Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The National Society of Collegiate Scholars is an honors society I was invited to join last year, and I figured I'd take a gamble on it and join to see if I could get a scholarship to support my travels abroad this year.  Well, it paid off: I am their choice for their Scholar Abroad Spring 2010 Scholarship!

It's quite an honor, and I didn't exactly feel confident about being chosen when I applied, but figured I should try and the application was free for members so why not?  This is great, because it takes some financial strain off my family (especially with my dad's hospitalization earlier this month), and will allow me to have some extra cash after that to travel within Egypt (hellooo Luxor and Aswan!) as well as invest in my dance career while I am in the position to do so.  The fact is that here in Egypt there is a wealth of opportunity and I am young and unrestrained enough to tap it, but the problem was that I didn't have a lot of extra cash before.  We will have yet to see what this scholarship brings within reach by paying off the rest of my AUC tuition and then some, but I will keep you guys posted.

Part of the requirements to recipients is that we keep a blog over at wordpress.  I plan to copy and paste a lot of my entries over there from here, but feel free to also check too.  I will post here if there's extra content or different things over there, but I believe I will continue to keep Nicole In Cairo on Blogspot as my main blog.  This will be the more dance-focused version too, and I expect it will be quite a bit more introspective than the other blog which will be public to the NSCS community of scholars.

On that note, it's almost time to return to AUC in just a few short days, and I'm having very mixed feelings about it.  There's a lot to get done this semester, and before I leave Egypt in July/August, and I am so sad that my time is going to be hacked into so much by AUC.  The fact that it's out in the desert with infrequent bus service just kills when you're dying to feel like you are in Egypt, but are in fact stuck on campus with a bunch of rich Egyptians dying to be American, and a bunch of Americans immersed in academia. Not only that but this week will also involve visiting various offices to get my visa and bus pass sorted out, which one would think should be easy but I'm sure will be an hours-long endeavor. Not really an authentic cultural experience, but I will be spending all day in it instead of out and about in Cairo, the city I love dearly.  This semester I am seriously making a commitment to myself to be off-campus and out on the town with my Egyptian and American friends as much as possible, speaking as much Arabic as possible and taking a bare minimum of classes so that my time isn't cut into.  Honestly I don't care if I get Bs this semester as long as I come out satisfied with the time I spent here.

The fact of the matter is these last couple weeks that I have been just fooling around sewing dance costumes, hanging out, and dancing all the time have been some of the coolest I've spent here.  The other day we had a dozen people at my apartment, all practicing salsa dance, and then we would take a break and be practicing our Arabic and translating songs, finding out things like the Islamic equivalent to "cross your heart" and things like that.  That kind of thing is cultural exchange at it's finest, my friends, just hanging out in a group that comprised Egyptians, Americans, Brits, and a Malaysian dancing, chatting, and working on language.  I feel like I can't give that up for the world, but AUC is going to draw me back into academia again with the attractiveness of learning new things and increasing my knowledge.  This is certainly pleasant as well, but nothing beats just hanging out with my group of friends here and the feeling I get from seeing people come together.

Also I wanted to say sorry everyone for lack of pictures:  I'm just one of those people who is horrible at documenting the moment until it is done, prefers to live things as they happen, and doesn't feel comfortable branding myself as more of a foreigner than I already am.  I must get over it, because stuff keeps happening that I know for sure I'll want pictures of later!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Out Dancing

I'm definitely enjoying my pre-AUC vacation to the fullest here in Cairo, even if it means a crushing lack of sleep and sore legs.  Allow me to explain: I'm now working on (casually) 5 different types of dances now.  Between re-learning how to do belly dance moves in a new way, going out salsa dancing every other night, working on bachata, meringue, and hip-hop I think I could hit up nearly any club around and have some moves to throw out there!  We not only go out, but a couple of us tend to hang out and practice a few times a week in addition, just to get that real wobbly sensation in the legs.

Belly dance is going well, it's difficult work learning to remake my dance image and styling, but hey I did it two years ago and I can do it again, plus I am now getting to the part when we begin to do all the fun stuff.  You have to learn the new techniques before you can speed them up and make them do tricks.  The stuff I'm learning is strenuous, tough, and I'm sure you would love to hear all the details, but frankly my teacher explains these things far better than I can.  Stay tuned for when I have more time/patience to explain further.  Suffice to say though it's going to be pretty damn fantastic when these things start working well and become effortless!

I'm also beginning a translation project with a couple friends to improve my Arabic and to start to compile a resource for dancers.  We just worked through a really adorable Shadia song last night which hopefully I will be using in shows later on. If anyone reading this has a song request to get translated, leave it in the comments or email me!

