Thursday, November 26, 2009

French Zar

I'm branching out from typical Egyptian concerts. By going to non-Egyptian concerts. On Monday, I saw Karimouche, a French hip hop group, at The Culture Wheel. My French is limited to what I remember from 8th and 9th grade. Every time the lead singer/rapper said bonjour, zut, chat, chien, je suis reussi l'examine, and tout le monde, I totally knew what she saying.

hello, darn, cat, dog, i will pass the exam, all the time

At times, the keyboard player thought he was T-Rex.

Despite not understanding practically everything, I had a really fun time and enjoyed the music. The only drawback was that everyone in the audience was lame and sat in their chairs, too afraid to dance. There were chairs on the extreme left- and right-hand sides of the room and the middle was empty, presumably for people to shake it. No one was in the middle. Except for a stray cat that snuck in and sprawled out there for half of the concert.

Wednesday, I went to a place called Makan, or in English, Place. An inspired name for sure. The... place does have a nice atmosphere. It's a spacious room that's carpeted and has some cushions and wooden chairs to sit on. Every Wednesday night, an ensemble called Mazaher plays Zar music there. They gave us a hand-out describing Zar music as "a space where [women] can work out their tensions and frustrations which limit their movements, their dress, their voices and even their dreams." I'm all about freedom (I still got some Americana left in me) so I knew I was going to enjoy the concert.

From what we saw, Zar music was very trance-like. It was a lot of drumming and percussion and a flute guy. The basic format for a song: flute guy does flute solo, then the drumming kicks in, woman or man sings some verses, everyone else playing instruments sings as a chorus repeating or responding to the soloist, soloist sings more, chorus does their thing again, then everyone starts banging on drums as hard as they can and the person playing cymbals dances in a frenzy til everyone abruptly stops the music.

It makes more sense hearing and seeing it, so come visit to get a taste of the Zar. But til then, video!

This guy knows how to shake it. My favorite part of the concert.

The end to every single song they played. And I know the video is sideways.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defeated and Hopeless

Oh, Ahmed Hassan. Oh, Emad Moteab. Oh, Essam El-Hadary. We had been having such a good time together. The past four days were filled with such joy and excitement. I almost bought a flag for you. And this is how you repay me? I have been your number-one fan since I first heard your names and watched you play on Saturday. Now, my World Cup dreams are dashed. If only we had Frantz Fanon on our side. We totally would've won.

Before the game, everyone displayed their pride for Egypt. I watched a guy paint his trunk and mirrors the colors of the Egyptian flag.

Not even an hour after the match, the guy removed the paint from his car. There will be nothing else to pump up Egyptians for the next four years unless the country goes to war with Israel or its newest frenemy, Algeria.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Planet Africa

Last night, I went out with family for my cousin's daughter's birthday (my second niece?). We ate at a restaurant called Planet Africa. It's almost identical to Rainforest Cafe, complete with animatronics and noises of the jungle. Because all of Africa is like a jungle. The food was fine. The whole menu was copied from Rainforest Cafe but it had African words in front of the item like Swahili French Fries. I had the Zulu Grilled Chicken Fajita.

My real value menu from real Africa.

The creepiest lion in the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Few Days in Alexandria

On Thursday, I went with my mom and aunt to Alexandria, their birth place and city of choice in Egypt. After a two and a half hour train ride, we arrived at the Mediterranean Sea. I could immediately feel the difference between Cairo and Alexandria. Most noticeably, it's easier to breath in Alexandria. There isn't as much smog and dust in the air. The city is also much smaller in physical size and population so it feels more open. It was very refreshing to be there. We saw and did a lot in Alexandria so I'll break it down by all that instead of by each day.


What would a trip to anywhere in Egypt be without visiting a church or monastery. We went on a four monastery tour on Friday--St. Mina, St. Wanis, St. George, and St. Philopateer Mercurius. St. Wanis was the first one we went to and it was a small church in the middle of a muddy field. We left about 10 minutes after arriving. People didn't like muddy shoes.

St. Mina's was next. Though it looked more like a monastery than St. Wanis, it didn't feel like it. It is the Disney World of monasteries. It has a huge parking lot to take in the masses of tourists and pilgrims and people there just hang out for the day. There are long lines for food, bathrooms, and seeing the relics of the saints. Kids are playing soccer in the complex, people are yelling on their cell phones everywhere, and you get a feeling that the monks here are not that happiest bunch because of all this. I didn't like the atmosphere but the grounds were beautiful:

St. Mina's Monastery is gigantic.


