Sunday, June 24, 2007

Jungle music

While the joke about there existing two methods of time keeping, Greenwich Mean Time and Egyptian time, is a little tired , I nonetheless feel compelled to comment on the amazing precision with which Egyptians collectively turn up late to events. Late is not actually the correct word, because there seems to be some hidden and unspoken formula for calculating when an event will actually start. While I am constantly 5 – 10 minutes late for everything not involving the chance of future employment, I invariably walk in first to events in Egypt and arrive to find a dark room of empty chairs where I sit and wait until hoards of people (including the event’s organisers) all turn up at once and sniff the air made rancid by the miasma of my rotting corpse.

I have attempted to extract the Da Vinci Code of this formula from my Egyptian acquaintances but get no further than ‘add half an hour to the time it is meant to start,’ which does not take into account other factors at play. Having spent hours waiting for events to commence I have had time to ponder this formula and my findings are as follows:

Event scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

- Add half an hour minimum and don’t ask why = 7.30 p.m.

- If the event is scheduled to start at the same time as a call to prayer add five minutes = 7.35 p.m.

- If the event is hosted by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and is scheduled to start at the same time as prayers, add twenty minutes to allow for prayers = 7.55 p.m.

- If the event involves e.g. a speaker who enjoys mild fame i.e. has appeared on el Bayt Baytak he will add ten minutes to all the above and will prolong proceedings by forcing the chairperson to fill in order to disguise his absence. The chairperson will say that the speaker is stuck in traffic when in fact he is arguing with his wife about curtains in the lobby downstairs = 8.05 p.m.

If the event involves e.g. a speaker of considerable fame i.e. has appeared on el Bayt Baytak twice and the Dream channel and possibly the BBC he will have developed a highly-tuned inner mechanism after years of back-to-back media interviews allowing him to calculate exactly when to arrive at an event so as to avoid the boring waffle and be present for the exciting contentious bits which actually generally involve him (exponents of this technique: the director of any human rights organisation) = add no extra time.

- If the event is scheduled to begin anywhere near Qasr el 3ini street between the hours of 2 and 7 p.m. add forty minutes.

- If the event is scheduled to begin in Zamalek, downtown or Garden City at the same time as the assistant to the assistant of the Junior Minister of Door Handles is leaving the People’s Assembly and is on his way to Qoweidar to quickly pick some Ka7k up for the madame = add 15 minutes for the flotilla to pass.

- If the event is scheduled to begin anywhere in Egypt or North Africa at the same time as a Mobarak is scheduled to leave their house = stay in and don’t bother.

- If the event is hosted by one of the founder-members of the European Community (other than France) subtract two minutes from the start-time.

Note also that the formula seems to be unique to Egypt and does not generally work in other contexts i.e. Croydon, and in particular should not be applied to work situations (not mentioning any names woman who gave birth to me.)

The formula worked beautifully on Wednesday, when Sharshar and I attended a seminar on blogging and freedom of expression hosted by the Muslim Brotherhood. We arrived at 7 p.m. and found the hall still in darkness and deserted, but on this occasion this was because everyone was downstairs protesting on the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate (the only place where demos are allowed, it would seem). The seminar itself began after everyone had finished praying and catching up on the latest MB arrests gossip at approximately 8.30 p.m.

We spent most of the seminar waiting to see if and when an MB speaker would mention Kareem Amer, the blogger imprisoned for four years for ‘insulting religion and the President’ who ideologically and theologically is obviously the antithesis of all that the MB (slogan: ‘Islam is the solution’) represent. He was mentioned, and one (non-MB) blogger who writes under the name Wa7da Masreyya spoke engagingly about her visit to Kareem in prison. Prison visitors are asked their name, age, their relation to the prisoner and the offence for which he has been imprisoned. Wa7da wondered how she would describe the charges and settled for saying that ‘Kareem wrote things which the government didn’t like on the Internet.’ This prompted an ‘aih??’ from the prison officer before the colleague sitting beside him said ‘2asdaha shuyuu3y’ [she means Communist] and the recording officer responded ‘a3uuzo billah!’ [God protect us!] before admitting her. You can read the rest (in Arabic) here.

Alaa from made the interesting point that in (rightly, of course) dedicating all their time to release campaigns for imprisoned activists, bloggers and others risk neglecting the issues which landed these people in prison in the first place. Abdel Moneim Mahmoud and Omar el Sharqawy spoke about their recent experiences in prison. Many of the faces which usually turn up to anything concerned with rights, and particularly blogging, weren’t at the seminar and Sharshar and I concluded that this was because of the MB connection.

When not considering these things I spent the time reading the description of the drug Sharshar is taking to lose weight. It has a list of spectacular side effects which read like something out of the Old Testament. He has indeed already lost some of the weight piled on after he was released, skeletal, from army service and made up for a year of food deprivation in two months, but I am not entirely convinced that a svelte figure should be at the expense of one’s lower intestine.

In other news, I discovered an unlikely little piece of heaven on Thursday in the form of Dokki’s Orman Gardens which until then I didn’t know existed because I mistook its lush greenery for an extension of the Giza Zoo. A dizzy and weakened Sharshar and I went there for a Sawy Cultural Wheel-organised concert in celebration of World Music Day (Modou! Hany Adel!), and found ourselves surrounded by skyscraper trees of every variety and a pond covered in a carpet of giant lily pads. According to Wikipedia the gardens were designed by grandson of Mohamed Ali and prodigious spendthrift the Khedive Ismail, who imported trees from Sicily for the garden which would surround his palace. Orman apparently means ‘jungle’ in Turkish, which is a slight exaggeration despite the fact that the garden boasts 100 varieties of plants. While I listened to the frogs in the pond, Sharshar admired the bridge which crosses the water – it frequently made guest appearances in old Arabic films, apparently.

The Gardens really are gorgeous. The only downside is that their gates close at 4.30 p.m., presumably to prevent teenagers engaging in hanky panky in the darkness. The concert itself was alright, though the audience was tiny because the world and his mother were all at the Citadel watching Soad flamin Massi. I installed myself against a tree and almost stayed till the bitter end, throwing in the towel two songs into Wost el Balad after they started whistling: whistling in popular music I find unacceptable and annoying even when the sound is emitted by sweet lips Hany.

I leave you with these low-quality mobile phone images:

Outstanding natural beauty

Outstanding natural beauty

Outstanding natural beauty


Forsoothsayer said...

i think it is a simple 30 mins for men, 45 for women, assuming the mubaraks are at home.

AM said...

Hey Amnesiac,

I am actually returning to Cairo tomorrow. I spoke to Forsooth and we planned on meeting for drinks/shisha sometime in this upcoming week. I would really like to meet you seeing as i've been reading this blog for sometime now. It would be great if you could join!

Scarr said...

Amir see Fartbook.