Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jessy the Mad Dog and Me

My boyfriend has a mad dog. But first:

I moved. It's a small apartment with absolutely no insulation or central heating, but I got an electric heater that I turn on at night and in the mornings. The temperatures drop to 8 degrees Celsius at night, and don't climb over 15 in the days now.

The kitchen is super small and I can barely stand up straight in the shower, but I'm slowly getting the place into shape. My boyfriend put up new blinds in the bedroom, tomorrow the carpenter is coming to fix the bed, we will get covers for the sofas in the living room, have the place painted, and I need to buy oranges and red ribbon so that I can stick them full of cloves and hang them in the window to get the right Swedish Christmas Feel.

There are no pepparkakor or lussebullar here. Nor glögg or julmust.

But I bought two pinkish red Christmas star flowers and put up some candles.

The apartment is on the ground floor of a building that is owned by a vet and Great Protector of Cats. There's a tangerine tree in the yard and about 20 cats that, rather fittingly, pussyfoot around when I enter. They approach cautiously and sniff, stop and listen--some hobble, most are blind and all look quite knocked about. All of them were rescued off the street.

They won't let me pet them, but if I leave the door open, they come sneaking in, checking what I'm up to.

There's a small turtle wedged in between my bedroom window and the iron bars outside it. He sticks out his head sometimes, also checking what I'm up too.

Animals are sweet. But not always to be trusted. Like I said, my boyfriend has a dog. A white, tousled, seemingly sweet dog who (although she barks like crazy when anybody she doesn't know, or perhaps doesn't approve of, come to the house... or walks past it, or thinks of maybe visiting) has treated me like one in the family for more than a month and doesn't even bark when I enter the house without Tarek.

Jessy the Mad Dog after Plowing the Flower Beds

But last Friday, Tarek was barbecuing fish in the backyard, and I was standing next to him, petting Jessy the Mad Dog when she suddenly starts growling, throws her head back and bites the hell out of my hand.

Shock. Excruciating pain.

Tarek got Jessy off me before she could do any real damage, and I was left with only one cut on the inside of my hand, below my thumb. My whole arm was icy cold and I couldn't move it for the rest of the day, but I got a shot and had the wound cleaned at the hospital and now, not even a week later, it's healing well and I can use it almost like normal.

But I don't talk to Jessy the Mad Dog anymore. I think she tried to say sorry a couple of times by putting her head on my thigh, but I don't trust her. I don't go near her if I can avoid it, I don't stay alone with her and I do not pet her.

She's watching me right now, as I type this. But her puppy eyes don't fool me--I know she's got fangs sharper than a vampire's.

I decided once and for all that I'm a cat person.

In other news, I think I want to be a writer again. I stopped wanting to be a writer after I had maybe three different book manuscripts refused when I was 18 or 19. Decided it wasn't for me. At least not until I turned 40 and had lots of life experience, or maybe until I found something really important to share with the world at 35 or so.

But today I wrote a three-page press release for work, and dammit, it was good.

Still need to think of something important to say before I can write a book, though.

I let Jessy the Mad Dog out, because she was barking at the window for no good reason.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jenin Harvest Days

On Friday, I went to Jenin and got slapped in the face.

It was a nice, sunny day and Tarek and I got in the car in the morning after a breakfast of foul and hummus with his mom and dad (don't tell them, because officially we went to Bethlehem to visit some friends... Jenin isn't considered to be one of the safer areas in Palestine).

We drove through olive tree valleys and cypress dotted hills, past two groups of Israeli settlers escorted by Israeli military and intelligence--I don't know, scouting out the landscape or whatever. We swished past checkpoints (anybody stupid enough to go north isn't worth checking), passed through Nablus, and went all the way to Berqin.

Palestine is beautiful.

In Berqin, a small village in the Jenin area, we pull up in front of Nasser Abufarha's new olive oil pressing facility for Canaan Fair Trade. I've written about Canaan before--the company that exports Fair Trade and organic olive oil from the ancient land of Palestine. The new facility looks great--the showroom is fantastic.

Mahmoud is there. Mohamed is there. Ahmed is there, with his little baby boy. Nasser is there, of course, but is too busy with all the foreign tourists that has come to get a tour of the olive presses. A bunch of farmers and farmers' wives I recognize from last summer when I interned there are there.

And Abir is there. With two of her sisters.

She kisses me, says welcome back and goes, "Remember her name?" in Arabic and points at one of her sisters.

I realize I don't actually remember her name, and ashamedly admit that I don't.

And that's when I get slapped. Or smacked, actually. Before I can even comprehend what Abir is doing, she smacks me right in the face for having forgotten her sister's name. Not a cute friendly slap, but a real, hard smack right in the face.

True to my spineless nature, I don't do anything but hide my shock and act as if everything is very normal. Abir and I keep talking. She finds out I've been in Palestine for three weeks, and goes:

"You've been back for three weeks and you didn't come to Faqo'a?!" and smacks me in the face again.

I say I'm sorry.

Is this what they call tough love?

Foreigners, mostly women in odd hippie clothes, sit under olive trees and around fires and drink sweet tea that farmers made for them.

Under one tree, a few men are conducting their afternoon prayers. Another man talks on his cell phone.

