Monday, September 30, 2013

Prayer of Fear

Prayer of fear by Mahmoud Ezzat via Mosireen.

Giving voice to those that support neither the military or the MB.

"The battle is murky...

...We stood like corpses, watching the massacre, the blood on our chests.
Are we winning, or in line for slaughter?
Is the question shameful, or is silence worse?
Should we scavenge the spoils, or count the corpses?
Did we open the way, or is the path destroyed?
Did the matryrs find justice, or do they weep in pain?...

...Can oppression be a gate to justice?...

...Whoever refuses to cheer divides us. A traitor, breaking rank, out of place."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Update from Egypt

I have been asked for an update on the news in Egypt. I am honestly hesitant to say anything anymore. Each time I write something, I get attacked for my point of view. Even when I'm not expressing my point of view, but rather recounting events, I am criticized. I'm not sufficiently pro-military in this us-versus-them environment. I'm not ikhwani, I'm not Al-Jazeera, but I've been called such by more than one person over the last few weeks.

On a personal level, what's going on makes me sad. I'm losing friends. I have Egyptian friends whose political points of view--they're all moderates--are vilified by friends and family. I'm disheartened  that I feel like I can no longer say I am uncomfortable with the killing of over a thousand people (some were armed, but many weren't), or the indiscriminate use of force, or arrests without charges, or military arrests of civilians, or crap charges against politically moderate or anti-military people (I guess I actually did say it. My apologies to everyone in Egypt who I just offended). Many are supportive of this because the actions are targeted against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, whose opponents see as posing a threat to not only the Egyptian identity, state, and individuals.  My concern is that eventually the powers that be will turn on you too. SCAF was not exactly the protector of the rights of Egyptians.

Just to summarize, on August 14 the Egyptian security forces cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Rabaa Adaweya and Midan Nahda. In the days that followed, over a thousand people were killed. The MB kept on having marches after the dispersal, during one of which there were reports gunmen shot automatic weapons across the 15 May Bridge, traversing the Zamalek enclave. There was a video that went around showing MB supporters pulling police officers out of their tanks and beating the crap out of them. The stories my journo friends told me about the scenes following the crackdown--I can't even recount them.

For awhile civilians went down to "augment" the security forces in fighting back against the MB. Any semblance of an independent media outlet here is shot. In one day, 36 prisoners were died from tear gas inhalation. They were apparently kept inside a military vehicle during the (incredibly hot in August) day and began pounding on the sides demanding air. Security folks shot tear gas into the enclosed space to quell the uprising. Later that night, 25 military recruits were executed point-blank coming back from leave in the Sinai. Churches left unprotected by security forces were burned by angry MB supporters. The military imposed a curfew from 7pm--ridiculously early--until 6am, which was later pushed back to 9pm and now 11pm as people stopped paying heed.

"Non-compliant" media is under attack--literally. The lead correspondent for the Wall Street Journal was attacked at a standoff outside a mosque by anti-Morsi folks; he had to seek protection inside a military vehicle.  A journalist for the official flagship newspaper, Al-Ahram, was shot dead at a checkpoint after curfew--despite the fact journalists are exempt from curfew. The military said he did not stop at the checkpoint, but his passenger said he was making a u-turn when killed. His passenger, also a journalist at Ahram, was detained after countering the official accounting of events. There were a few other journalists who were killed during the crackdown. Al Jazeera offices were raided and its journalists detained (Al Jazeera, affiliated or controlled or something by the Qatari government, is incredibly unpopular here for Qatari support of the MB and unbalanced coverage).

Liberal politicians and activists were charged with espionage (April 6 founder Ahmed Maher) and "betrayal of trust" (against Mohamed ElBaradei, Western darling and liberal politician). Yesterday there were reports of a dismantled bomb at a train station in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, and today a homemade grenade was thrown at a Cairo police station.

In general, things are relatively calm now. The MB have been unable to marshal much support. There are sporadic gunfights but life is slowly getting back to normal--normalish. People are depressed and many who can are leaving. And while things are calm, there will be serious ramifications for a long, long time. Hopefully masr will come out of this better than not only a few months ago, but better than three years ago. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Cairo!

August 12, 2013 marked my one year anniversary of living in Egypt straight, albeit I've been here off and on since summer 2011. It's been quite a year, both for myself and for Egypt. What have I learned?

  1. Stick by your opinions and convictions, no matter how unpopular they are (as are all of mine). But make sure you are willing and able to listen to others, understand their point of view, and accept that you could be wrong. If they afford you the same respect, good. If they don't, maleesh. There is nothing you can do about it. 
  2. Make the assumption nothing you are told is true, whether you hear it from the news or a friend or someone else. The media is probably wrong, s/he is probably lying, and nothing will be given to you for the "Egyptian" price. 
  3. At the same time, you have to trust people when you are alone in a foreign country. People are mostly good and you can't do everything yourself. 
  4. Girls need girlfriends. 
  5. When push comes to shove, when shit hits the fan, it's my people at home on whom I rely. 
  6. Egyptians don't answer emails, and Americans don't like the phone. Miscommunication will happen.
  7. There will be days, even weeks, when all you want to do is go home, hug your cat, and have your mom take care of you. You'll hate your adopted home. But that feeling will eventually pass, and that's when the good stuff happens. 
  8. The good stuff is amazing and makes putting up with the shit more than worth it. 
  9. There are about five liberals in Egypt and Bassem Youssef's island is quickly depopulating. 
  10. Things were not that good in the good old days, no matter what anyone tells you. 
  11. Balancing "foreign" and "local" values and expectations when dating will give you an aneurysm. 
  12. You have to let verbal harassment roll off your shoulders. Despite how disrespectful and disgraceful it is, escalating the situation leads to physical harassment. No shabaab's ignorance is worth the consequences that could follow. 
  13. Americans can't talk about Egyptian politics because we "don't know shit," but be prepared for Egyptians to give you an earful about American politics. 
  14. Always say yes--yes, I want to take this trip that I wouldn't normally go on. Yes, I want to go to this club that I usually wouldn't visit. Be up for anything.
  15. Doing things the conventional way is overrated. 
  16. Egypt and Egyptians are at the same time very hospitable and very hostile. I haven't yet figured that out. 
  17. It's not okay to cross Constitution Avenue like you would Gameat El Dawal.
  18. Get a smartphone. Your ghetto khwaga phone will not suffice. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Over the hump

