Monday, August 31, 2009

Cairo, the 30th August, 2009

“Reactions”

First of all, I have to thank all the emails I’ve been receiving with comments on my BLOGS (both Portuguese and English).
It’s great to receive good – and bad! – reactions to my postings and, hopefully, open discussions that can bring more light and information to everyone (including me).
I don’t own the truth and my opinions are just that: MY OPINIONS (as far as I know, we live in a free world where we are allowed to think differently from each other).

As a general answer to some critics regarding my comments on Muslim Religion as it is practiced in Egypt and the Middle East, this is what I want to state very clearly:

I have nothing against any religion and, certainly, not Muslim religion.
Any religion, philosophy, theory, practice, art, whatever brings PEACE and A HIGHER PHYSICAL, MENTAL, EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL LIFE QUALITY to human beings is the BEST for me.
Theories and names are nothing when people still lie, cheat, kill and harm each other in so many ways. Isn’t it the goal of a religion to bring peace and love to Human Kind?!
Maybe I am wrong, as I always say. Do correct me if I am wrong.


What I DO COMMENT and criticize is not the Koran or Prophet Mohamed’s teachings (which arrived through the mouths and handwriting of his successors) but the way Muslim religion is PRACTICED and INTERPRETED nowadays in the country where I live.

Admitting that I don’t understand or feel confused by the way muslims practice their religion in the Middle East (where I’ve been living for the past 5 years!) is not an attack to the religion but a humble exercise of observing my surrounding realities, admitting my own ignorance and putting questions out there.

There was a specific comment from a lady called Kalli (thanks for all your comments and attention) who mentioned the following Kuranic comment :
Famous commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (1149-1209):

"(God) created spouses for you of your own kind so that you may have piece of mind through them." (3:21) as "proof that women were created like animals and plants and other useful things (and not for) worship and carrying the divine commands...because the woman is weak, silly, and in one sense a child."


"Men are the support of women (qawwamuna 'ala an-nisa) as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them)...As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing).

Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth...And for those women that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them (adribuhunna)."


Dear Kalli (this is directly to you),
I would suggest you read my texts with a bit more attention than you already do.
These texts are COMMENTS on the Holly Koran (READ: Famous commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (1149-1209):, not texts from the Holly Koran itself.
These texts exist – rather you like it or not – and are broadcasted and followed by many in Egypt.
There are a series of Koranic commentators – very famous and treated like superstars in Egypt – whom spread this message and so many others as being related to the Koran. They do it, not me (in case you didn’t notice, I am not a Koranic commentator!). I just point out the truth (even if it’s not pleasant).

I have never said – as you pointed out - or wrote these texts are part of the Koran.
Never.
Check the book where all this comes mentioned and inform YOURSELF better
( “No God but God”, by Reza Aslan).
Actually, part of my questioning comes from the fact that so little from the actual Koran is practiced nowadays, giving place to traditions and a mentality that was mostly created by men searching for power, not by God through the Prophet.

I also comment on what I live. My opinions do not come from the air but from real life.
I have been in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Egypt (for five years now) and I have gathered a professional and personal experience that allows me to comment on what I HAVE LIVED, SEEN, HEARD AND EXPERIENCED all together.
I cannot comment on women’s abuse in Canada or China because it’s a reality that I don’t know from up close. I am not commenting on the hypocrisy of Christian Church or the thousands of false gurus spread all over the world making business out of people’s desperate needs for a spiritual guidance because these are not subjects that are close to me, affecting me on a daily basis. I know they exist but I restrain my comments to my most immediate reality and that is EGYPT. That is MUSLIM religion because it permeates everything in this country.
No way to escape the subject.

Egypt is, indeed, a reality I know and if my perspective doesn’t look nice, there’s nothing I can do. Facts are facts and I will not embellish them in order to make any religion, country or culture look better.
I LOVE Egypt with all its contradictions. Otherwise, I would not be living and working here.
I’ve met good and bad people. Some were muslims, some were Christians, some were whatever you can think of.
Religions never defined – for me – the quality of a human being.

I keep thanking all the comments I’m receiving because they make me want to search more, educate myself more. Just wished all critics could be constructive and based on real facts, not just nagging (no patience for naggers! Sorry!).
That way, we all could learn and grow from each other.
That’s my challenge.
Thank you, guys (and Kalli, in particular)!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cairo, the 30th August, 2009


"Enjoying Ramadan...my own way..."


Still struggling with the shows for tourists. In reality, I am being too demanding and spoilt, I guess...for more than three years now I've been performing mostly for local audiences who have been my biggest support and "name making" crowd and now, for the first time, I face my most feared foreigner audiences and I just have to face it and find solutions for the challenge (and stop complaining about it!!!).



The truth is that the audiences I've been catching now - mostly foreigners/tourists- have been great. People are sweet, very kind and warm in the way they receive my work. It's ME, not them, who need to adjust and find a way to fit.

Still "struggling" with my orchestra to get better music/performances from them. I am paying extra money to have a few great soloists in my band and I watch myself demanding more from them as we extend my reportoire. The more you know, the better you want to do. I move to more complex songs and those require better musicians and exquisite execution from their part.

In a market where musicians are mostly used to play "anything" they want and in the easiest way, I admit I am a huge headache for them.

Working on new Om Kolthoum material...she's my treasure!



LOVING RAMADAN (my way, as always!):

1. The general silence during the day. Maybe due to the fasting period (until 18.30h, approximately) and general laziness. Great (the silence, not the laziness)!

2. Empty streets during the day and, specially, during the break fasting (the time when I go to work, YES!). No traffic at all, at least while people are eating.

3. Ramadan traditional foods in the supermarkets and a general atmosphere of feast and comunion.

4. Watching people gathering in communal tables on the streets of Cairo to break fast together. Ramadan break fasting meal brings families, friends and even strangers together in a ritual of food, water and generosity sharing. This is really nice to watch.

5. Wish I could say less sexual harassment in the streets but...NO. Still there. Big contradiction.

I am out of comments on this one. Way too tired of the theme.

Sometimes, I feel like saying: "You're a muslim, for God's sake. If you don't respect women, at least, respect your own religion. We're in Ramadan - YOUR Ramadan - and you're acting like an animal and looking up my arse! How is that possible?!"





All in all, it has been a great, productive time...waiting to get a HUGE box of "cakhk" (traditional sweet of Ramadan)!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cairo, the 29th August, 2009


"Thanks
giving"

Thanks
giving.
For your kiss.


Your presence and breath on my neck: Whisper of God telling me His secrets (the ones He couldn't whisper into Humanity's ears).


The best things in life come when you least expect it, they say.


The best things in life DO come when you expect them and for how long have I expected your arrival?!

Thanksgiving.

For your arms around my waist. Melting like honey through my fingers under a hot August sun.


Your embrace, solace and cave where only pleasure and peace reside. My eternal residence.
Not official - unofficial - and so true. Forever there, forever Me (with you in it).

Thanksgiving.
My arms reach for the skies in praise and thankfulness because LIFE's finally here.

You're here. All the crops have arrived. All the seasons gathered in a single festival where there's nothing else but pure love making. Corn, berries, flowers and seeds all flying around my dishevelled hair... birds flying inside of my chest like nut fairies.
All parties are happening. Love rave parties. Going crazy over here...and collecting my bearings, breathing heavely and trying to reach every other breath you manage to take away from me.
Oh, Summer - the warmest of all - has arrived...not all seasons (I'm confused)...mostly summer above all the others and above all snow and freezing mountains. None of that.


Thanksgiving.
I have all I ever needed.