It's nice to see people again, but I feel a little disconnected. Not sure if it's me, or if it's because I live in Ramallah now, and I brought my boyfriend and I won't stay the night and I don't accept invitations to come to Faqo'a after the harvest event, and they all think I changed or got stuck up or something. Not sure.

Tarek isn't very excited about being in Jenin at all, being the city boy he is, and wants to leave before it gets dark. After all, we have more than two hours to drive. Way more than two hours, because on the way south again, we get stuck in checkpoint traffic at every single checkpoint.

Palestine is beautiful, but sometimes it requires quite a lot of patience to experience it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Living Under Occupation

On the road from Ramallah to Khalil (Hebron), I sit sleepily and watch the world go by outside the taxi window. It's a cloudy, chilly day and the colors are dull. It is easy to forget that you live in a land that is under occupation when you stay in Ramallah for a week or longer, but the checkpoints and the separation wall cutting through the landscape bring you back to the political reality of the situation.

I sit and think.

A friend of mine from the states and his mom were held at Tel Aviv airport for eight hours the other day. They threatened him with a gun. Because he has previously been in the north of the West Bank? Yes. Eventually they let them enter Israel, but they kept their luggage for three days.

I look out the taxi window and see the Wall, gray and concrete-y, tower up against the sky.

In Jerusalem, Palestinian families keep getting forced out of their homes by Jewish settlers. About 30 settlers entered the home of the Al-Kurd family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, threw out their furniture on the street below, and now refuse to leave. Meanwhile, Israeli police is blocking members of the Al-Kurd family from entering their own home.

We get to one of the checkpoints along the way. We pass through without having to show our identity cards or passports, round the bend in the road and come out on the other side of the mountain top. The road is packed--completely jammed with cars going in the opposite direction.

For something like two or maybe three kilometers, there are cars and cars and cars. It's eight o'clock in the morning, people are going to work, to school, and Israel is blocking the checkpoint. We get stuck in the traffic jam as well, even though we are going in the opposite direction.

I sit at my boyfriend's house one evening, and we see a light down in the valley. He says:

"See that light? That's an Israeli jeep."

"How do you know?" I say.

He goes, "Because it's a settler-only road." Palestinians aren't allowed to use it.

We drive on through the West Bank landscape, down towards Al-Khalil. I keep looking out the taxi window, and in the distance, lower down in a valley, there's the concrete wall. I look at it. And think:

It doesn't look much from above. It really doesn't look much from above in a landscape that's seen thousands of years of human history. A temporary human construction in some kind of a vain attempt to control a land that is only yours because you took it by force. But nothing ever lasts, and neither shall this concrete wall.

But of course, for now it confines Palestinians behind it; restricts them; controls their lives.

A friend of mine has been homeless since the beginning of the year because they finished the construction of the Wall in his village, and his house is now on the Jerusalem side. His wife and children have Jerusalem identity cards and can stay in the house, but since my friend is a West Bank resident he had to leave his house. He gets to visit his wife and children five times per every three months, but he must return to the West Bank before 7 pm every day he goes to see them. In other words, he can't even sleep in his own house.

And why doesn't his wife and children come and stay in Ramallah with him? Because they stand to lose their Jerusalem identity cards if they do.

I keep looking out the taxi window. Pass road signs with the Arabic village names sprayed over by Jewish settlers who aim to eradicate every last claim Palestinians have to their own homeland.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Israel's Apartheid Wall

Outside Beit Jala

Arms are for hugging

In Bethlehem

I want my ball back, thanks

Palestina Libre

Mr Netanyahu, tear down this wall

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At Zamn Café

So I'm sitting at this café close to where I live, and two guys walk in to order coffee to go. Being slightly naive, or maybe very unobservant, I see nothing special with them until my friend Tarek goes:

"They're from the American Embassy."

I go: "Okay." Yes, I could tell they were foreigners.

He goes: "You see they're wearing bullet proof vests?"

I look in their direction and go: "What?! Are you kidding me?!"

But he's not. They are actually wearing bullet proof vests under their shirts. In a coffee shop in Ramallah.

Tarek goes: "As if this was Afghanistan."

I get my camera and pretend to take a picture of Tarek, and here they are:

Seriously. I'm the first person to say that people don't understand what it's actually like to live under Israeli occupation--I'm the first person to tell people about the checkpoints, the random interrogations, the midnight arrests, the detentions, the house demolitions, the beatings, the confinement, the restrictions, the Jewish-settler-only roads, the massacres. But it's not war here. Bullets don't fly through the air on a normal day in Ramallah.

Look: I walk around with my normal clothes, I sit at cafés, I hang out with friends, I go for a run in the olive tree field, I take walks through Ramallah, I take pictures of Stars & Bucks (haha) and I'm completely cool. The only reason you'd ever have to wear a bullet proof vest here is if you're participating in demonstrations against Israeli occupation policies. Because then you risk being shot by the Israeli military with rubber-coated bullets (that might or might not kill you, like regular bullets).

Of course. I don't participate in such demonstrations. And I find it difficult to believe that employees at the US Embassy do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ramallah Days

It is almost seven o'clock in the evening and the call for prayer is echoing in the olive tree valley outside our apartment building. It's dark, but still warm. Maybe 25 degrees Celsius.

