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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Flying High...

…well, more like drunk.  But hey, it’s been a while since I’ve consumed alcohol. Alcohol just isn’t a priority when you live in Egypt—a relatively dry country (pun intended).  At least for me it’s not.  And what better way to celebrate my coming back to Brooklyn than by drinking cranberry and vodka on the flight home? :)
I’ll admit, I’m a lightweight.  That’s because I rarely drink.  It only took one cup of the stuff to blur my already blurry vision and make me giggle out loud while watching “Aasal Eswed.”   “Aasal Eswed,” is an Egyptian comedy which translates as “Sour Honey.”  It satirizes the oftentimes repugnant ways in which Egyptians treat each other by juxtaposing it with the royal treatment they bestow on foreigners.  The protagonist is Egyptian actor Ahmed Hilmy, who returns to Cairo to work as a photographer after living in the United States for 20 years.  Intent on “going native,” Ahmed deliberately leaves his American passport in the States and proudly identifies himself as Egyptian.  The film progresses by showing all the unnecessary hassles he endures because of this.  From taxi drivers to authorities to horses(!), no one treats Ahmed the way he expects to be treated as an Egyptian.

Two things make this movie hilarious.  The first is that it’s entirely realistic!  I personally have either experienced or witnessed everything that happens to Ahmed (including the Pyramid horses that won’t budge for anyone except their Beduin owners!).  The second thing is watching how this person who thinks he’s Egyptian fend for himself on the streets of Cairo, when it’s obvious that he’s really just a clueless outsider.  

