Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Alaa Al Aswani Disappoints with “Chicago”

I just finished reading “Chicago” – the novel written by Alaa Al Aswani (author of Omaret Yaquobian). What a disappointment that was!

The story follows the lives of several Egyptian graduate students and college professors studying and teaching in the University of Illinois. I guess it’s meant to be a look at the dynamics of Egyptians’ interactions with the west – their motives, influences, personality transformations, etc… Unfortunately, the outcome was a very shallow and clich├ęd view of the above as seen by a “leftist” intellectual. Just look at this summary of the main characters and how they’re portrayed to get a glimpse of what I’m talking about (warning: spoilers ahead):

  • Prof. Raafat: a professor of histology who has lived in the US for decades. He has rejected his Egyptian roots and lives like an American with his wife and daughter, only to be rewarded by his daughter becoming a crack addict, moving out of the house to live with her junkie boyfriend (who the father almost kills after he sees his daughter giving him a blowjob). The ultimate Egyptian fear of living in the west: that the daughter will become a slut.
  • Prof. Salah: Raafat’s colleague. He also been living for 30 years in the US. However, he lives an unfulfilling life with his American wife. He belatedly realizes that he has wasted his whole life by living in America. He regrets that he “chickened out” and left Egypt and left the woman he loved in Egypt and took the easy way out by immigrating. Becomes impotent with his American wife (who in a notable scene decides to fill the void that her husband left by purchasing a vibrator and becoming too attached to it). Salah abandons his wife, re-establishes contact with his Egyptian college sweetheart, tries to prove to her that he wasn’t a coward by attempting to give an opposition speech in front of the Egyptian president visiting the US but chickens out at the last moment, then shoots himself at the end because he can’t live with his true cowardly nature. Cliches galore with the Egyptian conventional wisdom that immigrating equals running away and giving up your soul.
  • Shaimaa: a graduate student from Tanta who’s in Chicago on an Egyptian government scholarship. She’s religious, stern, and approaching spinsterhood. Lonely in Chicago she meets another Egyptian student (Tarek) who she falls in love with, starts a relationship and starts having sex with him (no penetration), but still gets pregnant and has an abortion. America as the land where even the pious get corrupt.
  • Tarek: the honors student mentioned above who impregnates Shaimaa but doesn’t really intend on marrying her.
  • Ahmed Danana: a graduate student who is really an Egyptian government agent. Got the government scholarship because he was an informant in Egypt. Is not academically qualified, and somehow he survives several years in one of the top US medical schools. He marries a rich girl from Egypt, but doesn’t mind pimping her out to the Egyptian mokhabarat officer from the embassy. Gets kicked out of his university, but is guaranteed another spot in another university because the embassy will guarantee him a spot. I guess he’s the symbol of the corrupt relationship between the tyrannical Egyptian government and the American administration.
  • Nagy Abdel Samad: another Egyptian graduate student. A patriot and a leftist rebel. Escaped the long hand of the Egyptian government but still tried to organize an opposition movement in the US, only to be taken in custody by the American anti –terrorism officers (framed by the Egyptian mokhabarat as punishment).
  • Carol: one of the few American characters in the novel. She’s the black girlfriend of one of the American leftist professors in the department. She can’t get ANY job because she’s black – not even as a dog walker (stereotyping at its finest). The only job she could get was as a nude model, and she has to sleep with her boss to get a promotion. Her boyfriend finds out and dumps her.

    It’s apparent that the writer really doesn’t have a clue. He took the prevailing views that Egyptians have of how it’s like to immigrate to the west, how they think American society functions, the decadence, the moral emptiness, blah blah blah, and created a novel out of it.

    Truly disappointing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Photographic Highlights From My Camera Phone Collection

I recently upgraded my phone from a Nokia 6600 that has been serving me very well for almost three years now to a new Sony Ericsson with a 2 Megapixel camera, MP3 player, 3G, and the whole works. So, what is the first thing you do with your old phone? You move all the contacts, calendar items, SMS messages, photos, and videos to the new phone and to your PC for back-up. Going thrrough all the photos I had taken with my old phone camera was a really pleasant surprise! I had forgotten about most of them. Amongst the almost 700 photos on the phone, there was some really goos stuff that I decided to share with you guys.

Ahmed Zaki's Funeral

My old office was located in Mohandiseen overlooking Mostafa Mahmoud Square, where the funeral of Ahmed Zaki (the late famous Egyptian actor) was being held. Tens of thousands of mourners gathered that day to attend the funeral, and as is expected when such a number gathers in one place in Egypt, chaos ensues. From my office window, I saw the number of the crowds increasing, with everyone trying to reach the ambulance carrying the body, until hysteria erupted. Policemen with canes then started beating up the mobs to keep them away from the ambulance. Sure, Ahmed Zaki was an amazing actor. But what were these people thinking?

