Friday, March 14, 2008

Second Day: Marketplace Madness!

This afternoon’s five-hour stroll through Cairo’s insanely busy Egyptian Market left me yearning for tranquil solitude of Chinatown on a Saturday afternoon

“I love to walk!” Raquy beamed as we made a right from our door, heading away from the Nile towards the poorer part of town. We stopped at one of the ubiquitous juice stands where you pay a pound or less (about 20 cents) for a little stein of freshly squeezed juice – carrots, oranges, sugar cane, tamarind and coconut are favorites.

Since you’re given a glass of the stuff, you suck it down on the spot and return the glass and maybe a little bakhsheesh (tip). If you want the drink to go, they will dump two steins’ worth into a plastic bag, insert a straw and tie the top.

We made too many twists and turns for me to count, winding our way down curvy, dusty streets lined with cars, garbage and ubiquitous feral cats. Boys yelled, “What’s your name?” in their rolling Egyptian accent.

Some cars that had sat too long gathered a thick coat of dust. Rami wrote, “Wash me” on one, along with a quick plug for their dumbek show on Wednesday.

We hit a main drag called Al-Nasiriyya and walked south until it made a U-turn at a famous mausoleum for a female saint named Sayyida Zeynab. “Female saints are really cool in Islam,” Rami noted, “You don’t have to die first, like you do to become a Catholic saint…” Interesting... living saints of both sexes. I will have to look into that.....

At the mausoleum, Al-Nasiriyya turns into Bur Sa’id and heads northeast. We made another right onto winding streets, finally hitting the old Egyptian Marketplace along Al-Ganbakiyya.

Now, to say the Egyptian Marketplace makes Chinatown look like Wall Street on Sunday night is an understatement!

The streets are tiny – Chinatown-sized – and lined with stores whose wares spill effusively into the overcrowded streets. People move quickly though they never push, but it was difficult to keep up with Raquy who skipped ahead and disappeared in the crowd as I tried to take pictures here and there.

I found myself watching the tide of people closely to stay aware of oncoming traffic. Yes, traffic. These streets, which are barely large enough to accommodate the vendors and pedestrians were besieged every thirty seconds by some kind of vehicle, careening through at ridiculous speeds.

Everything from cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, giant handtrucks, donkey carts and wheelbarrows charged by me as I dove aside. The streets are badly paved, so I had to be careful not to land on a chunk of broken cobblestone.

Beams and wooden latticework join the roofs, making it dark, which is not such a bad thing since the Cairo sun is intense. But as the sun went down, the street became ever more trecherous.

And then we hit the Gate at Bab Zuweyla and the fun really began.

As I tried to cross the intersection a man carrying a tray of bread the size of a small door on his head biked – yes biked past me. He charged in front of a car which nearly hit him, and then straight towards a jam-packed microbus and a wheelbarrow. All three stopped within an inch of each other.

Miraculously, the bread tray stayed put. He remouted the bike and sped off before I could get my camer out.

I finally made it across the street onto Al-Mu’ezz Li-Din, where more of the same continued.

We escaped and crossed an overpass only to find ourselves in the brightly lit, but more commercial Khan al-Khalyly Bazaar, where vendors descended on us. “Whatever you are wanting, I have it for you!” they shouted as we passed.

We’d been on our feet for hours by this point. Raquy was still going strong, but I was fading and was desperate for a chair, tea and a restroom (not necessarily in that order).

"Is there anywhere near here we could stop for a rest?" I pleaded. "Um ... sure," Rami replied.

A twenty-minute walk later (in the direction of home, fortunately), we found our way to a large, brightly-lit bare-bones café. Men crowded around a TV on one side, cheering the day's football match, and groups of natives, tourists, businessmen, etc. huddled around tiny tables on the other side.

Raquy chose a table among the tourists and ordered for us.

Tea at last!!

After about 20 minutes, Rami had to join his family for their weekly sabbath dinner, so Raquy and I remained, sipping tea and beer and shooting temis beans into our mouths.

I pulled out a map to try to figure out where we had walked that day, and a lean weathered man pawed up to us. "Gamila, gamila!" ("beautiful, beautiful") he said and attached a note to the top of the map with a huge, ornate paper clip.

When he was safely gone, I opened the note: "Mes demoiselles. A Secretery of a Ceo knowledgeable in Italian or Greek-Spanish 'English a Must.' Soft-spoken - and keen to righ!!" Then an address and phone, adding "apt. available all year to abroad peoples, phone or call. Ring twice before noon." And on another paper, "Dieu seul le Suit a vous dieu."

