Thursday, January 31, 2013

Les Miserables

Last night I went to see Les Miserables at the cinema here in Cairo. It was a 10pm showing. In the theater there was the 3 of us, and one young Egyptian guy on his own. The place was empty. I am not surprised people aren't going to the cinema much- just watching the news is dramatic enough these days here! However, my friends and I all have a love of musical theatre and just had to see what they would do to this one!

When I was a teenager the soundtrack would always move me, sometimes to tears. Being a teenager though meant that the poignant songs for me then were the romantic ones, 'I dreamed a dream' and 'on my own'. I was a soppy young thing, but want girl isnt at that age?

This time around I literally broke down through ' red and black', 'do you hear the people sing' and of course 'empty chairs at empty tables'. My face was completely washed clean of any make up I had been wearing.

It just seemed so ironic that we were sitting in an empty cinema watching people sing about revolution when outside in the streets of Cairo, people were dodging tear gas canisters.

I thought of the high aspirations and dreams of many of those who flooded Tahrir back in 2011 and ever since. I thought about how many of their attempts to be heard had been in vain. Of how many lives have been lost so far, and of how many more will be before Egypt sees peace. I saw so many comparisons between the young intellectuals of France way back then, and those who managed here to dethrone Mubarak only to be landed with a Morsi. Early on they say that one king was overthrown only to be replaced with a worse one. It struck a cord.

Then of course in 'red and black'... it felt like a set up. As if all this powerful emotional music wasnt enough... singing about the colours of the Egyptian flag just rendered me helpless. I imagined that if the cinema had been full of young Egyptian men and women they would have found it very hard to not go straight from the film to Tahrir! So much was so relevent. Even down to the big stand off between Valjean and Javert... both believing they are doing God's work....

I believe that if they put Les Miserables on the TV then the streets would be much busier,  full of people demanding change in Egypt.

I guess the thing that surprised me most was how strong my reaction was. Ok I was tired, and I am a little under the weather still, so perhaps I am over emotional just now but to be sobbing my heart out, out of sympathy for the revoluntionaries of Egypt was not really what I expected from last night! These past two years in Cairo in particular have obviously affected me more than I had even imagined!

Teaching a private class this morning helped me refocus on dance, but it is hard to focus just on dance not to get completely caught up in the politics these days. That is something I never would have thought I would say!

What can i say- if you want to understand what many people in Egypt are feeling... have felt... are experiencing.... go see the film. Those of you in Egypt- go on, I dare you, tell me that it didn't tug at your heart strings too!!!


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Islamic Cairo part 2

The citadel ( Al- Qalaa ) and mosque of Muhammad Ali;

View from the citadel of the pyramids...

 As seen from the citadel; The Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa'i mosques I showed in my previous blog entry ( )

The language of love carved into the wall of the citadel. Egyptians will always be a romantic people.... although perhaps a little more respect for their history would be a good idea?

 The name of God in all things, even the trees!

Fancy a fez? Known in arabic as a tarboosh, the hat is of Ottoman origin and was worn throughout Egypt until after WW1 when the Ottoman empire fell.

After the Citadel we wandered round to Al Ahzar park to catch the sunset. This is the view of the Muhammad Ali mosque from the park...

Dancing with my own live band on the Nile each day aside........... can you see some of the reasons why I love Cairo?

I know with all the bad news coverage Cairo is getting it is probably low on your list of places to visit right now.... but please don't strike it off that list altogether.... It is a city worth seeing! Come see, you won't regret it!


Islamic Cairo

I remember when I first visited Cairo, nearly 16 years ago how overawed I was. I did the tourist 'bit' and fell in love with the city. Thanks to Sara Farouk for organising that first trip! I fell in love so much so that after for years I organised trips for dancers to come with me from UK to see 'my Cairo'. I remember having on our itinerary 'Pyramids day' and 'Costume shop day' among so many other things, but one of the biggest sightseeing days on the trip was 'Islamic Cairo' tour.


