Sunday, August 27, 2006

Metro and numbers

The transport around Cairo I'm sure leaves a lot to be desired.... but it does seem to cope remarkably well with the vast numbers of people needing to move around. The Traffic moves in such a way that many more cars can drive down one street at the same time as would be possible in Uk. Roads rarely are at a complete standstill. Mainly because there are no set rules about road lanes or waiting to let people out.... you all just go..........oh and toot your horn if you think someone who hasn't seen you needs to know you are there. (lots of horn blowing goes on!)

The metro here is great. Very clean, and efficient, and cheap. The first 2 carriages in each train are reserved for women only so you don't have to be pressed up against sweaty men..... Which is not a nice experience here as a woman!!! In the women's carriages you often get chatting and laughing with people there, or at least with their kids! There are currently 2 lines which cross at Sadat (underneath Tahrir Sq, beside the Egyptian Museum) and at Mubarak (underneath Midan Ramsis- one of the main reason the great statue had to be moved was the vibrations from here!) and you can almost get to the pyramids on them. It's definitely the cheapest (50pt = less than 5p) and easiest way to get to the area Mar Girgis where all the old Coptic churches are (another of the places the Virgin Mary is said to have stopped at in her journey). The nearest stop to me is at the Cairo Opera House.... which is about a 15min walk away. I should use it more really.

Here's a rather lovely photo my friend Nick took at the Mar Girgis stop. While he was here he became taken with the numbers....... and could translate all the car number plates by the time he left faster than I can!!! Although arabic script runs from right to left, the numbers are written and pronounced left to right, ish..... so 354 becomes 3 hundred and four and fifty. Very confusing!!!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

stolen mobile

This is a quick blog to say my Egyptian mobile phone was stolen , from a 5 star hotel, last night....... Sods.
So main reason for this is so people who don't know my home number or email can contact me, since I, obviously, have lost all your numbers too (especially my friends from Arabic class!!!) ............ my email is

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ramsis of Cairo in the News today

Last night I had an extra long taxi journey- why? because the roads stopped last night for the great Ramsis!!! In Ramsis square, in front of Ramsis train station, has stood for over 50 years a giant statue of the pharaoh Ramsis ........

Last night they moved him so he doesn't get destroyed by the pollution and the vibrations from the trains........and perhaps so they can change the road layout of one of the most traffic jammed areas in the city.

Feelings here are very mixed- some happy that at last the future of such an important piece of art is being considered.... some really upset to have him removed from their daily lives, and others just wondering what 'they' are going to rename the square and train station!!!!

I know that my taxi driver on the way home was really excited about it 'Ramsis is coming, Ramsis is coming!' he kept saying! The roads were lined with onlookers, just waiting til the huge truck crept past, There were ever roads signs up everywhere showing the route he would take that just said 'Ramsis' with an arrow pointing the way (made me think of Gulliver on Lilliput island!!)- ....... oh, and never before have I seen soooooo many policemen lining the streets! It was an expectant and charged atmosphere, and that was me just seeing the people wait- not actually watching him drive by!

Not really sure what the thinking was in doing it on a thursday night...... I guess because on friday morning the roads are really quiet- but it made for an interesting thurs night when the cars are at standby anyway!

for more details see

Monday, August 21, 2006


What a lot of people don't know is that Egypt has a very high rate of recycling. In the centre of Cairo, at the foot of Mokattam, live the garbage collectors of this enormous metropolis. Referred to as "zabbaleen", these people (approx 20 000 of them) survive on rubbish and have become "a cast" of their own, often excluded from the rest of society.

It is estimated that about 30 per cent of Cairo's garbage is not collected formally and that the zabbaleen, the informal sector, currently handle one-third of the garbage of 14 million people at no cost to the city authorities. Specifically this means that the zabbaleen collect up to 3,000 tons of garbage every day and up to 85 per cent of that waste is recycled by them directly.

Whole families live in houses piled high in every room with rubbish collected from around the city. Food scraps are either eaten directly or fed to goats and pigs. Walking through this area, esp. on a hot summers day, you can tell by the smell how bad this has to be for people's health.

The facts and figures here have been taken from the unesco website, which also has some info re how you can help them improve the living conditions of some of the people struggling against the odds.....

Felucca photos

Some more lovely photos of the feluccas on the Nile....

The small boat in front was being rowed by the wife, with oars more like poles than oars- no flat bit to help pull the water along- and while she did that, and looked after the kids at the same time the man sat and fiddled with his nets........... since then I have noticed it always seems to be the woman doing the hard work on board!!!

Maybe I should sponser a felucca........just imagine a huge photo of me, in costume, floating around the Nile...Hmmm maybe not!!

When the aeroplane flew right above the felucca it made the contrast between this ancient mode of transport, and what we have become used to, even more obvious.

And so approaches the end of yet another hot, sunny, lovely day in Cairo...........

Sufi photos

I will write up more about these soon- but thought you might like these photos taken of the sufi performance on sat night. Fantastic interplay between the musicians- as you can see here!!!!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Coloured Lights

This will only make sense to you if you have ever seen documentaries on fish from deep under the sea, where it is so deep that no sunshine penetrates the water. Otherwise you'll just think me mad! Anyway, these fish have to rely on fabulous lighting displays, from bioluminescence, which are created by chemical reactions inside their bodies, to be seen by their mates and enemies……. How does this relate to Cairo? You should see the feluccas and small boats which cruise the Nile at night!