Last month was rough. After a trip back to DC in April, I became convinced I wanted to leave Cairo. When I was here, all I wanted to do was be in DC. I couldn't enjoy myself, I didn't feel mentally present. I started laying the groundwork for an inevitable return, thinking Cairo was done for me. Even if I stayed an extra year or two, I thought, what difference would it make? I came here looking for something, and nearly a year after arriving I knew that something was still missing.

No matter what, I know I'll always be a foreigner here. Being part of no world--neither the US nor Egypt--is not a great feeling. I was homesick. I missed my Cat. My friends at home were all having life experiences--boyfriends, engagements, marriages, babies, family deaths--and I was missing it. My best friends here had all left for America and I would wait until late afternoon for DC to wake up so I could talk to those who truly understood me. My friends here are awesome, yes, but I had this feeling they didn't understand me--likely because they are mostly guys and they didn't understand me. Did they really want to hear me obsess about how I should respond to a text from the guy I like, or weigh what to wear to lunch with said guy?

The constant harassment was also taking a toll. It makes you jumpy. I noticed when I traveled to India, every time I would see a group of young boys I would instinctively tense up, the physical reaction to what I thought would be inevitable harassment/assault.

Friends who had lived as expats warned me around the year mark, you will hit a wall. The little things that bothered you before will make you miserable. You'll miss what you know--those with whom you grew up, your parents to baby you when you feel like shit, the food you love and the little things like Luna bars and Take 5 gum that are impossible to get here.

A few weeks ago I ended up going home after the Muslim Brotherhood government was replaced (see?? I said replaced so stop calling me names) by one appointed by the military. Something happened when I was home. I just wanted to be back in Cairo. The thought of not coming back made me sick. I couldn't wait to come back.

There are many reasons why I feel better about Cairo now compared to a month ago. And there is the real possibility of things going terribly wrong both with Egypt in general and things specific to me, and I foresee at least one major obstacle in the near future. But for now, I'm over the hump.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Temporarily evacuated

About a week and a half ago I left Cairo. I did not want to go; I was devastated. Upon takeoff I started sobbing uncontrollably. When I left I didn't bring anything, didn't even tell my friends I was leaving. As I was boarding I let myself think for the first time I may not be coming back.

I have a high tolerance for putting up with crap and difficult situations, but it got to the point where I could not get around the city. Everything closed early. The gym was blocked off by clashes--unfortunate when I have incredible anxiety and no way of alleviating it. My roommate and I would just eat and watch tv and check twitter and do it all again.

Everyone--EVERYONE--hates Americans. I know people will tell you they know the difference between the government and the people, but it just takes one crazy--like the dude who stabbed the American student in Alexandria, or the dude who stabbed the American in front of the Embassy. Seeing as I was one of the only Americans left in Cairo after the evacuation not in the journalism field meant that I may have stood out a bit before, but damn, did I stand out now. I had people randomly walk up to me in the street asking me if I was American. In that environment, such behavior is wicked threatening.

Both sides were feeding into this anti-Americanism, comparing our president to a terrorist, blah blah blah. The people complain that we interfere too much and not enough in the same breath. Even people you would assume would be supportive of the US-Egyptian relationship. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

The only thing all Egyptians can agree on is that everything is our fault.

When I was in Cairo, all of the sudden everyone started saying the exact same things. All Egyptians I spoke to were spouting the same talking points--it was terrifying. Where did all of this shit come from? How could an entire nation have the exact same opinion using the exact same words?

It has also gotten to the point where some of those who are supportive of the transition of power/episode of extreme democracy/coup will broker no dissent. If you don't agree with them 110 percent, they will tear you a new one. There is no room for discussion, no room for shades of grey, no room for other opinions. You fall in line behind the military, behind the popular narrative, or else. Who needs a government to censor you when friends on Facebook do it themselves?

Clashes had also spread out of the normal "localized" areas. Yeah, I could stay safe by staying home. But I did that for a week and was going crazy.

I left Cairo the morning at over 50 people were killed at a pro-Morsi rally near the headquarters of the Republican Guard. A friend was driving me to the airport and I knew we would have to leave early, as the main road to the airport, Saleh Salem, had been blocked for days by protesters. We left at 7am for a noon flight, thinking I would get there plenty early. When I awoke at 6am, I looked at my phone and had gotten a text from the office saying those living in the vicinity of Saleh Salem should not go to work that day. Not a good sign, I thought, so I checked Twitter. Details of the clash between the military and pro-Morsi supporters began trickling out at that point. I felt sick. Sad for Egypt.

