Monday, May 30, 2005

Enjoying the Amenities

The Culture Wheel

It's often difficult for people living in other countries to imagine the richness of life in Egypt. Not long ago I invited an email friend of mine to visit some time and got the all too common answer that she'd been told that "this was not a good time for Americans to travel in Egypt due to unrest and anti-American feeling." It's so frustrating to hear this refrain over and over again, and I'm compelled to wonder what the purpose of convincing Americans that they are disliked and in danger overseas could be. My background in social psychology suggests a number of reasons, none of which reflect terribly well on the powers that be who are putting out this nonsense about the danger of travel. What can you do?

A group of us received an invitation from some Norwegian friends to attend a musical program at El Sakia el Sawy, a unique venue also known as the Culture Wheel. The name in Arabic refers to the waterwheels of the countryside and to a series of novels by Abdel Moneim el Sawy. This set of libraries and halls is located under the May 15 Bridge that goes from Giza to Zamalek, an odd place for concerts and conferences, but utterly ingenious. It is named for Abdel Moneim el Sawy, an Egyptian writer and journalist who died in 1984 in Baghdad while working there. His son was doing renovations on the bridge when he discovered the unused space under the bridge at the edge of the Nile in Zamalek. He arranged to prepare the area for a group of libraries, a garden, and a hall for films and musical programs, as well as speaking engagements by authors or other individuals. A week before the Norwegian jazz concert, my American housemate had attended a talk by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, at El Sakia. For myself, it was the first time to go there, although friends have been singing its praises for some time now.

The crowd for the jazz concert was small but eclectic. Our Norwegian community (not so many people really) came out and brought Americans, Canadians and Egyptians with them for the evening. The tickets cost LE 20 per person, or about $3.50 US. You can't get into anything for that price in New York. The performers were two Norwegian jazz musicians, a Norwegian folk singer, an Algerian woman that I'd last seen performing with Fathy Salama at the Citadel last summer, and an American bass player, so the crowd on the stage was very much a mirror of the audience. After the performance, most of the audience moved on to a restaurant/bar at the southern tip of the island for mezze and beer under white canvas tents. The music there was just loud enough to interfere with converstation, to my way of thinking, but the mezze was good and the beer was cold, which is always a plus on a summer night. Before we knew it, it was about 1 am, and the Sakkara crowd had to make our way back to the farms for an early start to riding the next day.

My houseguest is heading back to Los Angeles tonight for a month. Her sister is getting married there and she has a long list of friends and business contacts that she has to see in that month. We found ourselves in Garden City yesterday when an appointment was cancelled so I took her to Nagada ( to visit an Egyptian clothing design house. Nagada is the name of an ancient city in Upper Egypt that is now just a village. It has been famous for centuries for its woven cotton and in recent years a group of designers began using these cottons in clothing and furnishings. I've been in love with their clothing for years, especially the cottons which are striking in their unusual weave and delicious in the comfort for our Egyptian summers. I picked up a couple of pairs of cotton trousers and ordered some matching tops. One of the lovely things about Nagada is that if the item you want isn't available in the fabric that you want, they will make it up specially for you at no extra cost. My friend, who is one of these horrible tall slim California blondes with a ridiculously athletic figure that really can show off clothes, found some crinkled silk dresses, tops, and skirts to take back for occasions in California on her trip. She's been looking forward to the inevitable questions about why she's planning to come back to Egypt to work and live with some trepidation, but yesterday was delighted to find some clothing that will impress anyone with its style and beauty. And then when they compare the prices being paid for a similar quality in North America to the prices in Egypt....Ha!

Living in Egypt isn't all water buffalo and dust at all. Even living out where I do, it's only about 45 minutes into Cairo where I can swan into a sushi bar or a fine Italian restaurant in some posh clothes created by local weavers and designers. The Sakia has something scheduled every night if I want to listen to music there, and then there are the clubs and other venues for concerts and performances. There is so little that cannot be found here if you know where to look that I find very little impetus to travel. Take a look at the websites. They are eye-opening.


kenju said...

I always enjoy reading your posts, Maryanne. Thanks for showing us what it is like to live there.

ramses1 said...

thats the website for "el-sawy":

I always login there to see the latest that they have and what's interesting to attend.

Thnx for sharing your experience in egypt.

Mighty MaMa said...

Assalamu Alaikum! Love you site. Can spend hours reading about Misr! I am moving in one year and am interested in gettting my daughter in your riding classes for her, and myself. We ride quarter horses here weekly. Please contact me as I would like to get involved in the horse culture. Wasalam Allahu Barik fik Amy Kansas City Mo

Elita said...

Hello... I do not know many things about Egypt and I am going to move there because I am going to get marry with an Egyptian man. I am Brazilian and I would like to know more about culture... Is there any website that I can see? Is Egypt a safety place for living?

meran said...

Al Salamo Alikum,
I really do appreciate your words and the kind of life you are leading. And for you Elita Egypt is a very safe place to live at, you can easily go out for a late hour and return home by taxi. People everywhere will help you, if you r lost or want to buy anything. Our culture is simple to understand it, all you have to do is to do what you want to do and to love people. If you want to know anything in details just ask.

meran said...

Dear Maryanne,
Let me recommend you a great band and am sure you heared about them before or you might be attend one of their concert, am talking about Wustelbalad band. And for anyone interested and another band called El Dor El Awel, great ppl great music. If anyone interested to listen to their songs e mail me and am gonna send you the link. I wish one day to know you in personal Maryanne.
Have a nice day all.

Anonymous said...

Meran....I've just attended a concert and I listened to El Dor El Awel..I liked them alooooooooooot and I'd love to have their music on my pc..........could u help???

Maryanne said...

Someone has beens sending me emails from a site called and many of them include music. Unfortunately, these days I'm on a dial up and the connection is too slow so this site is of no use to me. I've actually asked this person to stop sending me the emails...don't know if he/she will oblige. But you might want to try that place.

Anonymous said...

I dont like multiply...could u send me the music by any other way??? or does it have 2 be Mulitply?!!!!
thanks in advance :)