Category Archives: Egypt

My life through the songs I’ve screamed

Chapter 1: Edmond, Oklahoma-“Under Pressure” by Queen

I was concurrently enrolled at the local community college my last year of high school. This was not, as most people assume, because of my insatiable love for learning. I took college classes because it  gave me a shortened school day that I could use to work on my television-watching hobbies.

My house was roughly a four minute drive from the high school and yes I drove every day. I’m from Oklahoma–unnecessary wheeled transit is what we do best.

On the way home from school my last semester in Oklahoma, as soon as I got in the car I would blast “Under Pressure” by Queen. I had to get the timing just right, in order to match the song with the drive. I loved nothing more than getting in every little “Umm ba da” or “Dee dee dee dee” right along with Freddie and then screaming at the very end, right as I was entering my neighborhood “WHY CAN’T WE GIVE OURSELVES ONE MORE CHANCE.”

As I was pulling into the driveway, “This is our last chance, this is ourselves, under pressure…….” And then I would switch off the ignition and run inside and make a cup of noodles for lunch and watch an episode of one of my hobbies.

Chapter 2: Boston, Massachusetts- “Endless Rope” by Patty Griffin

I went to college at Boston University with no time to transition out of a crush with a German man 5 years older than me or my ongoing crush on Conan O’Brien. I was also unprepared to be lonely and uncertain of where my best friends were. This led to me to identify with songs by Patty Griffin with lyrics like, “Say goodbye to the old streets that never cared much for you anyway…different colored doorways you thought would let you in one day” or “Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep with all the rain coming down.”

I often found myself walking back to my dorm late at night. The street would be mostly deserted and the night city felt like a secret. One of my favorite things to do while I was walking alone beneath the street lights and watching the stoplights turn green and crossing in the middle of the road was belt out the song “Nobody’s Crying.”

I would scream the end of the chorus, “Just have this secret hope, sometimes all we do is cope, somewhere on the steepest slope, there’s an endless rope, and nobody’s crying.” Note: I was never crying when I sang this song. Note: that’s probably not true.

Chapter 3: Cairo, Egypt-“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

My second apartment in Cairo was located about a 20 minute walk from the nearest metro stop, a 20 minute walk along a highway that I would take every morning and evening.

In order to pass the time and forget my unfortunate location in an exhaust cloud on the freeway, I memorized songs, one of which was Rolling in the Deep. I would sing it at the top of my lungs while weaving through traffic, and go somewhere else in my head. I believed no one could hear me from the noise of the traffic, and I never felt more free than when the sun was setting and I could hear myself above the chaos screaming “YOU HAD MY HEART INSIDE OF YOUR HANDS” against the honks and the vrooms and the noise of a revolution settling.

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Did You Hear? Them Right Wing Politics Is Crazy.

The mustache says “I’m reasonable.” Everything else says he isn’t.

When I came back from Egypt to Oklahoma and American politics, I was disappointed to find similar political currents in the two countries.

Just like advocates of the Muslim Brotherhood, there are some people in the states who would love to see the ascendance of religion in government. And I’m not talking about Muslim extremists plotting a White House takeover.

Rather, I’m talking about a bunch of rather special conservatives who are doing their darndest to take American politics back a few hundred years.

Take Paul Blair, for example. This is a man from Edmond, OK, a pastor at a local church, who has decided that he wants to run for Senate in order to keep the government from getting any bigger (or better), and defend “traditional, Biblical values and our constitution.”

His biggest selling points are his mustache and his exclusively conservative voting record, if that tells you anything about the environment here. And despite how much I attempt to ignore politics, I have heard about this man and seen his ridiculous mustachioed political advertising, which means he has a crap ton of money to campaign with. Plumber Joe, don’t believe Blair when he says he’s just like you.

One of the things that pisses me off the most about Mr. Paul Blair’s campaign is his logo, which is really dumb. Take a look at it here. It’s an American flag topped with a tiny cross.

I’m sure what Blair meant to convey with this truly horrendous act of campaignage was that he’s going to haul his Christian morals to Capital Hill so they remain in our government where they belong.