Cairo, the 29th August,2009


"Ramadan readings...knowledge is power"

I am a curious freak by nature. If something intrigues me or I just can't understand it, I MUST see what's down there and find answers. Sometimes (ok, many times!) , I wished my mind was more passive, less inquisitive and such a trouble maker.


Living in a muslim country, surrounded by muslim people and living according to their own rules (not necessarily the rules that come, in truth, contained in the holly "Koran" or the "Hadiths" but the traditions and rules that were created and distorted by the ones who followed after prophet's Mohamed death), I cannot stop to wonder about the RESULT, the practical result in these muslim society's lives and the way people are - or not - happy and healthy (phisically, mentally, spiritually).


I am up to any religion which brings peace, happiness and love between human beings.
Any religion! Anything that brings a higher life quality to human beings must be perfect.
Anything that's sparse in words, theories and forbidden stuff but rich in kindness, honesty, truthfulness, beauty...
Not harming others, not lying, cheating, stealing, killing, etc are values I embrace I have never had a religious education in the common sense of the word. I must admit I don't miss having had one!

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen with most religions (Muslim and Christian come to my mind right ahead) and the result of their influence on people has been disastrous for so many centuries. Wars, killings, judgment from priests and sheiks who cannot stop being bad themselves or make other people better, Inquisition ( the biggest shame of the Christian Church) and so many awful things that have NOTHING to do with Divinity.


From all religions I know, Muslim is the one I less understand. I don't dare to say the problem is with the religion. Maybe the problem is with me and my limitation to understand a complex subject so distant from my own education, values and inner structure.

Maybe it's ME who cannot see the sense and beauty of it. I admit it.

And yet, I see - on a daily basis and everywhere, not only in my work - the result of the practice of Muslim religion in the Middle East (I suspect I'm refering to the way people chose to interpret the "Koran" and not its REAL message...).


No where else in the world I've seen so much corruption, prostitution, mentally sick people with problematic issues towards their body, sexuality, emotions, etc... No where else I have seen so many men desperate to achieve power and money at any cost or women wishing to sell their bodies for that same money men afford.

No where else in the world I've watched how men treat women as a property they own, use, abuse and even beat up with the consent and support of the community ( "a woman who misbehaves deserves to be beaten..." is a common treat between men and even women!).


No where else in the world I have seen betrayals and the ugliest things human beings can do to another human beings.

And, allas, no where else in the world I have seen so many people praying and attending mosques and, a second after that, stealing, cheating and lying for all they're worth for.

What's the sense of all this and what's the use of imposing a religion - any religion - if the results are disastrous?!


Here are some jewels of Quranic comments illustrating a bit of the nonsense I am talking about. These are famous references and they are part of the common sense knowledge of most arabs and egyptians until the present day. I have confirmed it in my personal life in many occasions.
  • Famous commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (1149-1209):

"(God) created spouses for you of your own kind so that you may have piece of mind through them." (3:21) as "proof that women were created like animals and plants and other useful things (and not for) worship and carrying the divine commands...because the woman is weak, silly, and in one sense a child."


"Men are the support of women (qawwamuna 'ala an-nisa) as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them)...As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing).

Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth...And for those women that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them (adribuhunna)."


It's hard to comment these famous - and well respected - texts which so many muslims follow until today.Are there any comments at all?!
Does such grutesque ignorance deserves any mention?!
Because I am aware of my own ignorance when it comes to Muslim religion and I often feel startled by not understanding the incoherences of my surrounding environment in Egypt, I feel seduced to study the subject and educate myself.

Here are two books you absolutely HAVE to READ if you wish to understand (and, hopefully, respect) MUSLIM religion.

  • RAMADAN READING SUGGESTIONS:

1. "No God but God", by Reza Aslan

Amazing back tracing of the Prophet's life and the way Muslim religion was born, grew and developed until our days. All aspects of the prophet's life are clearly mentioned and accurately connected with the practice (correct and incorrect) of the religion I can watch being practiced today in Egypt, all arab countries and others who also profess Muslim religion throughout the world.


2. "Muhammad", by Karen Armstrong


Another biography of the prophet. VERY GOOD!

Because you teach by example - always! - the life of the prophet and all he actually said and did (as we know it, so far...no one can really proove it though...) while he was alive has way much more to teach than what their followers practiced after his death.


I already understood - from both these books - that there was a huge cut - and loss of truthfulness - when Prophet Mohamed died. What others have done from his original message seems to be unfair and evil.


Knowing what I cannot understand, trying - in full state of humbleness - to reach other people's minds and hearts is an exercise I cannot stop to practice.


After all, we're humans and we must have some common treats within our hearts and souls (I even doubt it after I've seen so much around here but I keep wishing for the best!).

Thursday, August 27, 2009




Cairo, the 28th August, 2009

"Ramadan shows - challenges and pleasures"

Wow...
I already launched my Ramadan shows at the "Nile Maxim".

Mostly, due to the Ramadan, the shows are for foreigners/tourists and, as you all may know (in case you've been reading my Diary for a while), performing for tourists is not exactly my idea of fun!
I am a foreigner myself and yet, I cannot help but feel egyptian while I'm on stage and, as I also mentioned 1000 times, there's no better audience than the egyptian/arab.
If the dancer is really GOOD, the audience responds and appreciates the ART like no foreigner could (not their dance, culture, language, etc). There's a warm - even hot! - atmosphere that arises from the deep mutual understanting and connection between dancer and audience. Nothing can buy that sensation when your audience knows de music, the lyrics, the feeling and the difference between a regular dancer and an artist...aaaaahhhhh..............................



Well...I could look at it like "here we go...work to be done!" or I can just look at it as an extra challenge and try new approaches and programs which can work as different kind of comunication with my several audiences. Maybe the problem and limitation is with me and not with the foreigner audiences... :(


Another challenge of Ramadan shows:
the thematic shows I prepared with old "Mwashahat", gorgeous stuff composed for the "Reda Troupe" a long, long time ago, classical pieces related to this holy season and a lot of other musical goodies my orchestra is still struggling with.

Overall, I am excited! EXCITED! I see lots of growing perspectives during this Ramadan season.

YES!

Cairo, the 27th August, 2009


“Marley and Me, the movie or the knowledge of others “


We’re masters of each other. I truly believe the main truths can only be found inside of yourself. No master, guru, priest or religion can do your own spiritual “home work”. It would be such a pleasant thing if someone or something could “fix” our idiosyncrasies, dark spots, fears and doubts and, yet, I have found out that there’s a personal path of growth that HAS to be built by the only one and only master existent in the Universe: Your own conscious (totally believe that the same Universal Knowledge residing in what we call “God” also resides within us, if only we could always be aware of it and act upon it…the world would be a much greater place to live!)

We search for answers and solace in relationships, careers, friends, lovers, drugs, dance (me, me, me), etc…we search and search for it in books, seminars, gospels and false prophets. Most of us – according to the endless religions existent in the world – search for inner peace and answers in Holly Books which tell you how to act and distinguish the good from the evil and yet it always end up not being enough…we never quite get there.
It’s uncomfortable to admit that the work you do with yourself is the only way to grow.
“How can I be my own master if I feel so deeply ignorant and lost?!” That could be a typical answer from any of us.
Through so many happy – blissful, I might add – and terrible times I’ve lived in my short but intense life, there’s something I know for sure (very rare for me to know something “for sure”!) and that is: “The real growth comes from within and not from external sources. No one and nothing can “fix” what’s dysfunctional with your own heart and soul. Only YOU.”
Oriental Dance – and the crazy, absolutely fantastic life I’ve been leading because of it - has been an incredible helping hand in some of my most essential discoveries.
When I affirm that this dance has changed, saved and shaped my life, I am by no means exaggerating a bit (you should all try it!).
To endure this incredible – and, sometimes, painful – path of self-knowledge and sublimation, I always count on the words, experience and insights of others.
I am my own master and I recognize everyone else can be, if even just for a second or a common experience I may not recognize as valuable. Recognizing this, here it is some pieces of knowledge I found in a movie (not a great movie but one that made me cry like a baby) and in a magazine.
They may not be the answer to your problems or existential questions but they surely provide some inspiration and, hopefully, a ray of light shinning enough to open up your mind and, I dare to hope, your soul. Sharing the “soul goodies” with all of you…my pleasure.