Salsa, meringue, and bachata are fantastic, and providing that social dance thing I do tend to miss in my life when it isn't present.  Who knew there was a thriving salsa scene in Cairo?  There's several cool places to go, that I recommend you check out if you're a salsa person (or just like social dancing) visiting/living in Cairo.  These are the ones I've been to:

-Bian Cafe near the Atlas hotel in Mohandisiin.  A 50LE minimum charge, no alcoholic drinks, and they play do play bachata and meringue too.  I liked it for the atmosphere, which is sort of warm and casual, plus the 50LE is a minimum charge not a cover, so you can get a lot of fairly decent food.  There's a group lesson before the open dancing which was well-attended so it seems there are regulars who enjoy coming often.

-Stiletto across from the Sheraton on the Nile. 50LE minimum charge too, full bar, and maybe one bacchata song all night in between the salsa music.  Cute, classy place, and on the water so there's a lovely view across to Zamalek, but we got bored with mostly just salsa music and it was less well-attended (or perhaps just seemed like it due to being a big space).  Also there is a full bar, but the drinks tend to be on the weak side.  There are beginner and intermediate lessons beforehand too.  Fun fact: had my first kiss in Cairo here last year!

-Nile Maxim in Zamalek across from the Marriot.  All us belly dancer girls know it, because of the dinner shows, but there's also a salsa club too in case you didn't know!  It's 50LE cover which includes like 2 non-alcoholic drinks, but there is a full bar of imported liquor for which you get your money's worth.  My rum & coke was half Bacardi at least!  The good news is they play a variety of Latin dance music with a few Arabic songs kicked in for good measure--belly dancer-cum-salsa-dancer's dream!  The problem is that the place is dark, in a classy way, and freezing with a small-ish dance floor.  Also, mind the men at the bar and don't hesitate to ask a waiter if he knows the guy that just bought your drink is a creep.  Never give out your number, ladies--take theirs!

People seem surprised when I tell them there is a salsa scene in Cairo, but it seems to be thriving in spite of being small.  It seems like with such a big, highly populated city, there have to be enough people around to go out dancing, even if we're a small group percentage-wise.  I suppose everyone is also wondering what we all wear when going out, which is almost whatever you want. Personally, I don't dress exactly like I would to go out back home, but closer to it.  On top you can pretty much get away with whatever (except maybe something that is the size of a bra: revealing on the top of the shirt or revealing on the bottom, both is not so much) and for the bottom most people opt for pants or knee-length+ skirts, but I can't tell if that's modesty or just the fact that you get spun around a lot in salsa and don't want people seeing what color your "wednesday" drawers are.  Heels are appreciated, especially if you're 5' like me!  I am so, so beyond overjoyed to have a reason to wear my stilettos out somewhere here again and grow my shoe collection to rival the boxes upon boxes I left back home. It's not just vanity either, when I was practicing with a friend I decided to toss the flats and throw on some heels for fun and he ended up going "hey, you're dancing better like this," so there ya go.  I need some aggressiveness in my step to have the right dance attitude apparently.

I also hit up the Cairo Jazz Club in Mohandisiin the other night for my friend's birthday which was great fun.  The music kind of sucked, but the venue was totally cute, clean, well-staffed, but the right amount of dark and smoky for a jazz club.  My friend is German/Egyptian so we were sounded by chatter in all manner of languages, but somehow I ended up seated next to the other American here from New York and we had a fun time chatting and discussing the normal boring things one chats about on life abroad.  If the band had been better and there had been a little more room for dancing it would have been a home run especially due to the imported champagne! I haven't set my eyes on a decent champagne in months.

In other news, this fab girl Liz has arrived from the US and has been staying with me for a couple days till she gets her sea legs and moves into a room in Dokki.  We are having entirely too much fun, but it seems like whenever the terrain here abroad shifts I have a knee-jerk reaction to go paranoid and kick some ass.  One of my friends was right when she said, "it's like the wild west here, you can do whatever you want, but it may take some creativity and some covering up."  I guess I'm getting a gunslinger mentality happening here, but what do you expect to happen when strong women get together?  More on the new developments as they come...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Begin Round 2

Hi dear readers—if you’re out there—I have made it safely back to Cairo once again!  Ilhamdulillah here I am once more in the land of the pyramids.  Rather eventful first week of 2010 I have to say, most everyone knows that my parents were supposed to be traveling back to Cairo with me, but actually here I am without them.

My father got very sick after New Years, and not the fun, post-partying kinda sick.  Turns out he had appendicitis, but it didn’t cause his appendix to explode, just perforate and leak infectious crap into his body.  So he was pretty messed up, and had an overnight stay in the hospital the night before we were supposed to fly out.  Looks like he will not need to have surgery, they are going to keep him on antibiotics for a couple weeks and then reassess, but there’s a 95% chance things will resolve with the antibiotics alone.  Hooray for that, but obviously neither of my parents were able to make it out this time, and I am so bummed.  Here I am with the time I was going to enjoy with my family snatched away and replaced with a good 3 solid weeks of “uhhh…I’m bored.”

