Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is it safe to attend the Nile Group Festival in Cairo this November?

I just recieved an email from a dancer in Europe asking me whether Cairo was safe just now?

 She was trying to decide whether to attend the up coming Nile Group festival ( ) in November and said that the organisers said it was safe, but "they wouldn't, wouldn't they", she said. She asked me for my independant opinion.

I dont' know how independent my opinion can actually be. I live here. I work here. My work depends on tourism to a huge extent. I am biased to that extent. But i will try to explain how things are here just now....

There were recent problems when the copts (christians) demonstrated about the unfair laws concerning the building of new churches in Egypt. Tempers were sparked by a horrible recent attack on a church in Aswan where people died. The army dealt with the demonstration in a very heavy handed way which was very upsetting for us all, and in which people who were demonstrating died. Thats a very brief summary of the events, by no means meant to belittle what happened. This was 2 weeks ago now.

Since those events... Cairo has continued to have some demonstrations.... although they are usually small and very localised,  nothing compared to what we see from wall street and other world financial centres at the moment!

There has been no more violence or rioting since then. Yes there are elections coming up, and once the campaigning starts perhaps there will be a different atmosphere, who knows? Put it this way, i wouldn't recommend you stay in a hotel next to Tahrir...

There are still less police on the streets than would be ideal for a city of this size... so opportunist petty crimes are still occuring. In the streets you have to be careful of your bag (and of your backside!) However, within the last month, I had a dancer from Italy staying with me and hotel Bellylorna, and at the end of her month trip here, when asked what she thought of Cairo. She had loved her time here. A lot of which she spent on her own often wandering around areas just soaking in the atmosphere. She said she liked that she felt very safe to do so. In fact, she said she was much more concerned for her person and belongings while walking around Rome than she was in Cairo.

I avoid Tahrir on Fridays. I have done since January. I promised my family back home in Scotland that I would keep myself safe and that's how to manage that. If there are protests, whether these stay peaceful or escalate, they are almost all centered in Tahrir and you can be a 15 minute walk from Tahrir and not be aware of them.

I have changed my behaviour since January, in that I wouldn't walk in the streets alone at night anymore, and I wouldn't carry large sums of cash around with me. I also try to put distance between me and any men or boys in the street... just in case a hand reaches out. But, this is the worst of it, in my experience as a foreigner living here, and happens in many large cities all over the world.

I still work on the Pharoah boat on the Nile, and most dancers are still also performing. I still go out to cafes, bars, clubs. I still get taxi's everywhere. I still live a 'normal' life here. The only 'stressful' thing is the imagining how the elections might go and how Egypt will change in the upcoming years. Which isn't something which really would affect most dance tourists coming for a week or two to Cairo.

Is it safe to come to Cairo- I would say YES.
Can i guarentee that? No, of course not.
Would I 'risk' it to attend a dance festival - absolutely YES!

In fact i would go as far as to say, if you always dreamed of going to a festival in cairo but haven't yet, now is the PERFECT TIME to come. Some people are scared to come, so there are a lot less students in every class which means you get to see the teacher more! In fact, even if you came before and were put off due to high number in each class, i would encourage you to try again now. You get a lot more for your money!

I look forward to' welcoming you 'in' Egypt' soon!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My multiple 'jobs' in Cairo...

Yes, i am a professional Bellydancer in Cairo... But that's not all I do.....

This week Ellie of London (my flatmate) has been busy with a lot of singing gigs, so i have been following her around being her ‘assistant’. She is always so supportive of me in my work and often comes to the pharaoh to be my labisa (dresser) so it’s nice to be able to return the favour ...helping each other and a fun night out too!

At her work, I advise in the sound check (and continue to do this throughout the evening), liaise with the management and the staff and sound engineer. I translate where necessary too. Of course, I also keep her supplied with drinks through the night and I take seriously the ‘crowd whipper upper’ element of the job, applauding loudly, getting people on the dance floor and generally agreeing with everyone how wonderful she is (especially if management are within earshot!) I take song requests from the audience for her, also take photos and video for use for promotional stuff and generally be a PA so that she can do her job of singing and entertaining the audience without those worries.

At first it was weird for Ellie to think of me as her PA. She has always known me as a dancer in Cairo, and often helped me in various aspects of my work, so it felt weird for her to introduce me to anyone was her ‘assistant’.In UK a singer wouldn’t need anyone with her. In Egypt it would be unwise for a woman to go alone anywhere, and since artists (not only dancers) are often seen as having dubious morals then people often tend to think they can take advantage when they see a woman alone. In fact, not a single person at any event has ever questioned ‘why’ she might need me there, which again shows how normal it is here. At last night’s venue the staff just took to calling me ‘the beautiful assistant’. It’s a fun job for me when I am not dancing.

