Saturday, July 25, 2009


When I made this blog I figured I'd update every few days, so I feel like I'm letting myself down in terms of recording things with a week in between like this. Still, stuff happens and I keep getting busy, so here's a short update!


I'm now hustling like hell to find a nice place before the middle of August when my rent is up in Zamalek. This SUCKS. Finding an apartment in Cairo by yourself without at least one committed room mate sucks majorly because of a distinct lack of one bedroom places in the area I want. I think it's probably best to team up with someone and try to find a place together, providing your budgets and desired area are the same. For me, I'm going at it alone, as usual, which has so far had the following results:

-Looked at many mediocre flats in THE perfect neighborhood
-Found the flat of my dreams, begged the bawwabs to hold it for me for a week to get the funds and roomies together, pranced around happily
-Attempted to get roomies
-Everyone balked at the price, or turned me down, and the hold was up yesterday so bye, bye to the perfect place
-I ate a lot of chocolate cake and grumbled about the lack of one-bedroom places in said perfect neighborhood

So now what? I don't know, I'm going to keep looking in the Maadi area, because I have my heart set on living there, but it's really tough without having a person committed to rooming with me. My Egyptian friends say I should just rent a place anyway and deal with the roomies later, but I can't leave my parents out however many hundreds of dollars if things don't come together. I'm just going to keep hustling and see what happens. Keep an eye on the blog because once I find a place I will be more in the mood to write about finding a place in Cairo, because it is an interesting process and I have some pointers to offer at this point. I just am a little too on edge about the topic now to elaborate at length in my blog!

Getting Really, Actually Sick in Egypt

A week and a half ago now I got sick, as in "not-gonna-get-over-this-one-at-home-and-it's-been-a-week" kinda sick. I don't particularly want to go into details, but it was just getting to the point where I was exasperated enough to put on my big, brave girl panties and let my friend take me to a real live Egyptian hospital to see a doctor...which turned out to be fine. So there.

Everyone is afraid of the medical system in Egypt it seems like, but my experience was nothing but pleasant, fairly quick, and cheap. It cost me $20 total to get examined, and get some meds to fix the problem. I can't even get my over-the-counter allergy meds in the US for so cheap! The trick is, and listen up here: go to a private hospital. There, that's all, just go to a private hospital that has a stellar reputation. Yes, there are some around, they're easy to find, and the one I went to in Heliopolis gave me great medical treatment. Hell, it was more quiet and calm than any medical institution I've set foot in back home. The staff were friendly and helpful, especially since I had an Egyptian friend with me to translate (and looked like a clueless, sick, foreign dork) and the doctor spoke English fairly well. Now I'm fine, but still weaning myself back on to a normal diet as mine had to be restricted for 5 days during my course of meds--not fun.

Another note before anyone runs off to any conclusions: it is NOT common to get as sick as I did in Egypt, don't worry. The biggest medical problem travelers have is that many people get some digestive issues here, but you get over them in a matter of days or hours, and it's seriously not that bad. I was not so lucky this time around!

Oh and PS, everyone--it wasn't Egyptian food that made me ill, I can thank McDonald's for that particular honor.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Party in Hurghada!

I'm back from another trip yet again! This time Kara and I headed to the Red Sea again, but on the opposite coast of last time (check out the super-gorgeous-non-ghetto map).

Hurghada was a lot of fun, and definitely a refreshing change in some ways from Cairo. Still on my first night I was going, "what a tourist trap, I miss Cairo!" However, I chilled out and had fun in a resort town that seems like something more out of Hawaii or California than Egypt--except with ridiculous amounts of rather rude Russian tourists.

Hurghada is (theoretically) 5-6 hrs by bus from Cairo, but if you add in Egyptian time and the bus breaking down, it's more like 8. Yeah, you have to factor in the bus breaking down, but just pray that it's only in a minor, fixable way. On the way we got relatively lucky--the bus broke down twice, but we got back on our way fairly quickly. We said "maalesh" and started taking pictures in front of the broken down bus. Back on our way Mina and I cranked up the Lady Gaga on his mp3 player as we sped through the desert night. On the way back we got totally screwed as our bus broke down completely an hour and a half from Cairo and we had to hitch a ride (with all the luggage!) on the next bus from the company to come along!

