Hear the Music, Be the Music!
On June 14, 2011, I left home for a month long stay
in Cairo, Egypt, my home away from home. The
purpose of this trip, one of many I've made there,
was to attend Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 as well as visit
with old friends, make new ones and most important
of all this year, to see and experience some of the
changes taking place after Egypt's revolution in
January. What follows is a blog I posted in my Notes
June 14, 2011 ~ Cairo! Feels like home! Over the last 20+ years, I've been
coming here often and every time I arrive, it feels like home - almost as if I never
left. I’ve been here 6 days and am more or less over the jet lag. My brain is
almost adjusted to the new time zone, 9 hours later than California (usually 10
hours, but this year Egypt did not change to daylight savings time), but like a lot of
Egyptians, I stay up a good part of the night and don’t get up until noon or
sometimes even later in order to avoid the heat. Those who can, go to bed
between 6 and 8 am and get up in the late afternoon. I’m going to have to mend
my ways by Monday when Ahlan Wa Sahlan begins. Even if I only take afternoon
classes, they start at 1 and 4 pm. I’m not too far from the Mena House hotel,
where the festival takes place, but it takes about an hour to get there, chat with
people, get into the classroom after showing my ticket, change shoes and get
ready to learn. No more sleeping in if I sign up for a 1 pm class, or heaven forbid,
I have moved into the flat I rented in both 2009 and 2010. It’s a clean, somewhat
larger than I really need, well furnished place with more than adequate air
conditioning in all rooms. Writing this, I'm in the living room with the balcony
door open and the a/c off. It's 1:30 pm, bright and sunny and probably in the high
80s Fahrenheit. Inside it feels like the high 70s. I have dish tv so I can watch the
BBC news and Euronews, a channel that carries world news. There are lots of
movie and music channels so I don't lack for entertainment at home.
Now a few words about conditions here after the January 25 revolution:
In most ways, Cairo is the same old Cairo – noisy and crazy traffic, friendly and
warm people. But there’s something new in the air. It’s the freedom to talk
openly about government, social and economic conditions and just about anything
anyone wants to talk about. Everyone has told me about this and I can feel it in
the air. People are having a really rough time economically, but when they talk
about socio-political issues, their smiles are radiant, not just happy, because of
their newly found freedom to say what they think. There are many signs that
Egypt is coming back and that it will be better than ever.
Public safety has been a concern for foreigners who have canceled their trips to
Egypt since the revolution in late January, early February. Things have definitely
changed since then. The police force is back but has been reorganized. Their
commission is to maintain public safety, not to be the political police that they
were, and they are no longer authorized to shake down the citizens on suspicion of
being dissidents, looking for bribes like they used to do. Many new people are
being trained as police. They have a visible presence in every place that’s popular
with tourists that I’ve been to so far.
You probably have been hearing about continuing demonstrations in Tahrir Square,
the main square in downtown Cairo. There are sometimes political protests as
well as striking workers demanding better working conditions and pay. In the
evenings when there are no strikes or protests, families and groups of friends
come out and enjoy the grassy areas and the snacks and drinks offered by street
vendors who gather there. No one has ever seen the square being used in any of
these ways over the last 30-some years. Everyone has remarked about this.
The biggest concern I’ve heard is that at this point, the Egyptian people, most of
whom have never experienced such freedom, have to sort out where freedom
ends and responsibility to others begins. It will take some time, but I’m sure they
will do it.
My perception is that travel to and inside of Egypt is now safe. All the tourist
destinations are open, operating and anticipating the return of tourism to the
country. The tourists are beginning to trickle in, but Egypt needs more – the
economy depends heavily on them!
Friday night I had a great time at my favorite coffee house with live music, seeing
and greeting all the familiar regulars and, of course, the band and the singers. In
the course of the evening, the owner invited me to do a “performance” to “Inta
Omri”. Wow, what an experience, like something out of an old black and white
Egyptian movie where a dancer performs to an enthusiastic coffee house crowd.
