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!
Though true to the hype, Egypt is mostly desert–only 3 percent of land is arable–when you open your eyes to it, Cairo has a pretty hopping fruit and veggie scene going back to ancient times.
“Egypt is the gift of the Nile,” is a phrase you might remember from history class, a tour book or even thrown in conversation. Historically, agriculture was Egypt’s greatest economic commodity. In 2000 agriculture accounted for approximately 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP and over 1/3 of the population was employed in agriculture.
The majority of produce is grown in the Delta, an area north of Cairo bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The rest is grown along the Nile, between Cairo and Aswan, just south of the High Dam, which controls the once annual Nile floods and ensures reliable water distribution throughout the year.
Living here temporarily, eating at cafes, restaurants and street vendors, it’s easy to believe the country is largely devoid of all produce except oil drenched eggplants, taamiya (falafel but with fava beans) salad and plentiful fresh juices. Adding to the desert theme, population locations i.e. the pyramids, temples, ruins, desert oases and beaches on the north coast and in Sinai are naturally sand-prone
Since settling down in an apartment with a kitchen and spending more time with Egyptians and Iraqis who cook, I have discovered an inspiring world of fruits and veggies throughout the megalopolis.
A market behind Sayidda Zeinab mosque and one surrounding the Saad Zagloul metro stop, both within a five minute walk of my flat, are where I usually shop.
I never had a fresh fig until a couple months ago a coworker bought a bag while taking a walk from work. Sweet, with a unique texture, they have quickly become one of my favorite fruits.
Guavas are another I never had fresh until living here. Though I drank the juice previously, I had pictured Guavas as papayas and thought the guavas on the streets were pares. When Syonara served me a plate of sliced guavas I learned they were something entirely different. Now I cannot quite imagine my life, let alone breakfasts, without them.
I first spied a couple lonely pomegranates at a small fruit stand across my street about a month ago. Being one of my all-time favorites, and an apparent anomaly in Egypt, I snatched them up. Though completely unripe, they were a promise of what has come. Since, sweet, juicy, pink pomegranates have matriculated to many fruits stands, living up to pomegranate lovers desires and costing around $1 USD a kilo.
Though I haven’t found dates as good as Mahmoud’s to date, I’ve been entranced by the many varieties. The traditional way to break fast for Ramadan, dates –dried, fresh, unripe, overripe, yellow, red and purple are profuse.
The other day I dashed home from work at 2:00 p.m. to grab a forgotten computer cord. I was shocked to see my neighborhood market more bustling than ever. Not only was it the hottest part of the day, but most Egyptians are fasting for Ramadan. The hours shift slightly each day with the sunrise and set–no food, water, cigarettes, sex etc, from approximately 4:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
It seems shopping for food might be one way the fasters distract themselves until the moment of consumption.
My Arabic teacher, Nancy, has asked us to keep our eyes open. You’ll notice all sorts of changes as Ramadan approaches, she said.
From a growing amount of pastries, dried fruit, and special Ramadan lanterns, to clothing vendors shouting something, of which the only word I could decipher was “Ramadan”–Cairenes are seemingly in a frenzy preparing for the month-long holiday.
Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holiest month because it’s when Muhammad Hussein, the prophet of Islam, is believed to have revealed the Koran.
Thinking a month long holiday sounds fun?
From what I’ve learned thus far, a theme of the month is discipline.
“In Ramadan, we don’t only abstain from food, drink, smoking, marital sex, but also we abstain form all kinds of immoral acts and obscenity,”Wrote Dr. Muhammad M. Abu Laylah, a professor at Azhar University, on Islamonline.net.
“Our social, religious, charitable acts are combined in our fasting. So, the month of Ramadan is an intensive course in physical and spiritual hygiene.”
Ok. Really think about this. No water in the 100+ heat and no cigarettes for the chain-smoking taxi-drivers. Though just to clarify, “In Ramadan,” refers to the fasting period–sunrise to sunset only. The prophet specifically permits marital sex outside these hours.
While the fast is a personal challenge, in the land of bowabs (doormen) who monitor all comings and goings, neighbors who all know each other and generations of families who live together, or course the holiday is very community oriented.
As fasting is not an option but required of Muslims (there are exceptions for illnesses, travelers, pregnant women, soldiers and young children) it becomes an obligatory social, as well as religious event.
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (i.e. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.” (2:183-84)
The countdown until August 22nd is on.
This is just the teaser
A couple days ago an Egyptian friend told me the infamous Moulid at Saayida Zeinab mosque was cancelled because of the hoorah over swine flu.
They don’t want big crowds, he said.
Camping out, as hundreds of thousands supposedly do in the weeks leading up to the big day, was declared illegal by the Egyptian authorities.
