by Luna

by 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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Friday, January 11, 2013

Touch of Life

An "ambassador" greeting us at TOL. :)
It’s no secret that animal cruelty is endemic in Egypt.  Anyone who has been here can tell you that.  From dogs to donkeys, cats to cows, it’s almost impossible not to witness an act of cruelty or neglect on a daily basis.  I know this isn’t unique to Egypt, and that cruelty to animals exists all over the world.  But the sheer magnitude and visibility of the problem here is overwhelming.  In fact, it’s so commonplace that many Egyptians don’t even consider it to be an issue.  Like sexual harassment, it’s a fact of life, not a “problem.” 
Examples of brutality to animals include but are not limited to: senselessly beating donkeys that are too “stupid” to obey their masters; beating, torturing, poisoning and shooting stray dogs; spraying toxic chemicals on dogs and cats causing them blindness; starving “work animals” such as donkeys, horses, and cows; transporting hordes of cattle, sheep, and donkeys in pickup trucks.  I’m sure there are other examples of abusive acts, but I’m incapable of imagining them. 

Petting a baby donkey at the shelter.
There are many reasons why such things happen.  The biggest and simplest is that there’s no one to stop people from injuring or killing animals, let alone throw them in jail if they do.  Though there are laws criminalizing animal abuse, nobody knows about them, and they are rarely, if ever, enforced.  Abusers can therefore get away with murder (quite literally), and they know that.  Another reason is widespread ignorance, especially when it comes to animals.  A large segment of the population has no formal education and is illiterate.  And while some of these people are kind to animals, the overall result of such ignorance is a culture that fears and hates animals.  

Additionally, there are people who kill animals as a form of pest and population control.  If there’s a noisy stray dog in the neighborhood, or if cats keep entering a building, killing them is the easiest way for people to get rid of the nuisance.  Even the government has been known to engage in killing sprees from time to time.  And lastly, it is my belief that the collective pent up frustrations of Egyptian society results in individuals mistreating animals, not to mention sometimes women, children, and even each other.

The cats (and dog) of TOL. <3
Though the situation here is bleak, there are a handful of animal shelters sprinkled around the country.  Most of them rescue injured animals.  Some offer adoption services, as well as pet boarding.  Some specialize in cats and dogs, some in horses and donkeys, and others in all animals.  What they all have in common though, is that they are overburdened and underfunded.  I know because when my $h!thead landlord threatened to kill the pregnant dog thatwas sleeping in our apartment building, I called every organization I could find to ask if they could take her.  All of them responded in the negative.  Unless the dog was sick or injured, they wouldn’t take her.  In danger didn’t count.  That’s why I brought the dog and her puppies up to my apartment.  There was no other choice.  

As it happened, rescuing the five dogs got me evicted.  Which is fine because I hate—I repeat—H.A.T.E. my landlord.  He’s proven to be a hypocrite and a liar, and loves making me feel like an infidel.  Furthermore, he’s always making threats of violence, directed both at the dogs and at myself.  He must think his old age and his prayer scar (zabeeba) excuse him.  So it’s better I leave before I wage a holy war on him.  

With respect to the puppies, my eviction is not a problem.  I’ve found homes for each one of them in the US with belly dancers, and they’ll be flying out this week.  The problem was with their mother, Kelba.  What would I do with her?  I couldn’t hold on to her, because it was her barking that got me evicted in the first place (along with the “fact” that dogs prevent angels from entering the building).  And, no other prospective landlord would allow me to keep a dog.  On the other hand, I couldn’t just throw her back in the street.  I knew she would die, most likely at the hands of my landlord, or maybe get hit by a car or tortured by some stupid kid.  It would have been nice to get her adopted, but I knew that was a long shot, since she’s not a puppy.  Having hit a dead end, the only thing left to do was call all the animal shelters again, tell them my sob story, and beg them to take my dog.  Even if it meant I had to pay.  Even if it meant I had to spay.    

Touch of Life Animal Shelter
Luckily for me and the dog, one shelter agreed to take her.  It’s called Touch of Life (TOL), and it’s run by a French woman who’s been living in Egypt for 15 years.  After explaining my situation, Anushka graciously agreed to accept Kelba, but under one condition.  I would have to get her neutered.  The next day, I took Kelba to the vet and had her ovaries removed (this was heartbreaking for me, as I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of neutering pets, but it was either that or throw her in the street).  The day after, my friends and I brought her to the shelter, which is located in the Shobramant district of Giza.  Just a little ways past the pyramids, Shobramant is a rural area with lots of green pastures, and is home to most of the animal shelters in Cairo.  It’s clean and quiet, and a perfect place to care for animals.

