Monday, July 31, 2006

Fruit + Veg

you know it really doesn't taste as good anywhere else........... the food usually is only available in season- so sometimes you are limited (although the supermarkets import as they do everywhere) but the local produce is the best- esp. the organic fruit and veg which is more expensive of course than non organic but still pennies compared to what you would pay in uk for it! Down side is that things in supermarket come prepacked in kilo's- so if you just want salad one day , but not the next 3 then you are kind of stuck. I tend to try and cook enough for a couple of days and reheat. The aubergine esp. is so tasty and cheap here (my favourite way of cooking that at the moment is frying it with lots of moroccan spices and stuffing slices of it with feta cheese- Yummm!)
Then of course there are the fruit sellers on the streets- where the fruit is usually very fresh and much cheaper......... but then you have to do the whole haggle thing which can sometimes take away from the sweet taste of the fruit! you tend to see a whole cart with only one fruit- at the moment its fresh figs (amazing blended with milk- thanks for that blender Elspeth!!!!) and prickly pear- which they skin for you then and there- very refreshing. Oh and I bought my first watermelon last week- it was huge and although I had some each day it lasted nearly the week! fantastic to buy unseeded ones- so sweet and easy to eat- not good for diabetics!!!
The easiest way to get your fruit intake here is the juice bars. you see wee shops everywhere with mesh bags hanging outside with whatever fruit is currently in season- its mango just now and you buy a glass of it- freshly squeezed there and then and return the glass! there are a couple of juice bars near ish me where you go in your car- toot your horn ( one is actually called 'toot express'!) and the waiters come to your car window take your order for juice (thats all they have- but every flavour you can think of- all fresh) and you sit in your car drinking it. A nice way of catching up with friends on warm summer nights!
I would love to add some photos of the carts here but not got any good ones yet, amazing what you see on a daily basis and take for granted- doing this blog has really made me realise what I need to photograph!!!- will update as soon as I can!!

oh- and feel free to add your comments to any of the entries I've made so far- always great to get feedback- or suggestions on what you'd like to hear more about! (I'll add more about dance as soon as possible!!)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Miss the kids

Most of you who know me know that my sister had a baby boy, Sam, just before I left Edinburgh to move to Cairo. Thankfully she got hold of a webcam so I often get to watch wee Sam playing or eating and watching him grow that way- its so hard to see so many changes from so far away and wish I was there. Here's a photo of him so you can see why I'm missing him!

Cute huh?!!! Then of course I want to mention the others I miss too- but if I start putting in photos of them all it'll be like a nursery yearbook what with so many people having children recently! so Maya, and Christophe, Scott, and baby Hannah, and I haven't even seen the newest one yet- Lilia! 4 months is such a short section of someones life, and thats all I have been here for so far- but it seems huge to me just now, seeing and hearing what I am missing!!!!

of course you dont have to be under 5 to know I am missing you............!!!!


While I am on the theme of beautiful scenes -I have to quickly mention the sunsets (since there is another stunning one happening as I type this) I have never before seen such skies- its gorgeous!!! I know, but try hard to forget that the oranges and reds wouldn't be quite so orange or red if it wasn't for all the pollution and sand in the atmosphere- but at least there is some small benefit to that even if it is only visual. its a magical time here- watching the sun set and the lights of cairo switch on- definaltly the best time of day to see Cairo! still kicking myslef that I didn;t have my camera with me on the felucca ride at sunset so I could show you those- ah well- as good an excuse as any to do it again!!!!


ok- its not Cairo- but it may as well be at this time of year for the number of people who will be there now! The streets of Cairo now are relativly quiet now every weekend as everyone who can afford to heads up to the seaside- the whole coast line is scattered with holiday resorts (similar to butlins!) to the extent that there aren't even any big hotels- so one of Egypts best selling points for tourism isn't unfortuantly available, easliy to tourists. Ah well- perhaps it is right that egyptians should get to enjoy their own natural resource without us there!!! a couple of months ago I went up to the north coast of egypt with a small group of friends. We had this, the most beautiful beach I have ever been on, completely to ourselves!!! the waves were wonderfully refreshing, but strong (wouldn't like to have had to keep an eye on children in them!!!) white white sand and the colours of blue in the water were breathtaking. the only people we saw on the beach were these fishermen! Ah- its hard writing this when I know its going to be unlikely that I can get out the concrete city for quite some time!!!

