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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Auto Sambateek

My car is a smallish ten year old Renault. Today I took it to the petrol station to have the interior cleaned. I left the car, went to have lunch and came back an hour later to find the guy still cleaning it. I made a sarcastic reference to his having told me it would only take half an hour and he quickly replied, also with sarcasm, saying that my car was very neat and tidy. He then said that I should throw the car away, to begin with, aslan.

I told him that was a mean thing to say and that it was a lovely car that has treated me well and taken my abuse for years and that it was still running fine. He said no no, it's not about that. "Ya beih aslaha lamo2akhza mish mashya ma3al hay2a keda." That is, it didn't jive with the overall hay2a, meaning both authority (as in the Cairo Transportation Authority) but also, and more likely in this case, all of the following: form, shape; exterior, appearance, guise, aspect, bearing; air mien, physiognomy; attitude, position; situation, condition, state; group, (social) class.*

I asked "what hay2a, to be exact?" The man, still weaving in and out of the car with my nearly empty container of dashbord polish in hand, made limp but not subtle references to my and my deceptively sophisticated-looking companion's entitlement to a classier ride. I felt no emotion save the desire to remedy what I saw as this man's ignorance regarding the correlations between cars, class and cool. So I went off on a very short and failed tirade about why my car was indeed cool and commendable and how no shab need 'deserve' a better car.

The guy just shook his head and then looked at me silently for a couple of seconds, a glimmer in his eye betraying the sweet treats filling his imagination. Smiling, his eyes now somewhere else, speaking from a place of pure mazag, he said "Ya beih enta terkab keda Nubeira", 'tis a Daewoo Nubeira you should drive, and dove into the car, coming out the other side grinning still, "aw Leganza masalan," his head indulgently bobbing from side to side like those taxicab dashboard tigers and puppies. He then came up beside me and, sensing my disagreement, grimaced and simply said "Nissan." That is "even a Nissan would do, man, anything but this."

I asked why and his face turned poetic again as he shook his head softly, a smirk and eyebrows raised, authoritative: "3arabeetak mish 3aatefeya." My car is not emotional? No, I shouldn't criticise his use of the word 3atefeya, as it actually is generally taken to mean sentimental when used describe inanimate objects, like ringtones, stuffed animals or sunglasses.

On that note, I invite whoever reads this to join me in reflecting on the correlation of sentimentality to form. Ay, 3atefeyyet el shei2 wa se7net man yamlokoh.

*From Hans Wier's Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, 1980 edition.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bemonasbet Don Judj

Many years ago I was with my family at Master, the famous rest stop on the Cairo-Alex desert road. My brother and I, probably around 6 and 9 at the time, were wandering around the shop beside the restaraunt area, marvelling at the large variety of imported goodies. We read labels and sniffed wrappers, adding pokes and squeezes for items that were hard to identify. We were, simply, happily gathering information, like chickens collecting the units of their feed, strewn across a small expanse.

We filled our heads with inanimate characters and bizzare names from all around the world. In a light trance, we forgot about our parents, knowing in the backs of our minds that when the time came to leave they would fetch us anyway. There was also, of course, the ever-present anxiety that came with being around so many sweets.

At a certain point the shop attendant left his seat at the cash register and walked over to where my brother and I were standing. He stopped, squared his feet (as if fearing that we might push him over) and said with a serious look on his face something that sounded like "Notashjustalo." My brother looked at me and I think that for a second each of us thought the man was addressing the other for something he had been doing on his own. Having established from one other's eyes that neither of us knew what was going on, we were free to be giggly about the man's gibberish, for it was still just that. I, being the elder, swiftly intervened to keep the ball in play, directing an "eh?" back to the man. He repeated, a little bit firm and impatient this time, "No Tush. Just Lok," before turning away and walking back, his bony chest arched forward, deliberate arms swinging by his sides like an undernourished general pacing the war room.

"Oh," we thought in tandem, "he was speaking English; he must have heard us speaking; what an idiot."

Each of us returned whatever he was holding to its rightful place in the display. We marched coolly out of the shop and headed towards where my parents were seated, all the while holding back the urge to accelerate and yelp with mischief as our insticts commanded.

For the following several months my brother and I enjoyed the man's words as our always-available failsafe method for inducing laughter. Sometimes we would just take turns saying it and still end up in stiches.

P.S. Maybe it would be a good slogan for use in an anti-harassment (of women in public in Egypt) campaign. We could even print it on poster and put them up in metro stations. Or maybe not.

