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Monday, October 29, 2012

Egypt


Egypt

Pic by MiralKhan on Devian Art

P.S. This post is too long, sorry for that. Keep in mind my observations happened in 3-4 days & I only saw 1% of Egypt so forgive my narrow perspective and enjoy.        

Gaza, October 29, I will start this blog post about Egypt by a tweet I replied with to a question that was directed to me about Egypt. "Egypt was a million explosive things hidden underneath a weaved blanket of so many overwhelming emotions.  It was like leaving the love of your life to go meet a long lost lover."
“(Egypt) is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust.”
― Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour

It was like an out-of-body experience. Leaving Gaza was pretty easy, yes I had to wait for 4-5 hours but I actually crossed the Palestinian and Egyptian border and was ready to jump onto the cab ride to Cairo that usually takes 4-5 hours, unlike many guys whom I witnessed being asked to head back to Gaza for different reasons. The mission-impossible is a mission-accomplished now.

At first we passed through Egyptian Rafah, an identical twin to the Palestinian Rafah. The houses, the shops, the people and the sand. Everything is alike. I felt like we were still in Gaza. Then, we passed through Al Arish, it has the Gaza vibe until you start witnessing the very tall, fancy, schmancy and huge hotels and sports clubs. Then comes Sinai desert. Miles and miles of endless luscious silky sand that you feel like diving in or covering your body with. Then you pass through different areas until you reach "Ismailia". It immediately brought back flashbacks of "Deir El Balah" in Gaza. Tall and arrogant palm trees. Allot of planted lands. A few pedestrians walking by. 

I was captivated and taken aback with everything my eyes are trying to absorb and fathom to the extent that I decided not to take pictures. I wanted to take photographic memories with my eyes instead, and then come here and describe what I saw and felt instead of sharing pictures.
Then, reality starts kicking in. "I am out of Gaza", I murmured to myself. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. I felt triumph for making it to Egypt after defying all the odds and realities that were telling me how impossible reaching Egypt or NYC will be. But at the same time something weird was happening, I felt like a drug addict, like Gaza was slowly withdrawing from my system. I instantly got sad and felt like air is abandoning my body. Then I felt like a fish, a fish that was taken out of water, it was nice sneak-peaking outside the tank, but I wanted to return to Gaza right there and then.

"Omar, you are on a mission, remember?! Hang in there. You are doing this for yourself and for numerous other Gazan girls and guys who will be in your shoes one day", I tried desperately to inject some sense into myself. I calmed down.

We passed through streets of an area that had only huge factories. Huge companies, huge factories and huge smokestacks gushing thick grey pieces of smoke that looks like a staying-still pieces of fluffy cotton candy. I got sad. I remembered the area in Gaza that is filled with factories, factories that no longer work because of the Israeli bombardment and\or siege. It hit me right there and then, an indubitable fact: Egypt is a country, a huge country, Gaza isn’t a country and its very tiny in comparison to Egypt.

More time was passing and I never wasted a minute. I observed and absorbed everything in the scope of my human abilities. I then reached a point of observing things while my mind is wandering on a black horse.
We started reaching Cairo and I felt a tingle in my throat and a jingle in my heart. It was getting dark. My dear "SUN" was accompanying me all the way until she got tired and decided to go sleep; she was wearing such a recherché orange glowing dress. Sunset in Egypt was beautiful, I know sunsets everywhere are alike, but I have to admit that the sunset in Gaza is much more beautiful, tender, rich, and the colors are more harmonious.

Darkness didn’t stop Cairo from preserving its assiduousness. Big banners, flashy lights everywhere, wide streets and vibrant colorful vibes that penetrates the darkness of the night. The only difference between day and night in Egypt is the sun. The atmosphere doesn’t change much. Oh, and the weather becomes amazing at night. The Nile was very flirtatious, sexy and arrogant. Many loud vessels (of different shapes and sizes) were cruising around in the Nile but the most beautiful scene was how the surrounding lights were reflecting on the Nile's surface creating a 3rd dimensional painting.