I also think it is useful as a performer to do the assistant job from time to time. As a solo artist it is easy to feel lonely. You are on stage alone thinking no one else can fully understand what you are doing or how it feels up there. From helping Ellie, I know that I am imaging how she feels, what she might need and therefore putting myself a hundred times a night in her shoes. I realise that my assistants have always done that too (the good ones anyway!!) thinking what i might need before i get up on stage and as soon as I come back to the changing room. I feel less like it’s a one woman show, and much more like it’s a team effort now. (and that’s without the dynamics of working with a live band!)

Performing is my passion, and 'artist' is the job title printed on my work visa.

I love teaching too, whether it’s workshops , or private classes.

Managing ‘Hotel Bellylorna’ is always entertaining playing ‘mummy’to all the dancers from all round the world that end up coming to stay with me in Cairo. Often it involves a fair amount of tour guiding and cultural advising!

Tonight a friend said to Ellie, “but, what I’d really like to do with my life is what Lorna does”. Ellie was rather surprised as this man did not strike her as belly dancer material as such. He laughed and said, “oh no, I wasn’t thinking about that... I mean her writing, the blog, you know. I’d like to be a writer too”. I felt honoured that someone saw me in that light before even the dance. That’s a first for me. Even i see myself as dancer first and everything else after. I guess i am a writer too, which was actually my dream job if anyone ever asked me when I was a little girl what i wanted to be when i grew up. I always answered a writer, or one of ‘Pans People’ (a dance troupe who performed on the TV show ‘Top of the Pops’ !!!

Here I am living more than one of my dreams. Dancer, Teacher, Manager/Tour Guide/'Mum', PA to a star and Writer!

My many jobs here in Cairo keep me busy, keep a roof over my head, keep me sane and connect me with some fabulous people. I love all of my jobs! Life is good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Damn JD for being right!

In this context, JD stands for Jim Davidson, who, when i met him, was hosting the BBC TV series ‘The Generation Game’. I was called in a couple of years running to be their ‘expert’ in Belly dance and performed (with my 2 lovely friends Hannah and Elspeth) and then judged the contestants with marks out of 10 for how well they did. It was a fun experience both times and the first time I had ever had a professional make up artist work her magic, which was an eye opener too. ( Yes it was back in the days when i was blond too!!!) 

Why was he right? Because Jim’s words of wisdom for me were, “Lorna, you’re never going to be famous or make money from belly dance, you know that don’t you?”. I replied that others had, but actually that wasn’t my goal anyway. I loved dance and it made me happy and no employer can pay you in happiness the way dance does for me. If most of my waking hours of my life are going to be spent at work, why have a job that makes me miserable? All I want is enough. Thankfully this is exactly what i have actually always been given, enough. And it is , enough.

 Jim’s reaction, when he was trying to get his head around the idea that it wasn’t all about the money, was that I “wouldn’t make money because I loved what i did too much”. When i asked him to explain he told me that when you don’t like doing something, people have to pay you a lot to make it worth your while, or you don’t do it. If you love it, often you end up doing it for free, or for less than it’s worth, even if you didn’t mean to.

Last night saw a perfect example of JD’s prediction come true.

Ellie of London, the newest singer in Cairo, had a gig on a private yacht last night. I went along as her chaperone, bodyguard, assistant, whatever you want to call it- actually i just went along because i was nosey and wanted a night on a yacht – is that so bad? No seriously, it is never wise for a woman, singer or dancer, to go alone to a gig unaccompanied and although the people turned out to be very decent and lovely, if Ellie had been out on the Nile on a yacht with people who were not that, it would be a potentially very difficult and dangerous situation for her. Anyway, it was the yacht owner’s party, to show off his new yacht to his friends and have a bit of a party, and they were lovely.

Ellie sounded amazing and sang songs from almost every genre you can think of. Some people danced , others they didn’t. When i saw women bopping in their seats but embarrassed to get up to dance i went over and got them onto the dance floor. Not because it was my job, or anyone asked or expected me to, but because I wanted the night to go well and everyone to have fun. That’s just what i do, play hostess even when it’s not my party! Maybe that is a line of business i should go into- party whipper upper...  with a more suitable job title of course.  Anyway, I was dancing with a group of about 5 Egyptian women to the shoop shoop song, or something of that ilk, when I heard one saying to the others, in arabic, “we should ask for baladi, I want to dance baladi”. I thought nothing more of it at the time, except that i understood and felt the same.

