Saturday, September 20, 2008


I've stopped blogging, mainly because I felt I wasn’t leading a blog-worthy life any longer. Life in Egypt was totally blog worthy. I was seeing, doing, consuming a life I liked to write about, which I thought people would find mildly interesting enough to read because it wasn't a typical existence. Egypt was my muse, it inspired me.

Singapore, unfortunately, is not much of a muse. When is 'home', the country you grew up in, ever much of one? Nothing is new, nothing is breathtakingly fresh (although to be honest, the Singapore i left behind 8 years ago is loooong gone). And as much as I love love love my job, and as much ‘fun’ as I'm having here in Singapore, and whiling the hours and days away with whatever comes in my way, its all very … normal. I go to work. I look forward to the weekend. I see my friends, we plan fun things to do. I plan holidays and look forward to them......

And so it goes.

I only realised much later, this wasn't boredom. This is life....for most people.

And who would want to read about my very normal life? And why would I want to document it? I hate those blogs where the writer thinks I actually care about where she went clubbing, and how they’re upset with their boss. Like unless, he or she is in the Mauritanian desert working as a goat herder and doesn’t like how his boss makes him get too friendly with the mammals. Then, for sure, a little office politics becomes fascinating.

And up till now, I thought you know what, its ok. I have had my fair share of extraordinary, more than most people in the world ever get. Perhaps, at some point, we must all slow down, for the sake of doing the things we need to do (read: family, career) and its just okay to be normal for awhile.

It just doesn’t feel right though.

Sometimes I wonder what I'd be doing if I lived a life where I truly didn’t have to think of ANYBODY else other than myself…….I like to imagine myself freelancing in Jerusalem (in fact THAT offer from THAT guy still stands). But sometimes, other things, other people are more important than adventure. I’m not sure how long we can keep this free spirit locked in a box though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

standing still

"About the harsher side of living a glamorous, globetrotting life of adventure. About what happens once you stand still for a few minutes. About the "Um, now what" moment, where the easiest answer is to just keep moving, to fill every waking hour to avoid the harder questions about identity and displacement. If I'm busy, I won't notice that I'm glossing over the tough issues. Nothing hurts if you hurry. Questions aren't answered, much less asked when there's no time to dwell or wallow."

-- Extract from

A book I definitely want to read when it's out.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


My friends call me a tube-light (you know, the fluorescent lights that take a few seconds to flicker on). I'm the girl who wakes up the following morning and finally gets the joke. I like to call it a delayed reaction.

This is all the more acute when I'm molested (yes, unfortunately it has occurred enough times in my life to describe it as a regular event). The shock kicks in and my physical and mental recoiling occurs a solid 60 seconds after I've gotten over what just happened.

That time we were walking through a crowded fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh (now that I think about it, why in God's name were we walking through said-crowd? That's the equivalent of walking into pervert-zone suicide.) Somebody grabbed my ass, and before I could register what had happened followed by turning around to confront the menace, he was loooong gone. In fact, I think I remember him scampering away watching me with a delighted grin. I shall refrain from swearing in a highly unlady-like manner on this blog. I have a job now.

That other time, (age 12?) some guy slapped my ass as I was entering a shopping mall. Now this one's a classic. I literally froze in shock — my sister, walking ahead of me, looked back to find me rooted on the spot. Soon as I pointed out the guy, she charged — literally charged towards the guy and grabbed him by the collar, "You touched my sister, you little son of a *****, you touched my sister!" Obviously the dude, very smooth, denied it. So then I was summoned — at this point, still, by the way, rooted to aforementioned 'spot'. I walked over, to the slowly forming crowd surrounding my sister and this shameless perpretator. I was horrified. I wasn't expecting such valiance on the part of my sis. "Tell him, go on, tell him he touched your ass," she urged me. And all I, ladies and gentlemen, could muster?

"Yes!" I fixed him with the steeliest look I could put up, followed by a VERY threatening finger wagging, much like a cross teacher afflicts on a tardy student.

Can't remember much of what happened next, but I vaguely recall a lot of anti-climax and collar-releasing.....

Then recently, in Cairo, Megan got pawed and before I had registered what had happened, she was half a mile away, chasing after the guy. That had me in awe. I couldn't stop going on about Megan's successfully catching her molestor and kah-POWING him with sweet revenge. SCORE for the hundreds of girls molested on Cairo's streets and trains. The little bastard would think twice before he ever touched another petite blond foreign chick.