Dance Costumes

Costumes! Finally I hear you cry- something in this blog which is dance related!!! What can I say…….. I've been very well behaved- normally I buy more costumes in 4 days than I have in the last 4 months- but I suspect that may change soon! I have a beautiful new straight skirt by Amera (pharonics costumers) to go with the lovely white costume I wore in the fringe show last year- chiffon just isn’t in- I suspect it may well come back into fashion soon- but at the moment, if its not mesh or lyrca its just not the done thing! I also had my red and white galabeya's altered to feel a bit tighter….. and bought a stunning new blue/turquoise mesh galabeya- its to die for!!! Then there is the cher costume- black with metal chains- by Eman- super sexy! And of course the impulse buy- which I haven't worn yet ( but it was my birthday- you have to buy yourself something on your birthday don’t you!!!)- the black and white pattern one- again very striking- with a long split on one leg and a shorter one on the other- means which ever leg you do your move on it shows it off really well. Very happy with it- just need to get a couple of adjustments done and then I'll probably live in it! My wish list for costumes is far longer than my bought list- but no more purchases til I am earning! ( oh- except that I have a midnight blue one on order from Eman- forgot about that!!!) photos of new costumes will follow as soon as I have some taken!!

The Wildlife

This is the section my mum shouldn't read or she'll never come to visit!! Thankfully I don’t seem to have a cockroach issue in this apartment- not seen one at all (touch wood!), so its probably been sprayed at some point since most places get them at this time of year….. however the ants are a constant companion- party since I am not as good at cleaning up after me as I should be, and I eat all round the apartment, not just in the kitchen, and partly because they are able to hide so well- never had the chance to watch the way ants work before- they live in the electricity sockets!! I have sat here on a few nights typing away and watching the ants climbing up my DSL line from the wall right up onto the laptop where I have to say they meet a grizzly end! (Oh- and I brought some spray too- that defiantly helps!!!
For a few days I had a wee gecko living in my dining room too- so sweet- hours of fun watching it run from one wall to another changing colour as it went! Then there are the birds which roost above my balcony and wake me in the morning with their cooing- nice, unless you want to hang your washing out! Since I live above the Gazira club I watch the horses down below- a fine sight. Another benefit of living on the 20th floor is watching birds soar below you- I have spent many moments enviously watching them!!
Then there is the insects-mosquitoes everywhere- but thankfully they don’t like the taste of my blood too much so its only my guests that get it- (don’t worry- those of you coming over- I've invested in some plug in stuff that seems to work!!!) one of the horrible animal related things which goes on, esp. in Zamalek, is the shooting at night of stray dogs. Horrible the first time you hear it! Lots of cats everywhere (thankfully to keep the rats at bay- they are horrible looking things here- huge back ends and long tails- thankfully only seen them once, which I guess is surprising since I live on the Nile front). Anyway- the cats all look like perfect Egyptian cats- long thin knowing faces- almost as though they were around in the time of the pharaohs!

Haven't had much to do with camels so far (expect sharing a camel ride with my friend Christine when she came out to stay- sore inner thighs for days after that one!!) and you do see donkeys and horses fairly often along the streets (once you get out of the city centre anyway) where they stand patiently all day with crates of watermelon, or oranges or whatever happens to be in season at the time. Of course- you also see the cows, sheep, chicken and rabbits all standing at a roadside blissfully unaware of what is to come. Can handle most of it except the wee bunny rabbits (probably since I had one as a pet as a child!) There is supposed to be a very cute pic of a camel here now- but it wont attach for some reason- being stubborn- I guess I should be grateful its not spitting!!!

The Ballet Lesson

The Ballet lesson- I have never wanted to do ballet, and never imagined I would- but I realised that a lot of the moves that I need to make improvement in are ballet based spins, turns arms etc. So Shams (actually his real name is Walid) agreed to run though the basics with me in their dance studio in Maadi where I teach. HARD work! Hard enough just getting your feet into certain positions but then to move from one position to another, and to bend your knees and squat in that position too, then up on toes……… wow- now I really understand why ballet dancers have the amazing leg muscles that they do- they need them! Calf muscles will be getting a bit more attention in the gym than they've had before! Not to mention doing all of that with a book on my head- my neck muscles were feeling it by the end of the session too! Book on the head good teaching tip for bellydance too- impossible to look at your hips, feet or the floor, with the rough guide to Egypt balanced up there!

