Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Christmas doesn't work in the Middle East

We've almost reached November and for me the time it's acceptable to sell Christmas treats and put some Bing Crosby on has long arrived. Unfortunately, it's still close to 30 degrees outside and there won't be any mulled wine in this alcohol-forsaken country so I doubt I'll succeed in getting in the spirit at all this year. Some people wouldn't be bothered by that. Sadly, I am the biggest fan Christmas ever had. The thought of virtually missing it this year is a rather depressing one and I am not ok with it. In a way, my whole year is turned upside down with the absence of Christmas. A year without Christmas is just not a good year...

All year round I usually resist the temptation to watch Elf although I'd love that movie in May, it's that good. When I finally watch it at least eight times in the months of November and December it warms my heart though. It makes me want to curl up in bed with a thick blanket, hot chocolate in hand and all-year Christmas lights draped around a tree for these months lit. If I even watch it this year (yes, I will!) it will be in my room, by myself, sweating into my bed sheets and desperately fighting off mosquitoes. It's a Christmas dream... not! My Christmas movie playlist is quite long and I will have way too little time to watch them all. Let's not forget that I will most likely even be working on Christmas day itself. 

Worse than the bad atmosphere for a merry Christmas is the reality that it is in fact not even Christmas here. Yes, they have Christians in this country but let's face it, we are in a Muslim country and they simply don't care when Jesus was born. On top of that, "merry" is in the Top 3 of words I would not use to describe Egypt with. Christmas is about coziness, peace and family and I couldn't pick things that are less achievable in this madhouse than these. And as much as they shout welcomes they also will not put up a Christmas Tree in Tahrir to make me feel welcome. Speaking of which, I would actually prefer people to stop trying to make me feel welcome. I'm dreading for them  to switch their "Welcome to Egypt" phrase to "Merry Christmas" in order tfor me to acknowledge them or their shops. 

I admit that after last year it would have been very hard to get in the spirit as much. I was working at the Christmas Market, for crying out loud, I was oozing Christmas spirit every day for five weeks. All my day was for that beautiful frame of time was sell fruit bread while drinking mulled wine and entertaining foreign tourists with my beautiful singing voice chanting every Christmas song there was. This year the Mariah Carey Holiday CD is coming out, too, but I live in a hotel where those foreign tourists did not sign up for my singing. I will most likely have to shut up. Thinking about all my friends back home meeting at 5pm sharp to hit the Mulled Wine stand while eating a potato pancake could not be more torturing for me. 

Most importantly however I'm just a huge fan of being peaceful and relaxed because that's what Christmas is all about for me. Not only will I miss sugar cookies, the smell of a Christmas tree or a present or two but quite literally everything that makes Christmas what it is. It will be a loud, hot, stressful and annoying couple of months. Never mind that Jesus, the reason for the season, will probably fail to be mentioned all together. So the sad but true reality is that Christmas will just not happen for me this year. Looks like I was lying when I said I would not miss a thing about living in Germany... 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Welcome to my Africa, don't bring your Europe!

Remember that time I expressed my desire to continue my European lifestyle in Egypt? Yeah, that's not happening! Before I came here I was convinced that I may enter a new world being able to ignore the unpleasant bits and just "do my own thing". I have always been a person who did that because I can't say I ever cared about what people think of me that much. Now that I am surrounded by Arabs at least 16 hours a day I have had to realize that it doesn't matter if I care what they think or not, I will not be able to be myself either way. The judgement is constant and coming from every direction possible. You know you're being watched when 1984 is suddenly the book that best describes your life. I would have to live a Pink song religiously to ignore the constant looks of disapproval when I even remotely consider expressing myself in a European way. Different aspects of my lifestyle I thought were going to be quite easy to maintain. However, they're not...

Yeah, those days are over!
Possibly the least understandable "rule" around here is the dress code. Right now I'm not struggling because it rarely hits 30 degrees but once summer hits I will not be able to wear long sleeved shirts and jeans anymore. Most impressively, I don't know how chicks over here are doing it wearing their different types of veils. This situation gives a whole new meaning to pasty Scots saying "I'm roasting!" on a fresh August afternoon. I do however get death stares if even an inch of my collar bone is showing. This morning I put my phone in my chest pocket and the metro filled with school girls was in shock. I would like to say I don't care if people are considering me to be a sinner for wearing clothes they consider too revealing but I'm sadly not that cool. I am a visitor and I want to respect the culture but I am very, very warm. For now I'll be a good girl but this particular custom is going to cause a lot more problems.

