Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving and Eid

Holiday season is beginning to hit now, and while I may be on the other side of the world from America, the study abroad students are putting on a good show of creating a wonderful holiday season nevertheless. The fun part here is that it's not, "oh is the turkey going to be moist enough?" but rather, "do you think we'll have enough gas to finish cooking the turkey?" or "how the hell do you say nutmeg in Arabic?"

Strangely enough, Eid al Adha (the big feast 2 months after the end of Ramadan) happened to be the day after Thanksgiving this year. Again, let's remember everyone: Muslim calendar coincides with lunar calender, ergo holidays move around. So AUC decided to be oh-so-kind and give us about a week and a half off so that we could somehow manage to finish all our work that has piled up because of the not-so-brilliant Swine Flu vacation earlier mentioned. See my entries around September to see how I enjoyed that vacation, and compare to now when I should be slaving away on term papers every day because my work has gotten beyond backed up. Anyway, we ended up with one big vacation to celebrate both holidays.

Turkey Day
I kicked off the vacation in good form, being invited to two Thanksgiving parties that I really wanted to both attend but were literally across town from eachother! I opted for the student one on the promise of pumpkin pie and dance partying, and it turned out to be a great dinner. I showed up early to assist with basting, cleaning, and last minute hand-wringing as we tried to get everyone in the apartment before the food got cold and our hunger got too intense. In downtown Cairo the thing is that one has to literally go down to the street or even a nearby landmark every time a friend is coming because otherwise it's almost impossible to find the building or apartment, so there was a lot of ferrying people up and down 11 stories in the ancient elevator. All told we ended up with a couple German guys, a few Americans, some Egyptian guys, two British guys (one decided to dress up a bit for his first Thanksgiving by wearing a tie), a Canadian (who deemed it "odd" because they celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier in Canada) and the lovely hostesses Drift and Jenny. The food was SUPERB! Drift's first solo effort at an entire turkey was a complete success with Spanish seasonings to make it even more special.

I've been asked, what does one eat at Thanksgiving in Egypt? Well, pretty much what you eat at home if you can pay the price for the huge turkey (not cheap!) and any special imported things that you just must have. We had a whole Turkey (with gravy that I made in the last 5 minutes before we ate!), mashed potatoes, Spanish rice, stuffing, salad, green beans, plus Egyptian sweets (kindly brought by our lovely Egyptian friends) and pumpkin pie for dessert. We also learned that attempting to whip ones own whipped cream is impossible without a mixer, so the pie was left to shine on it's own. Everything was delicious and I think a good representation of the holiday for those at the table who had never had Thanksgiving food before.

We were also asked about the "why" of Thanksgiving and after us Americans tossing around the usual sarcastic "celebrating betraying the Indians and white people being jerks" sort of comments, the consensus was food and being with people you love. But mostly food.

After lying around for awhile, we commenced the dancing! Drift, Jenny, and I taught some different Spanish dances as well as American "club" dancing because no one outside America seems to really get it as we discovered. In the end it boiled down to us three American girls, the two British guys, and our lone brave Egyptian friend Said who went along with whatever we tried to teach him with good effort, enthusiasm, and embarrassment. When nicely sweaty and exhausted, we all attempted to take pictures for awhile while know the kind, where the people are jumping around so they look all cool and suspended in midair. Yeah, those are really hard to do with six people in one small living room and one digital camera with a timer. We ended up with many pictures of some people jumping, or everyone looking really ready to jump,or having just landed. We did manage to get a great picture of me, Richard, and Said sitting on a couch looking extremely bored, oblivious to a pillow (unexpectedly thrown by Dave) about to hit us. It's on Drift's camera, but I hope I can share it with you soon!

Me and the guys staggered out around 3am and split up to get cabs back to our respective parts of town. I collapsed into bed, fully prepared to sleep at least 10 hours and awake to visit a friend the next day, which I strategically kind of forgot was Eid when I agreed to come visit her.

