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, May 4, 2012

The Big Yellow "M"


photoYes, I’m talking about that M.  McDonalds.  The place no self-respecting American traveling abroad would be caught dead in.  We Americans who travel abroad suffer from a sort of “McDonalds complex.”  We are painfully aware that the rest of the world stereotypes us as provincial, untraveled, uncultured cowboys who only speak one language and only eat fast food.  So to prove to the world (and ourselves) otherwise, one of the things we do is avoid eating at McDonalds.  Even when it might be in our best interest.   

I am one of those Americans who suffers from McDonalds complex.  Not just because eating at McDonalds would be an indication of close-mindedness, but because of all of the things the fast food chain has come to symbolize over the years.  Especially here in the Middle East.  As one of the largest corporations in the world, it is a symbol of American economic and cultural hegemony.  It’s thus no wonder that McDonalds restaurants have become a favored target of America-hating violence in the Arab world.   

 
With that in mind, I try to refrain from eating at McDonalds while here in Egypt, or anywhere, for that matter.  Not just because of what it symbolizes, but because it’s also bad food. And, I like experimenting with local foods.  Not to mention, I never ate at McDonalds when I was living in the States.  So why would I pick up the habit now that I’m living abroad?

BECAUSE I’VE LOST TRACK OF THE AMOUNT OF TIMES I’VE COME DOWN WITH FOOD POISONING SINCE I STARTED TRAVELING 8 YEARS AGO, ALL FOR THE SAKE OF NOT BEING AN IGNORANT  McDONALDS-EATING AMERICAN!

So far, I’ve managed to get food poisoning in almost every country I’ve visited.  The latest being Poland.  I’d always dreamed of seeing Poland ever since studying World War II history in high school. So when presented with the opportunity to teach at Suraiya and Mansour’s Euro Raks Festival in Poland, I gladly took it.  No sooner had I stepped off the plane than I ate something I shouldn’t have, and before I knew it, I found myself running for the toilet.  

What happened was that I had a 9 hour layover in Warsaw before heading to the city of Katowice, where the Euro Raks Festival was being held.  In all my touristic enthusiasm, I wandered around the city until it was time to catch my connecting flight.  Admittedly, I don’t speak a word of Polish, nor did I know anything about the sites I was seeing, but it didn’t really matter.  I was just happy to be soaking in the cool, crisp, Polish air, and to be seeing such vivid colors all around me, especially green!  (It’s been a while since I’ve seen that color.)  I was especially intrigued by all the beautiful architecture…and the churches! I’m not religious or anything, but seeing the churches imbued me with a sense of calm that I haven’t felt for a while.  It was such a nice feeling that I thought I’d intensify it by actually entering one of them.  And intense it was.  For no apparent reason, I suddenly found myself awash in tears.  I didn’t know what I was crying about.  Or why I was crying in the church of St. John the Baptist in Poland, of all places.  Especially since I haven’t cried for a loooong while now.  It was the first time I had stepped in a church in years though.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  

Be that as it may, I collected myself and continued touring around the beautiful city until I got hungry.  Things went downhill from there.  There was a big yellow “M” staring right at me.  Beckoning me.  If only I knew it at the time.  Instead, I chose to eat at a Polish restaurant, and bravely ordered some pea soup with a side of kielbasa, and some spinach and cheese dumplings.  I don’t usually eat pork.  Not for religious reasons, but because I don’t like it very much.  But hey, what’s a trip to Poland without a little kielbasa?  And what’s the point of leaving Cairo without doing all the things you can’t easily do there, like eat pork, drink beer, and walk around half naked?  So the infidel in me went for the pork. 

And then, God punished me.  He sent me straight to the bowels of hell—or rather, sent hell straight to my bowels!  In the airplane toilets of my connecting flight to Katowice, no less.  If you’ve never experienced it, let me be the first to tell you that there is nothing worse than having the runs 30,000 feet above sea level. It’s bad enough AT sea level, let alone at those altitudes!

As is my luck, the food poisoning got progressively worse during the night and into the next day, on which I was scheduled to teach.  I was totally dehydrated, in pain, exhausted, and starving, and started thinking about switching my teaching time slot with someone who had a workshop later that week.  It sounded easy enough, but apparently that would have been a logistical nightmare.  So I was faced with one choice: either cancel the class completely and totally waste my opportunity, or, show up and teach that class, even if it were the last thing I did.  I chose the latter.  Being the amazing hosts that they were, Suraiya and her husband Mansour pumped me up with Stoperan, or “Stop-a-run,” as I like to call it (:D), a popular anti-diarrhea medicine in Poland.  I took as many of those as humanly possible, hoping my problem would clear up before my class.  

No such luck.  In fact, I actually wound up throwing up just an hour before my class.  At that point, any other sane person would have probably cancelled their workshop.  But not me.  I jumped in the shower (again), slapped on some makeup, and hauled my @ss to class.  

