Saturday, November 26, 2011

The underdogs fight back, whilst others bite the hand that feeds them

I feel sick to my stomach.

It’s been a horrible week, following the news hour by hour in Tahrir. People being shot, gassed and run over by armoured trucks. The violence is sickening. Whether you agree with the reasons for the initial protest or not... you can't help but support the people who now are there demanding to be treated as human beings with a voice, rather than animals to be experimented on.

So my heart goes out to the Egyptian people who want to reclaim their dignity. Good on you.

This is why what I just had to do hurts me even more.

I just had to sack my new cleaner. She needs the money; she has a large family to provide for. I pay her well, and have her come twice a week, not because I really need that, but because its one way I can help the Egyptian economy, to help feed a few malnourished children.

Unfortunately some people have never been in relationships where if you are good to people they will be good to you. The regime they have been born into teaches them that honesty doesn't pay.

People in positions of status and authority often treat people who work for them as low lives, stripping them of any dignity, giving them no respect for what they do. Then of course the person treated in that way feels they are within their rights to treat anyone 'lower' than themselves in an even worse way and fight back in any way they can at the people who crush them. The victim becomes the abuser. I see it every day. The way the bowab shouts at his son, the electrician slapping his boy helper on the back of the head, the musicians talking down to the technicians, the managers yelling at the waiters. I can totally understand why the 'underdog' wants to fight back. In fact, in some ways that is exactly what is going on in Tahrir right now.... the people after being pushed down for so many years are refusing to stay down.

Then you have the issue that I had today, where because I have been nice to her, my cleaner thinks I am stupid, and does her utmost to take advantage. I try to do as I was always taught, treat others and you would want them to treat you, however, I am a foreigner, and a dancer, so for sure I can afford to 'lose' a few things. At least I presume that’s what went through her head.

This woman had, from the 1st time she came here, been squirreling away 'things' into a plastic bag under the sink... for removal out the house at some appropriate time. The omelette pan went missing last time, and this morning I discovered a bag with cleaning products, a door lock, a purse with spare change in it, taken from a wardrobe, and 4 expensive items of makeup (from UK- so not easily replaced!) taken from inside Ellie's make up bag, among other things.

The woman who had recommend her to me had suggested, when I told her about the omelette pan, to 'test' her honesty by leaving a 5 le note somewhere behind a sofa or something too. I did this today... and right enough... it was 'disappeared' too. Whatever else has already been taken out of the house will be discovered over the coming days I am sure. It makes me feel sick that I paid a thief to rob me.

I am so sad. She doesn't realise that if she just did her job well and turned up when she said she would etc then I would end up giving her things which probably would have been of much more use and value to her than anything she has already, or could have, stolen. She had already had a 'gift' of lots of old clothes and various bits and pieces I no longer wanted, plus a galabeya from me... and she had only been working for me for 3 weeks.

Times are hard, I see that, but really- biting the hand that feeds you? This is low and stupid and very, very sad.

My last words to her, I never want to see you again, and God be with you. I doubt that she will appreciate how much I actually mean that. If she treats people who are good to her like that... she must really have a miserable existence. Really, God be with her, and her children. I can only guess at the morals they will grow up with.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Revolution 2?

Cairo is a mess, again. Well, Tahrir is, and it is completely localised to Tahrir and streets leading to it- so please don’t worry about me... all is quiet at Hotel Bellylorna (well, as quiet as it ever is with singers and dancers living together!)

Everyone I speak to has a completely different take on the last 2 days of unrest in Tahrir.

Some strongly believe that the young people in Tahrir who have been arrested and shot at deserved everything they got, saying they were told not to protest and they chose to put themselves in that place, therefore they want trouble.

Some believe that the protests themselves are mistimed and everyone should wait until the elections to see what happens. However, they are unhappy about the strong arm response by the police and their methods of clearing the square, and therefore although they might not have supported initial protests, now they strongly believe in supporting anyone who wants to put their voice across in a peaceful manner without fear of being shot at.

