A Month in Cairo- Report #6
Part of “my” feral cat family in the apartment building
by Leyla Lanty
posted February 2, 2011
More About the Feral Animals:
Many Egyptians have cats and dogs for pets and love them dearly, but life for the street cats and dogs is hard. People give handouts to the feral cats, but feral dogs seem to be considered more of a nuisance than cats. Regardless, I saw bowls of water, usually near shops and entry ways of large apartment buildings where both cats and dogs quenched their thirst. My "adopted" hall kitties are part of the group of feral cats that live in the halls of the 11 story building where I rented the apartment. Those that came to my door on a fairly regular basis are 2 adult females and 2 two-month old kittens. Once in a while a black cat, probably a year old, showed up. The kittens want to follow me back inside the apartment. Even the young ones know where the food comes from!
A Note on Public Accommodations (blush):
Everyone always carries a packet or two of facial tissues for various purposes. The Egyptian version of facial tissues is very thick, more like a paper napkin than our sneeze catchers. Most restaurants put boxes of them on the tables for customers to use as napkins.
Sometimes on the way to some activities, I feel a need to “pee” and that can be a real problem. Retail stores do not usually have toilets for either customers or staff. Where people "go" I don’t know for sure, but I have sometimes found myself using an ancient form of what I call a “squat toilet” where you place one foot on a raised foot rest on each side of a ceramic or concrete square with a hole between the foot rests and squat. Sorry, no photos! Needless to say, when I’m out and have to go, I look for an American or European style restaurant and use their toilet. No one seems to mind. Shopping malls usually have very nice public restrooms too. McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants always have super clean bathrooms and some of them even have toilet paper! I always carry some facial tissues just in case. In the photo, the last tissue in a pack of “Flora” floral-scented tissues.
Visits with Musician Houda el Artist:
During my stay in Cairo, I visited Houda el Artist, composer and accordion and keyboard master, at the music studio owned by him and his brother, world-famous drummer Sa3id el Artist. Houda composed two of the songs on my CD “Golden Days Enchanting Nights” and played a major role in its production in Egypt. We discussed various topics in music, friendship, etc. and drank tea and yansoon (anise tea). We had a nice long talk about dancing with the music and about the “dance like an Egyptian or any other Arab” course I’m planning. According to him, I’m on the right track. I got the same reaction from Raqia when I discussed it with her, so I’m going to go ahead with my plans and offer it mid-winter. We talked again about the social and political situation in Egypt and he said he thought things will get better in 2 or 3 years but it will be a bumpy ride.
In the photo, Houda el Artist on accordion at right, Sa3id El Artist on tabla (darbukka) in center and brother Ali el Artist on accordion at the left at Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival Cairo 2009.
Photo of musicians
Photo credit – by Denise Marino
Party with Madame Shadia and Family:
A few days before leaving, I met with Ahmed and his family at their flat (in the same building as mine) and we walked about 5 blocks to the home of Ahmed’s daughter-in-law-to-be. I walked with the ladies, a 2-year-old girl, Habiba, and a 3-year-old boy. I’m glad the kids were with us, forcing us to walk slowly, because the unpaved street was difficult to walk on, with lots of potholes, rocks and ruts. We got to the building and the elevator came when called but the car was about 1.5 feet above where it should have been! In apartment buildings, the bowabs (doormen) know how to fix them but I wasn’t about to get into it in that condition! The elevator was just big enough for 2 adults, 3 if they’re slim, and the misalignment combined with the claustrophobic size did not appeal to me, so up the 3 flights I climbed.
While waiting for dinner to arrive (delivery from a nearby seafood place), we ate grapes and freshly cut melon and there were many animated conversations among the dozen or so people who were present. It was great fun to watch Karim and the other young men playing with the children, teasing, gently pinching then hugging them then “bench-pressing the toddlers,” lifting them like weights and swinging them around and the children squealed in delight.
I’ve seen this often here, that men and boys will readily play with the little ones in an involved and endearing way.
After dinner of delicious shrimp, grilled fish with special spices, salad, brown rice, followed by tea, yansoon (anise tea), karkady (hibiscus tea), Mdm. Shadia and her niece May pulled me into the back bedroom for some real partying with the ladies. We took turns dancing solo and dancing with each other. Following Shadia’s intricate sha3abi-sharqi moves was difficult at times but was a real opportunity to learn that style of dance. We danced to a new recording of the song “Akdeb 3aleik”. All four of us women took turns to show how we dance to this song. Each one had different ways of interpreting it and each version fit the music beautifully!