Why am I telling you all this now? Why? Because today I was once again given the privilege of getting 'tapped' on the ass on the bus home. The bus was full — it was a Sunday and all the construction workers were going home from their weekend partying at Serangoon apparently. I thought twice before getting on the bus, but did so anyway, figuring we could squeeze past the 600 men crowding the door. And whaddya know! As I'm squeezing past them, rather than them moving away and giving me space to get past, I feel a tap on my ass, amidst illegible foreign gabbeldy-gook and much laughter. Vimal later said she could smell the beer emanating from their pores.

I don't know what did it. Maybe it was because I had just watched Sex & The City — The Movie and felt renewed I'm-50-and-I-don't-need-a-boyfriend empowerment? Who knows. But the formerly-finger-wagger-Nancy swiftly turned around and threw a tight slap on his face. The drastic change on his face — from that gleeful leer, laughing along with his friends to that of shock, mouth wide open, eyes startled — was satisfaction enough. I didn't wait to give him an earful or cause more of a scene.

But the whole thing has left a unpleasant taste in my mouth. I still cringe thinking of the contact my hand made with his slightly damp, open mouthed, moustached face. The first thing I did upon getting home was scrub my hand with soap. Mixed in with the disgust, was my elitist guilt. Did I slap the right guy? I honestly don't know. When I turned around he was the closest face laughing at me. Was it an innocent tap on the ass? Could I have misread innocent movement around a crowded bus entrance just because my paranoia and senses were at a peak because of the clear bias and prejudice I hold against these workers? Had I just betrayed people, who quite possibly could have been from my country, Bangladesh? People who come to work and earn hard earned money, most of which is sent back home month after month to feed a family they don't even get to see at the end of the work day?

It didn't feel like I'd scored any points today.

But hey, I suppose the tube-light situation is improving.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

(Only my dad.......

"There! See? Cheshire Road is written in Bengali!" Driving down Bricklane in London, my dad was (a little too enthusiastically) trying to point out the Bengali nature of this infamous street to my little sister, Sam.

"And then here....Bacon Street! B-A-K-O-N. " We silently contemplated the irony of this one.

After the first 2-3 signs, I think most of us in the car tuned my dad out.....until he excitedly yelped:

"Now look HERE! Hot Bengali's ALL NIGHT!"

That definitely didn't sound right. Four heads immediately swiveled around to look at what he was pointing at:

"Hot Bagels — All Night"

Continuation from post title:
................manages to turn a 24-hour Jewish eaterie into a disturbing South Asian porn joint)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I've only been burgled once in my life. It was in my second year of uni, living with my sister in an apartment building in Russell Square. I was sleeping over at Amrita's house that night, when I got a call in the morning. It was my sister.

"Girlay, I have some bad news. Don't freak out."


"We got burgled last night, and your laptop's gone."

Ok. Not that bad. Laptops get stolen all the time. I would recover. I would be just fine.

I hurried back home anyway. We sat down and called the police, as I inspected the damage. It seemed the burglar had crawled in through my window. We lived on the ground floor.

Then it occurred to me that he had stolen my second mobile that I had left in the room before going out. Oh bother. Now I'd have to go through the hassle of calling the phone company and disconnecting the line.

Then I realised he had taken my little purse where I kept my credit cards. Double damn. Call HSBC, cancel cards, report them stolen.

It was all really more a pain in the arse. No scars emotionally, nope. I was a tough one.

Then, I realised he had taken my little handbag in which I kept all my makeup. My makeup! Why did he have to go do that? What meanie takes a girl's makeup (even though I admit housing it in a handbag didn't make it any less tempting for a thief under pressure)?

I believe that was when the line got crossed. I exploded in a flood of traumatized tears, rang my mother up who happened to be in Australia visiting my aunt, and had to speak to my aunt first before she passed on the phone to mum, alarmed.

The things that set us off. Crying for a bit of makeup. Sigh.

Friday, March 14, 2008

guantanamo garden

We did a report about a new product by Lush today, an all-natural soap and beauty products company. They are running a campaign, together with Reprieve to highlight the illegal detainment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Lush does all these gorgeous soaps, bath products, face masks, shampoos made from completely natural products – you can smell this store from half a mile away.

The product we were focusing on was a Bath Ballistic –those balls you drop into the bathtub that start fizzing about madly while releasing gorgeous scents and oils into the water. This one was called Guantanamo Garden, named after a small garden detainees grew using plastic spoons and seeds from their pathetic excuses for meals at the center.

