Tuesday, March 11, 2014

These past 6 months have been hell... Here's why.

Ok.... Here's the story that only a few close friends know already... Of how difficult the time has been for me since last summer. As a public figure I have tried to stay upbeat on Facebook and here on the blog throughout that time. It was horrible. Feeling like my entire life was a lie.

Now there I have reached the light at the end of the tunnel, so I can share the darker days too.

Back in April, I was with Ellie and Ahmed Harfoush in the Fairmont hotel, just having a wee beer and catch up. A head of marketing came over to ask Ahmed if he knew any female singers he could recommend. Fate was being kind! Ellie did an audition for them that same afternoon. In addition to a couple of jazz songs, She sang one salsa song, so Ahmed and I got up to dance, and I danced with the managers too. At the end of the audition they said "yes, Ellie, we want you, and Lorna, we want you too". "Me?" I asked, "but I'm a bellydancer". "Yes, we know we need a bellydancer and we want you to do that and also perform with Ellie when she sings".
Just like that. We both were offered work and a double act was born. We were both so very excited.
That was April.
Egypt wasn't exactly politically stable at that time, and Morsi was still in power. Nothing happened about our contracts or work visas for months. I lost all hope that it would even happen. When we returned from UK after Ramadan, the evening curfew was imposed, so no one was working in our industry at all. We sat home night after night. It was a difficult time.

In September we signed contracts and in order for the Fairmont to process the work visa, I had to resign from the Pharaohs.

Here is an excerpt from my diary in December, when I was in Shanghai teaching. Feeling low and alone.. Warning- it's highly emotional stuff;

I quit my job at the Pharoahs after 7 years because I had a dream job offer. Contract signed the whole works... And now, 4 months after contract signed, 4 months of no work, they tell me they can't get me a work visa. I have been rejected.
I am distraught.
I'm kicking myself for thinking that something wonderful would happen to me. How naive and stupid. I should have heeded my mothers words;
"Life is not fair, Lorna, get used to it"
Life in Egypt is NEVER fair.
I'm still not used to it. It still hurts like hell. Every single time.
They tell me it's been rejected, but not the reason why.

You must have a dream. Everyone tells you that if you have a dream, then you have something to strive for. What they don't tell you is that a dream is worthless if no one else believes in you. Or If the government is against you.

it's not fair.
I want to kick and scream and slam doors.

All that and I still can't help blaming myself. The guilt. If I had just been content where I was at the Pharoahs with low pay and the lack of respect they show for artists, at least I would still have a job and work papers. Why did I have to be so greedy? Why did I have to aim my sights higher?

I just really don't want to listen.
I don't want it to be over.
I want that feeling when on stage with my band felling like I own the world. That the music and I are one. I've not had that since, well, 5 months at least. I am already having withdrawel symptoms and was 'just' coping cos I thought it was all going to happen bigger and better very soon.

 Now? Now, I am losing it.

There- so as you can see, my actual mental state was pretty shockingly low.
When I returned from China, I had to sit though Christmas and New Year, the busiest time for dancers, without work or work papers. Since I was still trying to somehow get my work papers, I also had to stay in Egypt, so couldn't even go home to my family (even if I had had the money for the flight!)

Then, on Hogmanay I had a conversation with one of the senior managers at the Fairmont who expressed confusion as to why I no longer wanted to work there. This was like an electric shock. What? Of course I want to work there! That's why I quit a job I'd had for over 7 years for it! Seemingly, something had got lost in Chinese whispers... Thankfully on hearing this and realising there had been some misunderstanding, they decided to reopen my case and try for a third time for my visa!

To do this I would have to be outside of Egypt when they put in the application. But there was no point going straight away due to new year, Coptic Christmas and referendum's meaning government offices would be closed and busy a lot during this period. I was also warned that there was still a high chance my visa would be rejected. Those were a long 3 weeks, sat at home without work and not even able to dream. At the end of January I headed back to UK, not knowing how long I would be there for, and not knowing what the outcome would be. It could all still be for naught.

Thankfully I was able to at short notice organise a few workshops and performances, which helped keep me sane and also helped cover the cost of the flight to be there! Huge thanks Elspeth, Katy, Tracey, Laura and Adele for your speedy support in doing this for me!

Friends who had to listen to all these emotional rantings during that time- thank you for your patience and care. You helped!

Then I get the phone call from Ellie. I had just finished my workshop in Belfast. She just said- "come home. It's done. You're approved". I burst into tears, right there in front of my students! Not sure what they must have thought of me!

So then I had to get back to Egypt ASAP to finish the visa process which of course takes longer than it should and much longer than you want it to!

I started work at the Fairmont on Feb 25th 2014.

10 months after the initial job offer.
6 months after I resigned from the Pharaohs.
4 months after Ellie had started there.

I couldn't believe it was actually real. That I was at long last there. That all my distress and insecurity of the past 6 months were just that, my insecurities. Not fact. That at long last I could get back onto stage with my band and do what I love.

Then there is of course all the usual band drama- but that can be another blog entry, this one is already way too long!

