Friday, January 24, 2014

Letters from Egypt: Solitude and Bombs

Photo source: Al Ahram Mai Shaheen

What – I go out in downtown last night and then there is a bomb? Oh c’mon people. FYI there also seems to be phone/network interruptions as well.

I decided the other day that it had been awhile since I challenged myself, so I chose to step outside of my comfort zone and head out on a Thursday night…alone. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal because in most of our home countries, going to grab a drink means that you will usually enjoy a game and/or meet new people. However, being a single woman doing it alone in Cairo is – well, almost unheard of (unless you count those in transit sitting at airport hotel bars). According to a Pub 28 patron Ahmed: “No. It doesn’t happen. Women here don’t go out by themselves. Do you drive? You took a taxi? From Maadi to Zamalak? Alone?” Shock.

And there’s a reason for that. If you are a single female, there is almost always hassle involved with unwanted advancements and dare I say, some will even think you are a prostitute. I figured that the worse that could happen was I sit alone the entire night without a soul to talk to and the best was that I would meet new people. Instead of letting my fears get the best of me or what other perceptions might be, I decided to just go for it knowing that it would at least be a blog topic.

So, I grabbed a taxi from the street and made my way an hour in Thursday traffic to Pub 28. My taxi driver, Khaled, had a properly working meter (the ever-growing rigged meter problem or just refusal to use the meter at all is becoming the norm). I took his number for a possible pick-up. Total cost: LE 25 + LE 10 for tip (Thursday traffic).

I got the last seat available at the bar, all the way in the corner basically sitting on top of a couple. They left and I relocated where I met a German woman who was actually early for a business meeting so decided to stop in to the pub for a quick glass of white wine. We began talking and strangely enough, she has lived in Maadi for seven years (1.5 more than me). We exchanged business cards and made plans to get together at one of our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood.

Then came Rana. An Egyptian character who had the strangest accent that was almost as though she tried to portray that she was slightly British mixed with hints of various European undertones and a whole lot of bullsh*t. The best part was when she actively tried to flirt with her two colleagues who are decades younger saying, “Oh but you can bring your spouses to the place one night” and one of the guys responded, “I’m getting a divorce.”

Normally that would be awkward, but not with Rana. She just kept regaling about how she could be married if she chose, but she loves being 1,000-years old and single. “Don’t you think I could have been married by now? I have plenty of people chasing after me and I turn them down all the time.” Bravo Rana, way to bounce back and continue to talk about yourself…for an hour straight. Impressive.

Bathroom break resulted in a creeper. He creeped from the bathroom after saying hello, to the bar a few seats down and after Rana and her grandchildren left, relocated himself right next to me. I pretended not to notice, as you do; however, eventually there is going to be that opening and you aren’t getting out of it. Nope. Never. Unless you’re just rude, but what else did I have going on? Ahmed was born and raised in Zamalak and began his own advertising firm. He handles a plethora of ad sales, including for elections. He said that ad campaigns in total for a presidential election usually run around $20 million and about 20-25% of that goes to printers (banners, fliers). He has voted in each election or referendum and recognizes that Egypt doesn’t have a leader for the short-term but said, “I really hope and believe that in the long-term we will have a better solution and direction.” Hey, creeper turned out to be pretty interesting.

A friend of mine ended up arriving introducing me to another associate: a Canadian female working at an NGO. In Maadi, it’s rare that you meet anyone outside of teaching and oil & gas. Previously living in Oman, she moved to Cairo in October. While she had visited before, she never thought she could live here. I asked her what she thought of it now that she was here and said, “I like it more than I thought I would. It’s actually a good place to live.” Refreshing.

The three of us headed to one of the boats in Zamalak where I ran into another old friend. We ended up talking for an hour or so just catching up and then I grabbed another taxi to head back to Maadi. I went through three road blocks on my way back: one right at the Italian embassy on the Corniche; another close to the Al Salam hospital/justice buildings; and one right at the turn by the Total gas station and Grand Café. I remember thinking, “I don’t know why they do this considering they don’t stop any car whatsoever passing through. It’s a complete waste of security.” Road 9 was completely blocked off with an army tank stationed at the police station (as per usual) and barbed wire to stop any thru-traffic and a huge water leak had flooded the area.

So coming in right before 4 am, I was definitely disoriented when I woke up to another blast a little past 6 am. It didn’t register with me what happened and unlike the RPG incident, I didn’t hear the army guys screaming at one another in the distance. I fell back asleep only to wake up a couple of hours later to my phone ringing. J.C. knew I’d ventured out downtown alone and was calling to find out if I was alright. FYI it’s always imperative that someone knows where you are in case something happens – there’s solitude and then there’s stupidity. Don’t be the latter.

Just in case you missed it, bombs have [again] erupted throughout Cairo. The detonations were so large (or numerous) that they could even be heard in Maadi (the bomb locations were about 45 minutes away). Local news source Al Ahram said that five people were killed in two separate bomb attacks in Greater Cairo with 87 reported injured. Al Qaeda Sinai spin-off group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has claimed the attack. There have been reports that the Muslim Brotherhood supports the new Islamist group, but little information is available on Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. Just remember, the Muslim Brotherhood was the start of every Islamist terrorist organization.

As the January 25 Police/Revolution Day approaches, security is on high alert and undoubtedly many of you living here are going to be placed under travel restrictions. If things worsen, there will also likely be another round of evacuations.

It’s a shame that such a random, yet fun night was marred by these two bomb incidents. And yet it’s horrible to think that another curfew is going to be imposed and for how long this time?

1 comment:

  1. Happy belated New Year, LeAnne. Thanks for your news and that of Egypt.