· Excerpt from the movie “Marley and Me” (not a “must see” for me):

“A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes.
A waterlogged stick will do just fine.
A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor,
Smart or dumb.
Give him your heart
And he’ll give you his.
How many people can you say that about?
How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special?
How many people can make you feel …extraordinary?”

· And some tips from one of my favourite ladies in the world: Oprah Winfrey:


1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what.
2. You define your own life. Don’t let other people write your script.
3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.
4. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.
5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.
6. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you , that will be enough (from the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhard).
7. Trust your instincts. Intuition never lies.
8. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others, in every encounter.
9. Let passion drive your profession.
10. Love doesn’t hurt. It feels GOOD!
11. Every day brings a chance to start over.
12. Trouble don’t last always. (A line from a negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favourite : “This too, shall pass.”)

I enjoy and value every constructive voice and whisper around me but know that, in the end, the real change and action can only come from inside myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cairo, the 26th August, 2009


"The way you look at me..."




This is the way you look at me (like nobody else ever did!).


Because you know me. Beyond appearances, beyond all my strenght and illusory power. Beyond any weakness and character I dress up without noticing. You undress me with your eyes and my soul is the bed where you lay with me. Your home. A home you, only YOU, know toooooo well. Beyond everything.














This is the song you told me it was "my song". "It describes you", you said.



Because you know me.
Only YOU could have known. Because you love me (and I love you).









Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cairo, the 25th August, 2009

"My cup of tea"


It seems I'm preparing to go to war (or to hiding in a bunker during the nazi occupation).
I've been preparing for my Ramadan shows and filling the house with provisions to endure the 21 days in a row schedule I will, Inshah Allah, present at the magnificent "Nile Maxim".
As soon as I start performing, all my energy and time goes straight to the stage. No going around or dispersing myself into another duties. Of course, I cannot escape teaching my private lessons, doing the occasional shopping or preparing my next workshops. I have 1000 hands and too much on my back...cannot afford the luxury to "just" perform but I do my best to spare myself and be 100000000% on the stage.

Ramadan shopping in the morning...
peaceful and surprisingly pleasant...
Taxi drivers are cranky (no food, no drink and the hardest one...no cigars...) and more aggressive than usual. Following logic - and not common sense which is pure "nonsense" around here - they are nervous because they're deprived of food but, as I often say shocking any muslim who hears me, there's no real fasting in Egypt. There's a change in the eating schedule but no fasting. People eat during the night (from the "iftar" around 18.30h till the sunrise) and abstain from food during the day. They still eat. Actually, they eat more than in usual days (and this is well known and acknowledged by all egyptians and arabs) but they do it in a different timing. That's all. So...what's the excuse for laziness and aggressivity?!


(Don't even ask!)

Well...for someone who's not a great shopper (am I really a woman?! According to an arsehole I used to date, I am not a "normal" woman...and I may start agreeing with him...), I may admit having had a great time shopping today. Not much traffic or noise, no music at all (which is relaxing for someone who deals constantly with it), no cigars inside taxis or shops (way to go!!!) and a general sleepiness that permeates the atmosphere with a candour I don't remember to have ever experienced in Cairo.
I bought sweets for my egyptian assistant (a deluxe HUGE box of Ramadan sweets that drove her crazy!), some training clothes for me, cosmetic stuff for the next shows season, fresh fruits (not so fresh as I wished but the best I can manage to get in Maadi), gifts to take to Portugal when I travel and a few more books (to add to the piles I have gathered in my salon).
I know it doesn't seem a lot but, as far as I'm concerned, it was a pleasant morning and an authentic commercial splurge as I am not a shopping lover.
I had to pass by CSA on my way home (CSA Institute, where I'll be teaching regularly from the 5th October) and caught up with a student who happened to be there. A mean cappuccino, some delicious almond cake, wondeful conversation under an equally wonderful sun who reminded me, like a sudden thunderbolt, that I am grateful for all the changes that I've been blessed to receive in my life lately.


It's still too easy to concentrate on what's missing but, between one sip of cappuccino and a ray of sun caressing my face, I realized that I'm entering the phase - finally! - that I call :
"MY CUP OF TEA"
I projected - in my mind, in my heart, in my proferred words and intentions- all that's been happening to me and, when I look around me, I see it's all coming true and I can only gasp and try to catch up my breath once again...I feel overwhelmed and thankful to see that I am working in the places that reflect me (CSA is LOVELY, an open space aimed to open perspectives and sharing between nationalities and cultures and "NILE MAXIM" is, currently, the best Oriental Dance venue in Cairo!),


I am surrounded by the "right" people and giving huge steps towards all my biggest goals.
My materialized reality is reflecting all my wishes and all I've worked and suffered so much for so...I can only say THANKS to God, to the UNIVERSE, to all the angels and forces working along with me (and even to the ones working against me because they've made me stronger and wiser).


I am healthy and loved, ready to face the world, whatever it may bring...

I am working in the best place I could dream of and I'm doing it through my talent and recognized quality, not through the "bed" path so common in my profession.


I would love to see the faces of those who told me I would never grow as a dancer in Cairo unless I became a prostitute like most famous dancers... (I am LAUGHING right now with such an undescribable pleasure...:) :) )

I have stimulating, loving, supporting friends around me.

I have co-workers (musicians, managers, bosses) who respect me and appreciate my talent and hard work...they make my life easier and cooperate with me.


I have a beautiful home looking great and cozy (I just got the most beautiful pink new curtains for my dance salon) and I'm doing a great work in my shows, classes and workshops.


I am finally digging into my first book edition (YES!!!) and feeling loved.


REALLY LOVED.
How much do I have to thank?! Not enough...suddenly, I can't really see what's missing because I'm aware of too many blessings.


PLEASE NOTICE WHAT TO FOLLOW DURING THE NEXT MONTHS:
Excited coreographing my new dances (Crazy Tabla Solo and Modern Saiidi) for my upcoming workshops abroad and regular classes in Cairo:

1.Workshops in Portugal (Lisbon, 19,20th September) - more infos through my email: dancemagica@ gmail.com

2.Workshops in Italy (Rome, the 26,27th September) - more infos through my email:
dancemagica@ gmail.com or jacybellydance@gmail.com


3.Regular classes in Cairo from the 5th October ahead
at CSA INSTITUTE, MAADI (21st Street, number 4) - more infos through CSA ( 010 382 96 38 or email:
pauline@livinginegypt.org )


Schedule for regular classes (from the 5th October):
Mondays from 12.30h till 13.30h - Beginners Oriental Dance Class
Wednesdays from 12.30h till 13.30h - Intermediate Oriental Dance Class
Tuesdays evening from 7.00h pm till 8.00h pm - Beginners Oriental Dance Class
Tuesdays evening from 8.00h pm till 9.00h pm - Intermediate Oriental Dance Class

NOTE: New Joana Saahirah article coming out on the CSA magazine this October!


4. Don't loose my Ramadan shows at the "Nile Maxim" until the 15th September and yet a new BOMBASTIC show at the same venue in October!
For reservations, please call "Nile Maxim":
012 73 88888
010 73 88888
011 73 88888
02 - 273 88888

Monday, August 24, 2009



Cairo, the 24th August, 2009

"Me going crazy on video and Ramadan, so far (our 2nd day of Ramadan)..."





