Monday, July 25, 2011

Hotels and Hospitals...

The nice stuff first!

Last week Ellie and I were invited along to the Sofitel gezirah hotel pool to join some friends who were over visiting from Italy for a wedding. They have a lovely pool there, which is almost an infinity pool... swimming along watching the Nile is a wonderful experience! It’s a lovely pool too... with a jacuzzi and Turkish baths and all sorts included in the spa area. A real treat. We did have a laugh at the menu though- the pizza named ‘vegan’ which was covered in mozzarella, very vegan... and the tiramisu which according to the menu ‘can be translated to wake-you up’!

It was interesting to hear all about the wedding too. An Italian girl marrying a Coptic Egyptian man. Seemingly the overwhelming numbers of photographers were actually pushing themselves between the priest and the couple during the ceremony!!! The ceremony was all in Coptic language and Arabic, with a smattering of English words. Thankfully the bride had had the foresight to have the vows translated into English on handouts for her guests. They still have in the vows that the wife must obey her husband... and at no point did the bride have to give her consent to the wedding in the ceremony either- no ‘I do’. Seems a shame, but then in Egypt- it is only VERY recently that the woman’s signature even had to be on the marriage papers at all... as long as her father signs for her, that was always enough. Thank god there has been some progression!

And then onto the not so nice stuff....

For the last 2-3 weeks I have had a very unsettled stomach... to put it politely. I put it down to a bug, or too many party nights, or irregular eating i.e. my own fault. However, these past 4 days have been horrible. I won’t go through the symptoms... but let’s just say I couldn’t leave the house, in fact, i could hardly leave the bed. When it got to the point that I had to cancel work I realised that I couldn’t put off going to the doctor any longer. The antinal I’d been taken (an antibiotic which is usually fabulous at clearing up tummy bugs) just wasn’t doing its job.

Going to the doctors in Cairo is very different than in UK. You don’t have to be registered anywhere... and there aren’t really GP’s. What you do is you go to one of the many privately run hospitals in the city. I have a very nice, new, modern one a short walk from my house- which is good, since that is all I could manage, not having had any fuel in me for 3 days. Then you ask for the type of consultant you wish to see.... and wait. Depending on which hospital the wait can be very long, or very short. Thankfully we didn’t have long before the Doctor came to the front desk to collect us himself (I have a feeling this was not the normal etiquette, rather it was something to impress the foreign girls!). Turns out the Dr Ahmed has spent 2 years in London studying and working there, and was very happy to discuss his time there with us. He gave me a quick examination and diagnosed a spastic colon (aka IBS) and gave me a prescription and that was it. Of course, there is no NHS in Egypt.... so I asked who we should pay, and bless him... he said no fee... this one is on me! There are defiantly some perks to being a foreigner in this city!

So no work for a few days... rest and drugs and hopefully I’ll be all better very soon. I better be- I have workshops to plan for my upcoming UK tour!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Musicans, morals and the makings of a better future..

Well... it's been an interesting week at work.

The first day of work I unfortunately had to call in sick. I can dance through many things... but a tummy bug is a bit too risky to attempt! (All better now!)

Then, the next night I was missing my dholla player. Seemingly his nephew had died so he’d had to travel up north to the funeral. He had been shot. I didn't get the whole story- or at least I didn't understand it, but I got that he was young. Unfortunately gun crime in Egypt does seem to have escalated since the revolution. I am guessing it’s still not level with that in most ‘developed’ countries, but still a lot more than was ever heard of in Egypt before. It is seemingly not illegal in Egypt to own a gun, even though they are supposed to be licensed... but then again- so are the cars!

The next day at work brought the fun and games. Whenever I have had a musician leave my band... there always has to be a drama around it. I can totally understand in these days with so little work for us all, that a tabla player, for example, might be able to get more work somewhere else and therefore chose to take the job that will cover his bills. If my work visa allowed me more freedom I would certainly be taking more work that the Pharaoh’s alone can offer just now. However, rather than come to me, his employer, and tell me that’s what has happened, obviously the better way of dealing with it in his mind was to make a big fuss about something very small and storm off in a huff. Huffing is a behaviour I have had to deal with more than I ever expected to in Egypt, especially since I don’t to work with children.

Saying that I did work with children last week... teaching salsa dance of all things to a group of Egyptian children on a summer camp program. I loved the way the younger girls, aged 5 and 6, already knew how to completely charm you, flirting their way through the class. The other girls, up to 13 years old were super conscious of their bodies, as all teenagers are... but when I tried to explain how to move the hips in salsa and pushed my hip out, it went out so much further than one of the girls expected that her eyes nearly popped out of her head in astonished admiration! She actually looked like she had got a fright!!! However- she then imitated beautifully!

