by Luna

by Luna

Luna

Luna

Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~



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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Egyptian Uprising 2011

This is an account of how I experienced the political events of Friday, January 28th, 2011, aka “Friday of Wrath.”   I apologize to my readers for not providing any images to accompany my story.  Though I had originally intended to photograph the protests, I quickly changed my mind as I experienced the day.  The acts that I witnessed were so unconscionable that I felt it would be unethical to capture them on film and slap them all over Facebook.  Besides, the media does a good enough job of capturing people at their worst.  They get paid for that.  I don’t.

Friday of Wrath
It was 1pm, and I had just woken up.   As I laid in bed, my thoughts drifted to the Nile Memphis, the floating restaurant on which I'm contracted to dance.  My band and I were scheduled for three trips across the Nile that day, totaling six shows.  But would they happen?   The country was supposed to have erupted into massive anti-government demonstrations, and I couldn't imagine business running as scheduled. 
Not knowing whether the silence of my 13th floor bedroom meant that there were no demonstrations, I picked up my mobile to call my manager.  After several attempts, I could not get through.  There was no phone reception, and no way for me to call anyone.  The Egyptian government had cut off all lines of communication, including land phones and the internet in a last ditch attempt to prevent protestors from mobilizing in Tahrir Square.


A pang of angst shot through my stomach.  The government controls the internet?!  The last time I experienced anything like this was on 9/11 in New York City, and that was one scary day. To make matters worse, my television set was broken and both of my roommates were not home.  I was all alone in my apartment with no access to information.