So far, I'm enjoying the peaceful, silent mood Ramadan is offering us during the day. It seems the city has fallen asleep...it sounds and feels nice. A bit of a break from the constant noise and hassle.





So far, as well, I've not noticed a decrease relating to the sexual harassment in the streets. Still there, still the same...no comments!:(





So far, so far... dear brothers and sisters, please be sensible...I totally respect all religions and rituals but I hope to be respected in my own choices too. Although I live in Egypt, I am not a muslim and I don't feel compelled to practice Ramadan or any of its rules.
As I ran errands during the day and under the hottest sun, I dared to grab a milk-shake to drink on my way to down town Cairo and I was simply fulminated by taxi drivers and regular people who happened to see me and condemn me for not abiding to their fasting schedule.


Blameful eyes and reproaches were clearly offered to me, reminding me that - after all - I do recognize people's right to choose their religion and practices but that choice doesn't seem to be available to me. Aren't we all free to choose what we believe in and to practice the religion of our own choice?!

Grrrrrrrr...Dared to get a cab during the fasting break (around 18.30h) and suffered, once more, as I waited and waited and no damned taxi would show up. When the time comes to break the fasting time (from sunrise to sunset), the whole city retreats to wherever there's a table and eats, splurges in food and more food...nothing else matters and the city just stops. No one can run against this tide!
There were people offering drinks and food to the few drivers of the very few cars that circulated at this time.
From now on, I DO KNOW: I'm not going or coming from anywhere at some specific times and will try to avoid, as much as I can, to drink or eat in the presence of famished muslims.


Now, unintentionally contradicting a bit more of Ramadan's rules, here are two crazy videos of myself doing what I do best: LIVING, DANCING at the GREAT "NILE MAXIM"!





Follow the links:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ogWt2e0yB8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnF9L5DCtdE

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cairo, the 23rd August, 2009



"Ramadan turmoil reaching my own soul..."


Holly God, you don't need to be a muslim to feel deeply affected by Ramadan!


During this holy season, Cairo is the living proof that energies, words (even only whispered in silent mosques or above improvised matresses), prayers and intentions are, in fact, very much REAL and they do materialize in all kinds of shapes.


I had a strange dream last night. Hoping I can forgive all those who have harmed me. Not easy...trying.


Growing. Learning. Watching my own limitations and unlimited possibilities so that I can also recognize them in other people. We're just mirrors of each other.


Only realizing how much of a human being there is in me, despite my strenght, despite the fortress and determination that colours my personality.


A warrior. An Amazon. Weak. Strong. Sometimes, just a kitten needing a loving hand on my luxurious fur. Sometimes, a lion scarying away all ghosts and barking dogs.




Trying to be my own master. My boss. My spiritual leader. My own body and shadow. MYSELF. My TOTAL SELF.


I often wish I was a bit dummy. Having a working brain and a soul brightly alive is a lot of work, I can tell you that...bless the ignorant and the poor of spirit...:)


"Life Doesn’t Frighten Me



"Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all."

- Maya Angelou

Saturday, August 22, 2009




Cairo, the 22nd August, 2009

“1st Official Day of Ramadan or the true meaning of “CHASING THE WIND”

The day started more peaceful than usual. It’s the first day of Ramadan, after all.
There was an unusual silence pouring down from the bluest sky I’ve ever seen in such a long, long time. I had breakfast with a friend and then followed to my gym already enjoying the atmosphere that announces the fasting, the family gatherings and the spirit of piety characteristic of this season.
The preparations for this sacred month have been changing the city’s – the country’ s- rhythm for quite a while and, even if you’re not a muslim, you end up wrapped up into the season’s spirit and participating in it.
Egyptians are, per nature, very flexible, open minded people towards each person’s religious choice.
Being agnostic or atheist is, probably, the only thing that will turn a smiley face into a reproachful, terrorized face. Arabs and Egyptians don’t understand or assimilate the remote possibility of someone “not believing” in God. If you’re a mentally sane human being, then you MUST believe in God. The way you express it is not so much of a big deal (although muslims tend to consider their religion the finished, perfected truth and Mohamed the last and ultimate prophet) and you’ll be welcome in people’s hearts if you’re a Christian, a Buddhist or even a Jew (although Jews and all related to Israel doesn’t gather much sympathy in Egypt, actually most Egyptians hate Israelis…complicated matter). What people will not accept is that you breath and eat like everybody else on earth and you don’t believe in God!

Being an Islamic country – despite the relative freedom of religious practices and choices – it’s expected that everybody follows a bit of Ramadan. If not by choice, at least by imposition as all the services, commerce, personal and professional matters will be conditioned according to the fasting hours and the “iftar” (the first meal of the day, the “fasting break”).

As I left my friend – after what it seemed to be a very blameful meal in front of an already starving staff at the coffee shop- I couldn’t stop myself but wonder if, at least during Ramadan, sexual harassment and general lack of respect from men towards women in the streets of the city will stop or diminish.
In Ramadan, people are not only supposed to fast (no food or drink from sunrise to sunset) but they should also abstain from smoking, having sex or acting upon it in any way, think or utter negative words to anyone, steal, lie, etc…you name it. Human beings who are, during all the year, used to do all the worst things any wicked mind can imagine, suddenly feel compelled to be “ angels”…



Does this work for real?!
I’m checking this one up! It may be one of my biggest personal dramas around here and Ramadan time is the last and most resourceful test of Egyptian men’s mind:
Are they able to respect their own religious season? Will they stop acting like stray animals for a month and turn their heads (and private parts) to God or will they confirm the impression (my own impression) that hypocrisy is stronger than religion?!
Will men have shame on their faces during Ramadan? Will I be able to walk freely in the street without being disturbed and offended in my condition of a woman?!
Anxious to answer these questions…We’ll see.

Beautiful 1st detail of Ramadan:
My Egyptian assistant dropped by my home to offer me a platter of food. A tremendous Egyptian food feast that she cooked for her family and wanted to share with me.
Rice and “bahmia” (very traditional in Egypt), Alexandrian kidney, salad, soup, “mahshi” (one of my favourites in Egyptian cuisine!) and a couple of sweets I cannot identify.
The thing is she’s so poor and I know she manages her money in a hard day-to-day basis. I was too busy minding my own life and matters to offer her food and she wasn’t. So… how much can we learn from each other and how humble should we be when we know that, often, the poorer are the RICHER and the richer are, indeed, the POORER?!
I felt a bit ashamed (I have to buy her a generous plate of the best sweets…on my to do list!) and so touched by her gesture. This is one of the bright sides of Egypt and a big reason why I love this country so much. When you least expect it, people surprise you with gestures full of love and generosity. If only we could learn from each other and stop thinking each religion is better/worse than the other?!



1st Amazing experience pre-Ramadan:
Yesterday, I was dragged by another friend to join an African community religious ritual in Maadi
(Maadi Community Church). I’m always up to discover something new, observing, opening up to different perspectives and, allas, understanding others and myself in a deeper, wider sense.
I’m not a church person and I was raised listening to my mum and grandfather badmouthing the pope and its luxurious Vatican full of corruption and lies (Muslim and Christian churches have been homecoming “really” bad people as their priests, sheiks and rulers for way too many centuries…).