Re: Nile FM

On the other hand, I must credit Nile FM for helping remind me this morning about the genius of U2. They have this trademark galloping anthemic beat at the start of so many songs like "Where the streets have no name" and "Still haven't found what I'm looking for" that just floors me every time. Makes me wish I was older when those songs came out, when young people around the world would attend their concerts, so novel and full of euphoria. Thousands in the open air, rushing with that deep and crisp rock gallop.

What came first, the spirit of the day or the sound that came to represent it?

I also heard the song "Fantasy" by Earth Wind and Fire. Oof. Let's just say it made me move like I've never moved before while driving though Dokki.

Remember now, don't judge.

Esma3oo Wa3oo, Nile FM Bywazza3o

Did you know that on Nile FM's competitions, the ones where you sms them the answer to a question they ask, you have a higher chance of winning the more smses you send? Not because they choose the person with the most correct answers (di teb2a habala bgad) but because there's a higher probability that the number they choose at random will be yours.

There are now people who flood the station each day with their smses in their frenzied efforts to win the free DVD's and CD's being given away. I don't know what each sms to the station costs, but i'm sure it's no 50pt. Somebody is making lots of money directly off of these competitions, be it the station or the company providing the sms service (I wonder if its the same one that does all the 0900 numbers).

What strikes me is that if I were a conscientious radio station, on the most basic administrative level even, I would find a way to have the entries feed into a simple program that gives each number only one vote, or one chance of being selected. But that's just me.

I'd really like to know what other people think about this.

Shawerma Hazard

I took a long walk with a friend around my neighborhood this evening, and when he left I found myself craving shawerma--plain old, lousy local-style, oily reddish crumbly chicken shawerma Kaiser. So I walked to a place nearby, ordered and stood waiting by the big shawerma grill.

The guy on the grill was struggling with a well-sealed 4-pack of Faransawi bread when his hand jerked and hit a big knife that was on the counter, sending it hurtling to the ground. It bounced twice, twisting and spinning as it did, before landing on the side of my foot. I was wearing a shebsheb zanouba.

I looked up immediately and all eyes were upon me, curious and indifferent. I looked at the shawerma guy and said "Ana 3ayez ta3weeed," easily keeping a straight face.

He took a step towards me, bent down and picked the knife up, tossing it carelessly onto the now-torn Faransawi pack, before rearranging the sizzling shawerma heap before him with the ubiquitous sekeenet ma3goun used in all such restaurants.

Eyes fixed on the chicken column before him, the shawerma guy took a deep breath and huffed, his shoulders sagging as he did so. He then let his head fall to one side, barely facing me, and made his offer. "Azawwedlak te7eena?"

"Fee tomeyya?"


"Yeb2a zawedly tomeyya."

Without a word, he did just that and handed me my sandwich, wrapped and bagged. I said "Shokran".

"Shokr lelLah, " he said, still facing the chicken.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Thomas Friedman, tefafa 3ala raseef al sa7afa al dawleya

Tfoo tfoo tfoo. It really would blasé to write angrily about Thomas Freidman and to call more attention to his journalistic misdeeds. His racist, arrogant, incendiary writings do speak for themselves. But I just couldn't help it.

The other day I saw him on TV speaking at the National Governors Association, a big American thing. It really was hard to watch. He said so much shit. He spoke of India , the second largest Muslim country (he meant country with the second largest Muslim population) as being an anomaly in the Muslim and Arab world. Because, said Thomas, it was a place that lets Islam do its thing and flourish (he pointed to the fact that India's richest man is a Muslim) while still "providing a context, a political context, where a young person doesn't have to go and bribe the judge with a goat when he has a legal problem." Ya 2aleel el zo2 ya 7ayawan, el me3za di tla2eeha shafet 3adala w karama w adab aktar melle feek kollak 3ala ba3dak, enta wel orood elli byesma3o kalamak.*

He also gleefuly cited a nationally televised debate, also in India, between a senior Shaykh and a Muslim female film star on whether or not Indians should go stand by their brethren in Afghanistan in their resistance to the American invasion. With much vitriol, he wrapped up his mention of the debate saying that the flim star was "basically telling the Shaykh to shove it." And then a silence, as he drew back slowly from the microphone, leaving his elite audience to bob their heads, vindicated, likely reapeating the phrase "shove it" in their minds.

I'm not so good at expository writing, I really wish I was. I'm thankful that some people (Baheyya, Matt Taibbi, Greg Palast) are and that he has been criticised strongly in many instances. It would seem a worthwhile full-time job to counter all that he says and writes, on the spot. In the mean time I stand by my initial position: tfoo.