There are those who say the police have been guilty of horrific attacks on the protesters. Firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bird shot into people’s faces. I know of at least two who have lost eyes due to this. There are others who believe that the protesters went armed with rocks etc ready for a fight and with intent to create chaos and burn police vehicles.

I quite honestly don’t know.

My sources of information are local TV and news, which does seem biased in supporting the police. Then there is twitter and face book, which is 100% in favour of what the activists are doing and very anti the military. Then there are various other independent news channels and online papers which seem to be on the side of the protesters.

I can understand if the nation is frightened of being ruled by the army. There have been too many military trials of civilians this year, and I can see that will only continue if the army stay in power.

I can also see why many people are frightened of the Islamist parties winning the votes. They certainly know how to campaign, dishing out gifts and educating supported in how to vote etc. However, they could potentially threaten the way of live for many of us involved in music, dance and tourism. I don’t have any evidence of this , but am sure that one of the first things they would limited is venues serving alcohol, for example, which would seriously affect tourism and entertainment in Cairo. I know many Egyptian Copts who are very scared how their life might change for the worst if a fundamentalist type government get into power.

Who knows what will happen in the future for Egypt? One friend said to me today, what happens the parties who are actually set up by the army actually win the votes to maintain power? If that happens then people will accuse the elections of being rigged, no? But it could happen. I have spoken to a few people who miss Mubarak and wish he was still in power. Someone else just now said of course there won’t be peace, not yet. The army need to stay in control until Mubarak dies at least... otherwise all the heads of the army will share the blame with the big man. If he dies, then all the blame for the last 30 years can be placed on him and the country can move on. Who knows? As I say, everyone I speak to has a different take on it all.

God be with those fighting for what they truly believe is right.

No-body knows what will happen next. Those speaking against the protesters said the same things back in January, and then when they ‘won’ the revolution they supported and backed them. It seems very deja vu to me.

I understand people who just want people in Tahrir to go home, they want peace. Peace might be easier, businesses can run more smoothly on a day to day basis, but peace doesn’t ever bring change. And Egypt needs to move forward in so many ways. Change really is needed!

Are we in revolution 2? NO... personally I think we are still in the first one... except that in round one people gave up too easily. The activists in January had many demands... but the main one that everyone knew was they wanted Mubarak out. However, He was only the figurehead for the regime and what they really wanted, but couldn’t push for once Mubarak left, was to rid the country of the regime that was running it.

We can only hope that in the political unrest which is sure to follow the next few months that what is best for the long term good for Egypt is what happens, and that those who have suffered greatly, and those who have died, since January 25th won’t have done that in vain.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Libyan Joy v's Lumber Pain.

I am fed up having a never ending cold- and just in case that wasn't hard enough to perform with, I managed to pull something in my lower back too.

I have been resting all week, hoping it would get better by itself, and yesterday I accepted defeat and started phoning round to find a good physiotherapist.I managed to get an appointment for Saturday, so my plan for Friday was lots of socialising... but no dancing. By the time I finished lunch with friends I was dizzy from the pain, despite (or maybe because of!) all the ibuprofen so took myself home to bed.

I had called the Pharaohs at 1pm and been told the Nile boat wasn’t sailing, so I knew I could have an evening to myself... but at 5.15pm I got a call from a manager there saying I had to be therefore 7.30, that it was sailing after all. I won’t type here what I said to myself as I hung up from that call!
2 hours notice... ok, if it’s just for me ok, but I have to get together my 6 piece band in that time, and not all of them live close to the boat. Eventually, at 6pm I had confirmation that my band would be there.... a stressful 45mins? Yes- you could say that! Added to the stress I already had wondering how to dance with a back that made me dizzy just sitting!

I arrived to the Pharaoh in record time; thank god the roads are so clear on a Friday. Today they were even more so since so many thousands of people were in Tahrir square today protesting against military court trails for civilians and to get a fixed date when the army would hand over power to the voted in government. Many believe that the army are turning the revolution into a coup. The Islamist groups were protesting today because some of the guidelines mean that even if they are voted in, then they will not have full powers to rule.

