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On Strawberry Hair, Mountains and Dying Happy Lists













As I may have mentioned previously, New Year’s Eve is a big deal to me. It’s that one day when I get drunk on optimism and sugar, set myself wonderfully ambitious goals that I will absolutely not complete, and look back on the last joyous year where I achieved none of those goals either.

Since the tender age of sixteen, I’ve been making lists of things I need to do that year in order to have really lived. Items include getting my hair dyed bright pink (there was a brief phase of infatuation with Gwen Stefani) or my eyebrow pierced, learning a useless language and reading books with big words in them.

Every year, I tell myself ‘I will die happy once I see Paris.’ Or climb a mountain. Or bungee jump. Or write a book. Every year, I have one thing left to do before I can die happy.

Now, at 29, it pains me to admit that I’m too old for an eyebrow piercing, and a recent flirtation with a stubborn Lebanese hairstylist left my hair in a garish strawberry hue that a mean friend affectionately referred to as Ganzoury Hair. I have climbed a mountain, I finally made it to Paris, but I’ve yet to fling myself off a building, write a bestseller or visit India. Would I die happy now?

Given everything that has happened to Egypt in the past year, I would have to say no. I won’t get all political on you, but suffice it to say that it’s very difficult for me to look back on 2011 without feeling utterly shitfaced depressed. And with the anniversary of January 25th tomorrow, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to celebrate considering people died, people got jailed, people lost their eyes, and the same people remain in charge.

So in an attempt to lift my rather sombre spirits, I’ve made a list of all the great things I’ve accomplished in 2011. Prepare to be shaken.

Big Things I Did This Year:

  1. I was in a revolution, bitches. I’ve always wanted to write that. Thank you.
  2. I gave up smoking. Twice.  Some people  manage this once. I quit twice, being the overachiever I am.
  3. I travelled twelve times around Egypt. I did my part for the tourism industry this year and visited Port Said, the North Coast, Gouna, Ras Sudr, Dahab and Nuweiba repeatedly.  And I loved every minute of it, even when stuck on an East Delta Bus for six hours with a man smoking behind me and a plastic bag of live chickens skirmishing in front of me. I met lovely people and saw incredible sites that remind me of how lucky I am to live here.
  4. I did things that scared me. I windsurfed in Ras Sudr, which is terrifying when the winds are high and you fall on your ass so often, the fat 10-year-old British boy starts sniggering and pointing at you. I also climbed a mountain, which took six hours and brought me 1000 feet up. Or something like that. I also flew backseat in a small glider plane that surprisingly didn’t crash. And I managed not to scream or embedd my fingernails permanently in the poor co-pilot’s arm.
  5. I didn’t cut my hair. Every year, I go blind bat crazy and chop all, or half my hair off in an attempt to feel young and stupid again. This year, I managed to avoid the allure of the sheers, keeping my hair firmly on my head and avoiding what my mum calls ‘That Lesbian Look of yours.’ Clearly, I’m maturing.
  6. People Read My Blog.  People who weren’t my mother and my 30 friends. The narcissist in me was ecstatic. Yaaay.
  7. I Got Sick. You learn a lot about yourself when you lose basic functions, like the ability to eat, sleep or even walk. When you’re that incapacitated, you realize just how privileged you are to be able to breathe or move your arms. Once you’re well again, you quickly forget all the bargaining you made with God (‘Make me better and I promise I won’t smoke/yell at my parents/dump trash/bully again’). So having been there, done that and got the t-shirt, I try to be thankful every day for being healthy.
  8. I Am Loved. This is the one basic fact that comforts me every time I’m on a plane that’s about to crash – which is every time, I hate flying so much I once wrote my will before boarding for London – is that I can die happy because I know I’m loved. Even though those who love me, including my family, have contemplated throttling me at some point or other.

All these basic, insignificant achievements are what make 2011 a slightly happier memory for me, and 2012 a little less painful to face. I may not make it to India this year, but I hope I end 2012 on the same I-can-die-happy-now note.



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Suzeeinthecity: Cairo Street Art- Downtown Cairo

Mr. X by Keizer next to Chessboard by El Teneen on Yousef El Guindy Street

If you’re interested in the rising graffiti trend in Cairo, check out my other blog SuzeeintheCity as I scramble around Cairo searching for the latest graffiti pieces.