Well, oookay!!

I went back to the map, and when I looked up, Raquy was chatting with a man at a table behind us.

"So weird!" she said, returning, "That guy is a total fan ... he knows all about me and was at my concert last year!" Beat. "Hey! This would be a great place to hand out flyers for Wednesday's show, don't you think?" I agreed and she taught me how to say the basics: hafla (party/concert), Mertz (March), tisa'tashar (19), balesh (free).

I approached a table of businessmen who asked me to join them in English. "I'll be at the show..." I shrugged and headed to the next table. The manager caught my eye and wagged his finger at me, "No-no!"

I crept back to our table. "No flyers," I sighed. "Well, maybe we can give them out quickly when we leave," Raquy suggested.

So, when we were done and paid and the manager was otherwise occupied, we furtively swept through all the tables. "Hafla! Hafla!" I panted to the amused customers and made a quick escape.

My First Night

So…. a few blocks of broken sidewalk later, Rami and I and my two suitcases come to a very crowded market area. Vendors line the streets and a large building to our right houses about eight stores.
Rami heads up the stairs leading to a bakery.

“This is us,” he says. The bakery??

We walk through a wide building corridor with more storefronts on either side. He makes a sharp left into a vestibule with a concierge desk. The attendant smiles as Rami rings for the elevator.

Yes, we are staying right above – literally – a market, both inside and outside our building. It’s a deliciously noisy strip of street where you can buy yummy fruits, veggies, meats, breads, condiments, chesses, apparel, accessories and more knick-knacks than a paddy can whack.

I’m tired and hungry and want to nap, but Rami has bought some pizza – a thick-breaded square topped with chunky fresh sauce and olives. And Raquy is just about to head off to teach her Thursday tabla class at a nearby university and asks if I’d like to join her.

Can I possibly resist??


We skip a short three blocks to a salmon colored building where the guard asks for my passport. Then it’s up the slow, slow elevator to a dumbek-filled ante-room. We follow the DUMs to a gaggle of students cheefully whacking away.

They are all beginners, but surprisingly good – and they will perform with her at her concert next week! One student plays his homework composition as I accompany with a steady malfuf.

Ah… then it’s naptime. (Back at the apartment, not at the college – though I was ready to hit the tiles anytime!)

I doze for a few hours and wake to find two new people in the apartment: Dave, a guitarist Brit now living in Cairo, and fellow musician Fred who is visiting from Sweden.

We are planning to go to The Blue Nile restaurant, which is a swank hot spot on a fixed boat, so I dress up. But when we call for reservations, we are out of luck.

At 11pm, we manage to get a table at a nearby Lebanese place that serves a bowl of unsliced raw veggies – tomatoes, cukes, peppers (red, green and hot!) – which we devour. “Most people just leave the salad as a centerpiece,” Raquy remarks, “I think we’re the only ones who actually eat it!”

I tried out my few Arabic phrases on the waiter, but ultimately Rami ordered mixed meats, hummus, breads and other tasty staples.

“The best food in Cairo is Lebanese,” Dave noted as we strolled back. “Most of the Egyptian stuff is heavy and greasy.”

Finally back at 1am, we drop our bags and jackets at the apartment and head downstairs to our Nubian neighbors’ weekly Thursday party.

We descend a flight to a spartan lounge – linoleum, flourescent lights and about twenty Nubian men chatting, smoking, drinking tea, playing pool and ping-pong. I watch the pool game and am quickly asked if I want to take a shot.

I try. I miss.

I join Raquy in a sideroom where she has set up her kamanche, with Rami, Dave, Fred and several frame-drum-toting partygoers holding down the rhythm. I join on zills.

She plays her own compositions and a few Arabic numbers, then the Nubian men begin to gleefully sing traditional songs. They bring us tea and cigarettes. I’m in heaven.

Finally. Bed at 3am.

My First Day

Feeling mellow. Oh so mellow and looking forward to a quiet cozy sleep – for as long as it will last.

I’m in Raquy’s apartment now, which faces a hugemarket, where people are constantly screaming about their unequalled carrots, bananas, melons, you name it, as cars trundle by carelessly…but let me backtrack to…

9am -- Egypt time!

I got through three or four episodes of House before finally packing it in around midnight…. In the air for about five hours by then, and probably nearing Britain. Our seats were right next to the throbbing engine, so I had to crank the phones, which eventually gave me a headache even my boredom couldn’t dispute.