The first thing to think of when it comes to Eid al Adha is the killing of animals. I realize this seems a bit morbid and bloody, but the sacrifice of sheep and goats is what immediately comes to mind about this holiday. The idea is that these animals are sacrificed to provide meat for the poor and needy, who otherwise may not be able to afford such a luxury. Also families tend to indulge in eating meat if this is the one time in the year that they can afford it, or in honor of the feast if they would be able to afford it anyway. It doesn't bother me at all, being a meat eater myself, for people to want to eat meat, but I have admit that being a bit of a sensitive type, I was nervous about the amount of blood and gore that was going to be happening publicly. For weeks there have been pens set up around town on the street side with sheep or goats just milling around, being well fed, even decorated, and I couldn't help thinking of them that morning when I got up at the crack of 2pm.

Apparently I needn't have worried--much. My area in Maadi was quiet, unbloody, and totally normal as usual, but what do you expect from an expensive, foreigner quarter? No, I expected the real bloodiness when I headed to Mariuteya to visit my friend that evening...but again, on the way to her place there was nothing to be worried about on the main road next her house. I spent some time at her place having second Thanksgiving dinner and socializing, before snagging a ride with someone to the metro in Dokki.

Now, I have to say that while I was nervous about witnessing anything gory, I was really curious. I have only seen an entire sheep butchered once, and that one happened to be already dead and skinned at the time. I was daring myself to go out and check out scene just to see what the deal was, was it really so bloody, how were people celebrating or reacting to the holiday, and all that crap. I suppose it's human nature to be curious and fascinated by that sort of spectacle, even if it is intellectually uncomfortable. So I was secretly glad when my friend offered to drive me to Dokki through the poorer area of Haram, because I would get to witness something unique I would probably never see in the US.

As we set off the streets seemed really wet, which isn't so unusual for Maadi where rich people's cars get hosed down everyday by their bawwabs to keep the dust off, but I was curious to see the same effect in Mariuteya. When we hit a puddle easily half a foot deep I realized that the streets had been drenched with water to dilute and wash away the blood. The puddles were slightly reddish (hard to see in the dark until we passed under streetlamps), and prevalent in big areas where there had obviously been butchering stations set up earlier. Well, at least I had gone late enough to not witness anything disturbing to me, or not--we passed three stations still set up and I stole quick glances, catching sight of a man with a huge knife hacking into a large skull on a sturdy table, and a cascade of hooves on the tarp a few meters away. Big chopping blocks were set up under florescent lights on the street with people gathered around to get their share of meat as we trundled by. It seemed rather surreal, and the scene faded into the night quickly before I found myself stumbling over a puddles and onto the sidewalk before hopping onto the metro and heading home.

Two holidays back-to-back and apparently I can't get enough of partying because I'm putting on my own thing tonight! Stay tuned for pics and recap, because I have several whole chickens in the oven right now and am thus rather busy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game Time

Everyone has probably heard about the Egypt/Algeria stuff going down lately, especially the Western media view, so I wanted to talk about my own experiences and thoughts a bit. A few days ago, Lynette over at Gilded Serpent posted the photo at right from me with the following text (my writing):

"The first picture is of the riots that happened in Cairo on November 14th, when Egypt won a world-up qualifier match against Algeria. Looks scary, but it was actually a lot of fun roaming the streets in between all the stopped cars with people dancing everywhere brandishing flags! It was quite a controversial match, as the Algerians claim to have been attacked on the way from the airport to their hotel, the Egyptian officials and police refuse to back up their story, and the word on the street is that the reason the Algerian players' bus was attacked was that they burnt the Egyptian flag before heading off to play the match! No one is sure what exactly happened, but Egypt's 2-0 victory means that they will play [in] Sudan tonight to pass this round of qualifications."

