Tag: Egypt (Page 2 of 2)

Packing Up

Living in a place not your home can get difficult. No matter the place.

No matter how many times strangers on the street say “Welcome to Egypt,” you can feel like the odd man out. Love the challenges. But it’s no walk in the park when even a walk in the park is an adventure. Constantly out of your element.

Today started off as one of those down days. We all get them. We all feel down. Egypt only has four beer options (Stella, Heineken, Sakara, and Meister Max), all local, and I was officially tired of them all. Craving an IPA or a good craft brew. My shoes were not warm enough to sit at one of the outdoor cafes. It’s cold. Verging on rainy. The wind yesterday was epic. The tents in Tahrir Square flapping violently. And I craved to have those boots I had back in Chicago that boosted my swagger. So I decided to stay home and pack up the Fulbright apartment (given to me September 2 – January 15).

And as I was packing up, my mood started flipping. I kept finding mementos of the last four months…

One ticket stub for the grounds of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx; plus one ticket to go inside the second-largest, second-cheapest of the three pyramids.

Three language workbooks from the Arab Academy, full of notes and some of the worst Arabic spelling known to man.

One handwritten note passed to me by a teen patient at the Children’s Cancer Hospital 57357 that reads, “I dreamed that you and I were married, but this is just a dream. I’m happy with this dream.”

Seven underground, revolutionary bumper stickers and one poster, with the purpose of getting the word out about the November 23rd demonstrations in Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

One large Egyptian flag found on the ground in Tahrir Square, rescued and repaired. (I may or may not have waved this flag boldly when alone in my apartment.)

One ticket stub for “Wekalet El-Gouri, El-Tanoura Troupe” Sufi dancing, another for a traditional music concert at Makan, and another for a heart wrenching play, “Zawaya: Testimonies from the Revolution” at Al-Warsha Theatre Group Premises.

One stoic picture of Ahmed, a 17-year-old who was martyred during the January 25 Revolution.

A worn copy of the 30 November version of the draft Egyptian Constitution (which was expedited and questionably passed in December), and a list of all its faults.

One used bus ticket to Marsa Matruh, Cleopatra’s choice for a resort town on the Mediterranean coast.

One unlucky raffle ticket from the Terry Fox Run at AUC, a fundraiser for 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt.

One well-worn “I Voted Today” sticker, a small American flag, and a booklet explaining the U.S. Electoral process, in Arabic.

The receipt from when I walked into a pharmacy here (no insurance, no appointment, no prescription) and paid $8 for medication I would have paid over $200 for in the States without insurance.

Four programs from the Cairo Opera House (Aida, LaCorsaire, Nutcracker, and Egyptian Modern Dance Theatre). Like the National Theater, these are performances supported by the Ministry of Culture. (Side Note: The classics such as Shakespeare are performed here in Arabic, and the translators must keep the iambic pentameter. Wowsers, that is difficult.)

One rock. A souvenir my boyfriend picked up in Fayoum, the oldest city in Egypt, and a handmade mug from Tunis, a pottery village there.

Two ticket stubs to El Sawy Culture Wheel (revolutionist musician Ramy Essam and famed writer Alaa Al Aswany).

The receipt from when my friends and I went salsa dancing at Bian Cafe.


OK, maybe life is more wondrous than I was giving it credit for earlier today.

Here I am in the Middle East.

The Middle East is a strange term. Is it meant that this is halfway to the Far East? Only when starting from the Americas? When some people say Middle East, they are only referring to Palestine and Israel. Some people include nearly all the predominantly Muslim or Arab countries in the region. Some include those in Southeast Asia.

MENA is now the common term: Middle East and North Africa. Not sure if Egypt is considered both. In any case, here I am. Here I am dancing, lending a hand, learning. And maybe I’ll go out and have a bottle of Stella in the famous bar downtown named Stella. Maybe I’ll have  saHlub (hot coconut milk with almonds and raisins) and one of those traditional sugar cookies covered in sesame seeds. Read some Naquib Mahfouz. And I’ll go see the Christmas tree in Tahrir Square. Today is Christmas for Egyptian Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian, Russian and Orthodox friends.

Tomorrow I will start preparing for trips to Israel, Palestine, back to Cairo for the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution (We will see if this time around brings rebellion, true reform, revolts to the MB; diversity, mergence, or division of culture), then on to visit a safehouse in Kenya, a village energy enterprise in Uganda, my family and friends in the States, and then back to Cairo in the Spring. Hope you will go on this journey with me. Ups and downs.

In the words of a patient at the Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt, “I am happy with this dream.”


***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.

A Merry Masr Christmas!