What happened thereafter was nothing short of a miracle.  I taught my high-energy modern entrance piece successfully, to a roomful of beautiful, talented, and remarkably sweet young women.  They had already heard that I was sick, so they knew to be patient with me.  They even brought me a tray full of cookies, and joked about the irony of me leaving Cairo only to get sick in Poland!  Between the cookies, their kindness and laughter, I was able to make it through the class, dizzy spells notwithstanding.  Praise be to the Lord who punished me for eating pork! ;D

Moral of the story.  I should have eaten at McDonalads.  There are just sometimes when it pays to be small-minded, provincial, and unabashedly American, and go with the tried, true and tested.  Especially when your alternatives include fois gras (forced-fed geese), kielbasa, wienerschnitzel, mumbar (stuffed intestines), fried bull brains, fried bull balls…  For all its bad points, at least you always know what you’re going to get at McDonalds.  And you never get sick from eating a Big Mac (unless it features rat! >D).  Guilt feelings, yes.  Food poisoning, no.  

This experience has taught me one more thing.  Locating the nearest McDonalds upon visiting a strange country is just as important as locating the American embassy.  In times of crisis, both could be lifesavers.  In fact, I feel so strongly about this now that I think little yellow “M”s should take their place on tourist maps alongside the little museum, church, and hospital icons. :)  

Indeed, I distinctly remember one other time when I could have really used a McDonalds.  It was when I was in a hospital in Syria 5 years ago.  Only, there are no McDonalds in Syria. 

At the tail end of my 2 month study-stay in Damascus, I visited my Syrian-American ex-boyfriend’s family in Idlib.  I don’t remember what I ate, but it must have been pretty bad, because the next thing I knew, I wound up in the local hospital with a fever, totally dehydrated, and delirious after 24 hours of nonstop diarrhea (with Turkish toilets, to make matters worse).  The doctor informed me that my only option would be to take this abnormally huge, indisposeable needle in my rear.  Taking note of the panic on my face, he pushed me over on my side and held me down to inject the needle.  Only, I resisted.  We continued pushing and shoving each other until my ex’s sisters, who were watching this interaction, felt bad for me and dragged me into the bathroom (which also had Turkish toilets).  

Not willing to risk getting AIDS on account of that needle, the only thing left for me to do was induce vomiting and get the poison out of my system.  Easier said than done.  I’d never done that before, and was too scared to try.  So his sisters offered me their fingers!  Um, no…though I appreciated the gesture. Wanting to end that ordeal as quickly as possible, I engaged my 2 fingers and got on with it, in front of the two women.  Disgusting and embarrassing.  

Here in Egypt, it’s quite easy to get food poisoning too.  Although it’s the water that’s usually the culprit.  But since I never drink tap water and almost always cook, I don’t usually get sick the way I used to when I first visited Egypt 7 years ago.  Plus, I’ve probably become immune to more than I think.  Here, I never utter the word McDonalds unless I’m referring to it as a landmark, or a place in front of which to meet.  

Ok, ok.  That’s not completely true. I admit to feeling a sort of “craving” for a Big Mac every now and then.  I think it means I’m homesick though.  Not becuase I eat the stuff back home.  But because it’s become such a symbol of everything that’s American, that it’s like eating a piece of America itself.  This, plus sobbing whenever you hear Whitney Houstin, Celine Dion, or Madonna being played in a taxi or coffee house, is a sure sign that you’re homesick and need to do something about it. :)  

The best thing about McDonalds here in Egypt though, is that they deliver—to your table and your house!  It’s not exactly fast food, as the service is quite slow, but all you have to do is order at the counter, take a seat, and wait for a waiter to bring you your meal.  Or, dial a special code from your mobile, and wait for a McDonalds delivery man to bring you your Happy Meal on a special red McDonalds motorcycle.  The McMotor. :)  

And, I can’t believe I just wrote an entire blog post about McDonalds.  They should be paying me for this! 

4 comments:

  1. I felt I really copped out last week in Cairo when at the airport I ate at McDonalds - but it was cheap and fast and not many alternatives anyway :-)

    I always love your blog posts. Keep writing Luna. You have a big fan here who reads every one of them in Singapore!

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    1. Thanks for reading MeiLing! I know what you mean about feeling like copping out. But who knows? You may have prevented yourself from getting food poisoning. :)

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  2. So sorry that you've got food poisoning in Poland. But please don't think it's normal in our restaurants etc. I don't eat kielbasa and other pork and meet products couse I'm vege but lot's of people eat and nothing happens. But in McDonald' food is horrible in my opinion;) Sooo much preservatives and chemia...and everything with same taste. I was feeling sick several times after eating in McDonald and I know people, who had real food poisoning after that;P But generally I agree, Mc in safer sometimes.
    Instead of this, hope you had nice time in Poland and you want came back becouse your workshop and performance were great :)
    Kisses from Poland:)

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    1. Thank you so much! Yes I know McDonald's food is not healthy. That's why I rarely eat there. But I don't usually get sick from it. I get food poisoning a lot, actually, not just in Poland. I looooved Poland and the people and the scenery, and would love to come back soon. Glad you enjoyed my workshop and performance.

      Love & light,
      Luna

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