My thoughts were interrupted by the drone of chanting protestors passing by the main street in front of my apartment building. I ran to the living room and poked my head out the window to see what was happening.  There were hundreds of protestors, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
After watching this episode, I instinctively knew that work would be cancelled.   Who would cross the city under these circumstances to watch belly dancing (or to belly dance, for that matter!)?  Even if it was business as usual, I would certainly be excused for not showing up. That was logical, but then again, this is Cairo.  :)  So I prepared myself for work.  Truth be told, I had no desire to dance.  I was too distracted by the more important political events underway.  What I really wanted was to be with others and have access to a television, which I could accomplish by going to the boat. 
Not knowing how events would unfold or whether I’d be able to return home later that night, I took my puppy, Boreo, and packed some food for him.  Suitcase, purse, and dog in hands, I left my building and hailed a cab. The route that I normally take to work was unusually empty that day.  In fact, the most I had seen on my way was a horde of army officers armed with what looked like clear body-length plastic shields standing in front of the Giza Zoo.  Until, that is, we got off the Ring Road and stopped in front of the boat.  There, we saw thousands of angry protesters walking in the opposite direction. They were holding anti-Mubarak signs and chanting anti-regime slogans.
In all my years, and with all the countries I’ve visited, I had never seen so much organization, nor had I ever expected to see it in Cairo, the chaos capital of the world.
As soon as I got out of the cab, I saw the boat coming in to dock.  As it was docking I could see a panicked frenzy on the faces of the staff workes who were standing on the sundeck.  They were screaming and signaling the captain to pull away again.  Apparently, a mob of angry protesters were hurling Molotov cocktails at the boat and trying to invade it.  And they were standing five feet behind me!  The captain started sailing away as I began running toward the boat, and by the time I was close enough, I had to jump two feet to board.
I made my way up to the sundeck where the rest of the staff had congregated.  I looked for my band, but the only members I found were my singer and the duff player.  The rest of the band did not make it.
In utter silence, we fixed our eyes on the Cairo skyline, which had gone up in flames and smoke. Wherever we looked, we saw military posts on fire, burning, overturned cars, and swarms of protesters filling the streets from every direction. The smell of smoke permeated the air, as did the sound of sirens. It truly was the Friday of Wrath; more of a war than a protest.
After an hour of drifting on the Nile, the protestors cleared out of the area and the traffic started to flow, but smell of smoke still filled the air. The sun had begun to set, and I went down to the office to watch the news.  No sooner had the boat manager turned on the television than the government announced that it was imposing a 6pm curfew.  Whoever would be caught on the streets after that time would be at the mercy of the Egyptian security forces.
Once again, everyone broke into a panic.  It was now 15 minutes to curfew, and though there were more than 30 workers on board, we only had one car. Being that I was the only woman (and foreigner) present, the manager decided that the owner of the car should drive me home.  All the others would have to stay on the boat overnight.
There was fire as far as the eye could see, and I didn’t think it was possible or safe to get home in 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, I was right. The ride home was a scene straight out of a horror movie, and I didn’t know whether I’d live to see another day.
As I was hurrying off the boat to get into the car, I bumped into my keyboard player.  With curfew just ten minutes away, I convinced him to ride in the car with me, the driver and another staff member.  We immediately encountered an untangle-able web of traffic.  It was what Cairo traffic normally looks like, but this time people looked scared.  Bands of young men roamed the streets beaten up and bleeding. Drivers were wriggling their way out of the traffic, each one contributing to the cacophony of incessant horn-honking.  Everywhere we looked, something was on fire.   And there we were, at a grid-locked intersection, figuring out how to get me home to Doqqi.
Finally one of the roads opened up and we were moving.  It was past curfew but eerily enough, there was no military or police presence.  There were, however, huge rings of flames just a few feet ahead of us, which intimidated all the cars into turning right back around.  Not wanting to get stuck at that intersection again, I urged the driver to drive through the flames as fast as he could.  As scary as it was, I knew it was possible—my past experience of driving through hoops of fire having taught me this.  (Only the last time, Egyptians burned the streets in celebration of Egypt’s victory over Algeria in the 2010 African Cup!)
Fortunately, we emerged from that conundrum alive and emboldened. We continued driving down an empty road only to find ourselves drowning in a sea of honking cars. This time, it seemed, there was no way out.
At this point, my stomach was in knots.  The city had broken into mayhem and the sounds of gunshots could be heard everywhere.  Mobs of young men were roaming the streets and attacking cars for no reason.  Most conspicuously, not a single police officer was in sight.  Where had all the police that normally patrolled Cairo’s streets gone?  Where was the army to fight back and put down the resistance?
The driver was growing impatient and started wedging his way through the traffic until we found ourselves in Sayyeda Aisha, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in all of Cairo. Before we could make it out of this neighborhood, the car hit a massive stone and then bottomed out into a pothole.  As the driver was trying to oust the car out from the hole, I felt a strong wave of fatigue overtaking my body.  I grew lightheaded and found it difficult to stay awake.   I didn’t know what was happening to me until the man in the backseat, who was profusely tearing, said we hit a patch of tear gas. 
As groggy as I was, I knew enough to panic, for now I understood my fatigue was a result of the tear gas, and that I might pass out any minute.  I grew even more scared thinking that the others in the car were experiencing the same effects and would pass out with me.  Then we’d all be out cold in the middle of Sayyida Aisha, prey to robbers and murderers.   I began praying frantically that God get us out of there.  All the while, I was losing consciousness.   I then looked at the driver and found him similarly incoherent.  This frightened me so much that I was able to momentarily overcome my grogginess and start shaking him violently.  I screamed at him to step on the gas pedal hard and fast before we all passed out.  Luckily, he listened to me, and the car flew out of the rut. 
Growing groggier by the second, I fought the urge to sleep by screaming directives at the driver.  I was successful, and as soon as we reached a patch of fresh air, I held my head out the window and inhaled as much as possible.  Apologizing to the driver for screaming at him, I suggested we seek shelter at the nearest mosque or church.  We would be safe there, far from the fires, mobs and tear gas.  Instead of heeding my advice, however, the driver just continued to drive in whatever direction was free of roadblocks, mobs and fires—for three hours!   We passed through almost every part of Cairo, which was ablaze in the Friday fires of wrath. 
We finally made it onto 6th of October Bridge, which would lead us straight into Doqqi.  We were shocked however, that for miles, we were the only ones on the bridge.  Fifteen minutes later, we found out why.  We hit another patch of tear gas, this one worse than the last.  I was quickly slipping into sleep mode, and panicked again—this time because a mob surrounded our car and tried to flip it over! 
This is it, I thought.  It ends here.  I didn’t think we’d make it out of this one alive.  What a way to go.  Thousands of miles away from home, pursuing my dream to dance.  Why did it have to end this way?
And then, I had another boost of adrenaline.  In spite of my drowsy stupor, I managed to shake the driver and force him to forge ahead at full speed, not worrying about hitting anyone.  Our lives were in danger and we had a right to save ourselves.   As soon he accelerated, the mob scattered and we continued on the bridge until we arrived in front of my apartment building.
I was so relieved to be home, and alive!  But I didn’t feel safe knowing that there was no police or military presence in the streets, and that I’d be home alone.  My bawab (doorman) informed me that looting had already begun in many parts of the city and that those wreaking havoc were armed with guns.  That would explain why he and other doormen in my building were arming themselves with metal rods and wooden sticks.  Some men in the neighborhood were even chopping down trees to make wooden weapons.  I thus thought it would be wise to have a man in the house, so I asked my keyboard player to stay with me.  My bawab began to protest, as this was a violation of “the rules” (we have a strict “no-Egyptian-men-in-the-house-EVER rule,” which is many Egyptian landlords’ way of paying lip service to Islamic values of gender segregation).   Regardless, I walked right past him and entered the elevator with him, knowing that this time, he couldn’t threaten me with calling the police.
My keyboard player and I stayed up for the remainder of the night listening to gunfire.  We watched from the living room window as men were shooting and being shot.  It was like watching an action movie, from 13 stories high.  I wondered when the army would be deployed to put an end to the looting and shooting.  And I wondered what tomorrow would bring.  More of the same?  Compromise between the protesters and the regime?  Perhaps a coup?  Nobody knew, or even expected this to happen in the first place.  After all this, I could only hope that Egyptians would get what they were fighting for.   

2 comments:

  1. what an horrible experience , i was the the protesters, in haram street until gizah ,, but didn't make it to tarir square , but my brother does, and get back with wounded eye

    thank God that we begin to gain what we were screaming by, at least our killed and wounded people didn't get that for nothing
    and thank God for your safety

    ReplyDelete
  2. SinA , sorry about your brother, but yes, I'm happy Egyptians are finally starting to make some progress. Hope everything turns out for the best. :)

    ReplyDelete