That moment when you’re in Arabic class learning the names for different meats, and you’re vegetarian. And one of your Muslim Egyptian friends is back at your place creating the design of a Christmas tree on the wall with a strand of lights. And you keep thinking of your mother with pneumonia and of the children in the hospitals across the world fighting their cancers this holiday season.

Starting this post in a very different place than the holiday spirit. But the jingle bells are soon approaching. I promise.

Installing a mall Christmas tree in the middle of the night.

Last Friday, I  received a comment on this site…

“Your narcissism has never failed to amaze me throughout the duration of your time in Cairo. Actually, what’s most surprising is none of your other readers seem to notice.”

Ouch. Deep ouch. I want to live an altruistic and artful life. That’s it. Narcissism is a hurtful accusation. Been difficult for me to let it roll off.

In honestly, I am feeling a bit guilty right now because it is not financially possible to go back to my family both for Christmas and for my mom’s surgery in February/March. So I am staying here in Cairo this holiday. First time ever to have Christmas apart from them. Then I am traveling next month to volunteer and see friends doing good works in Palestine, Kenya and Uganda.

I am blessed to be here learning from new friends and amazing experiences. Heading back to my family in February but wishing I could somehow also be there for my mom this entire year as she battles against the breast cancer beast and the current pneumonia. She’s homebound this holiday season, on doctor’s orders. Narcissism may not be the right word, but yes, I feel pangs of selfishness.

My gracious, loving, hilarious parents and I.

My parents are gracious, loving and hilarious. I’m their only kid. We Skype every week. And they encourage me to continue saying yes to life’s opportunities and I will definitely continue to write from my personal perspective, an honest place.

And soon is Christmas! The birth of Jesus. In the Qur’an, he is Prophet Esa. This is a most beautiful religious/cultural holiday. As is Diwali, Eid, and so many other beautiful days in the year.

Christmas for Egyptian Coptics will be on January 7th. But I wish to celebrate on December 25.

On Tuesday morning, I plan to go to 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt in order to dance with the patients and families. I will also be handing out the cards and gifts made by children in Michigan and shipped by my friend Elizabeth. Such heart and generosity.

One of the cards reads… “Hello. It’s winter here. We’ve had snow. I hope you’re feeling better.”

Gifts from children in Michigan, USA to the children at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, Egypt.

And I threw a dinner party Tuesday evening.

Most invitees are Muslim. Some are Non-religious. A few Jewish. A few Christian. Most are Egyptian. A pediatric oncologist. A famous actor. Musicians and artists. My Arabic teacher. Three invitees are the other Fulbrighters staying here without family on Christmas.

I asked the kind Egyptian fella I’ve been seeing to co-host and here is our invitation:

Bring a dish to share. And a beverage of your choice.

Bring a wrapped, white elephant gift (costing no more than 8 LE).

Bring your holiday cheer and be prepared for some Motown carols.

Bring a friend. Bring family. 😉 All friends of any religious or faith background invited.

“Sleighbells ring… Are you listening?”


***We would like to ask that sometime during the evening we hold a short candlelit vigil for the victims of gun crime in Chicago, Connecticut and around the world. Is that cool with everyone? Just a moment of silence with candles. Then we will eat and be merry.

كل واحد يجيب طبق اكل من اي نوع معاه والدرنك بتاعو وماتنسوش هدية ب ١٠ جنيه عشان في لعبة حنعملها


We were allowed the use of an empty apartment on the 14th floor of my building with three great balcony views of the Nile and city. We cooked and ate a bounty of mashed potatoes, kebab, chicken, Egyptian salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream with pomegranate topping. We listened to Pandora holiday stations.

And as people celebrated, I left my laptop open on the table and asked guests to write their own messages and greetings to the readers of this blog. Here they go:

dans cette ville ou  le moindre mouvement devient  le parcours d’un combatant, tu nous a fait passer un Noel merveilleux. on ne peut que te remercier de ton chaleureux acceuil et de la  vue magnifique de ton balcon.

chaleureusement A. Mounib


(Translation by Google Translate)

In the city where the slightest movement is the story of a fighter, you helped us spend a wonderful Christmas.

we can only thank you for your warm welcome and the beautiful view from your balcony.

Warmly, A. Mounib


Thanks so much Shawn for making Christmas in Cairo not suck! Much appreciated you putting on the party and especially the apple pie!!! View from your apartment is amazing by the way!

Be in touch



Nothing can quite make up for Christmas at home, but this was definitely a spirited attempt. The view, the food, and the people are great. Thanks for putting this on!


Everybody stole my gifts

Which made me open almost all of them … !

