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Posts Tagged ‘Rumi’

Most people don’t think of alcohol when they think of Egypt; after all, it’s an Islamic country, more or less. Yet, strangely, there is a fantastic, if sometimes disconcerting and strange, drinking culture pervasive throughout Egypt. The clientele is anything but homogenous — walk into a bar in Cairo and you’re just as likely to see Sa’idis puffing of sheesha in between sips of their brandy and Stella as you are to see local expats boozing their troubles away. A significant portion of men in the smaller places wore galabiyyas, which I suppose is surprising.

The local stuff. Think of it as a sub-par Corona.

In honor of Andrea’s brother coming to town, Rumi planned a bar crawl. Inspired by the Baladi Bar website, we braved the cold night air and ventured out into the great unknown of Cairo’s seediest locales, ducking into green-glassed doors and chatting with amiable bartenders. Bar food was excellent, in true Cairo fashion: carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and salty tirmes (lupini beans with lemon a red spice called shata), and by 5 AM, we managed to crawl through a total of nine places without getting into too much trouble — and by that, I mean none. It was awesome. Souvenirs of the night include not one, but TWO Stella bottle openers, one of which was presented to Rumi as a belated b-day gift.

Months ago (!) I’ve posted a link to disappearing Cairo bars, and I have an article forthcoming on dive bars in Alex. Here it is again, though based on what we saw, the good old fashioned tavern is thriving: you just need to know where to find it.

In other news, Tom broke my no-sheesha streak by taking me to the most atmospheric (yet, cheap) place for tea in Cairo; the courtyard in front of the Arabic Oud School near al-Azhar. The tea comes with a tray of sage, cardamom, clove, and mint to spice your own tea in a tiny little teapot, and the hookah is choice — perhaps one of the best places I’ve ever sat.

Serious awesomeness

Also: I’m a little terrified to give the major discovery of the weekend away, but it’s so awesome that I have to toss caution to the wind; al-Khatoun, in the same courtyard, which sells the most wonderful objects I’ve ever seen in my life, all of which are relatively inexpensive (not quite Egyptian prices, not quite American prices). I brought home an incredible chess set (pictures to follow eventually). We managed to also find a place that sold old survey maps of the desert and Cairo itself — all with Arabic script scribbled over everything and all. Currently hanging in my room making me feel a little more like Lazlo de Almasy.

The internet to the flat has been cut off; bastard of an internet man was doing nothing but making excuses for about two weeks of nonexistent access (while also maintaining that we should be able to connect; no, really! It works, I swear. Liar.) I had a go at him in the street after he basically treated me like a moron and called him…a not good person. In such situations I’m very tempted to swear, but instead I just shout, considering that’s what I see most Egyptians doing. The result: less frequent posts as I use my cafe time in the job search.

Oy.

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Baladi Bars of Cairo

Oh, and by-the-by, total goldmine here:

www.baladibar.com

I snagged this from Rumi on Twitter today, and it’s magic. I’ve been on a no-sauce streak for about two weeks now (just sick and tired of Stellas and Auld Stag-fashioneds), but this just might break it. Anyhow, it’s a worthy guide for the Cairene looking to haunt Downtown’s seedier locales. I had a list of about eight Cairo bars in mind; this website has done its homework and given more like thirty or forty.

Seriously, check it out. Next time I’m in Cairo, I know exactly what I’ll be doing, come nighttime.

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harassment It’s about time that I tackled one of the more difficult subjects that invariably every American writes about at some point: harassment. I hesitate to bring it up mainly because I’ve heard so many stories that, by this point, I would simply be laundry-listing incident after incident– each progressively (and regrettably) worse than the last. At the same time, though, I know that one has to discuss it, otherwise one risks becoming a part of (and a perpetuator of) the problem itself. My thanks in advance to Rumi for the informative Eid post, and apologies for shamelessly stealing his links.

For the last three nights, crowds of young Egyptians (shabaab) have roamed the streets, set free by their families after the evening meal to roam. And by roam, I mean overwhelmed and flooded; the streets were completely clogged with young men, teens, and tweenish boys, linked arm-in-arm (a custom of friendship here, not of homosexuality), blasting a million different songs from a million different speakerphones, hollering at each other. Scrawny kids in tight, glittery shirts in pink and purple–complete with rhinestones and senseless tiny hoods– blue jeans with a dozen zippers, acid washes, and huge, AirJordan style patent leather sneakers. Hair cut against the scalp with hair gel poured into it for the “cool” look. And everywhere, clouds of bad imitation designer perfume hung in the air.

Of course, there’s no accounting for fashion. Mahmoud tells me that girls with cropped or boyish hair are not just unattractive– they’re downright ugly. The Western media puts forth an idea of beauty that seems to revolve around figure-skaters and ballerinas; lithe, willowy types that wear clothes on the runway well. Here, such women get told that they need to fatten up or they’ll never have sons — or any children — and I think are held in something like contempt. And getting back to fashion — none of my Egyptian friends understand the recent trends of “boho chic” or grunge fashions; to them, girls get made up (almost clownishly sometimes) when they go out.

Imagine, if you will, armies of these boys wandering the streets. Literally, phalanxes of them, all astride. And as they pass you, they scream out any number of things:

– Hi! What’syourname. (It’s all strung together purposely; imagine it said really quickly with no question inflection)
– Welcome in Egypt? Hello!
– Hi! Howreyou? Howreyou?
– Fook you. Fook you! (Personal favorite)
– You…so stubid. So stubid. (Kid last night on the tram. I grabbed his ear and he ran away)

And once they’ve braved you — they’ve done the ritual tap to the foreigner — they turn back to their friends as if they’d recited the lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from beginning to end, and congratulate themselves as if you didn’t exist.

The worst are the hisses.

Imagine a cat hissing. That’s the sound you make to say “Hey! Dude!” but mainly it gets used on the Corniche by idling shabaab to catcall girls; “You so beautiful, ” or “Muzza! Muzza!” (kind of like “babe”).

What continuously shocks me is that older women (who are present) do not intervene. In a culture that has such concerns for female honor, the idea of approaching a Western woman and propositioning her — of pulling out your penis and masturbating in public, of physically assaulting her or pressing against her — begs a number of contradictions that I cannot begin to get into: it makes me so angry. These incidents seem to have just gotten worse over the years, as well. In particular, I’m puzzled by an odd cultural double standard; there seems to be an acceptance of Western sexual mores when it’s convenient (i.e., when an Egyptian teenager is horny) but a rejection when someone else seizes advantage of them (i.e., an American has an American girl spend the night). Protect women, veil them — but only in certain circumstances.

At the risk of conflating religion and society, I’d like to bring up something that Michael Muhammad Knight mentioned in The Taqwacores (read it): if men are so weak as to warrant women praying behind them or secluded away on balconies (in mosques), why aren’t the men the ones that are sequestered off? Why seal the women off from the world if the men themselves are the problem?

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