Sunday, August 30, 2009

Virtual politics

This is a short blurb that I have written for a new project I'm working with, "Change by the People." Short, but certainly something that is worth considering, particularly in this day and age of technology. The "Age of Reason" if you will ;) Plus, it's an easy way to update the blog! hehe


The Internet has truly revolutionized the transfer of information. What once used to take months to travel from one side of the globe to the next can now be sent within seconds. Email, chat forums, social networking sites have all combined to make the Internet the newest tool in communication, education, entertainment, and grassroot campaigns. With this growing technology, many have turned to the Internet as the newest political tool.

President Obama's election campaign differed from previous presidential election campaigns in one very crucial element. He utilised the power of the Internet to mobilise and encourage the youth to vote. As the youth tend to fall into the lowest voter-turnout bracket, President Obama's grassroots Internet campaign was truly revolutionary. Through his campaigning, people gathered together under one collective cause. The energy spread infectiously from one individual to the next, resulting in a massive overturn of political ideology in the States. Obama's ability to affect people on a personal and individual basis was the shining light of his election, as he proved that by impacting and motivating people individually they can become the change they want to see around them. His “yes WE can” slogan was visible literally everywhere, from t-shirts, to TV ads, to Internet banners, and the belief that it inspired was truly extraordinary. As a result of this collective movement of people, voter-turn out soared, and finally, the people were the ones speaking for themselves and pushing forward with the change they themselves desired to see.

Learning from Obama's example in his ability to mobilize and motivate a group of people, many political parties and activists are now spreading their ideals through the Internet. Egyptian political activists are no different. Facebook has become one of the primary means of organizing the political youth, with calls for demonstrations and strikes being posted on the social networking site. To what extent Internet political activism will impact the Middle East remains to be seen. It can, however, be heralded as one of the great leaps forward in spreading understanding and dialogue around the world, allowing people from entirely different cultures to meet and exchange ideals. Using the U.S. Presidential campaign as an example, it clearly points to the tremendous impact that people themselves can have. What difference does one person make? Only all the difference in the world.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramadan Kareem!

The first week of Ramadan is almost at an end, and Cairo is bustling! Having landed at the end of August, the beginning of Ramadan signaled the end of the Summer for many Caireans, who rushed to return to the hub-bub of the city. Streets have swelled with the surge in drivers on the road; coffee shops and sheisha bars that were only speckled with customers during the summer months are now jam packed with people at night time.

Ramadan is a unique time to be living in Egypt. The first few days of the Holy month are accompanied by fire crackers, parties, and generally jovial spirits all around. As the month drags on however, tempers flare, and the strain of fasting becomes evident in many people. Many ex-pats in Cairo see Ramadan simply as a month where streets are deserted for an hour around sunset, alcohol is hard to come by, angry drivers populate the road, and the month is culminated by three days of non-stop partying that is the Eid. The true meaning behind Ramadan is unknown to many foreigners in Cairo. I will readily admit that the first two Ramadan's I lived here, I was grossly unfamiliar with the traditions behind the religious holiday.

Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic year. As the Islamic calendar does not match up to the Gregorian calendar, the dates for Ramadan change every year according to the lunar calendar. It is a Holy month during which all adult Muslims are expected to fast from sun-break to sun-down, a process ordained in the Qu'ran to cultivate piety in believers. It is documented as the month during which the Qu'ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and is a month of faith, understanding, generosity and spiritualism.

Fasting in the summer heat of Cairo is not an easy task. It's easy to see why people become more irritable during the day, as the lack of water really puts a great deal of strain on your body. It is all worth it though at the end of the day, come sun-down and the iftar meal. Breaking the fast is a social affair, where family and friends gather to eat and drink, followed by prayer and time for reflection, and more eating and socialising. To truly immerse yourself in the Egyptian experience of Ramadan is so eye-opening, and gives you a phenomenal perspective on the culture and the traditions. It's like a month long period of Christmas dinners lol. :p I am loving the experience of breaking the fast with close friends, the nights out enjoying traditional entertainment (whirling dirvishes this weekend! I will definitely post pictures), and the overall "festive" atmosphere that surrounds this Holy month. So on this note, I wish you all a Ramadan Kareem!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Netiquette netiquette

The number of people who use the internet now is phenomenal. It never fails, when you are bored, log into MSN, Facebook, Gmail, any median of social networking, and there will be at least one person to talk to. Net lingo has evolved rapidly, with many being able to boast of speaking a new language fluently, net-speak, chat lingo.

