Fayoum (aka Fayum, or Faiyum) is a mere hour’s drive from Cairo, the origin of the world’s famous encaustic mummy portraits, the opening to a string of oases – small and large – and the stomping ground of a prehistoric whale (with legs!), the great Basilosaurus. I spend the weekend there recently, enjoying 4×4 wheelies in the sand, a molasses, feta and fattah lunch, countless shooting stars, a sleep under the naked sky (where foxes trolled around me leaving a smattering of footprints), a morning walk through the dunes with no sound but the wind, and the spotting of another interesting geologic form from the Eocene era: nummulite fossils, the shells of single-cell marine organisms.
There are parking lots. Like the one at Ikea where, before you proceed into the mall complex, security guards check the trunk of each car. The car park is a circulation of vehicles, taxi drivers, Ubers, cycling around the open space.
And then there are “parking” lots. The Ring Road, where traffic is packed so tightly, cars are bumper to bumper. My cabbie puts his car in park. I glance at the time. My forty minute cab-ride to see friends across town will be prolonged to an hour and twenty minutes. A typical Saturday at 6pm. I notice everyone is at a standstill. Guys are milling around between the cars, chatting up a storm. The traffic ahead lurches. The men rush back to their doors, hop in and scoot a few meters. To my right is a man pushing his car along in neutral, taking his time while the traffic moves at a predictable snail’s pace.
My driver makes an opportunity of the lull. The typical questions follow: Where are you from? How long have you been here? Do you speak Arabic? Where in the US are you from? What are you doing in Egypt? And then, as it sometimes happens, I get the following question: Tell me, honestly, and please don’t think I’m strange for asking this question… Do people really hate Muslims in America? Continue reading “Parking Lots”
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Yesterday, with an absent voice and a pathetic level of energy, I called in sick. I woke up unable to return to sleep; just after I finally passed out again, the doorbell echoed down the hall. I grumpily donned some pants and a t-shirt and found my bowab*, A3del, at the door with his son. They were concerned when I didn’t come down to fetch my bicycle in the morning!
When I finally roused myself to seek some pharmaceutical aides, I ventured out in thick heat. Summer is far from fading. When I exit my building I have to decide – do I want to walk the busy road, where things are conveniently located, and deal with the hassle of people staring? Or do I want the less populous street where I fear I am about to be mowed over? I chose Road 9, the populous option.
My fascination with circles and cycles ensues. This past week, a national celebration of the holiday Eid al-Adha, also called the “Sacrifice Feast” has provided me with the space and time to invest in my studio practice. Over the course of this year, with the deliberate goal of working towards a public exhibition, I have increasingly invited more people to enter my art practice, both figuratively and physically. The charge of sharing my head and soul space with friends has yielded new concepts and a furthering of past ideas. In a short conversation this week a friend suggested I read Ralph Emerson’s essay “Circles” from 1841. A philosophically profound work, he starts, “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which forms it is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.”
A friend once shamed me into swimming in a frigid Drakensburg dam, “You only regret the things you don’t do in life.” I am not a great swimmer. But those words have stuck with me: no matter how cold or rough, no matter how muddy, no matter how ill-fitting my swimsuit may be…I don’t ever regret it. Continue reading “Water”
“It shows poverty.”
“It shows someone struggling, carving a cane for a living.”
“It shows the pain of old age.”
These were the responses some of my 9th-grade students shared when we looked at the image to the left, among other depictions of hands. Tasked to convey a social issue through a simple hand gesture, my students imagined possible messages these hand artworks might convey. I gave them a variety of images to consider and interpret on their own – a hand holding a dripping, wet brain: brain washing. A hand clutching at fabric: losing one’s grip. Fighting. Two fists thrusting forward, tightly clenched: surrender to the police; being imprisoned. Continue reading “Awakening”
Fifty-two weeks to the day, last year I was busy straddling the opposing tips of Africa. Festive Egyptian music emanated from the arrival terminal as I let the dusty Tarmac and my old world behind. Only a few hours into my new norm, I was escorted to a teacher’s house to attend a simple dinner where I met many of my new colleagues. Tonight, I found myself cycling back. Another dinner, another year, with some familiar faces but many fresh. Not a Cairo expert yet, I still found myself in a position to provide some perspective and advice.
I spent my first day back in Cairo hibernating, immediately recalling how exhausting it can be to exit the front door sometimes. There is a Duty Free* close by, but one can only go within 48 hours of an overseas arrival. The call of adding to my limited liquor cabinet roused me out the door.
The bells of the donkey cart twang by rhythmically, followed by the intermittent smack of a wooden plank on the jack’s back. Along my way, I remember to glance down at my new long shorts: on a bike they appear shorter than expected and my thighs are exposed. Damn. Whatever, it’s too hot. Continue reading “The Call of Liquor”