Sunday, March 31, 2013

Photo: Car Repair Shop

I liked how the cars are on progressively higher and higher stilts. High enough so that an ATV could fit underneath one.

Done with about 25 minutes of Photoshop-ing. Still getting the hang of editing images. Starting to not be so afraid to burn the heck out of the edges. Upper background still looks a little surrealist though. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013


This is a nice, typical message that people living abroad tend to get:

"Wow, stunning photos "Joe". it looks like you're having a surreal experience. i can't wait to hear about your adventures someday! ♥"

Stunning? okay, maybe. thanks. How flattering of you. or maybe you're just impressed by what's in the photos more so than my photographic skill. meh, either way, thanks. 

Words like "surreal experience" and "adventure" are what get to me. I might just be quibbling over semantics here, and perhaps there's an element of "every person's experience of something depends on their background"... 
But, I guess, what I mean to say, is that for the natives who live in foreign countries of whatever photo in question, the stuff that you see in the photos isn't an "adventure" or "surreal"... it's routine life... ( إلى حد ما ). Sure, for you it might be surreal to see the pyramids, but I guarantee that a majority of the people living with a view of the pyramids would rather be living in bumble-fuck-dingle-berry Arkansas. 

But, I guess, my point regarding "i can't wait to hear about your adventures someday!" is: 

A couple Pyramids, with Cairo's informal urban areas in the background. 

someone just installed a new airconditioner line in their flat...
Grey in a week (like the unit above it).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movie Review: Crop, by Marouan Omara Johanna Domke

Great movie/documentary about the role of images before and during the revolution. Particularly interesting because it almost entirely filmed inside the State-run Al-Ahram newspaper building.

I thought it was particularly interesting that none of the workers in the building (routine work scenes from all floors) ever acknowledged the camera even though it was always in their face. They pretended it wasn't there. Regarding this, Johanna said that all the workers knew very well that if someone received the permission to film inside that building, that they must have been very important and that it was best not to laugh at it. Better to act serious and pretend like they're working.

Try to see it. Here's the trailer.

A Film by: Johanna Domke & Marouan Omara

CROP is an experimental documentary co-directed by Johanna Domke (DE) and Marouan Omara (EG). The film analyzes the role of images in the Egyptian revolution and puts it into historic perspective with the image politics of Egypts leaders. The idea of framing, that originates in a pharaonic architectural feature of representation, conceptualizes the mechanisms of state controlled media and contrasts the use and distribution of images taken by the general public during the riots. Crop questions what becomes part and what stays outside the frame in the shaping of history. The film is shot entirely in the location of Al-Ahram, Egypts biggest state newspaper. It contrasts the executive floors of the building with the employee and workers sector.

The audio track is composed out of interviews with writer and media theorist Maria Golia and photographer Yasser Alwan. While the audio gives an analysis of the historic and social change of the relation to images and the social media revolution the visual side follows the anachronistic process of a newspaper production.

Duration: 45 min
Sound: stereo
Format: HD, 16:9
Language: english

Here are some photos I took of Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke after the screening:

The screen behind them, on which was projected their movie.

The directors in front of the audience, being captured in yet another image(s).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SnapShot: a Lawnmower in the Desert

The first lawnmower I've ever seen in Egypt. I was so surprised/excited that I thought I should take a photo and share it:
Lawnmower: you can't make it out that well, but it's there, on top of the car.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thoughts on Egypt's Long Term Future (from a taxi driver)

(you can skip this first paragraph if you want to go straight to the point, it just provides some context)

So, a few weeks back, I was taking a taxi, talking to the taxi driver who happened to be Catholic. He was from the popular Imbaba neighborhood where there also happens to be a Catholic church. Our conversation turned to the typical "what do you think of Egypt?" topic and, after talking about how everyone is emigrating out of here, he shared some of his rather pessimist thoughts on Egypt's medium-term future. I dismissed at first but have been thinking about them lately, especially after reading this article about restricting aid to Egypt:

Most alarming about this article is: [If Egypt does not abide by the Camp David Accords] then Egypt should not only be deemed unworthy of our billions in foreign assistance; it should give us cause to reconsider [read: you can interpret the word "reconsider" however you want, but for me this is the beginning of the kind of rhetoric which might lead to "less friendly" (understatement) relations (see more below)] the Morsi government’s intentions for the peace and stability of the entire region,” Sen. Paul said. [read: if we go to war with Egypt for the sake of peace and stability in the "region" (Israel) then it'll be Egypt's fault]

