Category Archives: Dating Jungle

The apartment

10917468_10152989337509060_6975947347299826116_n

Because living in Cairo is like balancing an open bottle of gasoline on your nose while holding a lit match in your mouth (exhilarating and pointlessly dangerous), because everyone has had nightmare stories of their bawabs and neighbours, because I’ve left this place and hopefully my neighbours will ever  find me (ever, ever) again, I’ve decided to write this very stereotypical account of my beloved, decrepit apartment in Zamalek over the past five years.

Every morning we’d wake up to the sound of children screaming in the school courtyard, as the headmaster yelled into the mic: ‘Yalla ya 7omar enta we howa, tay7a el gomhoreya!’*

Followed by a bizarre medley of ‘Boshret Kheir/National Anthem’, ‘S&M’, ‘Sexy and I know it’ and ‘Sexy Bitch’, to which the kids did their morning aerobics. This was quite possibly the only sex education they got.

Every night we’d fall asleep to the sound of drunken shishifoufou idiots arguing with the parking attendants of the bar next door, or with each other, or – on one occasion – a wall, screaming ‘Ana mesh sakran yabn el a7ba!’. Wall did not respond, so drunk Foufou peed on it. Or that one time, someone took a gun and fired it into the air because of the following dialogue:

‘A7a, tesada2 ennak 3*rs?’

‘Ana mesh 3*rs yabn el m*tn*ka!’

‘La2 enta 3*rs!’

‘Bet2ool 3aleya 3*rs? A7a’. Takes gun out. Shoots. Logical conclusion.

Every time I’d try to park, I couldn’t, because even double parking in Zamalek is a luxury, and the only spot free on the entire street was where CrayCray parked. CrayCray is the old woman next door who would park her car between the first and second row, thus taking up two whole spots. If you tried to, she’d throw things on your car roof, then affectionately call you a sharm**t as you tried to flee the rain of rubbish she’d throw at you. Every morning at 7AM, without fail, she would then rev up the car engine and push on the gas incessantly till the entire neighbourhood woke up. Then she’d go back to sleep.

One night, after two desperate drives around the street with no parking spot in sight, I decided to take my chances and parked next to her car. I figured – since it was 2AM, she’d be fast asleep and I’d be safe. Nope.

A bucketful of ice landed on my car roof and window to the high-pitched, hyena-like screams of ‘YA SHARM**TA YA BENT EL WESKHA BETA3MELY EH YA MAAAMAAAA?’

I got out of the car and stared at her, and in then in a moment of inspiration, decided to respond in a language she understood. So I started singing at her:

She’s crazy and she likes it/Loca Loca Loca!’ and then ran for cover as her screams pierced the winter air.

Then there was that unfortunate incident when I met my second-floor neighbour, who seemed attractive and had several friends in common, and asked me out on a date. I made the mistake of giving him my number, only to receive the following messages after one brief coffee date:

‘Hello bunny rabbit’

‘Do you miss me, bunny rabbit?’

‘How is bunny rabbit today?’

‘BUNNY RABBIT ANSWER MEEEEEE’

‘Tayeb what about poodle? You like poodle, bunny rabbit?’

‘Hello?’

‘BUNNY WHY YOU NO CALL ME’

Thus, he became affectionately known as the bunny rabbit killer and I spent several months sneaking out of the building in sunglasses and a big hat to avoid running into him.

Then there was the glorious revolution, which Zamalek took to like salmon to the sea: the citizen checkpoint set up on my street with Molotov cocktails made of Chivaz and Smirnoff, where everyone suddenly had their grandfather’s collector samurai sword/hunting rifles/designer golf clubs/full-on leather outfits that looked more David Beckham circa Gucci phase than dangerous thug.

My favourite was the checkpoint at Gezirah Club, where we were stopped once by a middle-age crisis man fully decked in Harley Davidson gear and a walkie talkie worth one  year’s rent. With his legs practically spread-eagled across the road, he demanded our IDs, sniffed at our Alexandrian home addresses, and refused entry because we weren’t Zamalek enough. We proceeded to hurl keywords at him: lido, coffee bean, the Pub, Tante Foufette, Sami El Adl, Uncle Ramzi, ay haga, and he let us in after a 15-minute rant about his stocks and shares that would change the world .