We left my flat in Zamalek around 7am. Because of the events of that morning, many of the bridges to the downtown side--the side with the airport--were closed. I panicked a little--my mom had expressed worry that I would chose to leave Cairo only when it was impossible to do so. Luckily, one of the bridges was open, which we found out after trying all the others. We had to take the ring road, which was also blocked. To make a long story short, it took us nearly three hours to reach the airport--and my poor friend had to go to straight to work on the other side of Cairo.

Was the situation bad enough to warrant me leaving? For the first time ever, I believed so. Mobility around the city was constrained. Everything was closed. People hated Americans, and lucky me, I was one of the only ones left.

The situation has somewhat stabilized. Ramadan has set in. Two days ago there were clashes and only seven were killed. So tomorrow I fly back to Cairo. Most of me is happy to go back, but part of me is sad for what's happening in a way that I can't describe.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The not-coup coup

Yesterday was zero hour. The military had given the president 48 hours to fix, I'm not sure what to fix but basically everything, or they would introduce a "road map" to move the country forward. People gathered around 4:30pm to watch the expected military announcement. In true Egyptian form, the announcement was late. I went over to a friends house to watch the coverage. Walking over there, the streets were deserted. It was creepy.

Despite the official silence, slowly snippets of information leaked. The president had been told at 7pm he was no longer president. He and senior ikhwanis were placed under house arrest. The military moved its APCs, tanks, and personnel around major gathering sites on both sides and secured important  places.

Late at night, the head of the military, General Sisi, came on TV and announced what we all knew. The president had been removed from office, the head of the constitutional court would succeed him, liberal darling Mohamed El Baradei would be the country's prime minister, and the constitution--much maligned by the liberals and opposition--had been suspended.

Much of Cairo erupted in cheers. People ran around the city, honking horns, bleeping those damn vuvuzelas, shouting, "Masr!" and celebrating the power of successful political organizing and people power to realize change. 

Misr 25, the Ikhwan's TV station, and other Islamist-affiliated stations went black. Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo were raided. Understandably, the mood in the pro-Morsi rallies was reported to be despondent. 

When I woke up this morning, life returned largely to normal. There are still a lot of flags around, still a lot of honking--celebratory, not the normal Cairo honking. I met up with friends for lunch and am making plans for a pool day tomorrow. Here at the restaurant, people are talking about normal things. Twitter and Facebook may be alight with politics, but people are happy and want to enjoy themselves.

The police, absent for months, are now back in the streets. It's a miracle. 

There are a few signs, though, that we are living in a post-not coup coup. I walked by APCs en route to the gym. There are a lot of them on some of the bridges around here. Helicopters continue to fly overhead. 

Many Americans are leaving this weekend, partly because of summer vacation--foreigners flee during Ramadan and the summer months--and partly because of the situation here. I don't quite understand leaving now, though. Leaving before the removal of the president makes more sense. There is the possibility of the ikhwan lashing out.  If they are pushed underground, they will lash out violently. That threat will never go away, but foreigners and Egyptians alike cannot leave Egypt forever. These kind of threats are everywhere, in the US, in Europe--unfortunately today no one can escape them.

People are really pissed at America. Their anger deserves a blog posting on it's own, but I got into a fight with someone on Facebook who threatened Obama. Disagree with his policies, I don't care. But if you threaten my president I will kill you. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

And we wait...

To recap the last 24 hours, last night Morsi got on Twitter (this is for real) and told the military to take back its 48 hour deadline and impending military coup. Unsurprisingly, the military gave him a big eff you. Morsi then went on TV and, after saying shar3eya, or legitimacy, literally 200 times (drinking game!!), refused to make any concessions. We were all sitting there, astounded, listening him say a whole lot of nothing. And why make a major address at midnight?? 

The military then said it had a duty to protect the country from terrorists. 

Note, though, that the Egyptian military released a statement on Facebook and Morsi responded on Twitter. To be fair, there were rumors that the military put the state-run media under its control so he couldn't get his message out. But, wow. 

Simultaneously last night clashes broke out between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters across the Nile in Giza. At least 22 people were killed and 300 injured. 

When I woke up this morning I was halfway expecting to wake up to Morsi under house arrest. But he wasn't. Despite everything going on, things right now are pretty normal. I did not have work, but I went for a run around my neighborhood this morning. People were out, walking around, going to work. Shops were open. I went home and got ready. I sat there for an hour listening to Daft Punk and pissed because I didn't like any of my outfits--this isn't a sign of willful ignorance, but just life continues and people still have stupid, normal people problems. 

I later went to lunch with friends at a nice Italian restaurant nearby. They all came in from different, far areas of Cairo and were able to get around. After pasta, we walked to a nearby bakery and got chocolate cake and tiramisu. We took it back to my flat, where I am right now, awaiting the military's announcement. 

In true Egyptian fashion, Egypt is late for it's own coup. 

Bottom line, despite everything--despite the fact there is a serious crisis, despite the fact there was violence last night--life continues. People are going about their daily lives. Most places in Cairo are safe. Children and families are still going down to protest. I hope the fact that there is still normalcy here, that life is going on, will be of comfort to those worried at home. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Watching a coup in slo-mo

It has been quite a couple of days. As I'm sure many of you know, Cairo saw huge protests yesterday organized by the Tamarod, or "rebellion" movement, calling for President Morsi's ouster. Millions of Egyptians poured into the streets, united and optimistic in their calls for a better future. Yes, there was some calling the ikhwan sheep, calling for the US Ambassador, an "old woman," to leave. But for the most part, everyone was happy and unified and in good spirits. I could even feel the unity on the streets. People would tell me hello, good morning, normal interactions I have in DC. Doesn't usually happen here.