The days were mostly spent at the beach or the pool, doing beach or pool kind of stuff. I got thrown off a dock too at some point because I refused to take the plunge! At night we got the Egyptian boys in trouble playing a drinking game when it was revealed us American and Aussie girls can hold our liquor like champs in comparison.

We went out clubbing at a place called "Buddha Ramooza" on the second night which completely reminded me of Hawaii or California, down to the thatched grass ceilings, jets of fire for show above the open air dance floor, latest American pop hits, and cabanas straight on the beach. Yes, the American hits included, "Poker Face!" It was great to be able to chill on the beach with a drink and then go straight onto the dance floor! Kara finally got into smoking shisha too, which led to some hilarious pictures which I will only include a few of for both of our dignities sakes.

The next day we woke up at the crack of 7:30am after an ungodly late bed time to catch a breakfast buffet in horrible shape before heading off to an all-day snorkling trip! I groaned to Kara, "I'm so tiiiiired...the last thing I want to do is get on a booooat," but we had paid up 200LE the previous day so I was committed. I staggered along onto first a bus, then the diving center, then the boat, and we warned the boys to leave us be as we were in an incredibly impatient, grumpy mood after the early wake-up call. Kara and I staked out a bench inside out of the sun and she promptly slept while I dozed behind my sunglasses.

We got into it though after a couple hours as the boat headed out to "Paradise" island off the coast of Hurghada. It was a bit crowded, but the staff (whom we called "the pirates of Hurghada") were all friendly and helped us to get into the swing of things. "Paradise" is a pretty island, but all the day cruises go there so it was a slog getting on and off the island via small feluccas chock full of people. The food on the cruise was quite tasty too, which I was nervous about after several days of so-so hotel buffets.

Snorkling was great, and I realized that I haven't snorkled since before I can remember...if I have it was in Hawaii during one of our multiple childhood trips that I only half recall. This was fun though, the boat was in a perfect spot for us to remain close by and near the surface but still observe some beautiful fish and coral. That was good, as I didn't feel exactly adventurous! We swam around near the boat for awhile too, which was when our intrepid captain decided to come dunk me!

Afterwards Kara and I dozed on the front of the boat with a couple from Holland, just enjoying the sun. Let's just say we weren't enjoying things so much when we arrived home exhausted and suburnt! Both of us promptly showered and collapsed into bed for a couple hours before most of us trooped out to the club again to discuss the mating fest or to the cinema. I have to say that after being in Cairo for almost a month, the dance floor scene at Hurghada made me almost nauseous for how sex-drenched everything seemed and how slutty the behavior was--and this is coming from a California girl not exactly famed for prudishness! Cairo has changed me already more than I first thought it seems.

Cultural Homogenization (the boring part of this post)
I have a couple things to say on this topic as it's something my courses at my home college have beat me over the head about. This has been a topic that has very much rung true to me in my studies. I'm feeling frustrated at what I want to call exchanging cultural generalizations. Cairo is a very international town, with plenty of foreigners coming through, so there has so be some sort of language to exchange ideas from different cultures and different lifestyles of living. However, if there is something my Women's Studies education has warned me of it's dealing in generalizations and homogenizing groups of people.

When we assume a group of people all share the same exact thinking and will behave in the same manner we remove them from the freedom of having individual personalities in our minds. Personally, this seems dangerous to me as it becomes an easy way to presuppose things about individuals, and prevent ourselves from getting to know other people/cultures on their own terms. This can even lead to otherizing groups of people and dehumanizing them, which is how prejudices and harassment become condoned. One of things I am trying to do in Cairo is not tell people back home about Egyptian "culture" so much as people I know, or personal things I have seen or experienced. Lila Abu-Lughod, an author I quite enjoy, has written about this topic in the introduction to her book "Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories" where she warns of "the danger of cultures." I highly recommend the book to anyone visiting a foreign country, especially Egypt. It's also simply a fascinating read!