Occupation, checkpoints and politics aside, the West Bank is a beautiful place.

We're getting ready to go out. Fabulously funny new friend Tarek is taking us out for dinner--gorgeous Brazilian room mate Ana with a heart of gold, sweetest, silly, polite and loyal friend and room mate Mahran, and I.

But before I go: I saw a director of a Palestinian newspaper who wants me to interview, write and edit for him. I'm still waiting to hear from a news agency in Bethlehem about a job as an English editor there, and I have this American NGO guy in Gaza to discuss a new project with. Nothing very set yet, but I have a feeling things are happening.

Tell you more as things develop. Now I have a dinner date with Ramallah!

Traveling To and Through the Holy Land

[Written on October 13th]

I'm typing these words on the Egged bus heading from Eilat to Tel Aviv. I know, what happened? Jerusalem? R? (I'm writing in code because I'm sitting next to a boy in military attire, and although he said he doesn't speak English, for all I know he could be Mossad or Shin Bet or I don't know...hehe).

Even though I'm still in the middle of this rather confusing and very exhausting trip to R, I can tell you what happened thus far (and also what I still have left to get myself through to finally get to the desired destination of this trip):

It started this morning. At first we were delayed due to snowy weather, which required the wings to be de-iced. This isn't so bad if you know you're off to warmer climes (35 degrees Celsius when I landed in Aqaba!), but it didn't stop there.

Next thing happened when we were taxing out from Arlanda Airport. Suddenly the captain goes "Sorry ladies and gentlemen, we have to turn back because there is something wrong with the radio height measurer" (...or something? Is there such a thing?) "so we have to get some technicians come on board to fix it." Also okay (considering you do not want to fly without a radio height measurer) if you don't have a last bus to Jerusalem to catch in Eilat. But it could have been worse, and we were only around two hours delayed after all (and most importantly, we didn't crash).

But again, it didn't end there. In Aqaba, the passport control took, oh, I don't know, TWO HOURS TO COMPLETE AND WE WERE ONLY 200 PASSENGERS IN AN OTHERWISE EMPTY AIRPORT. Sorry for screaming, but I'm still not over the fact that even Egyptians are quicker.

(Speaking of Egypt, we flew in over Cairo, my beloved Cairo. A part of me still wishes I were moving there).

In any event, the part of this trip that I dreaded the most was actually quite easy. If not breezy. I just walked through the border control between Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel: almost no questions asked. No "What's the purpose of your visit?" No "Are you Jewish?" No " What's the name of your father? Your grandfather?" No "Do you have any connections to Arabs?" No "Do you intend to visit the West Bank?" Like last time coming via Tel Aviv airport.

Only one measly little "Have you been to Israel before?"

But no matter how breezy that crossing was, I still arrived at the bus station ten minutes after five. Ten minutes after! The last bus to Jerusalem was at five. How annoying is that?!

So I sat myself down at the Central Bus Station in Eilat and patiently waited for the seven o'clock bus to Tel Aviv instead. No problem. I'll just text my friend in R and tell him I'll be late. I'll just ask if the Q checkpoint over to R is open sometime after midnight, no problem at all.

But then, of course, I can't text from my Swedish phone to his Palestinian number from Israel. ?!?!?

Luckily I can text my little sister in Sweden (hi Mirja!), and she texted my friend in R, and then forwarded the info, and that's where I am now. On the bus heading to Tel Aviv, with the forwarded info from my friend saying that the checkpoint will be open inshallah, and that I have to ask the taxi driver from Jerusalem to call him when I'm on my way so he can describe the way.

But first, I need to get off in Tel Aviv (which will be hours from now, because apparently this is the local line, going through every little town on the way, stopping every ten minutes or so), find a shared taxi to Jerusalem, then change to an Arab taxi who is willing to take me over to R.

Oh yes!

And if I'm lucky I'll arrive at my new home before dawn.

Reference Guide:

R=Ramallah, my new hometown as well as political center of the West Bank

Q Checkpoint=Qalandia checkpoint between occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank

The Holy Land=the Historical, Biblical, Beautiful Land of Palestine, occupied and colonized by Israel since 1948

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Moving Again

I've said to myself: Self, next time you move, get your own place and stay for longer than a few months. Get your own place in a city in a country where you actually could conceive of settling down. Because frankly, I'm tired of living out of a suitcase, sometimes washing my clothes in the sink, sharing apartments with people who don't see the point in keeping temporary dwellings clean...

And yet, here I am, packing my suitcase again, on my way to a new apartment sharing adventure for... I don't know how long. In the occupied Palestinian territories. Ramallah, Ramallah.

This time, I know even less than I usually do. I don't have a job, I don't know if I'll get job, I don't know if I can manage to get a work permit if I do get a job, I don't know how long my money will last, I don't know... pretty much anything. But I do know that it's been more than three months since I finished my Masters degree and I can't sit around and wait for a job. Not when nine out of ten jobs I apply for don't even get back to me to let me know the position has been filled. No, if you want to get somewhere in this world, you have to go there yourself.

