Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It’s not fair....



I love dance.

I love being a dancer.

I love being a dancer in Cairo.

I hate the prejudice that us dancers face here. The small-minded attitutes that even many eductated, westernised Egyptians unfortunately seem to share, never mind the uneducated majority.

The reason for this complaint? I've been thrown out my home of 6 years, purely because I bellydance.

In June, the doorbell rang, and one of ‘Hotel Bellylorna’s house guests, answered it. It was the downstairs neighbour complaining about the noise and asking what she was doing. She, innocently enough, replied, “but we weren’t making any noise. We were just bellydancing.”

The woman went crazy, “that is inappropriate behaviour- what do you mean you were ‘bellydancing’ ?”. The poor girl was confused why the outburst against the artform she was practising... so the male folkloric dancer went to the door and attempted to get the neighbour to calm down. That was it. Red rag to a bull. Not only was this foreign girl ‘bellydancing’ but she was alone in a room with an Egyptian man, they MUST be up to no good!

I stressed , and waited and waited... but it seems the neighbours didn’t pass on their complaints to my landlady.

That is... not until 2 weeks later, as soon as Morsi had been elected as president of Egypt. Then, and not before,  I had an hour of abuse over the telephone with my landlady calling me all sorts of names... accusing me of running the house as a business and having ‘men there all times of day and night’ . Now EVERYONE who knows me can verify just how far from the truth this statement is... but the neighbour had decided to get her revenge- so she had made up all sort of stories about me and seems like the landlady believed them all. Not surprising I guess, since they are related, but I did feel incredibly hurt that the fact that I had been a model tenant for nearly 6 years, always doing my own maintanence for the flat, always paying not only on time but often early, never causing any problems with neighbours etc, all that suddenly meant nothing at all.

The problem was, in some things the landlady was sort of correct. I did run the place not just as my home, but as a semi-business- but not the business that her sordid mind had imagined!

I have been renting out my spare rooms to visiting (female) dancers for years now, and teaching private classes too. The work of a bellydancer in Cairo, especially since the ‘revolution’, pays nowhere near enough to even cover the rent let alone food and travel expenses! So when she accused me of ‘not’ being an English teacher, as I had told her- well, she was right. But you can see why I said it! (Actually, I never said I was an English teacher- but when I told her I was a ‘teacher’ , she just assumed it was English!).

Bless the bowab , who MUST have known all these years what I actually do for a living (hard not to, with bags and sticks going in and out the building!) but who had obviously never said anything to her.

Anyway, to cut a long story short.... I was on TV.

The Ramadan TV drama by Adel Emam came out 2 weeks ago (see my previous blog entry for the whole story and to view the clip!). It's a show that EVERYONE watches, especially old women who stay at home all day. It features me as a dancer in a cabaret in Syria, and was it was shown on all channels in Egypt and my face is clearly shown...

The truth was out. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to continue with my story that no of course was not a dancer! ( I had already done a google search just for 'lorna' and was at the same time very chuffed that I came up so early in the search- and worried that the landlady's son or neighbour might think to do the same search and find out my ocupation) what a way to live huh? frightened to tell anyone what you proudly do for a living.

The landlady had made it painfully clear that she did not approve of entertainment work, waxing lyrical about this ‘singer’ that i had staying with me (who she hadn’t even met but had managed to make up all sort of interesting, hair raising stories about!), But then, to find out that her tenant of 6 years was a bellydancer. You can but imagine!

I returned to Cairo on august 20th. I had paid my rent until 26th, and I knew I had no option but to leave by then.. ...

What a hellish week.

In 6 years living somewhere, discounting the memories, you also collect a lot of things around you. ‘Stuff’. Not to mention about 50 bellydance costumes!

The past 6 days have been full of boxes and bags, tears and tantrums, stress and sleepless nights.

Thankfully Ellie had returned to Cairo the same day as I had, and she was an immense help with packing and organising, and the running for the tissues everytime the weight of it all broke me down again and again. It was hard on her too. Ellie has been living in Cairo for over a year now working successfully as a singer, and she loved the flat too!

‘Hotel BellyLorna’ had so many guests over the years... so many fabulous memories... so much care put into it, I kept – keep - feeling the enormity of how unfair it all is.

The upside of it was I was able to give so much of the ‘stuff’ away to people who really needed it and who also find scraping together a living in Egypt a trying task at times. The popular idea that us foreigners are ‘made of money’ is so false it is laughable! All the left overs completely disappeared, my cleaner and her brother came round and took away things that to people in the UK would have been seen as rubbish, used shower curtains, coathangers, shoes, clothes, half used toiletries. They took the lot. If they couldn't use it themselves, they knew people who could. Recycling here at its best!

