Tag: Cairo (page 2 of 2)

Cheers: A Cairo Reflection After My Day 1

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Making your way in the world today.

Takes everything you’ve got.

[I cried for days before the flight here. Packing. Moving. See-you-laters rather than Goodbyes. A one-way ticket to Cairo and the unknown. No dependents. Just me.]

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Hard to leave the city of big shoulders. Cried part of the way from Chicago to Zurich. But then was comforted by the free wine and chocolate.

From those luscious Alps in Zurich, to the same plane landing in a majestic sand box. From my airplane window in seat 34K, I saw Greek islands and three surreal pyramids dominating the landscape.

 

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,

[It is strange being so anonymous so far in Cairo. Got lost today just two minutes from my apartment in Garden City and the guy I asked for directions assumed I was Russian.]

 

and they’re always glad you came.

The Fulbright people left fresh fruit and bread on the table for me. Milk, water and cheese in the fridge. And the TV was put on CNN.

You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same

Riders of a Cairo minibus needing to get out and push, causing traffic havoc.

[Maybe soon I’ll ask why everybody here has carpet on the dashboards. But first I need to figure out why whenever I tell a shop owner that I need to buy a basic toaster, they point me to a panini press.]

You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

[A guy named Tarek picked me up at the airport with a sign featuring the Fulbright logo and the name, Mr. Shawn Lent. He was embarrassed by the error. I was not at all. He also didn’t like my insistence on carrying my own things. But after a few minutes getting him to laugh and getting to know one another, he was okay with me crouching down and lifting the luggage trolley over all the curbs in the parking lot. We became a team and all was good.]

Where everybody knows your name,

[My name is not Honey. And I am not a cat. So the patronizing hisses and gross cat calls I got from the guards of the Canadian Embassy this afternoon were completely ignored.]

[Door guy of my apartment building is named Ali. He talks loud and sits just outside my door. He is the key to both my safety and my freedoms.]

And they’re always glad you came; [Friend Ramy helped me get SIMM card sorted and settled in to the hood. Much gratitude. Would have been entirely lost in translation without that help.]

 

 

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came…

 

Corniche El Nile. View from my new front door.

 

*** Lyrics: Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo – From ‘Cheers’

***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Masr On the Rocks

“on the rocks” : served neat, on ice

“on the rocks” : in difficulties, with high potential to fail

 

The Fulbright staff have tasked me to reflect on what I know and feel about Egypt before I go.

I know that Cairo (al-Qahira) is 6,150 miles and 7 time zones from Chicago. 83.6 million people live in Egypt, which is half the size of Alaska. 10.9 million live in Cairo. Up to 19 million in the greater metro area.

 

Men in Tahrir 2011

 

Egypt is an old country, with a young population, run by old men. Average age is 24.6. Unemployment rate for young women is a staggering 48%. For young men, 25%.

I know that most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Some are Coptic Christian, which is similar to Eastern Orthodox. Fewer are Jewish. Fewer still are multitheist, agnostic or atheist…at least publicly.

 

I know that Egypt is NOT here:

You should know I am not a journalist. I am a dance educator, a manager, a scholar interested in the role of artists in alternative areas of civil society. What I know about Egypt may not be accurate. It may not even be true. But it is my honest understanding, and as such, might be mighty interesting.

I know that Egyptians want freedom. Their freedom to be devout Muslims. Their right to bread. Their right to a functioning constitution, justice, and a vote. Their dignity. Their right to enjoy a Stella on Thursday night. Their rights as contemporary artists and media makers.

The official language in Egypt is Arabic, but a variation of the language quite different from other Arabic-speaking countries, full of slang. Making it even more difficult to learn or to utilize translation apps.

I know that Egyptians are more likely to make stuff up than admit they don’t know something.

They are a proud people.

 

I know that tourism is the piston for this place, known as the Mother of the World; and I know that tourism has dipped dangerously low since Mubarak’s ouster. Visit. Touch the ancient history. Relax on the stellar beaches. Come see the planets align over the Pyramids of Giza for the first time in 2,797 years.

So amazing.

I know that Egyptians, in general, are less comfortable discussing gay rights than people in say, nearby Libya. And I know that Cairo doesn’t represent all of Egypt. Just like Chicago doesn’t represent Illinois.

What I do not know is if there is a Groupon-like service in Egypt…, if they use proton beam therapy at 57357 children’s cancer hospital…, or if I will get fat on take-out koshari.

I have been taught the Arabic version of giving the middle finger and I know that some men in Cairo make me uncomfortable. So to the guys who’ve sent me messages this summer giving the impression they’re interested in only one aspect of who I am, I say two things: Yes, I am single. No, I will not sleep with you. On that note, fellas, please don’t insist on helping me cross the street. I’ve played ‘Frogger.’ I know what to do. Don’t assume I have lots of American money to spend in your cousin’s shop. Don’t assume I will be your “special friend.” Let’s acknowledge the difference between being a woman who walks solo down the street, and a woman who works the streets.

Also, I am not a spy. Never have been.

On a different note, coming from Chicago, the home of improv comedy, I can appreciate the Egyptian sense of humor. Relevant and on your feet. One cannot help but be impressed by the witty revolutionary signage and collective singing and political cartoons. Laugh out loud brilliant. Probably would be even funnier if I got the cultural references and/or read Arabic.

I know that for many Egyptians, the revolution continues. For some, Morsi and his presidential team are making their way toward stability and progress. For others, trash is filling the streets and Masr is on the rocks.

But some days have more hope than others. Fingers wave in purple ink. And every day brings a surprise.

Here ends any of my talk of me and them. Now it’s we. I have decided to join you in Cairo for a little while to experience that goodness. That potential for greatness and personal agency. To feel the pulse of a city that is thousands of years old in an era of mass change. Beautiful. Jamila.

Let’s pour some hope, served neat, on ice.

See you soon.

 

***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Don’t Touch Me, Mr. Akin.

If you’ve had the privilege to date me, you know I’m weird, lovely but weird. Not a hand holder.

I’m the survivor of sexual assault. I don’t use the word rape because I feel guilty. Not an innocent victim. Went reluctantly but not-forcibly to the hotel room of a Navy man years ago. Was inebriated enough that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I got myself into that unsafe bed, and as I was being pushed face-down into that pillow, my body propped into a position I know I didn’t put it into, and my limbs were unable to put up any fight at all, I remembered the PSAs I grew up with. For some reason, I thought if I could only manage to get out the word ‘No’ it all would stop. When that ‘No’ didn’t work, I just laid there and cried.

I walked home from that hotel room alone and quivering around 3am. I recovered quickly. That Navy man must have went back to Florida, unreported. I finally told someone about it three years later. And now I am writing it in public and for the young women and parents out there.

I am guessing what I went through Mr. Akin would consider “illegitimate.” I guess there were other times I should have said no to other men. Should have had the confidence to say no, make them wait.

I should not have walked into that essence shop in Cairo alone last year, where an older gentlemen would proceed to press himself against me.

Speaking of Cairo. That’s also why I’m writing this.

I am headed there next week. And will stay for 5-8 months. This city is known for sexual harassment. Once read that 98% of foreign women report some sort of sexual harassment. Egyptian women are themselves fighting for their rights while also fighting for their freedom. I will join them in my capacity as a foreign woman trying to hold her own independence, strength and worth.

I am sexy. I am an amazing and caring lady.

Costa Rica 2011

 

I am also a dancer who spent her entire childhood looking into a mirror. Was so self-conscious about my fat thighs. Hated much about my appearance. Like most gals I knew.

Last Thanksgiving, I went to Costa Rica. I asked a stranger to take a picture of me in a bikini and I posted it online. Not a huge deal. Others post images of them in less, as performers, as artists, as vacationers. But this was an achievement for me. This was when I felt comfortable with my body. The moment I felt I could be a nice girl and a proud woman at the same time. I didn’t post the picture so that men would react. I posted it for me. To feel strong. It felt good.

It was a long journey after that Navy man; to be able to love and to be able to be left. To understand that my body was mine.

When someone tries to define rape into categories, my guilt pops back up and hounds me. Am I the “illegitimate” one he’s talking about? Should I cover more or less of myself when in Egypt? Does anyone care if I am really proud of shoulders and calves, prefer not to wear sleeves and long skirts all the time? Do I not have a choice? Do I respect their culture, or do I respect myself, or do I have to struggle to find a balance?

If I cover myself every day, will I lose confidence in my body?

My standard of being a decent woman is not a Muslim one. Or a Christian one. My standard of goodness is self-inflicted. As part of humanity. As a teacher and role model for others, of all genders and sexualities. As a dancer.

I will go to Cairo. And I will be amazing.

Alumna receives Fulbright Scholar grant

As published in The Saginaw News: 31 July 2012

SAGINAW, MI— Stores are already beginning to roll out their back-to-school advertising and students, but Shawn Lent’s back-to-school shopping list this year includes a suitcase instead of a backpack.

The Thomas Township native, who works with an arts integration program implementing arts programs in public middle schools through Columbia College in Chicago, is packing her bags for a semester lecturing at the Academy of Arts’ High Institute of Ballet in Cairo, Egypt.

Lent, 34, has won a one-semester Fulbright Scholar grant for the trip, where she will teach dance classes and lecture on community arts theory and the role of artists in civil society and education.

“I hope to make some change in how dance is taught and [in] education in general,” she said.

Lent grew up in Thomas Township and graduated from Hemlock High School and Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy in 1996.

Lent said her interest in Egypt and the surrounding region began when she traveled to Morocco, Egypt and Qatar in 2010 with a group from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

“I did this tour and got a lot of contacts in the region, several in Cairo,” she said. “Then suddenly, my new friends were busy starting a revolution. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to research the role of artists in a revolution and in rebuilding a society.”

To apply for the Fulbright grant, Lent returned to Egypt to get an invitation from an institution there. She returned to the U.S. empty-handed. After her return, the U.S. State Department announced that because of the recent revolutions and unrest in Libya and Egypt, applicants hoping to travel to those countries would not need to include an invitation from a host institution in their application packets.

Lent assembled the other 12 to 14 aspects of the application and sent it in. Then the waiting started.

“It’s a whole year process, waiting to find out [if you got the grant],” Lent said.

The application was due last August and finalists were notified between October and January. The final announcement of recipients was made in April or May this year.

Dance has always been one of her passions, Lent said. She studied ballet and jazz at Bohaty’s School of Dance in Thomas Township and began studying contemporary dance in college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in theater and dance from Milikin University in Decatur, Ohio. She did some post-graduate work in London and earned a master’s degree in arts management with a focus in arts for youth and community development from Columbia.

While she has not danced professionally “for a while,” Lent said, she continues to learn new forms of dance.

“I’ve been learning a lot more folkloric dances lately,” she said. She teaches many orthodox Jewish students, who have taught her their traditional dances.

Lent’s grant is for one semester, but she said she hopes to extend it for the entire academic year. If she does not get the extension, she will continue teaching dance as a volunteer in either Palestine or Bosnia.

“Both are options right now,” she said. “I would like to volunteer at a dance school in Palestine.”

“I taught [in Bosnia] last spring as part of a youth festival in an area that hasn’t been rebuilt [after Bosnian War],” she said. “They were looking for arts teachers as volunteers.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Lent will be the language barrier. She will teach her classes at the Academy of the Arts in English, but her limited knowledge of Arabic will make daily tasks difficult.

“I’m trying to study as much as I can,” she said. “When I was [in Cairo] the first two times, I could get by. I’ll just do the best I can. As long as I can make the hour-long commute to work and back, I’ll be fine.”

Another worry for Lent is safety in the country still plagued by unrest and fear of foreigners.

“A couple of weeks ago, state TV put out a number of (public service announcements with the) message ‘Don’t trust foreigners, they’re all spies,’” she said. “(The anti-foreigner sentiment) was strong when I was there last summer, but even more so after the ads. I just hope that I’ll be welcomed and accepted.”

Foreigners, especially foreign women, need to be especially vigilant and aware of their surroundings, she said.

“I met with the Egyptian consulate here in Chicago, and they gave me a list of information on how not to get kidnapped,” she said. “There’s a couple of figures on sexual harassment. [Cairo] is worse than any other city in the Middle East.”

Lent said that close to 98 percent of foreign women visiting Cairo report experiencing some form of sexual harassment while in the city.

“But I have friends there,” Lent said. “I know they’ll have my back.”

Lent said her parents, Jim and Kaye Lent of Thomas Township, are “still reacting” to her decision to travel to Egypt.

“They’re nervous because I’m an only child,” she said. “They just kept saying, ‘Mixed feelings. We have mixed feelings.’”

Lately, however, she said her mother has been “constantly posting about it” on Facebook.

“She must have accepted it if she’s telling people about it,” Lent said.

The Fulbright Scholarship program is sponsored but the U.S. Department of State and funds scholarships for U.S. faculty and professionals to travel and teach abroad.

Lent is one of 1,100 Fulbright grant recipients for the 2012-13 academic year.

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