Later in the evening the yacht owner comes over and asks if he puts on baladi music would i do a show for them. I said “absolutely not, I am not working, you know I am not working tonight”.  He tried to persuade me, i wouldn’t be moved. Eventually i did agree that if baladi music came on, and others were dancing, i would of course dance with them, as I had been dancing with everyone all night, no different... but no show.

Can you guess what happened yet...?

So, he asks me to ask Ellie to put on some Egyptian music. I did, then I ran to the bar to hide. Around me the women start dancing, but again, just in their seats... I pull them up (doh! THATS when i made my ‘mistake’) so we dance together. I tone down my dancing too so i don’t scare them off but slowly one by one, they slink off the dance floor. The owner, then the owners son, come to dance with me too, but they too drift off.

I find I’m on my own on the dance floor. I SHOULD, if i had taken JD’s advice all those years ago, gone to sit down immediately. Business wise, that would have been the ‘smart’ plan. Don’t perform for free, especially in front of people who might employ you at a later event.

Could I sit? No I couldn’t.

Why? Because i felt tricked or pressurised into performing? No, that wasn’t it.

 It was because, quite frankly, i was loving dancing. I was blissfully happily lost in the music. I didn’t even ‘perform’, I just danced- for me. I loved it.

They applauded, they loved it too.

Ellie, bless her, was annoyed on my behalf, feeling I had essentially been pushed into having to work for free. The main thing that had annoyed her was that when she was booked for the gig she had recommended me to them in case they also wanted to hire a dancer. They had looked at her in disgust at the suggestion, saying oh no, we are not that sort of people. Their reaction to what she and i consider an art form,  I think it was perhaps her first encounter of the hypocrisy which surrounds belly dance in this country and the misperceptions people have of dancers. The country where they place their 3 year old on the table to dance for everyone, but would disown her or worse if at 30 she chose to do the same! Egyptians love the music and dance, they feel it is part of them, but at the same time most look down on anyone who might choose to dance for a living, then of course they ‘force’ me to dance for free. I totally understand her point and very much appreciate her concern for me, but I don’t feel bad about it. Maybe the people who talked to me, interested to find out more about this British expat in Cairo, will then, seeing me dance, alter even slightly their impressions of what a belly dancer is. Yes, I might have blown my chance to charge for a performance on the same boat on another occasion. But maybe not. Perhaps, someone will remember the Scottish belly dancer they saw at a private yacht party on the Nile and decide to hire me for a wedding or party. It’s not overly likely I agree, but do I care? No, I don’t.

I love dancing.


There are times when the dance has to be just that, just for dance. If it is always work i would lose the joy it gives me. If that happens, I may start making money, but I’d be better off sat behind a desk, working  9-5 with a pension plan and paid holidays. I don’t need to make money, I don’t need to be rich, or famous. Those things don’t make a person happy.

 I just hope that dance continues to do what it has always done for me... fills my soul, makes me happy and provides me with  ‘just enough money’ to continue dancing my life away!

So no JD, sorry, but you are wrong. You can’t see the results in material things. I don’t own houses or yachts or wear designer clothes (except for designer costumes that is!). i don’t drive sports cars or wear diamonds.

 However, love of dance actually makes me one of the richest people I know.

And it’s enough.

Nb- just for the record, I feel I should add here that I do NOT condone dancers undercutting others or dancing in restaurant for their meals or for tips or any of these horrible stories you hear of. That is a very different scenario than what I am discussing above. If you are working- treat your art, and other dancers, with respect and charge a fair rate for your work. Otherwise you undervalue us all along with yourself!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tonights violence in Cairo... return of the curfew

Tonight i was at a friends house, playing trivial pursuits. It was a lovely evening, until his mum called to warn us that there were troubles downtown and that a curfew had been put into place from 2-7am.

We left immediately and I got home to read all the news and see the heart breaking video footage of army trucks driving straight at protestors.

Seemingly there was a demonstration, by copts and supporting muslims against the burning of a church in Aswan last week. Armed thugs came and attacked them, and then in the fighting that ensued the army became involved and were shooting live ammo into the crowds and then driving at the people in tanks. The worst 'crowd management' you could imagine. Many are dead, even more are injured. It's horrific and sad and pointless.

Chaos in Cairo ( although at the moment its only in downtown area of Cairo.... We didn't see any problems at all on our way home to mohandiseen) .

