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.