So this is what I'm doing now: I'm going where the action is, and I don't know if I'll ever be back. Haha! Except for Christmas vacations and such... but frankly, it's better if you guys come and visit me. After all, I'll be in the Holy Land. (I just applied for a job in Bethlehem--how cool is THAT?!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Time for a New Start

This blog post has been growing at the back of my mind over the past few days, perhaps even weeks. But I've kept putting it off, partly because I haven't been up for the challenge, partly because I've been afraid it is going to sound dangerously close to one of those spiritual self-help guides that I'm not sure actually help.

So, first, let me say this: I've tried the law-of-attraction approach. You know, what you think, you create. Because it sounds so perfectly symmetrical and logical and beautiful: if everything consists of energy (which it does, on a purely physical level) even the slightest thought will set this energy in motion (this makes sense), and somehow shape the energy surrounding you into reality as you know it (it doesn't sound completely crazy, does it?). So the question is: do you want to shape your reality with positive thoughts, or negative thoughts? Do you want to put out positive energy, or add to the negative energy?

This, stretched out a little, is what has given rise to the notion that you can become the conscious master of your own physical experience by sort of manipulating the Universe into giving you what you want. And I mean this literally, physically, materially--not just "Look on the bright side, and things will seem easier."

I think different self-help books will tell you different ways to create your physical experience (and I don't think anybody actually uses the term "manipulating the Universe" by the way): either by simply blocking out negative thoughts, or by pretending you already have what you want, or by really, really concentrating on what you want to the extent where you are convinced that it is already yours, and it will come to you asap.

I read one particular series of books on this topic (this was years ago), and I came to a point where I truly and honestly believed 100 per cent that if I just really believed that I could actually achieve exactly what I wanted if I just set my mind to it, I would.

But then my life sort of crashed and instead of going, "Okay, so I wasn't convinced enough, let's try again with new, positive thoughts!" I went: this is crap.

After some time, things I had never even dreamed of in my wildest imagination happened in my life that brought me places, people and experiences that I wanted a thousand times more than the things I had thought I wanted a while back.

My conclusion was this: nuts to spiritual self-help rules! Regardless of how much you try to control your life, life will happen the way it happens--you will have to take the bad with the good, and in the end (if it hasn't left you completely broken, I suppose), you will look back and see that the series of events, places and people that you call your life is actually a perfect blend of just the right things and that nothing else would have taken you to where you are now, and who do you think you are to even imagine that you can outshine life as a designer of this intricate, complex web?!

I gave books a rest, realized my mind is limited, and started feeling content that there are other forces at work that seem to know better than me where to take me in life.

However. And this is where I'm at now. The blog post that's been taking shape at the back of my mind as a sort of resolution, or commitment, to take responsibility again.

Because seriously. Even though I've never gone quite as far as to suggest that "fate" or something like it is what controls our lives, I have been a little too lax with my mind lately. Let it think any old negative, destructive thought it wants.

"Alas! What good is a plan, when nothing ever works out the way I want it to anyway?"

But no more of this.

Because who am I kidding? Linear thoughts-create-reality theories aside, I do create my life (sort of) consciously by making the myriad of choices that I do all the time (and subconsciously because I can't possibly control where the combination of all my choices and the choices of everybody else will take me over time). Obviously, I can't control the outcome of my choices the way I might think I want to, but I can control the way I make my choices. The state of mind I'm in when I make them.

So today is the day when I finally step up to the challenge once more, and take my life into my own hands (resolutions have to sound a little ceremonious), and vow (pause for effect) to change the way I approach life.

Therefore, I, Ruby, decide to clean up my thoughts starting with:

Minimizing the risk for disappointment, because disappointment breeds negative thoughts that eat away at my confidence in my power over my own situation,

By reducing expectations for the future, that run the risk of creating disappointment if they are not met,

With this in mind, I urge myself to take the following steps:

a) Decrease amount of daydreams
b) Replace expectations with an open mind
c) Concentrate more on what is now than what might come

And call upon myself to take all possible steps to assist in the implementation of this resolution.

This, of course, is essentially the same thing as saying "Live in the Now." Which I could have just said from the start. But then I would have sounded like I picked out any old truism from any old spiritual self-help guide that don't really help, and the point is I really mean this. I will, for the first time ever in my life, really try to live more right now than put it off to "when things are the way I want them to be."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fit for a Novel

Something happened today that felt like it could be a tiny--but nevertheless indispensable--detail of something bigger that will not fully reveal its importance until all the other little pieces it will be made up of are in place.

You know, some little quirk that will make lines cross and stick together that wouldn't have crossed or stuck together if it weren't for this quirk. They're always in novels--I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

"If I hadn't been late that day, I wouldn't have met so-and-so in the subway, and if I hadn't met so-and-so in the subway, I would never have been invited to that party, and if I hadn't been invited to that party, I would never have..." and on and on into infinity.

In fact, I would like to start writing a novel myself just because of this. This quirk of today, I mean. Make up a grand story to go with it.

(Well, only until I know whether it actually was that indispensable little twist of fate that changed everything, or whether it was just any old event that won't lead anywhere at all. And who knows? Maybe truth will prove to be stranger than fiction).

