Broken English

Note: the WP auto timestamp of this post is wrong. It was written and published on Monday, January 1st 2018. I have now reset the blog’s time zone to Cairo time. Happy New Year!

el gouna marina

The hip marina scene on the last morning of 2017

The marina in El Gouna was hopping this morning, relatively speaking. We could not find a seat around 11ish on Sunday at 7th Star, so we walked around, had some pictures taken for our monthly carnet bus tickets, and then just bought croissants and some American coffee and sat by the quay on the other side of the marina and had breakfast in front of the boats.

Zoom into the pic above, and you will see examples of the new Cairo elite.  Like the old elite before them, many also speak a foreigner’s language, snatches of which pervade their Arabic.  We saw their children running around the marina — these being Egyptian children — speaking English to each other.  I will repeat that. Egyptian children at play speaking half-fluent English to one another, rather than their own language.

Just like it was like for me, many years ago, when I spoke a mix of pidgin English and Arabic with my friends at the Gezira club, the English my wife and I overheard was mostly broken, non-idiomatic, accented, and odd-sounding at times, but nevertheless charming and readily understandable.

The Azhar is lamenting the corruption and looming disappearance of Arabic.

For the Arabic you hear in El Gouna and in the capital is only partly Egyptian Arabic. An enormous amount of American slang loan words have crept into the language.  It has always been so: French to Arabic, Arabic to French; and so on with other languages.

But there is something different at play here other than normal linguistic pollination. There is this idea that English, and in particular, American English is better. Send your kids to English school, and you will cement your family’s ascent into the elite class.

Before Nasser, English was the language of the hated occupiers of Egypt. Now, it is the language of those who willingly submit to the appropriation of their culture.  For it’s not just in language, but in manner of dress, choice of music, choice of lifestyle, and attitudes, that you see Americana permeate Egyptian culture, resulting for many in the distancing if not outright disappearance among the elites of any real connection to their homeland.

But what will these children turn out to be?  I saw, to my dismay, a little kid bicycle around with an expensive late model smartphone dangling down from a badge cord around his neck.  He could not have been more than ten, and was shouting to his friends excitedly in Broken English.

How is this kid going to turn out? Half here, half there, rooted to “Arabish,” schooled by his parents such as to end up to be covertly self-hating,  unmoored to “Egyptianess,” which they are ashamed of, he will most likely turn out to be a cultural half-breed, a linguistic mongrel, as pure Arabic crumbles throughout the Middle East, replaced by the various levels of Broken English that is sifting through much of Egypt, like a linguistic algae bloom, with its attendant late Empire toxicities.

(A particularly egregious example of this phenomenon is the zine Cairo Scene, whose appropriation of American slang and misuse of English words — “infamous,” for instance, being understood as a superlative — borders on self-parody.)

We had bought a French baguette at 7th Star, and took the bus to Downtown, where I bought three cuts of fresh chicken breast from The Butchery, then some tomatoes, a red bell pepper, a red onion and a bottle of Sinai olive oil. This entire basket of goods, or shebang, if you want to imitate American-English speak, costs around seven dollars American.

Then we went home, and sunned ourselves by the pool.  The cat took to Zouz, who soon changed her name from “Tyger” (the name I had temporarily bestowed on her) to Sandy.  Much better name, as the wild creature always has sand on its paws. My wife then fed the cat, and while Sandy ate, Zouz took this picture.

el gouna cat

Sandy

Later on, we were invited by a friend to a NYE party, but we declined.  Zouz and I were both tired from our recent travels, and in fact were fast alseep by 9PM, well before the party was about to start, but not before we watched a mediocre chick flic called Broken English on TV, and when the credits rolled, my ears pricked up at Scratch Massive’s cover of Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 dance-rock standard “Broken English.”

It is now 2018.

The anticipated noise from the next door turned out to be a false alarm, although there was plenty emanating from the multi-family vacation rentals from across the lagoon till very late at night, which caused Sandy to get frazzled and eventually woke me up.  So I ended up writing this post at 3:30AM, with CNN on mute, and airhead announcers like Anderson Cooper babbling on inconsequentially about how great it was going to be freezing your ass in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop.

At the start of a new year, things are looking up.

Zouz and I have now both escaped the clutches of Konafa Head culture (see previous post), and for now at least, are not personally subjected what we perceive as the grotesque social illness that is America.

