Today I traveled to the golden Nile Pharaoh boat in Giza to meet my belly dancer friend Lorna. She is a Scottish expat who has been living and working as a professional belly dancer here for over a year. We got to spend some time together between sets on the boat painted to look like a pharonic barge; she’s been working a lot of overtime because the boat is currently short-staffed. She also keeps a blog about her experiences in Egypt: http://bellylorna.blogspot.com/ (You may have guessed that since she keeps her own website, this is not in fact a pseudonym. In case you were wondering.)
We walked up the street from her boat to a pastry and light-snacks restaurant called Triannon. This chain took over a boat that used to be a Chinese restaurant, so there are Chinese dragons on the columns and roof tiles that tilt up at the corners. Unfortunately since it’s not a Chinese restaurant any more, they painted the whole thing completely white on the outside, including the dragons!
We sat out in the garden and as our conversation went on we both got increasingly wheezy and sniffly, until finally we decided to go indoors and get out of the haze for a while. Retreating to the Four Seasons Hotel mall, we meandered around looking at the exorbitantly expensive jewlery, home goods and clothing. And then on the top level of the mall we came across a store selling…hand-painted rugs.
Remember way back when I talked about the ENORMOUS Di and Dodi rug hung up on the wall of the simsar’s office? Well, I’m pretty sure I know where it came from now! They had some fairly innocuous ones of horses and scenery and things, but they also had some very large round portraits of what I can only assume are key political figures in the Arab world, though I regret I didn’t recognize them by sight. Lorna turned and asked me why on earth you would get a rug with a perfectly good pattern on it and then paint over it. I don’t know either. I tried to maintain a straight face as I explained about the Di and Dodi experience.
In the mall we also found a store selling a chandelier that I can only describe as Circus-Clown Chic. It was made of glass balls and flutes in various pastel shades of glass. I have an excellent photo of Lorna looking up at the thing in wide-eyed awe which I plan to post if and when the internet in our flat ever actually works–though in the meantime you can content yourself with this photo album of some of my experiences here so far.)
One of the things Lorna and I talked about was an odd harassment experience I had yesterday: a group of men were chilling out outside the Mobinil shop on Barazil Street in Zamalek. I walked by them as I always do, without looking at them, just looking around them. And before I even passed this group, which was odd enough, they begain throwing comments at me in English – English with very pronounced cockney accents!
At the time this threw me way more than being muttered at behind my retreating back in Arabic, partly because when it’s in Arabic I’ve no idea what they’re actually saying and partly because by now I’m a lot more shocked when I’m not harassed by Egyptian men in the street. Which is really sad, and I’m completely aware of how it’s changing my behavior on the street and the generalizations I’m coming to make as a result. But still, getting harassed not only in English but in English that sounded like these guys were from England was enough to make me feel like they really weren’t playing by the rules. (That’s just not sporting, old chap!)
I’m not sure whether these accents were genuine (a friend asked me if they’d learned English from watching EastEnders, which might in fact explain their vocabulary) or if they were for some reason put on. But either way the rest of the way home I found myself muttering aloud classist and borderline racist (and all the various -ist sentiments that good liberals are not supposed to feel) against what are generally considered the less desirable elements of British society. (”Bastard pikey chavs, what the hell are these worthless ASBO yobs doing in the middle of my damn road?!”)
Lorna suggested that perhaps these men had spent some time in England or been educated there. And she comiserated with my annoyance, saying you’d expect that people who have been to England and know it’s inappropriate to harass women in the streets there wouldn’t then turn around and do it anyway on the streets of Egypt. If they assume, as they obviously did, that I speak English, why not treat me as they would treat me in an English-speaking country? But then perhaps they were not being the massive hypocrites I assumed and just actually behaving exactly as they would if they were in cockney-land.
We also talked about our blogs, and Lorna told me how keeping hers really helped her adjust to the difficulties of Cairo life. I really feel this way about this blog, that it helps me have a more balanced perspective on my whole experience here and thus keeps me from throwing even more tantrums than I already do. So for that I thank you, my blogees. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it so far.