I received the following reply on GS which is what made me think about the issue more and want to blog about it:

"In response to the photo and description in Kaleidoscope of the aftermath of the Algerian/Egyptian soccer match that states that the Algerians burned an Egyptian flag on the way from the airport and that caused the problems, please watch the 50 or more YouTube videos that show that a mob of Egyptians threw rocks at the team bus that was supposedly protected by Egyptian security forces.

One Algerian player had four stitches and three others were wounded. The French team doctor on the bus gives a first hand report that is in on USA Today. World newspapers are all reporting that FIFA was not abiding by its own rules and the match should have been postponed and played in a neutral country. Of course, now the emotions are so high that there has been widespread violence and destruction of Egyptian businesses in Algiers. Well, this is why I refer to dance than to compete!!"

Yeah, no kidding! I'd rather dance too, but this is the world we live in I suppose and I've been provoked to think about the situation again, and why not?

Well here's the problem I have, with my perspective from living here. We heard about the attacking of the Algerian bus of course, and I myself watched the footage on AlJazeera which looked extremely incriminating indeed. For my flatmates and their friends it was a well-of-course-those-stupid-Egyptians-attacked-the-bus-they're-nuts situation, but it didn't quite ring true to me completely. Not completely made up, but I felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. Yes, Egyptians are very nationalistic, and very passionate about soccer, but there is a difference between passionate nationalism and what people were saying went down, which was fanatical nationalism. I mean think about it, why would it benefit Egyptians to attack the Algerians over an impending match? After would be more than plausible, but right before? Why? I think most people that follow soccer are aware, FIFA moves games to other locations if the security proves to be unsuitable, so that means the match should/would have been rescheduled.

The next day a couple people flat-out told me that the police were right, the attack was completely staged, and that the Algerians had injured themselves to make Egypt look bad internationally. I also heard that the hotel the Algerians were heading to was less than a half-mile from the airport, so we have the new angle of what kind of security forces were present. Frankly, I have no idea, but this is a state with military personnel to spare--if they wanted to they could protect those players. It still seemed weird, because I could see people hanging around threateningly and maybe getting riled up, but breaking the windows of the bus? Really? Then again, we haven't gotten news of a complete police investigation so who knows what happened.

Then, the day after the match I heard another interesting piece of news which was that the Algerian team supposedly burnt an Egyptian flag before heading off to Cairo. A good American friend of mine deemed that, "downright provocative" and I have to agree. Egyptians are nationalistic enough (and let's face it, us Americans are too) that if someone burnt a flag, they'd be riled up about it and potentially violent. It's then a political insult, not to mention nothing to do with sports!

Of course none of this justifies anyone getting hurt, but there are a lot of angles going on to the story. I think what most likely happened is that the bus did get attacked, but the Algerian players perhaps were also guilty of provocation, and hamming it up or creating more injuries to encourage FIFA to move the match off Egyptian home turf--if you were an opposing team in this important of a game, would you want to play here?? In any case, those are some pieces of info I have that are bouncing around to ponder, and from an on-the-ground perspective I think that's the most likely explanation. I am not simply content to take the "Egyptians are crazy, nationalistic, and violent" route, because it is impossible for me with the people that I know here personally who would never engage in that behavior, support it, or encourage it.

What I think is even more important is the way the international community is looking at this, and the way Egyptian and Algerian leadership is using the matches to distract. One of my professors flat out remarked that he was frustrated about the World Cup because Egyptian authorities are encouraging the drama as they want to have a smokescreen for domestic issues, albeit temporarily. Seems like a bad strategy to me, because they'll have to face their issues sooner or later anyway! I guess they'd rather stall like anyone with a piece of work we don't want to tackle--but that doesn't make it any better. I'm sure the Western powers wouldn't mind a little political infighting in the Arab League to exploit either, but hey that's just because I'm studying the political history of the region right now! I'm actually glad I can't read a US newspaper to see how they're spinning this, because we all know how America likes to paint an "Us and them" portrait that I find irritating and a root of racial bigotry.