I dance.

 I love dance.

 I love dancing in Egypt.

I am gutted that my job is viewed in such a negative way by so many people. That my personal character is slated because i am an artist.

People who would happily hire me to dance at their son’s weddings or watch me as they eat their meal on the Nile... but who would never allow me to be any part of their personal life, to the extent of even renting out their apartment. The worry about what other people think here is so very strong. Much stronger now that Morsi is ‘in charge’ !

When she came over to collect my house key, and make sure I really left, the landlady was still horrible to me. Still accusing me of a lot of things that I almost wish now I had done! I can only feel sorry for someone who acts like that when out of fear of what others may think. As long as she got her money, and people didn’t think badly of her, she was very happy to take my money.

One of the things that really upset me was the Bowab’s reaction to my news that i was leaving. He actually slumped and his eyes welled up. Only people who have ever met my bowab can know how unlikely it is that he would ever cry in front of a woman especially. He is the top dog of the street, the head bowab. The saaidi man on the street, to be feared and respected. But I swear, he had to hold back his tears. I couldn’t. I stood blubbing on my doorstep. He assured me that they would never find someone as good as me. Because above all, I was a good person. God bless him. I know it. But it was really what i needed to hear to stop myself from hating everyone around me!

I am staying with a lovely Scottish friend, in her spare room. She is very welcoming and I really appreciate her putting me (and Ellie) up at a moments notice. At times like these I am even more grateful to my wonderful friends.

Also a huge thank you for all the many many messages of support I have had from around the world, with lots of what I affectionally would call ‘things my granny would say’ ; “everything happens for a reason” and  “what’s for you will not go by you” etc. It really does help to know people care , and to think of my granny sending me her support somehow!

 However, I miss my place already, although it’s only been 3 days. Maybe it is wrong to become so very attached to a flat, but I can’t help it.

 I still cry when I think about all those lovely evenings with friends coming over to visit.

Being able to open my house to interesting, fun, talented girls coming to stay with me from all over the world.

All those hours spent teaching and dancing in my very own studio.

 All those nights sitting in my ‘internet cafe’, my house guests and me all sitting round the giant dining room table each interacting to the leggy internet spider that spans the globe.

Those nights when rather than go out, we would all go into the studio, dim the lights, pour a drink, and just dance the night away.

Following the ever changing news of Egypt from my living room, and watching it live from my balcony.

The love and tears that went into making that flat a real home, for me and my guests.  The memories.

It’s always sad to leave a place you have been happy in, but usually you have some time to get used to the idea, Time to sort your things and pack. Usually you want to move on.

 I didn’t and the only way I can really fully express how I feel about it all is to stamp my feet, fold my arms, knit my brow, stick out my lower lip and sulkily shout;

“IT’S NOT FAIR"   !!!!

...

.........

 

.... and quietly hope that the next tenants are wild party throwers and enjoy living there as much as I did... whilst making the nosy neighbours and narrow-minded landlady’s life miserable!!

14 comments:

Lilith Noor said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I hope you find somewhere even nicer, and the landlady's new tenant turns out to be so awful that all her other tenants leave.

imposterpockets said...

I wish the best for you. To find a new niche, a new happy place, a new dance haven. :-)

Judy said...

So very sorry Lorna that this has happened to you.
I've seen you perform on the Nile boats and know just how "non-sleazy" your dancing is.
One of the charms of Egypt was it's lovely relaxed and fun-loving character but sadly since I first came here in 1983 I have watched it gradually change.
I have seen lovely, cheerful girls and women become dour and unsmiling when they were pressured to wear the hijab and the attitude that goes with it.
As the number of "beards"and niqabat increases, the light hearted aspect of the country is vanishing to be replaced by religious dogma which has little to do with actual belief, though there is much hypocrisy and double standards behind the front.
The only way we cope with living here now (I'm a Brit and my hubby is Egyptian) is to live in our own little bubble in a resort in Ain Sokhna.

I do hope that you can continue to dance here and you won't be forced to go back to the UK as one of the exponents of a beautiful art form which is due to become extinct.

All very best wishes and good luck

Judy

Anthea Kawakib Poole said...

so glad you posted about this; must've been quite a shock after 6 years. hope you stay safe while in Egypt -

Voracious, T said...

