Tag Archives: middle east

Snotting Colors

Post-color festival. Other people didn’t look so zombie like.

Get into a cab. Make your way out of the city. Creep through traffic, past dust colored high rises and the artificial billboards that appear like fungus sprouting out of urban decay. Countless anonymous storefronts whizz by. Mosques, churches, and government buildings hunch near the highway.

Soon you’re in the new part of Cairo, the one only rich people can afford to reach—a land built on the pretext of endless land and resources, a place made for cars and conspicuous consumption. Welcome to “My City,” a satellite community where one apartment costs a king’s ransom. This “city” sprouted up from the desert when someone watered the sands. There is grass here, and fountains. Though many of the hundreds of apartment buildings lie vacant or unfinished, you can here the whispered dream of escapism.

Wind your way through the eerily verdant complex. Find the sporting club. Get your ticket. Go through the outer gates. Push your way through masses of girls in the 2 stall bathroom to change your clothes. Enter the inner gates. Get two packets of powdered neon paint. Forget everything.

You’re on a green lawn now that buzzes with hundreds of wealthy Cairene youth, all in various stages of succumbing to neon colors. Cairo is somewhere else, along with its social problems. Now is the time to enjoy the mild autumn weather and frolic and dance around on a live green canvas writhing with youth coating themselves in a thick layer of imagination.

As you become your neon self, your old life seems so earth toned, so depressing. Why not stay here forever, where people can afford to buy bottled water at twice its normal price just to mix it with paint and spray it at people? The dj’s beats make the air pulsate and there are moments you think you might dissolve into the ether along with the paint splattered masses around you.

But then you realize that you’re starving, and the only place to eat at this freaking festival is one sandwich shack that sells exorbitantly overpriced, mediocre fare. You’re at the mercy of your hosts, and you must try to forget your own hunger until they are hungry. The mixed paint in the water bottles starts looking like delicious neon food. “Where am I?” you wonder, as you absentmindedly go for a taste.

It’s disgusting. You try it a second time but you definitely don’t do it again after that. Soon your initial wonder at this event is replaced by seething rage at the injustice of it all. “THIS MUST BE STOPPED. EQUALITY! FOOD FOR ALL!” you think as the music continues in spite of your internal objections.

Finally, hosts get hungry and it turns out they brought some sandwiches out in the car.  After inhaling one, the injustice of it all seems more bearable. You go back and enjoy your time, and then eventually leave the land of color on a long journey home, back to a world of grey covered in night.

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P.S. I’m Still Alive

Like the situation in Egypt, this puddle stinks

Look, I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but things don’t seem so great here in Egypt, and I’m not talking about the disgusting puddle outside of AUC’s Tahrir campus.

Even as we were all doing cartwheels and singing “ding dong the witch is dead” after Mubarak’s departure in February, some questions lingered in the background like “What next?” and “How difficult could it be to set up a democracy in a country crippled by poverty, corruption, and decades of political stagnation under the rule of dictators?” Turns out it’s pretty difficult, especially since it seems the egg of democracy has been shoved into an iron safe guarded by the general of the armed forces of the chicken coop for “security purposes.” Iron safes aren’t good places for eggs.

We already knew that the economy was going down the tubes, people were still hungry, and the political transition was moving slower than cool molasses. And then you have Sunday, October 9, 2011. There are conflicting reports of what exactly transpired (obviously), but basically, Christian protesters in Cairo were attacked by thugs of some kind and then the army stomped in with its big ol sticks and started putting down the demonstration violently: 26 dead and over 300 injured–the worst case of violence since the winter revolution and a painful indictment of the current political situation and its major players.

How do we feel about this? Not great. Though I am merely an Arabic student here for a short time, I find it incredibly disturbing and disappointing to see this kind of violence. Frankly, it makes me want to vomit when I think about the ploys the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is using to stay in power: sectarian strife, the fear of chaos, the promise of security even while it attacks citizens protesting peacefully. Is it not disgusting? But what can anyone do about it? What’s the alternative? People are tired of revolution and disillusioned about the future….why couldn’t prosperous democracy just happen? Why can’t it be like Idahoan instant mashed potatoes that fluff up into a delicious side dish within seconds?

And as if the violence itself wasn’t enough, state television got creative and its portrayal of the events differed significantly from what other independent channels like Al-Jazeera were broadcasting. Sounds like someone read Mubarak’s diary: “Today, I told the people at TV to just make it all up. Go crazy! Use your imagination! Make me look awesome!” And also the army attacked the building of an independent TV station (Al-Hurra).

So….it’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the coming weeks, but I hope people get angry,  forget their revolution fatigue, keep on fighting the fight. If you have any suggestions for how they should do that please direct them to peopleofegypt@yahoo.com since I’ll be too busy in class to do anything really.

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Urgent: Volunteer for Emergency Coloring Needs

We colored a lot of fish

This is a job description for the specialized kind of volunteer work friend and I have performed this and last week in preparation for the opening of the Childhood Development Center.  After inaugurating the center, there will hopefully be a horde of free labor that can do all our coloring for us, but until then, we work ourselves to the bone.

Wanted: Volunteer interested in Early Childhood Education

Location: Post-Revolutionary Cairo

Job Description:

The volunteer’s only responsibility will be to color, cut, paste, and laminate a variety of shapes and images. Nothing else will be required. Images to be colored range from little fish, flowers, and farm animals, to potato heads, shoes (sneakers), and teddy bears. Occasionally, the volunteer will be given the chance to offer input in other affairs, but this is completely optional.

Qualifications:

Ability to use a wide variety of coloring utensils, such as colored pencils, crayons, and markers (thin tipped). The volunteer MUST be able to determine the appropriate utensil for each project according to time constraints and taste, respectively.

