Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Battle for my Heart


Ok so here are some random thoughts that I was contemplating while sitting at a restaurant on the corniche of the Nile with two of my friends.
I leave Cairo on Thursday to go to Luxor and then leave for Amman on Monday.
Man, Time flies. The summer is over and I feel like I just got here.
What is it about Cairo that makes time fly, memories become a blur and days become seconds?
I reflect on my summer in Amman last year and remember thinking that the summer was short, but it was not as short as this one.

Amman was my first love. It was the place where I first fell in love with sheesha and falafel, learnt how to pack tobacco in a sheesha, bought three...well the list goes on.
Amman was also the place where I met the best of people. Practiced my faltering arabic, got laughed at for speaking Fusa (Modern Standard Arabic) and perfected my bargaining skills. And got the perfect haircut.

I will never forget Amman.

But I never imagined that I would even think about replacing my favorite city in the Middle East from Amman to Cairo.

Cairo was too much to swallow when I first came here.

There was just too much going on. It was hard to think in Cairo.

But there was never a dull moment. Concerts, plays, crazy incidents, demonstrations, elections. You name it, Cairo had it going on. In contrast, as Sam so eloquently shows us in his pictures and blogs, Amman was and is pretty much about the royal family. And Oprah. And Dr. Phil.

Oh yeah. I watched a lot of Oprah and Dr. Phil in Amman.

But I don't think I have watched tv for a day in Cairo. There was no need to. Drama and sex, comedy and action, thriller and romance floats in the air of Cairo.

For example, tonight as we sat in this really nice restaurant, listening to a jazz version of ABBA's dancing queen, in walked a girl in a white satin tutu.
Yes, an actual tutu.
It was a spaghetti strap dress, splungingly designed to show off her new, plastic assets, with net hearts with gold sequins adorning her thin waist and a poof of fluff at her knees. She sashayed in wearing a wreath of white daisies in her hair and makeup that would put Marilyn Manson to shame.
She looked like a plastic version of Cleopatra.
She frolicked over to the table next to us with two overweight men and an older woman in a red t shirt and jeans, who was constantly on her phone.
The conspiracy theories about the white dress and its symbolism started to spin.
My friend and I concluded that she was part of an escort service that catered to Gulfi men who desired women in white and the older woman in red was the queen mother of this business. Thats putting in more eloquent words than what we were saying.
After conspiring for 10 minutes, my friend decided to go and ask. It seemed like the most logical thing to do. She asked what the special occasion was for such a lovely dress and the woman replied that she had just gotten engaged and they were out celebrating.
What? Two men? A woman in a tutu? And one in jeans and a red T?
We thought not. But as ABBA crooned about dancing queens and we discarded theory after theory, I thought:

Man, there's always something on in Cairo. And I think I have a different story for everyday.

For example or rather examples, take the Egyptian Taliban taxi driver who animatedly talked about his travels in the north of Pakistan while reciting verses of the Quran and took surreptitious glances at my American friends.
Or the little 6 year old boy who held my hand and told me that Muslim girls should cover their hair and maybe it was okay that I didn't cuz people in Pakistan did not.
Or the crazy french hairdresser who told me that I should not get BUNGS (bangs) because I did not like to dress up my HAAR (hair).
Or drinking tea with grave diggers sitting next to graves, smiling and shaking your head at bedouins as they offer you "cigarettes."
And walking down dark alleys in the shady part of town and finding a little store with boys playing video games and marvelling as the man in the store tells you that the wall you are leaning on is from the Mamluk dynasty.

Yes, Egypt is an enigma. She is the Nile, the pyramids and the people asking for baksheesh (tip) for handing you toilet paper in the bathroom.
Yes, she is Days of our lives, Desperate Housewives and Egypts next top model all meshed into one.

And I don't know if Amman will be able to compare anymore.

Perhaps, I'll find out next week when I head to Amman. But for now, I think I have given my heart to the Mother of the World.

So fickle.


gale said...


You are young, beautiful, bright, and reaching out for all the answers to life. It is ok to be fickle. Continue to open your heart and mind to new things and ideas and beauty.

I bet you never change and that is good. I hope to hear of your life adventures.


Enjoy the trip back to Amman. Your second love?

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Marium, As you well know, Egypt stole my heart a few years ago; and Cairo took another chunk of it these last 2 years. While I also love it here in the States, and "will always be a Westerner" (I wouldn't be able completely to "go native"), part of my heart is in Egypt, and I long to return.
gale, I am far from young, but it doesn't seem to matter, to me.

outspokenarab said...

i'm sorry jill but i must disagree with your statement that living in the Middle East would be "going native." The implications of saying that are so degrading to Arabs.
but I know you meant no disrespect jill.

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

mariam, I offer major apologies. The LAST thing I would want to do is say anything that would be heard as degrading to Arabs. While that wasn't my intent, how things are received is very important to me. Please chide me if I fall/fail again.
I guess perhaps there were 2 things going on: I wasn't refering to that as equalling "living in the Middle East," but rather I was feeling an awareness of how *I* am different. Actually I feel a pull to be in the Middle East. I want to understand cultures better, and of course I have so much to learn.
Secondly, I've just read so many 19th century books, and I think that unfortunate term has a different meaning there, and I meant it somewhat "tongue in cheek." But if something offends, no, that's not what I want to do. I will try to send this email directly to you also, if I can easily find your email.