I walk out the door, into the street.
Five or six young men are leaning against cars and a tall metal house-gate they all face toward a tree, around which candles, posters and flowers rest. Most candles, including the three my friends and I left last nice are long burned-out. I wonder if the young mens’ eyes are red from lack of sleep or crying.
In an attempt not to interrupt, I walk on the grass as I pass.
“Is this your car,” one boy asks me, thinking the car he leans on is my off-center destination.
“No, you’re fine.”
“Why you walk around like that?” a young man questions, from across the sidewalk.
“I didn’t want to interrupt….I’m really sorry about your friend.”
I stare at the picture of their murdered friend. Probably a couple of years younger than me, black, dreadlocks, smiling….I don’t know more to the story. Just that he died because of gang violence and a couple of his friends were also shot.
“Where you going,” the young man snaps me into the present.
“Starbucks?” He prompts
“No, I’m going to class.”
He mumbles something I can’t distinguish.
“Down the street?”
“No, downtown, National Louis.”
“So you’re taking the train, what stop you getting off at?”
“I’m going South…It’s in the loop.”
“I guess that’s where all the tall buildings are,” he says, shrugging. “What’s your name?”
“Lily. What’s yours?”
“You can call me T.”
“Nice to meet you T, who are your friends?”
A couple tell me what they go by, another couple have earphones in their ears and do not answer.
I wonder how long they’ll stand there. How long they’ve been in their gang. If they’re afraid. If they’re angry.
I wonder why I didn’t simply say “good morning,” as I walked by.
Artificial barriers–the unknown, fear, lack of education on all sides.
As I walk toward the L, T calls after me. “I like your purple shirt.”
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.
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 =)
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.