Anyway... I arrived at the Pharaohs at the same time as the National Libyan football team. Lots of very excited young men in tracks suits with far more energy than required for a Nile cruise.

I have to say that I survived tonight due to them. The energy was immense. They were all loving the show, but at the same time were very respectful to me. I heard none of the usual rude comments that I might overhear from a group of Egyptians of about the same age. I tried to get some up to dance but they wouldn’t dance. I think perhaps they had been warned not to do anything that might bring down the image of their country. That wasnt a worry for Zidane dancing with me a couple of weeks ago when the management for the Zamalek club brought him to my boat.. He was shaking his stuff with the rest of them! Mind you, that particular night there was also a large group of bellydancers in from UK, and they overshadowed him somewhat! To be honest, I didn't even know who he was, until i saw him a couple of days later on the addidas advert on TV here!

Tonight, after my show finished I went back at the end to watch the singer, and she sang waka waka. Wow, what a great music choice. These Libyan boys just went totally mental. Everyone was up dancing and loving it. Guests from other tables jumped up and joined in too. It was a fun night and the team were lining up to have their photograph taken with me before they headed off in their bus.

The adrenaline of it all kept the pain away until I sat in my taxi to head home. It was an unexpected night... but a good one. Let’s hope I wake up still able to move in the morning!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Helwa Awee....

Egypt has among the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the Middle East, and indeed in the world (14th and 4th respectively). (

This problem, it seems to me, is that, besides most people sheer disbelief that physical exercise is valuable to their health and well being (there is huge popular support still for diet pills and instant ‘cures’  rather than diet and exercise) ... they make such yummy things from sugar.

Sweet pastries, milk and fruit dishes, not to mention the honey and nuts. Oh, I’m drooling at the thought; Fateer filled with honey, nuts, cream, icing sugar.... or with banana and chocolate... filo pastry with cream, and honey, covered with sugar....

Sorry... drifted off into sweet dreams there.....

I decided I would try to make one of the many Egyptian deserts, Lo’met Al-Ady.

No, I am not getting adventurous in my cooking skills... that would never do... rather I spotted this box of pre-mixed mix in my local sunshine supermarket... and when I saw the 5 min's logo on it, decided – why not?

First thing to note... you mix up the ingredients and leave the yeast to rise for an hour. (Somehow this doesn’t affect the 5min’s promise on the box?). I think it’s pretty much the same as do-nut dough for those who can’t find a ‘ready to make’ pack at their local corner shop.

Then you drop teaspoons of batter into hot oil. At first I didn’t make the portion sizes small enough, and I think the oil was too hot (if it can be ??) so the majority of my results were misshapen, stuck together and treacle coloured....

Mine looked like this....

I can, however, vouch that they still tasted fabulous!
Then you douse said balls in syrup or honey or coat with sugar. Anything which might shoot your blood sugar levels through the roof in fact.

It ‘might’ be discovered that if you soak them in a liqueur of your choice (such as Cointreau, for example) before coating them in honey, that you get a very strong 'kick' when you eat them...... I would imagine anyway! This is not part of the original Egyptian recipe, I hasten to add, especially since this is a dish usually found at Ramadan!

In fact, here's a nice blog article about ramadan sweets;
and I also found this video of how to make it,

Then ....after you have enjoyed your honey balls.....
..... you dance.

Of course.

You will have to do something to work off all that sugar and protect both your figure and health!!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Emotions in motion. An Egyptian wedding.

I had an amazing time on Friday. I was performing at a friend’s wedding at the stunning Mena House Hotel, quite possible the most beautiful location in Cairo.

It’s always more nerve wracking dancing for friends... and lots more fun of course too, but the pressure feels greater since I want to do a really good job. Especially on this occasion since I had set myself the task of learning to dance with a shamadan (a chandelier you wear on top of your head) for the zaffa.