Now, I won't lie, I chat all the time. But one thing that I have never grasped is the "short-hand" language that many use. Perhaps it's because I'm not exactly a slow typer, but the shorthand has never appealed to me, it makes my head hurt trying to read it. Not to mention you look stupid trying to write like that. Would you speak like that? NO, then why the hell should I suffer reading through that?!

Taking into consideration how frequently we all use chat medians, the 'netiquette' that comes with it bears its own intricate rules of language. CAPS is of course seen as 'shouting,' your virtual bitch out if you will. The manner in which we interpret netiquette was put to the test for me the other day. One of my friends was attempting to chat with me, while her Caps lock was broken. Rather than a friendly conversation, I was reading her typing as shouting at me, as if from across a ravine...."SUZ. HOW ARE YOU? IS EVERYTHING OK?" Why are you shouting! I'm only on the other side of the monitor! Turn your virtual voice down! gah. Fortunately, she has now remedied the problem, and our usual "inside voice" conversations can resume. It truly makes you realise however, how much our communication skills and conversations have taken on an "internet" aspect if you will, where having a conversation on MSN or the likes, is just as stimulating, emotionally involved, and interactive, as a face to face conversation. Imagine what the communication medians of the future will bring us, and what new levels of language will evolve to support the new system...

And my thought for the day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Woman. The pillar of life.

"The loneliest woman in the world is a woman without a close woman friend." This quote, taken from George Santayana's 'The Life of Reason,' is so profoundly true that it has inspired me to blog about it. Specifically, the women that I have met throughout my journey in Egypt, and the amazing strength and wisdom that we can learn from their experiences.

Living in Egypt as a single woman can be very hard. Of course, it can also be extremely liberating, but I would say that generally speaking, single women in Egypt are faced with a heavier burden than many would expect. When I first moved here, I was blessed to be living with my family, and having the strength and support that being "at home" comes with. When my parents moved out of Egypt however, my entire life shifted. My closest and dearest friends, the two women who understand me better than anyone, who will tell me what I need to hear, even if it's not what I want to hear, my sister and mother, were no longer right at home and it is here that this story begins.

Women are often faced with the difficult choice of career over family, or visa versa. This trend of choice is particularly evident within Egypt and the Middle East, where the establishment and development of a family unit is still highly valued. Women here are often not given the choice to pursue a career, which is why when you are blessed to meet a working Egyptian woman, you know that you have found a pillar of strength. I have been privileged to work with many strong and inspirational women throughout my time here, and each of them has impacted me in a certain way. One of my online co-workers and I frequently talk about the challenge of finding the right man in Egypt, and finding a man who will not only be able to fill the cultural expectations of "providing for the family," but to find a man who will support and encourage your own career goals. We have frequently discussed the expectations that fall upon her shoulders from her family, the need to see her married and to start her own family often dominating the conversation. Yet despite the pressure that she is subjected to, she has remained strong in her desire to further her career, and strengthen the amazing talents that she has already demonstrated, and should a husband fall into the path she is treading, then all the better. If not, she refuses to sacrifice her values to adapt to the expected cultural norm around her. How can you not learn from and respect this belief!