Basically, the taxi driver said that, with how the Islamists are taking over, Egypt, in the next 10-25 years, would become the U.S.'s next Iraq/Afghanistan. Obama's tacit approval of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is a malicious testament to this –supporting Egypt now, as it (perhaps seemingly, time will tell) grows in an Islamist state, is just the first step of creating a new enemy for it's ever-war-hungry military industrial complex war machine. Of course, the Catholic taxi driver feared that Egypt's Christians would bear a great deal of the fallout from a war between The West and Egypt. Himself, being about 45 years old, was too old to leave now, but thought that all Egyptian Christians should get out while they still could.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ocean Blue Heliopolis

This is the front and back of a ridiculous poster that someone left at an ahua by my house in Dokki. 
It's for some kind of luxurious living hotel residence. In the heart of New Cairo. 
In this post I just wanted to draw some attention as to how blatantly they are targeting their desired customers:

 Full room service, maids, etc. But don't worry, you won't have to look at their face or acknowledge them as human beings. Just maids. (they conveniently made sure that the maid's face does not appear).

Fine living.

We're trying to attract the kind of young professional women who is obsessed with working out, especially her lower body (note: reflection of ass in mirror). This should make a nice match with our hulky, weight-obsessed male residents.

Think all that working out will actually every be useful? Nope, don't worry, we'll have security guards and 24/7 surveillance to "keep you safe" from all that insecurity and riff raff out there these days.

And yes, a playground for your kids. Because we know you're too busy working out to actually look after them yourself.

Basically, we'll have a lot of water for you. Cascade, pool, palm trees and all. After all, you will be living in "ocean blue"... we wouldn't want you to turn red. 

Right next to the airport too. Lots of nice noisy planes flying overhead. 

I would hate to live, or grow up here. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Photo: Tahrir Street Today, Dokki

Kids playing with huge cardboard boxes on the sidewalk of Tahrir Street. There's a kid inside each of these.

It was hilarious. They were having so much fun :-)

'Aza' (funeral) blocking off Soliman Gohar street at its intersection with Tahrir street. The owner of the juice shop on that same intersection passed away. Soliman Gohar continues behind the photo. This is going to cause big traffic in my neighborhood. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Egyptian Social Lubricant, flowing through your veins

I would like to share a few recent insights I have had about social mores here in Cairo, Egypt.

To a certain extent, one could say that it's very hard to find an Egyptian who is socially awkward. 

As I mentioned in a post about negotiations, talking and dealing with people is crucial to feeling at ease in Egypt. One must know how to "talk the talk" or "حور", get your ideas out, ask people polite questions, be friendly, easy-going, but also confidently hold your ground. This is definitely something I've gotten better at after living here for 2+ years, and definitely one of the things I love the most about Egypt (احسن ناس) :-)

So yes, Egyptians, or, Cairenes at least, are generally very friendly; if you know how to talk, or "deal" with them, they will happily talk (or deal) back (I'll get to more about the subtle difference between talking and dealing in the following paragraph).

Why is this so?

Well, a few theories we can put forth. 
First, a more pragmatic and less romantic one: population density.  Cairo's population density averages at around 42,000 inhabitants/km2 (see link, footnote on p. 272) and supposedly goes up to 100,000 inhabitants/km2 in the oldest neighborhoods. Traffic, overpopulation, informal neighborhoods lacking urban planning –Cairo has some of the highest population densities in the world. Lots of people –all looking out for their own interest– crammed up in a small space, means that everyone has to be polite and friendly in order to get along (I'm reminded of Japan here, with its strong social codes). This theory implies that this "code" of friendliness is just a "social lubricant", easing our daily "dealing" with others. Furthermore, this implies that we are not "polite just for the sake of being polite", but rather, "polite to more easily obtain what you is desired from the person in front of you" (i.e. dealing with them). And, one could argue that being polite in general (even in other countries) is just an extension of one's self-interest (while also slightly looking out for that of others). In contrast, think of the stereotypical underpopulated Wild West, where everyone had to watch their back!