Release the ball which has a picture of a sugar dove engraved on the top, into your bath, and it turns the water bright orange (the colour of the prison uniforms) and at the very end a little picture of one of the detainees is revealed.

More pics from this lovely store....

Jelly like shower gel. It's so fun to tap the jelly slab lightly with a finger and watch it shake and giggle like your cute fat baby cousin.
More ball ballistics...for your bathtub

Our camera set up in the store

Monday, March 03, 2008


They let you leave Israel alot easier than they let you get in. My first steps back on Egyptian soil were accompanied by a surprising sense of relief. I hadn't realised the subconscious tension I had been harboring the entire time during the last 6 days. But the tension is definitely there. Even as a tourist, you always feel the need to please the occupiers, to prove outwardly you aren't doing anything wrong. In Cairo, if any loser on the street tries to whisper sleazy things into my ear, I ignore them like I’m Helen Keller – deaf, blind and mute. Walking past Israeli soldiers on the street though, one good morning from them, and for some retarded reason I feel compelled to acknowledge them with an, albeit tight, smile. What was I scared of? That they’d SHOOT me if I didn’t pander to their bored flirtations? If this is how I feel as a tourist, imagine how the Palestinians feel. Apparently, this friend of a friend’s, a Palestinian, who was rather tubby around the stomach, used to walk around with his shirt lifted whenever he passed by Israeli soldiers, to prove, each and every single time, that it was indeed human lard he carried around, and not ammunition.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Back in Jerusalem. All the shops in East Jerusalem have shut in protest to what's going on in Gaza. 70 dead. It's troubling how I have been in East J for the last couple of days and had no clue what was going on until I went to Ramallah yesterday and people informed me. Eilat...Jerusalem...Tel's so easy to be in denial or completely block out the atrocities being carried out less than 1.5 hours away. Yesterday, we attended a small demonstration in the main square in Ramallah. Not many people turned up, but people are angry. Really, really angry. Hamas has issued a warning about suicide bombings - apparently calling 2008 the year of suicide bombings - and, as I'm told, when Hamas gives a warning, they mean serious business. Al-Aqsa Martyrs blow alot of hot air, but Hamas don't joke around.

I'm taking a taxi to the central bus station tomorrow. No way am I getting on one of those West Jerusalem buses. Back in Cairo Monday night.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Soon after, I returned to Jerusalem and hopped onto a bus to Ramallah next, the government and administrative hub of the West Bank. There isn't much to see in Ramallah, but if you know someone living there, as I was lucky enough to, it's a great place to experience how Palestinians are living what is probably the closest they can get to normalcy. There's also a big expat community here, and as I got to find out, all expat communities (in the Arab world) are the same.

Sitting with two Canadian girls in a Ramallah cafĂ©, I listened to them worry over landlord issues because one of them was seen ushering a male friend out the door by her landlord. The only difference between Ramallah and Cairo was how much the conflict was in their faces, and predictably, how much conversation revolved around it. In 4 days I have learnt more about the conflict than anything I've registered over the last 24 years. Being witness to what the israeli's are doing also makes it all the more real. I had heard about jewish settlements…'outposts' they call them that have been built on Palestinian land, you imagine housing as flimsy as camps, but you get here and driving into Bethlehem, you're taxi driver points out that big Jewish settlement on top of the hill in the distance and it hits you that these settlements aren't flimsy outposts. They're entire towns, huge concrete monstrosities, sprawled out with their claws dug into Palestinian land. Convincing them, forcing them to leave this land that they have stolen, gosh, it will spark a Jewish uprising (which by the way has already started).

Apologies because I can't seem to stop going on about things most of you already know about. It's just that this trip has been so much of an intensely personal journey for me. It has been educational, not only on an academic level, but on an intimate level, about myself and discovering what I am capable of. I could probably go on and on, because everything here is so grey, there is no black and white. There is so much to understand, so much to confuse, so much to be troubled by. So I shall shut up and go on with the more superficial aspects of my trip.