Felt like a kid with a tree full of gifts 🙂

And I even got an extra gift in the end abandoned by someone …

If only every theft could lead to this … -0


first time i saw you in the camp with the children, i said to myself this person is different. you showed up like a big smile full of joy and hope to all people around you. i’m really glad that i’ve met you and i wish if you could live with us in Egypt for ever 🙂 thanks for the gathering and thanks for everything

Moatasem (the doctor in the tie and dye shirt;) 


I came with a candle holder. I left with a monkey. I also met some great people! What a wonderful Xmas!! Kul aam wa intum bikhair!!! As a newcomer, I hope it is a sign of more great times for me here in Egypt.


شوون  الحفله كانت حلو ه جدا ووانتي طالبه هايله اتمني تكملي دراسه 

اشوفك علي خير


(Translation by Google Translate)

Shawn. The party was very sweet. You are a great student. I hope you continue with your studies. See you soon. All the best.


tusen takk for invitasjonen til juleselskapet deres! maten var nydelig, og nå kommer vi aldri mer til å mangle isbiter. utsikten fra leiligheten deres er fantastisk, og vi kunne gjerne spist den eplepaien til frokost, brunsh, lunsh, middag, dessert, kveldsmat og nattmat. god jul!

 Ramy & Antonia


thank you for inviting us to the Christmas party! the food was lovely, and now we will never be missing ice. the view from your apartment is amazing, and we could have happily eaten the apple pie for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, supper and midnight snack. happy holidays!


Yo Shawn! Danke fuer die spitzen Party und die tolle Aussicht! 🙂 Naechstes mal sind wir auf jeden Fall wieder am Start. Viele Gruesse, machet jut!


Yo Shawn! Thanks for the great party and the great view! 🙂 Next time we will definitely be crashing the party again. Many greetings, Enjoy!


Shawn great party <3 Merry Christmas and have a joyful new year


Well I don’t know how to start but let me say that I like that the guys like my food that I made. Thanx to you Shawn for this nice party, for my gift. I am happy that everyone had a good time. Yeah I did have a great time too, cooking and organizing, and yea it was a nice party with a very nice guys.


A Merry Masr Christmas to you all and to your families! I cannot thank you enough for your openness and support. Enjoy time together.

As Egypt braces for the passing of a controversial constitution, please wish the amazing people here much hope.

And if you are reading this, I ask you to please send out prayers and positive thoughts for my momma. She is one wonderful and strong lady. Shukran.

Teaching to the Test

When I first walked in to the Academy of the Arts, High Institute of Ballet, I had some reservations about the facilities and was honestly intimidated by the prestigious reputation and name.

I have never been known for my technical prowess, but I am a passionate and strong dancer. Still at my age of 34. And I do pride myself on being a dance artist invested in areas of civil society. I bring dance to people in order to help with illness such as cancer, to help divided communities in places such as Belfast and Bosnia, prevent and reconcile conflict, reform education, build trust across religions and cultures, help the human development of teens, toddlers, leaders, professionals, and elders.

To help people find new understanding of themselves and their crazy world.

To help people find some joy and freedom.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan


After three months of teaching here in Cairo, both friendships and pedagogical differences have surfaced.

In November, I was told to choreograph a 30min modern dance performance for the students and to help them rehearse. The performance would be in December. A nearly impossible task given the circumstances. But we kicked into gear to make it happen. Then classes were unexpectedly moved to an hour earlier and a half hour shorter. Then I was told the emphasis should be THE EXAM and that the performance may be in January. Or not at all.

I was frustrated. I admit it. But you see, the Ballet Institute itself is at the whim of the umbrella Academy and the Ministry of Culture. When they found out things, they let the staff know. And they put signs (in Arabic) all over the hallway walls in order to inform people. My Arabic was not nearly strong enough to follow developments.

No other faculty member seemed concerned over these changes. I was the one having to learn to be much more flexible, more of a team player dealing with things as they come. A hard but good lesson.

The faculty and administration are also not worried about safety, like in the U.S. Gun violence is of no concern. The dance faculty are also free from the major issue facing educators in Egypt…class size. With a population this booming, a class of 30-35 is a dream come true. Sometimes repetition and precise testing are the only ways to reach hundreds of students.

Back to the Institute of Ballet. For THE EXAM, there are certain ways this is traditionally done here. The dancers are assigned places, with the strongest students in front to lead. The exercises should be well-polished, set to music, and require no cueing from the instructor. The students will be wearing numbers and a panel of examiners will sit at a table in front. Very Flashdance. Each semester, the technical exam is worth 50 points, for a total of 100 for the year. The students pass to the next level with a score of 70 or more for the year.