I went to the church on Christmas eve to eat the “cookie” the priest gave to the people (the “hostia” symbolizing the body of Christ) and only taken by my grand-grand mother who was as pious and God fearing as everybody else in her time. My mom thought it was all a theatre and I totally agreed with her.
I personally watched as priests would steal, sexually harass girls during the religious services (including me!) and all that made see churches with a suspect, dreadful look. When I criticize most of the muslim rules (so many of them outdated and against the nature of human beings), I am also criticizing the rules and hypocrisy of Christian church as I know it of any other church that doesn’t contribute for people’s health and happiness.

Curiously enough – and as a symbol of Egypt’s flexible approach to other religions – the ritual was taken in an open space in a beautiful villa of Maadi surrounded by muslims getting ready to start their own Ramadan.
Now…I hate rules. I hate someone or something ordering me and telling me what to do, what to think, say or believe or…how to behave. I see relationships with God as a PERSONAL matter and every prayer, every act regarding it should come from inside of yourself, not from an exterior source who imposes it upon you. THIS HOW I THINK.
Don’t tell me when to say “Amen”. Please don’t tell me to adore God and demonstrate it following this or the other ritual. When it comes from the heart – and from your free will and consciousness – it means SOMETHING to me and, I suppose, to God (whatever that ENERGY may be).



So here I go half participating and half observer to a mess of the “Maadi Community Church” and I must say I had a blast!
Music and singing, “gospel” style celebrating a God WHOM IS NOT NEGATIVE, FINGER POINTING or SAD. This is a HAPPY GOD for HAPPY PEOPLE!
Most of the rhythms from the religious service were familiar to me as I grew up within the African community in Portugal and the mood they instilled in the present audience was just amazing.



Music and dance are, once again as I mentioned 10000 times, incredible ways to connect with your inner self and GOD WITHIN you. This image of a God that is watching you and blaming you for your human weaknesses never quite convinced me. I believe in a GOD that lives INSIDE you. Part of you. Flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood (does this come mentioned in the “Bible”?!).
That’s what I believe. No temples or images needed. HE’S inside you. If you could just listen to HIM all the time…that’s the path to enlightenment, isnt’t it?!
There was a preacher between dance and music gospels and from that one I retained two gorgeous notes:



1. The history of the famous king Solomon who gathered an incredibly luxurious fortune, endless lovers, wives, concubines, the most lavish palaces and richness available in the material world to end up feeling utterly empty and recognizing about his quest for material success in this world :
“I WAS CHASING THE WIND”.
Living in a world that tells you’re nothing unless you own this and that, unless you do this and that, unless you’re successful at this and that…it’s an Herculean feat to clearly see that all those material achievements we struggle so much for are nothing but …THE WIND.

2. The story of Jesus washing a poor man’s feet at a dinner occasion when all the disciples refused to intervene and do it themselves.
This is a simple, incredible story and it deeply touched my heart.
There was a dinner party where Jesus and his disciples were present and everybody took their own shoes (leaving them at the door, as it was customary during those times) and washed their feet before entering the room where the banquet was going to take place.
When a poor man arrived and his feet had to be washed, Jesus watched as every one of his disciples refused in their full pride and sense of superiority to go down on their knees and wash the man’s feet so he did it himself as to show them that serving others doesn’t diminish one’s worth (quite the opposite, really…).
Master= Servant

This is, probably, the most eloquent proof of humbleness and human kindness.
According to Arabic traditions and extremely defined hierarchies, there are superior and inferior people. The boss doesn’t serve his employee. If my “khadama” (the lady who cleans my home) sees me helping her doing her work (as it happened so often) she will look at me with disapproval and loose her respect for me (meaning I am lowering myself right into her own low standard).
Pride and arrogance are much of Arabic behaviour nowadays as far as hierarchies are concerned. A master cannot be a server, according to the daily attitudes I observe in most Egyptian and arabs.
I am totally against this ignorance based system and totally agreeing with this Jesus history of the “feet washing” (sorry if I don’t name it properly).
My mum – my reference in most of my values – always showed us (me and my sister) that honest work cannot be shameful. From washing a bathroom to writing a book. From cleaning the streets or emptying the garbage to governing a country or being an artist. If you work and serve with dignity, there’s no shame in it.
Only apparent, transitory conditions separate us from each other but, in essence, we’re ALL the SAME. ALL ONE.

Humbleness and giving to others unconditionally are, besides and above all, signs of WISDOM.
READINGS for the season:
"A life time of peace", Essential Writings by and about Thich Nhat Hanh
"The source of a true smile is an awakened mind."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Another jewel of buddhist, I would say humanist knowledge. Anyone who wishes to be a better version of himself/herself should read this book.
In a time like Ramadan, we should all reflect not upon different religions but the daily attitudes and thoughts that build a better world, better human connections, a better quality of life.
Buddhism seems to be one of the most intelligent philosophies -ways of living - I've ever been in contact with and this book reflects it.
Beautiful.
" Understanding Arabs", by Margaret K. Nydell
This title seems to be simplistic but the book itself isn't.
Generalized information about different aspects of Arabic culture and mentality explained in a fair, multi-sided and well documented way. A great tool to understand people's different attitudes and inputs in the Arab World (something that, as far as I'm concerned, drives me crazy so often) and a tender, realistic way to recognize that, in fact, western and eastern people are educated and conditioned in such different ways by their own societies, genes and traditions that it's no wonder we clash when in interaction.
This books was a great "deep breath" for me. Although it didn't say anything I haven't experienced first hand, it made me understand better this culture I'm living in and be more tolerant towards the things I cannot fully grasp and accept.
I am the foreigner here, after all...and I may seem as alien to arabs as they seem to me. Touche!
I totally advise this book to anyone who's interested in arabic culture and mentality issues.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cairo, the 16th August, 2009

"Ramadan counting down and video of "moi""



Don't loose my Ramadan shows at the magnificent

"NILE MAXIM" and...

Here it is one more of my dance videos. A lot of the dance details get lost due to the low lighting on stage and a so-so camera but I hope you can still enjoy it.
There's also something magic about Oriental Dance that demands the actual physical presence of the dancer and audience to really connect with each other.
Cameras cannot catch what's most important: the dancer's spirit and all her energy and personal charisma transmits and shares with the live audience.



Machines will always be limited as far as human contact is concerned.

Follow the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poHOLkfCLi4


Out of the blue note:
Trying to return to my yoga practice (it was about time!). It keeps me sane and centered in the middle of any storn.

Another out of the blue note:
Excited coreographing my new dances (Crazy Tabla Solo and Modern Saiidi) for my upcoming workshops abroad and regular classes in Cairo:
Portugal (Lisbon, 19,20th September) - more infos through my email: dancemagica@ gmail.com

Italy (Rome, the 26,27th September) - more infos through my email:
dancemagica@ gmail.com or jacybellydance@gmail.com

Regular classes in Cairo from the 5th October ahead
at CSA INSTITUTE, MAADI (21st Street, number 4) - more infos through CSA ( 010 382 96 38 or email: pauline@livinginegypt.org )
Schedule for regular classes (from the 5th October):
Mondays from 12.30h till 13.30h - Beginners Oriental Dance Class
Wednesdays from 12.30h till 13.30h - Intermediate Oriental Dance Class
Tuesdays evening from 7.00h pm till 8.00h pm - Beginners Oriental Dance Class
Tuesdays evening from 8.00h pm till 9.00h pm - Intermediate Oriental Dance Class
NOTE: New Joana Saahirah article coming out on the CSA magazine this October!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Cairo, the 15th August, 2009

"Joana at the
magnificent
"NILE MAXIM"

If you happen to be in Cairo during the next month, don't miss my shows!
Promising big surprises and the best dance my soul can produce.


Welcome to Cairo, still the capital of Oriental Dance.