Then there was the fact while all of Cairo was under curfew, Zamalek’s pubs and bars were open and bursting with revellers ordering cocktails a la ‘Monhara fil Tahrir’, as helicopters circulated overhead and you could hear the roaring sound of Tahrir protestors over the Nile, and gunshots firing in Imbaba and Shobra, yet somehow people were drinking and laughing their way through this terrifying reality via their own shishi coping mechanism.

Or that time when I woke up one morning to find a stranger making pancakes in my kitchen. Some foreigners had been kicked out of the Hilton and Safir Hotels, and Pancake man was taking refuge in our flat till he found a safe hotel. So I had pancakes and went to Tahrir. Later that day, the bawab knocked to say – rather embarrassedly – that the neighbours had complained that we were harbouring foreigners.

I looked at him. He looked at me.

I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, we have no foreigners here’, as pancake man passed behind me and cheerfully yelled out ‘Sabah El Kheir!’

Bawab looked at me. I looked at him. He shrugged and left.

Or that time I was supposed to join my friends in Tahrir, but rumours had circulated that food was running out in Cairo, so I went to Alfa Market to stock up (what on earth do you buy?) amidst the many, panicking Zamalekites piling their trolleys high with Perrier, Saumon Fumee and Belgian biscuits. I came home with five bags of fuul tins and flour (I have no idea), only to find my family and friends staring at the TV with their mouths open.

‘Wait, was that a camel?’ one of them asked. And I realised my friends were in Tahrir surrounded by camels. I’d missed the camel battle by minutes as I was shopping for fuul tins. Shit you can’t make up.

Then there was the night Mubarak stood down, and my father and mother stood around the TV screaming and crying, I grabbed my shoes to run off to Tahrir before my father drew me into a hug and said, ‘Thank you for doing what my generation never could’ and cried. That quote became a tweet that ended up in a book that is the sole claim to fame I have.

There were nights of gas masks and graffiti spray cans, of Libyan activists making long distance calls to Benghazi as it fell to the revolutionaries, of the Gaza doctor who’d smuggled a water bottle filled with Vodka back from Rafah, left it in the fridge and had forgotten to warn me, the balcony that held up to fifteen people who sang so loud, neighbours three streets down could hear us. There was food and laughter, lights suddenly being turned off as gunshots fired too close to the house, of watching the plain clothes mokhabarat shred and bury a pile of documents in the backyard across from my balcony, of sleepless nights of crying and convulsing from the aftershock of nerve gas and watching grown men die, but never ever any stillness.

Then there was that night before Morsi won and the bar nearby threw a gallabeya party, and the day the results were announced I was accosted by a terrified neighbour who was moving her entire family to the coast because ‘If Shafiq wins, the Ikhwan will come and KILL US IN OUR SLEEP!’

‘How do you know this?’ I asked as I tried to dislocate her clenched wrists from around my neck.

‘MY PLUMBER TOLD ME, HE SAID THEY ARE COMING FOR THE RICH. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIEEEEEEE.’

When the news broke, I walked to the club, the streets deserted and a pregnant quiet hanging over the heavy trees. And then shouts of joy erupted, I watched a street sweeper hug a restaurant waiter and congratulate him, as the tantes and uncles slumped in their seats and cried quietly into their lemon mint juices from FBI.

Then there was that time I decided to kidnap my neighbours’ dog, which was chained outside in the communal hallway in a wooden crib, where he drank from a water bowl covered in faeces, and the welts and bruises in his skin showed that he’d been beaten repeatedly.

After days of sneaking clean food and milk into his bowl, I asked a friend if she knew of any animal activists who could help. I asked that I be kept anonymous. Somehow my message got posted on some underground forum of animal activists in Cairo. The following happened:

  1. Attempt nr.1: Sherif, who described himself as a dolphin activist – he’d stolen some dolphins from a hotel somewhere in the Red Sea (???!!!??), called me.