Yesterday morning, the morning of June 30, it was not so. I arrived late morning from spending the weekend at the North Coast. The streets of Cairo were silent. It was so eerie. I met up with my friend, Jake, a huge, strong manly man who was also freaked out by the emptiness of the streets. Cairo was collectively holding its breath to see what would happen, and had been for days.

We watched the events unfold at a friend's flat. The photos were amazing... millions filling Tahrir and Itihadiya Palace. Kids and old people were out, waiving flags, emphasizing their devotion to seeing the revolution through and unwilling to let another strongman commandeer power from the people. People were telling jokes.

People fill the streets near the Presidential Palace.
People were also really happy about the military flying helicopters above Tahrir. These were the same folks who were so pissed we sold them to Egypt. You're effin' welcome, Egypt (sarcasm).

Military helicopters above Tahrir.

Sometimes--okay, often--people ask me why I moved to Egypt. During bad days I cannot remember, especially after I've been assaulted or groped or dragged from a moving car or called a "dirty woman" by some a-hole on the street. Especially when I compare it to the United States, where I can run around DC in soffee shorts and a tank top and feel completely comfortable, where electricity almost never cuts, and where there are only "first world" problems. But then I spend the day with my coworkers and I love Egypt again. Or Mahmoud at the gym who thinks I kick ass and doesn't hit on me at all. Or my guy friends on whose shoulders I've literally cried when I feel like I can't take it anymore. Or when all of Egypt comes together, sheds the usually rigid social barriers and demands their rights and an improved future.

Tahrir filled to the brim last night.
That was the blog post I was going to write this morning, full stop. Then the opposition announced Morsi had until Tuesday at 5pm to step down or else. Then the military announced on Twitter they would make an announcement. On the bright side, the military announced an announcement on Twitter. That's kind of cool.

The contents of the announcement were less so. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, led Egypt after Mubarak's fall. They were also the ones who massacred Christians protesting at Maspero. They are also seen as the one institution that is on the side of the people--a common chant is "The military and the people, one hand." Many Egyptians are nostalgic for their rule--and that of Mubarak--remembering the past as a time with stability, economic growth, security, etc.

This afternoon the military, which said it did not want a role in politics, would nevertheless intervene in 48 hours with a "road map" should the political elite fail to heed the "will of the people." It praised the Egyptian people for astounding the world and emphasized it's "responsibility" to maintain the safety and security of the nation. In a collective act of amnesia, people are cheering this on.

So, folks, in 48 hours we will probably have a military coup. It won't be obvious--it'll be a sneaky coup. But that's what it is.

My physical safety is not at risk right now, for those at home. I live in the safest area in Cairo, surrounded by embassies--but far from that of the US.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mafeesh benzine

There is no gasoline. There are huge lines at the petrol stations across the city. Egypt was scheduled to run out of strategic reserves by the month's end, but it seemed to happen overnight. We literally woke up two days ago to no petrol. Half the stations here are empty and dark, the other half have incredibly long queues that block traffic completely. There are rumors that the Ikwan did this to starve the people, but I do not think that is true. It would be like turning off the internet--it would only make people livid.

A petrol station in Cairo

Instead, I think the shortage has been made critical by the fact everyone here is panicking and running to fuel before this weekend's protests.  People see the long lines, freak out more, and the problem gets worse. It's like a run on the bank (which people are expecting here as well. Huge lines at the ATMs and no FDIC here, folks).

The shortage has coincided with an increase in tensions due to upcoming mass protests led by the Tamarod, or "rebellion," opposition movement.

Today my friend was late because he had to go pick up his boss, whose car ran out of gas. Midan Galaa, which I cross every day en route to the gym, is now permanently blocked with the cars waiting to be fueled. People are paying their bowabs and drivers extra to sit out for hours waiting for gas. Last night my friend was waiting in line for over three hours. Friends on Facebook are crowdsourcing petrol questions--where can I find gas? Where are the lines? WTF is going on? Are the Ikhwan cutting off supplies to stop people from going to protest?

A few days ago my friend works about 45 minutes outside Cairo. He got off work at 4:00 and called me at 7:30 furious--the road was so jammed he was not even able to leave the parking lot. Two hours after that he went to another friend's house to hang out closer to his work. It is now taking people four hours to get to places where it would usually take two.

Egypt's Ministry of Petroleum denies there is a fuel shortage. They live on Mars, apparently. Morsi spoke last night. For two and a half hours. He basically said rubbish, saying foreign fingers were influencing things, saying the Ministry of Interior would form a unit to combat "thuggery" and terrorism, including blocking of the streets. While admitting some mistakes, he blamed the media for bringing a negative light to the office of the presidency. Blah blah blah.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mass panic

On Sunday, Egypt's opposition movements are planning on holding major demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. An activist movement, Tamarod, Arabic for "rebellion," claims to have collected 15 million signatures demanding Morsi step down. The expected major demonstrations have been prefaced by a sort of mass panic. People here see 30 June, the date of the demonstrations and the year anniversary of Morsi's ascendance to power, as the last hope to save Egypt. The ruling party and its allies have done little to quell fears of violence, saying in one breath it would be open to negotiations and in another calling the opposition "kufirs," or "disbelievers," and vowing to meet violence with violence.