In any case, hopefully it's all over now as Egypt lost today's match against Algeria 1-0. What a NASTY match too, my god! Huge number of fouls, 5 yellow cards to Algeria, and one to Egypt, cleats in sensitive areas, arms nearly broken, at least 3 or 4 players had to be peeled off the grass and driven away in the medical carts--it was pretty dirty, people. Not to mention very close.

Ok, khalas that's my big speech of the day, just my 2 cents!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Update Time

As time goes by, it seems I just get lazier and lazier about updating! I feel bad to the folks back in Seattle who keep up with my blog, and those dancers who stay tuned for any little scrap of dance-related info I may occasionally throw out there, because school is literally trying to eat my life right now. I sincerely apologize for it's rudeness.

A Partial Theory on Various Sources of Stress
Oho, they all said that the Swine Flu Vacation (see my previous post) was going to be so great and so much fun. And then they got surprised at me when I was angry and upset about it...why? Well, everyone understands why now. Class 6 days a week was bad enough, but now finals and term papers are beginning to descend upon us and suddenly the scene is looking quite nasty indeed with everything crammed into an already short semester. My brain's response to stress these days has been, "no no, you can't make me!" and then a prompt shutdown, which can't be good because usually I respond to stress quite well.

Then today my toilet exploded.

I was innocently flushing it just before walking out the door to go see a costumer when I literally heard it making a rumbling noise. As in thunder, or a large train passing nearby. Not so good. I poked my head back into the bathroom, then cautiously approached as I noticed the tank was steaming...uh oh. Really, really not good. At this point something went POP and my bathroom started being flooded with steaming water. I'm not going to lie, I screamed and literally wrung my hands! After rather brief hysterics I realized I needed to do SOMETHING as my bathroom was half an inch deep in water that was luckily not sewage-y looking.

I ran to the balcony as fast as my little legs would allow, and scanned the street below for my bawwabs. The policemen looked at me curiously as I looked probably a bit shell shocked. Spotting Sallah, my favorite bawwab, I screamed in Arabic something that pretty much translates to, "Come, please! Come quickly! Big water! QUICKLY, PLEASE!" and waving my arms which caused the policemen to move from curiosity to outright amusement. Good to know my Arabic hardly holds up in a crisis. Sallah hustled his butt up to my place, hiking his galabeya up and wading in, only to shake his head, smile at me and twiddle the knob that controls water flow to the toilet, causing the flood to halt. He then pointed out a plastic hose on the back of the toilet running to the bidet that had burst from pressure...thus explaining why the water was clean and hot, and not totally disgusting. I nodded with as much dignity as I could while still being in my shell shocked state and managed to inquire if he could bring me the required part today. He said sure, and went off to procure it while I opened the floor drain and began scraping the water towards it with a dustpan. A few hours and $10 later all was right with the world, but I'm still paranoid to flush the toilet!

Winter has arrived!
Fun and games in Cairo all the time, clearly. It IS starting to get cold these days though, although by cold I mean it's in the low 80s during the day and mid 60s at night. I assure you though, it feels cold after a summer of 100+ degree weather every day! We're wearing sweaters to school now, and the bawwabs have started wrapping little white turbans on their heads to keep warm, while the AUC crowd is surely looking forward to donning little Gucci jackets and that crap.

Eid is coming up--the second one, the big one! This will be the feast where animals are slaughtered for their meat and often meat is given to the poor who normally cannot afford to eat it. If you go into the poorer areas right now you can find pens of lambs and goats right next to the street, waiting to be slaughtered. In Mariuteya the other day I drove by a tent/pen with huge fluffy lambs eagerly feeding from a huge troth, their fur dyed in swaths of pink and yellow to look more festive (I suppose). Hallah tells me that she stays in on the day with windows, curtains, and ears firmly shut--apparently it is quite the bloodbath. I can't really see that happening in Maadi though, as the foreigners are doing there thing quite a bit more here, but I suppose we'll see as I am staying in Cairo over the break.

