Thursday, September 9, 2010

Disorganized Friday Morning Post


Here are some random photos from around the neighborhood. I really haven't made it very far out of maadi. Maadi is a relatively green and calm suburb. Downtown cairo, where Dave's office is, is much more urban and hectic. For now, the little bubble of Maddi feels adventurous enough.
I do the same things here that I did at home when not working: check out interesting classes for the boys, go to playdates, go to the pool. It is easy to get lost around here because there are very few street signs. So even setting out to a friend's house feels like a small adventure because we will probably get lost or at least go down a new street.

Above is one of my favorite buildings that I pass walking Thomas home from school. You can't really see but there is a grand open spiral stairway under the cupola. I don't know if it's a private house or apartments or what. This neighborhood is considered posh, but in the last few decades a number of the stately old villas have been torn down for more modern apartment buildings. Now it's a mix, beautiful grand old buildings next to grey concrete apartments. All of cairo is over-crowded, and some of those crowds are moving out to maadi, and even "new maadi" which is basically a horrible apartment complex and mall being carved out of the desert. That's where Judy lives. It is considered a good neighborhood-- middle class egyptians want to live there. But it looks just like a housing project in New York-- rows and rows of small balconies with laundry lines, and no green spaces anywhere ever. It's all surrounded by highway and construction. There must be children there but they must never leave the buildings. The only places that seem at all inviting are the mosques which have airy domes and paved courtyards. That alone would be a reason to love Allah here.


At a friend's house yesterday morning they warned that this guy in Florida who wants to burn korans might cause hostility and possibly violence here and to avoid mosques etc. this weekend. My friend's husband works for Coca-Cola and I guess they get a weekly security report or something. Not only is this weekend Sept. 11th, it is the end of Ramadan here. That means everyone has been fasting and staying up late for a month and is in a bad mood. It's really hot. And it's a national holiday long weekend to mark the end of the fast and celebrate the Prophet attaining enlightenment. So the news that a preacher in Florida wants to burn the holy book is not well-timed. Islam is very coordinated here-- there is no such thing as independent churches or small, out-there congregations. If an imam here were burning the bible, it would be something he had talked with higher-ups about and received at least tacit approval for. And if the state wanted to stop it, they would stop it. This is a police state-- the guy would be arrested. So it really does not translate here that this is not an official action on behalf of US Christians. Even if Obama and Petraeus denounce it-- the sense is if the US government was serious about stopping it, they would.


Here is a picture of a woman walking past an embassy wearing the niquab. I saw the black cloth billowing in the distance as this woman walked toward us and was honestly scared. It looks like those wraiths from Lord of the Rings that float menancingly around and if you get close have skulls for faces. She's probably a nice woman, but there is something hostile about this get-up. I'm sorry, that's just true. Many egyptians think this too. I have been told that the niquab has nothing to do with Islam or the Koran-- its a bedouin tradition to prevent sunburn and stop raiding tribes from stealing your wives. It is only in the last twenty- thirty years that it has been considered part of an Islamic identity. It is true that very few women in Cairo or the other arab states wore a veil a generation ago, and now most women do. But it is a class thing too- the working class embraces veiling and the elites do not. Most women wear just head scarves and abbayas, but I have seen more niquabs (full face veils) than I expected.




Here are Thomas and Emmett dancing to Oum Kathoum in the kitchen. She's a classic egyptian singer. And here we are playing at another friend's house-- Maxou. His mother is french and his dad is a Jewish American- the one working at coca cola. We are about to meet them to go to their fancy pool club that Coca Cola pays for. The thing is-- no one knows what time it is this morning. The Egyptian government announced this year that clocks would be set back for ramadan. But the end of ramadan is decided by looking at the moon somehow. Then there's an official holiday-- which could fall either on this past thursday or Sunday (which is a work day here). No one knew when it would be until whoever decides had looked at the moon Wednesday night. We had to check the school website the night before to find out if there would be school the next day. Many people travel for this holiday and it must have been such a pain in the neck to not know ahead of time whether the day off was Thursday or Sunday. (It is Sunday) But that is how central Islam is here-- no one questions this. So anyway, the time will go forward one hour with the official end of ramadan. We were told a while ago that would be thursday but now-- is it sunday? How does this holiday work anyway? What time is it in this country?

Once we figure that out, in two weeks, the clocks will fall back again for daylight savings.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whew, that's quite a report Laura. Billowing spiral stairways under cupolas in a police state where it is either THursday or Sunday but who cares with Oum Kathoum dancing and niquabs coming toward you with skulls for faces and abbayas for breakfast at Maxou's house. Anyway the boys look more and more Egyptian: barefoot, sun bleached twirling to strange rhythms.

Yes, I'd say you'd wondered down a new street.

love from
little Mom in your old home village.

Marianna Houston said...

Dearest Laura-
I was with you in Maadi for a moment--great description of your life in Cairo and the context of your life. How fabulous that you are there and giving those delicious boys the chance to live in a copmpletely new reality--to be a new "story". I would imagine that small children are great equalizers in a place that is a police state, a patriarch and one that limits women's freedoms.
Do you own a burka--just in case?
I miss you all--thnak you for this superb blog!
So much love,
Mim