Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over the Bridge Downtown

This picture is from Lonely Planet. I'll change it as soon as I get a better one myself.

Steve Franklin
was a Knight Fellow at the university. I never met him - he left before I got here. But I find his business cards all over my office.
I've been reading his blog lately. The other day, I found something on it that I had to steal.
See, it gets dark here around 5 these days. As I cross the Qasr el Nil bridge over the Nile, on my way home, I witness a scene that you can write novels about (people here have).
Back in August, Steve quoted an article from the LA Times (by Jeffrey Fleischman) about this scene, on his blog. Here's an excerpt:

CAIRO — The lovers and the fishermen, the street kids and the cops, the veiled girls and the flower sellers, they all come at dusk to the bridge over the Nile, stealing kisses and tugging their lines, escaping the heat and hoping for magic, the boys whispering promises bigger than their pockets as moonlit boats glide beneath them.

Hotel lights glow along the corniche in the distance and somehow Cairo’s grit and poverty are gone; night makes everything pure. That’s when dreams and memories unfold on the bridge.

Ibrahim Adel, a waiter, tells his fiancee, yes, he will one day own a restaurant. Yehia Helmi, a barber, lifts his grandson to the railing and points to a sail flickering in the darkness. Samir Shawki skitters with his buddies through the traffic. And Ali Mohammed Hussein, a sturdy man with a bent nose, sells wilted roses in cellophane.

The Qasr el Nil Bridge carries tens of thousands of cars a day, but at night its wide sidewalks are shoulder to shoulder with Egyptians. There is no sweeter spot for a cheap date, a refuge from big families and crowded apartments. A brush of the hand, a smile, all the subtle rituals of Muslim romance play out in tiny dramas amid the call to prayer and the river breeze.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shanghai Hardcore

Few things are more daunting than an audience of forty 18-year olds. That's my 2nd year Mass Communication class at the university. I teach them for an hour every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and it's probably the most labour intensive part of my job.
I am probably the only professor they have who is not their parents' age. And every class, I put on a performance. I show up with things I want to put in their heads.
They stare, listen, and occasionally doze off.
Sometimes, their eyes light up. That's when I talk to them about hip-hop. This is house and techno country (besides the local pop scene), but quite a few people do listen to hip-hop.
I brought up Kanye and Fifty, when I talked to them about the power of mass media, and more recently when Rolling Stone had those two on the cover.
The initial reaction was hesitant giggling, almost as if to say,
"are we supposed to talk about this in class?"
Next came a talk on advertising and product placement. Ludacris was the example: Cadillac grills, Cadilac bills... I think they liked it.
Pretty soon, I was being asked about my favourite songs on the new Kanye record.
Next week, we'll be dealing with the recording industry, and of course, hip-hop. Check out what I found while I was researching for it:
That's the Iron Mic '07 - an annual Chinese rap battle in... wait for it... Shanghai!
Who started it? A 32-year old black Muslim dude from Detroit.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


All text & photographs in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

"Have you been out of Cairo yet?" My friend Ameena's tone was more insistent than curious. Yes, Ameena, I have. And here are the pictures to prove it.
Lake Qarun - Egypt's own Dead Sea - lies about 80 kilometres away from Cairo. A short distance from it is the Fayoum - a large patch of ultra fertile land on the bank of the Nile, said to be the birthplace of agriculture.
Went out there with my colleague John Swanson and his Greco-Roman archaeology class, which was a treat. We completely bypassed the modern city of Fayoum , and hit the salty lake, some tiny villages, and wonderful ruins of old Greek towns that date back to just after Alexander's conquest of Egypt.

The great thing about going to these places with John is that he tells you stories. Among the ruins, he read a letter that was written thousands of years ago in that very town. It was from a rich Greek man, addressing King Ptolemy. The man complained about an Egyptian woman who had emptied a chamberpot of urine on him. When he protested, she cursed him, spat in his face, and ripped his toga. There were a lot of witnesses.

"Punish her," he fumed, reminding Ptolemy that he was Greek, while she, a mere Egyptian.
Thousands of years later, many expats' attitudes haven't changed. They still expect to be treated better than the locals. More on that later.
For now, here are some pictures of the heavy security that accompanies us expats on such trips. The Egyptian government takes no chances after some crazies shot up a tourist bus 10 years ago, and again in 2005.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Short, Short Man

Not everyone can say they know someone in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Back in 2002, my friend Tharanga Ramanayake was a producer/editor at Much Music. He created the world's shortest TV commercial.
It just went up on youtube:

And I have no idea who that host guy is. I hear he don't work at Much no more. Somebody should give him a job.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ramadan Blues

All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

The sun sets. You eat. And then you talk about the fast. Out pours a day's worth of lamentation, and wisdom cooked in the depths of empty stomachs:
"You know, I swear, it's harder this year!"
"Why are we not allowed to drink water? Your body needs water! Surely, god understands that."
"The prophet said this religion is supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to be torture."

And there are the sheepish admissions:
"I'm just pretending now. I go to work, skip lunch, and nobody knows."
"My assistant was so energetic the other day. I asked her, 'Are you skipping the fast too?' And she started to giggle."

Among elites and expats in Cairo, this is the great Ramadan Conspiracy. And a tremendous source of Ramadan Guilt.
At recent iftar in a posh neighbourhood, our non-Muslim expat host held court on his balcony. He needed a drink. But he was surrounded by Muslims who had just broken their "fast." And Muslims who do normally drink, tend to give it up during Ramadan.
So, we talked. Conversation about global and regional politics raged until it came to a logical end. A few seconds of silence, and then...
... "Alright, who would like a drink? We've got juices, water. We also have some gin, and wine."
Silence... hesitant looks...
"Ya'ni, it's Ramadan... er... but sure I'll have some wine."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

To Serve & Protect

All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

It's supposed to be autumn/fall here. As far as I'm concerned, it's still summer: 35 celsius during the day!
So, going out into the desert, to see pyramids, temples, etc., is a high-temperature proposition.
But imagine having to do that day after day.
That's the job of the "tourist police" here - to be out in the sun, and protect us tourists from things like terrorism, falling boulders, and accidental demands for freedom of speech, expression and movement.

As you can see, it's a pretty tough gig. They do it for less than minimum wage, plus some baksheesh.

Moving Rock

All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

I thought I'd remain a pyramid virgin until Suf got here. I thought it would be special if we both saw them for the first time, together.
But everybody I know is going now. So, in the last couple of weeks, I crumbled under peer pressure... and went to see a lot of pyramids:

That's a lot of rock. And I've been reading that the more rock a king moved to build a pyramid, the greater he was thought to be.
The Ontario provincial election happens in about 5 days.
And the Pakistanis go to the polls today.
I hope we hold our leaders to higher standards than moving rock.