Perhaps more worrying, the opposition itself seems to be bent on violence. Without massive violence, they rightly surmise, there will be no political change. Only with massive violence will the army be forced to step in and take out the Morsi government--this, to many, is the optimal result.

I had a conversation today where I was asked if I was optimistic about 30 June. What does it mean to be optimistic, I asked. Would I be optimistic to hope for little violence--which would mean Egypt's politics stay the same--or optimistic to hope for violence and an overthrow of the government.

I, for the most part, expect a repeat of the clashes in December after Morsi's power-grabbing presidential decree. I honestly cannot picture Egypt descending into chaos--I use this as a relative term, of course. Many think it's already chaotic, although I think it's at an uneasy balanced point. Everything is constantly in flux, and yet nothing ever changes. It'll be ungodly hot, the opposition is divided, and thus far the Muslim Brotherhood says it will not go down on 30 June. They have so far allowed these protests to go on and let them die out--perhaps the smartest course of action in terms of international attention. The Muslim Brotherhood can point to the demonstrations and say there is increased freedoms, and the demonstrations eventual peter out.

Whatever happens, there is only a week for the change as Ramadan soon starts. No one will go down when they're hungry, tired, and hot (which I, selfishly, am thankful for, as my mom is scheduled to be in town).

But there are many expecting mass violence, blood in the streets. It's an existential crisis on both sides. The opposition sees the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood in general as just as bad, probably worse, than Mubarak. They are utilizing religion to steal power, and the opposition wants nothing less than to overthrow the government.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, is unlikely to give up power, as they too rightly surmise that negotiating, that stepping down would mean prison in the best case, death in the worst. Last month, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member's son was beaten to death in a small town in the Sharquia governate. The murder was in retribution for the son's alleged shooting of an opposition activist over a Facebook post critical about his father. Opposition also openly call for the assassination of the president and killing of his supporters, neither of which are conducive to negotiations.

All anyone here can talk about is what they think will happen. Most people expect massive violence. Our office is closed on 30 June and people are being told to stock up on food, water, and money with the expectation of empty ATMs. There are huge queues at the petrol station, caused partly by a disel and gas shortage, partly because people are panicking and trying to get as much gas as they can. My boss, worried about a crazy young female foreigner, is trying to get me to leave town.

Anger is boiling at the United States, which is perceived to have stood behind the Morsi government. On the one hand people say the United States has not come out forcefully enough for its values and against the government, and on the other hand say the United States has been too supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and unwilling to stand up for its values and beliefs. In other words, the United States is at once perceived as doing too little and too much meddling. I am up to my eyeballs in anti-US sentiment, although I am yet to give up on trying to explain the United States' complicated stance.

People have said this all before, however, and nothing has come of the demonstrations. People have gone down, said their spiel, and gone home. Demonstrations were followed by isolated clashes at night, but life went on semi-normally. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"My Barbie came to life!"

When Shruti first suggested going to Goa, I was hesitant. When I thought of Goa I thought of debauchery and Russians.  If I wanted to go to a dirty, shitty beach I would just go to Hurghada or Sharm. 

Despite my initial misgivings, I went along with the Goa idea and am glad I did. Yes, it's a beach paradise. But there's a lot of history, a lot of local culture. I would never have seen this part of India otherwise. 

Goa is incredibly lush and green. Also humid- I stepped off the plane and my glasses fogged up. The population here is heavily Christian, leftover from the years as a Portuguese colony.  In fact, the Portuguese were kicked out at least ten years after partition by the Indian army.  Left behind is the religion, the food, the architecture, and the port wine.  

We stayed at a bit of a nicer resort for the wedding, which I'm happy about after spending a few hours in Baga Beach, an area of Goa that lives up to the Russian stereotypes.  Also whenever we left I got hollered at. Again, it's what I'm used to from Cairo. Although unfortunately Cairo conditioned me to tense up in expectation of physical harm to come. 

Shruti was surprised about the attention we/I got. We were walking around a fort and these guys kept on following us and talking. She said she never understood harassment until she walked around with me. You're welcome, I guess.  I told her its okay, that I'm pretty used to such attention and treatment because of Egypt. Except in Egypt the boys would have pushed us down the stairs or thrown garbage at us. At least Indian guys-knock on wood- haven't caused me physical harm. Yet. 

She also said she didn't realize she lived in a country full of creepers until she traveled with me. There were stares--I was really one of the only white people I saw in Goa. It was offseason so those visiting were all Indian. There were a few families who asked to take a photo with me. Again, I don't really care. There were some people who ran up to me a took a photo and ran away.  Perhaps a bit strange.

This morning a little girl walked up to our table at breakfast. We turned to her and tried talking to her, asking her name and everything. She just sat there, speechless, looking like she was about to say something but not quite able to spit it out. Her dad eventually came by and pulled her away.

"She was like, 'Ohmigod!'," said Shruti. "' My Barbie doll came to life!'"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"They don't exist"

When I told people I was going on holiday to India, many asked me why? Why would I holiday from a country with horrendous traffic, pollution, and sexual harassment to another country with horrendous traffic, pollution, and sexual harassment? Why not something fun and easy, like Spain or Greece?

I love India. It's my home away from home away from home (the other two being the US and Egypt). I love the craziness, the colors, the sounds, and yes, even the smells (maybe not so much the BO but more the spices, the incense, the flowers).