This is not a fight about religion. Its a fight for human rights.

WHATEVER the argument- driving over civilians in armoured tanks cannot ever be acceptable?!!!

God/Allah- whatever you want to call him, be with the families of those injured and killed tonight............. I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it all and hope to God that there is peace by morning. The people of cairo have already had such a difficult year, and although i have always said I suspected it will get worse before it gets better, i really did not imagine the army would go to these extreme lengths to bring the people down. Either some peace treaty of sorts will have to be worked out tomorrow between the army and the christian protestors, or i suspect there will be more violence to come. I really hope its the former...

An Egyptian Journlist friend is just writing to me now and asking me to write that he believes the army want to please the Islamists. But wants you to know that only 5million out of 85 million Egyptians are Islamists. They gather support from the masses partly because they have always had it played that is is 'us or them'... ie if you are not with us you are against us. But now, due to recent behaviour, for example the burning of the church last week, less people are sympathing with the Islamists and more are wanting equality for all. Although it's not been polled, he believes the majority of Egyptians are against this sectarianism. Certainly everyone i know in Cairo is.

For friends and family reading this- Cairo is a big city- and i live very far from the troubles tonight which are very localised in the downtown area. I am home and safe and will stay that way- don't worry. Egypt is my home and i love it here. It's just going through a painful growing spurt right now, I hope she grows up soon.....

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Advice for female travellers to Cairo, Part2 - How smart women behave in Cairo.....

Do you have to behave differently depending on where you are?  No of course you don’t HAVE to... but you do already, even if you don’t realise it. Most women already act differently depending on who they are with at the time, their parents, their partners, their children, their bosses, strangers.  We do this for various reasons, conscious or unconscious.

 My blog entry here is my suggestions on how to adapt your behaviour in Cairo, based on my experiences, and those of my female friends, and are based on the assumption you want to reduce the amount of unwanted attention you receive especially in the streets.

 If, of course, you enjoy and want more attention (heaven forbid) then you can do the opposite of these things and God be with you!

-          Dress appropriately- see my previous blog entry;

-          Eye contact can be seen as an invitation. When walking in the street try not to look at people. Looking at the ground helps. Very dark or mirrored sunglasses also help so people can’t see you looking at them!

-          Touch is another no-no. Try to avoid touching men! I mean even from hand shaking or a touch on the shoulder or arm when talking. In many countries it is very normal to accentuate a point using a slight touch to the hand or whatever- but not in Egypt! Touching women is normal and good, if you are a woman, although not usually with strangers!

-          Kissing is illegal in public! Even if you are married. Just don’t do it. When meeting people, and saying goodbye, many countries  kiss on the cheek as a normal greeting. This is also normal in Cairo, but only men-men and women-women. Never between a man and a woman. Many ‘westernised’ Egyptian man will attempt this greeting form, but it is wise, especially in public to adopt a strong hand hold so they can’t. Even if it is just a friend. Most people will understand this response from you and not take offence.

-          On  ‘taking offence’ , do not feel you have to be polite. Never get yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable just because you don’t want to say no. I have found I have had to almost be what i would consider rude in order to get my point across without misunderstandings and silliness. So if a shopkeeper takes your hand to shake it, and holds onto it, even if he is smiling and talking perfect English to you, remember he would NEVER do this to an Egyptian girl, he wouldn’t have even shaken her hand in the first place. You have every right to pull your hand away and talk sternly to him. Be strong. You will be respected for it.

-          Dancing in the street, in a Cafe, restaurant  etc is NOT a good idea. Egyptian women would NOT do this! (unless its somewhere like Bian cafe which actually operates salsa evenings!)

-          Laughing out loud can be seen as ‘easy’. Egyptians are drawn to ‘light-blooded’ people ie whose who laugh easily. Laughing will make you more desirable.

-          Smiling and giggling get the same reaction as laughing. Poker face is best in Cairo streets and when doing business.

-          When you walk limit how much bounce and sway you give your curves. A supportive bra is a must if you are blessed in that department!

-          When i walk i tend to swing my arm by my side... on more than one occasion i have by doing this managed to get my arm between a gropers hand and my rear end!

-          The other arm is holding onto the strap of my handbag. There has been an increase of bag snatching in Cairo since the revolution along with other petty crimes so just be on your guard. Although one recent guest from Rome commented on how much safer she felt in the streets of Cairo than at home!

