Sunday, January 22, 2006

24

Photos to follow when I can find a high-speed connection. Dial-up blows.

Oh how so much can happen in 24 hours. Left Paris Saturday morning, arrived in Cairo in the afternoon, got my hairdone by 9:00 Saturday evening, went to the club Sunday afternoon, attempted to go to the Cairo Tower after the club, and ended up going shopping for souveneirs instead.

A little about Egypt.

The hairdressers here are the best in the world. Ok, maybe I haven't been to every hairdresser in the world, but the coiffures here work some real magic. And with the exchange rate, it's cheaper than back home.

Since much of Cairo is urban, concrete, desert jungle, there are sporting clubs in every suburb. They are the equivalent of country clubs, with swimming pools, tennis courts, tracks, soccer fields, etc. Most of the middle and upper classes belong to clubs and you can determine one's status in society by the club in which she is a member. We had lunch today at one of the most prestigious clubs, called the Gezireh Club. The British created the club when they colonized Egypt and had a sign outside the club that read "no dogs or Egyptians". As soon as the British left, the snooty, elitist Egyptians took over the club and there is an invisible sign that now reads "no dogs or poor Egyptians". Amazing how people are quick to dish out the ill treatment they once received.

Perhaps it is some flaw in my character, but going to the Gezireh Club makes me sick. These elitist, classist, corrupt hypocrites sit in the oasis of their club and pretend that the heartbreaking poverty throughout the country is somehow acceptable. They are the ambassadors and ministers of the government who eat french fries and talk about their vacations to Paris while the nation rots from the inside. It's sickening. There was a table of high society ladies, all wearing their Gucci sunglasses and one of those bitches was wearing a mink coat. It's 70 f'ing degrees outside and she's wearing a mink coat. Where's PETA when you need them?

Don't get me wrong. My family is part of that hypocrisy. My cousin and I walked with my aunt in the club, when my aunt asked if we wanted to join her at the mosque for the afternoon prayer. I said that I could not because I did not bring my headscarf and, thus, could not pray. When she said she had an extra one, I realized how unbecoming it is to make up stupid excuses. So I fessed up. I don't pray, I am not religious and I am happy to stand outside and wait until she was done. She didn't care.

Something I have figured out. It's okay to be non-religious in this Islamic society. It's not okay to be an atheist. The Arabic word for infidel is kafir. It does not mean non-Muslim, it means atheist. Even if you don't pray, cover your hair, go to Mecca, or whatever, it is cool. But to say you are an atheist is the equivalent of saying you are a Satan worshipper who tortures puppies for kicks. It is an easy way to get shunned. Be a Christian, be a Jew, but you can't be an atheist here. So I temper my irreverence for religion.

Another peculiar feature of Egyptian society is the separate price classes for Egyptians and foreigners. Egyptians who speak English are defined as foreigners as I learned today. My cousin and I walked over to the Cairo Tower to go up and take pictures of the city. She bought two Egyptian tickets for us for 15 Egyptian pounds each (appx $2.50). When the guard looked at our tickets, he looked at me and asked if I am Egyptian. I responded in Arabic that I am, but my pathetic accent belied our efforts to be sneaky. He refused to let me in and demanded that I go buy the 60 pound foreigner ticket. It wasn't the money, but the principle. My cousin was so offended, she demanded a refund and we left. So much for getting aerial shots of the city. So, we went shopping.

In Egyptian tradition, a family gathers 40 days after someone passes away. Although it's two days late, tomorrow is the gathering for my mother. I am excited to see my family, but anxious about the intense emotional experience it is sure to be.

22 Comments:

At 12:05 PM, January 23, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

James Baldwin wrote an essay entitled, "Negroes are Anti-Semitic Because They are Anti-White." (It's online). In this brilliant piece, he discusses why blacks may not like Jews. Then he makes a greater point that exploitation is a worldwide phenomenon. There is no society, big or small, that does not exploit its lower classes. Therefore, maybe you should just consider the Egyptian class state as part of a typical human problem. I know that's tuff to do!

I've always wanted to go to Egypt, but I'm a little nervous about doing that. A couple of questions:
(1) Do you speak Arabic?
(2) Would I stick out like a sore thumb in Egypt?
(3) How do you think I'd be treated?

 
At 2:43 PM, January 23, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

Egypt is not on Mr Sleep's top 10 list. Kilimanjaro is on my top 10 list. Since you basically can walk to the top with a guide, I'm planning on doing that before I'm physically unable to try.

 
At 9:06 AM, January 24, 2006 , Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

01 24 06

Wow II: THis post is layered with juicy tidbits for discussion. But I will be brief; Best wishes for your familial interaction. And stop analyzing everything so much, just sit back turn off your analytical center and enjoy yourself. Often thinking too hard inhibits our enjoyment! ;)

 
At 10:49 AM, January 24, 2006 , Blogger jj said...

When you speak of the elitist and classist who pretend that the heartbreaking poverty throughout the country is somehow acceptable
It is unfortunate that that is not unique to Egypt. The difference is the degree of poverty.

In most countries the poor are invisible at least to the middle and upper class.

II-Ditto what Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said. enjoy your family.