*You unrefined, tasteless beast of a man! That goat has probably known more justice, dignity and decency than is contained in your whole self and in the selves of all your monkey readers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Amani w Dasani

There's a Dasani (tfoo) mineral water ad on Nile FM (104.2) where the voice of Allison Esprit of the Nile FM family begins with the phrase "Water, the most natural of natural resources..."

La ya sheikha.

This is why advertising is so important. Important, that is, to those of us who in our overwhelmedness by the crises in the various realms of our lives (moral, aesthetic, social, etc.), have fallen into a state of perpetual curiosity, fuelled largely by a feeling of disenchantment with many of the values, concepts, structures and categories with which mainstream society functions. In advertising we see so many of these values and concepts reinforced and propagated, all this being the by-product of a process, the central aim of which is to stimulate consumption. Look at Nile FM.

To say that water is the most natural of natural resources is just unforgiveably stupid. It is however effective in that the word 'natural' is said twice, helping to emphasise the special status of water and thus sets up the product, Dasani, quite nicely. This is a language that speaks to a cruder part of the mind. It is the same part that has so many Cairo listeners, one imagines, spellbound with dumb light grins as their ears fill with the authoritative and effortless Britain-flavoured ramblings of the Nile FM team. The joy of hearing Allison speak the way she does has value and the advertisers know to use it in promoting products. If I say "water...most natural...Dasani..." most listeners would likely react with a mental "bas yala, balash kalam faudi". But when Allison speaks, I imagine a mighty chorus of responses from Madinet Nasr to Helwan to Imbaba with thoughts like "la2, begad?", "hmmm, bet2ool eih di?" "sheek awi Dasani", "ba7eb awi-l mayya ana, dana 3ayz ashrab 7atta", etc."

Nile FM means a lot to a lot of people and I think that it speaks a language similar to that of advertising in many ways. It is a language that often plays on insecurity, aspiration, and the satisfying pull of certain superficial markers of coolness. I feel this needs more elaboration but I'm really not up to it right now. I'm thinking this would be a good theme to explore here. I can even quote little items from their programming. That would be fun.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Second Post

So much for a first post. I'm consoled by the fact that, given the impossibility of continuous editing and revising of previous posts, I might learn how to not fret so much about things I said or wrote. It's also nice to think that by preventing myself from making retroactive adjustments I might find my effort applied more squarely to the present, thus helping my expression to evolve more solidly. That said, all this might just be in my head, i.e. ay kalam.

But I will not prevent myself from putting forth the disclaimer that maybe my using the word lucid to describe my commentary was a little bit presumptuous. It doesn't matter, I feel a bit uncomfortable about it anyway and so I said what I just did.

Also I don't know what to do about language. I need to incorporate Arabic into my posts but also want the posts to be fully accessible to a non-Arabic speakers and the idea of having little translations of all the 3ammeya phrases doesn't seem so inviting. Rabbena ysahhel.

Friday, July 15, 2005

First post

A couple of friends recently told me that I tend to give a first impression of being reserved and proper ("hadi keda w gadd awi") before revealing my self as a generally laid back and exciteable guy.

My interest in having this blog has to do with my feeling the need for a kind of hysterical and lucid commentary on what goes on around us, mostly here in Egypt. That commentary already exists very much in my own life and in the lives of those around me. But why not concretise it a bit, put it up for others to see, make a routine out of it?

And so it is. Yesterday I called my friend H and told him it was time to start a blog. He said of course and told me to give him a day to think about a good name for it. He smsed me gayyash last night and here I am.

Now, I mentioned the bit about first impressions because I'm feeling quite shy as I write this first post. But this is no place to be shy. I want to be ecstatic. That said, I don't care to shock or be sensationalist either. My line is simple: there is actually very little to be embarassed about in life and there is very little that truly compromises one's dignity. An honest look at lives lived from the heart should yield no shame. What's more, I am believing more each day that it is morally imperative in these times to actively seek a new grace in the world, about the city, on Channel 2, with the asshole lady at the koshk, in a smashed up packet of sham3edan. And as this grace comes to the fore, so can we laugh louder in unison at so many of the current markers of rogoola, moroo2a, teeba, shiyaka, gad3ana, asaala, shahama, 7alawa, nadafa, re22a, zuo2 etc. as the hollowness of these markers rings louder too, like a tabla riff leading this blessed state of inner shakhla3a.

So let's see where this goes.

Ne2ra el Fat7a.