A new day has come. Sun started slowly pouring light and pumping it into Cairo. I was in awe. Cairo turns into a beehive in the morning, traffic in a constant rush-hour, people riding cars or walking to work\school\university, you can just feel how energetic the atmosphere around you is.
Cairo has many bridges; it’s a clever way to connect different roads and areas. Bridges is a new experience for me; it just goes to show how big of a city Cairo is.

Have you ever been spoken to by buildings? I am not peddling minutiae here, I am serious. I don’t know if people notice that, but the buildings in Cairo are so corpulent and they ooze a freedom that is crowned by independence. Buildings in Egypt asseverate a very obvious fact: Egypt is an independent, strong and solid country. Governmental buildings are colossal. Museums are huge. Malls are huge. Companies are huge. Shops are huge. Streets are huge. Supermarkets are huge. Everything is just humongous. In a way, I wish we had this confidence in Gaza, but I wouldn’t deny that this made me miss how cozy and warm Gaza is, with its small streets and small buildings.

I passed through "Abdeen", its very Egyptian and vivid. Shops, people walking, cars and busy streets. I stayed at "Zamalek", I have to say that its one of Egypt's most charming and classy neighborhoods, and its so quiet. The streets are beautiful, trees are everywhere. You can easily find shops, bakeries, restaurants, pharmacies, hotels and every other thing you are looking for. Zamalek has a special vibe of its own. My only problem with Zamalek was how similar its streets are.

I also passed through "Al-Ma'adi", a very upscale Egyptian neighborhood that is very classy and charming also. Although its very similar to Zamalek, it still has its own vibe.

Cairo's downtown is unbelievable and impeccable. It’s the perfect marriage of local stores and international brands. You will find everything you are looking for. The famous "Madbooli" bookstore is located in the heart of Cairo's downtown, it’s a great place for people who likes to treasure-hunt Arabic books. Streets and streets of all kinds of shops, boutiques, restaurants, banks, bakeries, pharmacies, shoes stores and much much much more. It reminded me of Beirut's downtown and Gaza's downtown too. People were walking in every direction you can think of. An aspiring artist was displaying his work on the street, they were truly impressive.

You would think that the weather in Cairo would be atrocious, on the contrary, it wasn’t very different from Gaza, very hot in the day and easy breezy in the night. I didn’t notice a difference and I wasn’t bothered at all.

The most interesting street was the street that homed "The Cultural Wheel" or "Sa2yet El Sawi". When we passed next to it my heart jumped out of my chest and I flashed a huge smile. I turned into a 5-year old who was approaching a candy store. It looked so big from the outside, and so sexy. I didn’t have time to get in there but passing next to it alone flew me to cloud nine. I was high on ecstasy. But I wasn’t even prepared to what was about to happen.

Have you heard of "Diwan" bookstore in Egypt? I am sure many of you know it. I knew it too but I forgot all about it until the awesome cab driver blurted, "I heard you were looking for English books and got disappointed when you didn’t find any at Madbooli's. Would you like to check Diwan bookstore?". I was electrocuted with emotions. At first, I was disappointed with myself for forgetting about Diwan bookstore but then I remembered that everything was happening too fast. Then, I was jumping with excitement. I found myself saying to the cab drive: "YES, YES, YES". I proved to the world that just like Herbal Essence Shampoo can give you an orgasmic shower (per to their advertisement), bookstores can make you sound like you were having an orgasm. I would have turned to a red tomato of embarrassment but I was nonchalant, I was too excited for "Diwan" bookstore.

"OMG, I died and was sent to heaven", "No wait, its like a candy store", "hallelujah", " I am in love", I kept murmuring things to myself. My only regret was that I had not much time to look around and boy I wanted to spend half of my life there. I started sifting through the aisles and bookshelves while I overwhelm the poor employee there with a thousand question about a thousand books at the same time. It was an unforgettable hour.