Passion for cutting and pasting precision, as well as a significant amount of cutting and pasting experience.

An appropriate—not extreme–attention to detail, namely the ability to distinguish between different shades of colors (NO COLOR BLIND)

Ability to focus for long periods of time on mindless tasks in a semi to completely silent atmosphere.

Unshakeable faith in the fact that every little bit makes a difference.

Self-deluded that children aged 2-6 will notice the effort an adult human poured into coloring dozens of little fish, etc.

Well developed sitting still abilities, spatial awareness to avoid elbowing people.

Bachelor’s degree in International Relations, Foreign Service, or related field.

Ability to wait patiently to start eating even if everyone is present and the food is sitting right in front of you and you are starving.

Dangers/Risks:

Paper, exacto knife, and scissor edges

Strange thoughts that come as a result of a coloring induced mental state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness

Stickiness of the glue on ones’ hands

The overwhelming desire to sleep at all times

Hunger and/or thirst that will not be immediately satisfied or quenched

Benefits:

Improve fine motor and staying-awake-against-your-will skills

Remember why you never really liked coloring in the first place

Impress people when you tell them you volunteer (conditional upon amount of details given)

Sporadic free lunches and coffee

Scenic walk from the metro station along a dusty, sandy street lined with slimy puddles in Ain Shams

To Apply:

Apply in person. Bring transcript from a western University as well as a coloring sample from the past 2 years. Be prepared to discuss what communal, silent coloring means to you and how it deepens your relationship with children.

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Love Is as Strong as Death

Bad news for you guys

Last week I went through a regrettable period when I was obsessed with discussing love, its meaning, and its ostensible relationship to marriage with anyone and everyone. Unfortunately for the people around me, I was especially interested in muddling myself in others’ affairs by collecting their personal stories and opinions.  Much to the relief of my friends, I am slowly recovering from this bizarre phase. But just as I thought the subject was closed and I had heard everything possible, the other day I spotted a purse on the metro that discussed the subject in a new way.

It’s not unusual to see all kinds of nonsensical, semi-sensical, obscene, hilarious, and otherwise egregious English splattered all across this city on billboards, t-shirts, walls, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t see something ridiculous like a shirt that says “who’s baby is this?” or “living in the lap of subset luxury.” But this bag was a different case: it was a beacon of knowledge that stated, matter-of-fact like and without sequins, that “love is as strong as death.” When I read this as I entered the metro car, I was first startled, then amused, and then pensive as I considered why the statement had made such an impression on me. There must be some kind of truth in it, I thought to myself, as I wrote it down and vowed to analyze it later. Upon completing said analysis, I decided to leave everything else I had learned behind and take this as the one source of truth on love.

Allow me to share what love means. By the way, I realize that the statement only compared the strength of love to death, but I go hard core in my analyses, meaning I ended up comparing love to death.

1. Love is unavoidable.

2. Love is damaging to your health.

3. Love’s grip is as icy cold as the embrace of the grave.

4. Love lasts forever.

5. Love ruins lives.

6. Love ends things.

7. Love brings family members together for occasions at which many of them would rather be apart.

8. Love requires accessories.

9. Love’s real damage comes after the fact.

10. From the moment we are born, we are meant to love.

11. Love does not require talent or skill.

12. Love is a bummer.

13. Love does not play favorites.

14. Love only happens once.

15. Though love is extremely common, it is a very personal experience.

16. The end result of love is always the same.

It’s a deep analysis, to be sure, and the odds I missed anything are slim. But if I did, please feel free to add your two cents and no more.

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An Open Letter to the Youth Who Said He Loved Me

Who’s that girl?

Dear Motorbike-Riding Youth:

First of all, I would like to thank you for shouting “I love you” at me while I was minding my own business on the side of a narrow road in the mid afternoon autumnal heat. For a moment I had forgotten that I was a foreign woman, and you, having clearly never seen a foreigner or a woman before, were so overcome with true love that it inspired an immediate reaction from you that thankfully reminded me of my feminine, alien, identity. Moreover, I am no stranger to similar feelings of passion, especially for pedestrians, and so I completely sympathize with your socially inappropriate utterance.

However, if you would allow me to critique one aspect of your harassment strategy, I would simply like to point out that your outburst of passion occurred just seconds before you passed me as we were going the same direction. This means that you had only seen the back of my person at the moment you realized you had fallen for me. I, of course, am no Scrooge, and would be the last person to deny the possibility of love at first sight. That being said, in common usage first sight usually indicates some sort of eye contact or facial recognition, which then (if successful) progresses onto the collar bone and shoulder region or whatever pleases the parties involved. In contrast, you were brave enough to display your ardor heedless of what might have appeared on the other side.

I heard your zealous declaration first and then saw you zoom past me, as you continued on into the great wide world of Cairo. Before you turned out of sight, however, you must have realized your mistake. You doubted whether you could you actually love me without seeing my face, my features remaining unknown for eternity. Worse yet, what if I was wholly different than expected? Suppose I were actually an Egyptian man wearing a wig and Chacos? What if I had one large walrus tusk and a furry lip? A unibrow and scaly skin? Three eyes, a peg leg, and tentacles for a nose?

You realized quickly that you could not live with this uncertainty, and so turned around while continuing to move forward, all at once holding onto the past, plowing into the future, and throwing yourself into danger. Once you looked back, you saw that I was a foreign woman, just as you had hoped. It no longer mattered whether or not my features could be considered attractive, since they were non-Egyptian and female. You were content with knowing your love had been real, even if the interaction was all too brief. My advice to you for next time is to be careful of who you fall for, since you never know what they might look like.

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