The music of the band: keyboard, ‘oud, riq (tambourine), dohola (bass drum) and
tabla (goblet-shaped drum) along with the beautiful voice of the female singer
Saturday, I had lunch with Raqia Hassan, director of the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival
at which I have taught in the past, and had a far-ranging talk with her. She’s
looking forward to the festival, beginning on the 27th and so am I. It will be
smaller this year because of uncertainties following the revolution and the world
wide economy, but it undoubtedly will be great!
On my 2nd day here, Thursday, I went with the family of my friend Ahmed, who
always helps me when I’m here, to the Dandy Mall on the outskirts of Cairo along
the Desert Rd. that goes to Alexandria. It’s a very large indoor shopping mall and
the main anchor store is Carrefoure, which is very much like a super Walmart. We
stocked up on supplies for the next month for all of us. It was exhausting but
necessary! Took some pictures, which I may upload to Facebook and/or Snapfish
if I can get my computer connected directly to the internet.
Another little tale is of “my” hall kitty – a feral who had kittens outside my door
last year to whom I fed table scraps. She seemed to remember me the first time I
saw her. She was the only one of the ferals who make this building their home
who didn’t bolt when I took a step or two toward them. We got some cheap,
cheap luncheon meat, sort of like bologna, to feed to her. Last night when I got off
the elevator, I looked down the stairwell and saw her. I called to her and she
came running up the stairs! I went inside and got a slice of bologna, ripped it into
little pieces and took it out to her. She meowed to have it and gobbled it down.
Guess I have a little friend.
Report #2 - Cairo, June 26, 2011
Taking today to catch up on some tasks, such as doing some laundry, catch up on
email and writing a new report. Most important I’m “resting up” for the week-long
excitement of Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival which starts tomorrow.
There is no washing machine in this flat and no public self-serve laundries, so I
hand wash everything, using an oversized cooking pot as a wash basin. The wash
is now hanging on the balcony from the backs of the two folding chairs that “live”
there and on my stretch clothesline anchored on the iron railing perched on top of
the concrete balcony wall. Many if not most households have washing machines
but this one doesn’t. Very few have driers. Most people hang their wash on
clotheslines permanently mounted on the balcony, hanging over the sidewalk.
When walking along the streets close to the buildings, you need to watch for
telltale puddles on the ground so you can step sideways to avoid getting a free
shower of drips from newly washed clothes, blankets, sheets, towels, and so on.
Since the 21st when I last wrote, Ahmed’s internet savvy son, Karim, got an
internet USB stick for me so now I’m connected wherever I want to be connected
in Cairo. He set it up for me and it’s very easy to use. It runs a bit faster than
telephone hookup but not as fast as a high speed connection. It’s more than
adequate for my needs – email, facebook, web surfing – as long as I don’t try to
download any YouTube videos and other huge files that take a seemingly
interminable amount of time to complete.
When I think of my first trip here in 1977, I can see what amazing changes have
occurred since then - most of them for the better. When I came then, I had to
carry travelers' checks for the full amount of money I would need for my whole
trip. I could get money from my checking account but only because I had an
American Express card. I could go to their office, write them a check and they
would give me cash in return. Of course, there was no internet, email or anything
else like that. I wrote my trip diary on the pages of a notebook with a pen!
Calling home was done by calling a local number for AT&T and giving them my
home number and the number I wanted to call and a password! It was expensive.
I visited Mahmoud el Ghaffar at his Wikkala costume atelier in Khan el Khalili (old
market area). When I arrived, it was prayer time. I looked around the ground
floor and checked out the cases full of gorgeous scarves and other accessories.
When Mahmoud was finished praying, we sat and talked for a few minutes until
some other customers came in. I went upstairs and found a gorgeous gown with
my name on it! It fits almost perfectly, needing only to have its shoulder seams
adjusted a little. It’s bright carmine red with black and red beading and sequins in
all the right places. It has detached Saidi-dress style sleeves and a matching
draped scarf-like belt. The skirt has godets (triangular insets from hemline to
knees) of black mesh with red and black beading on them – lovely! Can’t wait to
wear it when I dance at the festival!