But seeing as how I'm really too lazy to start writing a novel at the moment, and don't really feel like I have a profound message I would like to share with the world (which is the only real reason you should ever write a novel), I decided to just put it in my blog:

Last Friday I posted some pictures to a person I probably shouldn't have posted some pictures to, but nonetheless I did just that, all the while telling myself that I didn't do it because I expected an answer or anything from him. I just wanted him to have the pictures we took. As a last... I'm not sure what.

I would have e-mailed them to him, but we sort of don't talk. Even electronically.

In any event, I wrote a few lines and ended the letter with these words:

"PS If you deleted my phone number, it's--" such-and-such.

And then I carefully printed the address on the envelope. A typically unspecific Egyptian address without zip codes or building numbers, but carefully printed all the same.

Writing this blog now, I realize that the events leading up to what happened today are actually just as important and indispensable as the quirk itself. Without them, the quirk would have been meaningless, or rather, wouldn't have existed at all as the quirk I now know it (or term it). Which sort of tells me that all that happens in life can actually be endowed with life-changing importance, once sufficient time has passed and we can order the events into a nice chain of cause-and-effect in our minds and make the pieces fit together. Because that's the way we make sense of the world, isn't it?

"If it weren't for the fact that I postscripted my phone number at the bottom of that letter..."

Anyway, I've waited for a week. Feeling less and less convinced that I had managed to convince myself that I didn't expect or desire a reply; and instead more and more impatient to hear the promising buzzing sound from my phone and the ensuing first bars of one of Amr Diab's latest hits.

But my phone has, of course, been defiantly still and quiet.

Until today sometime at noon when I was out in the backyard making the best of the last of the summer rays. The phone vibrated but Amr Diab didn't really have a chance to get started before I snatched up the phone and opened the message.

"Hello. My name is--" so-and-so "I have received by mistake your letter to--" so-and-so "with some photos. I want to deliver it to the correct person. Please send me his mobile number. Sorry again as I opened it. As it was sent to my address and same family name."

I felt curiously shaky as if the blood had drained from my head. Or from most of my veins, really. Or more like the blood was still there, but didn't do what it was supposed to do.

It wasn't because the photos were of us in swimsuits, or because there might have been one or two in which we might have been kissing behind a tree or anything. It was because now there's absolutely no way my brain can construct excuses somewhere along the line "But what if the letter was delivered to the wrong address and he never got the package, and that's why he's not texting or calling?" if he doesn't contact me in some way.

But that's already my brain organizing things trying to make sense out of something with the privilege of hindsight. Because at noon, I wasn't thinking this at all. It was more like, "Oh my God, a message pertaining to the person I've been dying to hear from for over a month now; it's not from him, but it's from somebody with the same last name that will call him and deliver my package so there's absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the package actually will reach its intended destination. And when it reaches him, he will contact me somehow, won't he? He has to, doesn't he?" And my brain started making up all sorts of likely scenarios of what might happen now, and why, and the reasons behind this other person receiving my package in lieu of this first person.

But then my phone has been disconcertingly quiet. Which is why it is tempting to reconstruct my noontime thoughts on the matter and instill some kind of continuity into the random collection of thoughts and events, as if there were a clear pattern all along, only I couldn't see it until all the pieces were there.

"The quirk was the turning-point at which I knew--finally--that I had to let go of hope that this person will ever care about me again. And the mystery man with the same last name as the intended recipient of my letter and photographs was the indispensable link that made it clear to me once and for all: if it hadn't been for his text message, I would still have wondered if the silence of my phone wasn't really a result of the fact of an undelivered package. And my last-minute idea of including my phone number in the letter, the instrument with which he could make it clear to me. See how everything fits together?"

But it doesn't. It is only our ordering of things that makes them fit together. As a matter of fact, I have a growing sensation that nothing really makes any sense at all until we decide it does.

And there you go. A profound message after all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ruby's Guide to Cairo

Going to Cairo sometime soon? (You totally should).

In a (somewhat vain) attempt to try to forget that I'm back in Sweden, I thought I'd write up this alternative travel guide to Cairo for people who are looking to get more out of the city than the guide books offer. And who am I? I hear you asking.

Well, I used to live there, I've worked as a tour leader there, and I keep going back every year or so (this year, I've been twice already). Because, as they say, once you drink from the Nile, you always come back.

(And if you drink the tap water, you drink from the Nile. So you know, in case you're not planning to start traveling to and from Egypt for the rest of your life).

First, let's very quickly handle the top-of-the-list must-dos: Giza Pyramids, Egyptian Museum, Khan el-Khalili bazaar, Salah el-Din's Citadel, and Coptic Cairo. Do these things in maximum two days. Consult any guide book, I won't waste blog space on telling you what so many others have already said so well. You have to see these places for the sake of having seen them, but once you have seen them, trust me, Cairo has so much more to offer.

(Feel like you don't really want to keep your nose in a guide book before visiting these places, or even heading off to the less-visited Saqqara, Memphis, or the Western Desert? Call my old colleague, closest friend, and probably Cairo's best guide Ashraf Mansour--he will show you around, fill your head with historical facts and funny anecdotes, and take care of you like no one else. Ask me for his details. I'm serious).