-          Chatting in taxi’s is a tactic used by drivers to work out where you are from and therefore how much money you have and how they can best scam you out of it. Sometimes they just want to flirt. Don’t sit in the front of the taxi as a woman, especially if the driver asks you to and beware of roaming hands. If you are in this situation treat the driver as the child he is and get out the cab immediately. Also all taxi’s have a registration number- it’s hard to remember to do it but a good idea to take a note of the number if you can!

-          When you are in a car or taxi, don’t make eye contact with other drivers. By accident i have done this before and had to get the driver to drive a very long route to shake our follower off our tail!

-          As in most places – if you wander about, looking all around you as you go, then you will look like a tourist and be more likely to be approached. Walk wherever you are going in a determined manner. Actually- it’s wise to look at the pavement anyway since they are so uneven and you don’t want to trip!

-          Don’t walk in the street at night if you can help it. Two women together will attract double the attention! I have tried to walk the wrong way up a one way street before to avoid a curb crawler, but to no avail- he followed me up the road and then i was in a worse situation because there were less people about. ( I was shaken but ok, since he drove off when i threatened to scratch his lovely BMW with my keys- it’s a good idea to carry keys in your hand as self defence – just in case!)

-          If you are a Bellydancer- LIE when people ask you what you do! Unless they are in the same industry , you will always be considered ‘easy’ if you are a dancer! I always tell people that i ‘work in tourism’ when they ask.... well, it’s true too!

-          If you are being asked by a taxi driver, man in the street, in a shop wherever, it’s always best to say you are married , even if you aren’t.  Some single women travelling alone in Egypt even wear wedding bands to give them more confidence to do this. If you are travelling with a partner or boyfriend- LIE and say you are married. It just makes your life easier!

-          If you are lost, local shopkeepers know their area and are better to stop than policemen or passersby. The best place to ask is a chemist since they are on almost every street and to get your pharmacy degree you have to have good English!

-          Never feel pressurised to go anywhere or do anything you don’t want to do. Egyptians can be great salesmen and persuaders. Go with your gut instinct every time. Even if you feel you have to be ‘rude’ to get out of a situation. They will actually respect you more for this!

-          Try not to be alone with a man...... this need a lot more explanation so I am writing a separate blog entry about this one.... and will publish asap

Of course... all this is just advice. You do not have to follow it to the letter. You may feel safe in certain places, with certain people and there your behaviour will be more normal. Eventually, if you spend some time in Cairo, then you will learn where you can relax and where you can’t. Also if you master some of the language you are in a better position to understand the comments made at you in the street and know whether they are meant in a sleezy or friendly way.  Until you reach that point its wise just to make yourself stand out as little as possible!

I love living in Cairo. It’s my home now. There are many fabulous people here. The one things that all Foreign and Egyptian women alike ALL complain of is the hassle from men  on the streets, and nothing will ever stop it completely, unfortunately, but hopefully some of these behavioural suggestions will help reduce it somewhat, and help you enjoy your time in Cairo even more.

So, when walking in the streets of Cairo, enjoy, laugh, smile, dance, wonder at this crazy city- just keep it all inside- don’t let any of it show on your face or body language- get to work on that poker face!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Advice for female travellers to Cairo, Part1- What to wear in Cairo...

It always seems to be an issue... and to this day  i still have to double check every outfit before i leave the house to see how Cairo proof it is....

I googled ‘what to wear in Egypt’ and found this website which is very interesting.. . but many of the comments i don’t really agree with in regards to clothing suggestions. Here are my thoughts on the subject;

Lorna’s Guide for women regarding daytime clothing in Cairo!

-         The most common question- do I need to cover my hair? NO. You don’t, unless you are going to visit mosques. In which case a scarf/ shawl kept in your bag will do the job when you get there... In fact a blonde friend of mine said that she got even more unwanted attention when she wore a hijab, since the men seemed to think that a foreign muslim woman was an even greater ‘catch’. On the hair note- I have heard from various people ideas of wisdom of going outside with wet hair. It means you are just out the shower, and obviously you had sex just before that shower so obviously you want it again, with any man on the street that asks. I am not sure i totally agree with that pattern of thinking.... but if you are not feeling comfortable in your own skin it might be best not to risk it! I do however find a big difference if I go out with my hair down or pinned back. If you have long hair, especially if it is blonde or red, then its a good idea to clip it back when on the street. The swishing attracts more attention and some may feel they have the right to touch it (usually women who do this!)