The Gym

The Gym- another place where I have spent many sweaty hours since I arrived in March. Since I have danced full time for over 9 years I haven't really done any other types of exercise and forgot how much I do enjoy it and I am liking seeing some of the improvements. I don’t mind admitting I did actually cry after my first gym session when I realised how unfit I am in certain areas- scary! I had always felt dance kept me totally fit, now I know what Dina was talking about when she told me I had to go to the gym and get stronger (nice bit of name dropping there?!!!) Sit ups kill me!!!!!!! But aerobic, stretch and dance classes I am really enjoying! As much as I love teaching it is making a really nice change being told what to do for a change. So I have spent quite a lot of money on the membership and was there about 4/5 days per week before I started Arabic classes but have lapsed a little- so need to do the Scottish thing- and get back there just so I am getting my money's worth!!! The Gym is a good Gym- so well equipped and very expensive- so only a small percentage of the population can afford to go there. Mostly men- but they do have a female only section, for the veiled women and those of us who like a bit of peace when we are working out! What I find bizarre in the changing room is the way some women will come into the room shouting some poor attendant's name, who has to come running, for what? To open this woman's bag and unfold her training gear, help her into it, then fold her clothes to put into her locker for her….. Then the same in reverse when she finishes working out. Often the woman would stand waiting for help far longer than it would take for her to have dressed herself. How the other half live!!!

Arabic classes

Arabic classes- so annoyed with myself that I didn’t' start them as soon as I arrived. I had been doing some private classes here but really didn't feel I retained any info or improved at all- but I must have a little because when I went to school (kalimat, in mohandiseen- highly recommended) I was able to jump into level 2 so had covered at least 3 weeks of intensive lessons worth. Not a complete waste of time or money then. I have met some lovely people there, living in Cairo for a huge range of reasons and all in class wanting to learn Arabic (amaya- the stuff people speak on the street- not fushat or reading or writing- although taught myself the alphabet form a book- was very proud of myself!!!) so moving into level 3 next week- another 3 weeks of 3 hrs a day 5 days per week. I have about 60/70 verbs I have to memorise- its scary stuff, but good- definitely making an improvement, slowly! It’s a challenge, but one I am quite enjoying- was strange being a student in class again after so many years away from formal education and after being a teacher for so long. Now the hardest job is finding people who will speak Arabic with me- most of the Egyptians I know want to practise their English…and since their English is usually much better than my Arabic then that’s what we end up talking in. Taxis are the best source of practise, and a few people in the music and dance scene who don’t speak English, but its still hard going! Guess part of that is my fault for living I Zamalek which has a huge percentage of foreigners living in it, so Egyptians living and working here are used to dealing in English

The Park

One of the newest places to wander round at night, or by day, is Al Azhar Park. Stunning views across the whole of Cairo and beautiful gardens and water features and places to eat- when I first arrived in Cairo I spent quite a lot of time here!! A great place to get away from it all!

This is turning into a 'what to do while you are in Cairo on holiday' blog. Ah well- it's part of what I have been doing and enjoying so why not!!! Other parts of what I have been doing haven't been quite as enjoyable- but I'll get onto the stress of paperwork later!


