Fact; Egyptians Ladies Love to Bellydance

In my quest to assimilate to my new life here, my introverted self has taken a vow to break out of my shell and get to know some new people. And even though I may grudgingly resent having to change out of my pyjamas most of the time and go and meet somebody or another, I have been somewhat consistent to my vow. So it’s along that line of thought that I forced myself last Saturday to shower (which I try to do regularly), put on make-up (which I try to never do at all), get into some nice clothes (didn’t put on heels though – that would have been over-kill for me) and go to a henna party for a girl I don’t know organised by a girl I don’t know and attended by a bunch of other girls I also don’t know.

What’s a henna party you ask? Well it’s an Egyptian – or the Middle Eastern – version of an all girls bachelorette party. Except that this particular bride-to-be was not actually a bride-to-be but was in fact already a bride, or the more accurate description would be a happily married wife of over a year. So why the henna? Because her husband was in Egypt most of the past year and was just recently able to get to Calgary. So obviously the Egyptian community ladies jumped at the chance to get together, dance like crazy, eat just as crazily, get henna tattoos (I have no idea where they found a henna lady in Calgary) and make dirty jokes about sex.

Back home in Cairo I usually tried to avoid these parties like the plague; I don’t dance, hate most arabic music, hate all loud music, don’t usually eat that well at crowded functions, hate gossip and find the not-so-subtle sexual belly-dancing half naked ladies prancing around a put off (I seem like such a prude – I assure you I’m not). Which are all essential ingredients for a successful henna party.

So there I was on a typical cold Calgary evening after having driven 45 minutes to get to the party room of a typical Calgarian condominium when I walk in and a blast of pure Egyptian social frenzy hits me. I did my dues, talked and chatted around for an hour and then got the hell out of there.

I walked into my house at midnight to find my husband sleeping on the couch. He woke as I came in and sleepily asked me how it was;

I shrug off my coat; “For the last hour and a half I felt that I was back home in Cairo.”

“Then you had fun, right?”

“No, it felt exactly like home, but not in the good way!”

Frost-bitten Toes & 50 Shades of Grey Party Game

I’m half Canadian and that means that the minute the weather shows the slightest promise of being warm, I act like I’m living in the tropics. And here I am living up to those exact expectations, sitting in Starbucks beside the window in my shorts and t-shirt, enjoying the sun and freezing my toes off because the Starbucks air-conditinoning is cranked up to high. And now I have a very valid fear of getting frost-bite in my toes even though it’s almost 20 outside. My Egyptian half just looked at the past sentence and laughed it’s half head off. Almost 20 and I think it’s summer? Anything below 25 in Cairo and that means winter is not over. Ah, the paradoxes of coming from opposite sides of the world.

So why did I start with a meangingless – although totally Canadian (minus talk of hockey) rant about the weather and coffee? Because I just don’t know how else to dive back in after a 3 month absence. I feel ashamed, embarrassed and somewhat of a loser being gone so long, but…. and there is always a but – I had very valid reasons; my mom, sister and her kids were visiting for two months and ensuing family drama happened. As well as being totally tied up emotionally I was their 24/7 tour guide/driver for most of their visit. And then the two weeks afterwards were dedicated solely to the clean-up and detox that the house and myself needed to go through.

And on top of that I am half-heartdely frantically trying to get together everything I need to start my new blog so I can go live somewhere within the next couple of months.

So I make no promises, because I am obviously crappy at keeping them, but I really, really want to be back. And now that Jo is in part-time day-care (which is screwing my over financially – but keeping me from going insane), I’m hoping that I’ll try be more consistent.

So I’m signing off because for the past 15 minutes the Fifty Shades of Grey Party Game that is in the board games display in front of me has been calling out to me to go have a look. I wonder what people do when playing that game. Answer kinky sex questions? Or act out scenes from the book? Now that would be one interesting party game.

Crossing the Line…

20121214-151541.jpgI was reading the news today and came across this article. A Quebec filmmaker is being charged with corrupting morals, and first reading I thought it was a joke. But then I realised it was serious.

