Tuesday, June 24, 2014

National no taxi day?

Today I have spent at over an hour in total, standing in the street, trying to hail a taxi.

I am always amazed how many taxi drivers in Cairo stop to hear where you want to go, and then refuse you. Well, they don't say no,  they usually don't say anything at all, just drive off after giving you a look as if to say 'Oh you want Zamalek? Nah, I don't fancy going there today, bye! '.

Surely any fare is better than driving round with an empty cab? I get it that maybe they have been pre-ordered and are heading to a certain destination, willing to take you if it just happens to be on their way anyway. But not all of them. Surely?

The worst refusal is when they don't want to go somewhere because they know, or suspect, it to be busy. The longer you stand in the street, being refused, the later you get and the more you dread the undoubtably slow, frustrating journey you have ahead of you... Especially when it's 40 deg plus outside!

Then, once you achieve the holy grail of hailing a taxi, that actually stops for you,  you have to watch that a) he has switched on meter, b) said meter is running at sensible rate (not 10x rate like one I took earlier this week who granted, when I complained, changed it to the non-tourist speed! )  and c) that the driver doesn't celebrate finding a customer by lighting up a cigarette.

Thankfully, I have usually found that if you catch the driver before he lights said cigarette and politely ask him not to smoke because you have a cold (andi bard) or are allergic (andi hassisaya) then they are more then happy to oblige you. They also tend then to drive you the fastest and more direct route so they can have their cigarette as soon as possible!!!

Heaven forbid you want the AC on though... It's costs money to work the AC you know..... So they will attempt to charge you double, or at least extra, assuming their taxi even has AC! Despite any advice from me that the AC only uses more petrol in the same way using you lights at night does they still drive around in the noise and the heat, as if by choice.

Oh and a little tip, so you don't go waving down any white car, just in case it's a taxi... And it took me literally years to realise this one,  Look out for the orange colour license plates. Although saying that, my last 'taxi' had blue plates and no meter- guess he is just out for some extra money during the Arab season (the windows were all tinted black and he had Quran playing loudly and was super polite). I don't advise travelers to Cairo get in anything other than an orange plated, metered taxi though.... Do as I say , not as I do!

Anyway.... Here at last is my taxi.... I'm off to watch the meter......

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bellydancing in Cairo Weddings

This can be one of the best, and one of the worst experiences for a bellydancer in Cairo, I have discovered.

Every dancer wants weddings. Thats where the money comes in. The regular 'gig' is usually the bread and butter, and done to get your name known, but the weddings are what we all are striving towards.

My main reason for wanting weddings is the experience. Im not saying I'd do them for free, a girl needs to pay the rent and buy sparkly things after all. However, it is about a lot more than just the pay. I love dancing with my band and when I do weddings, I can afford to employ an entire orchestra, not just my usual 7 piece band. That is what I really love. That huge sound, better than any recording. Being able to separate out all the instruments and really feel them.

I'm not really sure how to explain that well in writing, but I will try. If you have ever been to watch a large orchestra perform classical music, my experience is that when you actually look at the violin player, its like the sound of the violin soars above the other instruments, it somehow stands out, same for the cello, the trumpet, anything, even the triangle! It's as though the eyes can help focus the ears.

That's how I feel when I work with a live band, so to work with the large band/orchestra that I use for big shows and weddings makes the music so much richer and fuller. I feel when dancing my body can focus in on the different sounds even more and therefore transfer the audio into visual more effectively.
The entrance- Photo by Ellie of London

I felt like a Princess on stage in this lovely Pharonixs costume, with my orchestra and with such an appreciative audience! Photo by Ellie of London
These hips don't lie- Photo by Georges and Samuel Photography 

I also love weddings to get more chances to work with 'my dancing boys'. It's fun to not always be alone on the stage.
Me and my boys- Photo by Georges and Samuel Photography 

Love the interaction- Photo by Ellie of London

Of course, things can go wrong, the band are often late which causes me no end of stress because of course the timing of a wedding needs to run smoothly and you really don't want to be the cause of any stress on a bride and groom's big day. I had one wedding where I was back stage, ready to dance, my orchestra started up and then, only then, did someone in the wedding party decide that bellydance was Haram, i.e. forbidden by Islam and cancelled the show! Then there is the continual stresses with the officials- all of whom collect a fee from all performers, and often want bribes and tips. Very occasionally I have danced at weddings where the bride or the groom, or both have looked miserable. I mean totally grumpy. As if they are being forced to marry and really don't want to, which I guess may be the case occasionally! Those weddings are really difficult to dance at since the responsibility for creating the good atmosphere falls heavy on the shoulders of the me, the dancer.

Thankfully I have had many many more good experiences than bad.

One of my favourite weddings yet was about a month ago at the Fairmont Nile City Hotel where I perform regularly. The couple had decided on a vintage theme and there were melayas and flat caps and fez's and hip scarfs at the entrance for guests to wear for the occasion.