My night in Ramallah was spent with a friend of a friend's, Amber, who was kind enough to let me crash at her apartment. (Traveling alone comes with so many perks, I'm amazed I didn't do this sooner. It's so much easier to change plans, to do things spontaneously, and the people you meet along the way are so much more accomodating) Amber was also kind enough to help me experience a lil' bit a-everything in Ramallah: we had coffee (Everything in Ramallah were shut, in protest to the events in Gaza, but some cafes, although pulled down their shutters and appeared closed, were bustling inside), we went to watch a dub-ka (Palestinian traditional dance) performance at the Ramallah Cultural Palace, then we went to a demonstration in Manara Square, and then finally for dinner at her friends place to eat maghlooby, a Palestinian dish!


It’s amazing how easy it is to get around here. I went further into the West Bank today (East Jerusalem IS the West Bank too), taking a bus into Bethlehem. Over here, what should be a 30 minute ride can sometimes stretch into 1.5 hours, especially for Palestinians getting from one city to another simply because of Israeli checkpoints stationed between cities which by international law belong to the Palestinians anyway! An example of how they like to f*** with the Palestinians: Around Jummah time yesterday, we were trying to get into Jericho and we arrived to find a long lineup of cars at the checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers know the Palestinians are all trying to get to the mosque, and as my Palestinian driver explained, this intentional delay was a weekly occurrence. That's how it works here, even if Israeli-Arabs don't live in as destitute, tense conditions as the Gazans do, there is a subtle, sneaky personal campaign of oppression and humiliation being wrought by the Israelis.

Bethlehem was absolutely beautiful, much like the rest of this country, the landscape is extremely hilly and at the end of every street you discover an incredible panaroma. Bethlehem also has a fantastic service called the communal taxi, and I only wonder why more cities don’t employ this form of transport. 8-seater station wagons drive all around the city, picking up and dropping off passengers wherever they please, and only charging 2 shekels each. Cairo has an informal system similar to this, except we still pay according to the distance, no matter who you’re sharing your bus with.

My main aim in going to Bethlehem was to get a closer look at the Apartheid wall that the Israeli’s have built. I walked nearly three-quarters of a kilometre along this giant of a wall, built, according to the Israelis, to ‘stop terrorists from getting into Israel’, but instead it only serves to disrupt the daily lives of local Palestinians. Nevermind that it snakes along well into the West Bank territory, it was also ironically, built by Palestinian labour, so desperate for jobs, money, sustenance, that they have to resort to this kind of humiliation – building a wall for the enemy designed to ruin their own community. I will upload photos of some of the amazing graffiti on this wall later.

Friday, February 29, 2008

10 Signs you've been living in Egypt for too long

1. At an Eilat zebra crossing, you wait for the cars zooming towards you to pass, then double up in shock when they come to a standstill at the zebra crossing, patiently waiting for you to cross.

2. Within your first 15 minutes in Jerusalem, you get told off by a cop for jaywalking. Jaywalking.

"Why did you cross when the red man was flashing?"
"Oh....erm, I'm sorry, do you not do that here?"
"No. Where you come from?"
"Don't they have traffic rules there?"
"Yes....but I've been living in Cairo for over a year."

Apparently they fine you here for jaywalking. Apparently, they hide by the side of the road to catch unknowing jaywalking criminals and slap fines on them. You would think that for a nation knee-deep in conflict, jaywalking would be a minor issue. Or maybe it's a survival mechanism. How to survive the trauma of life as an occupier: live in deep denial about the wider issues, and focus on the itty bitty little things you feel in control of. Like jaywalking.

Ok that's just two signs. But 10 sounds cooler. I'll come up with the rest later.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


After months of planning, dreaming, having my plans thwarted because of that visa problem and this lost passport bullshit, I stepped on the 10.15pm bus to Taba on the Egypt-Israeli border on Tuesday night.
After all that planning, my actual embarkation onto that bus was a result of a hasty afternoon's decision to just GO. I had only that morning itself, finally resolved all my visa/passport issues at the Mugamma (more on that drama later) and so with a new passport and a measily 7-day visa in one hand, my faithful little-blue-trolly-bag-that-can held on by the other, I WENT.

During the bus journey, I settled into reading my very-new Lonely Planet, only purchased that afternoon from DIwan. I read, highlighted, got more and more excited until I got to the visa section which read "Singaporeans need a pre-issued visa." Depression kicked in, and literally, I sat the book down on the seat next to me and prepared myself to be rejected by the
Israeli's and get the next bus home.

The bus had arrived in Taba early. I found myself and one other couple standing in an isolated bus station, it's pitch black dark, with not a soul in sight. I thank my lucky stars this couple is here with me. We get to the Taba checkpoint, and contrary to what the Lonely Planet claims, we get re-entry visas issued. We then head to the Israeli checkpoint by foot. The
guards smile, say hello, and ask for my passport. I'm told to put my bags down, and a minute later, I'm sat on a bench.

