Physically we can
return to a place, if it is still standing, still occupying time and
space – but what about how we feel?
The desert and oasis,
the skies, the waters – all hold continual magic. But the people in
their realm show various faces.
The unnamed owner of
the unnamed lodge said not to worry about the price, would not
actually say how much the room would be, just intimated that it would
be a 'good price'. And, really, I thought, how much could a sparse
room with no mod cons be charged at? Especially since I had received
a good price there in the past and thought I was on pretty reasonable terms with
him having brought him some business before with quite a lot of clients.
We were shown an old
room with 6 beds though we only needed 2, and the bathroom had a
horrible sewage smell on many occasions. The sheets on the better
beds were old and I think unwashed and had no top sheet; just a
bottom sheet, and each had an unmatched old pillowcase on an old
lumpy pillow and a blanket with holes in. Still, we thought, we don't
need luxury and the price will be fine – so let's not make an issue
of it, we thought and we just asked for 2 clean sheets, bas.
Since the village has
very few shops or food places we ate our meals there at the lodge.
When I stayed there some years ago the food was good as I remember..
now it was variable and the fuul, tameya and tahina was good – but
everything else was pretty poor. For my main dinner I got a portion
of greasy rice served with some frozen mixed vegetables heated up and
oiled. However the redeeming feature of the dining room was its
inhabitants; who for a writer such as myself, provided a heap of
stories. One the evening of the greasy rice serving there were a
couple of random Egyptian guys to the left and an eastern european
girl half lying down and several bottles of red wine on their table.
One of the guys was leaning in towards her and in full public view
put his hand on the top of her t-shirted breast, she smiled up at him
and after some minutes they walked off, she attempting some type of
slinky walk in her flowered leggings. Opposite us were a couple of
girls who seemed to be in a physical relationship, for they were
petting each other and lying their heads on each other's shoulders,
stroking arms and legs.
During the night I was
awoken by many barking dogs, then some gunfire, a man speaking
quickly and excitedly on his phone about a 'white car', then later
after dawn two women shouting very loudly at each other for over 10
minutes in the type of baladi garbled accent that if put into an
English context would be like 2 middle aged women minus their
'You're an idiot'
'You're an idiot'
'No, you're an idiot'
Keda. That kind of
It all seemed a little
awry for a pleasant country break but again I thought, let's not
focus on it.
I then also put aside
that another unnamed person from another unnamed lodge who I had had
a brief romance with some years ago and who asked me to come to share
a drink with him after I popped in to say hello then actually more or
less ignored me when I did go to have a catch up. He seated myself
and my friend in a prime spot by the swimming pool, saying he would
get us all some teas then a boy arrived with 2 teas and the unnamed
old romancer disappeared for 40 minutes without a word and returned
only a very short time before I had to depart. Still, I thought, at
least the view was nice and we had some tea. For my being long, long
ago ceased to care about his erratic behaviour.
But thankfully there
were trips out to the desert and a big oasis lake, there was a walk
through that beautiful village, there was mint tea in the delightful
flowered garden by the swimming pool and with a view of the orchards
and lake. There was the magic of that land, that very special land,
that magic which nourishes the soul and whispers its good medicine
into one's heart.
When we checked out of
the unnamed lodge where we staying, that unnamed owner charged us an
amount for 6 people staying in the crappy room, I was going to let it
go until we then got charged a little fuul and tameya money mountain.
I politely and nicely pointed out that we were just 2 people and I
had asked for a room for 2 people on the phone. I was given a
discount to something more reasonable but not without a snarky
comment about me 'wanting it for free' and when I called to say
goodbye as we had to be on our way and the unnamed owner was nowhere
to be seen after walking off in a huff after his snarky comment –
so, he put the phone down on me.
Things like that are
But land of Egypt, dear
oasis, you are still a magical place and I love you.
Today me and Shannon
went to the Om Kalthoum museum in Manial. Neither of us had been
before and I don't know Manial too well. As is de rigueur in Cairo
now several taxi drivers didn't want to take a passenger but finally we found
one with a old white cab and got in. When we got near to the zoo we
saw why possibly there had been some reluctance; for there was a
quite large protest on Giza Street but it wasn't the protesters that
caught our eye; it was the military police who were in a tight
formation of several rows, jumping up and down with their riot
shields and chanting something. And whilst they were doing that an
older policeman was walking around them saying things to them. It
was totally weird. And I could only imagine that after this Maori
like war dance they were going to run into the protesters and attack
them. Across the road I saw water everywhere and some tanks, don't
know what was going on with them. Anyway we continued and it was a
bonding moment between us and the cab driver who said loudly 'Rabena
Yostor!' and talked about how he hoped Egypt would be calm again and
kissed his hands in a salutation prayer.
We drove on and then it
seemed he didn't really know where we needed to be, and as previously
said neither of us knew the place ourselves, only the address. I
called my usual driver who talked with the taxi driver and then we
were all set – or so we thought. We ended up going in a big loop,
but passed by 'my' shop, the shoe shop in Manial called Linda, and
then he asked someone who said it was still several streets away and
one of those streets was za7ma central so he dropped us off telling
us that after we crossed the road it was the 3rd house
along, the white house and then he counted the houses again and said
it was the 5th house along, then he exclaimed several
times that it was the white house – which I could see - but my
counting was something other than his but I couldn't hold on to that.
