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. :)~



My Videos

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ramadan in Cairo

Ramadan suhoor at local restaurant Il-Gahsh

It’s that time of year again when Cairo finally takes a break from itself.  The city is quieter, and traffic is more predictable.  Taxi drivers make an extra effort not to rip you off, and people go out of their way to be kind.  From the multicolored Christmas lights that adorn mosques and buildings, to the ubiquitous fawanees (Ramadan lamps) that hang from every home and storefront, there is an undeniable mood of festivity in the air. 

It’s Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, during which Muslims fast and abstain from all things vulgar. Well, theoretically at least.  In Egypt, cabarets, casinos, bars and nightclubs close down.  Muslims make an effort to refrain from using profanity, fighting, lying, smoking, and engaging in other un-Islamic activities, one of which is belly dancing. 

Legally speaking, belly dancing is prohibited during the month of Ramadan.  This is because it contradicts Islamic values of female modesty.  In reality, however, some venues continue to hire belly dancers.  These are mainly the Nile cruises, which cater to foreign tourists and can’t afford not to have belly dancing.  Thus, they dodge the “no belly dancing during Ramadan” policy by making the dancer wear a 1-piece Saidi galabiyya and dance with a couple of folklore boys, thereby making her a folklore dancer.





This was the option I was faced with last Ramadan.  I could either perform everyday during Ramadan wearing a galabiyya, or I could take the month off.  Unable to bear the thought of doing a 45- minute show in a galabiyya, I chose the latter.  Though I’m perfectly willing to be a folklore dancer for the second half of my show, I won’t do it for my entire show.  Not for a whole month, and not for $32USD.  It’s bad enough I do my drum solo wearing my galabiyya!  I couldn’t imagine doing my intro in it too. 

The management of the Nile Memphis was not pleased with my decision.  So I excused myself by saying that my choice not to work was based on my desire to respect the religious sensibilities of Muslims during Ramadan.  And that wasn’t completely untrue.  A part of me felt that Egyptians would now see me as super-whore if I danced during Ramadan, and I just didn’t want to deal with that.  Besides, most belly dancers take the whole month of Ramadan off anyway.  For the Egyptian dancers, it’s either out of religious obligation, or, because there’s no work. For the contracted foreign dancers, there simply isn’t enough “folklore” work to warrant them sticking around Cairo.  Most of them take this opportunity to do workshops and visit family abroad. 
Il-Gahsh!
Though I didn’t perform or travel back home last Ramadan, I did find other ways to amuse myself.  One of them was dining at Il-Gahsh, The Little Donkey.  Smack in the middle of Sayidda Zeinab, Il-Gahsh is famous for its Ramadan dinner of fool & ta’3miyya, or fava beans and falafel.  It is, by far, my favorite restaurant in Cairo.  And trust me, I’m being kind when I call it a restaurant.  “Slop joint” is a more accurate description of this place, which would fail the most lenient of health inspections.  But I absolutely love it and would venture to say that no visit to Cairo would be complete without eating there. So let me tell you a little about my love affair with The Little Donkey. :)


video
Local fire-eater entertaining customers at Il-Gahsh :)


It all started last Ramadan when my Egyptian friends invited me to suhur, the 3am dinner right before the break of dawn, when the next day of fasting begins.  The typical Egyptian suhur consists of some variation of foul & ta’3miyya. This is what Il-Gahsh specializes in.  It was thus only logical that we go there.  When we arrived, however, my eyes popped out of my head and I immediately objected to eating there.  For in front of me lay a large outdoor cafeteria surrounded by garbage, donkey dung, flies, and swarms of hungry people.  “Oh my God, you want me to eat here?!?” I asked my Egyptian friends.  “I’m getting food poisoning just looking at this place!”  “Don’t worry,” they told me.  “You’re going to love it!”  And they laughed.   

Sure enough, they were right. Ignoring my better judgment, I sat down with my friends at a makeshift table to eat the biggest feast $5 American dollars could buy. Foul, omelets, bread, different kinds of salads, arugula leaves, babaghanug, and my favorite—a plate full of chunky raw onions. And, believe it or not, there were no unpleasant “after affects.” :)

The best part about the whole experience, however, was the presentation. Sheets of newspaper acted as tablecloth, and we were handed rolls of toilet paper to use as napkins (I wondered if that was any indication of what would happen after the meal :D) Flies buzzed all around us and even landed on our food, some of which was placed directly on the newspaper. And then there was the sweaty waiter whose cigarette was hanging out of his mouth right over the dishes he was carrying. But flies, toilet paper, newspaper and cigarette ashes notwithstanding, the food was out of this world. Tempting, tasty, and typically Egyptian.

Il-Gahsh is simply the best.  Where else could you get away with eating huge chunks of raw onion, leave your table manners at home, and have an entire feast under the most unsanitary conditions without getting sick, all for under $5 USD? 

All joking aside, this place is a goldmine. Hundreds of Egyptians eat there every night during Ramadan. I myself went there at least 10 times last Ramadan, and I’m neither Egyptian nor Muslim. With the amount of money the owner makes during the one month of Ramadan, he probably doesn’t have to work the rest of the year, although he does. With that in mind, I plan on visiting Il-Gahsh quite frequently this Ramadan. So if you find yourself in Cairo this Ramadan, contact me to have suhur at Il-Gahsh together. Happy Ramadan!

7 comments:

  1. I throughly enjoyed your description of the food and the venue! Are you saying that during Ramadan, most dancers just wear the folkloric saidi dress if they choose to dance for tourists at the time. What about the costume you are wearing in the video you posted. That is still considered a bedlah? It seems to have covered most of your and looks more like an evening gown? Thanks

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  2. Glad you liked the post... this clip was shot before Ramadan. No dancer could wear something like this during Ramadan. She needs to wear a saidi galabiyya and cover it up to her neck...

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  3. u said it so clear Luna, just want to add that the art of belly dancing is just offered for tourists and few number of non muslims during Ramadan and it is restricted under certain regulations such as the dress, it is like a break for dancers and viewers. after Ramadan there is a feast and during this feast a lot of hotels makes parties and they include dancing shows.
    Regards,
    Tamer

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  4. Asalamu Alaykom Luna,

    So you are not just a pretty face. Mashallah you are a very good writer as well! I found your blog via the expat site. I have a blog as well. I'll have to read more of yours. Your observations bring a different viewpoint to Cairo than mine as a covered kindergarten teacher. Alhumdulillah, there's room for both of us in Kairo ;) I love Arablish as well :)

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  5. Interesting. I would have thought a belly dance gown would be good enough, but I guess it shows too many curves still. Thanks for sharing all your stories.
    I am very glad you didn't get food poisoning! I had a bad experience eating from a street cart in China and that was not fun at all.

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  6. Yeah food poisoning is never fun... it happens to me every so often here. Lol

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  7. On my last trip to Cairo my friend took me to this same little restaurant. The food was delicious

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