Then, a female israeli guard approaches me, identifying herself as a security-something. With not even a hint of a smile in her eyes, she starts to grill me. I'm standing there in the cool morning breeze, with the gorgeous Red Sea lapping away behind me, and as she interrogates me, my mouth goes dry. What are you doing in Egypt? What's your grandfather's name? WHy don't you have a work permit? What religion do you follow? Where did you study? WHat did you study? Why did you work for Ericsson if you studied politics?

I told the truth about everything, except for my religion. "I'm Christian." Oh really? Whats your mother and father's name? ...That doesn't sound like a Christian name. "Oh well,in Bangladesh we have different sounding names. I was shitting my pants but this woman wasn't going to break me. I smiled and joked as much as I could manage. When I told her I wanted to go shopping in Tel Aviv (i'm the superficial, hedonistic tourist y'see), she gave me a look of contempt, doubt, and asked, "You're here to go shopping? WHy don't you shop in Cairo?"

Then, they took me inside and a female guard felt me up. I felt totally violated, but I felt more for this dumb woman whose country was making her grope my sweaty armpits. Now, that's patriotism. Then they took every single thing out of my bags, x -rayed them, and questioned me about the dodgy items. Why do you have so many credit cards? What's this book abt (From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman -- oops, probably bad choice)? Who wrote this (Imogen's tips that she wrote out for me)? Again, they questioned me, this time writing all my answers down.

I was told to sit. For the next 3 hours (one hour had already passed since I approached the checkpoint), they continually came up to me, asking all sorts of probing questions. Sometimes, 2-3 different people asked me the same question. All this, as I sat and watched an entire gang of Nigerians (all wearing outfits cut from the same cloth, and holding blanket carriers
on their heads, i kid you not) BREEZE through the checkpoint. What the hell was happening to the world? How were AFRICANS bypassing me, a Singaporean?! I never thought the day would come.

My hope started to dwindle. I was so desperate. 1.5 years in Egypt and I had never ventured out of the country, despite there being countless fascinating lands to travel to right next door....Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan (eh, not that much). And now, in my last 2 weeks, I was desperate. It's been my dream to see the DOme of the Rock. Nothing could stop me, not even the lack of travel companions, I was prepared to do this alone. So these bastards were not stopping me. I sat up straight, read my Thomas Friedman while waiting and answered all their stupid questions calmly. "Yes I am a Christian. I have a Christian name, Nancy. You wanna see my business cards? I celebrate Christmas. Yes, we go to Church. Once a week. Sundays. JESUS CHRIST!!! (pun intended).

Finally, they gave me my passport. My heart started singing hallelujah, but there was still one more step. Immigration counter (yes, believe it or not, that was merely interrogation). I asked the lady behind the counter not to stamp my passport. I thought I was in the clear, but I guess I thought wrong. She made a phonecall, and then told me, "You have to
wait." These people don't seem to know the words, please and thank you. They also don't seem to know how to smile. Once again, I sat down. Once again, they asked me the same questions. Where are you staying in ISrael? Do you know anyone there?

And then finally, they let me through. With not a stamp on my passport in sight. It was 10.15am. I stepped out of the checkpoint and there was the Red Sea, looking even more sparkly, glittery and gorgeous than usual. I was in Palestine.

Pretty neat for a 24th birthday present.

Monday, February 25, 2008

the beginning of the end

The countdown has started. Booked my flights today — I leave Cairo, for good, in exactly two weeks. March 8th. The end of 16 months in this glorious city, 16 months that have changed my life forever.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Despite an initial period of depression, absolute betrayal, and suicidal tendencies, we are pleased to announce that Pookers/ Pookahontus/ The Pookie Monster is fine and healthy and back to attacking his Mummy. Woohoo!!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hello, My name is Pookie

Today, I went to the vet for the first time ever. Mummy wants to chop my balls off so my pee-pee stops smelling so much and I act less hyper. Mummy gets a little frightened when I jump up as high as her shoulder first thing in the morning. I can't help getting excited about discovering every morning that everyone didn't disappear off the face of the earth.