Here are some shots of one of my shows at the great "NILE MAXIM":















Cairo, the 13th August, 2009

“Ramadan and turbulent/growing times”


“I believe that it´s wise for all of us to keep in mind that we´re in process, and to keep on our travelling shoes. Nobody´s here to stay. We´re in process.”

Maya Angelou (1985)


*** While living in Egypt – the country of contradictions, par excellence – I often asked myself how can life embody so many different points of view, so much lack of reason, logic and sense. As far as I´m concerned, most of life is pure invisible mathematic and yet, nonsense…contradictions, contradictions, more contradictions. Trying to get it straight is pure madness.

As if Egypt was a weird example some wicked-naughty God wanted to present to the world to show that human beings are, essentially, contradictory and prone to mix evilness with kindness in such an extent that you loose the will and ability to classify: this is good and that´s bad.

The hero becomes the evil guy of the movie in a second. It´s just disarming and tiring to try to follow up with all these strange current of events…

*** Ramadan embodies all the major human contradictions and I must admit I´m kind of nervous by being in the country – for the first time – during the holy month.
More news – and shocks/surprises/wonders – to come…trying to be prepared for the flood.
Cairo, the 14th August, 2009

“Mahmoud, Mahmoud, Mahmoud”


*** My dearest friend, teacher, grandfather, companion and dance/soul partner. You are eternal in my heart.

*** Another blessed afternoon with my favourite partner:
my dear friend Mahmoud Reda!
No one shares dance and art with me like Mahmoud and I cannot measure the amount and real importance of all that he kindly, patiently teaches me. So much more than dance and art. So much more than any other teacher has ever taught me. Above all, the generosity and the humbleness that only the great ones can possess…and then an incredible attention to all that I do, correcting me, watching me as I learn his new choreography or any piece of dance I ask him to teach me. Watching me as if I was the work of art and not his own work. No one has ever looked, really looked at me this way. So much tenderness and appreciation. I can only do my best. For me, for him, for the dance itself that we both love so much.

*** “There´s a new dance I want to show you!” – My dear teacher tells me with a wide smile full of anticipation as soon as I arrive at his studio.
“Yalla! I want to learn it. Show it to me.” – I answer literally jumping on the ground like a kid at a Christmas present opening ritual.
What comes next can only be described as MAGIC. We close ourselves in the dancing studio and he unravels, step by step his new creation asking me, every once in a while, if I like it (how could I not like it?!)

*** He´s sitting on his chair watching me repeat sequences of steps again and again. I presume it´s painful for him to watch me doing the same stuff one and one more time…I am mistaken.
I am a perfectionist and I hate copies. I wish to transform that new material into my “own” dance in a second and I give myself no time to memorize. I want to see it perfect and sublime from the first moment we dig into the new dance.

*** His patience amazes me. I say I´m sorry. Let me repeat one more time and another and another until it´s presentable.
My dear friend tells me to take my time. More important than that…he gives me that time watching me repeat and repeat the same steps like a maniac trying to feel the music, get it into my system, understand it and own it. All in an extremely short space of time.

*** I feel bad to make him wait for my persistent repetitions and my stubborn idea that I have to make it perfect, every single step full of meaning, life´s juice, soul…

*** “Are you upset that I correct you?! I know you´re not used to be corrected. You´re the one who, usually, corrects others. Are you upset?!” – He asks with some shyness.
“Correct me all you want. That´s why I´m here for. Every correction, every movement I´m forced to do in a different, unknown or unexplored way is a gift for me. Without difficulties, there´s no growth. Keep correcting me as much as you want. I thank you for that.” – I answer him, although I secretly think there´s not even reason for him to question how much I appreciate all he´s teaching me.

*** Mahmoud keeps telling me how much he enjoys watching me dance, no matter how many times I may repeat the same dance sequence. Is that any greater compliment than my friend´s total attention and appreciation?!

*** His brand new choreography (what an excitement!), Nubian dance, a new “tableau” I´m preparing from one of his old songs, “Mwashahat” with a song that breaks my heart every time I listen to it (“Ah,ya k´albi” sang in classical arabic and once performed on television by Farida Fahmy).
I ask him to put it on the stereo. From the moment I listen to the first notes of the song, my tears start to descend from my eyes into the emptiness where only our heart can live.
“See how absolutely beautiful is this song, Mahmoud!” – I say to my friend trying to disguise the tears on my face.
My breath stops at every melodic change. I point these out to Mahmoud and I know he understands me better than anyone. Only someone like him could ever understand why I cry while listening to a melodic change in some old song most people don´t even remember anymore.

*** “I have to do this song in my work. My musicians will keel me. This is hard work for them but I just have to do it. It´s too beautiful to remain undone…” – I tell my friend.
He nods and tells me: “Of course.”
*** If I could freeze these moments, I would. Thank you, God!



Cairo, the 14th August, 2009


“Being stalked or the fine art of swallowing frogs”

*** Unless you´re a foreigner married to another foreigner – working with another foreigners in an also foreigner company surrounded by foreigner friends – you cannot really protect yourself from the wonders and awful bits of life in Egypt.
Being exposed to egyptian and arabic people´s daily reality has so much to teach you. You learn from different mentalities, religions, points of view, ways of thinking, acting, valuing and even feeling (this one blows my mind as I thought there was only ONE kind of human heart ). It can also be devastating, disarming and so hard that you question, even if for short moments of total confusion, if all you learnt it was right and wrong isn´t, in the end, just a mistake your parents taught you.
Who´s right?! Who is more able to validate and pronounce this or that attitude as ethically valid or invalid? None of us grabs the ultimate flag of “all knowledge”. No one has all the right answers or the right to think that, in some ways, we hold the wisest logic.
It can all get very confusing…

I, sometimes, think that our bodies (in particular our brains, skin and hearts) are composed from different cells, chemicals and strange elements familiar to doctors and anatomists but ever more a mystery to “normal” people like me.

I have a lot of trouble understanding how so often a brother hurts, betrays and steals from another brother (I´ve seen it here more than anywhere in the world), how men use women and women use men with no shame or sense of guilt, how “love” is such an empty word in most people´s mouths and how even children seem to be so repressed and conditioned they will start to stare hungrily at your breasts from the age of three!
I try to not to judge. I really do. And yet it´s so damn difficult not to.

Whenever I´m interviewed about my life and work in Egypt and a journalist asks me what´s the biggest challenge I´ve had to face during the whole experience, my answer is usually quick and 100% sure of itself:
“Not to become a rock.” This is the maximum challenge and my biggest fear: due to so many disappointments and exposure to human wickedness, I can clearly see that becoming a heartless bitch – or a rock, if you want to sound more diplomatic – it´s a MAJOR thing.
Growing in my career, keeping myself physically and mentally sane and living 24 hours per day in a country where everybody seems to have gone berserk without becoming one of the many cynical, greedy, sick, heartless and soulless women and men I meet everyday is the most difficult thing in the world and a path to greater humanity or…disaster.

*** Today I cried really hard like I didn´t cry for such a long time. After a while of so many surprises – great and awful – and disappointment after disappointment, it seems that the internal machine which produces your tears simply dries.
You swallow frogs after frogs because life goes on and you can´t stop just because you´re hurt, you try to accept that this is just the way human beings are: imperfect, illogical, way too much fragile…
And, at some point, your body seems to tell you: your lot of tears just expired. You´re cried all your tears and now you´re dry.
What a terrible thing to happen…like a part of your ability to express feelings just dried up like a raisin under the desert sun.

*** After arriving home from a day of “baladi” shopping with my assistant, I finally discovered that my tears hadn´t expired. They were plentiful and ready to explode.
They did.