I found so many books, some I read and others were on my wishlist. I discovered many new authors and amazing new books. I tried to process everything I was seeing. I bought a few books and exited leaving my heart there. I will definitely be visiting them the next time I am in Cairo.
If you are planning to visit Cairo soon and you are a reading geek like me, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check Diwan bookstore, here is their website: http://www.diwanegypt.com/

We passed through a cozy restaurant called "Maison Thomas" which basically specializes in Pizza. The name might sound British but the ambiance was definitely Italian. Its like you were strolling through Venice.
I happened to pass through Tahrir Sq. so many times and every time it happens I turn into a superman. I become happy, and confident and free. It looks and feels so familiar and it illustrates hard work. I became friends with Tahrir Sq. but I definitely need to spend some time there next time. "El Midan" and "El Tahrir" people call it there and I found myself talking about it like an Egyptian, I even was bragging about it giving the sense that my father owned it (LOL).

I met two cab drivers during this short trip. Abo yousef, such a gentleman, he was very respectful and very well awared of everything in Egypt. He was the perfect blend of a modern man yet he was very keen on holding onto his roots. He even became more amazing when he knew I was Palestinian. He liked how I spoke the Egyptian dialect so well but he said I don’t look like an Egyptian (the story of my life, people think I am a foreigner when I am in Gaza, even in Egypt I can't fake being an Arab). Abo yousef was very spontaneous and he feared god in a very respectful way, he was very funny and entertaining. But he kinda lost me when he wanted to impress me but putting on some new trendy cheap music that everyone is listening to in the streets, especially youngsters.

Abu Gooda, he was great, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I did with Abo Yousef. But Abu Gooda was also very respectful and kind and helpful and he was the one who suggested Diwan bookstores and immediately became my favorite (I know I am biased).

Egyptians. Ah, I don’t know how to express my love and respect to Egyptians. I didn’t meet a single rude Egyptian (aside from the window 6 girl at the US Embassy in Cairo). Everyone was sweet, kind, respectful, helpful, smiley, considerate and caring. They even took their sweetness up a notch whenever they knew I was Palestinian. They truly love Palestine and Palestinians with all their heart. I admit, Cairo intimidated me with how big it is but I never felt like I was a stranger because people were so warm there.
Egyptians walked with confidence, like a nation that ignited a revolution, a revolution that changed the whole Arab world. I loved watching how confident and free Egyptians are. They speak freely –whether pro or against Mubarak or Morsi or any other political party or politicians-, they walk freely and they express themselves in an amazingly emancipated way that left me in awe.

I love watching graffiti but I have to say that Egyptians took graffiti into a whole new level. I saw endless kinds of graffiti holding so many different and sometimes contrasting messages. Most of the graffiti was against Mubarak's toppled regime and the new Ikhwan regime. Graffiti work was so bold and brave. Some Graffiti work was against the police and was placed on the walls of the military police headquarters. Some Graffiti work was hilarious with the painted characters and funny messages, this left me cachinnating heartily. Also many Graffiti had some heartfelt messages about the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution.

Poverty is an epidemic that is eroding Egypt's lowest class and its very visible even in Egypt's upscale and upper class areas and neighborhoods. But, in contrary to what we hear on TV, I noticed all three classes in Egypt: Upper, middle and lower. Unlike Gaza, which is slowly becoming a two-classed impoverished coastal enclave with only the upper and lower classes being obviously visible recently.

I haven’t had local Egyptian food this time but I did before and I have to say I am addicted to the Egyptian Kushari. It’s a very simple yet delicious meal that leaves you very full, satisfied and pleasured.

I also noticed how modernized and westernized Cairo is becoming but I am not worried because I believe Egyptians are very glued to their roots, or so I would like to believe. I think the revolution played a role in bringing Egyptians closer to Egypt.

After living the Egyptian revolution through TV and Twitter, I considered myself half Egyptian and I felt like I was a part o the revolution. I wasn’t at tahrir sq. but my soul was definitely there. I was glued to the TV, I didn’t sleep, I tweeted like a mad person and I genuinely cared. I mourned the Egyptian martyrs, I rejoiced the victories and I even thought of Egypt as an Egyptian. But in Egypt I became more Palestinian. I envied Egypt and I wished that one day I get to have an independent free country that is strong as Egypt. Egyptians' love for Palestine also kept the flame of Palestine very well lit inside of me. I felt a responsibility because I was representing my people.