What I understand from the flag/cross hybrid is quite different. I understand that Mr. Blair either knows very little about American history and government or is willing to bait voters with dangerous religious rhetoric. I understand that Blair does not respect the division between church and state and would prefer the two again become one. In this way, we can re-create ourselves in the image of great nations like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Egypt, where religion is an integral part of state identity.

I understand that just like supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Blair believes that the government should have a central role in regulating morality, especially through legislation based on a holy document.

Between me and Blair, I believe I am the only one that has lived in an extremely conservative society with a poorly functioning government. (Just to clarify, I’m talking about Egypt here.) There were aspects of Egypt that I liked, but for the most part, I don’t want to see America becoming like it politically in any way, shape, or form. Pluralistic societies are awesome.

So, Mr. Blair, please put down your American cross bayonet before you march into office and start any more ridiculous wars or legislation, and think about the fact that many Christians would be disgusted to see you using a symbol of their religion in order to promote your campaign. While you’re at it, consider how scary it is for many people to see that you are a “Patriot Pastor,” part of an organization called “Reclaiming America for Christ.” Yikes.

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We Can Make America Better

Sunsets can make anywhere beautiful.

I graduated from college on Sunday, May 22, 2011 and one week later I was in Boston Logan International, throwing my sheets away to make weight for baggage and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Within twenty four hours, I was standing in the lobby of the Mayfair Hotel in Cairo, suppressing the urge to cry as I begged the concierge to let me check in without my passport, which I had left at the airport when I was filing a claim for my lost baggage. No possessions and no identity, I was ready to start the year.

Things looked up from there, however. I made friends with people in my program, found an apartment despite the fact I had never been to Cairo and didn’t speak Egyptian Arabic, and never died on the Metro (by asphyxiation) on my way to class.

That being said, Cairo was not an easy place to live for me. My (subjective) opinion of Cairo is that it’s not a great place for humans to live in general. There’s no room for them and the poverty crushes everyone. Though I had traveled before to the Middle East, to countries with dictatorships and to places with poverty (including the U.S.), I never felt it like I did in Cairo.

This was a people that had been robbed of their money, of their dignity, and in some cases of their humanity. The former regime stole billions of dollars, exploited and oppressed the people, and dis-empowered them completely through poor education programs, through intimidation, and through endless lies.

As the year went by, I slowly became more resentful of the city, of the pollution, of the seemingly endless harassment, of the constant nuisances, and at the bottom of it all I was reminded daily that I, through no power of my own, had been born in America to a nice middle class family. I was a walking symbol of power and of global injustice. The fact I carried an American passport gave access to more respect and opportunities than most Egyptians would ever get.

When people in the states ask me, “Did you love Cairo?” or something about the Muslim Brotherhood or if it was safe over there, it’s hard for me to know how to respond because these questions don’t mean anything to me.

I want to talk about a people crushed by the boots of an exploitative government and how repression reflects itself in every social facet. I want to talk about women’s rights and equality in the Middle East and in the United States of America. I want to talk about how ignorance affects political systems in America and in the Middle East (I’m not saying that people who support the Muslim Brotherhood are necessarily ignorant. That’s a different blog post). I want to talk about how violent crime is more prevalent in many American cities than in Cairo.

Usually I come back from abroad slightly more patriotic. I want to kiss the sweet American earth and hug Uncle Sam while setting off firecrackers and singing “God Bless America.” It was the same this time but different.

As I looked at the rows of American flags in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport and listened to patriotic music in the immigration line, I kept on thinking, “We can make this better.”

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I Hope My Family Likes Their Piles of Dirt

This one’s for Dad.

My year in Cairo is winding down, coming to a close, kicking the bucket, hiding in the dumpster, etc. Throughout the past year, I was careful to avoid purchasing any gifts for my family, keeping my tradition of delaying present buying  until “later,” which usually translates into “3 hours before my flight when I can only spend $2 on each gift and end up buying everyone decorative paper weights and nun figurines.”

