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Africa » Egypt » Mediterranean » Alexandria
November 27th 2011
Published: December 2nd 2011
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ProtestsProtestsProtests

This photo was not taken by me - but by a friend from Uni - Shaneela Al-Qamar. They are absolutely fantastic photos and i hope posting them here is ok!
Soooo,

I have absolutely loads to write about and i have little lists in my notebooks of all the things i have to remember to include.

However, whilst at some point i will actually write them all out, right now there are slightly more urgent matters which need to be addressed...

So a few weeks ago now i woke up in a country minus a government - the former cabinet having tendered it's resignation in response to the unrest here. I'm sure most people saw on the news some of the drama unfolding in Tahrir Sq, Cairo. Well similar things, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, were happening here...

Certain areas became no-go zones and rumours were flying around about 4pm military curfews if the aggravation didn't die down. Advice from both the university and the British embassy counsells us to stock up on food and cash and not leave the house. Recommendations which seemed slightly excessive in light of the calm and relaxed attitude of most of our egyptian friends. Generally they seem unconcerned by these new bouts of violence, regarding them as mere teething problems for the new, democratic Egypt.

It is so strange;
More unrestMore unrestMore unrest

This photo was not taken by me - but by a friend from Uni - Shaneela Al-Qamar. They are absolutely fantastic photos and i hope posting them here is ok!
because we are foreigners here and because the pockets of violence are so isolated, especially here in Alex, we are watching the things unfolding on the streets nearby on the same news channels and internet sites as all of you... i feel like a bit of a fraud sometimes actually as the awful, violent Egypt that everyone is panicking about in the West doesn't really exist for us here. For us nothing has really changed, except a few phone calls from friends every so often to update us on the places which should be avoided.

Whilst obviously it is sensible to remain mostly indoors and not take unnecessary risks, i occasionally get the feeling that i should go out and try very subtly to witness some of these moments, which will no doubt make history. To tell my children and my children's children, that 'yes i was living in Egypt when it was fighting for a smooth transition to democracy but i actually saw nothing, i just stayed in my flat' goes against every curious and adventurous bone in my body.

As it is though, the snipers on the roofs and the enduring image released of the alexandrian
Eid!Eid!Eid!

All of those animals disappeared in 36 hours...
protester who was shot in the head last week are enough to quash that curiosity. I appreciate my life far too much to jeopardise it's safety. That man was one of two killed here during the protests although many more have been injured. I even received a call from a close friend of mine one evening to cancel our evening plans as he was in lying in bed with lung pain and breathing difficulties after having had tear gas thrown at him. Cairo is still in the throes of protests, despite the first round of parliamentary elections currently taking place, and the total dead is now estimated at 43. One man, Ahmed Harara, lost one eye during clashes with the police in Janaury this year and lost the latter just last week, having it gouged out by another policeman's rifle butt in another protest.

He seems proud to have lost his sight "struggling for freedom" as he worded it - however as i can't imagine ever celebrating the loss of my vision, Em and i have done the wise thing and over the last few weeks been outside of Alexandria more often than in it.

Who knew protests
With the GrandparentsWith the GrandparentsWith the Grandparents

This is at the fort, such a pretty place!
would be such an excellent excuse to travel?!

That said i feel i should update you on my latest adventures or i will never get around to it.

Firstly i would like to thank my grandparents for coming over to visit me - it was so lovely to see them and it has delayed homesickness until just this week. I think it was the homemade fruitcake that did it, you can't miss england when you have family, lots of little news to digest AND homemade fruitcake - with welsh cheddar. And twirls. Made my fortnight those twirls did.

So Nan and Gramps arrived just after our mid-term exams finished and as our 10 day break from Uni started. This welcome hiatus from uni lessons was to celebrate Eid, an Islamic holiday most significantly marked by animal slaughter and feasting as a family in order to celebrate the completion of the Haj or Pilgrimage.

It was mildly affirming to realise that i can at least be a very good tourist in the Middle East now, having got the restaurant and taxi drive vocab down pat, i think i managed to vaguely impress my grandparents. We did a lot of wandering, taking in the sights, doing the touristy things that i had specifically avoided until they got here. The catacombs are worth a quick visit, but depending on what else you have seen in Egypt they aren't phenomenal. Basically if you have done any of the Luxor/Aswan sights, then simply put the tombs in Alex won't take your breath away but they while away an afternoon pleasantly nonetheless.

