Day 12: Insomniac City

Life is good again. I woke up feeling much better, a little crampy but fine, went to class and then to belly-dance and – suprise surprise – the magic of La Danse du Ventre ironed everything out (again, I cannot endorse this form of excercise enough).

After class and a quick shower, I met up again with Rana, my delightful, Lebanese-born belly-dancing friend. Turns out she’s not a professional dancer – as she indeed appears in class – but an office secretary in the midst of a series of computer classes, hoping to get work as a graphic designer. When I first met her, with her gobs of silver jewelry, clingy wardrobe and swishy walk, I assumed she was about my age. But after hearing a little of her life story, I figure she must be well into her thirties: Born in Beirut, Rana’s family moved to Kuwait when she was a teenager. From there, she went to university in Cairo, and shortly afterwards she moved back to Beirut and married a Palestinian man there. She had three children by him and divorced him three years ago – the kids are 10, 8 and 6 and live with their father. Since then she has been living alone in Cairo, dating an unemployed Cairene man and generally scandalizing and embarassing her family back home. She says she left Beirut after her divorce to start fresh, and that – though she returns often to see her children – she loves Cairo and can’t see herself returning to Beirut anytime soon.

“It’s too unstable, too uncertain – you don’t know one minute to the next what will happen. How can I build a life like this?”

I told her how keen I am to visit Beirut someday soon, and she just shrugged.

“Go, definitely – it’s a good city, nice people, more open-minded than Cairo maybe. But it’s changed a lot – it’s not like it was 10 years ago – it’s not for me anymore.”

I wanted to prod her further and ask her for a comparison between Mubarak’s Cairo and what she’s seen of Hezbollah’s Beirut (she only just returned from her last visit a week ago). But she didn’t seem to want to linger on politics – maybe once I know her better I’ll try harder.

My tour guide for the night, she led me first to her favorite shisha bar in Mohandeseen, the Cloud 9, where in true Cairo style she ordered us each our own pipe. I asked her about my guidebook’s contention that women tend not to be welcome in shisha bars (though, true enough, a lot of the nicer ones like the Cloud 9 seem perfectly happy for their female clientele).

“It’s true, I don’t think the men want to see us here and smoking, but I like it so much – I have one on in my apartment! A lot of women do it – I think they’ll get used to us soon.”

I can’t remember how we got on it, but I wound up asking her about her hijab (very stylishly wound, and skintight like the rest of her outfit). Like many of the younger women I’ve spoken to here, she hasn’t always worn it, but donned it about eight years ago.

“I don’t know, I came to start thinking it’s just better,” she told me. “No one is mean or angry at me if I don’t wear it – not my father or my ex-husband or anyone – I just feel better wearing it.”

I told her about my own light blue McHijab, which I’ve yet to wear around her, and explained that I too often “just feel better” wearing it in the streets of Cairo, though mainly because everyone else is wearing it, not because of religion. She laughed.

“No – I mean, religion, yes, but several years ago I just start to think it’s nicer for me to be covered, it makes me happy. And then when I take it off, it’s more special.”

For the record, Rana has a mane of thick, wavy black hair – but these days that’s just between her, our belly-dance class, her boyfriend and her god. 

She coached me on my Arabic a little over our shisha, and mainly wanted to talk about love, boyfriends and to teach me how to tell men that I either love them or think they’re scoundrels.

Afterwards, we headed over to Corniche el-Nil on the Eastern bank of the Nile. This is where a lot of the luxury hotels and swankier, Western-style nightclubs and bars hold court.

Getting there was fun – it was about 11 o’clock at night, and we passed countless bridal parties moving from car to reception, all surrounded by tambourines and drums and yipping, ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ing, clapping crowds:

I don’t care how bad the quality of these pictures is – the dresses were so pretty, and they were all wearing hoop skirts (Janie, that could have been you…)!

What fun.

When we got to Corniche el-Nil, I was game to just walk up and down the Nile and look at people and maybe take a cup of street-tea on a bench, but Rana insisted we go to the Hilton’s nightclub, “Latex.” Hm. None of my pictures from this endeavor turned out very well, but I’m sure you can imagine it perfectly – packed on a Thursday night, deafening house music with some Arabic pop thrown in, paunchy Western and Egyptian businessmen, scantily-clad women and overly-groomed men from Cairo and beyond, insanely overpriced drinks (well, about what you’d pay in a New York or Paris nightclub for a drink, which in Egypt – even semi-dry as it is – is insanely overpriced). Rana and I got in for free, which was nice, and stuck to orange juice. It was fun to watch Rana school the 20-something Miniskirt Mafia on how to get down on the dance floor, but next time we hang out I’ll try to steer the night towards something a little more Egypt-y – here, we could just as easily have been in London or Antwerp.

The walk back along the 6th October Bridge was great though. Close to 2 a.m., and the city was still going strong – packs of families with kids just hanging out on the bridge and staring out at the water, crowds buying peanuts and tea from the street stands, cops loitering around in packs, felucca boats still taking passengers out on the water (I’m definitely going to do this one of these nights – Rana says it’s more lyrical than it is cheesy, and I’ll make sure the light is good so I can get some decent shots of the Nile).

Even some kids setting up fishing poles:

And this is just one bridge of so many! I want to get up early Friday and head into Coptic Cairo, but it wasn’t easy to tear myself away from the city’s wee-hour scene tonight – how can I sleep here knowing no one else does?

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4 Responses to “Day 12: Insomniac City”

  1. lulu Says:

    Phew, quite an evening and its late-night atmos sounds right up your alley. Rana also sounds like a fascinating friend, but I do not understand how she could leave her kids like that. love and xox

  2. El Matamoros Says:

    Rana’s right about Beirut — it used to be “the Paris of the Middle East”, but it’s fast becoming “Gaza-fied”. Brings to mind that great pop chart-topper I wrote for your Unca James’ band Speedway Johnny in 1980, “Ayatoldya”:

    “No more music!
    (Ayatoldya, ayatoldya),
    No more fun — ah!
    (Ayatoldya, ayatoldya),

    Watch your step, girl!
    (Ayatoldya, ayatoldya),
    It’s just begun – ah!
    (Ayatoldya, ayatoldya).

  3. jane-jo Says:

    could have been me, my eye! slash… true. blech.

    also, those boats on the nile are a must-do – i went on two “cruises” while i was there and loved every minute. def do it and it’s more fun with a group.

    awesome awesome reportage! bien joue! love you xx

  4. Day 38: Concluding Thoughts (Pt. 3): About This Hijab Business « Annie’s Cairo Weblog Says:

    […] there is Rana- the Lebanese divorcee (in her forties, I finally discovered, though she could easily pass for 25 […]

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