Once you're done with this, then welcome to my Cairo. I'd love to show you around, but seeing as how I'm not there at the moment, these travel tips will have to do.

First on my list is always:


Stay away from hotels and tourist places. Not only because the menues are usually boringly "international," but also because you're more likely to end up getting stomach problems. Egypt is known for upsetting Western stomachs, and there is no better place for this than where the food sits for hours in fancy buffets. Honestly. The best places to go are those that the locals frequent, and I daresay that if everybody did this, Egypt would be more famous for its delicious food than what happens to sensitive tourist stomachs. Here are some places I never miss out on:

Koshary Hilton
A small koshary place on Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo. Koshary is (quite perplexingly) the best food ever. Perplexingly so because it seems very simple and plain and decidedly un-special, but I assure you it is amazing. It's rice, pasta, noodles, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions, tomato sauce and this lemon-garlic dressing thing (and a very spicy pepper sauce, if you dare) all mixed up on one plate, and it is to die for. I swear. Go to KFC at Tahrir Square, and when you stand facing KFC, go a few meters to the left, and you will find Koshary Hilton there (it has nothing to do with the Hilton hotel chain, by the way). It's a small, two-story restaurant. Go upstairs and wait to be served. Ask for "Basal ziyada," or extra onions. It's nothing fancy, super cheap, but so delicious.

Gad in Mohandeseen
An Egyptian fast food chain, Gad serves the best foul in Cairo. Foul is a dish most Egyptians eat with bread for breakfast, or sometimes at night. It's basically mashed fava beans with oil and spices. Also nothing fancy, but really, really nice. I always order foul bel-homos, and there is no place that makes it better than Gad in Mohandeseen. Gad is on the main street, Gameat el-Dowal el-Arabeya, right where Shehab street starts. Also go up on the second floor and wait to be served.

Abu El-Sid
If you're looking for a nicer, more classy restaurant, then go to Abu El-Sid in Zamalek. It's on 26th of July Street, almost at the end towards downtown Cairo (not towards Mohandeseen), and it's really, really, really nice. I never knew about it before, but my friend Hani took me there this time and I loved it. The place looks absolutely gorgeous, decorated in an old-timey Egyptian-Arabic style with low tray tables, lanterns, and cushions. They serve traditional Egyptian food that's really good. If you're going after 8 pm, you might want to call ahead and make reservations. It's a popular place.


Once you've done your obligatory tourist shopping of miniature pyramids and camels, t-shirts with Tut-Ankh-Amon prints and all that stuff, let me suggest some really nice places that I always go to.

Fair Trade Egypt
Not sure whether it feels entirely right to have all the things you buy marked "Made in China" on your trip to Egypt? Go to Fair Trade Egypt in Zamalek. Not only is everything made in Egypt, guaranteed, but it's all also produced according to Fair Trade standards, which essentially means that the people making the things you buy actually get a fair price for their products. Fair Trade Egypt works to empower struggling artisans (making beautiful traditional baskets, jewelry, pottery, soap, bags and tons more) that can't normally compete with industrialized mass production. Go there. It's not even expensive. It's in Zamalek off 26th of July Street, check out their website for directions.

The Loft
Also situated in Zamalek, actually on the same street as Fair Trade Egypt, is The Loft. It's a showroom/shop/gallery/apartment on the second floor, beautifully decorated and full of really nice old furniture, lamps and things. Normally, I guess, people only visiting Cairo for a week or two don't really go shopping for furniture, but I don't care--you have to go to this place anyway. I'm not kidding. Everytime I go there, I want to move in. And everytime I go, I make mental notes of coming back to do some serious shopping as soon as I know where to settle down in this world (because I don't want to bring it all back to Sweden, only to ship it off to the next country I'll move to). Imagine Egypt in its colonial past, with all its Arabic influences, with beautiful lamps, tray tables and divans. Gorgeous. If I had the money, I'd buy the whole apartment and move in.

City Stars
For some clean, dustfree, airconditioned shopping in the biggest mall of the Middle East, go to City Stars in Nasr City. It's new, huge, modern, popular, a little more expensive, up, and very nice if you need a break from the heat, the noise, the crowded streets, the honking cars, the dust, the pollution, and the black and white taxis on the verge of falling apart of the Cairo outside.


After you get tired of hanging out in cafés smoking shisha and drinking fresh mango juice (which you simply have to do), then there are some other things you must do when you're in Cairo.

Feluka Ride on the Nile
This is a little touristic, I know, but I don't care. There is nothing, nothing, nothing in this world that beats renting a small sailboat and floating around on the black, shiny surface of the Nile at night. Nothing. Go downtown, and walk down the Kornish by the Nile until you come to Semiramis Intercontinental--it's south of Qasr el-Nil Bridge (the one with the lions), really close to Tahrir Square. There are numerous other places that rent boats, but you don't want the ones with motors (well, if you're Egyptian, you normally do, but if you're after the romantic, calming, de-stressing experience that I love so much, you do not want the ones with motors), so go to the place that rents boats outside Semiramis. Go for an hour. It'll just be you, whoever you wish to bring along, and the feluka guy steering the boat. Sit back, breathe in the sweet smells of the Nile at night, dip your hand into the water and watch as the bustling, noisy, polluted city slowly, slowly shifts as you float around in the middle of the river. Absolutely beautiful.