-          Trousers- an obvious good choice? Yes, if they are not transparent.... beware especially of white cotton/linen! Remember that many materials which look opaque in a shop mirror may well be transparent under strong sunlight. These same items may be totally fine for wearing at night in Cairo. Jeans i always thought were the worst choice because they are heavy in the heat, but actually- assuming they are not too tight.. they often are my favourite choice since you look less like a tourist, and also because they don’t show the sweat!

-          Shorts- No.... unless you are in a holiday resort eg sharm or somewhere- Not for Cairo. In fact I wouldn’t wear cut off jeans or skirts that are above knee height at all. (actually not a good choice for men either unless very long shorts!!!)

-          Skirts- long- fine- but check for the see-through test!!! Knee length- great- but if they are full skirts beware since Cairo can be windy! Oh and be careful getting in and out of taxi’s in even below the knee skirts! If it is a wrap around skirt- pin it! The wind and getting into taxi’s etc could have you showing a lot more flesh that you intended- and believe me- it will be noticed!

-          Whether it’s a skirt or trousers, or jeans.... make sure if they sit low on your hips that your top is long enough to cover them..... exposed belly/hip/ lower back will attract unwanted attention from male and female! No bare bellies in Cairo (even us dancers and still supposed to wear the body stocking on stage remember!)

-          Cleavage is a no- no. Check all your tops.... what might be ok and normal amount of cleavage in uk or wherever is probably not in Cairo. If you can see any line, any bump on your chest that could distinguish you from a man, then have it covered! I often wear vest tops under lower cut tops to make sure this is kept under wraps. A little cropped top can also be worn so you cover the cleavage but don’t add to many layers onto an already warm outside for Cairo temperatures.  Remember the bending down to speak to taxi drivers test too.................!!!

-          Dresses are usually fine, assuming they have sleeves, no cleavage and below knee... which is often not the case. However – don’t panic – you can wear your summer dresses if you are ok wearing leggings underneath if they are a little short (or at risk of blowing up!) or a little bolero top to give you arms if it’s a strappy one.

-          Leggings- If it’s a tight mini dress that you wear with leggings- try to ensure that it really does cover your bum and you are not having to pull it down all the time- otherwise you will look like you are intentionally drawing eyes (and potentially hands) to that area! Leggings are seen by the majority of Egyptian women and therefore men as an item of underwear. They are not a substitute for trousers. They show too much detail!

-          Most of these suggestions are for the main areas in Cairo that I am in daily, Mohandiseen, Zamalek, Maadi. These areas have a large proportion of foreigners and ‘westernised’ Egyptians. If you are going to be downtown (where the museam is) or in more ‘local’ (baladi) areas, including el Hussain (where the khan el Khalili bazaar is) then i recommend less flesh on show... ie full length trousers/jeans/skirt rather then to the knee and maybe a long sleeve too.

-          This comment is for your own health and comfort rather than what others might think. Wear as much natural fibres as possible. It does get hot and sweaty in Cairo. Nylon is hotter to wear than cotton! This is another reason i like jeans!
-          T-shirts.... totally fine.... most places in Cairo. Even tightly fitted- as long as they cover armpits (which are frowned upon... but i suspect that has more to do with a lack of use of deodorant in Egypt than with the flesh itself!!!) and are long enough to cover the top of your jeans or whatever. Stappy tops are a no-no in public too (in Cairo remember- these things are fine places like sharm.)

-          A big baggy blouse is fine... as long as it’s not see-through.... bra straps on show are like wearing your bra in public. Not a good idea. Also check that the buttons don’t gape in any blouse you wear.... otherwise you’ll have some strange conversations while people, i mean men, try to see through the gaps!!!

-          Baggy verses tight. You would think that things which show off your curves more would get you more attention... you are right- but its attention the way Egyptian women get attention too. So it depends – if you want to look less like a tourist the tighter clothes are better! I have a wardrobe full of clothes i rarely wear now that i bought to come to Cairo on previous trips before I moved here,  linen trousers and tunic style tops that scream ‘agnabi ‘ (foreigner!).   I get less hassle in the streets here in Jeans and a t-shirt than if i wear baggy skirt and top. I might look sexier, but i also look more like I belong! It’s a fine balancing act!

-          Colour. Certain colours will draw the eye more. Red is used in advertising for that very reason. A tight black t- shirt will attract a lot less attention than a red one! Remember if you go for white that it should be thick enough cotton to mask the bra strap!!!!

-          A solution to see through skirts /trousers- a top or scarf tied round your hips....? NO!!!! This makes your hips and the hip movement more obvious and you will attract MORE comments. (that is why we tie something there when we bellydance!!!)