[‘Excuse me,’ he walks up to me as I hesitantly put my camera down, ‘What does this picture mean?’

He points at the Keizer stencil of Mickey Mouse on the grey wall. Mahmoud Bassiouny Street on a Saturday afternoon is crowded, and people seem still wary of any snap-happy camera-toting thug like me. Who knows, I could be another Facebook-loving Zionist spy.

‘I think that’s Mickey Mouse,’ I say helpfully.

‘Yes but what does it mean? And who is that man next to him?’

He’s bald with a graying walrus moustache, probably in his mid-forties, his full cheeks sweating as he fans at his pin-striped pink shirt.

‘I’m not quite sure,’ I say politely, wishing I could go back to my camera, but he appears adamant for an answer. ‘Maybe it’s a president? It could be George Bush.’

‘Yes but what is George Bush doing with Mickey Mouse? I like this picture, I walk past it every day, but I wish there’d be some writing explaining it so that I could understand.’

How do I explain dichotomy or irony in Arabic? My mind goes blank.

‘Err… maybe the guy who made this wants you to think about it and come up with your own idea?’ I offer weakly.]

To read more and check out the graffiti of Downtown Cairo in all its glory, click here.


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I’m an Egyptian Woman and I Like Being Sexually Harrassed

I wake up every morning looking forward to getting sexually harassed in Cairo. Because a day gone by without being whistled at like cattle or groped like a melon at a vegetable store is a day unlived in this city. Right?

I even dress according to how often I’d like to get harassed that day. Tight white t-shirt? That’s the number one sign that I’m asking for it. Skinny jeans are obviously worn to highlight my butt so men know what to grab (some short-sighted idiots completely miss and grab my hip instead, which is just plain insulting).

And since I don’t cover my hair, then obviously I know what shit I’m getting myself into by walking on the streets of the city I call home as an equal citizen to the men that lurk on corners, outside shops, dangling from microbuses, waiting happily.

As an Egyptian woman, I completely understand that my purpose in this life is to serve the sexually frustrated imaginations of these poor men who can’t get it up. My father and mother spent years of sweat, tears and hard-earned cash on educating me into an emancipated woman so that one day I become a walking piece of meat on the street. Obviously.

Then I discovered that all the hours I put into my hair and makeup make no difference whatsoever to my sexual predators; I could walk around with my uncombed hair and a gallabeya; hell, I could wear a black tent from head to toe and still, they’d find something sexual about me. Ever heard Egyptian men talk about how erotic the Niqab is? Yeah, apparently there’s nothing you can do or wear to incite harassment.

Just the plain fact that you have boobs and they don’t means you’re up for grabs, literally.

I could spend what’s left of my pea-sized woman’s brain wondering what I did to deserve this friendly male reception, or analyzing why society has continuously objectified us little women into pigeon-holes of either innocent, doe-eyed girls or rampant whores; but I won’t.It takes too much brain power, and me being the weaker sex, I should stick to what I do best, which according to these men, is nothing.

Which is why I should never talk back, or look back, or yell or ask for help; this is my fate, I must accept it. And not even the veil can protect me from my Muslim brothers.

So I play a little game in my head. It’s like walking through a videogame scene, where every man is a potential predator, and I keep my radar finely tuned, my walk fast and dontmesswithme, my eyes scanning every corner for attackers. Over the years, I’ve acquired a Robocop face that occasionally scares the living shit out of small children and animals, and my middle finger is my videogame weapon that I choose to shoot when the moment comes.

But I only keep it for those who really deserve it; I ask myself ‘Is this the worst line I’ve heard all day? Has he managed to completely annihilate my self-esteem?’ If so, then he gets the finger. If not, I just walk on.

And I defy what my well-intentioned mother and many other kind Egyptians have taught me, and I answer back. Why should men  get all the fun?

Him: Bsssst! Bsssssst! Bssssssst!!

Me: Bsssst dee teb2a ommak.



Him: Wat Zis? Wat Zis? Wat Zis? WAT ZIS?