My Fulbright grant only covers me teaching here for the Fall semester. So I wanted to have as big an impact as possible with the 50 points I was responsible for.

I was asked to bring new moves as well as new thinking. So that’s what I tried to do.

5 points – Two writing assignments: a letter to me on how they feel dance is important here in Egypt after the January 25th Revolution, as well as a review or research on Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Urban Bush Women, BattleWorks, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Akram Khan Dance Company, or any modern dance organization in Egypt. Prior to this assignment, the students were unfamiliar with any of those names.

5 points – Class attendance, conduct, and participation.

5 points – Performance Routine we had been practicing for the performance that may or may not happen.

35 points – THE EXAM on December 30th

And I made an actual rubric, breaking down each of those categories for the students to understand what I was getting at. Normally, I would like to create the rubric with the students, but time and resources were short. And there is no translator.

Year 8 students in Modern Dance class at Egypt’s High Institute of Ballet in Cairo.

And now THE EXAM is a week and a half away.

Yes, what I am working on with the students is somewhat polished, set to music. But I have the dancers rotating lines with every exercise, so every student is responsible for being a leader at some point. I have faith in them.

And I gave solos to students I saw as struggling but with potential to grow as a performer if they were pushed out of their comfort zone and into the spotlight.

And there will be improvisation task. No, I will not give them the instructions a week earlier as co-teachers requested. It will be true improvisation and might completely flop. But the students and I been practicing with the structure, so I think they are up for the challenge. Cross your fingers.

Yes, this will all be messy. Yes, it may not look too impressive to the examination panel. Yes, I have been (and might continue to be) openly criticized for not being a strict enough teacher and not pushing the best students.

But it is my sincere hope that during my time here, I have had a great impact. That each and every student learned something.

Taking risks,

stepping up,

being humble,

caring for their peers,

listening beyond the language,

respecting a foreign movement vocabulary,

dancing with their full selves,

finding value in clean technique over tricks,

and finding a role for themselves as dance artists in an ever-changing nation.


And on my way out of the Institute after class today, I saw this:

On a walls in the High Institute of Ballet.


***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.

I Wasn’t Going to Blog About Religion and Politics

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism: 900 million
  5. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
  6. Buddhism: 376 million
  7. Primal-indigenous: 300 million
  8. African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche: 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
  12. Judaism: 14 million

These are the twelve major religions/faith categories on this spinning ball in the sky. According to Adherents.com and Wikipedia.

I’m mostly in category 3, participate in the traditions and practices of 1, and have an understanding and love for 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12. The others I will study sometime in my life because I feel it is my responsibility to always learn more.

I write about religion because it is everywhere.

It is Christmastime in some of the world. For Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christians (who have different calendars than Catholics, Lutherans, etc.), they will fast now and not celebrate Christmas until January 7. But back in the United States, I see my friends immersed in what we call Christmastime. They are decking the halls and roofs, baking a few cookies while mostly eating cookie dough, shopping and wrapping the season’s hottest gifts, drinking beer in ugly sweaters, having a hard time concentrating at work before the winter vacation, singing along to Silent Night on the car radio.

The smell of ginger and the feeling of joy.

Here in Cairo, there are many churches, but not much Christmastime. I have seen only two small shops with any Christmas displays or products. I have not come across any Advent calendars, so I’ve decided just to eat an entire chocolate bar every day until the 25th. Yeah, I kinda miss this season. But don’t worry; there’s no Islamist War on Christmas in Cairo, religion is just not as overwhelmingly commercialized here.

Storefront on Kasr El Ainy.


I also write about religion because I was struck by a recent comment of a student at Minia University. He said, “Egypt has people of all three religions.” While yes, there are three Abrahamic faith traditions (four if you include Baha’i) which share much history and beliefs and prophets, there are at least nine other major world religions that I do not see recognized or respected here in Egypt. This is important. Especially as Egypt works to revise the constitution. Will it provide protection for all religious minorities? Future immigrants from other regions? Will the constitution contain equal rights for Agnostics? For families of mixed faiths?

Sign at the entrance of a mosque here in Cairo. Hoping not to find similar signs in any public places.

I also write about religion because the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to govern this country, and they are a religious group. I do not wish to demonize all their members. Most are loving family-values type of people. In my head, I equate them with right-wing, Fox News, conservative Christians in the U.S. And I don’t want to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood with all Muslims. Islam is just as strong with many of the liberal groups here. A beautiful faith.