Next evening, I met with Mdm. Shadia at her and her husband’s household items shop in the Sa3ida Zeinab district so we could have some private time to sit, drink tea and chat. We did just that for almost 2 hours while customers occasionally stopped and shopped. It was less than a month before Ramadan would start and like many other shops in the area, her shop offered for sale Ramadan lights that people use to decorate their homes for the 3eid, the celebration held at the end of the month of fasting.
Photo of Leyla with Shadia with black bar
In the photo, Ramadan lights for sale outside Mdm. Shadia and her husband’s shop. I did not get permission to display her photo so I have partially covered her face to avoid embarrassing her.
Store selling Ramadan lights across the busy street from Mdm. Shadia’s shop
Last Evening in Cairo:
I spent my last evening in downtown Cairo shopping for a “bling-y” abaya, the long loose robe that many of the women wear sometimes on the street and often for special occasions. I found one with an unusual asymmetric design of sparkling rhinestones on black fabric – plenty of “bling” and elegance, gorgeous! On the way home we stopped on a side street close to the home neighborhood for delicious kofta (ground meat kebabs). What a yummy way to wrap up my stay in Cairo!
Photo “Richly rhinestoned abaya bought in downtown Cairo”
Back in California:
I have mixed feelings about being back – glad to be home but would love to have stayed in Cairo longer. Maybe someday…
Ready for more?
It was stimulating to talk about a wide range of topics, Egyptian politics and societal issues included, such as the continuing trend for Muslim women and girls to wear scarves – many, if not most, to make a fashion statement, others because of family, husband, or peer pressure, and some to make a political statement.
- 12-1-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Classes, Report #4: Performing with Safaa Farid Band, Closing Gala, Classes at AWS
She finished off the teaching part of the class with a cane dance filled with a variety of cane movements that were playful and fun. At the end, she had a real treat for us: She performed a short Oriental number in her unique style for us to watch and enjoy.
- 11-10-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Report No. 3: Fresh Eggs and the Festival Begins, Ahlan Wa Sahlan, Part 1
One of the aspects of AWS that I enjoy most is the contact it offers with dancers not only from Egypt, both Egyptian and foreign-born, but from all over the world. It’s a rare opportunity to find out that our dance idols are real people who are warm, friendly, and eager to share their knowledge.
- 10-18-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Report No. 2: Housekeeping, Internet, Costume Shopping, Reconnecting with More Friends
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.
- 9-18-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Report No. 1: Settling In, Post-revolution Egypt, Reconnecting to Life in Cairo
No one has ever seen the square being used in any of these ways over the last 30-some years. Everyone has remarked about this and is happy about it.
- 3-25-11 Is "Cabaret" a Dirty Word? Using the Terms Cabaret vs. Night Club
So, is “cabaret” a dirty word? It depends on whose definition you want to use! In Arabic, the name “cabaret” is interpreted differently from what it is in English, leading to the confusion about nightclubs and cabarets. Here in the U.S., we think of a cabaret as a synonym for nightclub.
I have observed a cycle in which, periodically, emerging dancers who have obtained slightly more prominence in the craft begin to make recycled attempts to regulate it through instructional devices in order to control it to their own personal ends.
“Sabri worked everywhere, especially the Nile Hilton. He did a lot of weddings, so we worked at all the hotels. We subbed for Nagwa Fouad at the Meridien hotel on her night off. We went all over Cairo and Alex too, so it was a good way to get around and know the area.
- 1-23-12 Gigbag Check #33 with Sa’diyya of Texas!
Gilded Serpent catches Sa’diyya backstage at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in February 2011. She shows us her tools of the trade, including:safety pins (of course), mirror, curling iron, carpet tape, and all of her jewelry organized in a binder full of zip lock bags. She also tell us about using a fedora in a modern folk dance from Iran or Persia. Her mother helps her with her costumes.
- 1-20-12 Sahra’s Drum Solo Class with Amir Sofi at the Bellydancer of the Universe Competition in 2011,
Sahra is also given the lifetime achievement award. Lovina gives testimonial to how much she enjoyed the class
Sometimes the dirty facts of dancing in Cairo can be more interesting than the pristine Oriental fantasy… at least, it is when you tell the story later! PHOTOS!
Lou Shelby had told me to begin that Friday night. (The Fez only had entertainment on the weekends at that time.) An Egyptian dancer, Maya, and a Las Vegas dancer, Cozette, were working there; so I was the third dancer on the program. I came in early for a rehearsal; Lou’s idea was to have a real Hollywood-like production: I was to emerge in a flood of colored lights amidst smoke from a smoke machine and open his show.