Saturday, May 18, 2013

Self-devised employment- a human tragedy

Waiting for work
It's nine am. In the leafy boulevards of 1960s suburb Nasr City, the traffic is moving slowly around the long, narrow green islands in the middle of the road. People are going to work, in cars, taxis or microbuses. The islands fill the middle of every large road, and are well maintained by gardeners who water the flowers and cut the grass. They serve a double function: they prevent the sudden wayward U-turns which would bring traffic to a standstill, forcing drivers to continue to designated turning points. At the same time, they're a crucial green space for those who cannot afford the parks or private clubs. Later in the day, when the sun is overhead, poorer locals will come here to eat their lunch or take a siesta in the shade.
Nasr City, Cairo, in the morning. 
At this time the air is still cool, despite the white sun in the bright blue sky. Sitting in a long row on the low wall between the traffic and the grass, leaning against the railings, are around thirty men. The younger ones are in jeans and short-sleeved check shirts, the older ones in galabeyyas, the long traditional shirt which has come to signify a low income in modern Cairo. All wear flip-flops.They are chatting, laughing, catching up, smoking. Some have bought black tea in grubby glasses from a young boy with a giant thermos flask.

This is the local unofficial labour market. Between 8 and 11 in the morning, contractors, builders and any others who need workers will come and pick up those they want. They will work for the whole day brick-laying, moving concrete or doing odd jobs for anyone who needs them. Some bring their own shovels or tools to increase their chances of selection. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

An incident

I wanted to go to the fair. It was Sinai Day on Thursday and Friday, and so around the Citadel there was a celebration: just like everywhere; rides, useless merchandise, special food, dancing and music. 

We stopped on the way for coffee with some young men we know who live nearby. With hindsight we shouldn't have done that, because they were instantly concerned and over-protective about an English woman at the fair. They insisted on accompanying us. They're very nice young men and they wanted me to have a good time, but they were worried about my safety in the crowds of celebrating locals. It's funny because there was exactly the same air of jollity and latent danger that you get at the fair on Wanstead Flats in Forest Gate. Fair people have the same air everywhere of cautious friendliness, with a kind of toughness and tension that I guess comes from life on the road. You can feel that they're welcomed but mistrusted. There were the same minor spats between groups of youths that you see in London fairs, the same over-excited youngsters, the same atmosphere of the locals letting their hair down.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Feeling like a 'woman'

Marlene Dietrich- successfully feminine?
I like wearing make-up, even though I can't be bothered to wear it very often, but when I apply it, I always have this strange feeling that I'm failing at something expected of women. This despite my knowledge that judicial application of Maybelline is not much to do with my gender, sexuality or identity. I feel feminine and attractive in a feminine way in general- I never feel ugly by my own standards or by the standards I adopt from the media, but because I'm not very good at applying make-up and spend a lot of time dabbing at black smears with a cotton bud, I feel like I'm inadequate in something I should be able to do.

My mother rarely wears makeup and so no one really taught me- is this something to do with it? Or is it that because I rarely wear it, I'm wearing a costume rather than an every-day ritual/ image?

Women (and everyone else)- what do you think? Do you ever feel like you're failing at some kind of test of your gender identity, and does it make you anxious?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cairo Time- Standing Still While The City Moves On

'Mark warned me about wandering the streets alone. Men keep following me.’ 
‘You’re a beautiful woman.’ 
Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is a stressed, middle-aged, married woman from Canada. She edits a magazine while her husband works abroad for long stretches in Gaza. Tareq (Alexander Siddig) is a bourgeois café owner who plays chess, smokes Cleopatras and never recovered from a broken heart in his student days in Damascus. When Juliette comes to Cairo to for a dream holiday with her husband and finds he’s still stuck in Palestine, she turns to her husband’s Egyptian ex-colleague. 
Cairo Time, 2009, dir. Rubba Nada, 2009
Of course there are a million different versions of any big city, and I’m not surprised that this world of luxury Zamalek hotels and tense, hot, autumn-leaves romance is a million miles from the Cairo I know. But this film takes a woman and makes her incapable of facing ‘the Orient’ without a male protector. Juliette wanders the streets for a morning before the sexual harassment drives her to seek out Tareq again, and from then on he becomes her guide, her protector, and inevitably her lover. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eastenders- another East London Whitewash