We crossed over and
started walking down the counting houses road and the museum was
nowhere to be seen, but at least the road was quiet and there were no
idiots anywhere. We saw a computer shop and I said we should ask
there as they probably had someone inside with a brain. Shannon had wanted to ask a man
who was putting a tiny baby into a wooden crate but I thought the
computer shop was a better bet. Anyway, elhumdililah, they told us
it was right at the end of the street. So we continued walking and
one of the soles of my red shoes fell off, but that was OK.
We got to the end of
the street and mafeesh, nothing, just some kids and dogs and a water
station. We walked around the side streets and asked a man who was
having his sandwich, because he looked comfortable and made me feel
comfortable. He was very helpful and told us where to go but all his
food was bulging out of his mouth as he spoke, and later I told
Shannon a story of three fat butchers in Zamalek who I saw sitting on
their little plastic chairs outside their shop as they were eating
their meat and their cheeks were crammed full of food pushing their
eyes up and how they continued to talk with each other like that. I
said 'It's like an Egyptian Dickens'. And we laughed.
After walking past some
more dogs we found the museum and I immediately felt happy and rested
upon seeing the gardens and Nile view, we went into the entrance to
the sound of tinny Egyptian pop on someone's phone, which was a funny
mezancé in the context.
The tickets were only 6
LE which I thought was pretty amazing and we had a look at Om
Kalthoum in her early years and all her years and her stage dresses
and her sunglasses and her house shoes and her black handbags and her
brown handbags. We saw all the medals she had been given and the
keys to cities. We watched a film about her which seemed to have
been made by filming a film that had perhaps been on TV originally,
so a second hand film feeling, as the picture was a bit vague and the
sound was muffled a little. The opening was a load of war planes
flying over Cairo and I said to Shannon 'Oh, look, it's just like
now.' Shannon was hoping the film would show Om Kalthoum's early
life where she was dressed as a boy (I have no knowledge of this).
At one point I said to Shannon, 'Can you imagine if you were Egyptian
and you said you hated Om Kalthoum? It would be like saying you
hated God, right?' Shannon looked a little bemused by my talk and
smiled. Then we watched her funeral and the huge crowds downtown and
gathered on their balconies and on the bridges, crazy amounts of
people, and it was impossible not to think of the 18 days and
protests since and I said to Shannon, 'I wonder if there was any
harassment then, in those crowds? Or would that have been
'unthinkable'? But didn't everyone say it was unthinkable now too?'
The film finished and we went on to look at her record players and
radios and then we realised it was the end and we heard a man
shouting that the exit was back up at the entrance. As we walking
towards it a man came and said he knew me from watching films at the cinema at
the Artistic and Creativity Centre at the Opera House and that he
works there also. I didn't recall seeing this man in my life. But
it seemed nice to be recognised and I said hello and hoped he was
well. Then he said he would put on the 'panorama' for us. We waited
and he came back with a remote control that he was angling above and
some rather gallant music started playing and then on the huge wave
of white panel in front of us an image appeared of Om Kalthoum like
Cristo Redentor of Rio looking over the entire cityscape of Cairo.
'Look, Shannon,' I said, 'there's the byramids'.
Then we went home.
Correction; we left and
walked for a while and went over two bridges and finally got a taxi
and then sat in za7ma for 2 hrs and then we went home.
I am just back from the fabulous residential writing course I just ran in Bahareya, Egypt.
It was an amazing experience for us all; such
sheer beauty and tranquility in the deserts and oases; so many riches
available for one's writing. I can't wait to do the next one and will start planning soon!
Huge thanks to the great work from Cresco -
Dalia Abou Senna & Claes Raben who organised the travel, tours,
accommodation and bliss and the wonderful, beautiful people
who came along on the course: Mehra Magd, Hanaa Hammad, Mona Yassin,
Hanna Sistek, Mohammed Yahia, Mirette Baghat, Nora Tee, Ola El Ababby,
Mina Sonbol, Myriam Rizkillah.
Well, there are SO many things happening it is as ever hard to find the
time to update the blogs properly; and yes blogs as in plural as there
is a lot going on now with the Writers' Centre as you can read on the blog:
www.writerscentre.blogspot.com and also do keep a check on the Arts Residency main page: http://www.artsresidencycairo.blogspot.com/
I am still looking for a writers' residency for myself for summer; for
either June/July or July/August. So far I have looked at several places
in Berlin and how I wish there was somewhere in Paris!!!! So, if any
of you lovely people know of a residency that you think would accept for
me to stay in return for me running some courses or helping in some way
then please do let me know!!! Or if you know of a residency that is
affordable let me know too, as leaving Cairo and living outside of Egypt
for a while is a bit of a shock monetarily! ;))
Spring always feels such a hopeful time and I am looking forward to all
the flowers of creativity that are opening their colours :))
Community, I want to build some contacts in Paris, Berlin and Rome
(though could be other places too!).
am thinking to go to another country next year and it would be great
to meet up with other writers (and other artist mediums) and venues.
would like to deliver Creative Writing workshops (in English) and
work with a venue where I can also develop and host various literary
initiatives, salons, writing surgeries, events, readings, shows,
happenings etc, the kind of thing I am doing here.
contacts are greatly appreciated ;)) Please comment here or email me