But the point of this post isn’t how Egyptians treat each other.  The point is what happens when you return to your home place after leaving it for any significant amount of time--about how you don’t quite “fit in” anymore.  Even in a place as cosmopolitan and accommodating as New York City. 
The minute I got off the plane, I felt exactly like the protagonist in “Aasal Eswed.”   Like Ahmed, I had been romanticizing my home place (though I come back every 6 months or so, I get homesick easily).  I was imagining all the food, people and places I miss.  Coney Island, pizza, Times Square, disgusting Chinese food… The clean, crisp, cold air.  The freedom.  The memories.  I was even enjoying the 5:00pm “bumpa-ta-bumpa” rush-hour traffic on the Belt Parkway.  
And then, I went to see my father, the person most upset about my performing career in Egypt.  Things went downhill from there.  Not because he wasn’t happy to see me.  Quite the contrary.  He was so ecstatic to see me back home in one piece that he paraded me around the neighborhood showing me off to both old and new faces.  The neighbors, the hairdresser, the manicurist, the restaurant staff, the valet parking guy.  The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. :)  Mind you, I was starved, exhausted, dehydrated, desperately in need of a toilet, and still wearing my stage makeup from the previous night’s performance at the Nile Memphis! The last thing I wanted to deal with was a father half-jokingly introducing me as “my daughter, the Egyptian belly dance star and Harvard graduate.”  Nor was I in any mood to look down on all the faces staring up at me in bewilderment (I am rather tall when I wear my 5 inch Aldo platforms), or entertain their ridiculous comments.
“Welcome to America.” 
“So you like living out there in Egypt?” 
“What’s the matter?  You don’t like this country anymore?” 
“We saw all your videos on the Internet.  Wow, you’re such a talented dancer.” 
“So you speak Egyptian now, huh?” 
“What are you, an Arab lover or something?”
“Don’t they treat women like shit there?”
“So what’s been keeping you out there so long?  You can do belly dancing here, can’t you?  You know your father said he’d buy you a dance studio, then you could teach your heart out and make lots of money.”
Thank you Brooklyn.  Really.  But the language is called “Arabic,” not “Egyptian.”  And no thanks, I won’t settle for belly dance teacher in America.  I’m a belly dance “star” in Egypt, as my father says. :)  Yes, they treat women like “shit” there, but they do everywhere now don’t they?  Arab lover?  Um? I’m a Republican just like you, but an educated one.  As for how I feel about this country, I love it to death.  Perhaps more than you do.  I love everything it stands for and preaches (if not practices :D). Because unlike you, I don’t take it for granted.  I know what it’s like to live in parts of the world where American values don’t exist.  I know what it’s like to lie about my career and hide my political views.  I know what it’s like to wear long sleeves and long pants when it’s 120*F outside.  And I’ve become a better person for it.  I have a better understanding of the world and deeper appreciation for America.  And comeon now, “welcome to America”?!?!  That’s soooo Egyptian. 
Note to self.  Change hairdresser.  Seek anonymity.  New York is good for that.
>D
I’m always complaining about how I have to hide my belly dancing in Egypt because people there are generally narrow-minded.  Well, it ain’t much different here either.  Americans make me feel weird when I tell them I’m a belly dancer in Egypt.  “That’s like, Arabic stripping right?”  And why the heck would I choose Egypt over America?  Am I some kind of America-hating left-wing wacko?  So I’ve decided not to talk about it with anyone who doesn’t already know.  It’s a small world, after all.
I was warned that this would happen—by none other than the guy sitting in front of me on the plane.  Like me, he was a native New Yorker who had been living abroad for quite some time.  Ten years in the UK, straight out of the Bronx.  We hadn’t taken notice of each other until the very end of the flight, when still under the influence of the vodka, I giggled at his advice to a British couple to say “cigarette” instead of “fag.”  Which then opened the door to conversation. 
I told him I’ve been living in Egypt for 3 years now, and that I’m a belly dancer there.  Thankfully, he didn’t respond with the usual “wows” and “whys.”  Instead, he said it must be really difficult for me to come back home, being that no one could possibly relate to me and the things I do.  You’re absolutely right, I told him.  Every time I come home, I feel like a sideshow—an alien.  I have nothing in common with anybody anymore.  All my friends are married and/or have kids.  We’ve grown worlds apart.  But what would you know about any of that?  It’s not like living in the UK is so exotic that people in the States can’t relate to you.  Trust me, he said.  It’s not so much about where we live as it is about the fact that we’re not living at home.  Most people just don’t get that.  Even the so-called “liberal” New Yorkers.  He’s right, I thought.  And I already knew that.  But I chose to forget it for the time being because I was so excited to come home and decompress from the stress that is Egypt. 
After my sarcastic welcome back home, I sat down to a nice dinner with my father and grandfather in a restaurant.  Italian, Brooklyn style.  Nobody does Italian food like Brooklyn.  Not even Italy.  Chicken parmesan, penne, and broccoli rabe.  My favorite vegetable.  They don’t have that in Egypt.  One glass of red wine and another of homemade white sangria.  Coming back home does have its advantages. :) 
With all the political commotion going on in Egypt right now, I’ve been entertaining the idea that I may have to come back home more permanently, and sooner than later.  That is, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over.  If that happens, dancing will be one of the first things to be outlawed.  While I could always stay in Egypt and write about the horrors of Islamist government, I refuse to support such a regime with my presence and dollars.  I would thus book the first flight home.  Which has got me thinking… what am I going to do with myself if I leave Egypt? 
The problem is I can’t just leave Egypt.  That’s because I don’t just belly dance.  I have become a belly dancer.  It’s more than just a portable hobby or occupation now.  It’s a way of life.  And it’s addicting.  I spend every waking moment doing something related to dance in some shape or form.  If it’s not performing, it’s training.  If it’s not teaching, it’s choreographing, picking music, or rehearsing with my band.  If it’s not designing costumes, buying fabric, or writing my blog, it’s fighting with someone about some aspect of my career. And I can’t conduct this lifestyle anywhere else in the world.  Nowhere else will I be able to be a belly dancer and producer all around the clock. Well, I guess if Igot into belly dance “fusion” I could live a similar lifestyle in New York, but that’s just not where my head is. 
On the other hand, I can’t stay in Egypt forever.  As much as I’ve grown to love it, there’s just too much going on there culturally and politically that I’ll never agree with.  And as an immigrant, I’ll never fully fit in.  Even though I speak Arabic fluently and have become Egyptian in more ways than one.  I would also like to reproduce someday.  I’d never forgive myself for depriving my kid(s) of the clean environment and good education that I received in the States.   
So where does that leave me?  I don’t quite belong in Egypt, that’s for sure. Nor would I be completely happy in the States.  Belly dance has so totally consumed my life that I actually get depressed when I perform in any New York City venue.  I feel stupid and meaningless doing a 15 minute set to CD or a 1-man band in front of an audience more interested in chicken than in my dancing. 

If I were to extract myself from Egypt before I’m ready to retire from performing, I would probably give up the dance entirely (I’ve never really been good at compromising).  Doing anything that remotely resembles belly dance would remind me of what I left behind in Egypt and cause me too much pain.  I would have to quit and totally reinvent my life.  Try to “be an American” again.  Perhaps take up salsa dancing, or dog breeding, or better yet, get a 9-5.  Which may not be the worst thing in the world, but the thought of it haunts me. A big part of me would die.
The one thing all of this has taught me is that we can’t have everything we want in life.  No matter what we do or where we go, we’re constantly making sacrifices.  Giving up one thing (or many things) to enjoy another.  This happens to all of us.  It’s just a little more obvious in cases such as mine, in which I give up freedom, family, and comfort to pursue my dream of being a belly dancer in Cairo.  If things were different, I would still be making sacrifices.  I’d be living in the USA quite comfortably, but denying my artistic proclivities. 
I’ve also learned how uprooting migration can be.  Though the blood that runs through me will always be red, white and blue, I’ll never be the same American I used to be.  Like Ahmed in “Aasel Eswed,” I’ll never be completely home at home.  I guess that’s a legitimate feeling to have when you’ve immigrated to another country, but it’s another thing when you feel it in your own country.  It’s quite depressing, and sometimes I wish I had never moved to Egypt in the first place.  Then I wouldn’t be having this inner conflict of wanting to live in the States but wanting to do belly dance the right way.  The Egyptian way. 
All of this aside, it feels great to be back home, if only for a short period of time.  And it feels great to take some time off from my hectic performing schedule—especially since I’ve got a bit of tendonitis going on in the hip.  Most of all, I’m so excited to be teaching workshops in the Big Apple and reconnecting with dance friends.  Yet I know that in exactly 2 weeks, I’ll start missing Egypt, my second home.  Then I’ll start trying to figure out what’s “wrong” with me. :O)

