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.


Julie said...

Just keep dancing Nemo! I sincerely hope this year will be a better one for you. Cairo has a special place in my heart too. Unfortunately I know I will never go back but I do enjoy my glimpses of it through your blog.

Katya Faris said...

Awesome post, thanks Lorna!!! Keep strong, sister...ride the dragon, don't fight it!!! xoxo

Joana said...

2012 was a year I'd like to forget too. Keep strong Lorna, you are an inspiration! We had to leave Cairo during the revolution since my husband was transferred back to the States. The city holds such a special place in my heart too and I hope to one day return. I often cry thinking about our memories there and all the wonderful friends we left behind. Here is to a wonderful 2013!

chillseeker said...

Lorna, you've got balls!

It's great that you do what you really want to do with your life! When the time comes I am sure that you will be able to take your talent and travel the rest of the world with it. Giving away your things and learning to live with very little will make that step a lot easier for you.

Ailie said...

Happy New year Lorna

I hope 2013 cuts you some slack, and I'm really looking forward to learning from you when you come to the Midlands in March!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lorna - read your whole blog because I am thinking of coming to Egypt for a visit. I wanted to see the perspective through a single women's eyes. I have to admit, I am not sure if I will come or not. I have traveled a lot on my own and am finding that the attention from males is wearing thin and I am 58, but that doesn't seem to deter them. I enjoyed your blog very much! I am not a belly dancer so I guess I don't understand what keeps you there. Your safety/freedom is compromised, you are struggling to make money, you don't have a home ---- I don't get it. You could belly dance anywhere in the world and obviously you have learned a lot in your time in Cairo. I do believe you are addicted! It i s unfortunate that you have to suffer so for your art. I wish you only the best for 2013!