On top of that, a European eating and drinking culture could not be maintained here if I tried. As I said before, everything you buy here is not good for you, either being way too greasy or way too sweet. My sister and I made a salad at her house last night and it was the best thing I ever tasted. The last time I ever fancied a meal was when we went to IKEA to have meatballs. The meal would have been complete with a glass of wine but you can't buy that here. Well, let me rephrase that: you may buy some extortionate wine which will not impose a feeling of satisfaction in your mouth. It may appeal to your senses but not the ones in charge of taste. Of course there is a huge variety of (3) beers to make up for that. Let's not forget that you have to go to special places to even be served alcohol. If these places are not in a basement or on a rooftop the windows are shaded because it is despicable to be in there. I like wine and I don't want to feel ashamed for having a glass. Somehow, I do feel ashamed though...

The worst aspect by far is however the course of human relationship. Recently, a visitor from Europe asked my friend if he would be able to kiss the girl he liked in a club. Of course he can't which sucks. It is hard for Westerners to imagine how much a relationship is compromised if you cannot show a sign of affection in public. Unfortunately, every single relationship here takes place in public exclusively. If my special friend tells me I look nice I immediately feel uncomfortable because I feel people could get offended. If he takes my hand I think they actually are. But that's the absolute furthest that can go and since we both don't have a house that allows visitors a random power cut in a restaurant turns into the most intimate experience one could imagine. So I thought I'd stick to dating Americans over here, making this a much easier experience in terms of sticking to my European lifestyle. Since I'm not though I had to bid farewell to romance, or intimacy, or any form of expression I would consider basic in my life so far, at least for the vast majority of the time.

So sadly, continuing my lifestyle and even continuing to be the person I was before has come to a forceful end. I do not feel like I get to be myself at all anywhere. If I'm in public, I get stared at and judged. If I'm at friends' houses I have to make up for a lack of making out so that's not me either. My diet is all over the place and I haven't been running in two months. You could say that everything about my original life has changed and I have been ripped of the chance to live a European life. I guess my plan was a pretty stupid anyways. All I'm trying to say is that I see why my sister put on some pounds being home this summer. And all I really want to say is that I never thought I'd want to kiss a boy when my friends are in the room or that not having to wear long pants is actually a really fantastic right we have over there. Oh well, I guess this is my life now, and it's definitely not a European life at all...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Get that couple off my facebook!!!!

I really enjoy people posting pictures on social media, especially when they're depicting their handsome boy- or girlfriends, showing me what they do on their dates and the flowers they got from them. I'm not even being sarcastic. Paradoxically, since I joined Facebook in 2007 I have dated a fair share of guys myself, and still, to this day, there has never been a sign of my dating history on my Facebook page. The world has never seen a romantic photo of me and my boyfriend on my timeline that wasn't taken by my paparazzi mother. The pressure of having to put up a relationship status only came up once, and I objected successfully. Yesterday, my phone notified me of an uploaded picture of me on a "double date". My initial thought was "Damn!". For some reason I enjoy other people's displays of love but am unable to accept my own. I wonder why that is...

I certainly have no need to be ashamed of the people I saw in the past. There is some serious talent in the selection of men who have been linked to me, I don"t know how I did it but I'm impressed. However, I have resisted to shout out to the world who they were, what they looked like and what we were. I would have some serious grounds for bragging, but I don't seem to find the inspiration to do so. After a few years I have now asked myself why it is I don't want the world, or even my facebook friends, to know who I date. It's definitely not embarrassment. It's also not any shape or form of jealousy. It's merely a variation of avoiding "the evil eye" because I believe it is real.

I'm always concerned about positive auras and having positive outlooks. I want people to look at me and have pleasant feelings because I believe it will affect me. Unfortunately, few people in the world see a picture of a very nice couple and simply say "Wow, what a great pair, I wish them all the happiness in the world!", especially those who do not have that kind of commitment in their own life. Now, if someone poses with their super awesome boyfriend in a photo onlookers turn to the most basic form of human, and they will get jealous a little bit. People then turn to the mentality of convincing themselves that what they see can't be everything there is to see. They persuade themselves to believe that behind the curtain it cannot be as great as in that photo. And that in essence turns into wishing the couple ill. I don't want anyone to think that of me and any significant other.

I want to prevent anyone from getting the chance to wish any evil upon me. In other aspects of my life I don't seem to care as much as I have probably posted stuff here or there which could be perceived as bragging by some people. When it comes to boys though I have no desire to portray myself. Even a kiss in front of friends is quite uncomfortable for me. I don't like PDAs so why would I enjoy our picture on facebook? What happens between me and the person is important to me, and not a single third person should be involved in that connection. I think it's fantastic when people are wondering about me, and if I'm seeing someone, and what he does for a living, and what his eye color is. Since I have no intention of sharing any aspect of any of my relationships on Facebook, pictures of a flower bouquet I received won't make it either. I don't actually want people to be jealous of me to protect myself. And I like to be a mystery. I still haven't figured out which reason is my primary one...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Learning the hard way...