Of course there was then 'the glitch'. After performing for one week the mosanifat police told the hotel that if I continued working with only the receipt for the visa rather than the actual card, which they still hadn't issued, then I would be arrested. This could have been readily fixed by an under the table payment, but one of the reason why I do want to work at the Fairmont's is because they have higher morals than that and refuse to do anything unless it's done in the right way. Frustrating when I'm sat home without work, but admirable and I can't help agree with them.

So, we had no choice but to cancel last week shows. I stayed home with all these fears and stresses revisiting me. That I had hoped too much and that somehow it was all going to be taken away from me again!

Tonight I have work at Bab El Nil, in the Fairmont.
My papers are complete.
I am legal at last.

It has been a hell of a journey.
Thank you to those of you who have stood by me through it all. My show tonight is in your honour!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The amazing case of the stolen iPhone by Sherlock hol....... Ok, by me!

The story of my stolen IPhone, as requested by the 200+ people who commented on my Facebook update! 

On Monday I went to mohandiseen to buy bow ties for my band's uniform for the new job. (They look very chic!)

When I left the shop I hailed a taxi, and as soon as I sat down, realised that the man in the shop had wittingly, or unwittingly (I suspect the former) given me one empty box. He had done me out of a bow tie!

I stopped the taxi instantly and asked if he wouldn't mind waiting for me. He said no problem.

I went into the shop got my missing bow tie  and returned to the street to find my taxi had not waited. This is unusual in Cairo, usually once a taxi has a fare, especially a foreign one,  they hold onto it. Taxi's usually like to wait since their meter keeps running, but they are not using petrol, so they end up better off. I looked around, couldn't see him and so hailed another cab.

 Instantly I realised my iPhone wasn't in my bag, that I must have dropped it in the previous taxi and thus worked out the reason why the driver hadn't waited! He had driven off with my phone, intentionally!

The new taxi driver was lovely and tried calling my number for me numerous times... It just rang out. I drove to meet Ellie, which was where I was going and she instantly managed to get onto the 'find my iPhone' app and mark my phone as lost ( so the theif couldn't make calls or access info and only incoming calls would go through). We also initiated tracking. He (or at least my iPhone) was in the center of Imbaba, a relatively poor area of Cairo. We jumped a new taxi, explained the situation to the driver, Sayed and asked if he was with us on our quest. He was. We were heading into imbaba on the heels of the theif!

This is when I realised that maybe this wasn't such a wise idea. Ok, it was 2pm and daylight, but still, two white chicks in that neighborhood, accusing someone of theft, would attract a lot of unwanted attention.

I called my labisa (dresser), who lives in that area, and she called round her two brothers who met us to join the search and act as our bodyguards. One jumped in our taxi with us the other drove his toktok behind. Yes, we were doing a taxi and toktok sequence from a Bond film, driving through tiny dirt streets against the clock, blocked by cows, trucks, people, souq's you name it.... It was like going into another world. Not the Cairo I live in, but a much poorer, busier and more colourful one.

We were following the theif's movements via the map on the ipad... He kept stopping along the way, we presume trying to sell the phone at various mobile shops. Time was ticking. We were scared he would find someone who could unblock the phone and we were scared the battery on the phone would die thus stopping the tracking!

He  (taxi driver thief) stopped at one spot for a while so We tracked him to a narrow side street. The brothers and I walked down the street, asking people if there was a taxi driver who lived in this street. One boy answered there are about four! So close and yet so far. I felt our chase was for nought. There were women hanging over their balconies, having a good look at the foreigner who was accusing one of their own of being a thief. It was rather intimidating.

Kids crowded round us, interested in the ipad and how the map worked. The app allows you to sound an alarm, which I did, but the area was too full of people and noise. It couldn't be heard, but we knew we were in the right place. The tracking spot on the map hadn't moved.

Thankfully the thief was not too bright, to say the least. He had taken the phone home to his wife and when we tried to call again, this time she answered!

She tried telling us that yes she had the phone but she was in another area of the city. We explained to her that we knew the phone was in the same street we were standing in, ie in her home.

 We offered her money for return of the phone. We said 50le, she said no way, it's worth more than that, however she then agreed to 100le (approx £10 sterling). She couldn't bring shame on her family though by bringing the phone out Into the street while we were there because all her neighbors would know what she and her husband had done, so she suggested to meet one of the brothers at Medan kitkat to exchange the money and iPhone.

So the tracking began again.... We headed towards kitkat.

And so did she, with the phone.....  until she didn't. Instead of turning towards kitkat she took the imbaba bridge over the Nile to a different area of town. It was quite an educational tour for Ellie and I, but spoiled by the sick realization that she wasn't going to meet us to do the handover after all.

This is where we have to curse iPhone battery life. We were watching the % run down, 20%, 15%, 10%, 8%..... And shut down.... It never gives you those last few % does it?

Yes, the battery ran out and the tracking discontinued. If we had just been 10 mins earlier... Or if I hadn't used that alarm so much, or or or... I was kicking myself and at the same time as being happy with Apple for developing the tracking system, also being furious with them for not doing sometime about their battery life!