Since costume shopping, I’ve spent 2 evenings visiting with old friends, first with a
woman I’ve known for 4 years and the other with the composer for two songs on
my CD, Houda el Artist at the studio owned by him and his brother, the famous
drummer Said el Artist.
Zizi, my woman friend, is a lot of fun, speaks English fluently, and spent some time
while we visited helping me with Arabic. We had a great time catching up on our
news and then watched some dancers on her computer and discussed many things
about Egypt and her culture. She and her husband have a new “son” – a beautiful
2-month old long-haired yellow tiger kitten with a sweet personality. I miss my
kitty at home so I got my "kitty fix" by petting and playing with him. She decided
to call him “Cookie”, a word that has no meaning in Arabic and means something
sweet in English. She told me that pets cannot have human names but must be
named either by nonsense sounds or something inanimate or an adjective like
“cupcake” or “bouncy ball”.
It was great to see Houda again at the music studio. Two other musicians were
there hanging out and drinking tea, Arabic (Turkish) coffee or yansoon (anise tea)
and playing Backgammon. There’s little work for musicians these days other than
special parties, engagements, weddings. Many of the Haram St. Night Clubs were
torched during the revolution – don’t ask me, I don’t know who did it or why.
Consequently the musicians often meet for casual conversation, tea, sheesha
(water pipe) and a few rounds of Backgammon or other board and card games.
Backgammon is extremely popular here with many different variations on the
game. Another popular board game is checkers and there’s some interest in chess
too. When going to one of the ‘ahwa (coffee/tea houses) in the evening, always
accompanied by a man, you hear the bubbling sound of the sheeshas and the
clickety-clack of the dice hitting the boards on the tables. The coffee/tea houses
are considered to be “men’s places” and women are usually expected to be
accompanied by a male if they want to sit in one and have tea or coffee and
maybe smoke a sheesha.
Report #3 - June 27, 2011 - more reflections on Egypt and Ahlan Wa
Are you ready to read a looooong update? I hope so, here goes… Well, it's the
first part of a loooooong update.
Since the last time I posted, there has been a lot on my plate other than kofta
(ground meat kabob), ta3ameya (similar to falafel) and shish kebab! Ahlan Wa
Sahlan has come and gone and was a wonderful experience, as usual! I attended
every day, going late on days on which I had no class scheduled, meeting with
people, planned or not, shopping at the booths of vendors lining the hallways,
eating with other dancers and discussing dance in general or our experiences in
classes with the AWS teachers, from super stars like Azza Sherif, Dandash, Dina,
Nelly Fu’ad and, of course Raqia Hassan to teachers/trainers from the Mahmoud
Reda troupe and the dancers from outside of Egypt.
Before I go on and on about the festival, I’d like to add a few notes about my
typical day in Cairo, festival or no festival, as well as more observations about the
rough times in Egypt. I am usually up by noon after which I make my breakfast of
eggs, fresh bread, butter and good Brazilian coffee. I brought a plastic coffee filter
cone and enough paper filters for the month with me and bought the ground coffee
here. I watch the tv news on either BBCWorld or Euronews. Then I get on the
internet, answer and send email, catch up my trip diary on which this blog is
based. Sometimes Ahmed and the bowab’s (doorman's) tween-age daughter bring
supplies and a shrimp or chicken lunch. I give a small tip to the girl and then I
have supplies for another few days, such as “3aish fino” (hot dog bun size
baguettes), bottled water by the case, marinated olives, Laughing Cow cheese,
cheap luncheon meat for the hall kitties, and, of course, eggs. The last time my
stock was replenished, the eggs arrived in a big plastic bag in a “nest” of straw,
including some chicken feathers and other reminders that the eggs came from real
birds! I soaked them in a pot of soapy water for a long time and then used paper
towels to scrub them clean before putting them in the fridge! This is what it means
to have *fresh* eggs – yummy but requiring work before eating!