Whitney Dean has a new job. This may not mean much to you, but for me and 8 million others in the UK it’s great news. Whitney has suffered a lot- sexual abuse as a child, life in care, imposed prostitution, poverty, responsibility for her adoptive brothers and sister, dealing with the incarceration of her adoptive mother. Now she’s going to be able to earn the money she needs for a flat and a fairy-tale marriage with her partner Tyler Moon, and develop the career she wants in childcare. Unless something goes wrong, because we’re talking about Eastenders here, and happy-ever-after endings only really happen when someone wants to leave the show. (And then rarely- there’s been at least 16 murders in 30-odd years).

So why do these screen grabs of Whitney settling in to her after-school assistant post seem so wrong? Where is this school, anyway? It could be Essex (93% White British), or Gloucestershire (95%), or Swansea (92%) at a pinch. What it doesn’t look like is 21st century East London. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jolene- Love, Power and Country Music

Everybody knows Jolene, with her ‘flaming locks of auburn hair, with ivory skin and eyes of emerald green’. This timeless ballad, the story of a woman begging another woman ‘Please don’t take my man’, has, like the songs of Johnny Cash, transcended its humble country origins to strike a jaunty steel guitar chord within the hearts of despairing lovers everywhere. Its message is one of desperation- Jolene has a quality the singer lacks, and could ‘take’ him with ease. The singer is appealing to some kind of sisterhood in her rival, some compassion or solidarity which will lead Jolene to break her magical, sexy, siren hold. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When I walk down the road in Cairo

Egyptians walking. The traffic is worse nowadays.
In the grandiose marble lobby of my apartment building I say hello to the doorman and his wife, who are cleaning the high windows. They always greet me in English, and I them in Arabic. Any business more complicated involves a dictionary. Outside, their children, 5, 7 and 9, are playing ball in the small space between the front steps and the chaotic parking lot and shout ‘Hi!’ to me. The plants are green and carefully tended, though covered with the yellow dust that invades everything in this polluted desert city. The paving stones are cracked and misplaced: while my flat is in a luxury complex of 40 apartment buildings unaffordable to all but a few residents of Nasr City, Cairo’s shoddy building standards know no difference of class. The doormen carry out repairs: a patch of cement here, a new, mismatched set of steps there. But after thirty years, the parking lot and its small gardens and narrow paths are showing signs of wear. 

The sky was blue earlier in the day. Now the sun shines through a yellow haze, reflected in the sand-coloured buildings and the dusty cars. At the gate I say hello to the soldiers guarding the gates.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Hundred Different People: Why I blog

This blog has been running since 2005, with a small but loyal readership and occasionally a whole bunch of hits when I talk about something specific (although a lot of the people who read my post about ‘Choice Feminism’ seemed, ironically, to have found me while googling ‘Women’s Shoes’).

Over these seven-and-a-bit years, the concept and the motivation for the blog have evolved pretty much non-stop. In the beginning I mostly talked about my day, my problems with my partners, my frustration at work- short posts, rather like a diary written by someone who nonetheless wants their diary to adhere to basic rules of writing style. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Twenty-Five Moments of 2012

‘2011 was shit. 2012 is gonna be The Shit.’ Marco 

1. Singing The Human League with Theo at karaoke at the Electric Matchbox .
2. Running around the ancient monuments of Carthage with April on a sunny winter’s day, all alone except for the cats. 
3. Study club with Marco, reading heavy tomes in silence on the sofa and trying to wait as long as possible before the next tea / coffee / fag break.