Then there is the shopping- this should be titled nightlife too because this is when downtown comes alive! All the good as displayed in the windows- so you only really go into a shop if you are trying or buying- to window shop, you do literally just that. There are whole streets or areas where all you see are shoes, or men's clothes, or woman's clothes, or household things etc. In addition to the shops there are all the street vendors selling anything (sunglasses, clothes, jewellery etc) they can fit on a board they can pick up and run off with if the police come round looking at work permits! So the streets are jam-packed, esp. on a Thursday night when everyone gets their lie in before the prayers on Friday. Everyone is dressed up in their 'Sunday' best and cars actually do try to cruise, ironically enough, since the traffic is so tight you often it still for over 5 mins at least on sharia Talet Harb! Something that should be experienced- but shopping for me, a foreign girl, is definitely less stressful during the day- even in the heat!!! Or in the air-conditioned shopping malls of which there are many. Last night I went to the Mall at the Grand Hyatt hotel and was amazed to see so many women in full black higab, out shopping late at night with their children and watching all the men file of to the mosque area in the mall at the call to prayer. It's another world, even if it’s the same shops (although the 99p shops here are equivalent of 25p shops- it's great!) oh- and the Bling is everywhere, on everything!!! Diamante on diamante- shoes, jeans, tops, jewellery, bags. You name it- it sparkles! Another thing about the shopping that always surprises me- women having to buy underwear from stalls on the street manned by men. Seemingly the good ones (i.e. good at their job) can just look at you and gauge your size and cup size- but imagine a woman (usually veiled and wearing clothes designed to hide the shape of your body) standing there waiting for her size to be assessed. It’s an area for female entrepreneurs to consider! The shops generally open until midnight, although in Khan el Khalili there are often some shops open 24/7, mind you they only sell tourist stuff! That’s the place to go on a weekend night, esp. now in the summer to see all the newly engaged or married couples walking around in their finery, visiting Hussain mosque and having a drink in fishawy café, with musicians wandering around the tables busking. Some wonderful drumming to be had as well (unless you stay in the Hussain where it can interfere with sleep on a nightly basis! In fact it feels really strange spending so little time in the Khan, since most of my previous trips here have been based from there! Forever thinking really should go and chat to everyone there- but always seems to be something else going on, and it's amazing what you end up doing to avoid a hot taxi journey during the day!!! You'll note I haven't even hinted about bellydance costume shopping here........... that needs a whole section for itself- so you have to wait for that one!!!


Another way to escape the heat slightly is again to get near the Nile- this time by felucca. Beautiful white triangular sails (ok so some have coca-cola plastered over them – but let me enjoy the romance of the idea) look like dancers performing a sedate ballet as couples, families, and wedding parties take to the water and away from prying eyes… usually food is taken on board (in fact most social occasions involve food) and occasionally alcohol since one of the few places young people can get away from adult interference. Weddings on board a felucca often have music blasting out which can spoil the calm but everyone on board is in such a holiday spirit that all is forgiven. Felucca's can be as cheap as 20le for the hour (can be up to 100le too !!!) so it a lovely way to get away from the noise of Cairo for a couple of hours- esp. if you take the felucca from Maadi area so it can move more and not be trapped between the many Nile bridges. The worst bit about taking a felucca is coming back to the road again afterwards!

The Bridge

For those unfortunates who can't afford the above places in the evening there is always the bridge. Its hard to imagine living in a hot country if you never have, and what you do to try to escape the heat….but one of the most bizarre and romantic ideas I've come across is the bridge- any bridge, over the Nile. At anytime of night, from just before sunset to, well all night actually, you will see people on the bridge, parking their car on the bridge, taking out seats, stools, blankets, food, bbq's etc they picnic on the bridge each night, while others fish (at 3 am) and children play, and popcorn/corn on the cob/and juice stands all rake in the customers- not to mention all the young boys and girls selling red roses. 'Lovers' – or more accurately perhaps, 'courting couples' gaze lovingly into each others eyes, often with a 3rd party (sister, brother, cousin etc) standing off to the side, acting as chaperone. In fact these couples make up the vast majority of any public area at night- the corniche, gardens, or juice/sweets kiosks ( the equivalent to the chip shops or bus shelters at home I guess!!!) The Egyptians are known across the Arab world as the romantic nation (a bit like Italy is in Europe) and it's easy to see why when you walk about around 8pm at night! If they aren't already part of a couple they hang about in small groups of guys or girls, trying to catch the eye of the one they like walking by! An entertaining hour or two can be had just watching all of this!

