Sunday, July 22, 2007

Resorting to the Canadians


Canada came to our rescue the other day.

Yup. Canada. Who wud've thought?

But I guess the situation called for those peace loving, culture sponging, not such a big army (the Canadian army?) country.

The Friday market is an event in Cairo that takes place in the City of the Dead, which is a mini "city" inside Cairo. But this is a city that consists of five cemeteries. Cemeteries that existed for centuries before the overpopulation of Cairo. They were virtually left alone, with no inhabitants except for grave diggers and tomb makers. I mean come on, they were and still are graveyards.
But since Cairo decided to become the mother of 18 million people, she has finally had enough. She opened her gates to the hallowed areas of graves and tombs and said, "Move."

And people did.

To this date 5 million of Cairo's inhabitants live in the cemeteries. Alive and kicking.
But the city is not just home to dead people and living people. It is also the infamous location of the Friday Market. A place where you can find toilet seats, bathtubs (all stolen of course-from where, I don't know and I didn't ask), snakes (yup, real slimy snakes), dogs, turtles, fish, clothes and food. Big, bustling, rowdy and sweaty, that market was a crazy mess. And full of men.
Lots and lots of men.
As a journalist, the City of the Dead is probably an ideal location for a story. I mean who wouldn't want to read, see and learn about this completely fascinating city? So one of the stories I have to complete on the fulbright program is on the City of the Dead and the life that lives within it.
So I went, with another friend who is a videographer, armed with two cameras, a video camera and an audio recorder. And two male translators.

We ended up at the dog market. I have never seen a place that is so frighteningly insecure. Dogs on leashes, dogs without leashes, puppies in cages, men yelling, women selling silver chains and leashes and oh my God, is that a rotweiler without a leash?

By God it is.

In a market that was mostly full of local Egyptians, the arrival of one girl that could be Egyptian but was possibly foreign, one white, blonde hair blue eyed girl with a video camera and two clean cut Egyptian boys, was not a regular event.
We managed to talk to a man who sold dogs and let us in his little chained off area, in which a rabid dog was tied up to a steel railing. It did not look happy.
We started to shoot. And then we were surrounded. Some men walked into the blocked off area, suffocating us with questions, "Where are you from? Who are you?" and "Honey! Honey! "

We spoke to a man who volunteered to be interviewed and I started shooting the market from the closed off space ignoring the men as they blew kisses in our direction, motioned for us to take pictures of them, asked if us, the two honey-ies, were married.

"You cannot shoot here! You are American!" yelled a boisterous man in Arabic. My friend who doesn't speak much Arabic did not understand him and kept on shooting. He then pushed his face into one of our translator's face and demanded that we stop shooting. His friend tried to calm him down and said, pointing to me,"

"Hiya Muslimah" (she is Muslim)

He gave me a nod and said, "Hiya. Mashi."
He basically gave me permission to continue because of my religion.
I don't think I've ever had to use my religion before to get a story. Its a weird feeling.

"Her! She cannot work here," he then said, pointing to my friend, "she is American."

My friend turned around and said, "No. I am Canadian."

His demeanour softened.

Canadian eh? Canada, Very good.

He then proceeded to sit down on the chair and give us an interview about his dogs and the dogs that he sold.
He is a delightful man, when you aren't American.

The point of this story?
Since I've been in Egypt, the anti-American sentiment has been strong. Very strong. But always kept under fake smiles and whispered words. No one has ever blatantly spewed hate about America in our faces (not including the shop keepers that always chide me for living there and not living in Pakistan).
Moreover, being a journalist, and an American one at that, has always caused trouble.

For example our driver, who is our guide in the city of the dead always retorts back at us when we ask questions about drugs, gangs and theives that are rumoured to live in the city.

"you have that in America too," he says, sneering, "America is the biggest country with so many drugs."

Everything turns around and makes a 180 degree turn when you state your American-ness. You then become a journalist who is not out to explore the greatness of Cairo, its uniqueness and its beauty. You become the evil reporter who is out to spread a vicious and uncivilized image of Egypt and Egyptians.

Yes, it is not easy being an American journalist in Cairo.
And for once I guess its okay to be Canadian.
Even if they dont have an army, eh?


Gale said...

I think you are discovering at such an early age "what it is". Good for you.

I wait to read your blogs and can see it all through your eyes.

thank you,


Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Canadians come in handy at other times too. Try driving to Fayoum as an American. You will be stopped by security forces who will insist on providing guards because "who knows what could happen in Fayoum". On the other hand, if you're Canadian, it's okay. I don't know whether it's because people are happier dealing with Canadians or whether the Canadian government takes a "stuff happens" attitude when stuff happens. Probably a bit of both. It's very useful being Canadian.

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Being American. Marium, I hope the negative was largely directed against "American journalist" (as it is also certainly directed at American government). My limited experience has been a very positive response to Americans (or to myself being an American). The people I've interacted with (who come from a wide range) differentiate between "Americans" and "American government." I don't know how widespread or accurate this is--I hope there's considerable truth in in.

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.