***This was supposed to be a quiet shopping afternoon in some “baladi” markets of Cairo. We went for fabrics (doing some of my own dance dresses! Yeah!), embroidery materials, “accessoires”, shoes and fresh vegies (I´m a wide kind of shopper).
The shopping route was Old Maadi market, “Ukala” (main fabric market on the Corniche il Shobra) and “Hussein” ( the zone of the famous market of “Khan el Khalili”).
I was careful enough to choose a cloth that allowed me to breath and not faint from the extreme August heat and yet humble and covered enough to drag the minimum attention from both men and women whom I knew would be staring, talking about, harassing and, even better, stalking me and my assistant on or commercial peregrination.

*** I thought about dressing my Saudi “abbaya” but then remembered that it works the other way around: if I dress the “abbaya” to cover myself and avoid people´s staring and harassing, I end up being toughly bothered and treated as a vamp, a hungry seductress and, allas, a prostitute.
I chose a pair of jeans and a large t-shirt but couldn´t bring myself to criticize my own egyptian assistant when she appeared at my own fresh as a portuguese lettuce wearing lycra pants and a tiger printed tight shirt from where you could easily guess the shape of her breasts and even her nipples.
“Aren´t egyptian women usually more aware of the importance of dressing discreetly ?!”
Foreigners are the ones to whom people usually point their fingers when it comes to physical exposure. I just can´t understand all these contractions, 24 hours/day!

*** I could have told my assistant to return home and put on something that wouldn´t put us into troubles but I was running out of time and I didn´t want to sound like an old grandma trying to protect another lady´s moral standards.

*** The thing is I am in a combative mode most of the time. While in Egypt, I feel like whenever I´m in public, all my antennas should be working and I take the role of protector of my own safety and the safety of anyone who happens to be with me, even if that person is an egyptian lady used to the streets and its people much more than me.

*** My assistant, from her own side, didn´t bother being by my side as I acted on the male role of protector and safety guardian for me and for her tiger tight shirt…
She was still smiling broadly and rolling her hips in contentment when we returned home.
I was about to explode. As soon as she left and I started opening the shopping bags, my well hidden tears just exploded into bursts and bursts of frustration, rage and pure exhaustion.

*** During our market googling, we ended up buying most of the stuff we needed but I had to fight (even physically) to several men whom verbally harassed me (and her famous “tiger shirt”), stalked me and followed me for long, painful lengths of time. I´m not talking about one, two or three men. I am talking about dozens of “all ages” men who even dared to walk side by side with me whispering obscenities into my ears.
I wanted to ignore them and yet, at some point, I could not. My assistant, as any regular woman, felt flattered or/and afraid. She didn´t open her mouth and I suspect that being my side and feeling I had her back covered had a lot to do with it.
By logic – my own logic, again… - the egyptian lady would protect me (the foreigner) and make sure that I felt the less uncomfortable. That didn´t happen.
Feeling totally exposed and unprotected, I naturally took on the role I am used to practice on a daily basis and became the “man” of the whole picture.

*** The most enerving thing about the stalking and the sexual harassing is that men do not expect the women to defend themselves or answer them in a negative tone. In their heads, they have the right to harass you, stalk you, even touch you because you´re walking in the street without a man by your man (so…you´re asking for it!) but, if you answer and defend yourself, they can really take it badly and turn against you.

*** I lost the account of how many men I had to punch and threaten during this shopping treap. Some turned against me and I had to be more violent than them in order to be left in peace. I couldn´t cry – as I felt like doing so many times – or show any sign of weakness. That would be a great disaster with real consequences.
My egyptian assistant watched the scary movie in a totally zen mood as if she was walking on the clouds and between the singing birds.

*** I am not an aggressive person by nature. Therefore, having to act upon these men/wild animals with such violence is, more than to them, an stressful even to me. It´s such a depressing thing having to mistreat and taking another men´s mistreatments.
For every meter I walked, there was some sexual remark, someone trying to touch me, another one trying to fit into my walking rhythm to initiate a conversation.
To top over the whole stressful afternoon, we stopped in a gas station and, while my assistant was getting us cold drinks from inside, a Saudi guy stopped his car and dared to come to me and play the typical arabic Don Juan role (Oh, Goooooddd…..not now!!!).

***Did I know how beautiful I was. Yes, I know, thanks. Did I know he would do anything to be just 5 minutes in my company. No, thanks. Did I know he had never seen such a beautiful woman like me? Good for you, pal! If he could just get my contact so that he could invite me for dinner…Dream on, sick babe…

I let him talk – blah, blah, blah – looking at the sky with an expression I was sure of saying: “F…off, you looser!” and yet he didn´t quit (arabic men´s persistence, amazing!). He kept delivering me the pseudo-poetic phrases I have listened a million times and, at some point, there was just a background noise in my mind with no clear words or anyone specific in it. I took off. It was just too much to handle after this afternoon.

“Please just shut up and go away.”- I told him in a what it must have been my most exhausted tone of voice.
He continued persistently and didn´t show any sign of quitting. I looked around searching for my assistant who seemed to have travelled to Brazil to get us the damned chilled drinks. No one in the gas station intervened or asked if this man was bothering me. He was clearly a big shot, a “pasha” with money and we know that “pashas” with money are never interrupted in this country.

I swallowed dry saliva. I pushed my sun glasses towards my face. I gave myself one or two seconds to regain strength and then I shout at him, really shout at him:
“GO AWAY. I AM NOT INTERESTED. JUST GO AWAY.”

To this last resource intervention the Saudi man exploded into my face as if I had deeply offended his mother. He told me there was no use for me to be so rude and that I couldn´t talk to him like that.
What?!

*** Well…What can I say?! We might as well have been in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia (where both mentality and official laws put women in the same status of cows or bellow them) but we were in my crazy, impossible and also loved Cairo on the year 2009!!! How can this still happen?!

***I held my tears and run for my assistant – with or without the drinks – dreaming about arriving home and being allowed to breath without any man jumping over me.

*** My tear reservatoire was not dry after all.
It´s good to know that (oh, the good side of every tragedy!).
Cairo, the 14th August, 2009


“Baladi wedding”

*** If only all weddings were like this one! If only the future life of the bride and the groom could be so bright and full of love as it seemed to be during this party (I truly hope it will be!).

*** I am a sucker for romance and the ultimate idealist when it comes to the BIG L: LOVE (real love, the “for all my life kind of love”).
Despite all the hypocrisy, lies and economical interests mingled into what egyptian and arabs call “love” (in 90% of the cases I personally know about) and despite all the terrible, ugly hearts I have been in touch with since I arrived in Egypt, I still believe that true love exists and that you can find, indeed, the “love of your life” with whom you can also live an amazing – sometimes hard and scary – existence since death do you part. Call me silly, call me a dreamer but I do know that kind of jewel is possible to be found and, when you do, you just know it´s right.

*** Arab and egyptian men will propose marriage to a woman for many reasons (not always the most honourable) and, usually, within an incredible time spam that can go from 5 minutes after he met you till 2 weeks of occasional dating.
The words “Let´s get married” run away from their mouths like out of control children whom you cannot keep sitting and quiet at the table.
In most, MOST of the cases, this request means literally “nothing” or “I want to take you to bed very often so let´s do it in a legal way”. It has no connection to my own idea of marriage (connecting and compromising to a life partner who is your passion, your lover, your best friend, your strength and your weakness and, above all, a partner for life with whom you envision waking up together every day, making love beyond lust and quick desire but out of a deep feeling that makes you want to kiss that man 24 hours per day for no reason).
That´s what I´m talking about, people!
The REAL THING!
Not the “I´m so horny that I would marry you just to jump into your pants” kind of marriage but the one who connects two individuals as life partners. I can see I am an outsider, no doubt about it!