Cafes and Cinemas

The Café culture is huge here- from the men gathering in Akwa's (coffee/tea/sheesha) shops which are even more common in Cairo than pubs in Scotland, to the Cilantros/Beanos/Costa style places (a bit like starbucks) for the young, trendy and better off. Cinema is popular too- although they always have an interval half way through (I guess because so many people here smoke?) and the air con is so strong you feel ill and shivery by the end! Oh- and then there are the mobile phones, and the munching lib (seeds which are cracked open with your teeth) and the kids running around- need I say more? Anyway saw two fabulous films recently- both in Arabic (so I hassled friends to translated most of them for me) the 'Yacoubian Building' and 'Halim'. The first one (from a fabulous book which I recommend and am so glad I had read before seeing the film!) has a few gay scenes in it, so surprising it is still being shown here really where it is actually illegal to be gay and men are often locked up for it! The audience reaction to these parts really surprised me- everyone laughed- their discomfort around the whole topic was so strong they responded like young boys hearing names of body parts!!! Then in the film called 'Halim' all about the life of the famous singer Abdel Halim Hafiz- amazing and sad story- there was a lot of music and a friends dad, who was sitting next to me would call out 'Ya Sallem' or 'Allah' at particularly moving pieces of music- and tell me how on the day Nasser resigned he went with his friends into the street to listen to the same speech we heard on the film. Would love to see the film with subtitles so I understand it all more fully!

More nightlife

I'm enjoying the selection of Live Music too. There are 2 bars which have live bands most night, Cairo Jazz Club and After Eight. Have seen a selection of Rai to Oriental to Jazz in these places- small and smoky, but a great way to let your hair down now and then (Cairo Jazz club has a boogie night on wed's with all the oldies- was hearing music I hadn’t heard since primary school- great fun!!!) The other 2 main places for live music and the Cairo opera house and Sawy centre- both on Zamalek, have seen a couple of bands (well- more like orchestras really) in Cairo opera house, beautiful venue, well run (except their website) and they stage big events like Mohammed Mounir in concert as well as smaller scale 'stars'. Sawy centre is a cultural centre (much better website!) and they have everything you can imagine- 2 halls, with something on every night from live music (rock, pop, classical, world- everything) to poetry and Sufi chanting etc etc, sculpture and painting too. During the world cup they showed films everyday about each of the different countries in it- so you got to learn about the people and life and culture of Italy before you watched them fight it out on the field- a nice idea I thought. Another place I have seen live music was a new one for me- the Makan centre- they have a Zar night every Wednesday- what amazing characters and voices- although eh girl I was with got a little freaked out by the whole idea of it (Zar has been banned from general practise because it is said to be done to call on spirits, and Jesus and Mohamed, to help cure people who are sick) Must be seen!!! I haven't even touched on the bellydance scene here- but I'll get to that soon!!!


The nightlife in Cairo is for me very interesting and I've really been sampling a lot of it! Salsa dancing at the Nile Hilton on Friday and Sunday nights- this changed in the summer (because so many people leave Cairo at the weekend) to Sunday and Tuesday nights. Salsa at La Piste on wed night too but not been there for a while- although at least their air con works, and not sure if salsa at Sway on a Monday took off or not since it’s a strange space for it, but should check it out I guess since it’s so close to my flat! The nightclubs I've sampled can be strange places. 'Latex' at the Nile Hilton has an assortment of young wealthy-ish Egyptians and foreigners and the night I went there was r+b music, which is as popular as it is in the UK…. But most nights it is dance/techno music- not my scene. 'Bling Bling' was another club, on the sunset boat, Giza, which played only r+b and hip hop- really had fun there- esp. watching the breakdance dance-offs- some good young very flexible dancers there! On the Blue Nile boat there is a beautiful restaurant/bar/club called Morocco. I didn’t stay to dance but the music was a mix of Arabic pop, dance and r+b. Ate the pigeon pastilla there- to die for!!!! Sangria is a stunning bar/club/restaurant right on the Nile opposite the Conrad hotel…dead the night I went because more sensible (and wealthy enough) Egyptians get out the city and head to the beach at the weekends. My nicest moments have been spent in another Nile side open air bar/restaurant on Zamalek called Sequoia. Beautiful décor- all white chairs… and best sheesha selection in town (they bring a tray with about 50 different flavours for you to smell before you decide which one to try!) and the food ain't bad either! Through the summer half the place is bought out by a place called Sultan and caters especially to the influx of gulfies who escape the heat and come to Cairo so the music is large khaleegy and it makes for a very entertaining evenings viewing!