This week I unfortunatley had to witness more break ups. Throughout my life I was the single girl surrounded by all my friends in relationships. Now that has changed as a huge number of my friends have recently ended their relationships. For me it is important to give my friends the right advice in such a crucial time and usually I would refer to my own experiences to find the right words. Since I don't have much experience with break ups though because most of mine were a relief or predictable I can't really do that. Surprisingly, however, all my friends decided to approach their break ups in the same way, and I don't need to be an expert to know that their way was wrong. I might not have dumped a lot of guys but I know I probably shouldn't be seeing them anymore once it is done. I have made many experiences in my life where taking the plunge was a good idea, and in break ups it definitely would be, too. So it turns out I really do have the right words...

Let's have going for a swim as the easiest example. If your goal is to be swimming in a cold ocean you may want to refrain from slowly walking into the water. Just jump! Well, that's not what my friends are doing. They broke up with their partners and should be trying to get used to not seeing them anymore. Before you know it, they will be meeting for coffee frequently in order to at least "stay friends" (which is impossible) and sooner or later they will hook up, resetting any progress that was made so far. If the aim was to actually get over the relationship the equivalent to just jumping in the cold water would be to just cut the ex out. Of course that's harder but it's also way more effective and less time consuming. Once in the cold water it might be a big shock but it immediately gets better after because the decision to jump is the biggest one that had to be made. Whether the decision is a break up or a jump into cold water it is best made when we forget about comfort and stop fearing the pain.

Feeling the pain once and with force seems to be the best way out of it. How many times have we heard of people bottling up their feelings until they found a forceful way out? I myself had a lot of experiences where a quick and clean cut was super painful but it immediately gave me the chance to start the recovery. If we drag problems out because we don't seem ready to face them we're torturing ourselves. The moment the ex walks out should be the moment the recovery begins. It will hurt to go from seeing them all the time to never but at least it can get easier every day that way without serendipitous meanings, as we would perceive them, setting us back to square one. The goal needs to be clearly defined, and as long as the goal is an "uncoupling" I fail to see how going for coffee, watching movies, calling every day and in many cases way worse things could be beneficial to reaching that goal.

I recently made the decision to change my life. I knew I could either try to do it in the course of a few months and stay in Europe, desperately trying harder and harder to make it work for me or just not to fear the ice cold water and make one very painful jump. I woke up on September 11, being miserable in Germany and by the end of the day I was living in Egypt, being even more miserable. Man, did I feel shit. It was the most horrendous experience of my life and the only thing that made me stick it out is that I knew that this relatively quick pain would much sooner lead me to the result I wanted, and that was a completely new life. Now, almost six weeks later, nothing is left of my old life and I am happy I made the plunge. Eradicating my old life slowly but surely would have caused the same amount of pain but would have been dragged out a lot longer. Pain demands to be felt, no matter for how long. I would personally prefer to get it over with one big crappy time though. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Things I WASN'T told about Cairo

My memory is excellent, and I write down almost everything that happens to me. As a result, I can tell where I was on almost every given day of my life without having to look at my timeline. Neither a year nor two months ago I even remotely thought I'd live a life so completely different from everything I've lived before. Consequently, I had no time to prepare myself for life in Egypt and how much it would change. I was prepared to be slightly warmer than usual or to stand out from the crowd a bit more than before but there are plenty of things I did not really see coming at all despite my connaisance of Egypt beforehand. There's the changes you have to make that all guide books prepare you for. And then there is the changes you make you were not quite prepared to do.

#1 You will stop breathing for many reasons
It is said that every day spent in Cairo equals smoking a pack of cigarettes due to insane levels of pollution. The part I wasn't aware of is that I may add another pack a day due to the effects of passive smoking. I was spoiled by the best air the world has to offer in the wonderland we call "Scotland" for four years where trees keep it clean and people don't spoil it by smoking or driving. Everyone here smokes extensively and has a car that would not be allowed to be driven in European cities. In fact, I never knew the smoking ban in pubs was as awesome as it is until I started suffocating in a Cairo club. Or Taxi. Or just every street there is. I have developed a cough that hits in random situations but I had to realize it's not really all that random since I am constantly around cigarettes, and if I'm not there is still Cairo's air that is slowly trying to kill me. Add the damage the ozone layer that undoubtedly does not exist just above Cairo and I'll be knocking off some time off my clock every day I stay.