And then the shock settled in. After all, I come from a society that will prosecute you and charge you with blasphemy, treason and disturbing the peace for even thinking of questioning the ruling party and society. If the country is saying red, bet your sweet ass that you could end up in prison for saying blue.

I lived in extreme fear throughout the revolution that if any of the old ruling party members came to power, my husband would end up in some political person somewhere for tweeting his opinions. And I was not being paranoid or obsessive. It was a very big possibility. Heck, I can actually count onto hands people and friends I know who were placed in political prisons or taken in for ‘questioning’.

Which was one of the biggest reasons I was so happy that I was moving back to Canada. Here I have the freedom to be who I am or what I am without fear of being called out. In fact the acceptance of me, my opinions and my faith here is much more than anything I’ve seen back in Cairo. I actually blew up at my MIL once and told her

“If the West are as racist as you are towards Middle Easterners and Muslims, then they have every right to discriminate against us.” As you can imagine, that didn’t go to well.

Anyway back to home and the special effects filmmaker Remy Couture that is being charged with ‘corrupting morals through the distribution, possession and production of obscene materials…’ the jury has to decide whether his work is …obscene and dangerous enough to actually incite people to act out what they see…’.

What the fuck!

Since when do we care that the stuff we see could persuade us to act it out in real life. In that case why do we have all these action and horror movies? Where is the prosecuting Crown with Grand Theft Auto and Saw? Heck, why are we even watching Dexter? Aren’t we worried that the people who love that show so much will be incited into becoming serial killers of their own?

What can I say? I guess tyranny and oppression of freedom of speech is the same anywhere in the world. Whether you’re prosecuting an awful and obscene comedy movie or a gruesome and obscene horror movie.

Labels & Kids; Can I Avoid ‘Nerd’, ‘Terrorist’ or ‘Stinky Pants’?

Yesterday I read an article about an American muslim mom (On Telling My Children They Are Not Terrorists) and what it was like growing up in Florida and what it’s like for her kids growing up now amidst all the ‘terrorist scares’. I have to admit I can totally understand. Well in a way I guess. Growing up in Toronto in the 80s and 90s, we obviously didn’t have the whole ‘terrorist’ issue to deal with. And my 5year old A. and 1 year J. are still not in any position to experience anything, being that we just moved from Egypt where they’ve been living all their lives.

But I can still relate. Growing up I always felt different. My parents weren’t like other parents. I couldn’t date, couldn’t drink, didn’t celebrate Christmas, Halloween, Easter and so on. Add to that my age difference (I skipped a year, so was the youngest girl in class), my different cultural and religious background and my social disabilities; I couldn’t (can’t) make friends easily and was a bit of a loner and rebel. I was pretty much a poster child for the classic unpopular geek/nerd portrayed in movies.

My parents relocated to Egypt when I was in junior high school. Which means that I don’t know how I would have blossomed had we continued in Canada. But I do know I blossomed in Egypt. Don’t get me wrong, I was still different. Not in terms of culture and religion but in pretty much every other aspect. And it’s back in egypt and the upper economic class that I grew up among that I started dating. And was subjected to drinking, drugs and such, maybe even more than I would have experienced in Canada. I was still the rebel, the nerd, the geek. But this time I rejoiced in the difference. I embraced it because it made me who I am.

And now I have kids and am back to square one. A. is a miniature copy of me in terms of character, temperament and personality, if not looks. In him I see all the trials and tribulations I went through as a child. And it cuts me up. I don’t want him to be lonely. I don’t want him to end up playing alone on the playground because he doesn’t know how to befriend kids. And now I have to add another worry to my list; I don’t want him labeled a terrorist, a savage or a backward.

Life always finds a way to catch up with us. So no matter how far you run, eventually you will have to face that big bad wolf one day. And my monster has arrived. So how does an ADHD, unsocial and awkward mama who currently has no friends in the city she lives in help her equally ADHD, unsocial and awkward son build his social skills? I don’t want him to be voted ‘most popular boy in school’. I just want him to have good and sincere friends he can always count on.