Second theory: Perhaps... just perhaps... Egyptians are just super friendly people by nature and that has nothing to do with self-interest. It's possible, and I like the idea. 

Anyway, my point is, it's very rare to encounter an Egyptian who is socially awkward in a Western sense (I'm sure most foreigners would agree with me although you may not have realized it. Egyptians always have a little phrase or sentence to liven up the atmosphere) and I'd argue that this general levity with personal relationships (outside of daily interactions with strangers, that is, with family, friends, acquaintances, etc.) is a spill over from the daily need to interact with total strangers on a high intensity level due to the high population density.

Moral of the story, the more you live with people, the better you'll get at it! (and your country can have even more babies, until we all go crazy).

Also, I'd like to add something about the depth or superficiality of relationships here. To a certain extent (إلى لحد ما), one might be able to argue that while Westerners don't deal as well with each other in the streets, that the relationships that they do have are more valued and profound. In other words, people in Egypt might have less intimate friends, with whom they aren't necessarily able to talk about everything. But again, this is a very rough generalization. 

Note: do not confuse a lack of social awkwardness with not being polite. Things in Egypt are usually clear and direct. e.g. cutting in line. it's rude, but people do it quite openly and blatantly. It's rude, but not awkward. But then again, for certain types of interactions, being direct would be considered impolite.

Note #2: Foreigners watch out! Any social skills you might be lacking in a Western context could be amplified in Egypt/a foreign context!

Street Dog Sleep Deprivation continued

And so, yes, this street dog (or should I say street bitch)-sleep deprivation continues. I soon figured out that it was not a male, but rather, a female, and that Spring is here, so she's in heat. This, for some reason is causing her to bark like hormone-ridden mid-twenty-year-old boy. Dogs can really bark a long time.
I gave up the idea of throwing rocks (although I had readied a small pile of them on my balcony) and just dealt with it. This meant being woken up almost every night of the week so far. That, coupled with sleeping on the floor (over a yoga mat and a few blankets) –an attempt to improve my posture among other things– made last week a rough week. Headaches abound, especially the kind that when you blink your right eyelid, there's pain in the back right side of your brain/head.
Hopefully it will be over soon.
Egypt prevails. 

Quote: Four Languages

Quote of the day, fresh from AFK life:

انا باكلم اربع لغات"
"و كلهم عربي
"I speak four languages and all of them are Arabic"

–says my coffee shop guy about his rudimentary knowledge of Italian, French, English, and Arabic.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Photo: I am the Government... of coffee and mess

Thought this photo is funny and was worth a share:

It's from a commons area at Cairo University and it basically says "eating and beverages on these tables will be banned if you keep on leaving your garbage around" 

It's signed by "the director" and next to that, someone wrote "I am the government" in Arabic. I'm not quite sure if they meant that the director is the government or if the writer is.

Also notable that there are coffee marks on the paper, a blatant provocation... ahh... youth these days...

I guess the "I am the government" addition is funny, but it also exemplifies the I'm-a-rich-Egyptian-and-there-are-poor-people-around-to-clean-up-after-my-shit syndrome.

"I am the Government" of coffee and mess. 

Soon, I'll probably write another post going into more detail about this syndrome and other things that illustrate some of this country's underlying problems.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photo: Children are our Future Street Ad

It's nice to see this.
It reminds me of what we were thinking about doing at Plan International in 2011 and 2012 but never did.

It's on a very busy street in Giza.

It says "Out Children are our Future"

There's a SOS children's hotline: call 16000.

It's sponsored by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, some Italian organization, and some other organization that I can't make out.

Anyway, it's good to see things like this. They are at least useful in getting people to realize a specific point, rather than those stupid nationalistic, patriotic signs put up by people who are too cowardly to even say who they are. 

Children are our Future

Monday, March 11, 2013

street dog sleep deprivation

I want to save this memory:

Last night, one of the tan-colored neighborhood street dogs started barking his heart out from around 230 to 5am. Non-stop. He just stood there barking, in the middle of the street. Spurts of three consecutive barks every 5-7 seconds. I think something must have happened to his street dog habiba. He was barking out of desperation, like he was trying to find her, or making noise so she would find him. Sad in a way. Yet infuriating when one is trying to sleep at 4am.