I unplugged, downed half-an-Ambien and was gone, baby, gone instantly.
What a sight I must have been, curled up in trench coat, three scarves wrapped around my head, two pillows and an exra blanket.

Ranya, my seatmate, must have thought I looked like a giant slug!!
Happily, I slept well and woke up less than an hour to landing. Here is the view from my wing. Notice the green little villa -- well, somebody's mansion -- complete with swimming pool!!

We landed smoothly and I headed towards immigration. A quick visa purchase later ($15), I searched for a cab.

There were tons of guys offering a ride to my destination in a district called Mounira, which is in Downtown Cairo -- it should be less than a half-hour ride from the airport, and costs less than 40 Egyptian pounds when cabbing it from nearby neighborhoods.

But, as you'd expect, the limo drivers were demanding over 85 EGP!! I turned them all down and flagged down a rinky-dink car, asking for a 40EGP ride. He asked for 60, and I agreed to 50.

And then we were immediately stopped by the police who asked me to sign a ledger (which I did illegibly). The driver gave the cop 20 EGP and promptly blamed me for the fine and said I would have to pay more! (Turned out he was driving without a license).

He also made me pay the 5EGP fee to exit the airport.

And he took the long, LONG way around, going way south and then crawling up a traffic-packed main drag. I called Rami, and asked for help. He asked to speak to the driver, so I handed over the phone saying "my boyfriend would like to talk to you."

Rami gave directions, but the driver continued to circle within just a few blocks of the address, increasing his fare every few minutes. He careened down tiny traffic- and pedestrian-packed streets, at one point whacking his passenger-side mirror so it hung by its rubber tubing.

I called Rami again, and a third time. Finally he told the driver to stop where we were and he came to meet us.

I told the driver that Rami would pay him when he arrived.

I handed Rami a 50-pound note and he valiantly persuaded the driver to let it be.

And so we were off...

Next entry: My First Night!!!

[Note: I will try to update this post with more photos, but in the meantime, please go to and search the tag CairoCarol]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

En Route to Egypt

So far, so good.

As I write this, I figure we are somewhere south of Nova Scotia. The guy in front of me has decided to lay back,making it difficult to see the screen, much less type. And they are showing The Nanny Diaries on the monitors, such as they are.

Dinner was actually very good.

I had the beef, which was some kind of seasoned patty, with rice and surprisingly fresh veggies, and the usual accompaniments: cheese with crackers, juice, water, a roll with butter and salad, as well as custard and tea for dessert.

Egypt Air isn’t long on amenities (at least not for us poor slobs in coach), but the food is prett good!

As usual, I left my apartment later than I’d planned, missed a train, then the next arriving Air Train was taken out of service. So I didn’t arrive until 4:45pm for my 6:30pm flight. They tell you to check in three hours ahead of time, but it turns out two hours was enough.

Fortunately, there was hardly a line to check in, so I got my boarding pass and headed off to security, wolfing down my lunch and a protein drink – because apparently they don’t let you take any beverages past the security checkpoint.

And they won’t let you wear any kind of footwear at all through the metal detector. I’d put my sneakers on the belt and put on a pair of rubber thong slippers. But the guard told me to put those on the belt, too!!

Then the guard started grabbing my stuff as I was unloading it into the bins and I told him to take it easy. Big mistake!

He decided to go through my whole knapsack – five pockets, mainly containing my personal toiletries. He emptied out over $200 worth of lotions, perfumes, etc. examing each one trying to figure out what some of this girl stuff was, all the time going, “I’m trying to help you, ma’am.”

Petty dictator.

Then, after he pawed his blue rubber gloves through my things, he brought over a ziplock bag and, with deadpan glee, told me I could take whatever could fit in the bag, figuring I’d probably have to leave something.

But he underestimated my feminine packing powers. It all fit and I swept my bag away from his prurient gaze.


Here I am. Happily flying along. The many children have finally stopped crying and they’ve turned off the cabin lights.

My seat-mate, a lovely woman coincidentally named Ranya, has plugged into The Nanny Diaries. Eek.

I think I’ll watch an episode of House.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

February 2008 Performance Archive

I only did one public show this month:

Badawiyat, which The Dalia Carella Dance Collective premiered last year through Dance New Amsterdam's Performance Project.

Remounted as part of The Field's modern dance performance showcase, Fielday at
PS 122 on

Sunday, February 17 @ 7pm
PS 122
150 First Ave. at E. 9th St

It will be remounted again at LaMama in late May, although their smaller space will only allow for six (smaller) dancers, and I will not be a part of it, though I'll definitely be there to cheer them on!