Chaos outside the relics of Pope Kyrillos

We then went to St. George's and St. Philopateer Mercurius' which were two convents. They were serene and beautiful and uneventful in the best sense possible.

In Alexandria, we also stopped by St. Mark's Cathedral, the home of many Coptic Orthodox popes and also their final resting place. It's the site of the first church in Egypt and was founded by St. Mark. Now, the Pope spends most of his time in Cairo. We stopped by the bookstore. To my surprise, they were selling computer video games alongside religious items. To my bigger surprise, the games they were selling:

Of all the places to find Grand Theft Auto Four and pictures of Jesus together.


Much of our time in Alexandria was spent seeing my mom's family. She still has cousins and other relatives there who were very eager to host us for a meal or dessert. My time in Egypt has exposed me to many relatives I've never met before and it's starting to get overwhelming so I think I'm going to make a family tree for us soon.


Alexandria's got a whole lot of history to it and we scratched the surface on Saturday. In a nutshell, pillars and tombs. All the places we went to had prices for Egyptians and for foreigners. Since they thought I was an Egyptian student, I always paid one Egyptian pound to get in. Foreigners paid between 20 to 35 pounds depending on the place. Crasy.

We went to a Roman amphitheater, some catacombs, Pompey's pillar, and the Citadel of Qait Bey. All of them old, historic, and important. Mostly old, though.

The old theater

Poor Pompey and his one remaining pillar.

The Citadel

We also made it to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Great Library of Alexandria. This library was open about five years ago on the site of the old library which was burned down a long long time ago. It is beautiful and huge. Annual membership for Egyptian students is 30 pounds, or about 5 dollars. Amazing.

This place makes me excited about studying.

The Match

Saturday night, Egypt shut down for a big game against Algeria. If Egypt won by 3 goals, the country would advance to the World Cup tournament for the first time in 20 years. If Egypt won by 2 goals, it would be tied in rankings with Algeria and have a do-or-die match on Wednesday with Algeria. The match would be held on neutral ground in Sudan. If Egypt won by one goal or lost the game, then Algeria would go to the World Cup.

Hype for the game started weeks ago. I took a taxi two weeks ago and the driver talked the whole way about how much he would cry if Egypt lost. The day of the game, a taxi driver told us, "Egypt gets excited about two things. Football and the war in '73." (When Egypt beat up on Israel). And going along with that, while we were at the library, one of the employees exclaimed, "People here are going crazy. It's as if we were playing Israel."

You can read up on all the hysteria before the game here. The match itself proved to be an exciting and nerve-wrecking 96 minutes. Egypt won 2-0, scoring in the first and last minutes of the game. Even though we still have to play again on Wednesday, the country erupted in victory since it wasn't eliminated. The rest of the night, cars were honking and people were dancing in the streets. I saw footage on tv of five Egyptians dancing in a circle shooting fire into the air with flame throwers. Flame throwers. If Egypt wins on Wednesday, the country will not be able to handle its joy.

The Views

Alexandria is beautiful. There's still much to explore there and I will be definitely going back. Tons of excellent seafood and a good breeze along with free housing makes for the perfect combination.

We're back in Cairo now and my mom's here for the rest of the week. Just enough time for a few more monasteries.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My First Visitor

My mom is here! She arrived on Sunday and is staying for the next two weeks. We having a grand time ketching up and, more importantly, visiting monasteries (the real reason she's here).

Yesterday, we went to the Monastery of St. Macarius the Great. What's great about this particular monastery is that it's generally closed to all visitors. This means that if you do get to go inside, it is extremely quiet and peaceful and ...monastic. Many of the monasteries I've been to so far have been noisy and filled with tourists and pilgrims, creating a very casual atmosphere that takes away from the holiness of the place. But not here.

One of my mom's monk friends who lives here invited us to spend the morning with him. We talked for a while and then made a stop at the bookstore before heading out. I'm excited to read my new book, An Optimistic Vision of Divine Justice by Father Matta El-Meskeen. I never realized how much pessimism has seeped into matters of divine justice but I'll find out soon enough. And now, pictures!

The monastery is surrounded by trees that the monks planted. They have huge tracts of land and grow all sorts of fruit throughout the year.

Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors, thank God there's no people

We took this picture again after my mom asked me, "Why are you afraid of coming close to Jesus?"