If you are ever lucky enough to be granted the opportunity to sit down with a group of Egyptian women, I highly recommend that you take it! It quickly becomes apparent that despite the appearance of being a misogynistic society, women are the powerhouses behind closed doors. While men are the ones expected to protect a family's honour and be the main bread-winner, Egyptian women exhibit true strength in the family. She becomes the focal point of a family, women are expected to bear the burdens of a household, and do so with a smile on their face. Women are expected to ensure the fluidity of any working family environment, and ensure that all the household affairs are in order, children are raised well, and a woman's problems pushed to the side. When you consider the women that do all of this, AND raise a family, you cannot help but stand back and smile, and respect the devotion and love that it takes to achieve this. But to carry this weight around all the time can take a toll, and it is the women that surround you that will help you bear your burden. Be it through witty banter, small talk about friends and family, or true compassion and understanding when things get tough, there truly is nothing better than a strong female companion.

Two of my closest friends I have met in Egypt

My friends in Egypt have become my adopted family. My female friends are the rock that keeps me solid here, without them I would have lost myself a long time ago. Of course it is not only the Egyptian women that I have met here who have greatly inspired me, the ex-pat women that live in Egypt also provide an eye opening perspective on Egypt. I know of quite a few other single ex-pat women living in Egypt, some who have only been here for a year or so, and their perspectives on Egyptian society is fascinating. Many ex-pats find that it is difficult to develop a friendship with Egyptian women, and consequently find that most of their circle of friends consist of men. I won't lie, I also have quite a few male friends here, but there's just no replacing the connection between women, the underlying understanding that we have of one another. Men here for example, approach relationships with women in a very different manner than many Western women are used to. As a result you see many female ex-pats who recently moved to Egypt fall head over heels for an Egyptian man, believing that they have a true future together. What many Western men lack in chivalry and romance, Egyptian men make up for two fold. Yet what many ex-pat females forget to take into consideration is the motivation behind the relationship. Egyptian women are far less likely to date without the promise of marriage on the horizon, and as marriage is an extremely expensive affair in Egypt, many Egyptian men and women are simply unable to afford marriage. Western women however, will enter into a relationship that won't necessarily turn into a long-term commitment. We provide the perfect alternative for many men here, the convenient girlfriend, who when push comes to shove, can easily be pushed aside - as is often the case with relationships between ex-pat females and Egyptian men. It is a shame to see this happen, and it is times like this that you truly appreciate your female friends, particularly Egyptian females, who can easily point out the "Egyptian" behaviour in the man, and how to deal with it. Many ex-pat females will notice that their Egyptian boyfriends become overly possessive and dominant in a relationship, demanding the last say in many decisions a woman makes, a trait that is often bred into men here. Listen to your Egyptian sisters, and how to deal with this behaviour becomes easier, giving you the opportunity to draw from their own experiences and examples.

Often times I think that as women we forget how important we are in each others lives, and forget how significant an impact that our "sisterhood" can have. When it comes to the intricacies of a female mind, only another female can hope to interpret it. I know that for me personally, when I have been confronted with times of great personal stress, pushing me to my limits, it has always been my girlfriends who have stood by me, lent me a shoulder to cry on, and nudged me back onto the right path when I have strayed. For this, my hats go off to you. We women are truly an inspirational creature, and should learn to see that within ourselves! Until then, I am here to say "I am woman, hear me roar!"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summertime Fun

Ramadan is fast approaching, and as is normal in Cairo, Caireans are leaving the city in droves, in an attempt to enjoy the few weekends before the holy month begins. The North Coast (or Sa7el) is one of the more popular destinations being only a few short hours away from Cairo, or for those willing to make a longer trek, the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. For me though, it's all about Hurghada.

Cairo is such a busy and bustling city, that it becomes almost impossible not to sit back sometimes, wanting to rip your hair out, and scream "Get me out of here!!!" But as much as I want to get out of Cairo, I don't want to lose the feel of being in Egypt. This in my mind, immediately excludes Sharm as an option, as it has become the Ibiza of the Middle East, and feels like stepping in a tourist perfected resort in Europe somewhere. Nama Bay has lost the Egyptian touch, and the prices there are through the roof...Hurghada provides the perfect median - a beach resort that remains intricately Egyptian, and is constantly changing and adapting, it is truly an example of a dynamic atmosphere.