But this time it’s going to be different, especially because the last time I went home, in December, I got desperate and gave my family Digestives and Hobnobs for Christmas. I might as well have put five packages of Chips Ahoy! under the tree. This semester I vowed to do better.

I began my gift hunting early, seeking something that would embody my Cairo experience in a way that my family would both appreciate and enjoy. After looking through all of the boutiques in Zamalek and perusing the stalls of Khan al-Khalili, I realized that these stores sold  worthless knickknacks that lacked the essence of Cairo and were inauthentic pieces of pre-trash.

That’s when I stumbled on the idea of getting each member of my family their very own piles of Cairo dirt, a fun substance that we eat, breathe, and live every moment of our Cairo existence. My family could use the piles as office, home, and lawn decoration and the dirt can also be used as weed killer, teenager-repellent, and an acceptable replacement for some spices.

I wandered through the city, looking for piles of dirt that I felt represented my family. I found one with some horse poop in it and thought of my mom because her sister loves horses, and right near there I found one with an animal bone in it and thought instantly of my brother. Just days ago, I was walking to the supermarket and saw one that had a syringe stuck in it and knew I’d found the perfect pile for my sisters (they love sharing things.) And then finally, I found one with a Twinkie wrapper sticking out of it, and it was as if Dad spoke to me and said, “This pile of dirt is for me, Emily.”

I filled up a jar for each family member so they can place their mini-pile anywhere they want (in the bathroom! the kitchen! the shower!) and think of me and Cairo every time they look at it. The idea might be a little cheesy, but I’m a sentimental gal and I do sentimental things.  I can’t wait to see the look on their faces–they’re going to be so surprised!

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Sneaky Tourist Traps

And we were married in the morning.

We all know of the geographical tourist trap, in which suckers are lured somewhere and forced to buy a chewed pyramid eraser for five dollars.

Though this is the most common understanding of the phrase “tourist trap,” there are other, non-geographical tourist traps. This picture, taken at an ancient Egyptian temple in Aswan, demonstrates two of them.

Trap #1: Looking like a fool

If you’ll notice, the man standing next to me in this picture is wearing a pith helmet and a long sleeved khaki shirt that is ideal for archaeological excavation or rainforest trail beating. I can’t remember what he was wearing on his bottom or feet, but for the purpose of this discussion, let us believe he was sporting long shorts and thick soled boots.

Carefully selected according to internet research and documentaries based in the early 1900’s, this man’s attire clearly identifies him as a colonizer, an imperialist, and an unpleasant reminder of a confusing and difficult time in Egyptian history.

Though the costume is well chosen for archaeological excavation circa 1920, not only it is horribly outdated, but it is also ill-suited for his main tourist tasks, which are taking pictures and eating out 3 times a day.

Many tourists, when traveling to areas perceived as “exotic” or “developing,” will unfortunately resort to donning adventure wear. The reality is that even countries like Egypt, Ecuador, Morocco, and Jordan—to name a few—have major cities in which the inhabitants wear clothes that resemble the latest H&M threads more than the outfits European explorers wore a century ago.

The entire adventure clothes industry thrives off of selling people the very cargo pants, shirts with zip-off pockets, and shoes with built-in canteens that will make them look like idiots. In order to drive home the point that these people are clueless, the travel wear company might as well sell big foam fingers for more noticeable pointing and ankle bells to alert locals when a tourist is coming so they can look “native.”

Trap #2: Tourism-Induced-Sleepiness

Another lesser known tourist trap is the trap of tourism-induced-sleepiness, as exhibited by the young people on either side of my head. In my own experience, drowsiness attacks me the very second I enter a historical site, particularly one with open spaces, marble floors, and an appropriately cool atmosphere—museums are particularly perilous. After three historical visits in a row, I enter a very sleepy danger zone. The only way to cure this condition is by taking a long nap on a soft, white, hotel bed, or getting a latte. Either way it’s a win.

The sleepiness is not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, adventure wear—except for joke purposes–is always ill-advised.

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