Oh, Lorna, I'm so terribly sorry ... I had so many good hours with you in that flat! I remember eating ice cream on your porch and craning my neck to see the pyramid. I just want you to know that you always have my love and, more importantly, my respect as an outstanding artist and ambassador, not only for dancing but for Egypt! My old flat in Garden City may be coming up available ... let me know if you want me to connect you with the man living there now (he's moving out soon!).

C said...

Lorna, I was very upset to hear about this and then to read all the details of the story. I have seen you dance on the boats and have been reading your blog over the years to get the scoop on dance in Egypt. Sorry that I never made it over there to your flat to hang out with you during my times in Cairo. It wasn't fair to treat you that way. And I wonder if your bowab could have found you a more congenial landlady as he probably does know everything going on in the street. Remember, lots of us are rooting for you. Now take the time to recuperate and regroup . . . something better awaits, insha'allah.

Uma said...

so sorry to hear this. I hope you draw strength on how inspirational you dancing is to everyone who knows the true nature of bellydancing.

Laurinha said...

I'm so sorry about this news, Lorna...I wish you luck and strength, and above all, keep dancing!

marilu said...

I'm so sorry, just want send you a very big hug, all my love from here...................is terrible, but maybe this change in your live gives you something good..........soon i hope.I agree, it's no Fair......my best wishes for you.
mosoat

Rosesart said...

Im very sorry for your dilema Lorna. For someone so talented and welcoming to be treated so badly is hard to believe. I was at your workshop when you came to Dublin and enjoyed the interest you took in teaching this beautiful art to us. I hope you get another home you will love very soon and Im confident you will. God Bless.

Nick said...

As usual Lorna, this is an amazing account of another extraordinary adventurous life. It links so well to the blog about other people's downsides of Egyptian/Cairo culture.

As usual, I look forward to your book that you must write if and when you ever stop the adventuring.

Amora Shams said...

Hello Lorna,

It it not about being fare, it's about their traditions or egyptian law. You were lucky your bawab didn't tell anyone about your night-job.

It happened the same to me when I was living for 2 years in Dokki area in Giza. When my landlord found out that after my family left to Spain, I had a friend of my father coming to chek me every day entering into my home, he thought he was my boyfriend, then one day that I was away from the flat for 5 hours, he broke into the flat and saw i was a dancer, so he packet all my things including touching with his hands my most private underwear, and left them down on the street, changing the keys of the flat. He kept the deposit of the flat plus the last month that I paid him in advance, so the excuse it wasn't that I didn't paid him, the excuse was that he thought I was a bad woman.

I am sorry to say this, but this in Egypt seems to be normal when they see you have a man coming into your flat and specially if you publicly tell people you are a bellydancer.

This it's why when I rent a flat for my students, I tell them that the rule number 1 it's DO NOT ALLOW ANY MEN TO ENTER THE FLAT, unless you live in Zamalek or in Al Rehab, there sould not be any problem about this matter.

If you need to rehearse with folkloric male dancers, then hire the studio in downtown at Emad el Dine. It's not expensive, it's save and they do not think bad of dancers.

Lots of luck!!!
Amora Shams

Amora Shams said...

Hello Lorna,

It it not about being fare, it's about their traditions or egyptian law. You were lucky your bawab didn't tell anyone about your night-job.

It happened the same to me when I was living for 2 years in Dokki area in Giza. When my landlord found out that after my family left to Spain, I had a friend of my father coming to chek me every day entering into my home, he thought he was my boyfriend, then one day that I was away from the flat for 5 hours, he broke into the flat and saw i was a dancer, so he packet all my things including touching with his hands my most private underwear, and left them down on the street, changing the keys of the flat. He kept the deposit of the flat plus the last month that I paid him in advance, so the excuse it wasn't that I didn't paid him, the excuse was that he thought I was a bad woman.

I am sorry to say this, but this in Egypt seems to be normal when they see you have a man coming into your flat and specially if you publicly tell people you are a bellydancer.

This it's why when I rent a flat for my students, I tell them that the rule number 1 it's DO NOT ALLOW ANY MEN TO ENTER THE FLAT, unless you live in Zamalek or in Al Rehab, there sould not be any problem about this matter.

If you need to rehearse with folkloric male dancers, then hire the studio in downtown at Emad el Dine. It's not expensive, it's save and they do not think bad of dancers.

Lots of luck!!!
Amora Shams

Mariette Frisby said...

I have been told this my whole life "Whatever happens, always happens for the best".
It was a lovely flat when I stayed at your place- but now it's time for you to find a better flat that your going to love even more!

Wishing you good luck in your flat hunting! :)

Mariette Frisby.