Technologically Advanced

Imagine- a website with the menu for every restaurant in your home town- where you can view all menus and prices and then tick a box and press enter to make your order, which is then delivered to your door within half an hour for a very small delivery charge. Any delays, or problems with your order are immediately phoned through to you, and your final bill is emailed to you, as receipt.

So you could have Indian food, while your partner could have Chinese food and you could have drinks from yet somewhere else…….……oh and a phone card from somewhere else……… In Cairo this is indeed possible- and it works!!!!!!!!!

Only possible in a huge city with a massive market and cheap delivery crew and petrol prices!

Oh- and the other website which really impressed me because is so unexpected here, and very useful, is the site for Cairo international airport. . They have the arrivals and departures screen (the one you see when you go to the airport) on and updated every 3 minutes!!!!!

My friend Nick, who is here to visit this week, was telling me that in his experience in India it was similar there - technology wise. It's almost like 'they' assume that all these things are already happening in the west because they use phrases like 'finally' or 'eventually' when they produce them, as if they are catching up with someone – although in fact in some cases they are ahead!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bellydance Blogs

I had a wee half hour to spare- so for fun i typed 'bellydance' into the search blog section in and you should see the number of people who have been writing about their bellydance experiences- a few mad ones it has to be said- but then we are all a little mad in our own way! So, if you find I haven't been writing enough about dance to keep you entertained in this blog- try checking out some others...... you'll discover me sane after all!!!! Really.......

oh and don't worry the comments on dancing in Cairo will come in fast and furious as soon as I have my work permit out here sorted out!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Weddings- part3!

I thought I had talked about all there was to talk about concerning the custom of marriage here- but apparently there is more!!! Our teacher in Arabic class told us the story of how he met his wife and told us some stories about traditional Saaidi and Nubian weddings in Upper Egypt which is where he is from.

After a series of relationships, he wanted to marry, and seeing how it hadn’t worked for him going down a modern route of courtship he decided to go down the traditional one. So, he saw the girl over a crowded room at a wedding- asked around to find out who she was- then went to her father to ask to marry her. He had spoken to her once by this point! The father agreed, and so did the girl- even though it wouldn't have been a big problem from the families point of view if she hadn't since the father had agreed anyway!, and so a 6 month courtship began- with his visiting once a week for a couple of hours a time and sitting across the room from his future wife, with most of the family in the room at each visit. At no point were the 2 alone before the wedding. They are still now happily married with 3 children.

At a Saaidi wedding the bride and groom stand on their wedding night (Farah) in the centre of the party, with their parents either side of them, in front of 6 drummers, then all the youngest single people (teenagers) stand either side of them- boys on one side and girls at the other, with the older and married men and women behind them- each on their own side- imagine school disco to get the picture….. Everyone sings and dances. The oldest man in the family stands in the middle of the group beside the bride and groom, holding a whip- this he uses on the boys/men if they get too excited by the music and start dancing towards the girls………..Literally whips them back into place. If you see a girl on the other side of the circle you like you move back towards the older men- ask around who she is then tell her father you are interested – he walks around the outside of the circle to find the girls mother who agrees or not, and then the arrangement is made for the 2 of you (plus families) to meet the following Friday. The girl's agreement is seldom needed for such an arrangement to be complete.

Then there is the wedding gift money. 2 days after the wedding, the bride and groom and called to a meeting with the rest of their families and they sit with a long list of names and are given a bundle of envelopes, one from each man in the family, and from friends. Each envelope has the name on it and as you receive each one you write down how much that person has given you……… so that on their wedding day you have to give at least the same amount in return!!!

Another bizarre custom in traditional Nubian wedding is the whipping of the groom (called 'Bisharea') where the man is stripped to the waist and whipped 3 times- to prove to everyone that he is indeed a man and a strong brave one at that. This still happens to this day!

And that’s all for now……………………… but if I hear of anymore strange customs I'll be sure to pass them on!!!


It is fine for a man to kiss a man (as they do in greeting here- much like the French) and for a woman a woman in the same manner, but under no circumstances should a man and woman kiss in public- even if it is just a peck on the cheek in greeting- it is highly frowned upon! Even kisses in films and pop videos are censored out.

Oh and the men walk arm in arm or hand in hand too- so don't be surprised if you see that, It's not a country with a large open gay community! (In fact the opposite- a man can be locked up just for being gay here!)

Crossing legs

This one was a surprise to me- I always knew that it was a big no no to sit in a matter which meant anyone could see the sole of your shoe- a sign of disrespect (just as to hit someone with your shoes/slipper is a highest form of disdain).

However, I hadn't realised that you shouldn't sit crossed legged at all, esp. in front of your father, mother or someone else older than yourself! Our teacher makes his sons stand up when he comes into the room, and sit 'properly' in his presence- they get a cuff round the ear if they cross their legs in front of him!!!