This is not a clear battle between religion and revolutionists. This is a different fission: supporters of the moves of Morsi/MB and the direction they are headed with the constitution, the speed in which they are moving with the referendum, etc. VS The Opposition which includes January 25 revolutionists, 21 major liberal groups, feminists, secularists, and the Muslim educated class. I stand with the opposition, whatever their faith. Indeed I do.

Police wall blocking Tahrir Square from Kasr El Ainy. The revolutionists have given it their touch.

As I was writing this post safe in my apartment near Tahrir Square, I got a call from a friend. Turn on the news. There are clashes up in Heliopolis. A battle. An attack by the MB on the protestors’ sit-in at the presidential palace. Petrol bombs. Two died. More than 200 seriously injured. On both sides.


This is a message from the U.S. Embassy Mission Egypt Notification System:

December 5, 2012 10:07:43 PM GMT+02:00


RSO patrols report significant clashes occuring between MB supporters and liberal groups in the area of Ithtadiya Palace in Heliopolis. Police and Security have taken no action to separate the groups. Injuries are reported as reportedly several thousand from each side are engaged in the clashes.

No reports of clashes or security issues at Tahrir or near the Embassy.


I went on Twitter and agreed with Mohamed @ElBaradei Morsi must stop bloodshed, rescind declaration, postpone referendum & enter into immediate dialogue with opposition. Egypt is under siege.”

And I agreed with one of my Facebook friends: “How on earth could I study given what’s going on in Egypt! The Muslim Brotherhood failed at cohabiting with the opposition. They are not used to being in power, they are using the same old techniques they used to use during Mubarak’s regime. I believe that there isn’t a single political force that can rule Egypt alone at this stage and the MB themselves mentioned that before.”

What would Prophet Mohamed PBUH/Moses/Jesus/the Buddha do? I wonder.

To those who died here tonight for their country, I sing, Sleep in heavenly pea-eace. Slee-eep in heavenly peace…

One of my favorite signs in Tahrir Square. Says, “Enough.”


***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.



Secretary Clinton Spoke about Egypt today at NATO Headquarters in Brussels:

We have been watching very closely this process as it is unfolding in Cairo with concern. We’ve expressed that repeatedly over the last weeks. Because almost two years the Egyptian people took to the streets because they wanted real democratic change. And they, therefore – not the Americans, not anyone else but the Egyptian people – deserve a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, men and women, Muslim and Christian, and ensures that Egypt will uphold all of its international obligations. They also want and deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparent, and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other.

So the upheaval we are seeing now, once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities, indicates that dialogue is urgently needed, and it needs to be a two-way dialogue, not one side talking at another side, but actual, respectful exchanges of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution. It’s also important that Egypt’s courts be allowed to function during this period.

So we call on all stakeholders in Egypt to settle their differences through democratic dialogue, and we call on Egypt’s leaders to ensure that the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all of Egypt’s citizens. Ultimately, it is up to the Egyptian people to chart their way forward. But we want to see a process that is inclusive and a dialogue that is truly open to a free exchange of ideas that will further the democratic process in Egypt.

Black Friday in Masr

When I wrote about the demonstrations in Cairo back in September…Thanksgiving seemed so far away. So did the violence. These were mostly strangers to me. And I was a stranger among them.

At that time, I walked into a bit of tear gas, but I also walked into great conversations and important steps toward cultural understanding. These protests seemed removed from my experience. I mostly watched the live streaming on my friend’s tv and it was over in a matter of hours. Then Greece kicked off. And other places around the world found their peaceful demonstrations turning to violence, not just here.

This week of turmoil in Cairo seems much different. Feels like it’s hitting home. Because some of those strangers became friends over the last couple months, and now here we are together. Cairo liberals are back to Mohammad Mahmoud Street. Remembering what happened here last year. For the sake of the martyrs. Those who lost their eyes. Those who lost their lives.

U.S. EMBASSY CAIRO SECURITY NOTIFICATION, 19 November 2012: Embassy Cairo wishes to inform U.S. citizens of ongoing protests and small scattered clashes in the area of Tahrir Square near Mohammad Mahmoud Street, including near the Embassy perimeter. This gathering is connected to calls by liberal groups to march to Mohamad Mahmoud Street today (and possibly through Friday) in recognition of the one year anniversary of the clashes near the Ministry of Interior that resulted in numerous casualties.

In addition to potential violence associated with this demonstration, traffic congestion may result in seeking alternate routes. Because of the potential danger associated with the clashes, personnel have been advised to temporarily avoid pedestrian movements outside the Embassy perimeter, exercise caution when driving in the downtown area, and to avoid the Sadat Metro Station until further notice.