One day while he was driving me somewhere, using Pyramid Street (Haram St.)
where many night clubs are located, Ahmed’s son Karim told me about watching a
hotel and *all* the night clubs on Haram St. being looted and burned after the
revolution. He said it was the criminals that somehow broke out of jail that did it.
Two night clubs are back in operation now, El Leil and El Andelous. He said that to
him it was the worst day in Egypt’s history – Egyptians looting and burning with no
principals other than greed and extremism.
While talking with a young Egyptian woman about the revolution and coming
changes in Egypt, I said it would be a “bumpy ride.” She didn’t know what
“bumpy” meant so I explained it would be like riding in a hantour (horse cart) and
she laughed, gave me a high five and said “Yes!”
Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011
Opening Night, June 27 – Treat for the eyes and ears, oh yes, the taste
Because there was a smaller crowd this year, the Opening Gala was held on the
Nile Maxim river boat (operated by the Cairo Marriott hotel). At the hotel there
were three big buses ready to take everyone from the Mena House to the boat,
about half an hour’s drive. We arrived at the Maxim in good time by local
standards, with a full security escort of police cars with their blue lights flashing.
Elisa from Australia and I and 3 or 4 others were the last to get off the buses and
we found ourselves in a procession into the boat loading area with the raqs tanoura
dancers and a band of drums, rebabas and mizmars – nothing like making a grand
entrance! The band members encouraged us to dance along as they played so
who are we to argue against that?!
We got decent seats, upstage right, so we could see all the dancers but it was not a
good vantage point for taking pictures. Dinner was delicious and so was the show!
Each star dancer had her own orchestra of 15 to 20 pieces, plus a solo singer or
two plus some backup singers. The music was to die for!
First dancer was Katia, a Russian who has been performing in Cairo for several
years. Excellent raqs sharqi followed by balady/folk and another balady, complete
with tabel balady and mizmars. Her band was wonderful.
Aziza, an Egyptian rising star, was next. I very much enjoyed her oriental
performance as well as her balady. I was pleased to see that Dandash’s sister,
whom I met several years ago, is now Aziza’s singer!
Then Soraya, queen of the drum solo, was next. She did an Egyptian oriental
number as well as one influenced by Brazilian dance styles and a balady number.
Her drum solo is the best of the best!
Dina capped off the evening with a signature oriental show – pure Dina! I love her
new woman singer who reminds me very much of Fatme Sirhan, Dina’s former
singer who is now retired.
During the sit-down dinner at the beginning of the evening, we sailed up and down
the Nile for a time or two. Then they tied up at the dock for the rest of the party,
until about 2 a.m., when we boarded the buses and returned to the festival hotel.
Wonderful evening and wonderful way to start the festival, although I pity those
who had 10:00 a.m. classes the next day!
Why do I go to Ahlan Wa Sahlan so often, other than the fabulous
opportunities to learn from the best teachers in the world?
One of the aspects of AWS that I enjoy most is the contact if offers with dancers
from Egypt, both Egyptian and foreign-born, and from all over the world. It’s a
rare opportunity to find out that our dance idols are real people who are warm and
generous with their knowledge and talent.
Many people come to the festival year after year so each time is a reunion, a
chance to “catch-up” with old friends as well as the opportunity to form new bonds
with other dancers. This time was no exception, even though attendance was
down because of the current state of the world economy and the changes taking
place in Egypt as a result of the revolution in late January. Everyone said over and
over “insha’allah next year!”
One afternoon I met Andre Elbing, one of the two photographers who were
authorized to photograph all aspects of the festival. We ran into each other while
spending some quiet time in the Mamluk Bar. The bar is not currently operating,
so it’s pretty quiet there. Sometimes one needs some quiet time during the
festival with its noise, hubbub and general excitement. To my surprise, Andre
interviewed me on my background, history, philosophy in dance and said he may
use it in an article for one of the dance magazines to which he contributes articles.
Later in the week, I met with Andre again and with Denise Marino, the other
photographer, to make arrangements with both of them to buy some wonderful
photos they took of my performance on the 30th.