Moulids, meaning birthdays, are Suffi traditions celebrated all over Egypt.
Not specified in the Koran many Muslims do not know, partake or condone the practice.
This one in particular celebrates Saayida Zeinab, who is the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammed, and therefore must occur only at her mosque.
When my roommate AJ announced it was today and he was covering it (he’s a journalist), I repeated what my friend said and stared out the window, wondering where all the people were.
While the huge crowds might have stayed home, Saayida’s birthday, was not a total bust.
Standing in front of the mosque, with an Egyptian friend, Amr, crowds swarmed around us.
He pointed out the frequency of galabyias–the long loose dresses men wear. It’s a different style than how we dress in Cairo, he said, explaining most of the worshippers are from rural regions of upper and lower Egypt.
A guy wearing a shirt reading, “I’m Noisy” with Elmo and white girl bearing arms, we drew attention from the crowd and the interest of a cop.
Do you want to go in the mosque? Amr asked me. The women go in that way–he pointed to an entrance where a mob of women fought to descend a couple steps into the mosque.
Yeah definitely! Can I…I asked? Our new buddy, the cop, said I could if I covered my arms and hair.
Putting on my veil, I spotted a women, standing with two friends, snapping my picture.
One of the friends came over.
Are you here to see this? She asked in Arabic, which Amr translated.
I live down the street, I told her. But yeah, I’m here now to check it out.
Are you scared of getting swine flu because of the big crowd.
Everywhere in Cairo is crowded, I answered. Plus I’m American, don’t you think I already have it? (Swine flu has been a huge deal here, especially since cases were found among American University students. Co-workers say people have moved away from them on subways out of fear of catching the bug.)
As she began to ask another questions, I became suspicious.
Her questions were well thought out, targeted for a specific angle…her friend snapped another picture and she held, what I’d thought was an iPod in her hand.
She was dressed differently, looked better kept and more focused than the many milling around the area.
Are you a journalist? I asked her in Arabic.
Are you recording this?
She said she wasn’t.
She asked if I was going to go in. I said I was, half hoping she’d join.
She didn’t seem to have any intention.
Her friend snapped another picture as I put on my headscarf and Amr and I headed to the entrance.
I relinquished my shoes to a guy at the door was pushed forward by the masses of woman vying to enter.
Think of the most crowded concert you’ve attended and those lines of people forcibly pushing their way to the front or out. Now imagine there is not one destination, people are sitting on the floor, praying begging for money, eating, holding babies, yelling and grabbing your clothes.
From all sides I was shoved deeper into the congregation.
Eyes ahead, overwhelmed by the masses of praying before me, I felt a slap on my shoulder. An elderly woman was whacking me with some clothe.
Apparently she didn’t approve of my dress. Khalas–”enough” I yelled at her. Another woman tried to help by forcefully rearranging my shawl.
In the deepest room women touched and prayed toward a wall and snapped pictures with their cell phone.
All the incentive I needed, I pulled out my camera and snatched a couple shots.
Out in the street, Cairo air never felt so fresh and clear.
It was one of those lazy Saturday mornings when I didn’t have anywhere to be until 12:00pm. (The work week in Egypt is Sunday-Thursday).
I woke up around 9 a.m., had a delicious green breakfast, read and looked over Arabic for an hour.
Food somewhat digested, it felt like yoga time.
Every time I want to exercise at home (There are cheap men-only gyms down the street) I always face the same dilemma.
The space is in the living room but the air-conditioning is in my bedroom.
After doing a couple crowded vinaysas between my bed and window, I decided to take action.
If I rotated and moved my bed so it is under the window I would have room for my yoga matt between the foot of my bed and desk.
Deciding to trust my eyes, I gave my bed a shove toward it’s new home.
It didn’t budge.
I took off the mattress, under which I found wood planks. I removed those too.
A pile of old plastic suitcases, decaying taped boxes, an ab table and old projector greeted me.
Everything was coated in a layer of thick dust and moth balls.
I tried to push the bed-frame with the stuff inside.
It only slid slightly.
I removed the boxes and suitcases, one fell open to reveal a collection of shoes. I picked up a pair of cute red heels, clots of sand fell out, and the inside was filled with grime and mold. The more stuff I moved the more I found…a rusty old knife a tin filled with keys and a couple other metal things I couldn’t identify.
Things to the side I pushed the bed to its new window-front home.
Unfortunately the precarious wooden bed frame suffered on the journey.
The same thing happened to me last year, in an apartment I subletted in Washington DC.
But in DC it was a new Ikea frame where the parts snapped into place.
Now I was dealing with a heavy wooden frame, tired nails and a whole lot of junk jostling for space under the planks. I put the bed back together and was ready to call it a day.