*** I can only hope last night´s wedding was one of “my type” of weddings. I can only wish…

*** Why was I at the wedding?
To deliver a present to the couple. The groom is the son of one of my musicians, the chief of my orchestra who happens to be (contrary to what gossips had reported to me when he first started working with me) my main support within the band and all the world itself. He´s not a musical genius like Mozart but he´s professional, honest (a great plus when you´re talking about egyptian musicians), not even a bit sleazy (another major plus) , punctual, straightforward and all the things most egyptian aren´t. For that reason, I respect him and like him very much.
All his family is composed by musicians, singers and composers. Music runs in their veins and the request for me to perform at this wedding was a communal, family thing. Several elements of the “Von Trapp family” personally called me asking if I would give them the honour of performing at this wedding.
When my own musician asked me how much I charged for this job, I didn´t have the guts to charge him. Somehow, and even erroneously, I consider my musicians like a second family. You just don´t take money from your family.
No discussion about that.

*** How was the wedding?
Amazing is not enough to describe this night. Not only was I treated with total reverence, tenderness and appreciation as the show itself was the easiest, most fluid thing I´ve ever done. Everybody was expecting me in full excitement.
My own orchestra and some invited musicians came to play and make part of the show.
People were very close from me, both physically and emotionally. I could see my musician´s brother (who is a composer and already knew me) crying like a baby when I entered the improvised stage they prepared for me.
Everybody went crazy and yet, very respectful and careful with me.
I heard more “thank you´s” tonight than I´ve ever heard during my whole life.

*** What did I feel?!

Well…a hard one to answer. I felt grateful for being part of an event that celebrates LOVE and two human beings coming together.
I felt – very clearly – people´s warm appreciation towards me and a space of creativity where I could be myself without effort, no trying to please anyone or any kind of professional pressure. When people are sure you´re the best, you just give them the best with no effort. One of Nature´s laws.
I felt pure joy, tenderness from all the women present in the salon and a reverence that stopped guests and even bride/groom to join me on stage (as it usually happens during egyptian weddings).
I looked at the bride and the groom sitting on their kitch golden chairs and they also had tears in their eyes. Holding hands and staring at me, I could also see their heartfelt “thank you” for my presence, my dance, my good wishes floating from my dance, my gesture of offering them the show.

They were truly grateful because I offered them the show but, in the end, I was to one who felt most cherished and as if someone had delivered me an incredible gift.
One of beautiful life´s irony. They have given me more than I´ve given them.
What a night!!! Toasting to LOVE, the REAL ONE, the reallllllll onneeee…
YES!
Cairo, the 14th August, 2009

“More readings related to my surrounding world”

*** How do I even manage to read l when I have no time to breath?
The addiction itself keeps it going, I guess…I have different books scattered all over the house and purse.
There´s a book for the bed (when I have a bit of extra energy to read a few pages after I lay down in total exhaustion), one for the bathtub (very neglected since I haven´t performed my full immersion salted baths for such a long time…), another “hopeful” one in the living room near from my oriental couch I also haven´t used in a long time and another book in my hand bag which I read on my way to work, while walking in the street, by the gym´s swimming pool, on elevators and all kinds of occasions when I have to wait for something or someone (not a fan of waiting for anything…).

*** Reading bits of this and that and trying not to go totally schizophrenic during the process.

*** Here´s what I am digging in right now (all related to the Middle East, somehow):

1. I am happier to know you, by Jeanne M. Eck
This is not a literary masterpiece but it has a lot of common knowledge informations and insights about the experiences most foreigners have while living in Egypt. It´s curious to notice the author lived very near from my actual home and frequented CSA Institute (where I am teaching Oriental Dance) plus all the Maadi references she includes in the book (familiar places, roads, shops, etc).
In this book, you can clearly see Egypt from the perspective of a single woman who, may I add, has a very compassionate approach towards the egyptian people.
Let me be clear: this is not Shakespeare we´re talking about. Not even close. The writing is practical, straightforward and kind of journalistic but, as an Egypt resident, I can find many points of common distress and fascination in this book.
There is something reassuring and comforting, somehow, in knowing that we´re not the only ones to have nervous breakdowns at the absurdities of this complex country.
If you live in Egypt and feel like you´re often surviving in the middle of a chaos without solution…if your hands reach for your own hair to rip it off in a single, dry thrust due to any kind of repeated incompetence, dishonesty or absurd mentality issue…this is your book!


2. Asmahan´s Secrets, by Sherifa Zuhur

One of the marvellous things about living in Egypt is the continual discover of its incredible history and cultural.
More even if you´re a dancer dealing directly with musicians, empresarios and audience on a daily basis (like me!) with no intermediary to soften the rough edges of mentality differences and behaviours…then you´re forced to know this country and its mind/heart/soul from the inside out. It´s great, some times! And it´s awful, a lot of another times.

One of the joys of working as a dancer in Cairo – if you´re REALLY into the dance and the arts field – is discovering one and another and yet another great singer, composer, musician…there seems to be a great bag full of treasures, musically speaking. It has no end…you get one after another great artist and the flow of talent never ceases. Incredible.
I am discovering the singer Asmahan, the “almost” substitute to the great Om Kolthoum. She didn´t enjoy the dimension of Om Kolthoum or her global recognition but she was, as I´m learning now through the book and the cds I am buying from the street, another great voice with a dramatic life story.
Asmahan was the sister of also famous and great singer/composer/actor Farid el Atrash and they both came from a rich, well connected druze family from Syria.

As any other perfomer who had a piece of fame for herself, Asmahan was surrounded by an image of “vamp”, loose woman and also an alleged spy – some claim this was the reason of her death – ending her life in a sad way and having lived as an “outsider” from her own country and from her own condition of women (or what arabic mentality dictates women should be).

Through her life story, you end up learning about her art and the art of so many contemporary artists of her time.
I´m searching for one of her songs to perform on stage. Any suggestion?!



3. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
A book by the same author as the famous “The Kite Runner” ( recently made into a movie).
A great romance coloured by cultural, political, historical real facts of the wounded Afghanistan. More than everything, an ode to WOMEN and their noble spirits preserved even in the worst of nightmares.
I always think latin -american authors (Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez and Pablo Neruda at the top) have a way of describing human nature and sensuality that is unique and so wonderfully warm and moisty. No one describes passion, love, lust and passion like latin people (sorry for another nationalities).
There is a fire running in our veins that impresses our eyes and senses with a peculiar way of seeing things, feeling them and, ultimately, describe them.
Although that´s true and I also find arabic authors a little crude in their way of describing women and sensuality, this author is an exception.
I loved the way he makes his feminine characters talk and the sensitive, intelligent, honest way he also describes women´s frustrated loves and lives.
If you´re interested in Afghanistan, its history and women – main victims of the Taliban and most wars that have desolated the country – this is a book for you.
I can´t wait to read “The Kite Runner”.


4. Cocktails and Camels, by Jacqueline Carol
This is another light book describing Alexandria and its cosmopolitan residents in the beginning of the 20th century.
Distant from the current Alexandria – total hell in the summer when all Cairo residents still run to the Mediterranean sea to clog all the city´s arteries – the place that the author describes was close to heaven on earth, at least for the ones with money.
Besides describing several aspects of the Alexandrian high society of that time – with a melting pot of nationalities that conferred this ancient city all the magic it still has till today – the author also paints a panorama of what you can still find today in arabic and egyptian mentalities, despite all the efforts to look and act westernized.

Also not Shakespeare as far as the writing quality is concerned but it´s a fun reading full of rich characters and an honest insight into the main eastern complexities and contradictions (juggling roles and aspirations between their own traditions and the foreign allure of modernity and freedom).