Seemingly its ok for a woman to stay crossed legged when man enters the room- but not if another woman does……. I dread to think how many women (and men) I have unwittingly offended in my time here (or indeed how many jobs I may not have got because of the way I was sitting!!!!)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

more Landmarks

Fuzzy Felucca, Floating restaurant (not sure the name of it- but liked the 3 together!) and the Cairo Tower in the background.

well- its my blog- I can put in lots of photos of me if I like! (Esp. like the soft focus effect on this one!)Anyway- thats the Grand Hyatt behind me, and no, sorry, that is not a giant moon you can see- its the lights onboard the Nile Maxim!!!


The main focal points of Cairo's city centre are the big hotels along the side of the Nile. Heres some pics taken from the Nile Maxim just to give you a feel for it!

The (new) Four Seasons and the Grand Hyatt

The Shepherd, Semi-Ramis and the Nile Hilton

Sheratons (Cairo and Gazira- which is shut for refurbishment)

Nile Maxim

Went with Harriet on sunday night to go see Asmahan perform on the Nile Maxim (5* floating restaurant- very nice!!!- current dancers Asmahan, Leyla and Hanadi). Asmahan was a true performer as always- entering the stage twice in bizarre fashion- once inside a star, then later from inside a large present with bow. Such a shame it was so busy - for 2 reasons- 1st- we were sat very far away from dance floor so didn't get to see her properly and 2nd- because part of her job there is to go around the tables getting her photo taken with lots of the guests- and when its busy she sometimes has to spend more time doing this than actually dancing. A good reason to go to the later show in future when its usually less busy!

Once she noticed me in the audience there was no way out of it (as if I was fighting it anyway!!!) and she got me up to dance and entertain the crowd as she worke the tables. She put her silly hat on me and I had a lot of fun. One of her backing dancers took my camera and went snap happy with it- so i have included some pics for your amusement! Not exactly how I want to show you all me performing in Cairo- but the best i can offer at the moment! There is one in there that shows how a camel can make you (me)look 5 months pregnant if caught at just the wrong moment- I'm not- but wanted to include the pic so you can see her band!

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Fishing on the Nile- who knows what they will catch, and how safe it will be to eat- esp. since there is still Bilharzias at the edges of the Nile where the water is stagnant. Horrible thought. Thats the same disease the famous singer Abdel Halim Hafiz died of.

Shops in the Khan- photos

Teas and spices, incense and more.....
"buy from here and I will marry you!"

Anything and everything- something for everyone- and at an

"Egyptian price- not a tourist price!!!"
Aladin's Cave- brass and shiny things everywhere!!!

"oh look you dropped heart"

Imagine- a shop that only sells walking sticks!

"tell me how I can take your money today....?"

Taxi photos

Here are some photos of the black and white taxi's...... no pics of the yellow ones yet. Both shots taken from a moving taxi!! The white roof racks are often full of cases and bags on the way to airport, station and mainly, at this time of year, to the beach and to the North Coast! Our taxi tonight ran out of petrol on the way home- no apology or embarrassment- just acceptance that these things happen- an interesting way of working- but I guess thats the only way to deal with it when your petrol guage doesn't work....................

food photos.............

Butternut Squash on a cart on the side of the road............................

The boy guarding the bread baskets while the older boy wanders round khan el khalili with the bread balanced on his head...

Bananas still on the tree. (Egyptian bananas are really tiny but very tasty!!!)

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Discussions about swimming pools would not really be the average conversation on the street in Cairo. Although there are a couple of public pools (i.e. very cheap ones) they are not the sort of place a western girl would feel comfortable, or so I am told- not prepared to risk it! So if you can't get away from Cairo through the summer heat and head to the north coast or Sharm, then the only options are hotel or club pools.

There are many private clubs in and around the city- the largest and most famous is the one right beside me- the Gezira Club. To use the facilities at these clubs you either have to be a member, or go in with a member. Sometimes they are less strict mid week but whether you use club or hotel pool the main issue is often price. You can pay for day use at almost all the big hotels and it can cost anywhere between 100le and 200le (£10-20). Sometimes you can't even pay for day use and you have to rent a room for the day or a 'cabin' i.e. a room by the pool- this tends to be a cheaper option if there is a group of you going.

The pool I keep going back to is a small, private club that tends to ignore the 'members only' rule unless they don’t like the look of you! It is lovely because it is right beside the Nile- a great place to get away form the noise and hussle bussle that is Cairo, and is cheap to get into (only 40le). The downside is that it is fairly far away so taxis are an interesting experience to get there.

The other good thing for me about this particular pool is that they don't allow veiled women inside. This seemed a incredibly strange and prejudicial to me at first….but the thought behind it is that there are many clubs where veiled women go, mainly with their children, and for those who wish to lie in their bikini and catch some rays it can be very off putting when those around you are all fully covered. You feel like you are being judged (whether you are or not is of course a different matter- but you feel it!)

Anyway- today I went to the pool to enjoy the sun, with my friend Harriet……. Here she is….

Friday, August 11, 2006

Courting couples- the marriage contract!

After receiving some questions about this after my blog entry on weddings I thought I'd pass on the info we were given in our Arabic lesson last week about the way things are done here (a cultural aside during the language lesson- much more fun than verbs!). I've already written all about the party night, this is what leads up to it….

عazib / Aanisa- the word for a single man or woman ( putting the men first- since that’s what happens here!). Used as a way of describing someone, but also a form of address just like using 'miss' for a girl. At this point you may well have a girlfriend or boyfriend, but they have no such word for this type of relationship- they just call them sahib for a male friend and sahabiti for a female friend. Usually at this point the families don’t know anything about it!