At the time I remember saying, "but of course, all of Egypt is Islamic.... "


How wrong and naive I was. How much my feelings for this enchanting city had yet to develop. As for my understanding; I don’t think that if I could live in Cairo for a thousand and one years I would fully understand her.


At that time of course I had no idea that I would end up moving here and spending the next seven years (and counting) in Cairo. I also had no idea that the phrase 'Islamic Cairo' would fill me with a sense of impending doom, as it does now with recent politics. Before our current President was elected, the phrase had always conjured up images of proud, ancient minarets, towering against dusky sunsets. After all, Cairo does have the name 'The city with a thousand minarets'. Yes I was, and occasionally still am, prone to romantic orientalism.


A couple of weeks ago I played tour guide again and took my friend Ellie round that ‘Islamic tour’, to see how things had changed, if they had, and in particular to share some of Cairo’s beauty. I have to defend my reasons for wishing to live in Cairo to so many people all the time. Of course I am here primarily for dance, however maybe some of these photos we took on our day trip will help people understand some of the other reasons why my crazy love affair with Cairo has lasted so long....

The Sultan Hassan Mosque; one of my favourite spaces in Cairo.


This was the first time ever this particular mosque has insisted you cover your hair. Sign of changing times? 

The entrance to Al Rifa'i mosque is so much more impressive than my photographing skills can give credit, but you get the idea....


Ah yes... neon. Famous in the Ottoman dynasty don't you know!


The alabaster and marble used in the building of these mosques is stunning and worth the look alone!

Yes I do have an overwhelming desire to take done all these lamps and chandeliers and give them a good scrub with Prill (Egypt's 'Fairy') but even with countless years of dust trapped inside you can still get lost in their beauty.

your tour is only just started............... see my next blog entry for more!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Feeling the heat on Burns night in Cairo

Here we go again... Cairo 25th Jan. Tahrir square is filling up already and marches are moving from all over the city to join in the protests. Some people seeing it as a celebration of the revolution 2 years ago. Some seeing it as revolution mark two. "Many activists believe that the goals of the revolution have not been fulfilled and accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and the President Mohamed Morsi of usurping the ideas of the revolution to fit their own Islamic agenda", Egyptian news,  Last night a wall was torn down which brought about tear gas exchanges. Today at midday, fighting has broken out again. Cairo is NOT burning... but a few people are fighting in one street of it (just to put things in perspective). But the day is still young..........

Last night I was performing at the Golden Pharaoh boat. I can’t remember ever having such a tough audience. I, being the self critic I am, was blaming myself, my dancing and became really quite depressed, frightened I had ‘lost it’. Then I suddenly realised it wasn’t me at all... it was the mood of the day. Fear. Every single person I have spoken to in the last week has said either today will be peaceful and nothing will come of it... or that it will be worse than anything we have had before. I have been warned by numerous people to stock up on food in the house, ‘just in case’.

Cairo was fairly busy last night, considering it is a holiday weekend with it being the moulid nabi (the prophets birthday) yesterday and usually this would leave Cairo empty as everyone travelled out of town to go to the coast etc for a few days. This weekend many are staying at home, afraid that if things do kick off then they might be stranded away from home and loved ones...

The people who came out to party last night had heavy hearts like I have rarely seen before from Egyptians, apart from in the revolution itself. The ‘party vibe’ which Egyptians create instantly when they get a chance to socialise, only came after hours of alcohol consumption. That is very different from the norm.
Prince’s ‘we’re going to party like it’s 1999’ came to my head as I watched people forcing themselves to ‘have fun’. “This might be the last chance we have” was a phrase I heard more than once!

Tonight I will be performing at the British club in Maadi*, celebrating the life and works of the Scottish poet Rabbie Burns.