Egypt had many things in common with Gaza but perhaps one of them was the huge number of foreigners who are living in or visiting the country. The only difference is that Egypt even had allot of Arab nationalities either vacationing or studying or staying there because of journalism.  I was impressed to see how easy everyone was acting, they were acting like they were at home and I am not surprised because I had the same feeling.

We hear allot about how unsafe Egypt, Cairo, Sinai and El Arish are but I found the contrary. Egypt was so very safe and peaceful that helps you be at peace. The country is very safe and the people are so warm, friendly, kind and helpful that you rarely feel alarmed.

I fell in love with Egypt, and it helped me love Palestine even more.

I saw so many international and Arabic cities in Cairo. It had the dynamicity of New York, the vivid nightlife of Lebanon, the charming and cozy atmosphere of Venice, the shopping splurge of Paris and much more. Cairo has many sides to it, which basically suites everyone no matter what his\her taste is.
I didn’t experience any power outages during my stay in Cairo but what I witnessed is the fuel crisis that was majorly affecting everyone. I saw endless lines of cars waiting anxiously infront of fuel stations dreaming of a chance to fill their tanks, a scene that isn’t strange to me since I see it allot here in Gaza.

Egypt isn’t perfect. I think of it as a paragon of beauty. Yes, there is many downsides but I think the positives over power the negatives of Egypt, or so I would like to believe. Perhaps a few of the observed negatives are:
1-     How expensive Egypt has became. I mean the prices are skyrocketing. Everything is very overly priced to an extent that left me in mere shock.
2-     How cab drivers and some shop owners tend to exaggerate or increase the price of stuff just because you are a foreigner.
3-     The smothering traffic that leaves you tired and angry.
4-     The widely spread beggars across Egypt. They will stay after you till a miracle shows up and rescues you.
5-     Some streets are dirty, which is a shame because most of the streets are clean and awesome.
And one of Cairo's biggest advantage or upside is how they master customer service. If you are paying money then they will make sure you are highly respected and you will get the best service out there no matter what they have to do to achieve that. I was jealous of that. I wished Gaza could learn a bit from them when it comes to customer service. They master public relations also, something that Gaza doesn’t master at all.

Every Palestinian will tell you: "we don’t live in Palestine, Palestine lives in us". Palestine is inherent. But Egypt is inherent too in a way. It leaves things inside you when you leave it, a residue of pure passion and nostalgia. Palestine is my homeland that lives inside me, Egypt too left a print or an impression inside me.

Hate it or love it, hate to love it or love to hate it, you can't deny that Egypt is a country that has a large magnitude. The oldest and biggest civilization and the most interesting history. If you don’t feel a positive eeriness when you are in Egypt, I feel like you would be disrespecting the greatness of Egypt.

I miss Egypt so much. I can't wait to head back to Cairo this week, and I will do everything in my power to return to Zamalek neighborhood because I truly miss it. I hope I get to meet my friends there this time because last time I had no time to do that which left me depressed and left them sad.  

"Egypt is the mother of the world", an expression that is very correct. If you happened to be puzzled about why that might be, here is a few reasons: Egypt is the first country to use alphabets to write. Long texts were written in Egypt since the first intermediate period that is between the old and middle Kingdoms. In Egypt the first building using stones was built, that is the step pyramid in Sakara. The famous Pythagoras theory of a right angled triangle was used by the architect of Cheops at the ceilings of the funerary chamber at the Cheops pyramid more than 2 thousand years before Pythagoras was born.  Astronomy, chemistry, fine architecture, art, religion, jewelry, carpentry, mathematics, perfumes, needles for sewing, carving stones, first folding bed for camping - it belongs to Tut Ankh Amun-, first folding chair for the beach of the same King, first condom of him too, first paper to write that is the papyrus paper, first eye makeup, shaving tools, beds and chairs like modern ones, all these and more are Egyptian inventions.

I was asking myself If I was perplexed by a paradox of falling in love with Egypt while breathing Palestine. The answer was: NO. Palestine is my love and passion but Egypt is a country that I love and respect too. Nothing is wrong with that.

Dear Egypt, I am coming back soon. I hope you missed me as much as I missed you and your piquant taste.

Love,
Omar from Gaza

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