As we drove into the shelter, we were greeted by some dogs, donkeys, a cat and a goat (Anushka calls them her ambassadors :D).  All of them were friendly, and curious to meet Kelba, who was sitting in the backseat.  The dogs jumped up on our windows, while the loan black cat crawled into the car and started eating Kelba’s food! :)  She didn’t mind though, as she was still feeling the effects of the previous day’s anesthesia.  Then Anushka came out to greet us and show us around.  

Magid overwhelmed by the animals!
Touch of Life Shelter consists of a large white villa encircled by lots of grass.  There is a large caged outdoor area for the dogs, another smaller one for two or three vicious dogs, and plenty of grazing space for the animals that have attained ambassador status.  (Speaking of which, I was dumbfounded by how nicely the different species interacted with each other.  Dogs played with donkeys ate with goats, etc.  It made me wonder why humans can’t get along the way animals do.  I came to the conclusion that it’s because animals don’t have ideologies and “religions” to divide them.  

The actual villa (which is furnished!) is for the cats—all 200 of them—and two dogs.  Needless to say, it doesn’t smell too pretty in there.  But the cats are free to come and go as they please, eating, playing, sleeping and eliminating whenever they want, wherever they want.  All of them are rescues.  Many of them have health issues, or else have been tortured.  One cat had a broken limb.  Another’s tail had been chopped off.  And one poor little kitty had both his eyes gouged out.  I hope the person who did that descends into the deepest layer of hell.  If there’s no such thing as hell, I hope the gods make one especially for him/her.  

Anushka knows all their stories and all their names.  She even knows when they came to her shelter, which is three years old now.  Most impressively, she loves these creatures as if they were her own.  And the love is reciprocated.  I could tell by the way the cats climbed all over her while she was standing. :) 

I asked Anushka why she thinks animal cruelty is so widespread in Egypt.  Her answer was “bad blood,” and she wasn’t referring to the animals.  I’ll repeat no more of what she said, though I don’t discount her theory. 

A TOL volunteer feeding the cats.
Anushka isn’t running the whole show by herself, however.  While giving us a tour of the facilities, she explained that she had a dedicated staff of volunteers helping her out.  They are mostly Sudanese. She says she prefers it that way because Egyptian volunteers always wind up stealing from the shelter.  

The shelter and its staff work strictly off of donations.  The government doesn’t fund them, and it takes about a year for any donations coming from outside the country to reach the shelter (thanks to the whole issue with NGOs, foreign funding, and “spies” last year).  Basically, this means that TOL, like other shelters, is underfunded.  They lack the resources to care for the animals as best as they could—something Anushka admitted to me.  She said they can’t afford proper dog food, and instead feed the dogs a mixture of chicken and meat bones, bread, and carrots. :/  A lot of the cats were on the skinny side too.

Kelba <3
Once I heard that, I started having second thoughts about leaving Kelba there.  She was already sickly skinny, her ribs were showing, and she needed to eat.  Though I had fed her generously whiles she was with me, she had worms, so she never put on any weight.  Plus, she had been nursing. The last thing I wanted was for her to starve, so I thought to take her and do an about face.  My friends quickly knocked some sense into me though, reminding me that the only other option was to throw her in the street, and pointing out that the other dogs, although skinny, didn’t look miserable.  So I decided to leave Kelba there, but promised myself I would take her back if I found an apartment that allowed dogs, or if I moved back to the States.  If neither of those happened, I would put Kelba up for adoption in the States.  (If you would like to take her, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  She’s sweet, good-natured, loves people and other animals, is neutered and has all her vaccinations.  And the vet said she’s only 2 years old.   Please give this poor doggie a new chance at life, if you can.  She’ll be much better off with you than in Egypt.)

A farmer seeking treatment for his cow.
It was time to leave the shelter and get ready for work, but not before giving them a donation.  My friends and I also decided to volunteer there once a week, and do some fundraising.  I’ll also be collecting all the leftover chicken and meat from the Nile Memphis to feed the dogs and cats.  
If you don’t live in Egypt but would like to help, there’s a few things you could do.  You could donate to the organization.  You can raise awareness about TOL and about animal cruelty in Egypt by sharing TOL’s Facebook page as well as this blog post.  You could organize dance haflas and send the proceeds to TOL or to any of the other animal shelters for that matter (see links to organizations below). You could also adopt a dog or a cat if it’s within your means (contact me for more info about that).   

I know a lot of people would question importing an animal as opposed to adopting one from a local American shelter.  But I would answer that even the animals in American shelters are much better off than their counterparts in Egypt.  Adopting a cat or dog from Egypt would be doing a huge act of kindness, and in some cases, saving the animal’s life.  

Thank you all for reading and considering helping out.  The more we get the word out, the better it is for the animals.  

To learn more about Touch of Life Animal Shelter, click here.

You can also contact Caroline Evanoff.  Caroline is a beautiful person and dancer who's been working in Cairo for the past 15 years, and is intimately familiar with the animal rescue scene here. 

 And here is a list of other animal organizations in Egypt with their links: