a weekly basis. Let me know if you’re in town and want to reserve a spot.
Otherwise, you better hope I feel like showing off my newly acquired skills the next time we meet =)