I spent ages trying the one I had... but eventually, 2 weeks ago, I accepted that it was just the wrong fit completely for me (turns out I have a very small head!) and it would never work. So I set off to Mahmoud’s in the Khan to buy myself a new shamadan. I found a lovely sparkly gold one with coins hanging from it that fits.

Then came the task of practising with it. Two weeks... I felt I could do this. I thought I would start simply... balancing the shamadan on my head as I sat at the computer. Wow. What a difference to my posture, instantly!!! Day 2 with it I was doing the housework, hanging up washing etc, all was going well until... I tried to lift a suitcase onto the top of a wardrobe. Ok, now it sounds like a very stupid thing to do with a chandelier on the top of one’s head... but at the time I felt I was doing so well with it up there that I was trying to ‘be normal’ with it. It wobbled; I jerked my neck so it wouldn’t fall off. Bad idea. I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck which lead to dizzy and nausea bouts for the next two days. Each day I would wake up, test my neck... could I get the shamadan back on... no still too sore... this continued for two weeks. Each day I got more and more stressed since I really wanted to dance shamadan for them... but everyday it became less and less likely that I was going to be able to.

The last few days before the wedding I had to admit defeat. My neck had beaten me. No shamadan for me on this occasion. I tried. And I will try again... It’s not my favourite prop by a long way, but Egyptians do really appreciate it when you do it at a wedding... so it’s on my ‘to do list’ ! As is finding a good physio in Cairo to help my neck build some strength to cope with it!!!

Anyway... the wedding was a hit, even without shamadan. When I met the family just as we were about to start the zaffa, the bride’s parents said hello to me, then as I unwrapped my veil and they saw I was in costume, they said, ‘ah, you’re Lorna!’ and hugged me full of smiles, well the mother did... and the father said he’d like to hug me to but would refrain!! I can't explain how soothing for the soul of a dancer it is for an Egyptian family to accept you, welcome you in fact, because of your profession! Instead of a zaffa band they had chosen to enter with their favourite zaffa songs on cd, which was quieter and less energetic than the normal zaffa’s- but the bride’s glowing face singing along with all the lyrics of the songs made up for that. Such a joy to see someone so lost in love... with the music and with her husband!

Everyone was lovely, it was an incredibly supportive audience, and not just the ones who were friends (!) ... my band did really well and I had the folkloric ‘boys’ in the show with their saaidi sticks too. They tried to persuade me to dance with a skinny little silver stick.... and seemed dubious when I refused, but when they saw the stick I use (which is much more like the one usually used by men) they were most impressed by it. I hadn’t worked before with these two men, but they wowed me by how well they followed me. I can be unpredictable at times, as anyone who has followed me in a class situation knows, but they did a great job. It looked almost choreographed! Then afterwards speaking to them, turns out one of them is already a facebook friend and teaches at some of the dance festivals in Cairo, Ahmed Helmy.

The dance floor was squares laid out on an uneven lawn, so as soon as anyone danced on it, the floor started to break up. By the time I performed it was like dancing on ground that is being split by an earthquake. I never dance in shoes, but I had no choice... this floor would have ripped my feet to shreds otherwise. I was glad too that I chose to wear flat shoes, since heels would have got stuck between the squares. The other obstacle of the night was the lighting. Moving spotlights that came from waist height from behind where my band were set up, which meant that I couldn’t see the band at all, let along make eye contact with any of them, which made the tabla solo more pot luck than usual. It also meant that I was very aware that the audience could see me, but often only in silhouette so I was trying to think of ways to make sure people could see all the moves, especially the small pops and locks and shimmies. Let’s just say, my brain was working as hard as my body was.... but I was in my element; Dancing under the pyramids, for friends, with a fabulous band, with backing dancers.....

So despite the setbacks (lighting, dance floor and lack of shamadan) it was a fabulous event that I feel honoured to have been a part of. Thanks to R and T (the bride and groom) for making me a part of your special day. I hope you both enjoyed it as much as I did!