Our marriage remains unbroken, despite the up and downs of a multi decade marriage. We are most likely to return in October for 6 months.

I reflected back, but only briefly, on all those elite Broken English people at the marina, and especially their unfortunate kids, who don’t even realize what is happening to them.

Why would you ever want to mimic that which — when the chips are down — essentially holds in contempt everything about you that’s authentic?

Why would you willingly participate in the slow death of your own culture?

Verily, for some, Broken English is nothing more than a form of identity suicide on the installment plan.

I’m not into that shit any more.

leaving america

Moon over Gouna

El Gouna

The view from our villa on Dec 31st, around 3AM

The Zouz is here!

After 3 ½ month apart, my wife (Zouz is my nickname for her) and I are finally together again in Gouna. We last saw each other at Nice airport in mid September. Then she returned to Kanafeh Land, that is to say, the only country in the world where its president’s fake coif resembles the Middle Eastern dish known in Egyptian dialect as konafa.

I went to Cairo by bus on Thursday, and then walked from the bus stop in Abdel Moneim Ryad Square in downtown Cairo to the Nile corniche. This is easier said than done and is not for the faint-hearted as you essentially have to walk into head on 3  lane traffic, twice.  There are no crosswalks, but it easier if you realize there is a light that controls traffic under the October 6 bridge, which does allow for a mad dash across the southbound traffic. You really have to have Cairo in your blood to accomplish this, and I do not recommend it for the casual tourist going to Egypt, certainly not one my age, but then again, I have walked around this part of the world since I was a boy.

 I then walked a short distance to where the old steel Abu-el-Ela bridge used to stand.  I crossed the bridge that replaced it, over a Nile that was strewn with floating litter, and took a short cut side street called Aziz Abaza, past the new Metro stop construction at the foot of Mahammad Mazhar St., past all the soldiers with machine guns guarding the various embassies, past Au Temps Jadis, past the layers of memory that I walk through whenever I am in Zamalek, and within no time at all I was in my father’s old apartment.

It was lovely seeking my uncle, who is something of a saint, and also my aunt who was there for the stay, but frankly I was glad to get out of Cairo on Saturday morning, for all the usual reasons: the noise of the Nile boats at night, the filth, the tension, the overcrowding, the potholes, the motorbikes zooming by you at night with their headlights off, as you try to dodge them sideswiping you in the poorly-lit streets. You have to avoid stepping on the broken down sidewalks that can break your ankle with a sudden, uneven steepness of pitch. Instead, you must slither past double and triple parked cars, nonchalantly of course, like Cairenes do, with the constant sound of approaching night traffic behind you, and barely room for a car to squeeze past without hitting you, as if this is the most normal thing in the world, even if naas fil shari’ shabeehen el zombies, that is to say, people in the street walking toward you, and vying for the same slither of street space, look like zombies, as the Cairokee song goes.

In Zamalek, much as I still have a fondness for it, but would never live there today, I sensed I was in the land of the twilight of the dinosaurs, overlording it over the teeming masses.  I was twice approached by young boys begging for money.  Never happened to me before in Zamalek.  The song I just referred is this one; it captures perfectly how young Cairenes must view the remnants of the aging class of the over privileged currently maskeen el balad, or holding the reigns of power in Egypt.

On Saturday, I took at taxi in front the Indian ambassador’s residence to the airport (none I hailed would run the meter, or addad, so I negotiated in Arabic a 100LE fare, + carta, or entrance fee, which was 6 pounds Egyptian), checked in, then  waited for my wife to arrive on Egyptair from New York, and the plane was actually early. I was worried that Zouz would not come, because of the Helouan terrorist incident on Thursday, but the Zouz had not been watching CNN that day, thank the Gods.

It was really great to have the AHLAN service meet my wife in the Domestic Departures section of Cairo International.  They whisked her via electric cart through to a VIP lounge, where she saw what looked like a movie star, then they took care of her passport visa stamping details, and then, after a minor hitch (due to my deciding to wait for her at the  security gate, instead of on the upstairs departure area, as previously agreed:  I did not know Ahlan had access to some secret passageway that allowed them to bypass having to first exiting the International arrivals security area and come back back in through the domestic security area; nor did I know my wife had been able to get a boarding pass for the Hurghada leg of journey:  so was sure if I hung around the check in area that I would see her).