So here I am, in India. I'm visiting a friend in Bangalore and we will go tomorrow to Goa and later to and around Mysore. We are spending a lot of time with her mother, who I love. She is one of the nicest, kindest people I know.

Earlier this afternoon we started talking about the men on the street. I told her how Cairo has obviously scarred me. I see groups of young men and I instinctively tense up. It's a bit difficult to breathe and I brace myself for some kind of altercation. This is not normal, but after being groped and dragged from a moving car in Cairo (why? I'm assuming because I had the audacity to walk on the street) one does tend to make these assumptions.

Both countries' media portray sexual harassment and assault in a light way. I've seen numerous Egyptian movies where a guy will be slapping, hitting, punching, shoving a woman and the scene is obviously meant to be humorous. Despite all of our flaws, I can hardly imagine sexual assault being portrayed in such a way in the States. Our movie stars may be hoochie mamas, but our sexual assaulters are always the bad guys. According to my friend's mom, many Bollywood movies are the same too.

Like Egypt, the society here is quickly becoming increasingly conservative. Where five years ago women could wear basically whatever they want, now many choose to dress more conservatively so as to not attract attention or be harassed on the street. This is most definitely the case in Egypt. During my parents' and grandparents' time, apparently women walked around Cairo in short skirts and tank tops. Now I change out of my work clothes--which by definition are not sexy and cover the mandatory knees and shoulders--to walk home many times. Instead of wearing pants, I'll wear a long skirt, for example.

My friend's mom said her maid likes it when her husband beats her--it means he cares. This is apparently a not uncommon belief among sectors of the lower class here. Men too believe women like being beaten. I have not hear this belief exactly in Egypt, but I would not be surprised were it common.

Like Egypt, there are plenty of motor scooters (although unlike Egypt, women ride on them and even drive the vehicles themselves). I noticed when a man and a woman would be on the scooter the man would always have a helmet and the woman would have no protection. I commented on this, saying I was surprised and would have thought the men would give up his helmet for the lady on the back, most  likely his sister, friend, or wife--someone dear.

"They don't exist," answered my friend Shruti, referring to the women.

On a lighter note, as I was writing this the power cut--just like in Egypt. Ahh. It's like I'm home. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

No camels, no green card

Walking through the streets of Cairo, especially in the more touristy areas, foreign girls are often propositioned--jokingly--for marriage in exchange for camels.  "How many camels?" the shopkeeper in Khan el-Khalili, the largest touristy souq in Cairo, will often call out with a laugh. It's funny, I laugh, shake my head and keep walking. They're not serious, they just want to get your attention and business.

I'm worth 8 of these animals. Apparently 15 if I was obedient.
This isn't a phenomena limited to Egypt. I've had the same thing happen in Morocco, in Jordan, in Lebanon, probably every Arab country to which I have traveled. They know foreigners have certain stereotypes of Arabs and are happy to play on it for a joke.

My landlord came by my flat the other day because a mohandis was to come over to fix my AC--which has been broken for over a week. Unfortunately, the mohandis' phone was closed so I had to sit in my hot living room with the landlord for an hour, entertaining him and making small talk.

The conversation took a bit of an interesting turn when he proposed, in all seriousness, that I marry is brother. Or son. I'm really unclear which. The man he would like for me to marry is apparently 35, living in Lebanon, and working as an accountant for the Saudi king. For me that's all kind of gross. Saudis. This man does not want to marry an Egyptian woman. They're apparently lazy and don't like to clean.

If I married this man, he wouldn't just give me a room, but an entire flat. I'd be set in Cairo, khalas. But wait, I thought. Didn't my husband-to-be live in Lebanon? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of marriage, living in different countries?

Could he have a photo of me to show is brother/son? He would give me a photo of the dude in return. He couldn't wait to call whoever this guy is and tell him he found a perfect woman for him in Cairo.

My landlord was incredibly sneaky about the whole thing. There was this entire lead-up to the arranged marriage and I didn't even realize what he was doing until it was too late. I was stuck. I had no idea how to nicely extricate myself from the situation, especially since he was a guest in my house and I couldn't think of a way to kick him out nicely.

One of my friends later asked why I didn't take my landlord up on the offer. There were no camels offered, I responded. My mom would never agree to such an arrangement without proper payment.

"No camels, no green card!"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Siwa: We made it there and back.

Barely recovered from my trip back to DC, my roommates and I used a long weekend to visit Siwa, a desert oasis near the border with Libya. It's the site of an ancient fort, or shali, and surrounded by date palms and fresh springs.

Amy and I with the shali in the background.
We took what we thought would be a ten-hour overnight bus ride (it was more like 12, as the bus left on Egyptian time and it took two hours to get out of Cairo) to Siwa and spent the first day climbing the fort, lounging by the springs and drinking fresh juice, and eating way too much delicious food.
Our view by a salt lake in the middle of the desert. 
The next morning we were picked up by our guide, Hamada, who was thankful to learn Amy knew how to drive stick. He was able to relax in the back seat while Amy drove us around in the desert for a bit. We drove for hours in a convoy, stopping occasionally when one of the cars would get stuck in the dunes.  Later in the afternoon, Hamada dropped us off by a big dune to go sandboarding--and drove away. He had gone back to the camp to prepare for dinner. It would have been a disaster had he not returned.

We spent the night in a desert camp and the next day went to the desert to the West, so close to Libya I was able to check in on Facebook to Sirte, Libya, the birthplace of the deceased Dear Brother Leader Mu'amar Ghadaffi.
Leslie, Amy, me, and our guides Ali and Hamada.
We arrived back in town around 6:50pm for our 8:00pm bus back to Cairo. That's when the real adventure began.