Last weekend my friend Charlotte and I decided to head up to Hurghada. We both had a long weekend, and she hadn't been back in ten years. Needless to say, she was shocked. Last time Charlotte was in Hurghada, there were maybe two hotels. lol. Being the simple (and budgeted) travelers that we are, we opted to take the bus, rather than the 45 minute direct flight from Cairo. So, Wednesday we pack up our gear, and head down the bus station in Tahrir, downtown. In an attempt to ease the strain on traffic down there, the bus no longer pulls up directly in front of the station. Instead, you wait patiently for a smaller bus to navigate the traffic (which, big surprise, has not been eased), which then takes you literally across the road to a parking lot.
Who wouldn't want to escape this? :-/

The 15 minutes it took us in our mini-bus to make it to the big bus, having to navigate through the traffic, could have been spared if people made the 30 second effort to cross the road. Naturally however, the "I'm on holiday" mentality takes over, and any extra effort on your part is non-negotiable. Making it to our bigger bus, Charlotte and I safely stow our luggage underneath, in exchange for a tiny ticket which i usually end up losing anyhow. "I swear sir, the huge black bag is mine!"

As we both had to work on Wednesday, Charlotte and I took the 5 pm bus, for a very reasonable 75 LE. Our departure was delayed due to the "minibus" extravaganza, but eventually we settle down for the 6 hour drive to Hurghada. Let me tell you, travel scrabble is your best friend on long trips like this, particularly through the long stretches of desert. When you reach the coast line though, the view is absolutely breath-taking, with 4 or so hours of your trip being made along the Red Sea's coastline, with fantastic sea views, sunsets, and if you're lucky enough, the shot of dolphins breaching the surf. Arriving in Hurghada, a cheap 5 minute taxi ride takes you straight to the main tourist strip, where most of the hotels in Hurghada are situated.

Charlotte and I were staying with a friend in Hurghada, who lived right behind the Burger King off of the main street, Shara Sheraton. The amusing thing about Hurghada, is how rapidly the tourist street has developed, yet step one foot behind it (such as we did), and you find yourself in an area filled with half-renovated houses, buildings under construction, the beginnings of a foundation, and the occasional completed villa. It is truly a town under development, I just hope that it retains its Egyptian identity, and doesn't fall prey as Sharm did to the overtly "resort type" town.

We filled our time with the multitude of activities that Hurghada is known for, first and foremost the beach and sea, and the nightlife. With clubs, pubs, restaurants, cinema's, outdoor entertainment, and games, there's plenty to do. I somehow was convinced to try the "Gladiator" game, and I'm sad to say, I had my ass handed to me, with Charlotte managing to knock me off my post I think at least 8 times. Pitiful; I blame it on the beers that were coursing through me. Friday gave us the opportunity to party it up at Hed Kandi, where there is a pool party every Friday. I have to say, when I first heard of the pool party, I imagined a large number of children, it being one of the few days where children were actually able to get into Hed Kandi. Instead what we experienced was the anti-thesis, I felt like I'd stepped into an MTV spring break party. Volleyball, swimming, great music, great food, surrounded by the beach, the sea, and a fantastic pool right in the center of the club. For anybody heading to Hurghada soon, I highly recommend that you stop into their pool party, it's an unforgettable experience.

Hed Kandi's pool

As with any vacation, it must all end eventually. Our last day, Charlotte and I barely made the bus, but decided to spoil ourselves to the 100 LE Royal bus. By spoil, what I really mean is that we were both already late going back to Cairo, and needed the next bus ASAP haha. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the "royal bus," it's a faster trip, you are given water along with the little bread pieces and juice box, and the bus' bathroom resembles something that can be called clean (as let me say, the toilets on the other buses are atrocious :p). Overall, I give Hurghada two thumbs way way up, and I cannot wait to go back there. It truly is a little gem on the Red Sea, and I hope that it remains as such. For us Caireans, a beach resort on an Egyptian budget. Does it get any better than that?!