In the women’s car

Since we’ve moved to Dokki, the defining experience of my daily life here, framing everything else, is no longer the taxi but the metro.  Specifically, the women’s car. One day I will work up the courage to take photos there (look, this tourist did it); perhaps I will tell people I am a reporter doing a story on hijab fashion for some local magazine. Actually I will be photographing not just the elaborately color-coordinated and outrageously sexy outfits some girls are wearing but mainly the amazing things people do with their higabs – my favorite is when they use them to store a used subway ticket for the exit gate, or as a nifty hands-free device to hold a cell phone. Women across all societies I’ve seen tend to be resourceful and, being generally overworked, value efficiency.

For now, from the multitasking file, just this.  On Monday I was coming home from Tahrir to Bahoos at 6:30pm and saw a woman actually doing her prayers in the subway car.  Prostrations and everything. She didn’t have a prayer rug, not even a newspaper to spread on the floor, so my first thought was that she had lost an earring and was looking for it under the seats. It was rather crowded; people had to move around to make sure she had space. But she was being as discreet as possible, facing the back wall away from the platform-side door. No one said anything until a lady walked through selling phone recharge cards. Here it comes, I thought, the question about why this prayer is so urgent that it couldn’t wait till she got off the train and at least onto the platform. The vendor stepped around the praying woman, then said, “Honey, the qibla [direction of Mecca] isn’t that way at all, it’s in the totally opposite direction!” The praying woman looked up in mid-prostration. “Really?” Other passengers seemed to confirm.  Then she got up, turned herself around so her hands protruded dangerously under the feet of various bemused passengers, and continued; someone gave her a plastic bag to mark her space so people wouldn’t step on her. Everyone got very solicitous. Even I found myself looking in my bag for a newspaper.

Then we got to the next stop, and the praying lady got off! I believe she had ridden three stops, same as me. But maybe God couldn’t wait. Or maybe (like many extreme multitaskers) she needed to prove it could be done?

Children's books on display at the Diwan bookstore, Zamalek

Two Girls from Egypt

On the plane to the UK I watched a 2010 Egyptian movie, Bintayn Min Masr (Two Girls From Egypt), written and directed by Mohamed Amin (a few details here).  It was kind of an earnest social-critique tearjerker melodrama, as you can see from the trailer:

Like all the other cultural production that has come out of Egypt in the past 10-15 years, this film can be said to “predict the Egyptian revolution” of Jan 25 (yes, the linked article is about a supercomputer model!) or at least lay bare the social frustrations that helped contribute to it (Khamissi, Aswany, etc).

The subtitles mistranslated the title as Egyptian Maidens, probably to emphasize that the desperate 30-something heroines were both virgins — a result of social constraints and their inability to find husbands.  The least expected (and perhaps the least watchable) scene was a conversation in which a group of young women explained this sad fact to… a visiting researcher from Boston University!  Of all things.  The American scholar was depicted as blonde and a bit slow, with an exaggerated American accent.

Other highlights. All the men in the film were either scoundrels working abroad, decent men arrested for falling afoul of the regime (two of these), or depressed. The heroine’s brother was nearly killed after an accident sank the ferry that was carrying him to a dead-end restaurant job in Saudi Arabia. Of the female characters young and old, the only one who occasionally appeared happy was a young nurse or doctor involved in a heterosexual relationship, albeit one that was “external” (i.e., sexual but not damaging to technical virginity) and “urfi” (protected by a customary agreement rather than a formal marriage certificate), and consummated mostly in supply closets.  Everyone else was single or widowed, and totally neurotic/miserable/psychosomatically ill, trying everything (dating offices, the Internet, airport lounge speed-dating with Gulf emigrants) to land a man.

Since I have kids, airplanes are about the only time I get to watch movies. Sometime I’ll tell you about Al-Dealer, another recent Egyptian film I saw on a recent flight to Beirut.  Equally melodramatic but much more exciting, and it touched on the former Soviet bloc!