Sunday, September 20, 2009


A blogpost caught my eye, it linked to an article by Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif, evoking the view from Café Riche in down town Cairo in its past and present. It reminded me of a play I watched on the American University in Cairo's stage a few years ago, Mannequin (أو مانيكان بالعامية المصرية). The story takes us back in time and then forward again, through Noussa, a vitriniste in Wist El Balad (downtown Cairo), and her boss, the shop owner. Noussa makes a living by dressing wooden (now platic) models in shopwindows. The garments change and so do our society's values, as we can hear in Noussa's monologues at night when she talks to the dummies, who are one minute donning hipster pants and floral shirts a l'Européenne and the next fully covered in Gulfy garments after returning from the oil-rich nations.
Oh we are a chameleon nation...

Photo, Café Riche by Al Ahram Weekly

Thursday, September 17, 2009


staying home on a vacation people feel stuck, frustrated and left-out
whether it's because you're stuck at work and can't leave for too long, or because you're broke, or there's no one to go with, or you were too late in planning and all the good slots are taken, or you're simply not a fan of overcrowded and hence overpriced vacation spots, or maybe you can't be bothered to plan or are too fidgetty to handle waiting at airports or train stations, you need a staycation.
Explore your city with new eyes and do things you wouldn't normally do because of traffic or because you have to book too early on. They're all gone, it's all yours now.

It seems like 2009 is the year of the staycation in many places because of the recession!
share your staycation ideas

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's my way or the highway

A couple of days ago, my friend and I were talking about ranting on blogs, I said I mostly stay away from it (except for a couple or more bitchy posts which you can find if you scroll down), he said: "just wait till you start writing about politics and you'll write in an angry tone just like us." There are still no political discussions under my roof , but a recent "law" of sorts was imposed by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior condemning and punishing food consumption in broad daylight during the holy month of Ramadan. It made me cringe :s

For starters, it made me question one more time the logic of those offended religious people out there who can't handle someone eating in their vicinity . Fasting is by definition an act of abstinence, of discipline, compassion and sacrifice, but "fasting in a bubble" I'm not sure about that... not eating nor smoking can't be that difficult if no one else around you is doing it, it should be fairly easy if you are not constantly reminded of it. One of the dev. pals wrote from Senegal to our NGO's mailing list, updating the group on his Ramadan in Dakkar, marvelling at how everyone respected the holy month and still carried on with life as usual, bars serving alcohol included, he wrote "The reason why I appreciated this is that faith for most Senegalese is a CHOICE and not imposed nor by the state or a marabout." If I speak for myself, I'd say fasting in Spain made more sense somehow and was completly ok. Mmm so based on this logic, really, eating chocolate while our orthodox friends are fasting should be illegal, right? and eating savoury food while someone's dieting is an unrefined attitude?

While we're at it, let's discuss the logic of turning Ramadan into a feast of mass consumption from dusk till dawn, getting an adrenaline rush from the thought of a myriad of delicacies after hunger and thirst. And while we're still at that, let's discuss my Coptic Christian friend sacrificing meat while indulging in the finest
saumon fumé & gruyère, with a pious look on her face. And maybe we should all take a moment to look back and consider how it is probably more useful to mankind if you have your bloody cigarette or cup of coffee and stop having this self-righteous anger because you're fasting, and perhaps focus on the task at hand, because yes, work is an act of workship too. While do we constantly feel this need to "exteriorize" that we're "on the right track" (assuming there's only one of course)

At Iftar feasts I keep on reminding myself that human beings need the notion of discipline and reward to be engraved in their minds (that much I can affirm after hiking the Road to Santiago), but then again, really, why is it all about rituals now without questionning the logic, aren't rituals after all just symbolic acts of faith...any faith?

As for the question of respect for other cultures, don't get me started, there are people out there who think they should kill the "
infidels", yeah go ahead, God couldn't kill them so he definitely needs a hand in this.

And really, all this talk just gets me more confused, chasing the elusive thread between respect for other cultures, tolerance, diversity on the one hand and maintaining one's values and culture on the other hand. Whether in the home country or abroad, what
to wear, what to do, how to greet people, how to adapt, the debate is long and it would take us hours to decide: if it is ok for an American woman to wear shorts in midan el tahrir in Cairo on the premise that men shouldn't look at her because they are averting their gaze or that she should dress conservatively and do as the Cairennes do (3/4 sleeves and pants ok? that's middleground), and whether the law should or should not punish a Moroccan family living in Spain because they circumcised their daughter, as female genital mutilation is simply illegal in the country but also just necessary from the family's viewpoint. And don't get me started on the French headscarf dilemma in the land of so called Liberté. Now even mono-cultural Spaniards who, thirthy years ago, would've been spanked by Franco if they were non-Catholic, communist or gay, now want to be "progressive", celebrating Europe's biggest gay pride walks and still criticizing a harmless dress code (the Hijab) just like their sophisticated neighbors. Logic people, LOGIC!

Instead of the current ban, can we work out a formula of respect
for differences and tolerance? Really, can't we be more grown up about this, does Mother Government always have to decide for us because we're too bloody immature?

In the end people would still need their differences to feel that their way is the right way and that they are more "enlightened" (whether that means irrational consumption of alcohol or not talking to a member of the opposite sex).

Let's not dwell on it and let's learn to live together. There you go, a cliché picture for you (my fav UNICEF card since I was 5) & a few lines I never forget:
“We should consider each group, racial, or cultural as a fruit: an apple, a pear, a mango. We want to make Mauritius not a marmalade, where we mix up everything and grind everything and end up with one marmalade with one taste. But we would like to have a fruit salad, where in a fruit salad each one retains its individual flavour and taste.” Monsignor Bargeau of Mauritius as quoted by Franklin Covey in the 7 habits of highly effective people.