Tag Archives: fashion sense

Dear Diary: I flew today

Dear Diary,

I found myself somewhere new today. It was in Cairo I think, since everyone there still spoke Arabic and no one was wearing shorts or kissing in the street. I also saw some young men holding hands, another indication I was in the Middle East.

We entered what someone said was an old house but I think it was actually a castle since it was big and musty and had a windy staircase with uneven steps. There were a lot of locked doors too, as well as nooks and crannies, so it was definitely a castle.

The big feasting hall/courtyard was filled with chairs and dim light, and at the front was a kind of wooden plateau that was smaller than natural plateaus. There weren’t any chairs on the wooden plateau, probably because it is well known that wood does not go well with wood.

I gathered we were supposed to sit down, but it was hard to find a place because of all the chairs. Someone then thought it would be a good idea to sit on the chairs themselves so that’s what we did. I had a bad feeling about this idea, and was especially nervous since the guy in front of us kept peering behind him out of the corner of his eye. Every single time he saw us, he was surprised that there were people sitting on the chairs, despite his own chair sitting hypocrisy. I suggested that we move somewhere out of the way of the chairs but no one listened to me.

All of the sudden, the lights in the courtyard dimmed and music began from the front of the room, where the plateau was still lit up. Something had definitely gone wrong…how were we supposed to be able to see and talk to each other through the darkness over the music? Were we in a no-holds-barred modern protestant church service? But then musicians wearing white and carrying drums took the plateau (possibly the ghosts of the castle musicians) and I lost all consciousness of time and space.

The next thing I knew, I was smiling as we were exiting the building, the faint din of clapping still ringing in my ear. To my great surprise, I found I was carrying my camera and that the button on it was still warm. I turned it on to gather clues as to what had transpired and found I had taken tons of horrible pictures and videos of what may have been beautiful things. The ghosts on the stage had twirled and played the drums, floating and rocking back and forth, and then others took the stage that wore fantastic costumes of all colors, the most important part of it being a Christmas tree skirt that flew straight out from the dancers’ waists. And the dancers became a swirling mass of colors that was always striving upwards with their hands and with their bodies. It’s not clear why…maybe they were trying to communicate with a higher being, and that being was someone who lived upstairs that loved jazzercise in the mornings and they were politely pleading with them to stop.

If the quality of the video had been just a little better, maybe I would be able to remember what I felt when I was watching the dancers twirl and twirl and twirl, their faces bordering on rapture but still conscious of the audience, the movement of their skirts mesmerizing every eye. But I can’t, so from what I can gather, blobs took the plateau and bounced across it in a rhythmic but imprecise manner. Though it sounds unlikely, apparently this was what we expected since everyone was happy afterwards.

I was getting into a taxi when I remembered something and shut the door instead. I stepped away and started spinning around gradually faster until I slowly became airborne, the exhaust fumes from the traffic on the highway pushing me higher and higher. I called down, “Smell you later!” as the polluted air pushed me home.  It had only the faintest traces of teargas.

By the way, this was at a Tanoura performance, the Egyptian version of a dervish dance/ritual that is closely associated with Sufism, or mystical Islam. Sufism focuses on seeing the face of God or achieving unity with God.

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The lone cowboy of Tahrir

I see him standing there, above ground or below, standing or wandering in his area, that general area that is the now urine perfumed American University exit of the Sadat metro station. Since he started coming around a few days ago, I feel a greater level of personal safety when walking in the thirty yards he patrols on the daily during the late afternoon, though he cleverly disguises this patrolling as chatting with friends or aimless meandering interspersed with standing.

Though I do not know what his job is, I am confident he has been charged with very descriptive tasks such as “maintaining a presence” or “keeping the peace.” It is equally likely that no one else knows what his job is or has purposefully not given him any tasks whatsoever, and yet he continues to be a “presence” and remain “active.”

His political activity of choice: wearing a cowboy hat. He undertakes all real or imagined missions with the easy confidence of one wearing ridiculous headgear, in this case a black cowboy hat like the outlaws of old and the pop country stars of today. His slim fitting jeans and tight white t-shirt with a black faux vest sewn on the front complete with contrasting buttons only confirm my initial impression that this is a shab (young man) of the shabbab (young men) that the people of Egypt can firmly place their trust in.

Was this one of the shabbab that wanted the foreign press to know they won’t be leaving Tahrir until their demands are met?  If so, may the foreign press also be aware that the shabbab demand more ridiculous fashion trends and to be taken seriously while wearing them. If this appears to be a conflicting request, then let it be known that the shabbab are completely capable of ignoring said contradiction and increasing the impossibility of their demands. Should the foreign press desire to know more details, the lone cowboy of Tahrir awaits them somewhere in the area around the AUC exit of Sadat. He will be wearing a hat, and he will not be messing around.

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Appearance first, substance later

I want something like this

Every morning when I board the metro, I impulsively begin analyzing the components of the outfits surrounding me. This research is part of a long term “going native” “project” in which I construct an Egyptian wardrobe (or at least a few articles of clothing) that will ideally allow me to further blend in; sometimes business pants and collared shirts just enhance the foreignness of my features. I have always wanted a native wardrobe, but inevitably I get used to wearing the same clothes/run out of money/stop caring about blending in. Not so this time! I would rather starve than wear my t-shirts for the next 11 months.