13 comments:

  1. Amazing dancing skills , Amazing body , u're extremely sexy ! would love to get to know you im american too and live in alexandria

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  2. If you were forced to come back, you could still continue to share with those of us who haven't had your experiences as a teacher--take that money your dad offered and open that studio! It would never be the same, of course, and yes, fusion is kind of overshadowing all at the moment. But what about doing something like what Yasmina Ramzy has done with her Arabesque Academy, and other dancers like her have done? I believe that the US needs people like that to raise the profile of raqs sharqi in the public eye so that the general public can see it as the multifacted, beautiful and cultural art form that it is. Just my 2 or 4 or 6 cents :-)

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  3. Hi Badriya,
    Thanks for your advice and encouragement. I'm actually toying with a lot of different ideas, just because our future in Cairo is precarious. I agree with you that more people should be working towards raising the profile of raqs sharqi in the States--it's pretty much morphed into something I don't recognize. That being said, if I moved back to the States, I'd probably have to get over my frustration. I know it sounds selfish, and it most definitely is, but I'm not sure I'd be able to continue dancing, at least not immediately. Anyway, gotta take one day at a time and see what will happen in Cairo before I start thinking about the distant future. Thanks again for writing. Kisses from Cairo. :)

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  4. You can have everything you want just not all at the same time ;-) We are all holding our breath to see what happens in Egypt. Donna

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  5. Very true Donna.. inshallah everything will work out for the best.

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  6. Yes luna, it is true all what you felt is true, but the life rule states that to try you have to buy , i mean that if you like sea you will swim and gain more experience, and if you like it but you are fear from so you will stay on the beach without experience, the game is for how long you will be satisfied with what you are doing and what is the alternative chances you have lost in this time , and above all who i am , and what is the main value i lived for? it is an everyday thoughts, a person who loves two places he feel that he is dividing his heart, but it is not impossible to stay belong to both of them, have a nice day http://thelegendofegypt.blogspot.com/

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  7. You're absolutely right Mohamed. We'll see what life throws me.

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  8. Luna, you know the dreamers law is telling you "go as far as you can see and when you get there you will be able to see farther" and you are a dreamer you always looking forward like many people, but sometimes which unfortunately happened to me (in minor situation) you are dreaming and working for something you see great and finally you discovered that it is not deserve, one old man was an artist told me one time that he was super star from 10 years ago and no no body treat him like they used to treat him in the past, but when a new stars appears and the man profile starts to move down everything changed even the people surrounding him changed, he was suffering deeply from this bad feelings, finally he told "i throw the seed to the land and i have got nothing", so i learned this lesson in my life " i have to work regarding to the value not regarding to the interest"

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  9. Hi Luna! I came from Bhuz to your blog today. I'm an American living in Japan and I do feel the same as you (although I don't know what's worse, political unrest or radiation concerns!). I can't just uproot my life here in Japan, it's not so easy. And even though I have come to really appreciate my own country, I wouldn't be the same. I'm more different now than I was in school, and I was different! I dream about doing the same as you, even of its just 3 months, but it's hard to think of what to do!

    In short, I feel you.

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    1. Hi Ella, thanks for your comment. Living in Japan must be awesome, but as you said, I'm sure it presents challenges that make you ask how much longer you can put up with living there (though I'm not sure anything tops Egypt in this department! lol). Keep following your dreams and see where life leads you next, if it's Egypt or somewhere else, or heck, even back to the States. :) All the best, Luna

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  10. An American republican Harvard graduate belly dancer in Cairo, what the f*ck?! Are you kidding me, who did u piss off to get to this point? Don't do this shit, plz leave Egypt, u will regret living here. Or u living here since it's one of the only places u can afford? Well either way, u should leave cuz Egypt is gonna go down the drain pretty soon. U should go back to NY and be a belly dancer there so you can be safe. Just thought I'd give you a few words of wisdom before shit hits the fan here, take care and be safe.

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    1. Thanks for your response, but I'd like to edit your wisdom. Egypt has already gone down the drain. I'm surprised you haven't noticed that being that you live here (at least I'm assuming you do by your use of the word 'here'). But I'm doing quite well despite the fact that I live in the sewer. As for the shit hitting the fan, that's how we can describe what's happening and what will continue to happen in the United States. It is not pretty over there right now, and I expect things to get uglier. Actually I've seen this coming for a while now, way before the appearance of Trump on the political scene. Anyway, I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing where I'm doing it. And no, I don't have any regrets.

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