Earlier in the day one of our guides had told us our driver would stay with us until we got on the bus. After we arrived in town, he dropped us off at a restaurant to grab a quick dinner before the ride. Around 7:40, we had paid and went outside to look for him and get our things from the car.

We walked outside and he was gone. Semi-panicked, we turned to the restaurant guys and asked them to call Mohamed Bali, the driver. His phone was off, so they tried calling our guides and all of the friends of our guides (Siwa is a small place. Everyone knows everyone). All their phones were off--they were all in the desert. Around 8:15--after the only bus back to Cairo had left--we finally got a hold of Hamada. Our driver didn't know he was supposed to stay with us and went back to the desert.

Bags in hand, we went to the bus station to try to book a ticket to Marsa Matruh, a coastal city around 3 hours away. The guys at the restaurant were able to get us a ticket from there to Cairo. Unfortunately, there were no tickets on the bust to Marsa Matruh, and we would have had to spend another day in Siwa were we not able to get to Marsa Matruh.

We ended up in a car with one of the guys who works at the restaurant and a driver. After we got in, we realized this may not be the smartest thing we've ever done. Especially when they turned off the highway down a dark, deserted road. I turned to my roommates and suggested we ask them where we were going--they said if the two men were taking us to our doom, they were taking us to our doom. Khalas, there is nothing we can do.

While they were not taking us to our doom, but instead went to pick up some bottles to get through the checkpoints. It's easy for khawagas/infidels to get such contraband through. Again we realized this may not be a good idea--no one wants to get arrested for smuggling. Movies end poorly for stupid white folks like us.

After a very fast drive to Marsa, we got a bus ticket back to Cairo that left at 2am and finally made it to Tahrir around 715, exhausted and looking like we spent two days in the desert. Needless to say, when I got off the bus I heard no shabaab trying to holler.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"The humiliation of being a woman"

About a week ago, I was walking home from the office and about to cross a busy thoroughfare.  Some kid driving by me leaned out of the car to grab me, yelling, "Fuck you." I snapped. I pulled him halfway out of the car (which was moving slowly because of traffic) and slapped him. He ended up gripping my hand and twisting, squeezing my fingers and dragging me along with the car, only letting me go before I nearly ran into a parked car. One of my fingers was black and blue for days, and I could not move it.

Graffiti on a barrier in Cairo depicting a woman surrounded by men.

A few months ago, some guy was following me in his car in the middle of the day, slowing down every few feet and propositioning me with money. Two hundred dollars, he said. People on the street asked me if there was a problem. Yes. That man is following me. They told me to get into a taxi--as if my presence on the street was the problem. The problem isn't me, it's him. Getting me off the street will not solve anything. And this fucker definitely is not going to intimidate me. I have every right to be here. Once women start staying home out of intimidation, it's over.

In August, a friend was walking me home and a group of kids was following us, saying nasty things, spitting on me, and throwing garbage and open 1.5 liters of water bottles at my head.

These are just a few examples of the situations I have encountered since being here, probably among the worst. For the most part, it's noises, cat calling, whistles, pssts, pet names, and the occasional dirty reference. You think you are ignoring it. You think you're handling it fine. When you are rational you tell yourself it's just a bunch of uneducated, dirty oafs.

You don't even notice it gets to you. But you'll snap. And when you do, you'll be blamed. You shouldn't have been on the street. You should have known it was a joke. You should have worn more clothes.

I was talking to a friend today and she had a similar experience. She had snapped. People do not blame you--men blame you. It's not always uneducated or non-"Western" guys. Even if they do not blame you, they ask seemingly innocous questions, like what were you wearing? Where were you walking? What time was it? As if if you were wearing something short, walking in a certain area, or walking late at night makes it understandable. You should have seen it coming.

They will never understand. My friend put it in a way I never could, but she's right. They'll never understand the humiliation of being a woman here, the daily barrage of comments and whistles, the feeling that your honor--important to any woman--is being dragged through the dirt.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mubarak is like an ex boyfriend

I've spoken to many Egyptians who are nostalgic for the time of Mubarak. To me, this is unbelievable. Things are not perfect now, but there's an increased level of openness in the political sphere. Security has gotten worse, but that's only because before Egypt was suffocated by the overwhelming dragnet of the Interior Ministry.

I had lunch with a friend today, who had a story that perfectly encapsulated this. His friend was sharing the rosy memories some Egyptians were having of the Mubarak era.  "I don't buy it," she said.

Mubarak is like an ex-boyfriend, she said. Right now you're with a boyfriend who's a bit of a douche, who doesn't call, who doesn't give you attention. You start to miss your old boyfriend. You remember the good things he did--he bought you flowers, he cooked you dinner. You block from your mind how he cheated on you, how he stole from you, how he played you for a fool (how he brutally repressed dissent, how he created an unsustainable system of subsidies that bled the country dry, how he sold the your children's future for his short-term gain...)

But you know what? He sucked too and you are lying to yourself to think otherwise.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

I need a vacation

I would say I think I need a vacation, but I most definitely need a vacation. Most days I think about the fact I found a real, paying job in Egypt; made my dream happen; work out on a gym on the Nile; have awesome friends and family around the world; etc, etc, etc and think man, this is all baller. 

Most Egyptians are aghast when I tell them I love it here. "Why?!" they ask incredulously. The people, the food, the energy, the vibe, the lifestyle.  If I wanted an easy, fake life, I would have stayed in DC. 

