This is the post that, for the past 3 weeks, Twosret and Highlander have been hounding me for. Apparently pointing out the bad things in Arab countries, Islamic culture or Egypt has caused some people to view me as a negative Egypt-hating person or something. I normally wouldn’t give a damn about what people thought of me, but I realized that I’ve managed to post for 6 months now without emphasizing the positive things- or rather the things I love- about Egypt, which personally bothers me cause I really do love this country, and that’s something I always thought I showed in my writing. So I am writing this for 3 reasons: 1) To shut Twosret and Highlander up, 2) To actually show the positive things about this country that I personally love and 3) To give the people who read this blog a glimpse of who I really am, besides the prolific cynical Pro –US political junkie sandmonkey blog personality, which you have either learned to love or hate, but still can’t stop reading what he writes. :-)
Ohh, and because Blogger sucks, I couldn’t put up the pictures that I wanted to put up, except for one, so instead I have linked to other people’s posts that have these pictures or ones similar to them . Sorry about that and hopefully i will be able to post those pictures tommorow.
Anyway, here it goes…
1) Cairo at night: I love the way Cairo looks at night: that big old city that never sleeps shimmering with the lights of its buildings, reminding you of how beautiful it really is, because you always seem to forget for some reason during the course of your day. You can walk around at 2 am, and you realize that you are still surrounded by people who are still up and who fill the streets, and yet they are not the scary kind that you usually encounter in big urban cities in other countries, but rather just regular folks who just happen to be up for some reason of their own. And the damnedest thing is, no matter what time it is, you can always find some place to go that's open: a restaurant, a café, or even a supermarket if you feel like buying whipped cream at 3 am (For hot choclate of course, you dirty minded person you). Hell, if you ever get the urge to buy furniture here at 3 am, I am sure we can find a place that will sell you some. And the best thing is: You always feel safe here, no matter how empty the streets get and no matter how late it is. I always missed that living in Boston, since I was located near the Southend / Roxburry area and you always had someone stabbed or shot there every once in a while. Back there it’s normal, but here, here it’s something that wouldn’t cross my mind twice as I walk around, because I know that MY city is safe.
2) Smoking Shisha: Which is the same as smoking Flavord Tobacco from Hookah pipes ( you know, that thing the Caterpillar was puffing on in Alice in Wonderland? That’s it) in cafes all over Cairo. Here you can say that Shisha cafes are the Egyptian equivalent of pubs and bars: It’s where everybody goes and hangs out and relaxes and smokes away. If you go to any respectable Shisha place they will have more then 6 flavors of Tobacco for you to chose from, and they will range from fruits such as Apple to Cherry to cantaloupes, and artificial flavors like Cappuccino and Cola, so there is always a new flavor to try. I go and smoke shisha twice a week, because it’s healthier and cheaper then smoking cigarettes, it calms me down if something is pissing me off, and they only do it right here. I’ve been to Shisha Cafes in Boston, New York and California, and I still can’t find a place that makes it the same way my favorite place does in Mohnadeseen.
3) The writings of Ehsan Abd El Qudouss: Ehsan Abd El Qudouss , in my own personal opinion, is the best egyptian writer and novelist of this past century. I know, I know, some of you will be angry because I chose him over Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize and all, but hear me out first. Mahfouz, as good as he is, had a specific theme that was carried out throughout all of his novels and work, and that’s the theme of Generational conflict and how people of the same bloodline always end up paying for their predecessors sins or repeating their mistakes. Ehsan, on the other hand, never had a specific theme that encompasses all of his works together. Hell, you can’t even define his work or lump it in one category, because it’s all so multifaceted, complicated and different from one another. If anything, his books were known to be honest portraits of Egyptians and the Egyptian society in general at whatever time period the book was written, and no matter how good or bad they behaved, you always related to them in some way. Hell, you knew those characters in your real life. Another cool thing about his writing is the way he writes women: It could be argued that he was the most feminist egyptian writer there was, because the women in his books are never stupid or secondary characters that the middle-eastern culture demands them to be compared to the big male Hero. On the contrary, in his stories they are strong and smart characters who always have an agenda of their own and they are the ones who control the real events, yet never fail to be sympathetic, no matter how evil or bad they get. The man wrote stories that fearlessly and accurately chronicled the socio-political changes in Egyptian society and culture from the 1940’s to the 1980’s and yet you can relate to his characters even if you couldn’t relate to their time. That's what makes him so good in my opinion.