The variety of clothing is endless. Every girl wears her hijab in a different way (about 9 out of ten or 12 out of 13 women cover their hair), and the rest of the outfit is always color coordinated. Imagine every combination of tier skirts, tight jeans, long shirts, tight long sleeve shirts with tank tops over them, bangles, colors, sequins, cartoon characters, gibberish English, gaucho pants, layers, cardigans, t shirts, bows, buttons, heels, flats, bejeweled sandals, abayas, niqabs, and almost everything else except for tie dye shirts, cargo pants, and whatever the Americans are wearing in general.

As we stand humidly on the metro and my eyes wander from ensemble to ensemble, I’m almost overcome with despair. I want it all! -especially a shirt with cartoon characters and or/teddy bears with sequins on them and a tier skirt . My goal is to go so native that the only clue I’m not Egyptian will be my predilection for peanut butter and the fact I prefer to eat meals in front of my computer instead of with humans. Here in Egypt I will be able to fully indulge my love of gaudy color combinations and obnoxious patterns: color goes with color, as I always say.

Today I finally embarked on my nativ-ication project and had great success. I purchased a blue long sleeve spandex shirt to go underneath other clothes…when I later tried this on in my home (there was only one size) I realized it breathes only slightly better than a trash bag. Part of my going native outfit might have to be the tissues everyone carries around to dab the sweat beading on their faces. I also purchased a long shirt-like thing that has stripes on it. I could have gone tackier—no sequins, bows, obnoxious patterns, or animals today—but there will be chance in the future, I believe.

Both my roommates saw the bottom of my feet today and were disgusted/charmed by how dirty they are. What does this mean?

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From the desert to the desert

Libyan rebel flag

In contrast to our normal weekday routine of returning to our hovels immediately after class and studying the punishing Arabic language until the 12 am call to prayer, 2/3rd of my apartment attended a Libyan cultural event at a cultural center in a posh part of Cairo, Zamalek. Since I knew my dirty t-shirt and wrinkled linen pants would make me stand out even more, I put on the closest thing I have to an appropriate nice outfit: a business shirt, jeans, and sperries. One day I’ll fit in somewhere.

After only minor difficulties finding the place, which is literally built into the underparts of an overpass, we found the oddly shaped but surprisingly nice venue bedecked with Libyan art, much of it pertaining to the current events going on there and the ever hated Qaddafi. The Bengazian band playing on the stage in front had just announced a brief intermission for the purpose of food and liquid consumption. Never had I seen such a hoard of people crowded around a buffet table….one would think there were a famine in Egypt and this was the first sighting of sugar and butter in months. I realize food prices are high nowadays but these people are from the upper class of society and attend “cultural events” surely they’ve eaten in the last week, right?

I managed to shove my way through the swarm and grab the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever eaten in my entire life…it was especially fulfilling as I’ve been craving western sweets ever since watching that dumb Australian cooking show centered on a child’s birthday party and ergo… cupcakes.

The band’s performance was by far the best part of the night, not for the quality of its music, which was so so and tended to be pretty cliché, but for the overall experience. Imagine, if you will, a small seated crowd emitting hubbub amidst the glare of bright lights and waving Libyan rebel flags in front of a band rocking out to pop ballads revolving around martyrs and revolution and blood and sacrifice to tunes on the same emotional level as a deeper N’Sync song. The most important component, however, were the kids that got on stage and were waving Libyan flags the entire time, sometimes blocking band members from sight for entire songs and/or threatening to injure them with the enthusiasm of their movements. At one point in the night, the rapper MC SWAT was forced to switch sides of the stage in the middle of breaking it down because of the peril he faced from one little girl with braids and ribbons in her hair.

The songs revolved around love of Libya and its unity and/or revolution. One of my favorite lines from the entire night was part of a description of Libya: “From the desert to the desert.” I guess it was hard to find another distinguishing geographical feature and from the border to the border wouldn’t work.

Another highlight of the night was actually hearing formal Arabic being used in the poetry reading. My heart delighted in hearing the sound of vowelled texts and my soul was nourished with sweet teshkeel. I love the importance of poetry in Arab culture…it’s great for revolutions, resistance, politics, love, insults, competition….everything.

I hope to see more cultural events and eat more free treats from this center under the bridge.

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You didn’t bring your prairie dress?

I had the pleasure of attending a “Hafla Galabiya” today, or rather, a Galabiya Party. In said party, everyone was supposed to bring either an American or Egyptian dish and wear traditional Egyptian clothing.  Unfortunately, only about 5 people wore galabiyas, since they’re actually quite funny to wear for hip young people like ourselves; it would be the equivalent of wearing my prairie dress I suppose.

The party was a success in the food department, however. When we finally arrived about an hour late, we found quite a spread on the buffet table and, I, ravenous with hunger and hobbled by indecision, spent the next 10 minutes going crazy over what foods and desserts to choose. Eventually, I consumed sustenance and began to enjoy myself.  Though some talented party-attendees sang, we did not dance together like the heathen kings of old. Thus I suggested we have a party for traditional American and Egyptian dance in the future. I hope it comes to pass since this means square dancing and contra dancing! Ann Cowan would be so proud….

But I would like to talk about our shower. You know you’re showering in our apartment in Egypt when:

1. You turn on the water in the shower and find there is none.

2. The water spurts out sporadically much like an asthmatic whale might expel water.

3. The water returns after an abscence of a few hours but it is apparently drawn directly from the Nile and thus brown in color.

4. The water is either scalding hot or semi-cold.

5. No matter how hard you try, and despite the shower curtain, the bathroom floor and bathmat is soaked after even the shortest of showers.

6. The shower works and you find it brown because of the filth on your feet.

Luckily I only go through this experience a few times a week….#silverlining

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