The sideboard fell off and my mattress sunk ominously on the left side.
The fun continued a few hours later when a couple of my friends stopped by. The loose boards were soon thrown to the side as the guys explored the mounds of under-bed crap.
They were especially fascinated by boxes of bullets and old rusty knife.
They debated wether my landlord was a thief or in the military, as I claimed.
After a while they put the bed back together, in slightly better order than I had.
The only item that made the cut for staying above mattress was the ab rack.
After doing a couple obstacle-free vinyaysas this morning I went to Arabic class and checked my email.
“knives under your bed? really?” My Mom wrote. I’m all for it if you need to but I’m worried if you need to.”
She had seen a comment on my Facebook wall and didn’t have the context.
Funny that my Mom thought I needed to sleep with knives under my bed in Cairo? Crazy that she wasn’t more concerned? A failure of my blog there is cause for such concern? A success that she thinks it will all work out here? Awesome that she trusts me to use knives so well?
Ehh…there they will remain.
Walking out my door there are people everywhere. They’re buying shoes, eating kosheri and rice pudding with coconut. They’re buying handful sized portions of nuts for a pound and talking loudly in Arabic.
The street is filled with cars all beeping as they fight to get past and avoid hitting the plethora of bodies moving every which way.
My new roommate, AJ, is taking me for an introductory walk around neighborhood, Mounira. It’s a short walk from Tahrir Square–the center from downtown and on the border of one of Cairo’s poorest quarters.
There’s a market across the street. Food and home-stuff seems to be the loose theme of the place.
We make our way through stand after stand of fruits and vegetables, kitchen supplies, stands of flip flops and unidentifiable parts of bloody cows.
The prices are ridiculously low–4 guineas for a kilo of grapes or bananas, 1 or 2 for that much cucumbers.
AJ points out a stand only selling clothespin–probably a lucrative business since no one in Cairo seems to bother with dryers.
AJ knows boys in the streets, cafe owners and a guy who happens to drive by.
I stand out around here, he answers my question. You’ll know them soon too.
He has a “nut man” we visit and I buy the same seed the girl gave me at the soccer game weeks ago. I learn they’re called lips.
The juice man isn’t in. Next time.
I meet the Bowab-the guy who sits downstairs monitoring the building. AJ says he’s usually hard on new people the first couple weeks but he chills out, especially if you slip him 5 pounds ($1).
When I go out later alone he jabbers away in a lot of Arabic, of which I only get the gist.
I venture out to buy sheets for my bed and some fruit for the morning.
No one speaks English around here so I have fun trying to be understood.
If find some sheets in the market which are slightly less obnoxious than the rest. I decide to buy some fruit first.
When I come back the store with the ones I like is closed so I settle for some next store.
I’m not really sure what I’m buying but the man tells me there are two sheets, pillow cases and it’s big. It costs less than $6 American.
He asks me if I’m Italian and I tell him I’m American.
How many Americans do you know, I ask? He tells me 5,000. I’m not sure if he doesn’t understand, he’s joking or just trying to convey a lot, which I find hard to believe.
I walk home past the Sayeeda Zeinab Mosque where lights are flashing and many are loitering.
Earlier AJ pointed out our 12th floor window.
You moved in at a difficult time.
See those red blankets? That’s the beginning.
Over the next couple weeks supposedly up to 1 million people will converge in our cozy neighborhood for a Moulid of Sayeeda Zeinab, Prophet Muhamed’s granddaughter. Moulid means birthday and apparently Sayeeda’s is quite a popular one.
Where will they all stay? I asked.
The street alleys, etc AJ said.
Sufi dancing, great food and markets and tourists, who for once are Egyptians from other regions, not me?
I just went to take a picture of the sight from the living room window.
Another surprise greeted me.
First I noticed a bright one straight in front. I stuck my head out and looked up.
By standards elsewhere, they might not impress, but here is not those places.
I haven’t seen stars since Syria.
A couple days a go a few of us interviewed young women affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood for stories we are writing. One of the young woman Sondos, invited us out for dinner, along with her sister, Marwa.
They showed us unbelievable kindness and welcome, put up with endless questions (this was not supposed to be an interview!) showed us how to tied headscarves and encouraged a photo shoot. To be fair, they asked their fair share of questions in return. These are the types of friendships which truly lead to cultural understanding. Marwa puts the hijab (headscarf on Rachel). Headscarves are a sign of modesty. They are also a huge part of the culture. Most Muslim women in Egypt where them out of choice. At least here, it’s as much a fashion statement as a profession of religiosity.
Thanks Marwa and Sondos! I look forward to seeing you when I return to Egypt.