Collect your fez here- Photo by Ellie of London

Think prohibition America meets Egypt black and white film.
Joy- Photo by Georges and Samuel Photography 

the finger click- Photo by Ellie of London

Dancing with the bride- Photo by Ellie of London

dancing cheek to cheek...!- Photo by Ellie of London

 The people were the sweetest, most fun, audience possibly ever and the male friends of the couple, all in their fez's, joined me on stage and danced with me so well it was as though I had a second 'dancing boys' group with me!
Fun with the fez boys- Photo by Ellie of London

love the guys pose in the background- he is lost in the music!- Photo by Ellie of London

Thankfully there were also exceptional photographers there, the professionals as well as my friend Ellie (who also sang at the same wedding and had everyone twisting in the sunshine!)... so I have so many lovely shots of the occasion to be able to share with you.
Father of the Bride- Photo by Georges and Samuel Photography 

Ah, nice memories. I am so lucky to have the job I have and be able to be involved in these fabulous events!

Terry and Ashraf- Congratulations on your Marriage and wishing you both happiness and love always...
The happy couple, and me- Photo by Ellie of London

Thank you Ellie and www.geosamphotography.com for letting me use these images!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Blue/Green Red Sea

Last weekend I went down to El Gouna for a little holiday. It was my first time there. My friend Ellie was booked to sing at a wedding there and I decided to go along for the ride. It's always good to get out of Cairo from time to time, just so you appreciate it more where you come back of course!

Go Bus left at 7am. not a time in the morning I am usually awake for.. but at least we discovered that the bus was actually stopping in el Gouna and not going directly to Hurghada as we had previously thought, the 5 hours were worth it (although please someone tell my why the bus AC has to be turned up so damn high? Egypt is the only country where in 40deg temp you need a wooly jumper to sit in a bus or in a cinema!)

The setting for the wedding was idyllic and we met some really lovely people there. The Bride made her entrance by boat, to the rocky theme tune, then the happy couple met and went straight to the dance floor for their first dance, 'All of me' sung by Ellie and I swear there wasn't a dry eye in the house (well , garden). mind you, I wouldn't have been able to see said dry eyes since my own were blocked by emotion too!!!

Othere than that, for me, the best thing overall about the trip was the sea. Just look at it....

We had a whole day just bobbing about on, and in, this!

What dream world is this to have landed in, where I have friends with yachts? No, Not questioning it... just accepting and enjoying...!

My soul is refreshed...

but I have to admit... after only one day like this.. I did find it a little difficult to head back to my beloved Cairo. I suspect I will be seeing more sea soon....

China comes to Cairo

Last week I was very excited as my lovely students from Shanghai were here, in Cairo and coming to see my show at Fairmont Nile City!

I had been watching their postings from their sightseeing trip round Luxor, Aswan and the Red Sea the previous week and my heart was already warmed by seeing them enjoying Egypt and all the amazing beauty it has to offer! Good for them and good for Egypt.

I really enjoyed dancing for them on thursday night. I always really enjoy it when friends come to see my show. That night I was lucky enough to have dancer friends from London, Manchester and Brazil in my audience too. Double lucky!

I also took the opportunity that night to do a little celebration dance for Egypt's new President and wore my famous Egyptian flag costume. Everyone went a bit crazy! The staff in particular were very excited by that (more excited than they had been about the famous Safinaz dancing at my venue the night before!). They expressed great pride in me as 'their' dancer and were touched to see that Egypt's 'fresh start' means as much to me as it does to them.

The faces of the Egyptians in the audience when I pulled up a couple of the Chinese group to dance with me was very amusing.

After my show I sat with 'my Chinese' as I affectionately call them and they surprised me with the most touching and personal gift... during my stay in Shanghai last year, they had a professional photographer follow me around classes and outings. Then they took these photos and made them into this coffee table book for me, so that I would always have a reminder of the fun we had when I was there.

They were slightly out, on the first page,  in the years they said I have been in Cairo- I have been in Egypt now 8.5 years... not 14... but I do hope still to be here in 5 years, so maybe that will become true eventually!!!

Everything that is written in English on one page, is also in Chinese... its beautiful.

I was stunned, by the thing itself and that my impact on them had been so great, in the time I was there, that they felt they wanted to do this for me. I think Chess the cat likes it too...

We had wonderful nights out...

We went out and about on a photoshoot in Shanghai...

... and on the last day we put on a show for each other... I performed in a fun costume by Sagat costumes...

Brosis were such a professional and welcoming team. it was a real pleasure to work with them.

it was the last page of the book that was the real tear jerker though... a personal note from the students..

I miss Shanghai and all 'my chinese'...

However I am really happy to see some of them here in Cairo, inspired to come from all the stories I told them about life here. They are loving it. The only complaint I have heard from them about their experiences here is that they don't much care for the food. However, having lived in Shanghai for a month and eaten many different types of food there, I have to say sorry Egypt, but I too prefer the food over there too!

It's great to see them have such a fun time here, seeing dance shows and taking workshops at Nile Group festival. So happy to see tourists back in Egypt again.

Thank you so much to all those who took me to China, and then thought to make the fabulous book of memories for me. My life is enriched from having you all in it.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week here in Egypt, and I hope to see you all again in China very soon!