Khatib / Makhtuba- By this point the family know, and you are officially engaged (it translates- it is written- and for the female- it is written for you!!!!). A friend of mine (non Egyptian) was recently attending a wedding with her 'boyfriend' and Egyptian, and his family introduced her to the rest of the table as his fiancé! This freaked her out somewhat- since they had only known each other a matter of weeks and that wasn't on the cards at all but it was explained that here, it is better to have been 'engaged' many times rather than admit to having a 'boyfriend/girlfriend'!

Shabik / Masbuka- In western culture this stage would be the same as the giving of the engagement ring (especially when you think of all the 'social' etiquette of that and that’s its supposed to be a percentage your income etc) Except that in most Arab cultures it involves quantities of gold rather than just one ring. It’s the dowry paid, or the daughter paid for in a way. Sometimes the gold is known as 'Dibla'- although that can be the name given to the engagement ring too. In Morocco this name (Dibla/ Debleej) applies to the 7 gold bracelets traditionally given. The gold can be seen as an insurance policy for the girl. If the guy does something stupid, e.g. go off with someone else, the girl has the right to keep all the gold she's been given. If, however it is she who breaks it off with him, then she has to return the dibla. After marriage, the gold is the woman's own property for the rest of her life and the man has no claim on it at all- again an insurance policy in case he leaves or dies.

Katib Kitabuh / Maktib Kitabha- This literally means written. The register is signed. And again- it is the man who does the signing and the woman is signed for. Up to very recently she did not even have to be present at this stage and her father or other relative could sign her away to someone she potentially had never seen. Because of the problems this could cause, they have changed the law here (very recently!) so now the woman must be present and sign too, with 2 witnesses. This part can be done at the registrar's office or in your own home. If it is an Egyptian marrying a foreigner it must be done at the government office so that a legal document can be signed which means both are agreeing to the marriage terms in the other persons home country as well as by Egyptian law (e.g. to allow women to initiate divorce etc). At this point you are legally married in the eyes of the government and the religious authorities.

Mitgowwiz / Mitgowwiza- Married- i.e. by this point you have actually spent at least one night in the same bed.

And parting comes in one of 2 ways-

Mitallaq / Mittalla'qa- divorced. I didn't before realise that one of the few reasons a woman can ask for a divorce in Islam is if her husband has not had intercourse with her in 6 months (same obviously applies the other way round). Also Coptic Christians cannot divorce at all.

'Armal / 'Armala- widowed.

Oh- and then there's the 'Gowez Orfee'- which is a legal contract written between 2 people, which doesn’t have to involve the government or the families which states you are married. It is easier to get, but much frowned upon by majority of people. However, it's as binding as a real marriage unless the lawyer is corruptible or the contracts get 'lost'.

Well I thought it was all very interesting- hope you did too- anything I've missed out?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What is a Zar?

Before I start this- I'd like to admit that I am taking a lot of the following info from a sheet we were given at the Zar performance in 'Makan' last night when the group called 'Mazaher' performed, so forgive me if it sounds a bit like a lecture at times. I know that the dancers among you are interested in this stuff so bear with me the rest of you!

Zar is a community healing ritual of drumming and dancing whose tradition is carried mainly by women for women (men do have secondary roles). Originated in East Africa, it is found across east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. I hadn't realised what close links it has with African music and dance but after experiencing it, it makes perfect sense. A beautiful expression of womanhood. Perhpas thats also the reason why the lead singer reminded me so much of 'Mama Afrika' in Afridonia- she had the same grace and beauty. Zar has been marginalised due to the magic, mystery, spirits and alternative nature of social, healing and religious practise. It was misrepresented as the exorcism of spirits- but the idea is to play a variety of types of rhythms until you hit on one which makes the sick person, you are aiming to help, want to dance. It is a space within which women can release their tensions and frustrations of everyday life and feel free within the music and movement. Often the dance movements involve swinging your head from one side to the other with very basic foot steps and much deep rooted movement of shoulders and hips. It can even lead to an altered state of consciousness or trance. A cathartic experience and a physical and spiritual purification.

Because Zar is part of an underground culture it has remained largely unchanged over the years except that for the same reason unfortunately many songs have been lost through time. There are currently only 25 people in the whole of Egypt (according to the info from the Makan centre!) who still carry on this musical legacy.

However, when I mentioned to my cleaner (she only comes once a week for a couple of hours- I know it sounds extravagant but its not really!!!!) that I had seen a Zar she said there were these gatherings of women all over the city every night (or at least that was the jist I got with my limited Arabic) and has invited me to go with her see a 'real' one (rather than in a cultural centre)……… so watch this blog for more info on the underground culture of Cairo! (The real shabbi- i.e. what the people listen to!!!)


