where the writers are
Eid sa'yeed
Rodina and Jana

I spent the morning practicing with the camera and then waiting for my ride to Dalia’s for rehearsal. Two actresses were picking me up, but they had never really been out of their neighborhood and so got very lost. They finally arrived to get me 1 hour late and then it took 2 hours to get the apartment - usually a 20 minute ride. They kept calling one of the women’s father and asking people on the street and no one seemed to be giving the same directions. Seriously, we’re talking about 16 people all pointing in different directions.  I couldn’t understand the Arabic, but the hand gestures definitely were not saying the same thing.

Motorbikes just always hit their horns whether anyone is in the way or not. It sounds like they all have a short in the system.

I have a question, did REM do a version of Losing Your Religion with and Arab beat behind it or was it a remix done here? No one has been able to answer me yet.

We stopped at a restaurant and one of the other cast members came and met us so we could follow  her to the apartment. I wouldn’t have been able to find this place. I wouldn’t have known that some of the roads were roads.

The two women who came to get me were so stressed out and I was having some back stomach thing going on. D, though frustrated by the delays, turned things around in her own way.

The apartment was laid out with blankets and pillows, candles and tea. Everyone laid down and did breathing exercises; then she led us through visualizations. The energy in the room leveled out like a gentle river. No, that wasn’t my visualization, but really the place just chilled. Then they began to talk about their images and someone began to beat out a rhythm, joined by singing and then dancing, joyful, messy, imperfect and really wonderful.  By this time I was taping. It was a great bonding time for the actors, a way to connect. And then we ate while others went out to smoke.

D handed out the script and some people had to double up on roles since not everyone was there. There are 16 people in the play. They read through Act I and part of Act II bantering, laughing, redirection, reading more. Then a discussion about the play, questions from the actors. D and I really wanted to talk it through after, but I had a ride back to the hotel. That settles it, I’m leaving the hotel. All this driving back and forth detracts from our working time together. There was so much to discuss.

The play was a surprise to me. Lots of humor, lots of singing - original songs that D wrote. Apparently there will be dancing too - a Greek chorus sort of thing.  I have so many questions. One of the actors really reminded me of that guy that Kurosawa used a lot, not Mifune, another one. When we talked later that night, D drilled me on my reactions to the actors, their interactions, the energy in the room.

By the end of the night my stomach was really worrying me - severe cramping - like a parasite kind of thing. I wanted 2 things, yogurt and Arak. Arak, an anisette liquor relieves all kinds of stomach ailments and from past experience, I know it kills parasites. But it was Eid and it’s illegal to sell alcohol during Eid. However, the actress who drove me home (and will remain nameless), knew of a mobile phone store that was a front for illegal liquor sells. I guess this is common, but not something I’d ever do on my own. I was happy with just finding yogurt but she insisted. I think she wanted to show off a little and do something special for me.

We slowed down in front of this “mobile phone” store with a guy standing in front, mobile phone in hand.  With a jerk of the head, he came to the car. An exchange in Arabic and some clarification and we drove further on and pulled over. Another man came to the car with a black plastic bag and we peered inside. It was ouzo, fine whatever, I over wanting it anyway, but curiosity and my new friend’s insistence, well a moment later we were in possession of a much larger bottle than I had wanted for more pounds that I had thought to spend, but both of us laughing. I poured half the bottle into an empty water bottle and gave it to her. She was pretty happy about that. My big black market experience.

She is finishing her last year of college - tired of school - wanting to get out into the world. She has had the benefit of a good education and speaks French, German, English, Arabic all fluently. I am envious, being really bad at languages. Truly I’ve been practicing good morning, good night, sorry, excuse me since I got on the plane and I’m hopeless. As soon as I put the paper in my pocket, I’ve forgotten it.

So my friend in crime was telling me that she used to smoke a lot of hashish, drink, smoke cigarettes and then she became involved with the Sufi sect. For a year she didn’t want any of it, she just felt full. It’s not that she denied herself anything, she just had no desire for any of it. And after a year, the feeling went away. Our drive ended too quickly.; I wanted to talk to her more about it. Having never experienced that kind of inner peace for even a short period, I wanted to hear more.

I asked why all the animals were in the street. Over the course of a few days, the streets are filled with sheep, goats and cows.  She  explained that it’s a big holiday for sacrifices. You slaughter an animal and give the meat to the needy and you all eat together. Nice until she added, lots of blood in the streets during Eid. I pity the vegetarians.