#2 You'll want to be on Big Brother to get some privacy
This is the story of how elevators turned from being my worst nightmare to my favorite thing ever. Why, you ask? Because it's the only place in Cairo I feel a certain degree of privacy. Dating in Egypt never sounded that easy but it gets a lot worse when you have blonde hair and you're accompanied by an Egyptian gentleman. The part I knew is that there was not going to be any PDAs; the part I didn't know is that I will be watched like I'm Selena Gomez on a date with Justin Bieber. I don't want to jump the guy in public but I'd appreciate a basic amount of intimacy. Easy fix for those with their own places. However, nobody does. Either people still live at home or actually have a bawab (security at tenement buildings) that makes sure men and women are never alone. I am a quiet sufferer of the latter. I had to officially fare well my European expectations in a normal dating process and now just have to find the highest buildings in town with the slowest elevators, hoping that nobody else but us will get on it.

#3 You will not want to be allergic to Gluten
Foodwise, they tell you Egyptians use a lot of sugar in their cooking and they're not kidding. Almost every juice or tea or sweet tastes like a cavity. Another thing shocked me most, though. Pasta, Bread, Rice and all that jazz are great ways to add to a meal of meat and veggies. I'm not a fan of carbs in the slightest and if I had to pick a carb of preference it would be some yummy potatoes. However, potatoes are a vegetable here. More akwardly, salad is not. In fact, ordering salad anywhere will result in you getting served Hummus and Tahina with tasteless bread. Quite obviously Egyptians love their carbs as a popular sandwich consisting of mashed potatoes in a bun would suggest. Where are the vegetables? You can fill your sandwich with falafel or beans instead of mashed potatoes, that would be an option.To this day I have not had a meal that didn't consist of carbs at least 70%. For my conscious diet this was not the best news. You know you miss your old diet when you find yourself going for KFC to get some serious servings of meat. The only way to keep a healthy diet therefore seems to be home cooking which is not an option for me because I live in a hotel and don't have a kitchen. Consequently, my digestion will soon be limited to processing Shish Tawook as it's the equivalent to my salads in my European life.

There are many things in Cairo that are way worse than anything I've known before. At the same time, there is much to be learned. Finding my zen state and health from inside rather than the outside which is my biggest aim in life is much more needed in a place like this. Everyone will start feeling zen and pure when in the Highlands but what about now? Not being able to take my relationships too far too fast has also been beneficial. Being forced to just talk would have been good for some of my exes. And despite the lack of health in Egyptian food the culinary adventure is about the best part of being in new countries. Granted, this experience would rock more for me if I liked either carbs or sugar but oh well. I'm sure I will encounter many more things I did not expect that much but then again, that's kinda why I came here. Expect the unexpected. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Malala shouldn't win it...

By now we have all heard that Malala Yousafzai has finally been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and as far as I can tell we're all super happy about it, right? After last year's outcry, did the Nobel Committee have any other choice? While I am delighted that this inspiring young lady is getting more and more recognition, which she undoubtedly deserves, I heard the criticism brewing the moment her name was announced. Yes, the world will celebrate that Pakistan's favorite name, a symbol for equality and justice, will receive the highest possible accolade, along with, out of all people, an Indian activist in times when hostilities between their two countries could not be worse. Were these two individuals the idea of Alfred Nobel when he founded the prize, on the other hand? Unfortunatly the answer is "No!".

How has there not been a movie yet?
I stand in no way in opposition to Malala or Kailash Satyarthi and their incredible work but as a thorough analyst I can't help to object about the reasons they were chosen for the prize. There is no doubt in my mind that they deserve an honor equivalent to a Nobel Prize as their work is noble, exceeding the work of many past recipients in terms of goodwill and charity. The truth is however that the prize has a definition, and it reads that the recipient "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". Neither of this year's recipients can fit that description because, unfortunately, it is very restrictive to people of power. And when I mean power, I mean hard power.

When Malala was not given the prize last year I largely agreed because at 16 years old she was not equipped to make a reasonable difference in peace efforts. Correct me if I'm wrong but she still isn't. Of course she helps a lot of children get the education they need, and education is our best shot at living in a peaceful world one day, but Malala does not have the influencing power to make any person on the planet reconsider whether to be peaceful or not. The only people who could make the world a safer place are the people that usually point the guns, and those are statesmen. People criticized Obama for winning a peace prize when many were dying in his name. However, there was also considerable disarmament in his name, and that is eventually going to get us closer to world peace than Malala's activism. Even at 17, Malala has done a lot of good but she has not prevented the Taliban who once shot her to cease doing similar things, nor anybody else.