Last night I went to the most fabulous show in a tiny wee cultural centre called Makan (which literally means 'the place'). The room is set up with mic's and sound desk etc, but apart form that it looks like it looks like someone has spread out chairs in a half build/demolished house. Very rustic (and the ceiling fans don't do much to keep the heat at bay). However- surroundings only go to intensify the experience when the Zar actually starts…………

First of all there is a man, in a smartly pressed white galabeya singing religious songs accompanied by the Nay (flute) – he has amazing presence and dignity- as my friend described it- a voice you could listen to forever! Next the main event- the lead singer in the largely female group is Umm Sameh- a woman in her 60's and you have never seen such fabulously sexy facial expressions and totally attitude- a face you could watch for hours even if it hadn't been backed up by the most amazing husky and skilled voice. She was a character to behold and impressive the way she orchestrated the entire thing- giving hand gestures to the sound guy and all the musicians throughout- making sure everything goes just how it should. A real professional performer. She had us all enraptured!
The break was very informal- everyone piled out onto the street for a cup of tea or a cigarette- the musicians too- chatting with everyone. It reminded me of my Afridonia days!

The second act started very differently- with an old guy- who really looked like he'd just been sitting in the sheesha café 2 minutes before and wasn't sure how he'd managed to end up when he was- standing in his galabeya with a huge belt around his rear end which was covered with lots of tiny iron bells and goat hooves (called a 'mangour') and when he started to shake his stuff he could make fantastic music with that alone! He made it look no more difficult or surprising that walking down the street. Riveting! I must also mention the cygat lady here- she sang and danced which such gusto and enjoyment that she almost looked out of control at times- but she never was…. First person I have seen play cygat (finger cymbals!) who has actually inspired me to learn them!

There was also an instrument- played beautifully which was totally new to me, yet strangely familiar. It had a huge circle at one point and 2 sticks coming from it, with a pole at the top forming it into a triangle with strings strewn across it- seemingly called a tamboura (a 6-string lyre). It was familiar because I have a papyrus image with an ancient Egyptian woman playing the exact same thing- it didn’t look like it had changed in all these years. Amazing- the history of music!

Long before the end of the show people were up dancing along to the beat- more African sounding Arabic.

More about the history and ritual of the Zar (rather than just my experience of this one!) in the next blog………….

.............. please excuse poor quality of photos- it wasn't possible to use flash during the Zar- but despite the quality I thought it was still worth putting these on.............

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Friendships + Phone Calls

It’s a huge city, the most densely populated in the whole world. You would think it difficult to get lonely but I know, if it wasn't for the friends I have made here, I would be (I'm used to seeing and chatting with at least 300 women in class every week back home!!!)

People in Cairo (possibly in the whole of Egypt) are very good at keeping in touch with their friends and family. There is usually something wrong if someone hasn't phoned their mum at some point through the day to see she is ok, even if they live with her, saw her in the morning and will see her again at night. The same goes for the rest of the family and friends. Mobile phone texts and calls are very cheap here and everyone one you meet (even people living in the tombs in the 'city of the dead') seems to have a mobile. Landlines are a different matter- although the call is cheap getting a line in the first place is the tricky bit. It can take up to a year to have a line installed in your house! Oh and then often you share it with someone else- you're not supposed to, but crossed lines are common. The numbers change often too- so it's common to try to call a hotel and get someone's house instead. Makes for some interesting conversations when you are enquiring about bellydance shows!

So, friends are always calling and texting to see if you are ok and to chat. It's lovely (although often hard to get work done) and feels strange when you are used to using the phone less frequently. The society is very community based rather than individualistic and I guess this is just one way that is represented. People do a lot for each other too, not thinking twice about driving someone somewhere or helping them in whatever way they can. A common thing for someone to say is 'ask me if you need anything, anything at all'- of course when you go back to them they don’t always fulfil their promise- but they always say it. It's impolite not to! But then you will get people going totally out their way for you too- like getting up at 4am to drive you to the airport so you don’t have to get a cab. Or as also happened to me, lending you money when your wallet was stolen (2 years ago) On that occasion I had 3 offers of money from people, including the hotel receptionist offering me his visa card and pin number to use as I needed until everything was sorted! Beyond hospitable!

Thank you all my friends in Cairo for helping me feel included and cared about so far from home. And thank you MSN for being such a fabulous invention, enabling me to talk with my own friends and family back home often too! Since I'm doing my Oscars speech here- thanks too for all the emails of support and encouragement from all my friends and students in Scotland- it does really help! I'll finish this blog before I cry..........!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Sheesha / Shisha, Hookah, Nargile, Water pipe, Hubble Bubble….. whatever you choose to call it, the thing is very popular here- although again it depends on which sector of the community you talk to about it. The cafes are full of men (usually only men) smoking their sheesha as they drink shey (tea) or ahwa (coffee) and certain cafes will be chosen purely by how good their sheesha is. It is seen a something fairly crude for a females to do at all and certainly in public- but is popular with some less well off women and of course the tourists, ex-pats and some younger richer Egyptians looking for ways to rebel. There are lovely, more expensive places to sit for a puff too- e.g. Sequoia in Zamalek and some lovely places in Mohandiseen whose names I can't recall right now…. Oh and the garden of the Nile Hilton is a nice one- with a live oriental band (small) playing each night too.

Some people smoke cigarettes as well as sheesha- some sheesha only (or cigarettes only of course!) And depending on who you speak to, it is either vastly better or vastly worse, to smoke one rather than the other! The true is neither and good for you but I guess the main benefit of sheesha is that it would be hard to drive and smoke, walk down the street and smoke etc so the times when you can actually smoke are limited. It is still addictive though.

