On the ground report of belly dancer’s travelling in Egypt – what it’s like to be a female tourist in Cairo right now!
If you missed the first instalment you can start at the beginning by clicking here.
The following is part 2 of the Shisha Diaries written by Margaret Cunningham. Margaret runs a successful Belly dance School in Brisbane Australia and runs regular tour to Egypt that are of exceptional value. She also is a great writer and I have loved reading her ‘diaries’, I am sure you will too……….
No.2 The Shisha Diaries.
22 March Day 3
“The morning started at a trendy new coffee shop, “Boulevard”, near the hotel with yummy omelettes and cappuccinos. I was interested to see heaps of locals walking past with big flower arrangements then realised that today is Egyptian mother’s day! The day is celebrated much the same as it is in Oz with the family gathering around mum and bringing gifts. Mother’s day is more important than father’s day here though.
Zamalek, where we are staying is an upmarket area of Cairo set on a large island in the Nile. It is the haunt of many expatriates as the area houses so many foreign embassies. There are also a lot of young and hip Egyptian students who attend the nearby uni. One of the things that is remarkable about Cairo is how different suburbs can differ so widely in atmosphere! I must admit I feel a bit strange in this upmarket area….like I am only half-way in Egypt. I always feel most alive in the decrepit back alleys amongst the potholes and stray cats. Strange, I know.
Today Helen and I had arranged to meet with our friend, Mo (yes, short for Mohamed) after he had spent some time with his mum on this special day. Pleased to report I had my first shisha of the trip on our hotel rooftop overlooking the Nile dreaming away the morning until Mo arrived. We first met Mo on the last tour, one of our company reps, and he quickly became a close friend. It’s nice to be able to get to know him better now ‘off the clock’. It is always engaging to be able to hear a local person like Mo explain the current state of events in Egypt from their perspective. We spent a great deal of time today just talking in depth about the revolution and its aftermath and Mo’s views on what it will take to heal the country so it can move forward.
There is no doubt that Egypt has changed. The people now are hurting and desperately worried about their futures and, worst of all, they have lost hope. On the last tour, 12 months ago, there was still much hope and optimism albeit mingled with apprehension. Now, hope for the future has evaporated and, unbelievably, people are actually saying they were better off with Mubarak!
As a visitor to Egypt, how does this affect one’s experience? I guess, having travelled here so often before, I know what it used to be like so I personally feel a sense of loss on behalf of these wonderful people. As a first time visitor however, I imagine this impact would be less as, even under the current duress, the Egyptian people still display more warmth and joy than the average Australian. In Cairo the traffic is worse – no doubt. More time in transit now is a fact of everyday life for everyone here. There are less tourists around – less queues, less crowds at the sites and less musical tour-bus horns punctuating the horns of the general traffic.
On the last tour we were often asked by Egyptians what made us different from the other tourists of the world; why had we come when others would not? The answers lie in the fact that I get objective advice from my friends who live in Egypt on the real situation rather than the mass media plus the fact we are looked after by the best tour operators this country has to offer – I have utter faith in them having worked with them on all my tours. What I have noticed from our jaunt Downtown last night with Mo, is the looks we are getting from the local people – they seem shocked to see us! It’s like they are stunned that a real-live tourist is walking amongst them. This extra curious attention is new.
Downtown is the “Queen Street Mall” of Cairo and last night was Thursday night – the equivalent of our Friday night and for many Egyptian families it is their night out together. Downtown had its hey day in the 40s and 50s when its gorgeous French and British colonial buildings were still white and pristine. I still love admiring these intricate decorative buildings (although now far from white) and can vividly imagine what life was like back then. Easy to picture Samia Gamal in her knee length gabardine skirt, cashmere sweater and patent pumps sipping an iced tea in a classy patisserie! Today the lower levels of the buildings mostly host the brightly lit boutiques for shoes, bags, clothes and lingerie (lingerie on the upper, private levels of course). One has to restrain oneself from grimacing in horror at some of the weird fashions but it all gives Downtown, Cairo it’s unique flavour. And amongst the gaudy merchandise are gems to be had! (On my last visit I bought 4 amazing winter coats and last night considered adding a couple more to the collection.)
We had dinner in Gad – a chain of Egyptian fast-ish food kind of restaurants serving good local food while looking down on the bustling streets filled with traffic and shoppers. We were entertained and delighted by an extended family of women and their hoard of children at the next table who were constantly in fits of laughter at their own antics. The staff of the restaurant were joining in – laughter is more contagious is Egypt and no one minded the raucous. So nice to see the women having such an unbridled good time. We were speculating if some wily husbands were at home in the peace and quiet having ‘treated’ their spouses a special night out for mothers day!!!!”
Margaret has her own website for her dance school and tours that can be found here. It is my intention to travel with Margaret again with her October / November tour this year, so if you are interested in joining us please mention Jade Belly Dance when you ask for more info through Margaret’s website or you can contact me and I will forward you the tour newsletters to date (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you have any questions you would like to ask Margaret about the safety of travelling to Egypt then ask away and I will forward them on to her. Just comment below.