‘This is what we’re going to do, ok? I’m going to sneak this pill into his food, mashy? The pill stops his heart from beating for a few hours, ha? Ha. They find he’s dead and they throw his body out in the trash, ah walahi. I will go pick him up from the trash and then take him to a safe house. Tadaa.’

‘Or, OR, you DON’T give him the pill, you just cut the chain to his neck, pick him up and leave!’ I suggested.

Sherif disappeared and never contacted me again. I never found out about those dolphins.

  1. Attempt nr. 2 was Basma, a very kind-hearted bur rather naive soul who decided honesty was the best policy; so she knocked on the neighbour’s door, informing them she was a friend of mine, and lecturing them on how to take better care of the dog. They looked at her, and slammed the door. So Basma had not only failed but implicated me in the plot.
  2. The last attempt was by the even more intelligent Sarah, who told the neighbours she was my friend and a vet, and said that the dog had a contagious virus that could kill their children, and she offered to take the dog off them. They said they’d think about it, so she waited outside the building, talked to the bawab and every single resident in the building about her plans to kidnap the dog and how she was a friend of mine. Genius.

The good news was that she did take him later that night, and the vet who checked him said he was covered in tumours and diseases due to beating, malnutrition and general human shittiness. I never saw Sarah again but she said he was adopted by a decent family, and even though the neighbours suspected me, the doorman interrogated me (see conversation above) and decided that I was not involved. They tried to kidnap my cat, Shitface, but that lasted about two minutes till he stuck his claws cheerfully in their thighs and they quickly unkidnapped him. 7abeeb mama.

Then there was that time a giant rat sauntered into the house. Shitface took one look at him and said ‘Oh HELL no.’ Rat disappeared into the kitchen and I spent most of the night with my feet firmly perched on the couch, watching the shut kitchen door as it trembled from the impact of rat flinging body against it.

I put a rag rug under the door to stop him from escaping, only to find half of it chewed off (as well as part of the door) the next morning. It was then when I discovered that the measure of a man should be in how he deals with a rat. Every manly man I knew was suddenly out of town/sick/overwhelmed with work to come help, and my bawab’s idea of rescuing me was to shove a piece of cheese covered in glue (I honestly don’t know) into the kitchen before cowering behind me, and then hitting my washing machine with a big stick in the hope the rat would come out with its hands up in defeat.

This is the same bawab who stood guard every night against thieves and ‘possible ikhwans’ with a big stick, but a rat one tenth his size scared the life out of him.

This apartment pretty much sums up everything I loved and hated about Egypt. There’s much more but I won’t tell you.

*I’d translate all of this into English, but I’m too lazy.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Dating Jungle, Life in Egypt

It’s Good to be an Otta

If you’re a male reading this, you’re probably going to hate me for making the following statement.

As a girl living in Egypt, I pretty much get away with murder. You know it, I know it, every policeman on the street knows it. It can’t be a coincidence that in all my years of driving, I’ve had my license revoked just once, despite driving like, as my father puts it, “a Microbus driver on crack.”

I also think it may be related to the fact that I have boobs, while policemen don’t (as far as I know), which gives me an unfair advantage in many situations.

Not that the boobs need to be shown off to get my way: it’s enough to smile, play with the hair, act shocked that the sign you’re parked under actually means No Parking, while showing  remorse and intent to never break a red light again. A fiver doesn’t hurt either.

And since most Egyptian men believe that women are terrible drivers, I’ve decided to exploit that stereotype: see, the fact that I’m a woman and my car license plate is Alexandrian means that I can pull the idiot woman driver/lost card, and policemen will just roll their eyes and let me go every single time.

Example 1:

I’m driving on the Moneeb Bridge towards Maadi at night while talking on the phone. I see the police check point coming up and a Zabet flagging me down. I stop, wind down my window, and smile sweetly while still clutching my phone to my ear.

“Ya madam,” he starts, “You do know that you can’t talk on the phone while driving? You saw me from far away, you knew I was going to stop you, couldn’t you at least have hidden your phone from me?”

Pause. Brainwave.