Although it's a depressing thought, peace is not in the hands of ordinary people like me or Malala. My local pastor would be deserving of a peace prize just like Malala if the eligibility for it would be measured in goodwill. However, most people doing good are not able to do it on a global scale. Malala gets to express her ideas worldwide but is there evidence that her words influenced any decision-makers to refrain from using acts of war? She is not equipped to rightfully win the Nobel Peace Prize. If anything, the prize's definition should be changed to prevent ridiculous recipients, such as the EU. Yes, Kissinger, Obama and many other controversial recipients had the power to cause peace and there were areas of their work where more peaceful measures were achieved. At the same time, these guys also caused a lot of destruction. It is evident that peace comes at a price, and that price can only be paid by the powerful. Not Malala. 

Awarding Kailash Satyarthi the price along with Malala to underline the conflict between their two countries is equally ludicrous to me. Why can't I just shake the feeling that Malala was going to win it and they looked to India to find someone symbolic to go with it? Seems hardly fair. If such customs were appropriate I demand to award Vladimir Putin the Nobel Peace Prize in a joint ceremony with Barack Obama as New START was a joint venture, at least on paper. The perpetual criticism does not stem from bad choices the committee makes though but the nature in which this prize is restricted to the powerful of the right side. I'm sure the prize would be a total joke these days if Hitler had received it but I am sure he was nominated. In a way Malala's win is portraying an effort to no longer restrict the accolade to those in power but to make it accessible to those who make a difference. Unfortunately, that is not what the prize originally called for.

Needless to say, despite the possibly wrong definition of her win, I am ecstatic Malala won...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Round trip to Sinai

Egypt's equivalent to Paradise: Dahab!
I can't say last week's trip to Sinai was my first one but it was definitely my most uneasy one. I personally believe that the terrorist group IS will stay away from Egypt as long as possible but it's not like Sinai has been a peaceful region in the last few years anyways. Just in time for our departure last week we received the news of yet another beheaded Brit and the Islamic State's announcement that they are targeting foreign tourists didn't make the desire to be on a minibus to Dahab any bigger. Nevertheless, we were going to Dahab in Southern Sinai. I can think of worse things to risk your life for.

Sinai only has three streets leading through it so there are checkpoints to make sure who is using them. Considering the unstable history of the region you could see why the Egyptian military was waiting every few kilometers to check who was on our bus. We got to pass quite quickly most times because our driver lied about who was on the bus. Egyptians don't get checked. We got away with pretending we were. Just before Sharm Eh Sheikh however the soldier inspecting us caught the lie. As a result, we had to wait for 30 minutes as the day before a bus with tourists was supposedly kidnapped. I think if that story was true we would know. We expected it was merely a punishment for lying.

Once in Dahab though, nothing matters. It is the most relaxing and serene place, maybe because it's flooded with stoners. Even though I don't smoke their intoxication must have been contagious because I was totally zen right away, just getting a glass of strawberry juice, listening to the waves and absence of honking cars. It is also quite refreshing to breathe air that doesn't give you cancer, like in Cairo. Day one saw me getting a minor sunburn but the inexpensive and amazing fish supper I had that night made up for it. So did the shallow water at the lagoon. And the snorkeling. And the sun coming up behind the other shore that is Saudi Arabia. Most of all, it was the absence of people staring at me, despite me wearing hot pants. It's crazy how liberating wearing a spaghetti top can be when you can't wear one anymore. 

On our way back we hit the same amount of checkpoints, having no further delays due to lying. Instead, we got delayed because I got car sick and threw up everywhere. It could have been dinner or the fact that the bus driver was trying to make Danica Patrick look like an amateur on a road not destined for that to happen. The journey equaled more of a roller coaster ride than a jeep safari in the desert. Unfortunately for my seating neighbor the second load of sick came very unexpected somewhere near Suez, going at approximately 200 miles an hour. Needless to say, an already very uncomfortable 8 hour minibus ride got just a little bit less exciting after that.

Much like Dahab, Cairo is also affected by people being afraid of terrorists. First, it was various "revolutions", now it's beheading extremists that make people spend the extra buck to go to Thailand instead. It's a shame really because especially the Sinai region has a lot of beauty to offer. The hotel I'm staying at, however, has not booked many foreigners in the past year. The only people still around are daredevils before they find out it's not really that dangerous around here. The danger is not a terrorist. This trip has clearly shown that the likelihood to die due to reckless driving is much higher than to be beheaded. And that can happen anywhere...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The day I became "famous"...!