Horseback Riding at the Pyramids
There's a place outside the pyramids area that has stables and stables with horses and camels, and it's not actually only tourists that come there. Egyptians go too, usually at night, and ride in the desert. We went in the morning, and I decided I wanted a camel instead of a horse, because it somehow feels more right to ride a camel in the desert. They are slower, but therefore also calmer, and anyway, I love their outlook on life. Or the way I imagine their outlook on life, which is basically, "Screw everybody, I'm obviously the coolest creature on the face of this earth, which is what makes me look so content and stuck-up. And if you don't like it--screw you. But I'll carry you across the desert if you want."

Mohamed Ali Club
On the Giza side of the Nile (that is, the western shore), somewhere south of the Pyramids Area, there is a gate in the wall that runs along the street for miles and miles, blocking out the view of the Nile. It doesn't look like anything at all from outside, and there's not even a sign anywhere guiding you right, but if you know where you're going, and if you've got 80 Egyptian pounds in your pocket and a swimsuit under your clothes, it's the best place to beat the summer heat without actually going outside of Cairo. It's one of many clubs (for the more well to do) in Cairo (which, I imagine, is a remnant from when the British were in Egypt); this one is smaller than for instance the Gezira Club and doesn't have any sport facilities or anything. Just a swimming pool, a restaurant, a shisha place, and a green area with cows (!) where you can take walks and enjoy the view. Normally, Cairo isn't the place where you go to get a tan. It's a huge city, and at that, a predominantly Muslim city, so you won't exactly find people walk around in thong bikinis on the street. But there are places where you can go and enjoy the sun and cool off in a swimming pool, and the Mohamed Ali Club is one of them. Apparently, the place is an old summer residence of the Egyptian king, Mohamed Ali. Very pretty.

PS If you need more travel tips, don't hesitate to ask, okay? :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

So you know:

Things that seem too good to be true often are.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Zionist Propaganda against... Fair Trade?

Excuse you me, but I have to share this hilarious attempt to somehow make it seem wrong to care about the people who produce your food by making sure that they get fair prices for their products so that they can send their kids to school and put food on the table.

That it's somehow wrong to want to make sure that worker's won't get sprayed with dangerous chemicals in the fields, and won't be fired if they decide to join or start a worker's union.

That it's wrong to want to be sure that it's not a seven year old kid, locked up in some small factory 16 hours a day that's sowing your shirts, but that children get to go to schools, and their parents get decent salaries and support for different development projects in their villages.

Because according to Debbie Schlussel and her blog post this is not only communist, but also supportive of terrorism. At least if you decide to support small scale farmers in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Salfit on the West Bank by buying Canaan Fair Trade olive oil at Whole Foods. (Canaan olive oil is marketed under the brand of Alter Eco at Whole Foods, by the way, so you know what to look for in the stores).

That something completely unconnected to Jews in Israel, or suicide bombings years back, or Hamas militant wings could come out of Palestine is of course unthinkable. That well over a thousand Palestinian farmers could join together in order take their lives in their own hands and export their top quality olive oil to markets in the US and Europe and thus make an independent living in spite of Israel's occupation and the isolation imposed on them, is... well, so unheard of that it must be some sneaky attempt to lure innocent buyers in America into supporting terrorism and somehow... I don't know, make Palestine seem like a country (oh, the horror!).

What Debbie probably doesn't know (or at least doesn't care to mention) is that one of the companies she urges people to boycott--the famous Dr Bronner's Magic Soap--is not only owned and run by Jewish Americans (not that this really matters to anybody who has realized it's not about religion or ethnicity, but about people's values and how they act), but that they might source 90 % of the olive oil they use from Palestinian Canaan Fair Trade (for the simple reason that they are the biggest producers of Fair Trade labeled olive oil); and that they also source olive oil from a producer in... Israel. And what's more, Dr Bronner's also has the olive oil they use for their magic soap refined at a company in... Israel. So what Debbie is essentially doing, is asking people to boycott a company that might look beyond people's origin and use top quality olive oil from Palestine in their products, but that is also closely connected to Israeli companies.

But I'm sure, any Israeli company that could stoop so low as to work with a company that sources such large quantities of their olive oil from a Palestinian company must be in cahoots with the terrorists, too.

I guess.

In any event, I do appreciate that Debbie tries to encourage people to go out and buy Israeli olive oil instead of Canaan Fair Trade olive oil from Palestine, and then mentions a company that's based in... the Golan Hights. Now, the last time I checked, the Golan Hights are in Syria, albeit occupied by Israel.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Romantic Cairo Nights

Behind the trees that line the sidewalk around Cairo Zoo, away from the street lights and the cars, guys and girls lean against the zoo wall in the evenings and speak with soft voices and look into each other's eyes.

Along Kornish el Nil, the walk that runs along the Nile in downtown Cairo, couples walk slowly and stop for tea or chickpeas or roasted sweet potatoes.

