As many of you already know, I just came back from a whirlwind trip to Egypt where I had the time of my life and really connected the dots as a belly dancer between my research and questions I had. Here are the 10 most moving experiences I had and what I learned:
- The media over exaggerated about Cairo- I felt quite safe, and at home. In fact I felt like I was in Colombia (no respect for road laws, people were very warm, same third world issues, music plays all the time).
- CD’S Just Don’t Cut It Anymore- after an entire week and viewing a belly dance show every night (sometimes two a night) with a live band per each dancer, cd’s are just so underwhelming. Dancer’s are very spoiled in that respect, to hear the mizmars’ sound piercing through the room, the vibration of 8 drummers shaking your body, and the sweet singing of various respected singers, nothing can come close to how ALIVE the music makes you feel.
- Non-stop Music- I had heard Egyptian taxi’s and transport loved Oum Kalthsoum, but to hear it every time you step out of the hotel and the shaabi blasting from toc-toc’s and boats as well was hypnotizing. I never stopped dancing, it is so infectious!
- The Cabaret Showed The Dark Truth- Like many of you, we know that belly dancers are looked down upon in Egypt for the most part as they can be a little of a moral dilemma, and throughout history have been linked to prostitution and etc… Nowhere did this become more real than in the cheap cabarets where the gum chewing, 3-move wonder was being showered with money all night, and left little to the imagination in her thin costume.
- Egyptians Do Not Sleep- for half of my stay I found myself being out at shows all night, and seeing the sun when we stepped out of the venue! The music is so infectious and the shows so wonderful (and they start so late), that going to sleep doesn’t happen. Our day would consist of workshops/excursion, food, shows, after-show, repeat.
I had a great time at the cabaret dancing shaabi in my seat, but now I physically was there and could see WHY belly dance is looked down upon in places like this.
- You Do Not Have To Veil Yourself- Upon arriving, I decided to wear a hijab to not attract more attention than I already did as an American tourist, but after a few days I simply walked the streets unveiled. The people of Egypt are quite kind and hilarious, and so long as you use common sense (like with any 3rd world country), you will be fine. While having long loose hair cause some longing stares from the men, in no way did I feel unsafe or as if I was welcoming abuse. The Christian minority wears their hair out all the time, so do not feel compelled to veil in Cairo.
- Haggle, Haggle, Haggle- once you are a tourist, it seems as if everyone thinks you have the word “money” stamped on your forehead and will not be shy to upcharge. Whether for a taxi (only grab the white ones with a meter by the way for a fair price) or shopping at a souk, talk about price first before you pay for anything and get the absolute best deal possible. ON our first day my friend and I caught a taxi the concierge sent us on which cost 150 Egyptian pounds ($18 roughly) for a 45-minute drive. We though this was a steal! Come to find out, the same ride should only be 30 Egyptian pounds ($4.50) maximum!
- Go Out!- If you only take tours you will miss out on the true essence of Egypt, the every day people. Go on the shaabi boats, see a cabaret, eat at the local restaurants, dance with a local woman, and dare yourself to cross the crazy streets and laugh. The hospitality and kindness of the Egyptian people will make getting to your destination so much more enjoyable.
- Romance and Aggression= Love- In this culture finding a wife and having children are heavily pressed. Flower shops decorate every corner and seeing men approach you to chat and try to see if you are single is common. Everyone is looking for love there, so do not be surprised when even the taxi driver asks for your number.
I definitely recommend dancers go to Egypt and get answers to their questions and experience what they are representing back home. Make sure you have a guide or go with a group to really ensure safety and the most fun as you go through each jam packed day. Let me know which tips resonated most with you and leave your comments below.