Gilded Serpent presents...
Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 11: Camels, Class, & Competitions
2, 2004. Another day, another group of classes to choose from!
Today's Oriental selection included classes taught by Zaza
Hassan, Hamada Hossam, Soraya, Mo Geddawi,
Dandash, and Kamal Naeim.
The folkloric classes were taught by Mervat
Mongy and Nawal
Bein Abdullah. I was
very tempted to take Hamada Hossam's
class in the morning because I had thoroughly enjoyed the class
I took from him the previous year, but I had other priorities
I snarled in my journal for Day
4 about how certain people from our tour group didn't bother
to return to the bus on time, and consequently caused those of
us who wanted camel rides to lose out on the opportunity? Well,
this was my day to get the camel ride I'd been cheated out of
a week earlier!
I met Gloria
and Glee, both students of mine from the San
Jose, California area, in the lobby of our hotel. Mary
Ann from Springfield, Missouri had originally intended
to join us for the adventure, but she wasn't feeling well that
morning so she decided to stay behind.
thought ahead, and researched what the Misr Travel agency at our hotel was charging
for camel rides. Armed with that information, we left the hotel
complex and went across the street to a shop named Memo's
Bazaar to see if Memo would like to arrange a camel ride
price he quoted us was 60 Egyptian pounds (about $10 U.S.)
per person. Gloria told me that Misr Travel was charging 40 pounds per person (just under
$7) so we held out for that.
We were led
to the stables. At first they tried to talk us into accepting
two camels and a horse, but I felt that was unacceptable. We
could ride horses in the U.S.
wanted to ride camels in Egypt!
So I told the guy that perhaps we'd go away and see if our hotel
could arrange for us to get what we wanted, since it seemed
that he wasn't able to.
he suddenly seemed to be able to produce a third camel. It took
a while for them to choose the camels, bring them over, and put
us on them. They tried to sell us a guide for an additional 30
pounds ($5). I declined. But once they had seated us on the
camels, and helped the camels rise to their feet, and placed the
single strand of rope in our hands, they asked again. Personally,
I think they always intended to provide a guide, and I think they
probably induced the camels to wobble more than usual when helping
us to our feet to scare us into paying them extra. Harumph.
After that somewhat scary beginning of teetering on the camels'
backs as they rose to their feet, Glee and Gloria didn't want
to risk doing this without a guide, so they decided we should
To get on
a camel, first you have the camel lie down on its belly. Then
you place a foot in the near stirrup, and sling your leg over
the camel's back to the other side. Once you are situated in
the saddle, the camel stands up, and this is one of the most challenging
moments of the whole camel-riding experience. Yikes! The camel
pushes his back legs into a standing position first, while his
front ones remain kneeling, and it's enough to make you feel as
if you're going to go flying over his head onto the ground!
So, we got
on our camels. Gloria found the act of flinging her leg over
the camel's back to be the most challenging part of the process.
I felt so unsteady on my own camel that she was safe from having
me take a picture of her less dignified moment.
Once we were
all on our camels, the rope on each camel's halter was tied to
the saddle of the camel in front of it. Glee and Gloria nominated
me to be on the lead camel, so the rope for my camel was held
by the young man on horseback who served as our guide. It was
time for our camel ride to begin.
asked whether we wanted to be taken to the pyramids, or to the
desert. We opted for the desert. Our logic was that we had already
seen the pyramids from that angle, and the desert was something
we hadn't yet experienced. Plus, we would have needed to pay
an admission fee to the pyramids complex if we had chosen the
pyramids route. I'm very glad we chose the desert because of
the fascinating sights we saw along the way.
From the stables,
we proceeded through a narrow alley strewn with garbage. This
led us to a village that I'd had absolutely no idea was
back there! It provided us with the opportunity to see what a
working class Egyptian community really looked like.
It took a
while before I felt steady enough on my camel to start shooting
pictures. I operated the camera with one hand while keeping a
firm hold on the saddle pommel with the other.
camel's walking gait feels quite different from that of a horse.
On the camel, there is a very definite forward-and-back rocking
motion that is much more pronounced than that of a horse.
had a bit of time to get used to how it felt to be sitting on
our camel, our guide goaded his horse into a trot, which naturally
caused our camels to trot to keep up with him. As he did this,
he turned around in his saddle and gave me a huge, mischievous
grin. I laughed. And I can now tell you that the gait of a trotting
camel feels very much like that of a trotting horse. We never
galloped the camels, so I can't comment on that.
We wove through
the village for some time. It was very interesting to see how
working class people dressed and what the architecture of their
homes looked like. We also had an opportunity to catch a glimpse
of the interiors of some homes. The people didn't pay much attention
to us. I'm sure they have a constant parade of tourists on camel
and horseback passing through their community.
we reached the edge of the village and headed out into the desert.
It took my breath away. It was at once beautiful and hostile
in appearance. Looking out in that direction, as far as my eye
could see, was nothing but empty waste.
found it incredible that such complete desolation could exist
so close to the bustling city of Cairo with its population of
18 million people. It really brought home to me that the vast
majority of land in Egypt
is unpopulated desert like this.
led us along a fence that ran along the outer edge of the pyramids
complex. It was a pleasant ride. I was feeling more relaxed
on my camel's back now. Eventually we reached a gap in the fence,
and our guide led our camels through it, so we had entered the
pyramid complex. He then led us up closer to the pyramids, allowing
us to see them from an angle we had not previously experienced.
this time, we had been riding about 40 minutes, so our guide decided
this was a good time for a break. He got off his horse, then
helped each of us in turn dismount as our camels knelt. He gave
us some time to take whatever pictures we wished of the pyramids,
then offered to take a picture of the three of us together.
both us and the camels a bit of rest, our guide helped us re-mount,
then led us back in the direction of the village. This time,
it was easier to keep my place in the saddle as my camel stood
up. Our guide led us through a downhill section that made me
somewhat nervous. I remembered to lean back as my camel negotiated
his way through the terrain, and all was well.