A small cemetery in the desert for monks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Beyonce is playing in Egypt right now, over 8 hours away from Cairo in Port Ghalib, an isolated resort that no one goes to except if Beyonce is there.

I was slightly bitter about not being able to go since it was so far away but my friend Lillie and I decided to do something just as grand. At 9 am-ish, we met up at the bus station in Shoubra in hopes of going to Dumyat and Ras el Bar, or "Head of Land." I had asked a guy working at the station which bus went to Ras el Bar but I pronounced it wrong and he asked where I was from. I told him America. He then asked me if I prayed. I said yes. His face lit up and he began yelling to everyone around him, "This guy is American AND he prays!!" He helped me find the right bus and left with a huge smile. I didn't have the heart to tell him who I prayed to.

We got onto the bus to Dumyat which was about 3 hours away north. Lillie's Egypt guidebook had a brief description of the place and mine, Lonely Planet, didn't even mention it. We weren't sure what to expect but it had a nice feel.


From there we took 3 microbuses to Ras el Bar (also not mentioned by my book), a small town and beach area about twenty minutes north where locals go vacationing. More importantly, it's where the Nile and the Mediterranean Sea meet.

A sign telling you which body of water is which.

We walked along the beach of the Mediterranean which was very refreshing after many weeks of walking in the streets of Cairo. We reached a lighthouse, which I assumed was a minaret (because that's was Egypt does to you). It marked where the two bodies of water met. The sun set which made for great picture taking:

What you want, Cape May.

This is so much better than Beyonce.

On the way back, we had some tea while we waited for the bus and made the journey back. It was a great day trip. Lonely Planet, take note.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puppet Theater (Updated! With Video)

Last night, I went back to the Culture Wheel for Umm Kulthoum Puppet Theater. It was an unusually entertaining experience for puppets pretending to play music while a recording of Umm Kulthoum played over speakers.

Real puppets.

Umm Kulthoum: Beyonce of the 50s.

The stage was very small but people packed into the room to get some puppets into their lives. The crowd was older and filled with die-hard fans. A recording of an Umm Kulthoum concert played over speakers, complete with applause from the original concert. Everyone around me sang along, some people even through flowers at the puppets, and we all clapped when the recorded audience clapped. It was slightly absurd.

And for a more authentic feel, as recommended by my friend Dina, pictures of the night in black and white:

This guy was my favorite. He was fixated on Umm Kulthoum the whole show, looking very dazed while playing the oud.

As promised, here's video from the night:

Watch how my glasses guy shakes his fist at the end. He did that after every song.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Night at the Obera and the Culture Wheel

Going to random cultural events is always hit or miss. You don't really know what the event is about so you just have to go and see for yourself. The past two nights were definitely big hits. On Tuesday, I went to the Cairo Opera House for a night of classical Arabic music, part of the 18th Annual Festival of Arab Music. I had tried going the night before but the ticket man refused to sell me a ticket because I wasn't wearing a suit. That show was in the Main Hall of the Opera house and I guess you can't go in without one. (Lazam tilbis badla -- uhhh... Ma'andeesh -- Asif.)

The show that I ended up going to was in the Small Hall and I had been there before with jeans and a t-shirt so I got in no problem. I really enjoyed the music. A large orchestra supported six singers who each sang two songs.


She was into it.

My favorite guy was the one playing the tambourine. He was really into it too and had perfect posture the whole time.

I always lean back while playing tambourine. But now I know.

Last night I went to a great place called El Sawy Culture Wheel. I had misread the program online and thought that there was going to be Umm Kulthoum Puppet Theater. Umm Kulthoum (known to Egyptians as Umm Kalsoom) is an Egyptian singer from the 50s and 60s and is the equivalent of Beyonce in terms of popularity and bootyliciousness. I had no idea what her puppet theater would be like but I was very excited. When we got into the space, we quickly saw no puppets on stage. I asked an employee what was going on and he said that the puppets were tomorrow night and tonight was a variety show. I'm glad I made my mistake because the music was awesome and I had a really good time. Below is a video of part of an act. They were telling the story of Hassen and Naima which is a classic Arab tale. I would tell you what it's about but I didn't understand most of it. I remember hearing something about a duck.

After them was a four person tabla band who were very very in sync with each other, a story teller who made everyone in the audience laugh (except me and my friend who missed all of the punch lines), and a giant chorus.

Each person had a microphone which seemed a little unnecessary.

Tonight I'm hoping to see some puppets, Umm Kulthoum style. If it's good, I just may have to go to the next puppet show they host: The Beatles.