Gutted we questioned the locals in the last reported site of the phone, and went to the local police station there. The police were far more interested in how this imbaba man would know me a foreigner, and in what my job was. It was intimidating. We were scrutinized and made to feel very uncomfortable. They sent an officer with us to question people in the last house it was seen to be in but to no avail.

We gave up... For a short while.

Ellie was already late for work by this point (6pm) and I was late for my band rehearsal.

We each left the phone issue to the side and went to our respective jobs, Ellie to sing at Fairmont, me to whip a band into shape for my first night at Fairmont the following day....

At 10pm, I went with another friend to dokki police station. I was sure that they would be unable to help, but it also knew that if the phone should be charged and reappear on my tracking... Then I was determined to catch this thief and his greedy wife. So should that happen, I wanted/needed the support of the police!

Dokki police sent us with an officer to imbaba station (him on his motorbike, us in the car) since we had the home address of the theif. That station was a pleasant surprise. They were all very lovely to me and very interested in knowing what people in the UK thought of Egypt. They were amazed I had gone earlier into imbaba myself and were laughing and offering me a job with them! It was all very relaxed and friendly. A sharp contrast to the armed men and sandbags and tank at the the station door!

So another officer went in the car with us to go into the heart of imbaba to yet another police station, my 4th of the day. Once they heard my story we all again piled into cars, and headed to the address of the theif! So there was me, my friend and 6 police officers...

Once we got there, and the place looks very different at night, we were told to stay in the car while the officers went to investigate. They knew the building was either the 1st or 2nd building on the letter, but no more information. They walked down the street side by side, so that no one could escape the street and went to explore the houses.

While we were sitting in the car I said to my friend , "what do you think they will do.. ?" He suspected they might beat the guy up. I was worried. I didn't want any innocent parties to suffer.

When the police reappeared, after what seemed like a long long time and yet was probably less than ten minutes, they had with them the boy from earlier that day. The one who had said they were many taxi drivers living in the street.

 'Its ok, we know who he is and we have his son"! The boy knew along along earlier I was looking for his father and didn't want to be the one to grass him up! I looked the boy  who was about 14/15 years old in the eyes and said " why didn't you help me earlier? I didn't want to do this, I didn't want to bring the police". He just said "I'm sorry".

So the boy and two of the police officers got into the back of our car and we drove back to police station number 4. The father had been told he wouldn't get his son back until he brought he phone. I was worried they may hurt the boy, but actually it was the opposite. They were very kind with him. It was touching to see. I found out that all the police officers at that police station had actually grown up in that area, so I guess could perhaps relate to the boys predicament.

The father came limping in about half another later to the station, and came straight up to me denying that he had intended to steal the phone or that he had even known it was mine. It was a panic lie. But, for the sake of his son, I had already decided not to press charges.

The police were relieved that I had chosen that option and went to the task of 'making up' the days events. We had to put a report through all the same, saying that the taxi driver had discovered the lost phone in the taxi and brought it to his nearest police station as soon as he finished his shift, with no mention of the greedy wife toktok chase or anything else. The whole family, because the mother and brother were there by this time, along with the son and father were sent away with a warning. The shame of their entire neighborhood knowing they were thieves was already enough for them to deal with.

I got home 2.30am, 13 hours after the theft, with my iPhone. I couldn't believe it.

The police were amazing, with the only exception being that 1st station and only because they thought they were protecting me from this man I had come in with!  Everyone else treated me with respect and care.

'Find my iPhone' is the best app ever, and if you don't have it installed on your iphone, do it!

Lessons learned that day:
- in Egypt especially, your character will be judged on the people you are seen with. If you have to go to the police etc for anything, take someone with you with a high social standing. It shouldn't be the case, but you do get treated with more urgency and respect. Sad but true.
- Egyptian police are mostly very helpful and compassionate, and funny.
- always keep your iPhone as fully charged as possible, just in case
- don't call the phone excessively or sound alarm too often whilst tracking, to save battery
- have a good strong cover on your iPhone, my thief tried to remove the cover, but it broke when he did and he obviously was scared he had broken the phone because he didn't even try to remove the SIM card!
- imbaba is called little China because there are so many million, yes million, people living in that one area.
- Cairo is much poorer and more densely packed than I had realised, even after living here for 8 years. Many many People are existing on nothing.
- all Egyptian friends have told me they would have just given up the search, so it pays to keep at it , even if it seems hopeless. This has been an on going life lesson in so many ways over the time I have lived in Cairo! Don't give up, you are always thrown a rope eventually.
- it never pays to be Greedy. That wife could have had 100le, or even 200le if I am honest, in her pocket, if she had returned the phone, rather than the family shame they all have to face now after being pulled into the police station.
- ALWAYS look back into a taxi seat after stepping out of it to see if anything has dropped onto it.
 - I can exist for up for 15/16 hours on just one wafer biscuit. (Kindly bought for me by taxi driver)