Penguins on a Summer Day
In Cape Town, there's a beach called "Boulder" where a strange phenomenen exists. A colony of Penguins lives amongst ginat boulders on a beach that is open for the public to swim in. It's a strange site to see swimmers and sunbathers lying casually on the beach and penguins frolicking in the background. Some of these penguins wander out of the beach and onto the streets. Some even enter the houses that are close by and steal food. Check out the traffic sign below :) I spent hours just hanging out with the penguins and taking photos.

Using God to Reserve a Parking Spot

This sign was posted in front of a mosque in Mohandiseen. Apparently, the Imam got fed up of people taking up his parking spot, so he put up the sign hinting that if you park the car in this spot, God might have to intervene!

The Millenium Wheel: the original and the imitation
I took the above photo of the original Millenium Wheel in London. It's the largest observation wheel in the world. Of course, with the UAE's obsession with copying everything big, they had to have one of their own in Sharjah (below).

Only in Egypt

I took the photo of this sign during the elections. The top line says "Yes to Mubarak" and then the rest of the sign is advertising a glass cleaner's number. It might seem odd to have these two together. But if you know the reason, you'll understand. The thing is, the municipality usually removes signs like this one. By putting "Yes to Mubarak" on the top, the person who did this sign guarantees that his sign stays as long as possibly can. Smart, right?

Photo on the right taken in the "Honey Day Inn" in Fayoum. Room rate: LE 120 (Bed, breakfast, and Fleas included).

Have you ever seen "Minimum Charge" spelled this way before?

Our Dog On a Desert Trip

Veiled Truck Driver!
Our Veiled Cat!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Heard Today

40 is the new 30;

30 is the new 20;

13 is the new 18.

When you think about it, it makes sense - doesn't it?

The World's Best Translator!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Things You Don’t Know About Me

Tagged by Alluring

  1. I lived in five different countries (Kuwait, Egypt, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai).
  2. I can sleep in less than 30 seconds, every day, as soon as I put my head on the pillow. I can also sleep anywhere with no issues whatsoever.
  3. I flew over Mount Everest.
  4. I studied Engineering, was the third top of my class, but never actually worked as an Engineer.
  5. I had seven different jobs between 2003 and 2004!
  6. I’m a closet agnostic.
  7. I love spicy food. I have a whole bar of hot sauces at home.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Will Be Back Soon

This blog has been inactive for way too long. I think it's about time to kick-start it back to life. Will write something soon,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Haifa Wahby conquers Shaggy

Have you ever seen this before? Apparently it was in the Cairo concert. Hayfa really let loose in that concert ;)
Kramer Loses It

Michael Richards (who plays Kramer on Seinfeld) has lost it. A black guy heckled him during a standup show he was doing, then all hell broke loose. I couldn't believe somebody could do this in 2006 America in public.

Love This Cartoon!

From the brilliant Cairo Freeze.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I found out about some heartbreaking stuff today.‎

It all happened in a very spontaneous way – completely unplanned. After Iftar, we were ‎heading out to one of the Ramadan Shisha joints, doing the Egyptian Ramadan thing. As ‎we reached the place, I saw a sign for an orphanage. I immediately stopped there so we ‎can visit the place. You see, my wife has been wanting to visit an orphanage for some ‎time now. She’s been wanting to help out in any way she can: give the kids private ‎lessons, donate money or food. Basically she’s been feeling we’re too wrapped up in the ‎grind of life, and she felt there’s much more to be done to help those in need. Naturally, ‎she was thrilled. We went inside and discovered that this orphanage was a very pleasant ‎place. A small villa housing around 20 kids, ranging from newborns to 4year olds. You ‎could feel it was well-run, and it was clear the kids were getting tenderness and care. The ‎staff was great. We stayed and played and with the kids, who were really eager for any ‎sort of attention. They were literally throwing themselves at us and we spent a good ‎amount of time with them playing, cuddling, and goofing around with them. It was really ‎emotional.‎

That’s not the heartbreaking part. When we sat with the manager and talked to him, he ‎told us that almost all of these kids were not really orphans. They were abandoned ‎children that were discovered as newborn infants in the streets, most probably because ‎they were illegitimate. To escape social ostracization, their mothers just abandon them. ‎What was heartbreaking was the stories of how they find these kids. Apparently, in a bid ‎to get rid of any evidence of their fornication, many of these mothers purposefully leave ‎the kids in places that will lead to their death! Some infants are found placed next to the ‎back wheels of a huge truck, so that when the driver backs off when he gets into his car in ‎the morning, he crushes the baby! Others are found with fractured skulls because they’re ‎thrown out of the window of a car. Others are left in the garbage, where they get attacked ‎by stray dogs and cats. When we heard this, we could not believe such a thing was ‎humanly possible. How could a mother do something like that? When you see these ‎little children, with all their innocence and purity, and then you hear about what they ‎were subjected to, you cannot help but be heartbroken. Whose fault is this? Are the ‎mothers solely to blame? Or does our society, which values female “honor” much more ‎than it values life, share a huge part of the blame?‎