And on that note, I end my week. With the major challenge up ahead all I can do is try, keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Thank you Mr. Obama

All through the past month, Egyptians and Egypt have kept one of their more important attributes; a sense of humor. And while Egyptian comics can make fun of just about anything as ‘The man Behind Omar Suleiman’ would attest, there is no denying the Egyptian State Media gave them plenty of ammunition. In between the Mehwar’s Shaimaa, Said and Hanaa (or Om Said as a friend likes to call her) or the multiple and classic comments of the Nile TV reporters about “a small group of infiltrated people are moving the masses”, ‘the number of protesters do not exceed thousands”, “the protesters are being affected by foreign entities ranging between Israel, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizb Allah, and the Egyptian Islamist Brotherhood” and the extremely funny and sad “the protesters are speaking in strange dialects and holding sophisticated gadgetry that has no keys and a bitten apple on the back.”

So while the Egyptian Media has been a help in uplifting the crowds anxiety levels they have been totally unreliable in terms of news coverage and so we turn to Arab and Western News Coverage of the events in the Middle East. And I have to say I generally felt that it was an extensive and informative coverage. I could agree and relate with most of the points except for one thing; the Western Media’s slamming of President Obama’s reaction and official stand regarding the Egyptian crisis.

I can understand the emotional reasoning behind some of the Egyptians who were asking for a stronger stand against Mubarak’s government and tyranny but logistically speaking the US will and should have its personal interests first in line. And I personally believe that while Obama’s message was hesitant and guarded from the start, it was obvious he was calling for Mubarak to step down. What was really strange was the Republicans reaction to Obama’s caution, specifically John McCain, Marc Theissen and Dimtri Simes’s personal opinion.

We’re very sorry gentlemen to tell you, that as an Egyptian, I generally don’t care what the Americans think of us. I am not looking for you to come in with your guns blazing to ‘liberate us’ and believe me your opinion, action or lack-of did not matter a pig’s ass in determining the outcome of our revolution. Yes it would have been nice if you’d taken a stronger stance in the past years against the dictatorship of your allies, but then again, this is our fight. We need to take responsibility for our country and our welfare and we definitely do not need another George W. Bush Junior thinking he needs to go in and save the heathens from themselves. So once again with feeling; thank you Mr. President for taking a very wise and objective stand regarding the political turnout of our country.

For a very logical and unbiased opinion, check out the Economists’ February 17 article on “How Obama Handled Egypt”.

Directions

I have a tendency to detach from life; to wander along through my days, day after day, without associating or attaching to emotions, events and people. The problem arises when I try to connect or commit to anything in specific. I start off like a firecracker, with immense speed and velocity, blow up in a burst of light and color, then fizzle down into nothingness as the black starts to creep in again.

With all the past happenings in Egypt, I’m trying to find my way; my path in life, what I’m destined to do. The thought that I am meant for a mediocre life eats at me like cancer. Yet I cannot find a foothold, a place where I am meant to contribute, make a difference so I start to detach again and the cycle begins.

I did take some form of initiative last weekend by attending the Eid Wahda/Youth for development call for committees meeting. Their mission is to ‘establish the Egyptian people as a major force in the decisions made by government officials. ~To become responsible and accountable for a better Egypt, we need to educate ourselves and research in order to be well informed and involved in decision making. We need to become active to insure a great future and commit to responsibilities as citizens. ~We believe that people should become involved in the following (committees):
1. Cultural Focus
2. Economic Development and Support
3. Educational Development
4. Environment Preservation and Development
5. Establishing Tahrir Square as the Birth Place for the Youth Movement
6. Health Care Increase
7. Human Rights Initiative
8. Political Awareness
9. Transportation and Traffic Amends
10. Tourism Encouragement
11. Establishment of Free Media’

After reading about them on Facebook I felt that maybe I had found the light at the end of the tunnel. They seemed like people who were thinking on the right track and as such I attended their first meeting undecided whether I should join the Cultural or Educational Committee.