Found this though while searching for effects- Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University co-authored a hookah study which found that a session of hookah smoking which lasts about 45 minutes, delivers 36 times more tar, 15 times more carbon monoxide and 70% more nicotine than a single cigarette ( although it is important to note that a single cigarette will last no more than 5 minutes , which makes approximatively 9 cigarettes in order to compare to the 45 minutes hooka session ). Someone do the sums to tell me if 9 cigarettes equals 1 sheesha please??

Sheesha does have tobacco in it- they put the tobacco (which is moistened with molasses and often various fruit flavours) in a clay bowl with tinfoil on top of it and the glowing coals are balanced on the top. As you take a puff the smoke filters through the water in the bottom of the glass bowl at the bottom. What goes into your lungs is the smoke from above the water level. So since it has been water filtered the heat is removed from it and some of the tar etc too. You can see how much is filtered by the colour the water turns after a few uses! The whole thing is supposed to be cleaned out regularly and the fashion here in Cairo just now is to use a plastic pipe and mouth piece with is thrown away after each use so it is more hygienic and you are getting a purer taste. Sometimes lemon slices or rose petals are added to the water in the bowl to add flavour too.

I should also add that drugs (other than tobacco!) are not usually smoked on a sheesha (although of course they could be). Egypt has a very highly penalty for drug sale and usage, although I'm sure that the law is probably broken at times, as it is all over the world!

It is an art to tend a sheesha well and in café's people have that as their sole job- checking on the coals- changing them, blowing through the clay bowl to remove excess ash, fixing it if it doesn't work and of course accepting the tips for such service.

A friend told me of one man in Cairo who was so addicted to sheesha that he had a super long pipe made for his and he sat in his living room with it, whilst watching the TV each night and the pipe led out the window and down to the bowab downstairs who tended the coals and changed the tobacco as and when needed, until he received the phone call to stop for the evening! I guess he didn't live on the 20th floor!

The good thing about sheesha is the smell- very sweet and fruity. In one place I go to, you can ask for the sheesha menu and they bring you a tray with tiny little pots of tobacco of about 50 different flavours so you sniff them all and decide from the scent which you prefer! Its still smoking- and bad for you- but it is fairly sociable and helps create the atmosphere. An experience to be tried- but not to get addicted to!

Oh and another quickie- Breathing the air in Cairo is equivalent to smoking 7 cigarettes per day.... horrible thought eh?!!! (if you are interested in knowing more about the pollution in Cairo have a look at this webpage )


It's amazing how many flashbacks to my childhood I have been getting since moving to Cairo. Today in Arabic class the teacher was going round the room asking us to read aloud a story in Arabic (transliteration- not quite up to the Arabic script just yet!!!) and I felt the panic rise in my chest and sure enough I managed to get about a quarter of the way through before the tears formed and I had to excuse myself from the room.
It was as though I was back at school as a young child having to read aloud to the whole class, petrified and totally self-conscious. It's amazing because I can get up on stage and dance in front of literally thousands of people, and although I sometimes get anxious about it (stage fright is a good thing anyway, in moderation) it never freaks me out the way reading aloud does. Why?

Lorna (bellylorna) in Cairo, Egypt- Bellydance

ok guys forgive me for this post- but I thought I would do a search on to find my blog just by inputing my name 'Lorna' and guess what- hundreds of other blogs came up (largely ones I wouldn't dare open for fear of the nature of their contents!!!!) but not mine- it wasn't there- or not in the 1st hundred anyway!!!! so this wee entry is just for people to find me if they don't know my blog address!!!! Thanks for the patience!

ps- drat- still only comes up quickly if you type in bellylorna or lorna cairo- ah and learn.

passing comments

I know mine will be your first experience of 'blogs' for a lot of you reading this- it was for me anyway! So in case you don't realise- you can add your own comment to anything I have written just by clicking on the comments- its nice to know what you think- and if there is anything you would like to ask me more about! (be aware your comments can be read by everyone else too!!!) Look forward to hearing from you!

fun with words

This entry will be the most fun for bellydancers reading this. 'Yishimm' in arabic is the verb 'to smell'. 'I smell' is 'ashimm'

'you smell (to a woman)' is ........................

so 'Tishimmi Helwa' = 'you smell beautiful'!

That made me smile!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Miss the Fringe

I really thought it would make a pleasant change- dancing in Cairo this August rather than Edinburgh- and there are certainly highlights to being here- but I REALLY miss the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!!!!!!! After winning first prize in the Cavalcade for our Morocco Walima float last year (and knowing my picture has been used for months now in Evening News to advertise this year's festivities) it really hurt to know it was all going on without me! Glad to hear a fellow Cairo-mad bellydancer Margaret Anderson got her face in the papers this year- well done girl!! Funny- dancing down Princes St. seems the most natural thing in the world yet I wouldn't even contemplate dancing in the sharia here!!!

So no Bellydance Banquet this year (my dance show every year at Morocco Walima, Dundas St. during the fringe for those who don't know!!!) There is still dancing 7 nights a week in the restaurant, if not every lunch time- so go enjoy some of the best bellydancing in Scotland!! Missing my team of comperes too! - Elspeth, Nick and Hannah. Ah well- when I come back- whenever that is going to be, we'll just have to have a special 'off season' Bellydance Banquet instead!!!