Anyway... back to musicians... I have to say the working week finished with me being very impressed with my new tabla player, who although hasn’t quite understood the notion that he is supposed to follow me, rather than the other way around, is a super fast learner and managed to play my entrance piece without having even heard it before. My bereaved dholla player shouted out which rhythms to play and when. An on-stage class and rehearsal and performance all at once. They both did an amazingly good job. I enjoyed that show!

So to sum up, it’s worth putting up with the various problems and tantrums that get thrown in your way, if artistry is of such high quality when it appears. However, Egypt is full of talented artists and therefore musicians who respect their work and their employers and their audiences are the ones to look out for and hold onto! Not just musicians either, dancers too.

I have had many debates with my band over the years, because during lunch time sails they want to dress casually, often turning up to work unshaven and in less that their full ‘uniform’ of shirt and tie. I try to reason with them... but since the audiences are tourists on package trips from sharm or from cruise ships, the band seem to think that they wouldn’t know the difference between a good show and one just thrown together. This is what happens unfortunately sometimes when art becomes work... just do the bare minimum to get the pay. I still haven’t managed to get them to understand why they should respect these foreigners who come to their country and often are very interested in the culture and music. Eventually I have managed to get them into shape somewhat by showing them the clips that end up on YouTube. Who are the audience members who film everything and put it on the internet? The tourists. Who sees that- EVERYONE, including Egyptians, agents, other dancers etc etc. The message sank in a little, even if not for the right reasons.

Recently a friend of mine, and Egyptian, wrote on facebook that Egypt would do well if people would learn to stand in line..... I would argue- that if Children in Egypt were taught respect for others, no matter who they are, older, younger, Egyptian, non-Egyptian, rich or poor, then the vast majority of this societies negative issues would disappear. You don’t have to teach someone to stand in line if it makes ‘common sense’ that someone who was waiting before you for something should receive it first. You wouldn’t shoot a young man through difference of opinion, you’d reason with him. You wouldn’t huff like a child to distract from your own lack of loyalty. You wouldn’t judge a person’s art appreciation by their nationality. If people are all equal in your eyes, as is taught in most religions, including in Islam, then you would respect them all, and life would be so much better.  

Ah, sorry........’takes a deep breath’...... there I go again............ wearing my rose tinted glasses again to dream of a brighter future....... dare I dream?

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Don’t you already find that the nights you least expect to be good turn out to be the best?!!!

Last Thursday night I was NOT in the mood to party at all. I went out only because I had promised my friend Linda I would attend her open mic night, up on the roof, at Darb17/18. I take the metro to get there since it’s in fustat, very close to the metro stop mari girgis. Ellie and I were hesitant about taking the metro, since at night there are usually just too many men around for comfort, even if you ride the woman’s only carriage, which I always do, you still have to get there in the first place! Even if they don’t ‘do’ anything- they slow down so they can walk next to you, or behind you... it is not a nice feeling! Last Thursday night we were lucky. There was a major football match on with Ahly playing (one of the major Cairo teams) ... so many of the usually annoying boys, were plonked in front of a TV somewhere and not out to intimidate us girls! There is always the shove to get on the metro when it is so busy... people don’t wait for others to get out before they push their way in... It’s the worst thing about the metro. I have heard a story of a guy being separated from his shoe trying to get off at his stop! There is no concession made for a woman with a baby in her arms either. She is shoved along like everyone else.  One woman in our carriage got in... But it was such a stressful event that she had obvious tears in her eyes but the time she came to a standstill! It’s never boring. Even going to an event is always eventful!

So by the time we got to Darb unfortunately we had missed most of the 1st set. The second set was shorter than usual- but had some impressive acts. Leena from India performed a dance that was like a fusion of belly dance, Indian dance and contempary. That is the first dance act I have seen at one of these events.  There was a poet who had written traditional style poetry in fusha inspired by modern films. I couldn’t understand a word- but his voice and delivery was beautiful. There were two guys there called ‘extra cheese’ who did some rapping... and it was incredibly entertaining.... a mix of English and Arabic and very bouncy. I have to say though I wasn’t the only one in the audience who held their breath the 2 times one of ‘the cheeses’ jumped up onto the wall behind the stage (it is held on the roof of Darb after all!!!) The good news for the night was hearing that the open mic events have been deemed so successful that they will now be held every 2 weeks rather than once a month!! Well Done Linda!

Then I decided that part of the reason I had been in a low mood earlier, was because with less work these days than normal, my body was missing movement. If I don’t dance every 2nd or 3rd day at least then I get depressed. Literally... I am addicted to the endorphins that dance releases in my body! I should lock myself into my dance studio and just dance- but for some reason i can never seem to do that.... So off to Salsa at Bian Cafe, Mohandiseen it was. I loved it! They played one rock and roll track, which I sat out, but every other song of the night saw me being spin around the dance floor like a woman processed! I cannot explain the high dancing gives me! But Bian Cafe does not party all night long... and I was not prepared to leave that high too early... so Ellie and I went on with a group from salsa to the Armada nightclub... which parties till the break of dawn- literally. They play a mix of music with some R&B, which I love, and Egyptian pop and shabbi tracks to full on house music (which I hate- but last night with all those endorphins kicking about inside me found me bouncing about the dance floor with the rest of them!!!) It was the best of nights!