As we headed
back to the village, we had a view of the desert ridge we were
on in the foreground and the busy city of Cairo far below. This
contrast of the desert area on the Giza plateau versus the activity
of the city really made me think about how much the people of
Egypt live on the edge
of desolation and how crucial the Nile River truly is to their
way of life.
arrived back at the stables and dismounted from our camels. The
total adventure had taken about an hour and a half, which I thought
was just perfect. My back muscles were tight from the nervous
tension of keeping my balance on the camel, and my seat was complaining
a little about the bouncing up and down. I'm glad we took the
time we took, but I wouldn't have wanted it to be any longer.
In retrospect, I'm glad our camel ride didn't happen on Day 4,
because I'm sure it wouldn't have been as interesting as the ride
we did have. It certainly wouldn't have been 90 minutes long like
ours, probably wouldn't have offered as much view of the village,
and probably wouldn't have given us the same impression of the
Glee offered a tip to our guide for the great job he did of
taking care of us, he tried to refuse the money.
rather astonishing. She insisted, and he eventually accepted
it. When she paid the guy who was collecting the fee for our
camel rental, that obnoxious little man tried to demand additional
money beyond what we had agreed to in our negotiation. Glee refused,
a decision which I fully supported.
back to our hotel, tired but thrilled that we had done it!
dispersed to freshen up, rest a bit, and have some lunch. We
needed a bit of down time before Dandash's
class at 4:00 p.m. This class would be 3 hours long, and I was
being careful to pace myself.
was originally supposed to be one day earlier, on Thursday. However,
it had been moved to Friday to accommodate a change in Dina's
schedule. Dina had originally been scheduled for Friday, but
a conflict arose in her schedule and she needed to change her
class time. So all Thursday evening classes were moved to Friday,
and Dina was moved to Thursday.
I was looking
forward to Dandash's class. I had seen
her perform on both of my previous trips to Egypt,
and I enjoyed both occasions very much. In 2003, I did not take
her class, and I later heard feedback from friends who had taken
it that they enjoyed it very much. They made me wish I would have
attended it, too. So, Dandash's class was on my 2004 list of must-do's.
classroom was quite crowded, although I've seen worse. Dandash was up on the raised stage, like Randa and the other instructors. Her chartreuse exercise
clothes made it easy to see what she was doing.
choreography to the song Ah Wa Noss included some puzzling
gestures, such as grabbing her own armpit and doing a movement
with her fingers that made me think of playing a clarinet.
asked her whether those particular gestures had any meaning.
She laughed, and said that the clarinet-playing move meant, "I'm
very, very angry with you!" and the armpit grabbing move
also meant anger, but to a lesser degree. She explained that the
lyrics of the song are about a spat between two lovers. They
care about each other, they're not breaking up, but they are having
a fight nonetheless.
It was difficult
to hear her in that large room over the rustling and murmuring
of the crowd. Naturally, some chatterboxes seemed to think this
was the right time to babble, never mind those of us who would
have preferred to hear what the instructor had to say.
we had some supper and relaxed. Tomorrow would be a busy day,
with Raqia Hassan's class in the morning and the closing gala in the evening.
night, instead of the regular Summer Parties that occurred the
previous evenings, there was a dance competition. This was the
first time (that I know of) that the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival
included a competition as part of its festivities.
entry fee was $30, and the judges were several members of the
local Cairo dance community. The top two winners would be invited
to perform in the closing night gala the next night.
of my group went to watch it, but between the camels and the class
I was tired out and decided to spend my evening resting. Since
I didn't attend it myself, I can't tell you much about it, but
I did hear about a couple of highlights.
each contestant was allowed 5 minutes maximum for her performance.
It seems one Russian dancer's music exceeded the 5 minutes allowed,
and the sound man cut it off promptly at the 5-minute mark.
heard that the hissy fit she threw
was rather entertaining to watch. She was furious about her
music being interrupted, and wasn't afraid to let her truculence
I asked one of my colleagues from our group who won, and the answer
was "a couple of Cubans." Later, someone else also told me "a
couple of Cubans" won the top two places. Since I don't know
any dancers from Cuba,
I shrugged and assumed it probably wasn't anybody I would have
I later learned
that the dancers who took the top two positions were actually
U.S. dancers who happened to be ethnic Cuban but were U.S. citizens,
had grown up in the U.S., and considered themselves Americans.
First place went to Samay,
and second place to Amar Gamal of Bellydance
Superstars fame. Both had studied extensively with Tamalyn Dallal
and had been members of Tamalyn's troupe
at one time. Obviously, both represented her well at this event.
Congratulations to all for representing the U.S.
so well in this event!
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more from Shira-
Ahlan Wa Sahlan
Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend
this event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian
instructors, shop for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian
vendors, and enjoy the gala shows featuring top Egyptian dancers.
Check back for regular updates!
3: First Look at Egyptian History
4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes
6: The Festival Begins
7: Classes and Free Time
8: Side Trips, Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum
8, part 2:The Parisiana
Day 9: The
Day 10: Classes and the
New Dance Contest/Theme Party ”A
Night at Casablanca!” Photos by Lynette, October 2,
2004 at the Benicia Clocktower Benicia, California Sponsored by
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by Catherine E Barros
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by Little Egypt at the Holiday Inn, Dallas Texas September 3 -
It's always nice when you find that someone, whom you've put up
on a big pedestal, is down to earth, just "folks" like the rest