People are on Mohammad Mahmoud to make way for some sort of version for the future. Some of whom are my friends. The day starts out with boisterous drumming and peaceful, chanting marches. Many children and families. Their flags and banners fly into the evening.

Demonstrator with banner and eyepatch in honor of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street martyrs from November 2011.

Young men climb atop the blockade walls, attempting to push down each of the giant concrete blocks. The blocks hit the ground in a dusty crash and the crowd roars. But it’s peaceful. Steps away, cotton candy is for sale. No pictures please because they don’t want anyone arrested: the prisons here are known for torture. Somewhere else down the road, the situation escalates and somebody’s sons feel brave enough (or have enough pent up anger) to step up to the front line and start hurling rocks. Eight trucks of police make their way to the square. I eat ice cream and go back to read in my apartment.

A march across Tahrir Square with banners of the martyrs.

The next day, after dinner, I hear shots being fired. Maybe rubber. I see smoke. Maybe tear gas. I hear screams and pounding. Maybe those young boys. My friend and I walk peacefully and somberly to get me to Arabic class. And the media focuses their cameras to the other side of the square, where big wigs from Hamas/Israel/Egypt are playing political games with their people and Secretary Hillary Clinton will soon make her secret entrance.

So strange. I went back to my apartment and there is not a single policeman guarding the embassies near my place. This is a first. They are always there. They must have been needed in the square. Oh my.

This is all in preparation for Friday. The big demonstration. People vow they will be on Mohammad Mahmoud every day until then. I hope that Black Friday here is productive, not violent, not a tangent. No more rocks and colorless tear gas. I hope for liberal collaboration and progress, for their voices to be heard and to be strong against bigotry/discrimination/conservatism by the current administration, constitutional assembly, and parliament. A somber and tense week when it seems that, once again, the future of Egypt is on the line.

Poster for this Friday’s demonstration on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square.

But the world is not focused on this action in Egypt right now. I have seen very few media. It’s not about Egypt. Or even Syria. All eyes on Tel Aviv and Gaza City. All eyes on the Palestinian and Israeli figure heads here in Cairo. All eyes on the U.S. economy kicking off Christmas season.

How will you spend this Friday? Shopping for your loved ones? Stocking up on gifts and necessities at discount prices? Trying desperately to steer your beloved country in a better direction? Supporting a striking Walmart employee? Trying to get a local shop into the black? Hugging your kid? Sleeping off the Thanksgiving turkey or koshary? We will all be doing something or other.

I will spend my Friday, not in Cairo, but traveling to Minia with a cohort of Fulbrighters for a Commission-sponsored trip. I will monitor what is happening here, there, and where you are. Do the same for me.

P.S. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May your Black Friday be filled with goodness. I am so thankful to be here.


***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.

Goodnight Kiss

If you read one of my first blog posts on here, in response to Mr. Akin’s comments, you know I am fairly open with my experiences. You also know that I came to Cairo with a defense shield around my heart, and my body.

Well, a bit of Culture Shock recently. Not so much shock, more like culture confusion.

I went on a date . Wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to even go in that direction, was determined to be focused on my work here, volunteering, learning, representing my country, being a respected face, a role model, etc. But then I got encouragement on Twitter from one of my heroes and friends Mark Pollock to say yes to new experiences and things that bring me joy. (If you read about Mark you will understand why his perspective and advice mean so much to me, and why he was selected to carry the Olympic flame.)

But after the Egyptian date (which went quite well) I realized I didn’t know the answer to an important question: How does the post-date, goodnight kiss happen in a conservative country like Egypt? 

Does a person here kiss in public? I sure haven’t seen anyone doing so. Witnessed a few young couples with a quick peck while cuddling on a park bench. But not many people who do so are my age. I guess those here in their mid-30s are already married, and they wait til they get home for any kissin’.

Although most everyone in Cairo strolls arm-in-arm (men with men, women with women, men with women), what Americans consider PDA doesn’t occur much at all. Yes, I have seen a few couples more wild than I making-out in the clubs, but this is limited. I have my assumptions that this cohort is comparable to the co-eds in American colleges. Or my life 8 years ago.

People do drink here in Cairo. People party here. Mostly indoors; and all the late-night outdoor cafes sell more tea than booze. Islam forbids alcohol, but not everyone is a practicing Muslim. There are all types of folks here. All out at all hours of the night, drinking tea and coffee and cinnamon with milk, smoking sheesha. I don’t think a costumed pub crawl would ever exist here, well not for Egyptians, and not for a good long while.

So, what about the end of a casual date? If you do not want to invite a guy in to your place but you enjoy his company, do you kiss him in front of your building, right in front of the door guy? In front of the police on every corner? And if people already have an “easy” stereotype of foreign women?