On another day I briefly met with Ahmed Samy (his Facebook name) aka Ahmed
el Sweefy about his new online Arabic courses online and at the Lighthouse Arabic
Center in Cairo. It looks like a really good program to learn Arabic.
Every night is a party at Ahlan Wa Sahlan! If you don’t get enough schmoozing
with other dancers between classes or at meals, there’s a Summer Show every
night which is a great chance to get to know new acquaintances better or to hang
out with old friends.
On the first two nights, all the dance slots were reserved for the teachers to
perform if they wanted to. It’s a great opportunity to show what they’re going to
teach, if they want to, and maybe attract more students to their classes. The
other nights are for those who want to join a competition for prizes and for
anybody who wants to sign up to perform and not compete so the dancing ranges
from advanced student to fill time professionals.
Beside all the lovely women who performed on the two teachers’ nights, Loli and
Sherif Ragaey, two young Egyptian male dancers, were real standouts in the line
up. In my opinion, they are likely to become very well known as dancers and
On a personal note, I was surprised by the number of people who asked why I was
not dancing on a teachers’ night. I have taught finger cymbals (sagat, zills) at four
previous festivals, but did not teach this year because of the reduced attendance
and teacher staff. Insha’allah next time. I signed up to dance on one of the other
nights - more about that later.
Again this year, Raqia hired Debbie Smith to be the emcee and general manager
of the dancers at the evening parties, both contestants and those who performed
without competing. Under Debbie’s guidance, the shows ran smoothly from one
dancer to the next and from CD dancers to live music dancers and back again to
CD dancers. Because she speaks fluent Arabic, she was the communications link
between the live music dancers and the band.
Report #4 - Cairo, June 28 - July 3
Classes at AWS
On June 28, the work and play program of the festival began, with classes at 10:
am, 1:00 pm, 1:30 pm and 4 pm. Super Star and Master classes are 3 hours
long. Folklore and beginner classes are 2 hours. There were many, many classes
to choose from but I only enrolled in three. Many attendees sign up for at least 2
classes per day but that is an exhausting schedule, even for the young and very fit!
Azza Sherif taught her 3-hour class by the traditional “I lead, you follow” method,
keeping her eyes on the students and making corrections as needed. I felt
honored that she remembered me from last year and greeted me with a warm hug
Her first number was an oriental choreography in her classic style to a song by
Warda. It included sensuous, internalized torso moves, then some sweeping
moves with unusual turns using the length and width of the stage, then and back to
more torso moves and level changes, expressing the meaning of the love song.
Then she did what to me was a new take on “Alf Layla Wa Layla”, treating each of
the many stops in the music with its own unique changes in direction, focus, quick
level changes, etc. She finished off the 3-hour session with a cute and playful
melaya leff – much more appealing to me thanthe “come on” style I’ve seen done
by many dancers. A cane dance followed with many cane moves that were
playful, not martial arts. At the end, she had a real treat for us. She performed a
short dance in her classic style for us to watch and enjoy.
After class with Azza I felt inspired to finally start writing up an outline for a course
in how to listen to Arabic music, interpret it and dance like an Egyptian, or any
other Arab for that matter. I’ve wanted to teach a course or on-going class on this
aspect of the dance for a long time and now, inspired by legendary dancers and
choreographers of Cairo, I feel I have finally devised a method to do so.
Dandash’s class was great, three hours of soaking up Dandash style of sweet
sassiness. We met several years ago when she was just starting to become a star
and she told me she missed me. I include greetings and interactions with the stars
not to brag but show how most of them are very approachable and really
appreciate us as students of the art of raqs sharqi. First she taught an oriental with
her signature flat foot landings on certain movements along with moves on
upbeats in addition to downbeats and some of her other original dance accents.
She added some moves reminiscent of Suheir Zaki, to whom she is often
compared, and even did some floor work with a few sassy, cheeky hip moves.
Then she performed it for us –wow a mini show! She has retired from performing
so this was a rare occurrence that all of us enjoyed thoroughly.