At the clinic, I met two more cats just like me. One was deaf, the other a little prettier. I was a little jealous. Mummy seemed to pay more attention to her, just because she had naturally kohled eyes and tiny little cute black nose. I bet it wasn't that natural — I bet it's Loreal. Anyway, I hissed at her. Mummy couldn't understand why. She expected me to be humping this stranger girl instead....I really need a woman after all. Apparently. But I don't. Mummy is all the woman I need.

Anyway, this evil stranger girl had a wierd Daddy. He kept trying to convince Mummy to let ME marry his kohl-eyed daughter, so that we could be companions. He kept talking about us 'getting married'. Did he mean....shag? Teehee. In the end, it turned out this dude had 9 other kitties and wanted to offload this one onto Mummy. Mummy started to get a little annoyed because this man just would not shut up about me marrying his daughter. So I hissed again. Mummy scolded me again. I'm so confused.

Say byebye to my ballsies!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

hippity hop

I was reminded of the Ultimate Solution again last night, when we went to watch the Flavor Project show at Sawy (hiphop show featuring a bunch of kids rapping, dancing, b-boxing, breakdancing).

Let me digress for a bit — I went expecting a half-arsed show, and to an extent, when they kept starting acts after 5 minute intervals and repeating the introductions, I rolled my eyes and thought, typical Egypt — but the show just kept getting better and better. Yes, it was a little reminiscent of our university variety shows back home, but what really stole the show and got me onto my feet in a standing ovation was EgyCrews breakdance version of two of my favourite instrumental tracks from the Amelie soundtrack. These tracks are very dear to me, and the boys did full justice to it. i'm not very breakdance articulate so I won't attempt to describe what they did, but there were masks, there was style, and plenty of shivers running down my spine watching them.

Back to my point. The Ultimate Solution — just as I thought watching the b-boys perform for the Bangla Show i MC'd for two years ago — Mubarak needs to set up free breakdance centres. If all the unemployed Egyptian men took up breakdancing, there would be a major clean up on the streets. Direct all their energy, their boredom and acute sexual frustration into this hobby and wala! Londoners would enjoy less gang violence and us girls would roam the streets of Cairo un-groped. You know you want to see your boweb's son doin all that poppin' lockin' diggity doo.....

Polythene Niqab

Too sexy to be environmentally-friendly...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yesterday, Egypt became my country. On phonecalls from home, even for my Nigerian friend Harrison, whose home-team lost way before the finals, Egypt became baladi.

20 of us gathered to watch the finals of the African Cup of Nations between Egypt and Cameroon. I’m not one to get into the details of the game (partially because half the time I wasn’t really paying attention) but where there‘s a reason to party, everybody knows I’m game! And there certainly was. Egypt won 1-0 to secure the Cup twice in a row, and six times overall. Soon as the whistle blew ending the game, the entire street erupted in car horns, drum banging and celebratory chanting.

There were people EVERYWHERE. The Junction of Brazil St. and 26th of July was teeming with crowds, (mostly) men dancing in rings, blazes of fire from makeshift bug-spray torches and lots of bins turned upside down to make drums. A few of us girls timidly ducked for cover everytime someone released fireworks from right next to us or when some idiot threw down sparklers from the bridge above. But for the first time, the cars inching their way through the human traffic as they tried to get across had drivers with smiles on their faces. After an hour of revelry in Zamalek, my friends and I piled into cars and headed downtown where apparently the real action was.

We somehow made it across the packed bridge to Tahrir Square where we inched around the roundabout three times, hanging out of our cars and hooting like hooligans. It was brilliant. At one point, Harrison, the only guy in our car of seven girls, ran off to meet his friends and then things got a little scary. I think the crowds of 200 intensely-excited Egyptian men around our car suddenly realised that here was a car packed with seven foreign chicks, overflowing from the windows, and not a single big black African in sight to fight them off. We quickly jumped inside, turned up the windows and locked the doors. Boys started thumping our windows and (one or two) shouting lewd things. The policeman (notice the irony) near us told Nora, who was driving, to just knock down the ones blocking our way, while someone suggested with distinct pleasure that we should suddenly reverse the car and break some Egyptian male bone. If only.

Luckily, Harrison came back. The crowds backed off…until they started hounding him, shouting “Cameroon! Cameroon!”

I’m so glad Egyptians don’t drink alcohol. “Football Hooliganism” would enjoy whole new, frightening meaning.