If you are in Edinburgh this August- make the most of your own city's wonderful festival and please go see a few shows for me!!!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Weddings in Cairo

Since I have now experienced a few I have to tell you about the engagement parties and wedding receptions here. First- the engagement party is a huge affair usually here- and is almost like a dress rehearsal for the wedding, or for those families who can afford to have one, it is. The dress will be as large and as elaborate as the actual wedding dress- so sparkles and layers galore. In fact to me it seems the only difference between weddings and engagements seems to be the colour of the dress (lots of stunning and not so stunning colour combo's can be seen here!) - they even have a big white, multi-layers of cake (i.e. identical to the wedding cake) at the engagement party!

So onto the Big Day- The Wedding- and I have attended a few now, both at expensive hotels and cheaper affairs- but they all seem to run by roughly the same pattern (street weddings are very common in less well off families and are something else!!!)

The wedding cars- you should see the amount of flowers they put all over them- its amazing the driver can actually see out the window- its frighten-ly reminiscent of a hearse! The wedding procession in various cars (taxis/mini buses/mopeds- if poorer wedding- yes I have actually seen a bride, in full dress on back of a moped!!!!!) drive in formation to the wedding, all tooting their horns like crazy through the streets- all the way- because basically Cairo doesn't have enough noise without it!!!!!

So the guests and the Zaffa band (not sure how to spell it!) wait at the entrance to the hotel and when the bride and groom arrive the band strikes up. The zaffa is usually just LOTS of boys/young men with drums- it's very loud! ( I even saw a bagpiper at this point at one wedding in the Sheraton!!!!) Sometimes there will be a dancer at this point in the proceedings- although from my experience, usually not. The bride and groom will stand next to the musicians and the guests will circle round them looking at them, zaghreeting and calling words of encouragement and congratulation. Many photos are taken and much intrusive video recording will be done at this stage (actually, that continues for the entire night). The bride is bejewelled in diamante everywhere- including the tiara, and the (usually very puffy) big white wedding dress (same as styles at home- although depending on the family income- often styles from the 80's!!! The posh wedding dresses are a sight to behold though- stunning!) The hair is left uncovered for this occasion (although not always!) I have never seen a couple relaxed at this stage in the proceedings. I usually just feel sorry for them being centre of attention when they obviously don’t want to be!! The band lead them into the ballroom/garden- wherever the wedding reception will occur, then leave (after maybe half hour to an hour!!!!). In street weddings I have seen the zaffa lead the couple around a few of the streets in the neighbourhood to get to the street they will party/eat in (still bride in the puffy dress!!!) Oh- and its at this point when if there is a dancer they would be wearing the shamadan (candelabra) on her head whilst dancing- to light the way- a lovely concept. Unfortunately I am yet to experience that yet, but would love to!

The next stages I may get in the wrong order- but they all happen at some stage in the evening's events.

The sharbat- or shared drink - amid much loud music (techno-fied), flashing lights etc the waiter brings in a tray with 2 glasses of very sickly sweet fruit drink for the bride and groom ( the guests often get given a drink at the same time) and they hold the glass for each other- so they share their first drink together in public – the guests drink theirs- a bit like a toast at home- but they don’t actually raise their glasses to the couple or say anything in particular ( and its not alcohol!!!!)

There is the First Dance- exactly as it is back home- the couple on the dance floor alone (almost- the video man is like the 3rd person in the equation all night- right up there!) Sometimes the music is Arabic, sometimes western corny stuff. I saw one dance which was beautiful- Arabic music, and the groom sang every word to the bride whilst gazing lovingly into her eyes, (miming the words even!!)- it brought a tear to my eye! It's not usually like that! They don’t tend to have a 'parents' dance- but I have seen a couple of weddings having a couples dance- so after the first dance all the couples get up for their turn.

Then the circle begins. The circle is basically everyone piled onto the dance floor (esp. the young people) and the 'happy' couple are in the middle and pull guests in to dance with them……….. Sometimes good dancers amongst the crowd will take over at this point and let the bride get out the heat from the video camera- which roams round the room so everyone sitting down can see on big screens and on the video afterwards, what's going on in the circle (which is often about 6 people deep!!!) The dancing section lasts most of the evening……. I.e. for hours- remember this is usually completely without alcohol!

There is THE CAKE. Written in bold because that is how it is presented too….. Really- loud techno style music again, fake smoke, special lighting (often with strobe!!!!)……….. you name it- the cake is carried into the room as though it were a pop star! The couple cut the cake and lots more photos………
Often now there is the show- if there is one. A band, or bellydancer, or 'Russian' show ('dancing girls' in very revealing costumes doing not much- except embarrassing the majority of the room)…….

Then the best bit (well the bit I think sums up the culture most and which is most surprising to a westerner) Unlike in the UK ,where the food is at the start of the evening so people are not drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, here they don’t serve the food (buffet) until Just before the end of the night (about 1/2pm ish) Why? Because as soon as everyone has eaten they leave! (in much the same way as a wedding at home ends when the bar closes!!!!) The bride and groom are again put on show during the meal- really. They have a small table for 2 set up completely in the centre of the dance floor so that everyone can watch them eating………. How lovely. No speeches or anything like that at least- but the bride does do the throwing of the bouquet for the girls to catch (same meanings there as for us in U.K.!)