On the bridges, they sit on plastic chairs or stand leaning against the rail, close, close together. As close as they can possibly get without breaking the law. You can't kiss on the streets. You can't embrace. But you can hold hands, stand so close so that your bodies touch. You can whisper things in each other's ears, and you can look dreamily into each other's eyes.

I'm one half of such a couple. We walk from el Gezira to Wust el Balad. Down Kornish el Nil. Stand on one of the bridges. Which one is it? It doesn't really matter. A boy walks up to us and offers pink, red and white carnations threaded on white string. Special price for married couples, he says and winks at us. My Cairo date takes it as a sign, gives the boy two pounds and hangs the carnations around my neck.

They smell sweet and fresh.

We go down from the bridge, zigzag our way between the cars and cross the street, walk passed an old lady hectoring people helping her into a taxi, go down to a feluka place and rent one of those small boats with a huge triangular shaped sail. He holds my hand.

I don't know. Cairo is innocent, romantic, crazy, loud, crowded, sweet and safe.

The feluka guy tells my date he can't put his arm around me. We sit with proper distance in between us, feeling cold in the chilly night air. Five minutes later the feluka guy offers hasheesh.

We float slowly, slowly on the black surface of the river Nile. Other felukas with engines speed past us. There's loud music from the shore. Honking cars. Winking lights and dusty Cairo air. Somehow the Nile eats up all the stress, all the noise, and leaves you with a feeling of perfect peace and calm.

I meet him first at Cilantro in Mohandeseen, by the way. He orders a cappuccino that comes out like this. Another sign, I'm sure.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sharm el Sheikh

Sharm el Sheikh is all about late nights, shisha and fresh guava juice.

Shopping, Quran recitation, Amr Diab's new songs, and gardeners that listen to Sherine on their mobile phones while they work.

Lazy days by the sea, public beaches, private beaches, men that sneak pictures of you in your bikini.
Gorgeous mountains, unnatturally green irrigated lawns, lush flowers and palm trees.

Misspelled signs.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cairo Cairo Cairo

The streets are jammed with cars. Some shiny and new; lots old, almost falling apart. Black and white taxis with drivers that call you "ya bett" and donkey pulled carts driven by old men that call out for old fridges and washing machines. Or for junk in general.

"Rubibeckia, beckia!"

Skinny guys on bicycles balancing huge trays of fresh bread. Boys on motorcycles playing Arabic pop songs. KFC, Pizza King, Cook Door delivery bikes.

I've been staying in Faysal, which is in Haram, the area where the Pyramids are. This is an area in which I feel enough at home to be comfortable, but not enough to feel at home, if that makes sense. I mean, it's close enough to my cultural background so that I can easily adjust as long as I get to be the foreign girl who can get away with coming home a little later and wearing a little less clothes than the others. But not close enough for me to feel at home.

I'm different. I walk down the little street that leads out to the main road, pulling my bag along, trying to avoid the biggest bumps and sandiest parts. It's 24 degrees Celsius, perhaps, and I'm wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, a light cardigan and a scarf around my neck that is partly just an accessory and partly something to cover up so that my white bra doesn't shine through my t-shirt. People look at me. I walk past a group of veiled women on their way home from shopping. Nobody really says anything. I feel too white, too scantily dressed, and too dolled up. All eyes are on me. I concentrate on avoiding the puddles of car wash water and walk out to the nearest taxi on Faysal Street.

"Mohandeseen?" I ask the taxi driver. The area where I feel enough at home to feel at home, but enough away from home to feel that I fit in. Which also doesn't make sense, perhaps. But this is the thing... when you never really fit in in the culture you grow up in, then you have to look for the place that is different enough so that it feels more at home than home... which is a little confusing, and also the reason why I haven't really figured out exactly where I belong. Mohandeseen comes close, but I have a feeling there might be other places that are even more at home for me, it's just that I haven't found them yet.

Or at least, that's what I hope.

In any event, the taxi driver nods and gets out of his car to open the trunk. I make a motion to lift up my bag into the trunk of his car.

"Seebha ya bett," he goes, and takes the bag from my hand and puts it in the trunk. "Let go of the bag, girl." Naturally, I'm not supposed to lift it. I already dragged it all the way out to the road, which is odd for anybody in a country where there's always help to get for everything, and especially odd for a girl. Because girls are basically spoiled rotten when it comes to certain things in this country. If I wanted to, I could take advantage of it and live like a princess.

I don't.

I sit in the back of the taxi, and look out on the other cars, the people, read the signs above the shops. I read fast enough these days and I can make out most names going past them. I remember when these were just squiggly lines and little dots to me. I hold my hair so that it doesn't blow into my face as we drive with all windows down.

"Feen fe el Mohandeseen?" the taxi driver goes. "Where in Mohandeseen."

I answer in Arabic and think to myself that I clearly fit in enough, even here in Faysal, so that the taxi driver takes for granted that I speak Arabic. I could be from Mohandeseen, where girls dress more like me.

Mohandeseen. I used to live here. Now I'm just staying at a friend's house, sitting in his studio, waiting for the hours to pass until our bus leaves for Sharm el Sheikh. He will come with me for a short vacation, some sun and some time away from his music.

Moustaphaaaaaaa. He's sleeping on the studio floor.