Dance Things
There seems to come a point--or many points--in a dancer's life when we are cut off from teachers, from resources, and community and must turn to only ourselves to keep practicing the art. It is difficult, requires a lot of discipline, and love to go on dancing like this. My whole college experience has pretty much always turned dance into an individual, internal practice for me from the first night I arrived, dancing in my dorm common room on a table while one other girl kept me company playing piano, to now. In between there has been a lot of practicing in tiny dorm rooms, that are no where near a proper "dance studio." My last room I was practicing/living in was literally 10 feet by 15 feet and contained a twin bed, a desk, my dress form, assorted bags of sewing work, sewing machine, nightstand, and a book case (everything else got shoved in the closet) but I danced anyway because I had to keep practicing. I don't know why exactly, but I felt driven, I was not directly attached to the community but I was a member of it, and a professional dancer within it so I had to practice to stay on the ball, to become better.

But I didn't...the truth is that it is so easy to fall off the horse, practicing all alone, in a tiny room, without a mirror but with your schoolwork laid out next to you on the bed. It is so easy to instead go, "oh crap, I haven't gone over those Genetics notes" or "I need to review for that midterm on Thursday!" or worst of all, "I'm just so tired, I really need some down time." The only way I kept myself motivated this last school year to dance like this was to keep improving for my coach, to keep my weight down, and so that I could be good enough to stand in front of teachers in Egypt without being embarrassed. I told myself I only had months to go before Aida Nour or Liza Laziza or (heaven forbid!) Dina was breathing down my neck saying the last girl had been SO MUCH BETTER. I danced like a maniac when I could, would stay up an extra hour after my school work was done because I was afraid I just wouldn't be good enough. Dancing was just more important than sleep to me at that time, I had to do it!

Then I got to Egypt, and the bottom fell out from under me, dance-wise. The teachers here are tough to have a relationship with, and I really want not simply a teacher of moves but also a mentor, plus my problem is that they are expensive and I don't want to waste my money on the wrong person. Coming to another country was expensive enough, getting myself set up in a proper apartment was also tough, AUC wants my soul, and after that I just don't have much time and money left to take lessons or find the people I really was sure I wanted to take lessons from.

I wasn't expecting the emotional jolting and draining I would experience from the second my flight landed. Egypt is tiring. It makes me tired and lazy to live here, I was expecting to get my sea legs within a month and be back to dancing every day like I used to. It didn't happen, I have only danced at weddings in the last two weeks, I have barely even danced in the comfort of my own apartment and it is making me incredibly depressed. Cairo was the goal, getting here and being good enough to be here as a dancer was the goal, but once the goal was attained, I lost my direction completely.

Yes, I am taking lessons from someone right now (it's a secret so don't even ask), and she's fabulous, but she doesn't have much time for me so I go a long time in between private lessons which I used to have once a week back in California. I feel disconnected from something that I'm surrounded by. There is great dancing happening in Cairo, there are fabulous people, but I can't quite get at them because I'm broke and no one knows me. So I'm having a pity party for myself here on the blog...moving on:

What am I reading and writing?
In complete change of subject, I am reading "The Liberation of Women" by Qusim Amin right now, who is excellent. He is an Egyptian philosopher, a disciple of Muhammad 'Abduh, who basically expands 'Abduh's thoughts on educational reform and brings those reforms into conversation with women's status in Egypt. Basically Amin is all about education of women, inclusion of women in the public sphere, including in politics, bringing women out of seclusion and out of veiling practices. Personally I have mixed feelings on veiling and I think I am actually going to write a piece for Gilded Serpent on it, so stayed tuned for that--it'll probably have a taste of Amin's theories in there. More on him later when I'm past the first 10 pages! I want to see what points he makes on Quranic interpretation and hermeneutics--always fun stuff!

Right now though, I'm writing a piece on parties and weddings in Egypt for Gilded Serpent which is nearly finished and I'm thinking of writing a piece on popular music and concerts in Egypt since I seem to keep ending up at them!