Raqia’s class concentrated on a choreography to a popular song in sha3abi (of the
people) style. It was full of surprising weight changes, moves on upbeats rather
than downbeats, many level changes (ball of foot to flat with knees bent). In
giving guidance to us, she said “Oriental is small moves, folklore (including
sha3abi) is bigger moves.” She gave examples of how a move would be done in
oriental and folk styles. Her sha3abi is crisp but subtle, NOT flashy or balletic or
athletic. It is cheeky but not sleazy, teasing but not promising. If she’s teaching in
your area, don’t miss her!
Leyla Lanty on stage with the Safaa Farid band!
When signing in for my performance, I talked with Debbie Smith before the show
about adding a short drum solo with a “call and answer” with the drummer. Later,
she told me he asked “was she here last year and she did Saidi?” When Debbie
said yes, he said “definitely ok.” When I danced, it was apparent that the other
band members who were here last year remembered me too. Nice to be
remembered by the musicians!! My show started with a long keyboard taksim
introduction and was incredible fun – Saidi Cocktail (medley) plus drum solo with
call and answer. I received many compliments afterward from several Egyptian
teachers. The little Egyptian girls who watched said they liked it too – could be
because I directed some of my dancing toward them. Found out that the videos
would be available within 24 hours of performances. I got mine the next day but I
haven’t watched it yet…
The closing gala was a great way to end the festival! There were several dancers
all of whom did beautiful performances. I shared a table with an adequate view
with Elisa, Rosadela, who was one of the teachers, and her daughter and friend.
Four of the teachers performed with Safaa’s band and then Leila Farid did her
whole show with them. The leader Safaa Farid is her husband and she regularly
performs with them in Cairo. After that, Jillina did a 3-costume show with another
local band that was excellent. Safaa’s band had 12 pieces plus 2 singers, the other
had 15 pieces plus a singer. Then Ahmed el Khateeb (Khatip) sang and we all
danced. I left at 2:30 am but I’m sure it continued at least until 3:00.
Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 is finished. Though scaled down this year, it was
a great success and a beautiful experience.
Report #5 – Cairo, July 11, 2011 – Weddings, Visiting Raqia, Some
thoughts about Egypt’s future
Wedding at a club (not a night club!):
Next evening after the festival closed, I went to a wedding at an “engineer’s” club
in Nasr City, one of Cairo’s suburbs. The many clubs all over greater Cairo are
places where members of various organizations meet that have banquet halls that
are rented for wedding, anniversary, birthday and other parties. I went with
Ahmed and his son Osama but once inside, I sat with some women I’d met earlier
in my stay here. One of them took me by the arm to go congratulate the
newlyweds at the beginning of the party, after the zeffa. At our table, we
“hobbled” along in broken Arabic and English.
There were the usual wedding celebrations, including the first dance by the
newlyweds as husband and wife, dances of the husband with his friends and family,
dances of the wife with her friends and family and so on. This was done to disco
music spun by a deejay. Later a sha3aby singer and his band arrived. It was
LOUD!! We left after the singer had sung for only half an hour – all we could hear
were the 5 large duffs – not the 2 keyboards, not the trombone or other melody
instruments. Probably just what the young couple wanted! Kids these days!!!
Street Wedding, the Henna Party:
Karim took me to join his family at a street wedding near downtown Cairo. His
brother, Mohammed, was waiting at the entrance of the side street location and he
took me past where the men were seated to the women’s area, the short leg of
the L-shaped enclosure, where I sat with his mother and his fiance. His mom and
fiance explained to me that this was the henna party and that tomorrow the
wedding party (the afrah) will take place. The more extravagant Arab weddings
have three nights of celebrations: the family party for close family of bride and
groom, the henna party the next night when the bride and groom get their palms
painted with red henna and on the third day the wedding party, held after the
wedding papers are signed.