-          Skin on show..... a little is ok, ie arms is ok, lower legs is ok, upper chest is ok... but if you have all three on show... you’ll be commented on!

-          Shoes. High heels when you go out at night can be a liability. The streets are very uneven- so if you have any amount of walking to do, then wear a pair of ‘ship ship’ (flip flops)  to get you there and then change into your heels on arrival- this will also protect your shoes from damage!!! High heels lift you bum and make it swing- its why we wear them.... so if this brings extra attention it might not be a good idea for that reason too!

-          Make up. If you wear a lot of make up, you may stand out more, especially during the day. The heavier the make-up the looser the character of the girl wearing it..... or at least that’s how it seems to work in the minds of many here, unfortunately. Go light... or add the lipstick when you arrive at the club!

-          Body shape counts. In Cairo the curvy woman is the goddess. Showing off those curves or swinging them about will attract a lot of comments. In our lives we tend to try and dress to show off and accentuate our body shape. In Cairo during the day anyway, i try and do the opposite, and my curves aren’t big to begin with! I definitely dress down for Cairo streets... and it makes a difference!

Night time rules differ. If you are going to a westernised bar/club/ hotel/ restaurant you can wear whatever you want inside and you will often see very skimpy outfits. Just cover up to get there and home!!!

The best investments i ever made clothes wise in Cairo? Lots of large shawls and also very long, loose-fitting light cotton cardigan type tops which i usually pin onto me before i go out each night!

Tip for buying holiday clothes so you don't stick out so much- wear clothes you would normally wear at home- ie dont go out and buy a linen safari suit (unless thats your style in your own country of course!). Be mindful of sleeve length, body length of tops, neckline, and leg length of skirts , dresses and cropped trousers. Check material content (ie natural is better). Check transparency! Lacy/patterned bras that show through clothes are a bad idea too!

oh- and don't ever think you'll just buy important items here eg bikini or underwear- if you can find something you would be seen dead in and won't make your hair stand on end from static- chances are it has the 100% import tax on it!!
To attract a little less attention when you go out at night i know some women (Egyptians) who will remove chunky or shiny jewellery and only put it on once they arrive at their destination. If you are out and you see Egyptian girls dressed in a revealing, western manner- they probably came by car, they did not arrive by taxi!

A lot of what i read about for how to dress here comments on respecting people’s culture. There is an element to that of course. But really, for me its about reducing the hassle in the street. We will always get unwanted attention just because we are foreign, but you can reduce it by covering up somewhat. It goes to that same horrible WRONG argument you used to hear a lot in the west some years back that if a woman was wearing a mini skirt or something sexy like that, and attacked then she was 'asking for it' and somehow deserved it?  Also I notice if I cover, then the looks from women are usually admiring, but if i don’t they look at you like you are the devil herself. If anything bad was to happen, I’d like to think that the women at least would stand by me if I try to dress ‘normally’.  I hope i never have the occasion to test that theory!

Don’t panic if you are planning a trip to Cairo and this has worried you even more.... just think lots of layers!!! Oh and remember if you are coming in summer , although it may be 40deg in day and 30 at night... you will still need something to keep you warm in restaurants since they usually set their air conditioning units to 16 deg!!!!!

Like I said- i live in my jeans with a long length t-shirt. The same as I would probably wear in the UK. It might be Egypt- but you don’t have to mummify yourself!

Monday, October 03, 2011

The spec wearers of Cairo...

I have been told by a friend that i HAVE to write this as a blog entry since seemingly my logic isn’t obvious to everyone....

I walked into a shop yesterday and asked, in Arabic, the price of something. He looked very confused and i laughed and said i know you expected English and chatted away in English  for a bit with him. My friend was a little confused- “how did you know he spoke English”? My answer, “Well... it’s obvious isn’t it? He was wearing glasses......”

Ok- there were a few other telltale signs. His clothes, his manner, the way he was following the conversation not trying to butt into what we were saying.... but yes... my gut instinct was because of the specs.

I am probably very wrong statistically.... but it seems to me that the majority of spectacle wearers in Cairo speak English. Talk about stereotypes eh?! Yes I am guilty of it.

 I can only suppose I think this from my experience’s so far and have never before realised that is what I have always assumed!

My only reasoning for it goes like this:

Glasses are expensive to buy = therefore the wearer and or his/her family has money = therefore have given him/her a good education =and that always includes another language =and that language is usually English.

So, in my logic (which of course is often found to be faulty) if you are in Cairo, and need to speak English for some reason... ask the guy in glasses........!