 The downside of the night was on leaving the club, discovering that someone had slashed the tyres on the car we had arrived in. His wasn’t the only car, 4 others had suffered the same fate. The theory is that the car valets, who charge money to look after your car while you are in the club, took offence to us just parking in the street and decided to take matters into their own hands. Horrific! Complaints to management were made. Inshallah that won’t happen again!

At the end of the night, i.e. dawn!!!, some of the group were still in party mood and suggesting sharia haram for the cabaret clubs there...... one of our group excused himself with the most entertaining and original reasons I have ever heard; “ Sorry- but I have a revolution to make in the morning! “

On Friday masses have gathered in Tahrir to demand that the original revolutions demands from January are actually met. Mubarak may have been brought down, but many feel it is only the figurehead that has changed and the way the country is being led is as far away from democracy as you can get. I wish them well and pray for a peaceful resolution, now they are on day 3 of their sit-in which has been peaceful thankfully. There is a lot of debate about whether this is the 'right' way forward for Egypt or not. Some people worry that having all these protests will scare away the tourists- who are much needed for Egypts economy. I feel that it is such a joy that Egyptians can at long last- for the first time in their lives and those of their parents, actually hold public political gatherings and voice their ideas, that as long as the protests remain peaceful, they actually cement the progress the country has already made since January. Education though is the real key now and needs to be pushed more. Teach people how to vote, how to campaign, how to chose what thhey want from a government. They have never had options before. Good luck to them all (to us all !!)

Friday, July 08, 2011

tourist visas, Hotel Bellylorna and the yacht!

I haven’t written a blog entry for some time- and I would love to say it is because I have been so busy working- but unfortunately that still isn’t the case.

There is a slight improvement in the numbers of tourists in town, but often the pharaoh boats where I perform are still only having one boat go out each night instead of the usual two. I hope it will pick up soon, but I am guessing it won’t now, not before Ramadan. I can but hope and cross my fingers and say Inshallah!!!!

 Egypt needs tourism. It is one of the main supports of the economy here. I heard to today that they are refusing tourist visa extensions from now on. That you can get your visa... but that while you are in the country you cannot then extend your visa. This will have a big impact on Egypt with many of the thousands of foreigners here are currently here on extended tourist visas. I am not really sure what the thinking behind it is.... if anyone reading this has any ideas I’d love to hear them!

So if I haven’t been working- what have I been up to....?

well... I was playing ‘hostess with the mostess’ to my two recent houseguests in Hotel Bellylorna. Two dancers from London who had a fabulous time here, taking classes (with various teachers), having massages (I have a girl who comes to the house to do that- she’s not professionally trained- but she’s great!), and they even had a how to make your own costume class here with someone who came to the house to show them the ropes! It was a fun 2 weeks!

During that time it was my birthday... and what a day I had. The best birthday ever! Woken up with pancakes (made with rum and covered in chocolate and banana!) oh and my favourite ‘eshta’ filled Turkish delight sweets while I waited for the pancakes and tried to reply to some of the hundreds of lovely face book birthday messages (thanks everyone!)

...Then a trip to the pool for a few hours... where I even had a birthday candle in my crème caramel!

.... home for an outfit change... then off to Sequoia for a delicious dinner with 2 close friends....

And then off to the Yacht that I had hired for the evening for my friends and I to party on!!! It was an amazing evening... with about 30 good friends gathered together on the yacht ( it was due to be 3 hours- but we were all enjoying it so much that lots of people opted to chip in some money to extent the trip for a 4th hour!).

I recommend the Valentino to anyone- it cost 450le per hour... docks between the Pharaohs and Fridays on the Giza corniche, and it is large and comfortable, with a great dance floor and sound system and the management are really easy to deal with. The owner even called me the next day to wish me a happy birthday and check that everyone had enjoyed their night! 

 Dancing on a Yacht on the Nile, with lovely friends (a special thanks to Laura for bringing along a ton of homemade goodies for us all, and also to Ellie, Ruth and Anna Louise!!). It felt ever so decadent... Duran Duran eat your heart out! We had about 9 belly dancers on the boat- you can imagine the party!!!

It seems many of my friends are also cancerians... with Diana (an American dancer here in Cairo) celebrating her birthday the day before and the two dancers from London (Delia and Debbie) celebrating theirs a week early too... 4 Belly Birthday girls......!

The night was so perfect in fact that one guy decided it was the perfect moment to propose to my friend at the front of the Yacht. I saw the moment... and thought they looked very sweet... but only after realised the importance of the occasion! Congratulations Laura and Mohammed!!!

Cairo at its best!
Life is good!

(I have some more photos to add to this blog.. but it doesn't seem to be letting me- so publishing now without those pics and will add them asap!)