The walls of the long leg of the enclosure, where the men sat, were red and white
satiny cloth, made to look like drapes hung at floor to ceiling windows. The women’
s section had more colorful satiny tent fabric with appliquéd oriental designs in blue
plus accent colors. The ladies sat at the side of the band, which was set up in the
corner of the “L” shaped space, so we couldn’t see the stage well. No problem,
they supplied a large flat screen monitor so we could see everything the men could
see from their vantage point. Of course, there was NO problem hearing the band
(!): tabla, duffs, sagat, mazhar, keyboard. Walking through the men’s area, the
sound was painfully loud. One advantage of sitting with the women on the side
was that the speakers were aimed at the men so the sound level was just loud, not
The men had tables with fruit baskets on them in the shape of reed boats wrapped
in aluminum foil. The women didn’t have tables but were served wrapped fruit
trays to be shared by people sitting together, same contents as served to the
men. All were served bottled water and sodas.
The music was mainly sha3abi with two “street wedding” dancers on stage
throughout. The dancers wore matching color brown costumes, one a dress with
spaghetti straps, high slit over left leg and Dina-esque bra, the other a Dina-esque
revealing bra and mini – mini skirt with an attached waist band. The latter dancer
could shimmy well and actually danced to the changes in the music but the other
one just flounced around, “phoning it in” – both were what I call “street wedding
dancers,” in it for the money but not necessarily the art. They were obviously
there to entertain the men. They rarely looked at the women.
There was the usual emcee calling for money by rapping about the couple and
those who already gave money. Many men came to the stage to throw money
over the emcee, dancers and singer. All of that was destined for the newlyweds.
Karim’s mom kept telling me to get up and dance for the ladies and I declined for a
while, but finally got up and entertained them for a bit. Almost all of them smiled
and danced in their chairs and seemed to enjoy it more than they did the hired
dancers on the stage. I did special hip moves and shoulder shimmies with several
of them, leaning back and forth with them, even though they stayed seated. It
was hard to dance on the compressed dirt surface, but after a couple of minutes I
got my footing and had a great time dancing for one song. Later, after a phone
call from his mom to say “let’s go!”, Karim came to escort us through the men’s
section out to the street and to the car.
Get-together at Raqia’s:
Party time at Raqia’s! At the AWS Closing Gala, Raqia invited me to come see her
a few days later. It was a virtual parade of stars, teachers, students dropping in
all afternoon into early evening: Khalid Mahmoud, Nourhan Sherif, Do’aa, Soraya,
Ahmed el Khatiip, then Nelly Fu’ad, Mohammed Shaheen, Loli, Lorena, who won
2nd place in the AWS competition this year, & her hubbie from Spain-now
Dominican Republic for a lesson with Do’aa, Dana from Chile, Katia and three
Russian friends including Daria Mitskevich who won last year’s competition, Abdo,
Tamer Yehya. Later when we were all leaving, Katia hugged me and told her
Russian friends “She is really Egyptian lady, the Egyptian sagat lady!”
Gunfire in the streets! No, nothing to worry about, read on.
One evening, while I was eating a snack and watching TV at home, there was a lot
of “beep beep beep-beep-beep”, celebratory honking and what sounded like a lot
of gun shots outside. I did NOT go out on the balcony to check! Later I called
Karim about it and he said yes it really was gunshots, celebrating a wedding “don’t
worry, ya Leyla, only a wedding!” Whew!
More about Egypt’s future:
I went to see my close friend Shadia again. It was great to talk about a wide
range of topics, Egyptian politics and societal issues included, like the continuing
trend for Muslim women and girls to wear scarves – many, if not most, to make a
fashion statement, others because of family/husband/peer pressure. The factors
behind the current scarf-wearing trend are many and varied. She also remarked
that many, many facets of society, law, procedures, etc., have to change in Egypt
to make the new-found freedom work for everyone. It’s going to be a long haul
but I think, along with all my Egyptian friends, that the result will be good for
Egypt and Egyptians in the long run.
Report #6 – Cairo, July 14, 2011 – My Last Week - dinner party, musician
Visits with Musician Houda el Artist:
During my stay in Cairo, I visited with Houda el Artist, composer and
accordion/keyboard master, at his and his brother, Sa3ed el Artist’s, music studio.