Oh dear, oh dear! Today I visited my first conference as a professional. For starters, it was a huge conference on Egypt's economic future at the Four Seasons Plaza. I saw a lot of important people in my life and I waived at them from afar, expressing my admiration or disdain as a pathetic little dot in the crowd. Today, Egypt's Minister of Solidarity walked past me on his way to the VIP lounge and shook my hand. I admit the guy didn't look at my name tag first, not realizing that I am not actually impotant at all today, but he acknowledged my presence which was good enough for me at the time. Of course that was before I became a Cairo socialite in the course of that conference. By the end of it I was sitting next to him at dinner.

Being a blonde, German girl at a conference about Egypt's economic future equals being Beyonce at the VMAs. The members of the press, desperate to underline the internationality of today's conference, were showering me in flashes. I was presented with a lot of respect because my attendance meant that I must be an intellectual, therefore deserving of accolades. The biggest moment was when the CEO of the company putting up the conference, also once known as the most influential woman of Egypt, asked me if it was ok to take a photo with me for the papers. I am aware that I am a smart girl with a couple of degrees but every single person in that room outshone me. Yet, I was asked to the VIP section like I had any business there. In truth, I didn't even know if I was speaking to a minister or his driver.

I was still totally shocked about the developments, however, tried to remain cool. I didn't want anyone to realize I really had no place being there. Fortunately, nobody noticed at all. On the contrary: the assistant director of the conference approached me and insisted that I would sit at his table at dinner. I was directed to the pool side which had been closed for the dinner party. At my table I was joined by people who were frequently called "the most important people in Egypt", still having no clue why that was the case. My chat was limited to the fact I don't live in a posh area of Cairo which appalled the whole table because I knew nothing about their business. People seemed to have no idea I was neither rich nor important. I was desperately trying to avoid showing that I'm a hippie who shouldn't really sit at that table with every move I made which became challenging when dinner was served. Which fork do I use? I felt like Jack Dawson on the Titanic, only that my company didn't consider me a low life but a distinguished guest. How the hell did I pull that off? But I surely did.

The next morning I arrived to familiar faces that were smiling at me even more than the day before. That wasn't too surprising if one considers that I had been dining with the director of the conference and his mother the night before. The important peps were my posse. Entering the conference hall I was just going to take an unassigned seat but I was dragged to the front row to my objection that the seat I was taking was assigned to special guests. I was assured that I am a friend of the company, therefore being very deserving of the spot. Although flattered I felt like I was cheating actual VIPs. I was the least deserving person to even be at the conference, never mind be in the papers that same day, and getting invited to yet another free, 3-course-lunch by the pool with Cairo's elite. I am grateful my blonde hair would allow me to live this life but I am also embarrassed that it was genuinely just some hair. What else should it have been? I've only had the job for three weeks.

I used my new found status to steal some of the free goodies from VIP and all the food I could get my hands on. When a man sitting next to me didn't finish his amazing dessert I asked a waiter if I could get it to take away. I'm 99% sure they never got a request like that before. The whole table was laughing but for some reason they loved it. I suppose even the posh don't like wasting food. So in the end I walked out of the conference with friends in high places, fed for free and with cake in my hand. I don't know what I did, but I did it right. Can't say I expected this kind of success but I'm not going to complain. After all the bad luck I had in employment in the last few months the karma balance had to shift at one point. And it did big time. I can't wait for the next conference... 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sina + Music = Meh!

Every girl loves musicians. They love they're creative, passionate and, of course, everyone loves music. I have dated many musicians over the years and unfortunately they're also usually lazy, irresponsible and have at least a little substance problem. I often thought that I'm the only girl in the world that is actively looking not to be with a musician and yet I still end up with them. It feels very much like the pick up line "I'm a drummer!" is wasted on me because nothing would make me run faster. Where other girls swoon, I cringe. Looks like I don't like what most people do. The core problem of this, however, is a much more basic one: I just don't like music.

I came to actually realize I'm not a music lover like everybody else when I was dating a wannabe musician a couple of years back. This guy found solace in music when he wasn't feeling great. He even pretended to have written a song for me and serenaded me. Every girl's dream, right? Wrong! I neither liked his taste in music nor the fact he focused on his guitar instead of finding a job which he obviously didn't have. What a cliché. After we broke up he pursued music. At the same time I was pursuing a PhD, you can see where interests differ. I realized I like to listen to the odd Coldplay song here or there but I just don't care enough about music to understand why my boyfriend would prefer to play the same song over and over again instead of doing something useful with his intellectual property that he could easily have used to save the world because he wasn't stupid at all. I suppose he had passion for music, I don't!