4) El Hussein / Khan el Khalilly: Ahh, old Cairo. What’s not to love? Sure, it’s a tourist trap, but it has the best food, the best shisha, and that enchanting old cairo ambiance that just envelopes you with its warmth and friendliness that you immediately feel relaxed and at home. I make sure I go there at least once a month, sit down in a café , order a shisha and just get lost in that mix of everyday people chatter and the aroma of the various egyptian hot drinks that no self-respecting Egyptian café lacks. It’s my own form of meditation so to speak.
5) Koshary: People often cite Foool ( Egyptian style cooked fava beans) as the ultimate Egyptian meal and undisputed national dish, which is something I always disagreed with: Gulf countries and Lebanon have their own way and recipe of making Foool, which means that it is not exclusively Egyptian. However, there is one food that is exclusively Egyptian, and that’s Koshary. Koshary is a plate made of rice, lentil, chickpeas, noodles, pasta, friend onions, tomato and garlic sauce, and it is as delicious as it is fattening. And its exclusively Egyptian: I’ve never seen it served in any Arab country, or even in Egyptian restaurants in foreign countries, probably because it’s cardiac-arrest-in-a-meal. But it’s definitely my favorite Egyptian food and my own personal nominee for the post of Egyptian national dish.
6) Sinai: Ahh, where to begin? It’s all good: Whether you go to Sharm El sheikh to swim or to Dahab to dive or to St. Catherine Monastery and Mount Sinai for the History. I love it all, but there are 2 specific locations that I always love to go to : Abu Galoom in Dahab, and Taba. Abu Galoom is this natural reserve where no cars are allowed to drive. You walk for a mile and you are there, in the middle of nowhere, greeted by the nicest Bedouin people you will ever meet. They will take care of you and feed you as you spend the night there. You could go snorkel there or you could just do what I do: lay on your back, relax and just gaze at the most beautiful assortment of stars and constellations in the clearest sky you have ever seen, while the light of the full moon glimmers on the water and make it seem like it’s made of liquid silver. Time just stops when you are there, I swear. As for my second favorite place, it is this spot in Taba, where if you stop your car and looked at the water, you could see both Eilat in Israel and Aqaba Bay in Jordan, and you realize that the physical distance between those 3 countries is so close, yet in this reality we live in, they are worlds apart. I know it sounds corny, but that always gets me for some reason.
7) Mariam George: The current Miss Egypt. She makes me feel Patriotic. GO Egypt!
8) The Poetry of Salah Gaheene: If Robert Frost is the great American Poet, then Salah Gaheene is definitely the great Egyptian poet, although for completely different reasons, least of them is his style of poetry. Salah is considered to be a renaissance man by many: He was a poet, a cartoonist and a philosopher. He is, however, most famously known for his poetry, especially his “Rubayat” (four-line poems). His poems were short, written in common egyptian Arabic, simple and easy to memorize, which is what made them so popular amongst common Egyptians. However, in those short poems, that's where his true genius shows: The man had the ability to deliver a whole message or moral or philosophical concept in just 4 rhyming lines using very common language and terms, which assured that no matter how smart / stupid / cultured / ignorant you were, you got it. His genius was in his poetry apparent simplicity and hidden complexity. If anybody truly employed the “Less is more” principle in poetry, it’s this guy.
9) Taking Felookah rides on the Nile: Felookahs are Egyptian sailboats, usually used to sail in the Nile. You go with a group of friends, bring some drinks, and just enjoy a beautiful day of sailing and feeling the interesting relaxing sensation of the warmth of the Cairo sun contrasted with the cool wind blowing in the Nile. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
10) Horseback riding at the pyramids at night: Now this, for sure, is my absolute favorite thing to do in Cairo: Just go to the Pyramids area at night and rent a horse, and just go horseback riding next to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, while the daily Laser Show goes on, illuminating them in the middle of the night. It also works wonders with the ladies: You take a girl there horseback riding on a full moon night, and she will be so overwhelmed with the romantic atmosphere that she will be yours that night. One day I am going to propose to the girl that I am going to marry there, I just know it.
And that’s all folks, at least for now. This was originally supposed to be a 15 Things I love about Egypt post but it became so big that I had to cut it down to 10, which sucks. On the bright side, this gives me a chance and the material to write a follow-up post some time in the future, hence more Egyptian positivism, which is never a bad thing, you know?