We discussed various topics in music, friendship, etc. and drank tea and yansoon
(anise tea). He composed two of the songs on my CD “Golden Days Enchanting
Nights.” We had a nice long talk about dancing with the music and about the
“dance like an Egyptian or any other Arab” course I’m planning. According to him,
I’m on the right track. I got the same reaction from Raqia when I discussed it with
her, so I’m going to go ahead with my plans and offer it late fall or mid-winter.
We talked again about the social and political situation in Egypt and he said he
thought things will get better in 2 or 3 years but it will be a bumpy ride.
Party with Mdm. Shadia and Family:
I met with Ahmed and his family at their place (in the same building) and we
walked about 5 blocks to the home of Ahmed’s daughter-in-law-to-be. I walked
with the ladies, a 2-year-old girl, Habiba, and a 3-year-old boy. I’m glad the kids
were with us, forcing us to walk slowly, because the unpaved street was hard with
lots of potholes, rocks and ruts. We got to the building and the elevator came
when called but the car was a good 1.5 feet up from where it belonged. In
apartment buildings, the bowabs (doormen) know how to fix them but I wasn’t
about to get into it in that condition! The elevator was just big enough for 2 adults,
3 if they’re skinny, and the misalignment combined with the claustrophobic size did
not appeal to me, so up the 3 flights I climbed.
While waiting for dinner to arrive (delivery from a nearby seafood place), we had
grapes and freshly cut melon and there were many animated conversations among
the dozen or so people who were present. It was great fun to watch Karim and the
other young men playing with the children, teasing, gently pinching then hugging
them then bench-pressing the toddlers and swinging them around. I’ve seen this
often here, that men and boys will readily play with the little ones in a way that is
much more involved than I’ve seen at home.
After dinner of delicious shrimp, grilled fish with special spices, salad, brown rice,
followed by tea, yansoon, karkady, Shadia and May pulled me into the back
bedroom for some real partying. We took turns dancing solo and dancing with
each other. Following Shadia’s intricate sha3abi-sharqi moves was difficult at
times but great fun. We danced to a new sha3abi song. All four of us women took
turns to show how we dance to this song. Each one had different ways of
interpreting it and each version fit the music beautifully!
More About the Feral Animals:
Life for the street cats and dogs here is hard. People give handouts to the feral
cats, but feral dogs seem to be considered more of a nuisance than cats. My
"adopted" kitties are part of the group of feral cats that live in the halls of the 11
story building where I rented the apartment. Those that come to my door on a
fairly regular basis are 2 adult females and 2 two-month+ old kittens. Once in a
while a black cat, probably a year old, shows up. The kittens want to follow me
back inside the apartment. Even the young ones know where the food comes
from! All but one of the females will let me come within a foot of them whether I
have food in my hands or not.
A Note on Public Accommodations:
On the way to some activities, I developed a need to pee and that can be a real
problem here. Stores do not usually have toilets for either customers or staff.
Where people "go" I don't know. When I'm out and have to go, I look for an
American restaurant or some big classy-looking restaurant and use theirs. No one
seems to mind. The Mickey D's, KFC's and Pizza Huts always have super clean
bathrooms and some of them even have toilet paper!! I always carry some facial
tissues just in case. Everyone here always carries a packet or two of facial tissues
for various purposes. The local version of the tissues is very thick, more like a
paper napkin than our sneeze catchers. The better restaurants put a box of them
on the tables for customers to use as napkins.
Last Evening in Cairo:
I spent my last evening in downtown Cairo shopping for myself for a “blingy”
abaya, the long loose robe that many of the women wear sometimes on the street
and often for special occasions. I found one with an unusual asymmetric design of
rhinestones on black fabric – plenty of “bling” and elegant, gorgeous! On the way
home we stopped on a side street close to the home neighborhood for delicious
kofta (ground beef kabobs). What a yummy way to wrap up my stay in Cairo!
Back in California:
I have mixed feelings about being back – glad to be home but would love to have
stayed in Cairo longer. Maybe some day…