Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cairo's curfew

Why are you here? Why didn't you stay in London? These are by far the most asked questions I have had in the last 9 days. 

The truth is that if it had been announced just half an hour earlier that the 7pm curfew imposed in Cairo was to last for a month, then I would have changed those airline tickets and stayed in UK until the dust had settled. As it was when I tried to get through to Egypt air office to change them it was 5.37pm, and the office had closed at5.30pm. You can imagine my feeling! 

Maybe you can't.

Well, I was frustrated at not getting the news sooner, and not acting faster on it, and annoyed that everything in UK shuts so damn early. Then, there was always the chance the flight may be cancelled anyway since it was due to arrive at 4.15am, which was within curfew time, so we would not have been able to leave the airport. So Ellie and I heaved all our cases to Heathrow with heavy hearts, not knowing what was in front of us.

At check in, we are informed that there were no changes to the fight and in fact the plane was full! Life as normal eh? Not quite. Our flight was delayed, and then the baggage delayed on the cairo side so that actually we didn't get out of cairo airport until about 7am. After a severe amount of questioning. They thought we must be journalists. Who else would be coming into Egypt in it's current climate? First time I have loudly admitted to being a bellydancer in public in Egypt! The journey home was quiet and uneventful, thankfully.

It was in equal measure good and strange to be home. The thing is that with a 7pm curfew everyday, neither Ellie or I had any work at all to come back to. The idea of sitting in the flat evening after evening with no work and no income was, and still is, rather daunting. 

Cairo is a completely different city to the one I fell in love with and have lived in for so many years. One of the things I have always said I love about this place is the nightlife. Well, there isn't any. I mean none at all. It is amazing how normal vampiric cairo suddenly is all tucked up safe at home in front of their TV's now by 7pm.

That or in front of their computer screens. It is quite funny to note the difference in traffic on Facebook and twitter between 6pm and then at 7pm. I am sure it doubles at least. The tweets certainly come in then fast and furious, and I am glad of them since twitter is my primary news source in cairo. You get both sides to every story, except that there are seldom only two sides when you add in all the conspiracy theories that go along with them too! It is very entertaining to say the least ( often in a worrying way). 

To add to the entertainment, is the amusement of how bored everyone one is at home! Egyptian culture is just not about staying in of an evening. I am sure if we had a 7pm curfew in UK , the vast majority of people, who are already home snuggled in front of their flickering screens wouldn't even notice. But here in Cairo it has affected absolutely everyone. 

Obviously most of all those of us who usually work at night. There is NO work. 

That's not just those of us who work in entertainment, like Ellie and I both do, but all those shops that used to open til midnight, the restaurants, bars and clubs, sheesha cafes and doctor surgeries ( yes, in cairo there is nothing strange, normally, in having a doctors appointment at 9pm!) 

Then there are those who have day jobs, and only just have enough time to buy food from the supermarket and get home before curfew starts so that their day consists of work and home, no social life at all. 

So sit home and watch TV?

Can't. Don't have TV ! ( well- there is a TV but no receiver, so cannot get a single channel) . i am not complaining though, from what I hear of the TV I am quite glad not to have it. All the state channels run what I read today in an article in the Guardian as being like a non stop '2 minutes of hate' from George Orwells 1984. There are images of the police killed but not the protestors. There are images to show other police in countries across the world shooting protestors ( I guess in a 'look, they do it too so it must be ok' type of way). And then there is all the super hyped up nationalistic music that is on 24/7 over the news articles and on the radio. It's constant. And actually, really all quite reminiscent of the aforementioned book! So no. I do not miss having TV. 

So what do I do every evening? Twitter has been full of suggestions of how to fill your evenings at home, everything from baking to sorting out your wardrobe to clearing out you email inbox you name it... All the jobs of the day. And to be honest. That is pretty much what I have been doing. That and sitting glued to facebook and twitter of course! The wardrobe is reshuffled. The flat is gleaming. The cat is well played with and I am slowly getting through emails too. 

Mainly though, Ellie and I have been dieting and working out. We both shared a deep dread of the curfew curves so have cut out alcohol and rich food, both of which would have made curfew way more enjoyable. Needs must, if this really is to last a month, both of us want to be able to fit into all those clothes we bought in UK last month! So every evening finds us turning up the AC unit and the sound system and jumping about like mad things. By the end of curfew I might even like push ups. Here's hoping anyway!

A few nights ago we organized a sleepover at our place. A few friends came over and we sat up chatting for hours and hours. It was really nice to have extended time with good friends. A definite plus for curfew.

Today I went to salsa. Usually salsa nights are funnily enough, at night, however those wise folks at Bian Cafe in mohandiseen decided that Saturday afternoon needs salsa. They were so so right. I realized that despite my home workouts there is no substitute for me that compares with actually dancing. I had a ball of a time and came home like a good girl before 7, only to find that they have changed curfew time to 9pm!!!! Yippee. We are being rewarded for our good behavior (yes that is sarcasm for anyone not sure). 

Not everyone has been 'good' some people were intentionally breaking curfew as their act of rebellion, and many of the sheesha cafes around Zamalek at least, could still be found, so I am told, bursting with life until 2 am. I am too much of a scaredy cat and have been home when I 'should' be according to the words of 'baba sissi', as one friend called the man who is head of the army, earlier this week, so I cannot verify this for myself but I have it on good authority from people who have been outside puffing away their evenings. The thing is, the army only block the main roads and main entrances into an area, so as long as you don't go out of your own area then it's ok to be out. Seemingly. 

I feel sorry for the workers in metro supermarket. I was chatting to one of them and asked if he finished work at 7pm how did he get home, to be told that they sleep on the floor in the shop til morning. I wonder how many people have bad backs by the time curfew time lifts! I also wonder how many others will have weight issues, drink issues, depression and financial issues due to this curfew alone, never mind to all the stuff that actually has been happening in the country. 

So, when will they lift curfew? Who knows. We have been told it will be 9pm for a week starting today, except for Friday which will be 7pm. Otherwise we have to sit home and wait to be told what to do next.

So no work for me for a while then. 

Why not go back to UK? Because, I am not guaranteed the work to cover the cost of the flight, and cover the living expenses there. Also becuase I, along with the majority of Egyptians, hope that the curfew will be lifted and THAT,my friends, is when The parties will start. And I want to be around for those! 

So fingers crossed for peace in Egypt so life can move forward, or at very least return to what it was! And until then, I must get back to my still huge 'things to do in curfew' list! 

NB god damn all those who let off fireworks in the evening, when the country is unsettled as it is. I spend far too much time every evening trying to work out if its gunfire and I should run away from the window, or firework and I should run towards it! 

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