Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Game

I remember the first time I entered a cafe in Cairo. I had just come from Chicago, the land of the "hip cafes" and my idea of a cafe was that it was the perfect place to sit and write in my journal, read a book or have a latte. However, my landlady soon found out about it and knocked on my door one day with some information. It was 1989.

"Only certain kinds of women sit in cafes alone" she informed me, "people will think things."

So the next time I went I brought my friend Susan. She loved the cafes as much as I did. All of them open to the streets, a great place for watching people and they didn't have lattes but they had awesome Turkish coffee - we loved ours "Mazboot" (with lots of sugar). And we got to practice our Arabic and received the best service!

We found out later that this was because not only did single women NOT frequent cafes but women in general did not go to cafes. You would think we would have noticed this, but Susan and I were oblivious. I can't remember who informed us, but by the time they did, we already had a lot of local friends at the cafe and we were addicted. I'm not sure if it was to the cafe atmosphere, or the great view it allowed us of the square or if it was to the coffee itself. Years later I wrote an article on cafes in Cairo and learned that hundreds of years ago coffee was actually banned as falling into the realm of "alcoholic beverages".

I often look back and wonder how much business we brought that little cafe on the corner of our street. We would often join in a game and even if we didn't we had a lot of fans who would come by and say hello or invite us to play. We were young college girls. I think we liked the attention. It was like having our own fan club. And all the older gentlemen were very polite to us and very protective if anyone tried to bother us.

I remember once I was passing by the cafe on my way back from the bakery and was groped by a young boy who apparently thought all Western women were "fair game". He was quite suprised when I yelled out in Arabic "Don't Touch Me" and about 15 men came out of the cafe, surrounded him in anger and started to reprimand him. The next time I saw him he crossed to the other side of the street!

The only drinks on the menu were Lipton tea with lots of sugar, Turkish coffee, a local Egyptian beer called "Stella", Omar Khiyyam Wine (a local red) and an Egytian version of the Greek "Ouzo" - I can't remember what it was called.

I am sure a lot has changed in modern Egypt. I think they even have Starbucks there now. But back in 1989 the cafes were pure Egypt.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Siwa Village Girl

This post can now be found on our new blog at: