“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.
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.
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.