Walking into the meeting was like walking into Souq El Gomaa; crowded, loud and total chaos. The founders of the group were practicing pure democracy and letting each committee, gather on its own and coordinate everything internally. Lost I wandered between the Cultural and Educational Committee trying to figure my niche and decided I should ask one of the established volunteers in the Cultural what this Committee was all about. After telling me we want to culturally educate the masses with the values and beliefs of the Revolution, I was hooked and eagerly signed my name up. But half an hour later sitting in their brainstorming session, I started regretting my decision. The group talking was a diverse range of youth from college students, political activists, bloggers, acting coaches to hip hop singers. Their intentions were good, the spirit was high but they lacked direction and planning. One person thought we needed to focus on orphanages, another said we need to do poetry workshops. Everyone had a different opinion but they were all in agreement that we don’t need to define our values or beliefs because they were pretty obvious and everyone knew them. What we needed to do was act and act now. Now call it the architect in me or the skeptical or whatever you want, but I believe that there is no such thing called ‘act and act now’ without a plan showing where you’re heading and what you’re doing. And that is where they lost me; with the realization that Egyptians will always lack in strategic and long term planning.

And so I quietly walked away and signed my name up in the Educational Committee.

For more information on Eed Wa7da check their Facebook group or page.

Moving Forward

The past three weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of pride, worry, anxiety, optimism, more worry, skepticism, anger and hope. And while I know every single person has gone through the same emotions but in varying degrees, my sense of worry and pessimism has been a constant current through all the other emotions.

I have been pro-demonstrations, pro-Tahrir, since the start. I totally agree with the demands and the methods but nonetheless I am worried about the outcome. I fear one big variable, the Egyptian people. Yes, we have been living under an oppressive and dictatorship regime. Yes, we have been humiliated, put down, tortured and forced silent. But this equation has two sides, the regime and us. We have allowed this to happen to us for 30 years, and while not willingly, we have let it go on and 30 years changes almost everybody. So while the movement toppled the top level of the regime, who is going to change an entry level ministry employee who will not finish your paperwork unless you bribe him? And don’t tell me the peoples’ spirit has changed because everything with education and substance, even spirit, will die down.

The Egyptians are great at celebrating and documenting victories, yet we have a huge problem with long term planning. We always look at ‘what we did’ not ‘what we need to do’ and that is the cause of my biggest worry. Look at how up till now we are leaving off the fortunes and grandness of the Pharaonic Empire 5000 years ago, or the Salah Al Deen victory, or even the October 6 victory. I can’t deny that there are people who are thinking long-term sustainable projects and education for the future but I feel that they are too few, too far in between.

On the brighter side, the high school students in the school I work in did a much better job at thinking forward than the school staff. Let me share below part of their reflections on the happenings of the past month:

“We need more projects to help poor people and educate them, especially political education. If they don’t understand politics they will still vote for the first person who gives them 2kilos of meat.”

“We have to be creative in our methods of helping Egypt. We need to look for new and unique ways. Instead of cleaning the same street 5 times, how about providing garbage cans for people to throw trash in.”

“The revolution is not about going to Tahrir to ask for things to change. Change comes from within and each person needs to prepare for it by changing his/her self. By changing what I do wrong, I can help change all that’s wrong in this country.”

“We need to be sustainable and find long-term projects. The spirit is great for now but we need to find a way to carry it forward into the future.”

“Now is not the time to point fingers and say who is pro and who is anti. It is the time for us to show mercy. Skepticism is not the way to move forward. People need to show patience and trust regarding their needs.”

“How does corruption start? Corruption happens out of lack of education. And education is the key to rebuilding our country. The economy will come afterwards and poverty will solve itself but education starts first.”

“You must understand that you are a part of Egypt and you will make a difference through your small contribution. Each person has to believe in his/her self and believe that they can make a difference with just an idea. If we listen to each other we can learn.”

It’s amazing how not a single one of them talked about how great the revolution is and how wonderful the people are, although I’m pretty sure they all thought that. But they all talked about one thing; the future and moving forward. And I think that is something we all need to do now.