Me: Zis is etnayel yala.

Him: Matgeeb Bosa?

Me: Ma3ak Dettol?


Me: Ommak Ar3a.

And as fun as it is to talk back, I’m sure I’m not getting the same kick out of it that they are. And I know that it could only make things worse for me, my predator could easily attack me  in broad daylight or get his friends together to follow me like a pack of rabid dogs, and of course it will be my fault because I talked back, when I should ignore it and accept that this is the price you pay for being a woman in Egypt. Right?


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Ten Steps to Writing a Bestselling Feminist Book in Egypt

Since they make it look so easy, i’ve come up with a few guidelines to follow in case any of us women are planning on publishing a Feminist Egyptian Book soon:

1. Book Title: Sex sells. So do the words Shit, Fuck (or Screw), Relationship and Women. Put any of these in your title and you’ve already done 50% of your work.

2. Book Cover: Sex sells. Put a woman on your cover, preferably one in a short skirt, with luscious red lips or long legs that will have men running for the closest bookstore. If you’re feeling extra cocky, put yourself (or your sister) on the cover, have your brother photoshop it and Tadaaaaaa. If you’re super creative, take a page out of Maria (el3ab el3ab el3ab)’s book and put someone in a tartan mini skirt. Even if it’s a man. Nothing sells like a pair of hairy man legs in a tartan mini-skirt.

3. Don’t Click Spellcheck on Your Word Document. Or have your sister/mother/neighbour/accountant edit it. Be sure to leave in blinding spelling mistakes. Obviously the 1000 friends and relatives that get a free copy of your book won’t mind because they’re only reading it to see if you’ve mentioned them. Make sure your point is clear by USING BLOCK CAPITALS AND QUADRUPLE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!!!! because God knows we’re not literate enough to get your message unless you hit us on the head with a sledgehammer.

4. Write About How Much You Hate Men. Start off by saying you love men. That will lure naive male readers into reading. Then on page two, reveal that you really hate men because they are responsible for everything wrong in your life. Got dumped by a boyfriend? Take it out on the male race. A man harassed you on the street? All men must pay. Some idiot called you fat (even if it was your dietician)? Write a book and claim that men are a tree full of poison, or something equally catchy.

5. Call yourself a Feminist. Because obviously women who hate men are feminists, right? And writing a book about the big bad evil men is a revolutionary book and will liberate women all over Egypt and around the world. Because no independently thinking woman can come to her own conclusion on feminism without a book that explains Hate+Man=feminist.

6. Sex Really Does Sell. Talk about sex like a guy would, but then explain that women shouldn’t try to act like men or be equal to men because they’ll fail miserably and they’re better off in their designer shoes and perfect red lipstick. Equate independent, successful women with how many designer shoes and bags they own.Got that? Right, moving on.

7. Use Google as a Credible Citation Source. Call yourself an expert. Who needs a degree in psychology or feminist literature when all you have to do is remember a few Madonna lyrics or watch a few chick flicks? That’s education! To justify all your claims about the psychology of men, just google ‘psychology men bad’ and cite your first result. Even if it’s a blog. Or a porn site. Or a shoe shop. We don’t care. If it’s online, it must be true.

8. Self-Love. Nothing sells like a big ego (well, apart from sex). Badger your friends/colleagues/siblings/MSN buddies to wax lyrical about how desirable, intelligent, sexy, fabulous, sexy, talented, and revolutionary (revolutionary sells these days…apart from sex and egos of course) you are. Act totally modestly by having their testimonials printed in your book. Surely women will gain self-confidence and relate to you by reading about how many material possessions you’ve acquired as a result of being feminist and fabulous. Fabufeminist.

9. Add some Poetry for Good Measure. Feel inspired by Dr. Seuss’ Cat in The Hat?  Write about how you feel mad, then sad, then bad about feeling mad and sad. This is art. you are an artist. Keats ain’t got nothin on you. Don’t know Keats? Google him and choose your first result. Assume that your readers haven’t read since third grade and appreciate the same level of literature back when they needed to follow pictures to get the plot.

10. Forget content. Who needs a plot, characters, an actual theory or conclusion when you have all those surefire guaranteed moneymaking points mentioned above? You don’t need to entertain or enlighten your readers, you need to make a point. By completely missing it. At the end of the day, women will thank you. And men will thank you. We’re sure they never knew how evil they were until you wasted 200 pages of their reading lives to explain that. Your next marketing step should be to launch a rehab for men or male workshops so that they can learn from your wisdom and be better…. oh wait, you say you love them just the way they are? Oh. Right. Then.What. Was. The. Point.Of.Your. Book?

And there you have it. Ay khedma.


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On Being A Cruslim

Aside from the aforementioned dreaded birthday, the other time of the year that makes me neurotic (well a lot more than the usual neurotic) is Christmas and the end of the year. While many consider this to be a time of celebration and giving, I consider it one of loss, nostalgia and regret, but also one of gratitude and a sneaky, unshakable hope that I’m going to wake up to a pile of presents under the plastic Made-in-China Christmas tree.

This (like pretty much everything in my life) can be blamed entirely on my parents, who, up until I was ten (or four, depending on which parent you choose to believe) led me to believe that Santa Clause (and the tooth fairy) existed purely to buy me presents.

I remember every Christmas Eve being a festive, happy, gift-filled party, usually thanks to my unofficial godfathers, Uncle Mohi and Uncle Victor buying me excellent choices (for a ten/four/28-year old) such as a yellow tea tray set with beautiful tea cups, a quaint tea pot and even a sugar jar (it baffles me how my usually pea-brain-sized memory can still recollect these obscure little experiences when I fail to remember more important things such as why I left my car keys in the fridge again, most of my friends’ names and my sister’s birthday- thank god for facebook reminders). Singing in the Rain would be playing on TV, my friend Maya and her sisters, my sister and I would huddle in front of the fire and ladle generous spoons of brandy cream into our mouths (which led me to recently observe to my mother: “Have you ever thought that maybe I wasn’t sugar high as a kid, I was just drunk?”) and sing all the Christmas songs that my German kindergarten had hammered into my head.

Several years of jovial brandy cream and tea set gifts later, my dad one day decided to burst my Santa bubble by telling me that Mr. Clause doesn’t exist, and I should no longer get presents; as I’m Muslim and Muslims don’t have Santas. This I found to be extremely offensive, especially since it meant no more presents; but I was happily reminded of not one but two Muslim feasts where I get brand-new clothes and clean-smelling cash from all adults (including unfortunate guests who happened to drop by at the wrong time and couldn’t handle my thug-like ten year old attitude of ‘Yo! I’m Muslim! Gimme money!”

Still, the cash was usually a few pounds at the most and always ran out with one trip to the nearest grocers and a pile of Magic Gum, Bimbo, Rocket and bonbon Sima, or it got confiscated by the same Santa-ruining father who put it all away in a precious bank account “for savings.” Two decades later, we’ve forgotten entirely about those bank accounts, but I’m pretty sure there’s a few valuable twenties locked away somewhere with my name on them.
Today, the cash is no longer forked out, as I am rudely reminded that I am an independent, cash-earning career woman and new clothes are no longer necessary since I need two wardrobes in two different cities to contain my collection (and several suitcases and a few boxes under beds). But I’ve always thought that it’s the thought that counts, especially when it’s a well-thought-out wad of cash on Christmas or either of the eids or a new pair of shoes, but hey, I’m just saying. Not dropping hints or anything, Dad.

The whole why-don’t-I-get-Christmas-too debate recently came into question when my last boss decided to split work holidays according to religions; i.e. if you’re Christian, you get Christmas off, but if you’re Muslim, you have to work, etc. I understand that the man was a workaholic and wanted to keep the company running throughout the year, but I smelled religious discrimination and considered reporting him to some workers’ union until I remembered that, like most of my friends working in Egypt, I didn’t have a contract or any legit workers’ papers, and thus did not have a single (nicely shoed) leg to stand in.
Then I came up with the genius decision that I am a Cruslim. Yes, a Christian Muslim. A person of both faiths that gets both the Christian and the Muslim New Year’s Eves off and expects presents whenever possible. My poor boss blinked at me for a good five minutes, and then huffed off and threatened to throw his Café Greco double espresso at someone else instead.