Dating in your mid-30s is interesting, my friends, no matter your country or culture.

As I’m writing this, it is International Day of the Girl. I feel very much like a girl. Finding the balance between independence, curiosity, self-protection and romance.

Secretary Hillary Clinton is on my tv speaking about the attack on Malala Yousafzai. Another hero of mine. A child but a role model. “She was attacked and shot by extremists who do not want girls to have an education and do not want girls to speak for themselves and do not want girls to become leaders, who are, for a variety of reasons, threatened by that kind of empowerment,” said Clinton.

We girls fight battles big and small.

We  sing about feeling like we’re “the only girl in the world.” But in all corners of this world, we kiss and are kissed. We are each are own. But some girls, like Malala, remind us all to help hold up our corner of half the sky. To fight like a girl. To love like a girl.

Thank you, Malala. Heal soon.

Goodnight Moon. xoxo

A walk along the Nile.

Men’s Sensibilities and a Syrian Girl

Page 43 of Cairo: The Practical Guide by The American University in Cairo Press

“Women’s Lib[eration] has not had quite the same impact in Egypt as it has in some Western countries. This produces some charmingly chivalrous behavior towards women on the part of men–opening doors, carrying packages, etc.–but can also cause the poor things some embarrassment if a woman offers to or insists upon paying for dinner.”


That is happening.

Very often.

Nearly driving me crazy.

Even good friends of mine in Cairo are bothered by where I choose to walk in relation to them on the street. Yes, I hop up and down curbs, sometimes even skip and dance in public. Friends and strangers both get upset, when I get upset, when they insist on taking the heavier bags out of my hands. Sometimes the challenge of carrying things is extremely enjoyable. Can’t be the only woman or girl here to think so.

I’m not lady-like and don’t aspire to be. Once in awhile I can pass it off, almost like playing a character, but it doesn’t last long. Please understand this is not just a gender issue for me. I prefer to try to things on my own and then ask for the help I need. Whenever someone, male or female, has the job of tending to me, I get mighty uncomfortable. Asked to fetch my tea, prep my seat, clean up after I leave. My dad is a school custodian. But more than that, a community builder. He taught me everyone lends a hand.

The Cairo Guide goes on to say, “Defer to the custom of the country or your male companion’s sensibilities on this issue.”

Oh yes, men’s sensibilities. I apologize in advance, gentlemen and authors of the Cairo Guide. Couldn’t defer if I tried. And I did try. Will probably offend your sensibilities often and I probably won’t participate well in these aspects of Egyptian culture.

Yes, I asked a male stranger to take a photo of me posing alone in Tahrir Square.


For reference on where I’m coming from on this matter, here I am with one of my favorite dance students back in Chicago. I once lifted him on my back so that he could feel some weightlessness, release, and the dance concept of weight-sharing. He is an amazing guy and an amazing dancer. We found a way to be equals, as teacher/student, as different body-types, helping each other.

Darius and I.


Back to Cairo.

Last night I had planned a Hello Cairo party. 10 people RSVPd. 9 said maybe. 1 showed up. Me. That’s ok.

Actually it was more than ok. It was one of the coolest things.

I was enjoying my shrimp fajitas alone at TGIFriday’s on the Nile when a brilliant, nearly 14-yr-old girl from Aleppo, Syria came over and sat with me. Confidently and out of nowhere. Bright pink hijab and a bright smile. She and I chatted for nearly an hour. We had a blast.

She wanted to practice her English. And her entire family was at a nearby table: only her father speaks English but not to her level. Someday she wants to study in America or Europe. Her friends don’t seem to understand that she will be safe and that not everyone in those countries hates Muslims. That’s what she told me.

She asked me how old I was. 34. She asked me if I was married. When I said no, she asked what was wrong. I told her about failed attempts at relationships, and about doing good things in the world. We gossiped a bit about guys. She told me about a fight she had with her boyfriend back in Syria. She asked me why I had short hair. Shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s. I told her about Donna and Shea and the other children who have battled, will battle, are battling cancer; she lit up and said she wants to be a doctor and volunteer.

We laughed about how slow the male waiter was with bringing the check, even though I asked several times. I said I might just do it myself, write down on a piece of scrap paper what I ordered and leave the paper on the table with the cash.

It was in this silly moment that I felt like a real role model. An amazing feeling. And in one mere hour, she taught me a lot about being a powerful teen, Muslim young woman, aspiring doctor. She told me she likes Jennifer Lopez and Eminem. I told her about Lupe Fiasco. She said she was worried about her friends back in Syria and that she wants to keep in touch with me on Facebook or e-mail.