It seems very bizarre to be doing that when who knows what will be happening in Tahrir... but yes I will be bellydancing in my tartan costume*, to the music of the bagpipes. It will be the ‘reply to the laddies’ and the haggis will be piped in* and folk will drink whiskey* and there will even be men in kilts*. Yes, we are in Cairo.

(* a little note aside here- after 7 years of living in Cairo I find it very hard to write a sentence with the words ‘I will do something’, without adding an Inshallah (God willing) at the end! It is like I am tempting fate! So ,..... Inshallah to all the above!)

Good luck Egypt. I really don’t know what to wish for..... A better Egypt... that’s what we all want, but how to achieve that? Who knows! I do know that none of us will breathe properly until this weekend is over and we have a clearer view of how things are likely to turn out.

For those who wish to follow the events unfurling in Egypt just now watch for live updates...........

And in the meantime....

I am off to pack that tartan cossie........

After all;
The show must go on........!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Out with the Old and in with the New...

Hello and Welcome 2013. I am so very glad you are here.....

What a year that was...........

Major events in my life in 2012; 

- Egyptian politics- Having a Muslim Brotherhood president elected and his constitution passed which makes all of us working in the arts rather nervous about the future for dance in our beloved Egypt. Not to mention the negative affect it has had on tourism and therefore the amount of available work for us dancers here in Cairo.

- Losing my home- My landlady discovered that I dance for a living and ordered me out my beautiful apartment in Mohandiseen. In doing so, not only did I lose my home, but also a large part of my livelihood; I had been renting out the spare rooms to visiting dancers as 'Hotel Bellylorna' and also teaching in my own private dance studio to supplement my pay from the boat. All that has gone. The problems at that apartment started two days after Morsi was elected, I am not saying they were 100% linked, but it does seem fishy doesn't it? Especially when I had lived there peacefully and happily for 6 years.

-Tax- I haven't talked about this one before, because it is a huge problem I am still trying to solve, and because it is very upsetting for me. Without going into the nitty gritty of it all, basically the contracts for all the dancers at my work say that our employers are responsible for paying our tax... so all these years working here, we were relaxed in that knowledge. Then, out the blue, it seems that our employer was not paying it and that in the eyes of the tax authority the contract means nothing... therefore all of us have massive backdated tax debts to pay, and I mean Huge. This has affected all the dancers at my work, Egyptian and foreigners alike. Some dancers left the country, some paid it, one girl that I know of even fought it in court (and lost).

In my case, I entrusted someone to look into it for me and see what could be done. He assured me that he had it under control...he didn’t, but he was too embarrassed to admit that to me until it was too late. By the time I found this out a penalty fine had been added onto my tax debt, which literally doubled the amount I was due to pay. Double!

I have to admit, that with losing my home, having so little work due to the unrest in the country and then having this massive tax debt over my head... my thoughts were to run away. Literally. Pack up and not pay the debt and leave my Egyptian life behind. Wrong I know, and I am embarrassed to admit it... but I felt so pushed into a corner I really didn’t know what else I could do. I have no issues paying tax that is due, it is our duty ... but a fine that is the same amount as the tax on top?  When it wasn't my fault? It is just not fair! I felt sick, I don’t mind telling you.

I planned to leave.... After two years of not much work due to the unrest in the country, the savings I had prior to that were already used up. When I left my flat in Mohandiseen in August, planning to spend my last month saying my goodbyes, I gave away everything I thought I was not going to need in Cairo during that time, nor be able to take with me to the UK after that.

However, then I cried for an entire month. It wasn’t just the idea of leaving my life here and returning to the UK, which although I don’t want to do that yet, has always been my intention eventually, but of being branded a 'criminal' and never again being able to visit my 2nd home, Egypt, not even for a holiday. I just couldn't do it. Cairo has become part of me, part of my identity. I became depressed and hysterical whenever I allowed myself to think about it.

So, I have scrimped, saved and borrowed- and have managed to pay just over half my tax debt so far (I had to, or they would have had me arrested. An Egyptian prison is something I never want to experience!)