The Fort is my new favourite thing in Alex. I can't exactly pinpoint why either, but wandering around it made me so happy. The big empty halls, the fading sun pushing in the slitted windows. It just felt old, some of it's bricks were taken from the ruins of the Lighthouse, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, over which it now stands. I touched bricks over 3000 year old which have witnessed centuries of murder, intrigue, love stories, betrayal, loss and hundreds of other emotions which have defined humanity since the very beginning. That knowledge always gives me little goosebumps and a smile.

We ate lots of nice food, i exhausted all our restaurant discoveries wining and dining my relations, well there wasn't actually wine, this being Egypt and all, and i think they left with a favourable opinion of Egyptian food. That in itself is mildly funny, as the food here is recognized by many in our expat group to be one of the biggest disappointments. Lots of beans, in large quantities, meat (which type never specified), fish and falafel. Em could tell you a lot more, in fact she would be offended that that is as much as i am going to say about food, that girl has an unbelievable memory for meals. She can tell you exactly what everyone was eating when and the few peeks into her diary that i've been allowed suggest a preoccu[ation with food astounding for someone so slim. She should be obese! Not that she actually eats in excessive quantity, her willpower bests mine, but just thinking about food that regularly should make you put on weight no?

Other than that we just spent time at the beach and in various different marketplaces. On which note i have to mention Eid itself. We can definitively say that my grandparents experienced the real culture of Egpyt because on the 6th of November i naively took them down our
The CakeThe CakeThe Cake

The letters had to be rearranged as i wasn't the one who ordered it - our egyptian friend did - so for some reason it initially had my name all over it! FROM YOUR BEST FRIEND MEGAN - so that she could never forget lol!
local street to buy some lamb. Now this sounds like a fairly simple task but i remind you all - people are advised to buy new shoes for Eid or at least wear old ones they don't mind throwing away. Why i hear you ask? The answer my dear friends: the streets quite literally run with blood. Sheep, cow, some goat, even some buffalo - all have their throats cut in the middle of the street and then are butchered about 2m away. Pleasant i know. Nan, Grandad, Em and I all stood around waiting for our chance to purchase some lamb, flinching and covering our faces for various parts of the process, mostly the throat slitting and hacking. It was at this point i noticed that Nanna had gone the colour of a jaundiced baby and that Em could no longer hear over the ringing in her ears. I swiftly shuffled them further up the street and continued trying to work out which sheep might end up on my plate that evening. Blood and guts really don't phase me - i've seen enough horrible things working in a hospital to give me an iron stomach.

I chatted to some women IN ARABIC, procured over a kilo of lamb for free thanks to a very generous family and was all in all feeling very pleased with myself when the unthinkable happened. I was trotting down the road, avoiding puddles of blood and smiling indiscriminately at all passers by, when a dead cow kicked me in the leg.

I GOT KICKED IN THE LEG BY A DEAD COW! How is possible that these ridiculous things always happen to me. I think it was actually a buffalo. But obviously it was unexpected - i thought death throes were immediate - apparently not. Bashed in the lower thigh and then the calf by a buffalo which had been dead long enough to count as thoroughly dead, not dying. I yelled (obviously) as it half took out my right leg and i stumbled off to the side into a crowd of adolescent boys - all of whom had a large bloody handprint over their face and their t-shirts. Fantastic - i finally escaped the teenage groping with minimal animal blood on me, turned to face my laughing local market street and then tried to salvage some pride by glaring haughtily at the offending deceased creature before limping off.

In hindsight i suppose this is amusing but i had 2 small bruises on my leg for about a week and i am now mildly concerned as to what would happen if i entered a place with live large animals. I may not exit alive. There go my rodeo dreams.

I have to draw one of two conclusions from this experience -

1) Now even the dead conspire to make me a laughing stock.

2) The Ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor, usually pictured in temples as a cow, sent me a sign from the Gods.

Whilst i would much rather claim being touched by divinity - unless i get another signal soon - i am probably going to have to go with the first option. Damn it.

In other news...

One Wednesday afternoon, in light of the trouble brewing at the time and the persistent hasslers we still encounter regularly on the street, emma and i decided to go for a trial self defence session. This turned out to be almost the funniest 2 hours of my life as well as painful and educational.

We arrived at
We know how to Party?We know how to Party?We know how to Party?

