This is part of an email series originally sent to my immediate family and friends. The format has been left largely intact.
This will probably be my last email. I can’t believe its over already!
Today we will hit the market for presents, come back to pack, and then we plan to stay up all night to catch a very famous Egyptian dancer, Dina, who performs at like 3am. We will head to the airport straight from the performance. I’m going to need a vacation after this vacation.
Yesterday we did a multi-hour, multi-location photoshoot with our hostess Yasmina. I’m sure you’ve all been on several bellydance photoshoots and know exactly how it goes? No?
Honestly, they always make me feel like a pretty, pretty princess and I wish that everyone could experience one. Both of Yasmina’s photoshoot assistants have now requested their own, which is a big deal because one is hijabi and the other niquabi (hijab = hair covering, niquab = full face covering) but they both requested a veil-off shoot. One of the locations for the shoot was a small village outside of Cairo where Yasmina gets her organic veggies. We had a crew of small children following us around to check out the crazy foreigners.
Modeling is also very hard (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds) because it requires a TON of tension in your body to get cool lines and shapes, but you have to pretend to be relaxed with your face. Plus, we were in and out of costumes and it all moved at a fast clip. It was a big day.
We were so tired after the shoot we had to skip a Zar show we had planned to see. Zar is a ritual dance and music style that predates Islam. People use Zar to enter a trance state, one that supposedly helps drive away the Djinn (loosely “genies” or bad spirits). I’m sad we missed it.
We did catch another bellydance show at a hotel on the Nile. The fancy hotels here are sprawling affairs with many restaurants each- this one had 10- I am not kidding. I was really enchanted with the dancer, Vanessa, who is super athletic and personable and a skilled finger cymbal player- they are increasingly rare here, and worldwide too.
Then we had to skip yet another planned show- we wanted to see a dancer named Aziza but found out she does not go onstage until 4am…! You just can’t do it all.
Since this is my last email, I wanted to address a few things that were interesting to me or that people had questions about, like…
Security: security is really tight here, especially anywhere that there might be tourists. Every hotel, performance, and historical spot had a barricade with guards that looked in trunks, as well as a metal detector and someone checking bags. Some places were more relaxed about the bag checking than others, especially for Rosa and I, since we probably appear non-threatening. Yes mom, I wrote this part for you.
What I wore: I dressed conservatively everyday, with long sleeves and long pants. I did see some tourists (mostly Asian) that chose to be less modest and everything was fine. I didn’t cover my hair.
Money: $5 is about 100 Egyptian pounds. Though some things cost more (like dinner at the fancy places), most things were very inexpensive. For example, an hour+ long Uber ride was often under 100 pounds. Tipping was expected everywhere. Most notably to me, tipping was expected for the bathroom attendant. And nobody was afraid to remind you to tip. It was sometimes an issue getting bills small enough for appropriate tipping. Because of changes Sisi has made to be in accordance with IMF standards, the cost of living has risen dramatically here since last year. Rosa said some prices have doubled.
Unfinished buildings: Here you buy the shell of an apartment and then fill it in with floors, walls and appliances. This means in a lot of the newer areas there are shells of buildings around. It gives some places a bit of a "ghost town" feel.
Speaking Arabic: I basically got by on this trip knowing the bare minimum of Arabic. My most important word was "shukran" or "thanks." Most advertisements and signs were also in English and many people spoke English. I'd definitely like to learn more Arabic. I know mostly dance-related words. I did learn how to give directions in a car- but I often has no idea where we were going so they were pretty useless.
Thanks for reading my email updates! This has been a fun mini project and they may eventually become blog posts for my website.