In fact- this is a major element of the the whole event- not just to send the couple off well- but for families to meet other families and introduce their son to someone elses daughter etc- this is the most common way of someone in Egypt meeting their future husband/wife!!!!

And that’s it- can't tell you what happens by the end of the night because I never stay long enough to see!!!!! Please feel free to ask about anything I may have missed out!!!!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Since I've been writing about crazy night time customs, there as to be a mention here of the football fans. Why here- well- you have to see it to believe it. Whenever there is a big match- esp. the local derby (between Zamalek and Ahly- not sure if that one's spelt right!) then the street go even wilder than before. With people running alongside the road with flags, fireworks, firecrackers going off everywhere, driving along playing Tablas (drums) in the car, indeed- on the cars too! Basically lots of noise caused by heightened emotions, which occasionally have the same bad side effects as back home, i.e. fighting etc- but since alcohol is seldom a factor it’s the exception rather than the rule thankfully. A friend drove me round the street one night just so I could experience being in the football crowd- I, as one who doesn't particularly like football, was taken by the strength of emotion and energy involved. Our fans back home could learn a lot about supporting your team, by removing drink form the equation! Mind you, I did also see the police fire their guns into the air in an attempt to calm some of the excitement to get the traffic moving along- that only seems to encourage it!!! I can only imagine what it was like here when Egypt won the African cup!

Strange Hours

I am writing this at midnight, sitting with my laptop on my balcony- the only place to get some cool air without resorting to using the air-con. Balcony culture here is big- although often mainly for drying clothes on and sending the kids out to play (at 3am?!!!!) not really sure when they get their unbroken 8 hours sleep- my friend Anna thinks it’s a wonder they grow at all with the strange hours they seem to keep. Leaving her apartment one night recently, after a girlie night chatting, I stepping into the elevator only to find about 8 children playing in both lifts…….. I guess sending them out to play with the traffic here may be tempting fate a little too much!!!!

The city is so alive its amazes me, even after being here for 4 months. The street opposite my house has a traffic jam on it right now (it is a 6 lane street which is currently crawling!)- At midnight. All the various boats and clubs along the Nile side all seem to have parties and weddings on with music blasting out over the water. The brightest lit place opposite me is a kebab shop- which seems packed at all hours of day and night and right now has cars packed 3 deep in front of it as people eat their (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack??) in front of it. The whole scene is a sober version (in the alcoholic sense of the word only) of Dario's, Lothian Road on a Friday night, at closing time.
Then there are the laser beams shot into the sky (still to discover where they come from) possibly a hotel much like the 'sherharazad hotel' along from me which has disco lights and music every night- obviously another popular wedding venue. It is hard to imagine the number of weddings that happen here on any one night. I guess if you think how many people live in this crowded city and accept that relationships outside of marriage are practically impossible and certainly frowned on, then it comes as no surprise. Anyway- the bridges are blocked with traffic and the Nile is sparkling from all the lit up feluccas sailing by.
Advertising boards light up the horizon, teasing me with their bold Arabic script that I am still struggling to read. There are of course many I recognise- I esp. like the board opposite me now, with the huge LG in red letters- my initials light up Cairo every night!!! What is stranger than sitting here listening to the DJ's across the water is their choices of music, everything from classic oriental, to baladi pop, to cheesy Arab pop, to Nubian folklore, to Celine Dionne and reggae ton- oh- and the song 'shek, shak, shok' EVERYNIGHT, at the very least 3 times!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

my name in arabic

I'm playing with my arabic keyboard...... great fun! anyway- thats my name in arabic should you be interested at all!!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Or khumra as its called in arabic........ I figured a healthy entry re fruit and veg had to be followed with a contrast! Most people do not drink alcohol- mainly for religious and cultural reasons..... however I was suprised by how many people do. There is now even an off-license whch will deliver to your door called 'Drinkies'. The seletion is limited, and if its wine you are after really the Egyptian stuff is the only one affordable- imported wines have a very high improt tax on them. The brands of Egyptian wine I have seen so far are, obelisque, grand marquis, sherharazad and arabesque. Beer is more common and more affordable ( and better!) There are a few bars- esp. in areas where lots of foreigners live- eg Zamalek, but the cafe is definitely the compasison for the old mens pubs back home. Sheesha being the vice. One thing which happens here which really doesn't happen back home, except in certain restaurants is the bring your own bottle- to a pub. You pay a fairly high 'corkage' but it works out cheaper if a group of you are going to drink spirits than if you buy the drinks directly from the bar, and you can even leave your bottle behind the bar (if its your regular haunt and you trust the staff not to add water, or a cheaper brand to it!!!). There is a certain prestige around having your bottle on your table- how to make friends and influence people! (reminds me of buying bottles of rum in bars in cuba!!!) Oh and the good news for the economy of Scotland- all they want to drink in these places is Scotch!!!
A lovely difference about the drinking culture here from that in Scotland, is that few people here end up wandering the streets drunk, causing trouble or creating pavement art!
A wee news flash for those travelling here who may want to buy spirits here- you can bring in whatever your allowance is- as usual anywhere, but if you get to the duty free shop (there is one in the Cairo Sheraton) within 24 hrs of landing- with your passport you can buy another 3 bottles of spirits and very resonably prices! This is something I didn't know for years- and has proved very useful since!!!! ( not that Cairo is driving me to drink- but its nice to have the choice!!!)