To put it on the most straightforward, street-level terms: I'm tired of speaking for all of America or all of the Western world even. I feel like I have to preface everything with "Well, my experience is..." and end everything with, "but it really depends on the person."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Escape to the Beach

The last week has just been a whirlwind of activity so I apologize for the lack of updates! Meeting new people, going new places, seeing new sights has me completely exhausted by the time I sit down to write at night. So much has been going on! Tannoura shows, Nile cruises, countless cafes, impromptu walking tours...I'll just post a few highlights for now and we'll fill in the gaps later. More photos will be coming too!

Ahlan w Sahlan
I have to apologize again to the dancers that are reading my blog on two counts: I haven't posted to Gilded Serpent about Nile Group yet, and I only went to Ahlan w Sahlan for one show. Bad belly dancer!

However, I got beyond lucky with the show I went to, because no less a person showed up wanting to perform than DINA!!! My favorite non-retired dancer! I couldn't believe my luck when I heard she had arrived with her (more than 20 piece) band because I had expected to come watch the teachers and see some good dancing, but not Dina!

Of course there was no videotaping or cameras allowed, so sadly I got no documentation of the show, but trust me, Dina knocked my socks off completely. I've seen youtube videos of her, sure, and pictures, but this was completely amazing. She was just so glowing and beautiful! Her smile illuminated the room and her attitude was completely spot on, not superior or haughty or even too porny (yes, even though it was Dina!) but just welcoming and gracious. Dina also got on the mic to say welcome to everyone and how happy she was to be here even though she had just returned from traveling because she, "loves belly dance!!"

Not only that, but when the band started up with the beginning of the mawwal to "Taht Isshebak" I was screaming because I couldn't believe my luck! This is one song Dina has made famous and happens to be on of my own favorite Shaabi songs to dance to, which I did at my going-away party in San Francisco! That particular section completely brought down the house, but I also enjoyed her performance later in the show to one of Amina Goodyear's favorites "Woah Woah Woah" as we call it that's about fruit--in a rather suggestive way!

I returned to Zamalek completely star struck and feeling I could die happy...seeing Dina live is one major life goal accomplished!

Ras Sudr
After now being here in Cairo three weeks Kara and I were ready for a bit of a break from the pollution and noise of the city. Don't get me wrong--now that I've adjusted mentally I'm loving it here--but we needed some peace and quiet. So our friends invited us to join them for the weekend at Ras Sudr (literally "Head Breast") on the Red Sea!

We spent our time eating, dancing around in the flat like idiots, cracking jokes, playing cards, swimming, and just lying on the beach. It was so beautiful there, and quiet! The silence and lack of people was shocking after Cairo, and the beach was just perfect. The sand is pale and powdery once you get into the water, and there are copious amounts of umbrellas to shade you from the hot Egyptian sun. The heat is perfectly offset by the slightly cool water, which by the way is completely clear and stays under 4 ft easily half a mile from shore. You can wade and swim forever before you get anywhere remotely deep, which we found quite nice for just messing around and playing volleyball in the water!

We nearly got into a daily routine of waking up around 1pm, eating breakfast (a mishmash of American style junk food and Egyptian foods like Foul), having a bit of a dance party, then spending all afternoon at the beach before coming home to eat BBQ seafood fresh off the boat. We literally bought our dinner one night while swimming next to the fishing boat! Floating suuq!

Egypt vs. Rwanda
Last night, Kara and I went with my friends to see the Egypt vs. Rwanda soccer match in Cairo. My parents seemed surprised when I said, "no no, we're actually going TO the stadium," as usually I've been catching the matches at a local cafe. It's like being at the stadium anyway because everyone cheers and jumps around practically as much!

We managed to cram a record 7 people in my friend's tiny car to do the hour drive (not including the waiting around for various things) to the stadium. I was perched firmly on Kara's lap in the back seat the whole time, which was a bit awkward, but everyone was in high spirits!

Egypt won 3-0 over Rwanda so of course we had to drive through the streets waving our Egyptian flags out the car windows and celebrating! People seemed a bit surprised to see two white chicks cheering and screaming, "Masr!" so we managed to cause one guy to run into the car in front of him for staring. It was just a light tap and everyone just continuted honking and carrying on. We had a great time with our huge group of friends and then went out to a rooftop cafe after for drinks and ice cream!

Tonight Kara and I are departing for the other side of the Red Sea, and a very different style resort town: Hurgada! More to come later!