“I’m so sorry ya hadret el Zabet,” I squeaked while still, get this, holding onto my phone. “I’m lost and trying to get to Maadi,  so I was calling my friend for directions. I’m not from here; I’m from Alexandria, just look at my license plates, ah wallahi.

Pause.

“Where in Alexandria are you from?”

I tried not to roll my eyes (Cairenes think that Alexandria has districts like Imbaba and Heliopolis, when we’re pretty much the size of a sardine box with a total of three main streets), and I say, “From Mahatet El Raml, hadretak.

Zabet’s face changes completely.

“You’re from Mahetet El-Raml? I’m from Roushdy! What a coincidence! That practically makes us neighbors! Ahlan Wasahlan Ahlan! Ok, go ahead take first right then go straight-”

Example 2:

I once got stopped at the Maadi entrance checkpoint at 2AM.  Policeman made the mistake of letting the car in front of me pass and stopping me instead.

“Why did you stop me and not the car in the front of me?” I whined, “Is it because I’m a girl? It’s not correct of you to stop a young woman alone in her car at such a late hour, haram 3aleek, this is not kind; would you want this to happen to your sister or your mother? Would you?”

Policeman rolled eyes, let me through.

Example 3:

“I’m sorry, officer, I had no idea this was an illegal U-turn. Wait, there’s a sign saying so? I don’t know how to read signs! Is this Zamalek? It’s not? It’s Heliopolis? How do I get to Zamalek please?”

Smile.

Example 4:

Radar checkpoint on the Cairo-Alex Desert Road.

Ya madam, you were speeding.”

“Really? I was?”  Pout.

“Really.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, madam, I am the radar.”

“Oh dear, was it very bad?”

Policeman falters slightly.

“No it wasn’t that bad, it was 105. Speed limit is 100.”

“Oh dear, and I was so sure I was driving at 100.”

“Well you weren’t.”

Smile. “I’m so sorry; I won’t ever speed again. Ha’ak 3aleya.”

Policeman sighs and gives up.

“Fine, just be careful next time.”

And it’s not just policemen. I charmed my way through my driver’s license exam (even though I drove over my examining officer’s foot twice-but that’s another story), into two jobs that I was completely unqualified for (including one where I couldn’t even speak the language), and I have never had my luggage checked at the Cairo Airport Customs- well, except for one time where the bag was bursting with new clothes but I’d left a pile of dirty underwear on top, which freaked the officer out and he quickly rushed me through. Interestingly enough, my bags have never been checked since.)

Yet, while I enjoy exploiting my feminine wiles to escape the occasional parking ticket, I do it with a clear conscience because I know that I live in a country where my rights as a woman are not necessarily respected or protected.

Rising poverty and unemployment rates are leading to higher crime levels all around Egypt, and violence against women seems to be becoming more frequent and more brutal. Every day I read about women being kidnapped off public transportation, gang-raped in broad day light, thrown off balconies, beaten to death, burnt with gasoline, hanged, hacked into pieces.

In last July alone, 500 cases of sexual molestation, 8 cases of rape and 19 murders were reported.

Sexual harassment itself seems to be a rite of passage for every woman on the streets of Egypt: a recent study found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives.

It’s not much safer at home:  a separate study found that 61.3% of Egyptian men admit to beating their wives.

Justice rarely seems to be served in a judicial system that recognizes honor killings and gives minimal sentences to murderers and rapists:  a man and his son in Beheira were given one year in jail last September for murdering the man’s 16-year old daughter, who had allegedly disgraced her family with her bad reputation. The men got off easy because the judge agreed with their defense that the 16-year-old’s ‘bad reputation’ justified her murder.

So yeah, I may get away with a lot of things, but unfortunately all too often, men actually get away with murder here.

8 Comments

Filed under Dating Jungle

Shake It, Goose!

Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I’m out of practice, but it seems like the dating scene has changed dramatically in the last four years since I last was out on the prowl.  I figured, hey,  flirting again is just like getting back onto a bike, right? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I find Egyptian men completely charming in their shy, Neanderthal flirting ways of picking on my hair/outfit/accent all night long before professing their undying love for me, or my personal favorite, ignoring me for years and then professing their undying love for me.  With all their shortcomings, they easily make up for it with their warm smiles, generous compliments and easy-to-talk-to-ness.

But lately, the flirting seems to have gone from clumsy/cute to downright lawnmower aggressive. Or as one friend referred to it, the Hurricane Katrina Approach: you won’t know what hit you till it’s over.

Exhibit A: Cute guy checks me out at the Jazz Club, although, in hindsight, the fact that he reminded me of one of those Prison Break thugs should have been a warning sign. Cute guy simply comes up and starts dancing with me [Note: This is ok as long as you have rhythm and you don’t  imitate Akon’s Smack That moves].

TWO SECONDS into introducing himself as Zizo (ahem) he asks me where I live. Then he asks if I live alone. Then he suggests he drives me home. Then he suggests he comes home with me.  Call me old-fashioned, but I was hoping to get past the small talk about work/childhood/aspirations in life before receiving the indecent proposal.

Zizo (whose last name was unfortunately not Natana) didn’t seem to take my nervous laughter and polite Nos  as a No, because some idiot somewhere started a rumour that women mean Yes when they say No.

Note to men, If I’m pushing your chest away and shouting “No!”, that pretty much means No. Not much room there for misinterpretation.

Eventually the unfortunately named Zizo backed off and went home alone, but it had me thinking: What exactly is it about me that inspires men to use such sleazy lines? Are they so desperate to pull that they’ll risk getting slapped/kicked/beaten up by someone’s thugly older brother?

No, I don’t have a thugly older brother but that’s besides the point.

Exhibit B: I’m dancing at a Lebanese Club in London, and as luck would have it, I’m surrounded by Egyptian men who are obviously homesick and miss Egyptian curves as much as their mama’s molokheya.  This motivates one guy to come up to me as I dance, clap feverishly and yell what is literally translated into ‘Shake it, Goose!’

Geese smell and have ugly feet. How on earth does that count as a compliment?

Goose boy then proceeds to eavesdrop on my conversation with a friend, and when he hears that I’m from Alexandria, he almost throws himself into my arms and shrieks ‘You’re from Alexandria? Say Ayoo, say Ayoo Please! Please! Say Ayooo!”

We don’t say Ayoo, motherfucker.

Exhibit C: Guy checks me out all night long. I know this because he’s standing right in front of me and staring without blinking. Eventually I have to move to the other side of the bar to avoid his glare. At the end of the night, as I’m pulling on my coat, Eyeballer walks up to me and says “Nice Hair!” and then runs the other way.

Seriously?

Exhibit D: Guy puts out his foot as I walk past, makes me trip in my heels, catches me and says: “Oh Look, I made you fall for me!”

Bleugh.

What Zizo the Unfortunate, Goose-boy, Eyeballer and Bigfoot all have in common are two things-

1. They went from zero to 180 in seconds, far too fast for someone as rusty and shy as me. Don’t laugh. I AM shy.

2. Their lines, while sometimes funny, were just too intimidating. If you make me (or pretty much any woman) feel uncomfortable, you’ve lost your chance. No chat up line should make a woman revise her self-defense routine in her head.

Maybe this is how kids flirt these days, maybe I’m too shy, or maybe our generation is so caught up with the fast pace of life that we’re cutting to the chase in everything we do: deliver instead of cook, BBM/poke instead of call, lols instead of tediously spelling out the frigging words, we’re always rushing. But the beauty of flirting is its lazy pace, which gives us time to check each other out and become physically, emotionally and mentally intrigued. You have to establish some electric connection before reaching for the, ahem, light switch.

The ones who’ve worked their magic on me are those who compliment casually, flirt but not agressively, dance but not rub up against me. And above all, they have to make me laugh.

Note to those of you who download chat-up lines off websites (Yes you, I know you do it), the most fool-proof line that works every single time with me is this:

“Hi, my name is [insert name here].” Smile. “How are you?”

That simple.

10 Comments

Filed under Dating Jungle