Timekeeping in Cairo

The first time a man in Egypt said to me “ we should have breakfast together soon”... I freaked out. Until i realised he wasn’t implying that we spent the night together, but that we meet during the day for food since breakfast can be the name of the 1stmeal of the day taken as late at 3 or 4pm! If somebody says”let’s do lunch sometime you never read anything seedy into it”. This is how a breakfast proposal should be taken here!

Also, when planning an event, night out, anything in fact-even work, exact times are rarely given. It is always left open in accommodate whatever‘happens’ to you during the day, which an exact time only being when someone says, “yes I’ll be with you in 5 mins” (which always means nearer 15 at least!). Also people will say, “ let’s do something later”... which could mean anything from a hours time (granted this is seldom the outcome) to 8pm, to 10 pm, to 2am..or later this week or month... it’s all very fluid. I really don’t know how things ever happened or people ever managed to meet with each other at all here in Cairo before the time of mobiles!
Oh, and if someone arranges to meet you 'later' but doesn't call... it means it was never a fixed arrangement anyway! In reality it actually means that something else (usually something better in their eyes) has come up. It is never meant as an insult. Be wary of any planned meeting times which end with 'Inshallah'. Always call to confirm! The real meaning of this word is 'god willing' but in reality is often used to imply that there is a good chance it will not happen....

At work I have to lie to my musicians about what time they have to be at the boat for (so that they are there in plenty of time before it sails!). I have learned to do this, but unfortunately the boat management in turn also do this to me... telling me the boat is due to sail before it actually is. Which is fine if you are late, since you aren’t in fact late, but hellish when you arrive early and discover you are super early! I once had a band arrive an hour after I had asked them to come... which was 15 mins after the guests were really supposed to come ( and 45 mins after the time the management told me they would come) and when i went nuts at them for being late one drummer told me “ but the guests aren’t here yet so what’s the problem? Obviously god loves you which is why the guests are late......” (I won’t write what i replied!)

At weddings people always state a time on the invitations at least an hour before they even really want people there... knowing that guests will be late. Recently when helping a friend plan her wedding , she was saying we’ll say 2 so they come for 3, and the ones who come by 3 or 4 are the real family and friends and the ones who turn up by 6 or 7 are the distant relatives etc anyway so it doesn’t matter?!!!

As for dinner arrangements, it’s always wise to check what time someone usually eats their dinner if you arrange to meet them for that. Dinner can be anything from 6/7pm- 2am depending on the lifestyle of the people in question. Certainly in my work it is unusual to eat the evening meal before midnight!

Friday daytime doesn’t actually start until after the prayers at 12/1pm. That is to say, of course it does, but if you are arranging to meet someone... never ever arrange a Friday ‘morning’!

Oh, and morning doesn’t end at midday.

Obviously, it ends at the afternoon prayer (the one which is mid way between the noon prayer and the sunset prayer).

So when greeting people you say “good morning” to them until about 3/4pm!

That’s me off to bed now... I feel like I need an early night. Its 2am. Night night!

Oh- and please forgive me my very unreligious approach to the 5 calls to prayer in Cairo;

Sunrise= bedtime

Midday= get up

Mid afternoon= breakfast

Sunset= drinks on balcony (assuming no work- if I have work, then run for taxi)

Last prayer= get ready to go partying (or get onto stage if at work!)

Cairo's timings don't suit everyone. If you plan to do lots in a day, you will often be disappointed since even seemingly easy jobs like posting a letter can take up a whole morning. Especially if there is traffic to contend with! In UK I was always taught not to phone people after 9pm, unless its been arranged previously, since they may be in bed. Here that idea is proposterous. In Cairo it is normal to call almost anytime, since the understanding is that if you want to sleep at 3pm, or 3am, either way, then you will put your mobile on silent. Many people I know come home from work between 3 and 6 pm and get 2-3 hours sleep before heading out for their night out. Every night of the week. Shift sleeping patterns are normal to many people!
Once you get used to Cairo's time keeping it usually becomes fairly easy to understand... however the times I now always get caught out are by those freaks of nature- the 'perfect' time keepers. Usually these people who meet you at exactly the pre arranged time because they assume that i will be punctual- being British. Oh dear..... I am sorry to you all if i have ever left you waiting for me at anytime!
I love Cairo- The city where no-one would be surprised or frown at me or criticise me for sleeping until 11am everyday.
See- even bedtime is fluid... my 'early' night is after 2.30am now!