I listen to music only when I need to cry ("Forever Young" or any Birdy song) or if I have to clean or work out. But even then my playlist is rather limited. The music featured in the charts is hard to love, too. I enjoy listening to old songs because they remind me of better days while also boosting a much higher musical quality than any Katy Perry song out there. Consequently, I have listened to the same selection of about 100 songs for over five years now with occasional additions if a song continues to sound good after I listened to it over ten times. I got to admit, even "Roar" sounded alright for the first 30 seconds. After that it made me want to stab myself.

The Katy Perry Effect is what's worst: nothing sounds good for long, if at all. While I enjoy listening to my Top 100 it does not increase my love for music in general. 99% of what’s out there sounds crap to me. Fact is that behind every song there is a supposed artist who has to sing that song hundreds of times a year. I therefore found the people trying out for the X Factor because “they love music” largely hypocritical. Writing a song takes between two minutes and two months and if it’s successful the artist has to perform it for a lifetime. Even “Wuthering Heights”- which is a great song- must have become Kate Bush’s worst nightmare somewhere along the decades. I pity Nicki Minaj for having to listen to her horrendous songs multiple times a day. Is that what she had in mind becoming an “artist”?

Yesterday I went to a spiritual singing and chanting festival in which worshippers from all over the Middle East performed their music. While using only minimal instruments and chanting like the widely known prayer calls I felt the urge for my own head to explode. My displeasure could be one of two things: either Middle Eastern music is horrific and everybody who listens or worships to it is crazy or I just don’t like music. I lean towards the latter despite my general disbelief that anyone could enjoy these noises. Hearing a drum of any kind, even if not accompanied by obnoxious shouting, makes me want to move, maybe dance, but it doesn't evoke any feelings inside of me. Even Western worship music largely fails to amaze me. I enjoy singing which is why I love worship or would love to be a popstar. How singing the same song over and over again, even if doing so for God, is fun is beyond me though.

So I tried to explain my lack in listening to music as just having a specific taste but to be honest nothing tickles my fancy really. I just have to give in to the fact that in my stuck up, intellectual brain there is little love for this form of expression. Of course the right song evokes feelings inside of me but I would never consider breaking into sound to express myself. Therefore 
I have a hard time accepting music as a form of art. Because I love art. I just don't love music. I like dancing, I like singing, I like instruments, and I even like melodies. At the same time, my radio is always off. I suppose it just doesn't rock my boat. Maybe it will one day when writing isn't creative enough for me anymore.

Did I just stop being pessimistic?

Week one in Egypt has officially been conquered and I have gotten over my constant desire to let those crazy taxi drivers run me over. Dying in Cairo traffic seems like a sure way to end it if one so wished. Fortunately for me, the initial shock of actually having to live here now is about to stop paralyzing me thanks to my first weekend as a working professional in the Middle East's biggest city. This life is everything I thought it would be. Sadly, that's not a good thing. However, I have decided to change everything about myself and embrace every bit of the situation. I wasn't the best person I could be the last couple of years so I'm just going to change. And the new person likes cussing out staring men, having feet dirtier than a hobbit and being stuck in traffic.

Speaking of traffic, I have spent more hours in taxis or the metro than in bed in the past week and that has pissed me off a lot. My time on earth is limited and I intend to waste as little of it as possible. Now being stuck in transit is just that: an incredibly huge waste of time. As there is nothing to do but to ignore people's stares and try not to lose my mind over the loud, obnoxious music I decided it would be a fantastic chance to get creative. I own a smart phone (which I can't use in Egypt but oh well) so I get writing as soon as I sit down in public transport. In fact, I am on the metro right now, hoping nobody follows me off the train. Once off the train the real quest starts: locate a cab that's refraining from ripping me off. And funnily enough, while I write this bit the cab driver is taking me around the whole town except to the place I have to go to. But I won't let it piss me off anymore.

Even the hobbit feet come with quite a fantastic story. It starts at my recent belief that I was cursed. I didn't seem to find an explanation anymore as to how I could possibly be that unlucky lately. All the big things in life were rubbish, and then the little things stopped working out as well. For a few weeks everything I attempted failed and I left destruction only. The day I moved into my new apartment my roommate told me how that same day the sink broke. Speak about being cursed, right? But it officially ended on Thursday as I was preparing for the weekend because I would no longer accept being cursed. What happened next was ridiculous: a friend invited me to a full spa day. So next thing I know I'm at the Meridien in front of the Great Pyramids getting a pedicure, washing that dirt off my hobbit feat and putting some pretty colors on my nails. Way to go, Karma!