But after some frantic calls on the mobile — which kept shutting itself off for no reason — in which I lost my temper, as I frequently did when I became angry at “underlings” for screwing things up in the telco firm where I once worked, I finally saw my Zouz again, after so many months.

We flew on Egyptair to Hurghada (the plane was an hour late), then phoned ABC taxi (which was cheap, but late) and motored off to Gouna, at last. Memo to anyone using ABC:  they use private cars (not marked TAXI), they can take quite some time to get to you, and you must be fluent in Arabic to use this service.  If you check all those boxes, you will more than half the usual fare to go to El Gouna.

Arriving in Gouna:  horrors!

There was a huge line of cars waiting at the main gate to get in.  It was the New Year’s Weekend, and ALL of Gouna was about to turn into party town, which I had been warned about.

We finally go to the villa, and I gave her the tour: Zouz absolutely loved it!

But we had no bottled water or food, so we took the bus that runs past the villa to downtown Gouna, and went to Zomba, where we had delicious foul and ta’ameyya with eggplant sandwiches, some fantastic hummus, and her favorite desert, Om Ali, which they made from scratch for us, but alas was missing pistachios. Delicious, though!

After buying water and other supplies from a supermarket, we took the bus back to the villa, and went to sleep sawa-sawa in the living room, with the TV on… only to be woken at 3am by the sound of party revelers.

Yikes!

The house next door had obviously been rented to some Cairenes, and the sound of their loud voices in Arabic and of course the thump thump of “party” music that the baladi, nouveau riche Egyptians so love to hear.

No worries; this was not the tiny apartment in Abu Tig marina where I had stayed for the past, and been subjected to this nonsense unrelentingly for 3 months.

This was a great big villa, with thick walls, and a large Epicurean walled garden,  and so my wife simply repaired to one to the bedrooms on the other side of the house. The thick walls insulated her from the noise, and she promptly went back to sleep, while I decided to write this post before again retiring.

Tomorrow, we shall go to 7th Star for croissants and American coffee and probably run into some old friends of mine.

But tonight, I am happier than have I’ve been since I set foot in Gouna, alone, in mid September. Life is good again, and is finally as it should be.

The Zouz is here!

 

leaving america

The desert is a cold place

The view from my villa of sunset in the desert

 

The desert climate of El Gouna, Egypt is cold at night in winter.  The sun sets remarkably early here in late December, before 5PM; and it gets dark quick once it slips over the mountains.

Then you get 13 hours of darkness, for the sun will not rise again till 6am.

The temperature plummets, once the sun sets.  Today at dawn it was 61F, or 16C. This may not seem so bad in places where it is already snowing, but there is no central heating here. There have been several nights already in the mid 50s.

No fireplace, or firewood.

I suppose you could buy an electric heater, but I don’t like them, and am sure the electricity cost would go through the roof if I had heaters on all night.

The winter desert cold is a peculiar sort of cold.  It is an unexpectedly damp, bone chilling cold; the humidity is 65 per cent today; El Gouna is by the sea.

There is no insulation in the walls, no system of solar panels on the roof to warm the house during the night, and windows that do always protect against the wind.

Many houses in El Gouna have this sort of yellowish polished stone floor surfacing.  While these are excellent in the summer, no doubt, they do add to the considerable coldness in the house in winter.

No place in the house is actually warm during the day, unless you open the large front door that faces east and let the morning sun in.

As a result of it being so cold at night, I have to wrap myself with two thick blankets when I watch TV at night. The only good thing is that this cold seems to have put the mozzies into hibernation.

It is warm and beautiful during the day, in the mid 70s usually, but the pool isn’t heated, so I have not been able to swim in it since arriving here two weeks ago.  Since I am leaving in March, I will probably never get that opportunity, unless I return in October to this place.

This idea has been on my mind for some time.

I truly am aghast at returning to the United States around April, and am quite happy here being far away from the orange circus.

Now that my wife is arriving on Saturday, I shall not be quite as isolated.  I hope the cold and long nights will not bother her too much.

Depending on how things pan out in the months ahead, there are decisions that need to be made, hard ones, with serious consequences, for me and my family.

So, as I look ahead, will 2018 be the year when I say goodbye to a country I have lived in for half a century?

I am going to Cairo in a couple of hours and when I return on Saturday, the good news is that I shall no longer be alone in the cold nights of Egypt’s Eastern Desert on the Red Sea.

leaving america