Even though I like this dog and sometimes pet and scratch him in front of the King hotel, I had thoughts of going out there and throwing rocks at him and even killing him. Sleep deprivation can make one think such things. I also thought about how no one else from the neighborhood was doing anything about it and figured that as a foreigner I should follow suit. But I also thought that they might take me for the hero of the street if I somehow shut him up and they found out about it.
Found some earplugs, but that didn't do much to help. I watched some episodes of Season2Rome (I secretly wanted to anyway) and by 5am he had stopped. I'm glad I didn't throw rocks at him.

Today, the dog was no where to be found. I hope he and his wifeling are okay. But I also hope he doesn't start that shit again. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

just a thought

I went to Europe twice last year.

Once in July for A & E's wedding party in Devon and to see S in Berlin,
and once to November to see my dad in Ardeche.

I'm thankful for having been able to travel those two times last year.

Just a thought I had as I look out the window on a warm Spring night.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Acting Career 2

A YouTube link with me being released from British captivity to go back to Cairo and divorce Pauline, my wife. Reminds me of how uncomfortable that outfit was as well as how hot it was that 2012 summer day.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SnapShot: Stella Dresses Up

So, in an attempt to appease the haughty salafi moral standards of decency, one of my friends decided he would provide a little more modesty to the usually naked yet quintessential Stella bottle. 

This can be done using the internal lining of a cigarette pack, and can be adapted to the ever-changing styles and fashions of your typical baladi stella bar. This loose-fitting and shiny attire is ideal for activities like belly dancing or feluca-going. 

May you continue to inspire us, oh dearest Stella!

We present: The Stella Dress. Sustainable and cool, authentic and Egyptian.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Photo: Garbage Caterpillar

Ahh, yes, yet another expat ever so fascinated by the effects of a poorly managed waste management system in the developing world...

Might I add, that, as I was taking this photo, a friendly but quite concerned and upset lady exclaimed to me: "Why are you taking photos of GARBAGE!? Why do you have to show the UGLINESS of our country!?"
I quelled her concerns with something along the lines of: "Egypt has beautiful things and ugly things, and it's good to show both. Don't worry, we're going to go to Ibn Tulun mosque after this and take lots of beautiful photos too." She was okay with that. :-)

Here is a pretty much failed attempt of me harnessing the powers of photoshop:

Garbage management in Saida Zeinab, Cairo, Egypt

Here's what the original looked like:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cairene Street Negotiations for a Hair Trimmer

So, I've been thinking about buying one of these trimmers for a while now; I feel like I've been spending too much money on going to the barber. Solution: a 30 LE ($5 USD) trimmer. I saw a street vendor selling some on a sidewalk in Dokki Square, and I was in a good mood, so I thought I'd begin negotiations... 

He starts at 55 LE. 
I look at it, inspect it. "Naw, that's too much, give me a better price!" (without naming a price (important)).
"Okay, 50."
I inspect it some more. Ask a few questions, and ask him to come down more. 
"Okay, 45. But in a store, you would pay 80 for the same thing" (I think to myself: "sure, but in a store, I wouldn't be paying rent, electricity, or any other expenditure... you're working on the sidewalk dude...).
I look at it some more, and tell him: "Okay, I'm going to go sit at a coffee shop and think about it a little bit more, and maybe I'll come back later. But before I go, is 45 your best price?"
"Okay, 40, but that's it."

So, I go hang out at the coffee shop a bit, and ask Amr –my main coffee shop man– what I should pay. I tell him about the negotiations that had gone down thus far. 
He tells me to go back and ask for 25 LE. I was a little surprised by this because that seemed quite low and a friend of mine had paid 55 for a similar trimmer a few weeks before, but he told me to go for it, and that's how Egyptians would negotiate. He also told me the word "حور" (hawar) which means "just talking a lot without worrying about pronunciation or tashkeel and basically just talking to people a lot to develop a good 'current' or 'contact' or 'relationship' with them." that always works (and reminds me of a different post I'll write about later related to the lack of social awkwardness in Egyptian society).

Anyway, I went back to the vendor, and offered him 25. (notice, how I only started naming a price far into the negotiation process). And it worked! I ended up getting it for 30 LE! (I would have been content paying 35). 
Gotta love getting a price down by almost half! Thanks Amr. 
And shout out to China for making such cheap shit (I don't expect it to last more than one year).

Trimmer. Notice the photo of the car