For lunch we had Koshary, the Egyptian version of Mac n Cheese (without the cheese). It’s my favorite Egyptian dish. Pasta and something crunchy with some strange spices. Whatever it is, it’s yummy and I highly recommend it.
We visited Muhammed Ali Street, once a great place full of famous belly dancers, now run down. Fortunately Khamis Henkesh’s store still stands, a tiny, closet-sized place filled with the most beautiful drums. Khamis passed away earlier in the year, but we did get to meet his sons Ahmed and Reda. They drummed for us while we danced. Amaya and I walked away with a new tabla each and I also bought a riqq that I don’t know how to play.
To be honest, the rest of Cairo is a blur. I know we ate some more food. We did some more sightseeing. We got to see where Ali’s father lives and say hi to him.
The feeling on Cairo was one of heavy-heartedness. We did not see many smiles. There were not many people hanging around and having a good time. Cafes and restaurants were sparsely occupied. It all felt very somber. One of our lunch destinations had the news on. As soon as it began speaking of the protests and our heads turned to pay attention, the owner turned it off. People definitely tried to make us feel that Egypt is a wonderful place, and everyone wanted us to invite our friends and family to visit. They wanted us to ignore the bad; Egypt needs tourism to boost its economy. Many Egyptian men I spoke to are unhappy with the President and want him removed. They worry about the Brotherhood taking over and making Egypt even more conservative and oppressive than its current state. They worry for their children’s futures. I worry for their children’s futures.
Our waitress is the first woman in Abu Sir I have seen that is not covering her hair and she continually hits on Amar throughout the evening. She is also wearing tight black jeans and a skin-tight Sponge Bob Square Pants shirt. There are a few other women in the club dressed in similar fashion with lots of make-up and eyes marked by drug use. They were extremely wonderful hostesses and attended to our every need. Despite their hospitality I was concerned about being in a Cabaret and kept thinking “my belly dance teacher would not approve!” At one point Leilani excuses herself to the loo, only to come back a few minutes later and inform us that there was a woman in there with a very long silver knife. I must admit that at this point, I’m a little scared to be there.
The next day we fly to NY. You would think my story ended here but not quite. We are homesick, exhausted, jet-lagged, and still trying to make sense of our ‘retreat.’ As we enter JFK, the room is blasted with news of the Sandyhook shootings. Welcome to America.
Malia is a dancer, instructor, and troupe director from Bothell, Washington. Specializing in Oriental and Egyptian folkloric dance, she enjoys the self-expression and community that belly dance creates. Malia is married with two children. www.piedpeacock.com