He then got into trouble when Thanksgiving rolled around and the American colleagues got that off but I had to work, whereupon I pointed out that I should get Egyptian Labor Day, Sinai Liberation Day, National Victory Day, Sham El Neseem, May 15th, 26th of July, Father’s and Mother’s Day off. Suffice it to say that I don’t work there anymore.
Still, my closeted religious righteousness is appeased with every Christmas, as I get invited to many generous dinners, where people feed me for a change and I don’t have to raise a finger except to go for seconds, and sometimes thirds ( I eat for a living. I have the stomach capacity to prove it).

That, however, cannot always shake the sense of foreboding and regret that I feel around this time of year when I remember the people that I have lost and the opportunities that I have missed on this strange path that I have taken.
It’s always around this time of year when I look at what I’ve become and what I was supposed to be, and measure the drastic gap of difference between the two. When I was six (or eight or twelve) I had my life excellently planned out. I was going to be an astronaut. A champion tennis player, the grand dame of a ballet school, a dog breeder, the president of the world; all admirable and realistic aspirations that got lost along the way of growing taller and wider, saner and more responsible.

These are the things that I still regret.
1. I regret listening to my ballet teacher when I was twelve, who told me I was too tall and too heavy to ever become a ballerina. After eight years of loving ballet, I quit cold turkey. I still tear up when I watch ballet, and my feet always twitch whenever I watch So You Think You Can Dance. I could have been something.
2. I regret all the amazing trips and job offers that I passed up on, like the free trips to Cyprus, Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut and Damascus, or the job offer at AP, the exchange program in the US, or the writers’ program in Gouna. All these opportunities I relinquished because I was committed to a person or a job, and time has proven neither to be worthy.
3. I regret the friends that I’m no longer friends with, whether because words were spoken and pride got in the way, or we drifted apart because my life was filled with other (more temporarily interesting) people. I’ve found out the hard way that you don’t choose your best friends; they’re the ones that stay when the smoke clears and the glitter fades.
4. I regret the advice that I never took, the people that I never listened to, and as a result, let myself get hurt by people who didn’t deserve my trust. Since then, I’m borderline anal about taking my friends’ advice on who I should date, what I should eat, and does that haircut really suit me even if the hot Lebanese/Italian/French hair stylist tells me I look fabulous.
5. I regret the people that I’ve hurt, whether through carelessness or not being able to control my car or foresee the future.
6. I regret never telling the people I lost how much I love them. Mohab believed in me more than I did in myself, and wouldn’t stop calling me, no matter how often I ignored his phone calls. Roba insisted on cooing at me down the phone, even when I begged her not to sing Hammaki or Tamer Hosny off-key to me, but she was charming and she loved me.
7. And the biggest regret I will always have is the fact that I never answered Vanessa’s calls. She called me every day for five days when I was mourning Roba, and I was too stuck in my bubble to call her back, or even just text her. The day she stopped calling, I decided to call her back, and it was too late. And that’s something I have to deal with for the rest of my life.
My very wise grandmother once said that you don’t regret the things that you do, you regret the things that you don’t. With all the mistakes that I’ve made in my rather short twenty eight years of life, I rarely have pangs of regret other than the next morning of what-the-hell-did-do-last-night-and-how-did-I-end-up-singing-karaoke-on-the-bar-table-and-why-did-my-stupid-friends-take-photos-and-post-them-on-facebook.

At this time of year, I weigh my list of regrets versus all the little milestones that I’ve achieved, and try and spin something positive out of them. I’m young, I’m loved, I have several talents that should channeled into something more productive than feeding a few friends (sorry, guys) or writing a blog that possibly thirty people (including my mother) know about.
So this year, I resolve to stop whining about nostalgia and regret, and start doing something about it. Starting with presents. You know what I want.


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Shut Up, Ghandi

Breakups suck, but the worst kind is the one where you still desperately love your ex.
Quitting smoking was to me like breaking up with a really hot but mean boyfriend: you know he’s bad for you, but he makes you feel gorgeous, helps you unwind after a long day, likes you to hold him when you’re at a nightclub, especially when he wears that leather jacket…

I recently made the heartbreaking decision to quit the supposedly nasty habit (yeah, yeah, all you doctors out there, spare me the research data).

