Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Sunday, September 04, 2005

getting lost and sufi dancers~!

I went on a 1 1/2 hour walk today around my area attempting to make it to Islamic Cairo. Long story short, I didn't make it. Not because it's too far away, but because I got lost. Luckily I've been lost a few times in my life and I know that at the very least I would end up just finding an English-speaking taxi driver and making my way back home. I realized today I can fit pretty well into Egyptian culture. I heard a few "welcome to Egypt" comments, but for the most part I was totally ignored, not even men (or women) giving a second look at me. Believe me, this is a relief! We live in a very non-touristy area so normally this would cause people to gawk at us even more, but not today! The strategy is to walk with confidence and purpose, avoid eye contact, and look like you know where you are going. An added bonus for me is I can easily pass as an Egyptian woman. Unfortunately, the other women (and men) volunteers get a LOT of looks and comments and sometimes touches. Right now it's their biggest struggle. Since I was getting by just fine, I was determined not to pull out my map, even when I really didn't know where I was, because I knew it would be a dead give-away that I was very foreign and had no clue what I was doing. So, after a lot of backtracking I managed to make it to Ramses Street, about 1/2 mile away from where I started. Not bad!

Also, last night we saw the Sufi Dancers/Whirling Dirvishes. The Whirling Dervishes trace their origin to the 13th century Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes, also known as the Mevlevi Order, are Sufis, a spiritual offshoot of Islam. The performer (whether he is a true Sufi or an entertainer) "turns" or whirls endlessly while manipulating his colorful skirts. We timed one man who spun in circles for 31 minutes! The dance has been performed for over 700 years. One website explained, "A story is told of a tradesman in a small village in the East who sat on his knees in his little shop, and with his left hand he pulled a strand of wool from the bale which was above his head. He twirled the wool into a thicker strand and passed it to his right hand as it came before his body. The right hand wound the wool around a large spindle. This was a continuous motion on the part of the old man who, each time his right hand spindled the wool, inaudibly said "la illaha illa'llah" (there is no God but God). There could be no uneven movement or the wool would break and he would have to tie a knot and begin again. The old man had to be present to every movement or he would break the wool. This is awareness. This is life. Sufi means awareness in life, awareness on a higher plan than on which we normally life."


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