 
At 7:20 AM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

ii, double ditto. although sometimes it is really hard to even tolerate family (this may just be a sleep trait).

 
At 7:34 AM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger chad said...

That whole county club thing is such a moral conundrum, is it not? One may despise the people who belong to the club, because of their snobbery, but one may also enjoy the privileges of belonging oneself.

I guess there is some hypocrisy in us all. No one is perfect. How can I justify the money I spend on recreation, needless gadgets, and expensive food when poverty is literally killing people around the world? If it sickens me so much to see famine and disease wiping people out needlessly, how do I all of the sudden feel well enough to go sailing down a mountain on my new snowboard. (It helps to drown out the voices of self-examination with the latest I-pod blaring in my ears.)

While it’s difficult to justify enjoying these privileges that my American middle class lifestyle engenders, I recognize that there are different degrees to this hypocrisy. I suppose the worse offenders are those women you describe, especially the one sporting the mink coat when it’s not cold outside. I honestly enjoy snowboarding and listening to music, but when someone is spending money to distinguish themselves from lower classes that is despicable. The fact that I don’t spend every dollar, every minute, and every ounce of my energy trying to eliminate poverty is understandable, but to use your resources and power to further widen the gap between the haves and the have nots is evil pure and simple.

Being a Christian, I tend to measure things by the example of Christ. In the Bible, one of the disciples rebuked a woman for “wasting” an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus, when it could have been sold, and the money could have been given to the poor. Jesus however commended this woman, because she used the jar of perfume to express love for someone else. And, even Jesus escaped from the crowds to rest occasionally. If Jesus was hanging with me for a day, I think He might even go snowboarding with me (and he would look mad sick with those long robes flowing in the breeze), but I don’t think he would be in the ski lodge at the end of the day trying to profile and impress people with his wealth and power.

Anyway, you got me thinking with your comments as usual. Sorry for hijacking your post with my long-ass commentary. (But I always do, don’t I?)

I hope the remainder of your trip is blessed and inspiring. Waiting for more pics…

Yours in hypocrisy,
chad

“How inexpressible is the meanness of being a hypocrite! how horrible is it to be a mischievous and malignant hypocrite.”
~Voltaire

 
At 12:42 PM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger jj said...

Good comments Chad I think the worst offenders would be the ones in power that have the ability to level the playing field yet always find a way to tilt in further in their favor.

It is always about greed and power.

I do not think anyone here is a hypocrite for enjoying what you have earned.

You could make yourself miserable and poor giving everything you have and worrying but the problem would remain.

If everyone would just do what they can reasonably do (everyone has their own definition) to force our leaders to level the field.

Even on a level field some will fall but everyone would have the same opportunity all things being equal.
As a society I think we should help the few who through no fault of their own cannot play. But that is the society I believe we are or should be.
sorry for the rambling

 
At 1:11 PM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

Wow - what amazing comments.

I don't feel guilty for having what I have, but it's the way the snobs treat the rest of society that is truly intolerable. They are the "do you know who I am" crowd. And, Chad, you hit the nail on the head with those who spend the money just to distinguish themselves from everyone else.

We had lunch today and, when we were done, I asked the waiter to box up all the food. My uncle told the family I made the request because I was going to give the leftovers to the poor people outside the club and their response was "she's American". For as much as I criticize the US, I appreciate what an incredibly charitable culture we have. It doesn't even occur to people here to box up the food, but my uncle said he will try to remember to do so in the future.

 
At 3:31 PM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger Boris Yeltsin said...

Damn you're fascinating! I know that analyzing everything must suck for you, but it's great for readers like me, because I can't/won't go there. (I'm just too white!) After 9-11, I won't even fly. But, reading your blog is the next best thing!

 
At 4:32 PM, January 25, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Alan Watts said that an analytical mind is a blessing and a curse! I agree!

 
At 8:07 AM, January 26, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

II, Glad you have a strong social conscience, and are willing to put actions behind your principles.

 
At 1:24 PM, January 26, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

BOB -

To answer your earlier questions, I speak pigeon Arabic, but you don't need to speak Arabic here. Everyone speaks English. Indeed, my cousin's 6 1/2 year old son is almost fluent in English and is now starting German. And he is quite typical among educated Egyptians. Most people speak 3-5 languages. You would not stick out like a sore thumb, but it would be apparent you are a foreigner. Which somewhat answers question number 3, if you look like you have money, people will kiss your ass.

BY -

Thank you for the wonderful compliment. If you are interested in reading about other places, check out my archives from May and June 2005. I traveled for 2 months and blogged my way through Egypt, China, Mongolia and Russia. Hopefully the posts will make you reconsider your aversion to travel. You are really missing out.

Check out www.gapadventures.com for really cool travel packages. I have done 7 trips with GAP and they are amazing!

 
At 1:57 AM, January 28, 2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, what a great blog,i enjoyed reading it,sorry dear if i gave u a hard time with the extra vail thing,i wasnt too smart but to analysie why i said so,
i wanted to stuck to u cause me too wasnt feeling like praying but im not brave enough to say it loud to a family member, i wounder where the smart excuses go when u need it, i could easly said im in my period time.
amal

 
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