Gilded Serpent presents...

A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Report #2

Housekeeping, Internet, Costume Shopping, Reconnecting with More Friends

Leyla

by Leyla Lanty
From the Field June 14 – July 1 5, 2011
posted October 18, 2011

On June 14, 2011, I left home for a month long stay in Cairo, Egypt, my home away from home.  The purpose of this trip, one of many I’ve made there, was to attend Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 as well as visit with old friends, make new ones and most important of all this year, to see and experience some of the changes taking place after Egypt’s revolution in January.  What follows is a six-part recounting of what I saw, did and felt, based on a diary I kept while I was there.

Taking a day to catch up:

During a month’s stay in Cairo it’s necessary to stay home for a day now and then in order to catch up on some tasks, such as doing laundry, catching up on email, writing a new report or “resting up” for the week-long excitement of an event like the week-long Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival.

Many, if not most, households have clothes washers.  This one doesn’t and there are no self-serve laundries in the neighborhood, so I hand wash everything, using an over-sized cooking pot as a wash basin.  The wash is now hanging on the balcony from the backs of the two folding chairs that “live” there and on my stretch clothesline anchored on the iron railing perched on top of the concrete balcony wall.  Very few apartments have clothes driers.  Most people hang their wash on clotheslines permanently mounted on the balcony, hanging over the sidewalk.  When walking along the streets close to the buildings, you need to watch for telltale puddles on the ground so you can step sideways to avoid getting a free shower of drips from newly washed clothes, blankets, sheets, towels, and sometimes drip-hoses from air conditioners!

In the photo is a typical street scene.  Notice the wash hanging from the balcony over the green grocer’s shop.  To the right is the women’s entrance to the neighborhood mosque.  To the left is a meat store.

In the photo is a typical street scene. Notice the wash hanging from the balcony over the green grocer’s shop. To the right is the women’s entrance to the neighborhood mosque. To the left is a meat store. 

Ahmed’s Internet savvy son, Karim, got an Internet USB stick and set it up for me so now I’m connected wherever I want to be connected in Cairo.  It’s very easy to use.  It runs a bit faster than telephone hookup but not as fast as a high speed connection.  It’s more than adequate for my needs – email, Facebook, web surfing – as long as I don’t try to download any YouTube videos or other huge files that take a seem to take an interminable amount of time to complete.

When I think of my first trip here in 1977, I can see what amazing changes have occurred since then – most of them for the better.

When I came then, I had to carry travelers’ checks for the full amount of money I would need for my whole trip.  I could get money from my checking account but only because I had an American Express card.  I could go to their office, write them a check and they would give me cash in return.  Of course, there was no Internet, no email.  I wrote my trip diary on the pages of a notebook with a pen!  I called home by dialing a local number for AT&T and giving them my home number along with the number I wanted to call and a password!  It was expensive.

One afternoon, I visited Mahmoud Abd al Ghaffar at his costume atelier “Al Wikalah” in Khan el Khalili (old market area).  When I arrived, it was prayer time.  At his assistant’s suggestion, I looked around the ground floor and checked out the cases full of gorgeous scarves and other accessories.  After Mahmoud had finished praying, we sat and talked for a few minutes until some other customers arrived.  I went upstairs and found a gorgeous gown with my name on it!  It fit perfectly!  It is vivid red with black and red beading and sequins in all the right places.  It has detached bell sleeves and a matching draped scarf-like belt.  The skirt has godets (triangular insets from hemline to knees) of black tulle with red and black beading on them – lovely!  The belt and sleeves are trimmed with beaded black tulle, matching the skirt.  I can’t wait to wear it when I dance at the festival!

After costume shopping, I spent two evenings visiting with old friends, first with a woman I’ve known for four years and the other with Houda al Artist, the composer for two songs on my CD, “Golden Days Enchanting Nights” at the studio he owns with his brother, the famous drummer Said al Artist.  Two other musicians were there hanging out and drinking tea, Arabic (Turkish) coffee or yansoon (anise tea) and playing backgammon.

There’s little work for musicians these days other than special parties, engagements, weddings.  Many of the Haram (Pyramid) Street night clubs were looted and torched during the revolutions. (Don’t ask me; I don’t know why.)  Consequently, the musicians often meet for casual conversation, tea, sheesha (water pipe) and a few rounds of backgammon or other board or card games.  Backgammon is extremely popular with many variations on the game.  Another popular game is poker and there’s some interest in chess too.  When going to one of the ‘ahwat (coffee/tea houses) in the evening, you hear the bubbling sound of the sheesha and the clickety-clack of the dice hitting the boards on the tables.  The coffee/tea houses are considered to be “men’s places” and women are usually expected to be accompanied by a male if they want to sit in one and have tea or coffee and, maybe, smoke a sheesha.

Zizi, my woman friend, is a lot of fun and, lucky for me, speaks English fluently.  While we visited, she took some time to help me with the Arabic language.  First we had a great time catching up on our news.  Then we watched some dancers on her computer and discussed many things about Egypt and its culture.  She and her husband have a new “son” – a beautiful two month old long-haired yellow tiger kitten with a sweet personality.  I missed my kitty at home so I got my "kitty fix" by petting and playing with him.  She decided to call him “Tiger”, using the English word.  She told me that pets cannot have human names but must be named by animal names like “Tiger,” “Kitty,” or “Doggie,” or nonsense sounds or something inanimate like “Bouncy Ball.”  In the photo, “Tiger wants you!”

Tiger!

Next Up:  Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival and more…

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