by the Nile,
Return to a Changed
I asked the man who had come to meet me what was going on and he informed me that Sharia, or strict Muslim law, had been imposed and everyone was worried about the government's being in imminent danger of being overthrown, but that we in the hotel weren't in any particular danger.
There were, indeed, many military vehicles on the road, but every time they stopped us, we proceeded after paying a small bribe, and the man from the hotel seemed to be at ease, smiling and joking with the soldiers, who seemed to indicate that they needed money for cigarettes, and to join in amiable repartee with my escort. Upon arriving at the hotel I was shocked to see a skeleton of the hotel I had left last year. Some of the furniture was missing and a barebones crew was on hand. No one seemed to be staying in any of the rooms of the hotel, and I was given a suite at the top with the manager and assistant manager and their wives and children, whom I spent many hours visiting.
The "show", such as it was, was only me, and not in the giant ballroom, which was always kept darkened, but in the Ivory dining room, which seated perhaps 50 people, except that almost no one was there. Still we did receive the managers of the various airlines who came to psychologically prop up their friends who had remained, and any odd Bedouins who happened to come in off the desert, leaving theirs camels outside, while they sat rather uncomfortably at the table until low tables and cushions were brought in to make them feel more at home. Perplexed, and not feeling at all well to dance for this small contingent, I nevertheless felt complimented that they had asked me to return, until I was informed that they had tried to get other artists, but I was the only one dumb enough to come during such turbulence.
Still and all, I decided to make the most of it, and every night there gathered about 10 to 20 people in the Ivory room, notably the hotel manager and the assistant manager and their wives, the airline managers and their wives, if they had not already been sent out of the country with the children, and our Bedouin visitors. So I decided to introduce the show to make it as merry an occasion as I could.
Rhea Makes Merry
Could you please leave them in, and will you please especially include them in our New Year's show." Well, it turned out that on New Year's Eve the giant ballroom would be brought into play because the "common" people had been invited to see the show. By this, I mean the ordinary Muslims of African descent who didn't have the big bucks that you normally had to have to get into the Hilton who also were more strict Muslims, which means that they didn't partake of alcoholic beverages, and therefore wouldn't need to stay home that night and have parties in their own houses where they had their stockpiles of liquor.
On the night of the big show, Simon surprised me by appearing in a full tux and tails. Where he got it I don't know. Perhaps he borrowed it for the occasion. There surely were not any places where you could rent such apparel. There were at least one thousand people, and every seat was taken. The men all wore evening attire, although not tux and tails, and the women all wore dresses that covered them from their neck to their wrists to their ankles, and every possible space that could be festooned with ruffles was so adorned, and their hair was also treated in such a manner. They all resembled what every little girl's dream was of a princess dress. As I looked out over this sea of black faces, I was gladdened that at least this night I could introduce the hotel staff to a real audience.
He would call each man up to the front and tell me in English what I was to say about him and I would say it. You see, everyone knew each other, and knew who each one was and what he did. They just wanted to hear it said in English in front of everyone. Every man would bow from the waist, both alone and then with Simon, who I cannot imagine didn't have sore muscles the next day. This whole process took two hours, and everyone applauded enthusiastically for each person. At no time did anyone look bored. I then introduced the entire hotel staff, which had quite fleshed out from the skeleton crew that was normally there, and only then did I dance. A makeshift litter was then brought to the stage and I was lifted onto it and carried from the room, and brought back in many times for my curtain calls.
All had been relatively peaceful in the hotel until now with no excursions to any outside places. I had left the hotel once to walk over the bridge to Ondurman and had been ordered to "halt!" by a kalishnikov toting guard who stood where I hadn't seen anyone before.
I was betting on the fact that he wouldn't shoot a white woman in the back who had come out of the Hilton, and it worked. When I reported the incident to the hotel manager, he said that it was a pretty good idea to not go out any more, and that the man was probably acting on his own, trying to get any money and valuables from whoever was dumb enough to go over the bridge.
A Belly Dancer's
This went on merrily for some time, each one shoving the other out of the way, to address me in his own way, I to answer pretty much as he had spoken to me. After some time of me smiling and trying to indicate with sign language that I needed a drink, one of them produced from his pocket a small bottle of a brand name whiskey and offered it to me. We drank together with many smiles as they ransacked my room searching for money or any valuables. I pretended that they wanted to see my costumes, and began to produce them one after the other and parade around holding the costume in front of me, playing my cymbals and giving them a mini show. "Why you no come and see show?" I queried them. "Big show every night." Finally they left in exasperation, to go on to ransack the other suites.
I had started in the heights and had gone to the depths. It was now 1984 and the Middle East was beginning to blow up in earnest. Although I still longed for the thrill of dancing in a big hotel, I had been kind of scared. I mean, you never know when your luck will run out. So I left Khartoum with a heavy heart, realizing that it would be a long time before I would venture from Athens to any country ruled by the fanatic Muslims who unfortunately were beginning to take over many Middle Eastern countries, as things were just too unstable for a foreigner. I later went to dance in Istanbul in 1996, but that's another story.
IN YEMEN by Jalilah Part 2 - EL AROUS
the Myths: The Many Faces of Belly Dance, by Susie Poulelis
10-28-01 "Faddah" (Silver) by Hossam Ramzy, A Review and Commentary by Najia El-Mouzayen Dancers who have enjoyed many of Hossam Ramzy's 16 other CDs will doubtlessly be thrilled by this beautifully produced collection of new music.