Last but not least, being mean and arrogant to men will probably be the easiest feat. I am very, very friendly and I love smiling at people when they look at me. Well, that's gotta stop! It sucks because I like being nice but I just have to give in to the fact that "nice" is the new "screwed" in Egypt. Best would be if I stop smiling all together which appears to be quite popular around here. Maybe women have nothing to smile about in Cairo. But maybe they just want to look as bad as possible so that the thousands of guys in the street finally stop staring at them. Me having my hair out probably doesn't help my invisibility, my chronic bitch face might. Shouldn't be too hard for me to pretend I'm an arrogant badass as my entire Volleyball team seemed to be convinced I actually was in the past. And being a bitch to men sounds refreshing, too. I can finally think about my ex-boyfriends and let my face speak louder than words. And I'm crap at flirting anyways.

Quite visibly I just managed to see positives in things that well and truly suck. Really, there is nothing at all amusing or positive about traffic, dirty feet and obnoxious men but I suppose that's what was the difference between me and non-pessimistic people: talking stuff up. I'm not actually convinced I can see positives in everything. In fact, it annoys me when people do that. However, I will try step one of being positive more often now, and that's convincing myself that there are silver linings in everything and that it's really not that bad at all. Although living in Egypt sounds like an absolute nightmare I am going to do everything necessary to not make it one. And so far I think that's going great...

First thoughts at the pyramids

Last week I read an article in which the author talked about the benefits of writing. I always knew the biggest benefit of writing is to capture a feeling, and if possible sound good doing it. I've captured a lot of lows in my life in diaries and it’s a heartbreaking read I don’t recommend. Of course in my usual writing I am concerned that what I write sounds good and is either informative, entertaining or, ideally, inspirational. When it comes to my current situation expressing my feelings in words only prompts me to perish in expressions of negativity and anger. I want to capture every moment of emigrating to Egypt because I doubt than anything that would make me feel this way would ever happen again. Frankly, one sentence, although lacking in style and aesthetics, could say it all right away: I feel like crap! But let me try anyways to make ‘crap’ sound like a passable expression.

This past week was probably the worst one in a long time in terms of stress, desperation and exhaustion. I have no doubt this misery will take me to better places but boy, am I over being exhausted. I am a light sleeper who loves greenery and silence and now I live in Egypt. Consequently, sleeping is impossible not only because there is so much stuff going on in my head but also because it’s loud, nobody else seems to sleep and you’re sweating bullets without air conditioning. By far the worst is the impossible task of turning off my brain though. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that went wrong for me to end up here. Now while I think this opportunity is the best that could have happened to me right now I’m still shocked. I expected a lot of "annoying" and "shocking" coming here and I’m sad to say that I was quite accurate in my assumptions.

I am not overwhelmed by Egypt and I do not have a culture shock which most hobby psychologists would probably suggest right now. I’m definitely no stranger to the Middle East and I never assumed I’d be chilling by the pyramids all day. However, all the hassle is still getting to me. I’m not surprised but I’m still annoyed. Making things worse is that even for a German I am very German in the respect that I love efficiency, order and tranquility. Having said that, how am I here? I spent four hours in transit yesterday which I would be ok with if I was commuting to Manhattan from my countryside abode everyday. Distance just needs to be covered. In Cairo, on the other hand, I never really travel distances. All I’m asking for is a cab to take me the three miles to work which ends up taking 45 minutes because the driver is either trying to rip me off or as lost as I am. Needless to say, this is a nightmare for people like me who are obsessed with being on time.

It is emotionally draining to come to terms with the fact that a lot had to go wrong in order for me to end up here. I will cease to think like that soon but for now that thought occupies everything I do. I do feel like I cannot be myself due to the role that I am expected to play here being a woman or a foreigner. It is very well possible that it’s just in my head but I do not feel equal and I feel restricted in my Western definition of freedom. This can only be a good experience for someone who has been spoiled with freedom all her life and is ultimately hoping to be able to contribute to other people’s freedom. The hard facts only point to the truth that this is the biggest opportunity for me in terms of professional and personal progress. However, it just happens to be uncomfortable, hard and off-putting at the same time. And I thought I had deserved a little break from that.

Concluding, I can’t say what’s going to happen. I know I have never felt more uncomfortable living anywhere but then again I never lived in a comparable place. I don’t fit in here for extremely different reasons than the ones I have in Germany for feeling that way and I don’t see that changing. At the same time, I have never lived anywhere with better potential to meet interesting people. In only one week I have encountered more people that own life than in Germany my entire life. People’s stories here are just vastly better. I am going to see my feelings for Cairo as the sacrifice I have to make in order to be around people that are inspirational and will teach me how to change my life. Because that's basically what needs to happen, and how to achieve that better than to do exactly the opposite of what you've done so far? I should adopt the Egyptian way of not giving a crap about anything and just see what happens...