Home > Cairo > The Dual Realities of Egypt, Cont’d

The Dual Realities of Egypt, Cont’d

Hey guys, what’s crackalackin?  In my last post I was saying that many of my nightlife experiences over the past week were in stark contrast to another experience I recently had getting dinner in the neighborhood of Imbaba.  I was talking about a desire to see whether or not it might be possible to draw a distinctive line relative to wealth which reflects Egyptians’ major cultural influences.  Here’s a continuation of that thought process, though a bit less academic and more descriptive of my experiences.

Early last week, Mr. Hollywood and I went to an Arabic rap concert with our friend Nada and her friend Susie.  Nada is an Egyptian-American who has lived in both Egypt and America throughout her life, and she’s been great helping us find things to do around town and explaining things to us when we’re confused.  We actually just got back from seeing Inception with her and some friends.  Anyway, the concert last week was her idea, and I’m glad I went.  It was put on by a performance center located along the Nile about a ten minute walk from our place and consisted of a number of different groups.  Given the pace of the music and that most of the lyrics were in Egyptian colloquial, I didn’t understand more than a few words in each song, but I could tell the degree to which American rap had influenced the different performers.  I specify American rappers because all-in-all this was very American rap.  Some of the topics were more serious than we might see at home, touching more on politics and identity issues than we would expect, but alot of the same general themes persisted, both in the music and in the way the performers carried themselves.  There was definitely a  “tough guy” image being put on, and the XXL basketball jerseys, chains and bandannas that stereotype rap at home were everywhere.

All-in-all, what I really took from it, aside from appreciating it as a new musical outlet for young people in Cairo, was a certain realization that for these performers and fans to be able to spend so much time and money in this pursuit, and to want to do so, they had to be pretty well off.  Following my thought process in my last post, while I might not be able to express it as well as I would like, in a city of 20 million, where literally millions of people are unemployed, the mere fact that these performers (mostly in their late teens or early twenties and thus still living with their parents as is the norm here) had the time and resources to try to make a career out of rapping indicates that they are very well off relative to many of their peers.  When compared to their peers in the poor neighborhood of Imbaba, where in my brief visit I saw much less Western influence in action, dress and mannerisms, the difference is striking.  This “Western” influence amongst the well-off which I’ve been talking about is one of the things I find really interesting here, as I mentioned the other day, and the social divide makes it more curious.

Imbaba was cool though, to put it simply.  I really liked the atmosphere and felt much more like I was actually in Egypt than I have anywhere else I’ve been here in Cairo.  It can be pretty easy for foreigners to self-segregate over here, and Zamalek is a popular place for those who like to do that.  That’s not really on my itinerary though, so I really enjoyed getting to see a more traditionally Egyptian part of town and have been thinking alot about ways to spend more time there.

We ate dinner at an Egyptian restaurant by the name of Prince in the heart of Imbaba, just a few blocks from the Nile.  The restaurant is a bunch of tables on the sidewalk of one of the main commercial roads in Imbaba and sports a big outdoor kitchen right next to the tables. Photos of famous Egyptian soccer players and the 99 Arabic names of God decorate the restaurant’s buildings and signs.  Throughout the meal, people were driving by in their tuk tuks (these crazy automatic rickshaws decked out in beads, paint and decals), honking their horns, playing and singing Arabic music, and just generally having a good time. I was given the impression that this was typical of a Thursday night there.  The food was served in big communal dishes and we ate without plates or silverware, much like you might at an Ethiopian restaurant.  There was an unlimited supply of bread, and eating was a grab and dip sort of free-for-all.  We had kibda (liver), lahm (meat), Arz (rice), potatoes, and eggplant, all with Milookhiyya, a green Egyptian sauce served hot, straight from the stove, on top.  I was in heaven.  I lost alot of weight fasting over Ramadan but now that I’ve been exposed to this buffet style feast I think I’m gonna be gaining it back quickly, inshallah.

Also, the entire meal only cost me $7, and it was only that much because we completely over ordered.  I can get a filling Egyptian lunch here at a baladi, or local Egyptian, place for maybe $2.  Compare that price and setting to the $6 beers I had later that night at Cairo Jazz (a popular, fairly upper-class bar straight out of Europe — raging house music, short dresses and all)  or the rap concert, and you start to see the correlation between money and culture that I’ve been talking about.

Hope I painted a bit of a picture of that part of Imbaba for you guys, I thought it was a cool place.   Hope everyone’s well.

– T

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