Most people who know me are always shocked that I smoke and squeak “Noooooooooooooooo!” in slow-motion when they see me holding a cigarette.
“Don’t worry,” I assure them, “I don’t inhale.”

I guess because I work out regularly and eat fruit every two months or so, people automatically believe that I’m a health freak.
Note: I think of butter as a food group on its own, one that should be ingested on a daily basis. If you knew me better, you’d know that I’m a highly addictive person, as evident by my unreasonable intake of sugar, coffee and a shoe collection that spans across three continents (I kid you not).

After a few months of coughing like an old man (there’s nothing sexier than that sound in the morning), I decided to go Cold Turkey on New Year’s Day as one of my overambitious 2010 resolutions.
Then a very evil friend of mine (let’s call him Rami) ruined my plans by buying me two boxes of my favorite Dunhill Blues.
“Quit as soon as you’re done smoking them,” he smiled evilly.

Two months and many happy cigarette hours later, I once again decided that I was done with nicotine. It may have something to do with the offer my genius flat mate made me: “Quit smoking and I’ll buy you a swanky mixer.”
This may not mean much to you, but if you’re a foodist like me, getting a new mixer is like a new flat-screen TV (read my next blog).

It also may have something to do with the fact that I like running, but I recently found myself lagging behind a fat Chinese kid on the jogging track. If a fat Chinese kid can outrun you, you might as well be dead.

My friends have split into three alliances:
First, there are the Semi Supporters, who tell me they’re proud of me quitting, yet they sneakily continue to smoke, which makes me suspect they don’t quite mean it from the heart.
Then there’s the Evil Coercers, who keep trying to seduce me back into their smoking clique by offering me cigarettes and seductively blowing smoke in my face. I understand: nicotine, like misery, loves company, and there’s nothing quite like that special cigarette you share with a friend on the balcony after a good meal.
Then, there’ are the Holy and Pure friends who don’t smoke/drink caffeine/eat fatty foods/curse/double park and like to save animals in their spare time. These friends give me regular pep-talks (high-fives and all), and whenever I’m tempted to smoke, they urge me to eat a cucumber or save a tree or something.

Much to my dismay, I discovered that smoking had made me a relaxed and easygoing person, and taking the nicotine away had turned me into Godzilla on crack. With rage issues that no Jack Nicholson could cure.

Day One: Woke up from a beautiful dream about me inhaling my cigarette in slow motion, hair blowing back in the gentle breeze, the theme from Love Story playing in the background. Got teary eyed when I realized it was only a dream.


Day Three: found myself scratching my arm like a crack addict when my friend lit her cigarette next to me. Made her blow smoke my way so that I could inhale some of it. I said I’d quit SMOKING, never promised anything about second-hand smoke.

Day Four: Is it just me or have Men who Smoke suddenly become sexy? The minute a guy lights a cigarette, even if it’s a random stranger on the street, I perk up and think ‘Ooooh, ‘Ellooo!’

Day Five: I now completely sympathize with cranky, nicotine-starved taxi drivers during Ramadan. I have all the withdrawal symptoms: headache, severely short temper, road rage, fatigue, inability to tolerate cheerful friends.

Day Seven: I eat too much chocolate to compensate for lack of nicotine. Great. Now have to quit chocolate AND cigarettes.

Day Nine: And Coffee.

Day Fourteen: I don’t understand why people say I’m intimidating, or duck whenever I pick up a sharp object. I feel completely fine. Can’t seem to stop my leg from twitching, though.

Day Seventeen: Non-smoking Friend, a member of the Holy and Pure that I like to call Ghandi because she thinks the world will be a better place if we hold hands and sing Disney Classics, smiled at me today and said
“Don’t you feel sooo much better now that you don’t have that toxic nicotine in your body? Now you can do anything you put your mind to; you can climb mountains if you want!”
Shut up Ghandi. I’m absolutely miserable.

Day Eighteen: Realized it’s almost three weeks since I quit smoking. Decided to celebrate by having a cigarette. I am so proud of myself.


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