After my show finished, everyone got up to party and later, when I had changed back into ‘normal’ clothes I did too. It’s a whole different thing, performing a show and then dancing with people who perhaps don’t know how to do more than one or two bellydance moves, but who ooze with joy and feeling when they dance.

When someone says that foreigners can’t dance like Egyptians... THAT is what they are talking about, not the technique (the foreigners are usually better at that than the Egyptians!) and not even understanding of the words, it’s that powerful combination of joy, love, flirting, challenging fun with fantastic attitude and timing that seemed to be about you, the dancer, being another instrument in the music, adding to it rather than just following it.

I am always flattered when someone says I dance like an Egyptian, that I ‘feel it’, and many told me this at the wedding. But when I get a chance to party with Egyptians... and I am not talking about the professional dancers here, just your average Egyptian man or woman, then I really start learning how to dance, how to be free.
This dance is much more about your emotions than your motion!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Bellydance TV

Tonights plans didn't quite work out as hoped for. We attempted to go to a cabaret downtown, but they were all shut because it is a dry night in Cairo, ie no alcohol can be served anywhere. They do this at many of the religious festivals, and the 'big' Eid is this weekend.

Since we couldn''t go into the cabaret we sat outside in a 'ahwa' (coffeshop) and had a cup of tea and a sheesha.

The TV was on the whole time with a fabulous TV channel I didn't know existed playing. It's called 'Al Tet' which means 'the best' in Egyptian slang and they play non-stop bellydance videos. Since it is pronounced al tit- you can imagine all the jokes we have been making tonight!!!

Most of the footage has been filmed abroad, in Russia and USA by the looks of it, but also some clips from the ahlan we sahlan dance festival in Cairo. It really does look like someone sits on youtube downloading any footage which is of good enough quality and sticks it straight onto the TV channel. I can only imagine how these dancers would feel knowing Egyptians were sitting at home watching them dance on the TV! There is some very high quality dancing to be found.

They just finished showing Sonya's drum solo from the Bellydance superstars show and now its Shahla from London! This is better than youtube! no more sitting waiting until clips download fully.

I have now programmed it onto my TV as channel no.1. For a girl who never switches her TV on at all normally... I suspect i am going to be rather glued to it from now on!

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Thursday night dilemma

How awful is my life when my biggest problem on a Thursday night is how to attend both of the best parties of the year, when they are both on at the same time, different locations and have horrible pre Eid traffic seperating them?!

Sara Farouk currently has a group of dancers over from the UK here on holiday, and last night she organised a party for them in her house. She had a band there to play for us all and they were phenomenal musicians. The band included some members who had played for me in Luxor last year when I performed at the farha festival. The singer was Randa Kamels singer... who, as well as being a lovely person, has one of the most fantastic voices, in Cairo, in my opinion! A night of chatting, dancing, eating kushery and rice pudding, and wallowing in the luxury of having such a band play just for our pleasure. I know I love dancing for my living, but there is a different joy altogether to be able to 'just'' dance too. That same joy was stamped on every face in the room.

It was physically painful to have to leave Sara's while the music was still playing in order jump in a cab to the next party, across town.

Ahmed Harfoush is the top Jazz singer in Cairo, and he had a party last night in his stylish apartment, to welcome a friend over from the UK. Everyone there was lovely, interesting, talented and entertaining. I really enjoyed the many conversations I had and wished I could have been there earlier (but of course without missing out on any of Sara's night either!) I was pressed to dance for everyone , and Ellie sang too. She was a star, her voice sounds more impressive every time I hear her. People said lots of complimentary things about my dancing too, which is always nice to hear. There was even some crispy bacon to be had!

When we came home Ellie and I sat and chatted with Laura, current guest in Hotel BellyLorna, til the wee small hours of the morning...

.... and now I am off to dance on the Nile for a coach load of tourists for whom I will become one of Egypt's touristic attractions!

I love my life!