I'm not entirely sure why we are crouching...
the dance centre a little late and were quickly ushered into a hall. A huge, thickset man approached us, he gave no greeting, instead he said . It wasn't a joke, we were made to tie our jumpers around our heads and run around the room. This is supposed to make you more aware of your parameters... it made me realise that minus sight i am even more of a liability than usual. I ran into a corner which i couldn't get out of; i apparently just turned in a circle mewling like a kitten and then ran straight back into the wall.

Lesson 1 - Being pathetic elicits laughter and derision not offers of aid.

I also managed to head butt a girl forcefully, which may have stunned her as much as me. Surprisingly her face suffered much more than my nose did from the encounter - a fact which led me to be proud of my nasal cartilage for the first time in my life.

We were then subjected to The Prawn and The Seal - two moves i am sure were invented in torture chambers rather than
They got moves...They got moves...They got moves...

Just one example of the crazy shapes we threw that night!
in military training. They basically involved all 6 girls in the class lying on the floor and wiggling in various ways across the room - i looked a little like i was having a seizure on the one traumatic occasion i looked up and saw my reflection in the room-length mirrored wall. I avoided looking up after that. Giving up was never an option.

We learnt how to neutralise would-be attackers, disarm men with knives and with guns. Not that i would ever actually attempt to thunder clap a man around the ears to divert his attention before i tackled him to the ground. I feel that might go badly for me. I have never in my life been made to feel more aware of how easy i am to kill. The amount of times he uttered the words "now... simple twist, they die, you run" started as entertaining but ended up as just pure frightening. When we asked him how to respond if we didn't actually want to kill the assailant he stared at us incredulously and came out with this classic line- "He is coming at you with a knife - why do you not want to kill him?" That was the end of that discussion and we got back to the business of disarming and death.

Lesson 2 - Never let someone go when you can kill them instead. But use them as a shield first.

He made it look incredibly simple but we struggled a little - i managed to smack emma's head into the floor, give a girl a chinese burn, cut my own arm with the side of a gun and i even succeeded in enacting a move which in a real situation would have apparently caused me to stab myself in the groin. The latter was only once though - we all had the things we were good at - Emma was the best by far with the gun disarming, getting it right repeatedly. I didn't show my mad skills until the knives came out. Not only did i get to grips quickly with them but when it was my turn to be "attacker" i apparently managed to scare everyone enough with my fearsome expression that they forgot the moves and i won. Go me. I'm not sure whether that means i should become a marine or a criminal...
I acheived my goal... Drunk Em!I acheived my goal... Drunk Em!I acheived my goal... Drunk Em!

It was so funny trying to get her out of the dress after this!!! xxx

Anyway i have never ached so much in my life and we had bruises and grazes everywhere when we left. Despite that, i now feel ever so slightly more capable of hurting someone trying to attack me - and i think we would both actually have done the full course if we had had more time in the country.

Lesson 3 - We are both masochists.

The only other thing worth mentioning in this entry is Emma's 21st. The 19th of November Em turned 21. She asked me for a surprise party and so... well i made it a surprise. She hated me i think, it was probably a low point in our relationship when i informed her that i hadn't really made that much of an effort because we had been so busy. The added news that people were scared about the strikes and so no-one was coming out may also have helped put the sad look on her face. She genuinely believed that i was going to let her welcome in her 21st with just me and possibly a bottle of wine at a restaurant somewhere. Silly Em.

The sad face lasted a few hours and she took a long nap, i was actually quietly scared she was crying herself to sleep, and then i woke her to 20+ people in the neighbouring apartment, far too much alcohol and the world's largest cake. To her great delight i had even managed to organise a dance floor - in London this would not be a difficult task, in Alex dancefloors are few and far between. I had to spend an evening out with an angel of an egyptian friend, Moudy, touring all the possibilities before i found one that i deemed appropriate to usher in a 21st.

It all went down fairly well i think. Well, she doesn't remember all that much of it, drank a lot of Gin and danced all night. Success in my eyes! My fairly dry night hostessing paid off as i got to win a debate with a drunk friend of ours who insisted that the trinket around his wrist was not in fact a bracelet but a tribal wristband. I also got to watch people get steadily more and more inebriated. Dirty dancing was commonplace as was rolling around on the floor and Emma tried out a few of her newly learnt self defence moves on some of the guys before we even left the flat. One of them had a bruised wrist and wounded pride for days afterwards.

That is about all really - we have been jetsetting all over Egypt in the last few weeks and i shall put up an entry dedicated to those adventures when i return to Alex next week.

Lots of love xxx

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