“But Nicole!” you may say to me, “You’re in EGYPT, the land of amazingness and pharaohs and historic crap!  Surely, there must be something to do?”  To which I would say check out the receipts from my shopping in Seattle the last two weeks.  Broooke. Seriously though, I will probably go check out some historical sites that I was finally going to see with my parents.

I’m actually writing this first bit at the airport in Germany before my laptop spectacularly dies.  I am temporarily deaf at the moment due to the fact that I have tiiiiny Eustachian tubes (the thingies in your ears that are supposed to pop when you go up or down in altitude) and thus flying causes me to suffer and go deaf and all kinds of fun stuff when mine don’t do what they are supposed to do.  When I flew into Seattle last I had some major jaw pain and got a headache because my damn ears wouldn’t pop…time to see a specialist when I get back to the states I think because I’m flying a lot more often these days and I can’t have my ears ruining things!  Here’s hoping I make it into Cairo without my inside bits exploding!

Very, very strange traveling today.  At the airport watched a couple ravenously making out, slightly nauseated and slightly amused that I would not be seeing such a sight in a good long time.  Then on the plane I was sandwiched between a constantly-arguing Italian couple and an old Indian man singing along quietly to bhangra music on his iPod.  I always end up sitting next to old Indian guys, no idea why but they’re generally polite and quiet and unobtrusive.  Italian couple was definitely not, and it raised the question to me of when we as innocent bystanders should step in and say something.  She was crying a bunch and at one point he seemed to be making fake-strangling motions at her, but they were speaking Italian so I was nervous to step in and tell them to cut it out in case I was completely missing something.  I think I’ve also been back in Seattle for a couple weeks so my “polite innocent bystander who does not insert themself” sense is back in full.  How very un-Cairo of me where people will not hesitate to get all up in your business even if you are speaking a different language and they have no idea what exactly is going on.

So anyway, about two hours out of Frankfurt apparently someone started having “medical difficulties” of some kind.  I’m not sure what happened, but flight attendants were all converging on one seat a bit in front of me, and shortly thereafter made an announcement to see if there were any doctors on the plane.  Well you coulda guessed it—make out boy was some kind of med student or something because he showed up a few minutes later to consult with the flight attendants.  At the time we were somewhere near Amsterdam so I was majorly sweating it we’d have to make an emergency landing, I’d get stranded, yadda yadda.  Didn’t happen, apparently the person was okay and we made it to Frankfurt in time for me to…be sitting around in the airport writing this entry while exhausted and deaf.  Well my computer’s going to die, so the second half will be written from Cairo (providing I make it—actually, if you’re reading this I did make it!)

Here I am again!

Ok, I’ve arrived, seen the boyfriend, eaten pizza, passed out, woken up at dawn (yay internal clock isn’t working at all!), unpacked, put the place back in order, and am now ready to blog once again.  Flight from Frankfurt to Cairo was blissfully uneventful, except for running from the airport to the bus and the bus to the aircraft through the snow. The snow was beautiful though, coming down outside in huge flakes that those of us going to and from warmer climates paused to photograph and admire.  It was magical for me as I haven’t seen snow in a full year, and don’t often get the opportunity anyway.

There was extra security for people transferring to flights leaving from a certain terminal.  I’m pretty sure this certain terminal is where they are putting the flights to the Middle East because I didn’t fly out that way the last time I came through Frankfurt to Cairo.  Monitors hung overhead displaying news and more fear mongering about further terrorist attacks, people slumped around or dozed underneath, and out of boredom I found myself scoping out the others flying to Cairo.  Western families hung out together, looking forward to tourist season in Egypt, while a group of kids a bit younger than me sprawled across benches and chit-chatted to each other, looking like a red-shirted group of young missionaries for some faith or another.  A plainly somewhat rich Cairo family rolled up, carting two daughters and two huge garment bags from a bridal shop which they immediately commandeered an entire row of seats to lay out flat.  The twentysomething year old daughters were rich enough to have all the proper procedures and waxing and shaping to be considered “hot” by most of my guys friends, but underneath the polish and expensive clothes were rather plain looking.  I guess internal and natural beauty aren’t everything if you can roll out some cash.  I settled into a corner next to an Indian woman heading home to Canada and talked about school, living abroad, and other light topics I frequently address when home in America instead of talking about the identity-shaking journey I’m in the middle of.

Well, the transition is almost complete back to Cairo life.  Strange how quickly it happens where something inside me hits “reset” and I go back to just being where I am instead of focusing on where I just left and all the great stuff there.  I’m getting better at it, but it has been very hard to go back and forth so much between California, which I love dearly, Seattle, where my parents are whom I love dearly, and Cairo which I love on certain days and detest on others.  Today I am appreciating the sunniness and the warmth and the fact that the people I subletted the place to in my absence didn’t destroy the place and in fact fixed a couple things.  How sweet!