Sunday, June 21, 2009

Non-Nile Group Update

I can't update everyone on Nile Group just yet, because I feel it warrants it's own post, and I've been up to too much stuff! However, Nile Group is finishing up tonight, so I plan to get a review and breakdown up in the next few days. I've now been in Cairo over a week, and probably haven't done/seen as much as possible, but I'm here for a year and trying not to strain myself!

There have been some fun times over the last couple days, and many moments of exasperation either in workshops or because of the HEAT. Cairo has been hovering in the upper 90 degrees (farenheight) which is enough to keep everyone (well ok, maybe just me) perpetually sweaty and smelly. I'm trying to keep the amount of showering down, but we still have been jumping in and out at least twice a day as we just get dirty and nasty, especially dancing three hours plus a day.

One amazing place I have visited, and do intend to go back to is the infamous shop of Mahmoud Ghaffar, Al-Wikalah in the Khan Al Khalili. Here's a few teaser shots, but I think it deserves a post all to itself, as does the Khan, so stay tuned in the future as I will absolutely go back and attempt to give directions to Mahmoud's and some impressions of The Khan. Khan Al Khalili, for those who are completely lost with this post, is the most gigantic, crazy, famous suuq or market/bazaar in Cairo. Anyone who has been can give you a hint of the definite impression it leaves...but I will be writing more on that topic later!

The real treat I got to experience was due to my good friend Leyla Lanty taking me out to a local cafe in the Khan the other night. I will not disclose where this place is, because it is very near and dear to her heart, and now mine, and it would be a very different place if foreigners showed up in droves. If you ask me, I can probably take you, but I don't want the information online.

On that note, let me tell you about the evening! I met up with Leyla and several of her friends at the Pyramisa where Nile Group is taking place and we all piled into her friend Ahmed's car as well as a taxi and headed off with much joking and fanfare. We arrived at the Khan maybe 10pm give or take, and headed to the "Egyptian Pancake" shop to grab a bite and some juice before the cafe. We ate something like a combination between flatbread and a quesidilla, sort of like naan with cheese, green peppers, and tomatos baked in the center. It was tasty, but greasy and we ended up feeding the leftovers to the cats running around everywhere underfoot in the Khan. A certain group of ginger triplets were lurking around our table in particular, throwing pathetic looks.

After that it was on to the cafe, where the band was just starting up. Tonight we had a keyboardist, three or four percussionists (switching off between deff, doumbek, sagat, and smoking), and a violinist playing with a cigarette firmly grasped between the fingers of his bowing hand. We took our seats amid the regulars who have their own particular special spots, and spotted the very fabulous and famous Aida Nour sitting in front next to the band in a bright red headscarf. Star dancer sighting! It was like a sauna in the place even with multiple fans battling the heat and flies, so I had to step out into the street a couple times, but once she started to sing with the band I was glued to my chair. I didn't even know she sang, but it was lovely and she did quite well!

Aida Nour finished singing, and then it was time to start pulling up foreigners from our little group to dance! I think just between Leyla's friends we managed to represent Spain, Italy, and a couple part of the US. Actually, since Egypt had just won over Italy in soccer the day before they got the Italian lady up first, even before Aida Nour sang! She had a fun time dancing and did a good job, very sociable but restrained enough for the setting. Once Aida Nour had finished and another singer took the floor, it was then apparently MY turn to dance! I went a bit pale I think when the owner and Ahmed both motioned for me to get up, get up! Me? Dance in a cafe in front of Egyptians AND Aida Nour? Well...okay. The first time I danced shyly and sweetly since I wasn't sure what the rule was for doing the more risque moves we all often use, and since of course I'm American and don't want to create a worse impression. I think they really liked it actually, as I got pulled up to dance by the owner no less than three times over the course of the evening...and Aida Nour smiled at me which definitely nearly made me faint! By the third time I was dancing there was some sort of Shaabi style song happening and the singer was incorporating the words, "Amreeka, Amreeka," which I was expecting (the little-white-chick effect) but then in the middle of the song, what did I hear? "Obama, Obama!" Apparently they're big on him here after his speech at AUC awhile back!

Over the course of the evening several others got up to dance a bit, including one of Aida Nours proteges who showed up who was quite good. Other than that there were a couple of really Shaabi city girls who were not professional dancers, but just having fun. They were totally out there and a little vulger, but lots of fun to watch! One lady next to us was a bit more demure, but was using her large silver purse as a prop--a new "folkloric" style in the making for us in the US? Near the end Leyla Lanty danced a bit to great fanfare and enthusiasm, since they know her at this cafe and she is quite popular!

Tipping for this show went on throughout the evening, with the tip collector interrupting the singer in the middle of or between songs to announce who had given a gift and encourage more tipping. Our friend Ahmed handled the tipping, doling out small amounts throughout the evening and then gesturing to the tip collecter (who was also a singer) to recognize all of us nice white ladies sitting in the back as we sipped our tea and sweated, which he either did by name or country, "Italia, Leyla, Amreeka..." it went on and on all night during the music. By the time we decided to head home it was about 3am, and I was totally out of it, but happy that my first dance experience in Cairo was well-recieved! Indeed as we walked to the car, another car drove by us with cafe patrons who waved at me and went, "Amreeka, Amreeka!" You can bet I will be visiting that cafe again in the future! Leyla tells me that when Morocco of New York visited she said, "this place is REAL," which I couldn't agree more with.

Still, Cairo is up and down, and Saturday night was not nearly as fun as Friday. However, that is to be spoken of in the coming post which will be a review of Nile Group!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nicole :)

    Thanks for the heads up and vote of confidence.
    The idea of being in Egypt for the next few years is pretty intense!

    Are you just in Egypt for a summer program or are you going to be there longer?
    My program starts in August so I still have a little time.
    It would be great to already know someone who knows whats going on!