Monday, January 14, 2008


The first two weeks of 2008 were wrecked with indecision, life in limbo, a lot of soul searching and general frustration. I was offered a job as feature writer for a newly-launched women's magazine in Dubai and to go or not to go was heavily influenced by several factors, the promise I made to my parents to come back home after Egypt, reservations about living in a society like Dubai, reservations about working at a women's magazine and the urgency of it all — I just simply didn't feel done with Egypt. I still hadn't travelled through Palestine to Syria and I am still halfway through my Arabic course and I would've had to pack up my entire life here in Egypt and leave within two weeks.

I got tired of talking about it. Everyone was constantly asking, "Are you going? When are you going? When do you decide? Why? When will you get married?" (Okay, the last one, no one really asked, but the pressure is on, from certain parties) For unexplained reasons, I just lay back. I couldn't make a decision, it was too hard. I don't think I've ever felt this torn, this confused about making a decision, and it was a decision no one else could make for me. Lord knows, I had plenty of advice, pulling me towards either side. I had friends urging me on the phone to speak to my mother, convince her why this was the right thing to do. But I didn't KNOW if it was the right thing to do.

So I just sat. And waited. I don't know what I was waiting for, if anything. And then last night, I was hanging out with Yasser Bhai and Sufi at their apartment in Zamalek, and Yasser showed me one of his TV interviews that he had filmed when he was working for CBC. With Yann Martell. Those of you on my Facebook know that where you list 'religion', I've written, "Read Life of Pi and you will understand," and that this book is very dear to me. When Yasser mentioned that he had interviewed Martell, I was totally blown over.

After watching the interview on the laptop, suddenly something clicked and I just knew. I wasn't going to Dubai. I made a decision to go into journalism because I wanted to report on things I cared about. It all started with my fascination and dismay at religious nationalism in the subcontinent. I realised that after a year of writing about moisturisers (ok I exaggerate, feature writers dont do beauty reviews), I'm going to get tired and I will still be nowhere near the serious stuff that I came into journalism for. It may not be as fun — which girl doesnt dream of working for a women's magazine and devouring all the free goodies? — but it isn't what I'm aiming for. There were many reasons to go to Dubai, and many reasons not to, but my priority was on my career and the job upon which everything hinged — and I've realised, the job isn't worth it. So that finally tipped the scale.

So thank you Yann Martell, for peace of mind - yet again.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2000...and shit.

A friend of mine messaged me this morning. She's 28, living in Singapore, and she says, "Just brought in the new year here. Boring. Enjoy your youth. It's all downhill from here." Her message made me pause for thought. What a way to start the new year! It made me pause because I'm going to turn 24 next month. Is it really all downhill from here? I had the impression things were on their way up! Judging from my time in Cairo at least, which so far has been one of the best years in my life. In fact, it's in Cairo where I've met friends much older than me, having the time of their lives, despite not being 21 anymore. And by this, I don't mean having 21-year-old kind of fun, getting wasted and pulling meaninglessly...but leading rich lives, meeting fascinating people, travelling to beautiful places, spending quality time with friends. It seems the older you get, the better you know how to enjoy life. Isn't that a good thing?

But maybe it's just this little bubble that we live in called Cairo. We're always talking about how we aren't living in the 'real world', how life here is almost uni-life like. Except its not. We're all holding down jobs, building careers. We pay for rent, pay the bills, deal with landlords and deal with what is sometimes a not very easy city to live in. We cook, damnit! Yet, we still meet up on a daily basis, we still do imaginative things (I'm thinking of Murder Mystery Dinner two nights ago). Is it because we live away from our families, familial obligations? (I'm not really trying to answer any of my questions here — right now, my brain isnt really working, so I'm just focusing on raising the questions. I had to blog because it's part of my new year plan.)

But I also have much younger friends in other parts of the world who already act like they have 4 kids and a spouse. So maybe it is country-specific. Attitude-specific?

I start the new year with no passport, and no clue as to what's happening to me in the next 2-3 months. I know most of us don't know what's happening in the near/far future, but I literally do not know where I will be. Have an awesome job offer in Dubai starting end of January, but several factors hold me back from taking it just yet. A confusing start to the year such as this makes it a tad difficult to make resolutions, make plans. Nevertheless, I rang it in with good friends, good times, and what is shockingly, my second NYE celebration in Cairo. I'm not going to bother recapping 2007, because I did that on my Arab-versary post. And I cant really make any projections for 2008 yet since I don't know what the hell I'm doing. All I hope for is as much energy and enthusiasm as in the past...and that I never lose the child inside me.