But lately I've been getting easily frustrated. Frustrated with so many things, but for the sake of this post I'll focus on the purely Egyptian things that make me angry.

Egypt's political scene has devolved into an endless series of pointless protests and statements. The institutional opposition, the National Salvation Front, is led by three out-of-touch failures of politicians. Every time they are mentioned in the news I wish they would go back to their golf courses in 6 October and cushy overseas jobs and disappear from the Egyptian political scene. The opposition on the street is just as bad. All they do is sit and protest. Literally, every weekend they call for protests. How has that worked out every weekend for the past two years? You have no alternatives to the current system yet? They have nothing tangible to offer the Egyptian voters, and worse yet don't seem to care. They are content in Tahrir and on Twitter and on CNN wallowing in their sorrow and smugness. Parliamentary elections are coming up in April-June and all they're doing is bitching. They don't deserve to win elections. I hate them all.

You have all heard horror stories about the sexual harassment here. I would be lying if I said it wasn't a problem. I'm getting frustrated with these fuckers calling out and making noises when I walk on the street. I never supported corporal punishment until I came here. It is usually pretty easy to ignore them. In fact, one of my friends came up to me on the street going, "Psst! Hey!" for about 5 minutes and I barely noticed. He thought I was mad or something, I just honestly tune that stuff out.

But I lost my temper with one of these guys and he nearly broke my finger, to make a long story short.

A huge disclaimer: for every dbag who hollers, 20 walk by me without even a glance. 

And the sexual harassment and discrimination is not only limited to the shabaab on the street. 

Don't even get me started with the wine. What I would do for wine that is honestly delicious. French, Virginian, Californian, Lebanese, I don't care. I don't want to drink Egyptian wine anymore!

I also want to go to a restaurant and drink a cocktail because it tastes like heaven. Mafeesh cocktails that taste like heaven in Cairo.

I hate that this post is so negative, but I don't want to give the perception that everything here is easy. And I don't want to only document the good. I just want to get out for a weekend so I can come back rested, level-headed, ready to rock, and able to appreciate the people and aspects of life here I love so much. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Living a currency crisis

Throughout my SAIS years, I studied different currency crises, runs on the bank, lack of currency in the ATMs. Now I'm living it.

For months I've been reading about Egypt's draining currency reserves: the Egyptian government no longer has dollars to finance itself. It began an auction of US dollars to banks three times a week in order to halt the depletion of its foreign currency reserves. The Egyptian government also put controls on how much people can take out of the bank in hopes of halting currency flights, but all that did was freak people out. Everyone ran to the banks to get their money out and exchange it to dollars as the value of the Egyptian pound (EGP) plummeted.  Speculation--an economists nightmare--is that the value of the pound will continue to depreciate, from 6.7ish right now to 7 to even 8.

The value of the pound has lost nearly 8 percent of its value since December 30, 2012--man, I wish I took out all my money before Christmas--and has lost 13.4 percent of its value since the fall of Mubarak.

Political instability--looting of international chain hotels, riots, protests, stealing Army tanks, political violence--certainly isn't helping the situation.

A few weeks ago my boss went to the bank to try to get USD for her son, who is living abroad. The bank did not have--DID NOT HAVE--dollars (In better times, Egyptian banks give you the option of taking out EGP or USD).  She had to take out Egyptian pounds, take it to the exchange (aka black market), and take that back to the bank to transfer to her son's account.

Another one of my friends who is a teacher here, paid in USD, had her account frozen when the government announced the new currency controls. The bank would not let her have access to her own money.

Today, I had a meeting where one of the participants had a similar experience to my boss. The bank wouldn't let her transfer the value of an EGP account to USD, even within the same bank.

All this has done is freak me out.  I pay my credit card bills in USD! Uff! I will be going to the States soon--what good will EGP be?

Today, went to the bank to try to get USD. There were none.  I took out a bunch of money, brought it to the exchange, and got a rate higher than the official rate but lower than I'm hearing many people are receiving.

The speculation, the fact that everyone is having my reaction, is undoubtedly worsening the situation.

Poor Egypt.

This is why I went to SAIS. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Manshiyat Nasr: Garbage City

Manshiyat Nasr, or Garbage City, is a slum in the outskirts of Cairo home to a community of mostly Copts whose economic livelihood revolves around the collection and recycling of Cairo’s garbage.  The zabbaleen, or garbage collectors, sort through the city’s trash for items that can be reused, resold, or recycled.  Despite the collection’s informal nature, the community created one of the most effective trash disposal systems in the world, with around 80 percent of what they collect reused or recycled.  In contrast, most Western garbage collecting companies recycle 20 to 25 percent of the refuse.

Oftentimes families or individuals “specialize” in a certain type of trash—this was evident by the guy surrounded by piles of plastic bottles or the truck full of cardboard.

My strongest impression of the area was how genuinely nice people were. Usually when I walk around Cairo and someone talks to me, it’s a. a guy being a creeper; or b. I’m downtown and someone is trying to sell me something.  Here people ran up to Amy and I, introduced themselves, asked us how they were, and all the kids wanted to get their photos taken.  They genuinely just wanted to talk to these strange foreigners walking around their neighborhood.

The area is also home to St. Simon the Tanner’s Church, built into a cave overlooking Cairo.  It is the largest church in the Middle East with seating for around 20,000 and one of seven built into the Mo’attam Mountain.