Hope she has a great birthday on Tuesday. And I hope she knows that my writing about her is because of how much our conversation meant to me. We are 20 years apart but kindred spirits. Her family has been here 20 days and I hope they can return to a safe and bright Syria 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.


Foyer of the Academy of the Arts’ High Institute of Ballet in Cairo, Egypt

In the Dean’s office at the High Institute of Ballet today. I am there to get acquainted with this academy where I have been placed to lecture. My proposal, which won me this Fulbright, was for a project I titled “Artist as Catalyst.” But I soon realize no one is familiar with my proposal or my CV. They think I teach at Columbia University.

I know pretty much nothing of this academy. The website has been under construction all year and I have received little to no response from my e-mail communication. I don’t speak enough Arabic, and the Dean is uncomfortable with English. Turns out he is gracious, productive and joyous.

The office, which had been abuzz with activity of both female and male faculty rushing around negotiating student files, now becomes unusually still and quiet as the Director of Cairo Opera Ballet enters. He is a bit of an aloof and cultured character. I cannot figure him out just yet but am impressed just by the aura. He wears a brown vest and light wash jeans, is gallant yet slim, and when introduced to me, says nothing, kisses the back of my hand, slowly and certainly.

Prestigious. A long tradition of it.

Both the Opera Director and Institute Dean are men in their late 50s. But I’m bad at guessing ages.

I feel awkward and nod my thanks to the hand kiss, whispering some mumbled combination of Assalaam, marhaba, and So happy to meet you meet you. But no one notices my blunder because I have somehow managed to pull it off with a little luck and Chicago charm. Then this man leaves the office with many of the faculty following him.

The Dean and I are now alone in his office and he asks me to sit. He is more relaxed and asks for his colleague, who speaks English, to join us. He asks that someone bring me tea. And when we move from one office to another, someone is asked to carry my tea for me.


One of the many dance studios inside the Institute. A sense of pride and no acknowledgment of the need for repairs. Rumor is a whole new building will be erected in the future.


I learn that the students here at the High Institute of Ballet (in the Cairo suburb of Giza) must pass a difficult exam in order to enroll. The faculty audition 7-year-old children from around the city and country, looking for technical capacity, body shape, and musicality. Students all pay a reasonable tuition; no scholarships or work-study programs exist. Males and females equally eager to enroll.

All students must take 9 years of intense study of classical ballet (Russian method), modern dance (mix of methods), ballet partnering/lifting, music theory, piano, folkloric and historical dances, and dance appreciation, focusing on story ballets. These students are in the dance studio 3 hours a day and then take their academic classes in another part of the building. During my meeting, there was a reference to boys and girls being in separate classes, but I don’t know if I heard wrong.


High Institute of Ballet

At age 15-16, after 9 years of training, some students continue on to undergraduate level (either the choreography track or the more conservative, pure-lecture track in teaching). A select few dancers become graduate students with research and choreographic projects, and perform with the Cairo Opera Ballet or major dance companies across the world.

The students, parents and faculty here are some of the most liberal-dressing and socially open Egyptians I’ve run into so far. There is laughter. The genders mingle in equality and everyone seems to have a bounce in their step.

Except the custodial/janitorial staff. They don’t have the same bounce.

Hallways inside the High Institute of Ballet

When I asked about students cleaning their own studios, the response was pretty much a spit-take. My assumption is that the students think it is someone else’s job and they are used to just waiting for renovation, maybe it’s a class/privilege thing, about liabilities, or maybe there is too much red tape in such a traditional, large, and selective institution.

I got the same sort of spit-take when I asked about bringing non-students from the community here for classes or a community-dance project. Looked to the custodians right away, thinking they should be honored and dancing. But I had the feeling my idea was not ready to be introduced.

I asked about outreach projects and was told their idea of outreach is putting audition notices in the newspaper.

At the end of the day, it sounds like I will be teaching modern for the teens. Then starting in October, offering workshops about whatever community arts theories I want. But those workshops can be no longer than 2 hours. I said I might invite some undergraduate students to volunteer with me in the children’s cancer hospital and alternative venues in the city. That was promising and exciting.

As a community-dance practitioner, I have to find a way not to be intimidated in an environment like this. Not to shrink from their technical prowess and knowledge. Remember that I am a good teacher and have merits. I have to find a fine balance between learning the Egyptian way and challenging their thinking.

Dance can revolutionize public education, youth development, community development, healthcare, cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding, conflict prevention and resolution…

Teaching dance in a Northwest Bosnian village in 2011

Dance can revolutionize. That’s what I know.

Semester starts September 22nd.



***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.

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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