My apartment block is on the corniche- every road which runs along side the Nile is the corniche- can be very confusing in taxi directions, so each day I play chicken- how to cross the road, just so I can get a taxi!! No story about Cairo would be complete without a section on the taxis. Hmmm. There are always lots of them, since not so many people can afford to run their own car (not that you'd think that when you see the traffic of course) and they can be any model of car (sometimes bits of more than one welded together!!!) and are distinguished by their black and white colouring. They are strange creatures-often temperamental, with strange habits and dress sense- the cars and the drivers! The cars interior décor is always memorable- from furry seat covers, or dashboard covers, to anything you can imagine hanging form the rear view mirror- from Koran, and prayer beads to toys and flashing kitsch. Often the driver will put photos of his whole family around the car, like you would put photos up in an office, and yesterdays cab had the photos of the drivers 2 children on the back of the each of the headrest so the passengers see the whole time…. Cute? Or a bargaining strategy to obtain a higher fare??? So then we get on to the topic of money….. How much should a taxi ride cost? Well it seems to really depend a lot on where you are from- defiantly an Egyptian versus tourist price- but what about us unlucky few who come into neither category? Foreign but not earning! That’s when things get hard- bargaining skills are honed, and you get very adept at getting out a taxi and passing whatever money you think he should get (never female drivers of course) though the window as you scurry off hoping they won't jump out the taxi shouting at you that you haven’t left enough (this does happen on a fairly regular basis!) Then of course there are the mirrors attached onto the windscreen purely for the purpose of watching you whilst they are driving- a lovely feeling having an entire journey with eyes glued on your every move- I've taken to always having a book in my bag so at least I don’t see it happening. Oh, and they all smoke. I shouldn’t paint them all bad though- the elation you feel when you have a 'nice' taxi driver is really worth a mention- someone who helps you practise your Arabic and tries to make conversation (that doesn't involved if you are married and want to be friends) not to mention having a taxi driver who knows where you are going- now that is rare indeed- no sitting the knowledge for these guys…… so if your Arabic is bad, it can be hard- esp. since many can't read or write, so even if you go to the extent of having a friend write down directions in Arabic, they often still can't get you there. So basically you take your life in your hands when you get in a taxi (but the alternative is the buses- Hmmm, or the metro- ok in women's carriage)

My Apartment

So- I arrived in Cairo, back in march 06, and stayed with a friend, Anna, until I found an apartment to rent. Found a stunning place in Zamalek, with views over the Nile on both sides (Zamalek is an island in the middle of the Nile in the heart of Cairo), on a clear-ish day (never really get a clear day) I can see the pyramids and also the citadel. The Gazira club (a private owned, expensive to join 'country' club which takes up the majority of the land on Zamalek is directly underneath my bedroom balcony so I can watch the golfers and runners out in the morning, and the horses being washed down in the stables. Idyllic really. The apartment bock has its Egyptian traits- the bowabs (doormen who sleep under the stairs and who's job it is to open lift doors, carry heavy bags, sort the mail, run errands, keep entrance way and stairs clean and lifts functioning and generally know everybody's business- who visits who, how long they stay- no joke, it is said that, in the time of Nasser, various members of government had planted spies in certain buildings to keep a close eye on the comings and goings of the residents!) There is also the small matter of the flat above me which is being refurbished- and all the noise that that entails- but thankfully they seem to be nearing the end of their project and have completed all the wall knocking down they had to do!!! Here's a photo of my beautiful manzar (view!).............

Realising the dream

Well…. I moved to Cairo at the end of March 2006. Why? Because I have a dream to make come true! I never thought I would ever get to a high level in this dance form to be considered good enough to dance in its country of origin (possibly because in Scotland, traditionally, we are rarely encouraged to believe ourselves good enough for anything- very unfortunate cultural trait!). It was a dream I was scared to even own. But after very encouraging words from my teachers in Cairo (including Raqia Hussain) last year I decided to take the biggest risk of my life, leave behind my partner, family, friends, students and regular dance classes, workshops and performances in order to reach the grail- working as a dancer in Cairo. Telling all my students that I was leaving was one of the hardest things about it all….. But thankfully we have a fairly strong group of teachers (many of them, I'm honoured to say, students of mine and close personal friends) in Scotland who were able to take over from me. The Leaving Hafla was probably once of the most emotional and rewarding nights of my life so far.

Hi everyone- BellyLorna here, in Cairo!!!!