I am currently living in one room of a friend’s apartment in order to cut costs. She is lovely, and so is the apartment and it is in an nice neighbourhood, but I do miss having my own place and being able to invite dancers to stay too. Can you imagine me living in one room with ALL my costumes and clothes piled high in boxes around me? It’s chaos.

So, since I have decided to bite that bullet and somehow pay the debt, I now have to try and get enough work to pay the rest of it... I will be dancing for the Egyptian tax man for the rest of the year.

So there you have it. My story for this year. Feels strange putting it in writing after all the stress of keeping it secret for so long. 2012 was a bad year.

That is not to say that good things didn’t happen in it too...... and to save me from wallowing in self pity for the rest of the day... let’s go through them too.

Thank you for sticking with me thus far and going through this therapy session with me....!

Good things from 2012;

-Friends. I have such lovely, caring and fun people around me who stick by me and want the best for me. Even those who dearly wish I would return to UK to be ‘safer’ or have an ‘easier life’, never push it since they know me and what Egypt means to me! Thank you all; for putting up with my depressed states and taking charge of things for me when I just couldn’t do it myself. For offering me places to stay and friendly words and hugs when needed. I am so lucky and grateful. Without the love I would have lost it.

-Work. I still have it! Despite all the issues in the country with many venues for dance closing down across Cairo (largely due to financial reasons not just political/religious reasons), I have just signed yet another year contract at the Pharoahs and plan to stay for as long as the political situation allows. I now have a band that I love, who actually get passionate about the music they make, and are not just ‘jobbing it’. I have danced on TV in a soap opera shown on every channel over Ramadan and danced at beautiful weddings in the best of hotels. I have done modelling work and started teaching a beginner’s class in Maadi with women who remind me how much I have missed teaching regular classes! Work is good.

-Health. Despite a dodgy back which plays up fairly often since I slipped a disk in November 2011, I am otherwise fit, although a little fat from Christmas! Considering the physical nature of my job, I feel lucky that that is my only health grumble (touch wood).

-UK connections. In 2012 I taught a lot of very successful workshops and private classes and performed all over the UK. I have made a lot of lovely new friends in the dance world there. When I went back to the UK for Christmas I had two shows and five private classes in 6 days! I feel that at least I have a plan B now if things do get too difficult here in Egypt and am less scared about the idea that someday I might have to move back. I have been the only British dance performing in Cairo for the last 7 years... but since I have been away all that time a lot of dancers new on the scene didn’t know about me yet. I am happy to be making a name for myself in my home country once more (and look forward to the workshops I will be teaching in Feb/March this year, in areas of the country I haven’t yet reached!).

And last but not least;

-Dance. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Well, this year has certainly done that to my dance. I am a different person. On stage I feel I am in control, powerful and on fire. That is terribly un-British I know; not like me to blow my own trumpet, but I feel it, so I am saying it. I feel that every show I do I am lucky to be doing it... that it might be my last in Cairo and that I am sure as hell going to give it all I have got.

If the end is in sight I am going to go down on this ship dancing with all my soul. Giving everything I have got.

What is more, I am going to allow my audiences the chance to enjoy the best of Egyptian music and dance as much as they can, while they still can.

This is the point where I get slated by my Egyptian friends who say, “no, no, don’t worry, things won’t ever change in Egypt”... well, sorry but here is a news flash for you; it already has. Accept it or fight it, but please don’t ignore it – the ostrich look is not becoming.

Every show I do invigorates me. I come off stage higher than any drug could take you. Dance is still my passion that drives me after all these years. It feels good.

So there you have it. The life of Lorna for the past year....

Happy New Year! Wishing all of you a wonderful 2013. May it be a year filled with love, good health and happiness. These are the things that matter.

Follow your passion. It might take you down some rocky roads at times... but it will always be worth it.