I told her about the Innocence Project book I was working on, how it goes beyond science and addresses the injustices in our justice system. She had been watching the news about the protests in the US. She said she was moved to tears and so proud that Americans were finally speaking up. I was struck by her concern and passion. And thought, that’s how I felt about all the protests in the Arab World. Here we are cheering each other on in our fight for rights. The price here is so much higher and is still being paid.

I didn’t sleep - why? It was noisy outside, but that wasn’t it. Someone was building something at 1am. Horns continued to blare but at a slower rate.

The students at AUC are all pretty well educated and from what I understand from Dalia and her colleagues, pretty disconnected from being Egyptian; even their accents are off. I learn more when meet a professor from AUC, the new head of the art department, Aissa. He has taken on the 3-year task of totally remaking the department and I hear making some enemies in the process. We sit outside at a cafe for hours, just talking. Tomorrow we will probably leave for the lake, if the costume arrives. Dalia and I stopped being too polite and basically both said we wanted to blow off the hotel. I’m glad I had a few days here to adjust, walk, write. And the night my stomach was bad - it was better to be alone. The ryab (yogurt drink) and ouzo did the trick. After shooting Monday and Tuesday, I will have a few days to edit. There’s another rehearsal next week, when I will shoot one of the actresses for the sequence I am creating.

Aissa is Palestinian. He says he will not go back to Palestine after his last visit because they have already lost it. Such sadness. A mutual friend in NY, a Palestinian carries the same air of sadness. Aissa talks about how there was never an Egyptian diaspora and the art has been so state-controlled that nothing underground or edgy has ever happened.

We sit at the cafe, 2 hours pass, 3 hours, friends come by, plans are made. Our small group disperses and taxis are summoned; an international group of artists and professors: Swiss, Palestinian, Egyptian, American, Italian.

The taxi driver got lost and called to other taxis for directions. They all continued to move forward as they called back and forth, questions, answers, hand gestures.  The driver ignored Aissa’s directions and went far out of the way - 10 £ more than it should have been. Aissa paid only what it should’ve cost.

We walked through a busy shopping area for Egyptians with lots of street vendors then to a street where they make instruments, darabukas, ouds, tambourines. Dalia needed some tambourines. Most of the shops closed for the holiday, but the city streets were crammed and busy with people preparing for Eid.

Aissa brought us to a Lebanese restaurant claiming it was the best food in Egypt. And it was good. Aissa and I both began eating tabuli with lettuce leaves and began to laugh. This is distinctly a way to eat it in Lebanon and Palestine, not Egypt. The sheesha at every table (including ours for the other guests) were sickeningly sweet and clings to your clothes and hair.

D and I had sat up and talked about the play and a million other things until almost 2am. We talked about our perspective of ourselves as artists and how that has evolved. We watched the tapes of the rehearsals, they were helpful for her. She was able to step back and watch the dynamics of the 10 people in the room, listen more closely to the readings and the discussion.

Earlier we had met the lighting and set designers at a cafe downtown. Everything happens on the street around coffee and mint tea.  We sat in plastic chairs which lined a narrow road. Partway down the road, colored lights mark the service area - a cafe where artists meet. lights twist around trees along the road, defining the cafe is. maybe there’s enough room for a car to pass between the tables. a few motor bikes do- engine briefly silencing conversations.

Sunday, Eid. All the hoards of animals that I’ve seen in the streets will be sacrificed today. I am told by Aissa and Fidal that the streets will smell of blood. Not so much in Zamalek, almost sorry I’m not still at the hotel. I had to stop looking at the big-eyed cows and sheep. At least all of the meat gets eaten. An extra special, long call to prayer this morning. Firecrackers are going off to start the celebrations . I’ve skyped Kevin and am going to try to sleep again. Couldn’t sleep last night, too full from the day.

The children from next door came over this morning, Rodina and Jana. Dalia has cast one of them in the play. The younger one tried to teach me Arabic and practice her English. We gave up and she followed my movements as I practiced yoga. The other one joined me. They are 12 and 8. The older one, Rodina asked me who my favorite singer is. I said I like many and asked who hers is - Justin Beiber. Really? Oh dear. We got some of his music going (first time I’ve actually heard a song) and they did a dance routine to it - imitating his moves. Too cute. I joined in and we ended up jumping around and falling on the floor. OK, I’m done now. Too much energy!!

Early and long call to prayer today. Strains of music far and near. Not too much traffic. Dalia’s neck is in pain and she is off getting a massage. We’ll go to her parents’ later. Tomorrow, early, we leave for the lake.

Eid sa'yeed (they don't like mubarak anymore because of Mubarak)