Rhea's Adventures -continues "Egyptian Dance Festival--Intrigue & Chaos" Part 2
Rhea Likouri

read part 1-here

When we awoke the following morning, it was to the sight of the Red Sea before us, filled with its coral shoals. Each little group of us had its own small "cabin" with its monstrous air conditioning unit outside the back side of the cabin. The Finnish group later showed us how to chill our beer there. We met at the breakfast area some women who had come from various countries on their own, that is to say, without the patronage of the sponsors, but with plans to attend the workshops and attend the galas. They had not been met at the airport. They had gotten their own visas (not a difficult or expensive process - I had gone through it myself when we had made our trip to Mt. Sinai.) They had traveled by public bus (less expensive, nor air conditioning. But it leaves when they say it leaves and gets there when they say it gets there. No late seminar participants) and their rooms had no air conditioning. This we couldn't figure out. Having already observed peculiar behavior on the part of the sponsors, we could only conjecture. Did the sponsor interfere to cajole everyone to come their auspices? Why was there no price with and without air conditioning? Another enigma which confronted us in the land of the sphinx.

Never mind. We again partook of our breakfast, even more rich and varied than the one offered in the Cairo hotel. All manner of unusual (to us) food was offered, from goat's cheese to tomatoes to sweetened wheat kernels. Coffee, alas, was Nescafe envelopes. But this is, after all, a tea drinking society. Our Bedouin hosts were dressed in white galibeas and head dresses and were so so so handsome, with blue-green eyes. An Egyptian man married to a Finnish woman and with the most patient manner with his well-behaved children, acted as our spokesperson and got the management to change our all-expenses paid breakfast, one meal a day package from dinner to lunch. This left us free to attend the nightly gala at our leisure and not hurry through the meal.

The first gala I didn't attend due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances. On our way to Sharm El-Shaik we had been taken to one of our promised "all expenses paid" events to eat a typical country meal, to see dancing horses, and to see a whirling dervish. We were first greeted by the sight of a man on horseback, giving different commands to the horse, to which the horse responded by "dancing" or doing various sideways leaps, from and back kicks, and a rearing up of his whole front, rider attached, and walking on his hind legs. This was accompanied by a Zurna-like instrument and a big daouli. I accompanied them on cymbals and seemed to be the only person in the entire festival who played them.

What a shame that this ancient instrument, sacred to matriarchy, and to Cybele from where the cymbals derived their name, and Dionysian worship would fall into such neglect.

The locals really seemed to enjoy my playing and had wide grins and clapped along. Some of the fesitval participants took photos. I also seemed to be the only one who gave zagareet (or zagaruta, the singular, as I alone gave voice to this ancient ululation) or, in any case, the only one who dared to do so. Again the locals responded warmly, and followed suit, but in the "real way" that my Kurdish boyfriend can do; tongue moving from side to side. My tongue learned a long time ago the give zagareet moving the tongue up and down and I'll be darned if, at this late date, I can change. Or maybe it's just my tongue. But the sound is the same.

We were then treated to a young man, unshaven with long hair, who did the traditional whirling dance, slowly removing two beautifully and colorfully embroidered skirts which he inched up slowly, one by one, to eventually twirl them over his head, resembling some of the veil work that such dancers do who are still proficient in that skill. He included head rolls at times and whirled for about ten or fifteen minutes, again accompanied by zurnas and daouli, plus yours truly on cymbals. Wild applause followed his departure and I went to see him "backstage," i.e. a room inside the restaurant adjacent to the courtyard where we were being served. He was completely drenched in sweat and we communicated in bad French, as his English was nonexistent, ditto my Arabic. I mean "la" and "aiwa" can only carry you so far.

I asked if he had learned this dance as a family tradition and he shyly told me that no, he had come to it by himself, out of a love that developed on its own.

By this time the waiters were serving the food and beverages, beer and Sprite, which were brought already opened to the table. Which led us to assume that they were included in the "all expenses pair" stuff as we had not ordered them, although we drank them with relish. The food, while plentiful and good and varied, was served unevenly, with some people jealously watching others consume desired goodies not delivered to their side of the table. As I listened to the complaints and unfulfilled desires on the part of my table mates, I resolved to do it the "Greek" way. That is to say, go into the kitchen and get it yourself, as the very busy waiters kept smiling and saying yes, but after ten requests and smiling assents, had still not delivered the salivatingly awaited delicacies. Zip, in I went to the kitchen and, zip, out again I went, much to the delight of the cooks and waiters, until I delivered everyone's favorites. The other tables were grumbling, but I had aligned myself with the Finnish people I knew personally, and sat down to eat, as I couldn't serve everyone.

Imagine our surprise when we were given a bill for the beers and Sprites. I hotly contested this extra expense with the sponsors, who just as hotly fought back:
"Why did you drink them? Now you must pay."
"Why did they bring them already opened as though they were included in the 'all expenses paid' agreement?"
"In every country in the world the drinks are extra."
"Not in my country, America, and my adopted country, Greece. All things included are all things included."
Not I nor they showed any willingness to back down. As the grandaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who escaped the cossacks (who pillaged Jewish villages in Minsk and Pinsk, installing their pograms) to seek freedom in America and to found the first labor unions in America, only to be beaten by the police in the 1930's general strike in San Francisco, my blood boiled.

"Strike!" I cried, and we all stood up and marched to the bus!

The point wasn't the money, although it was, a little. We had already been forced to buy a drink or leave the first gala. Now this! What next? With the logic they were displaying, we would soon be asked to pay for the gasoline on the Pullmans because, after all, the trip by Pullman had been promised, but gasoline was not. The Egyptian man married to a Finnish woman and leader of a dance troupe featured in the program, paid for us all after we left and collected the money from us on the bus.
"But why?" I asked, "You were with us, and as vociferous as I was."
"Well, that was because the service was bad that I refused to pay. They were right about the drinks."
"Grrrrr!" said I, and "Speak for yourself, John," said I.
But I later reconciled with him and paid. I hate being taken for a rich American, when I, in fact, am a belly dancer who has suffered joyfully and mightily for my profession. And I am one of those anachronistic individuals who has credit cards, but "pay as I play." I had only a certain amount of money with me, and didn't want to borrow from Anna, thus limiting her choices of what to purchase.

So I decided not to attend the first gala as there were rumors that we would pay $20.00 extra for each gala that been expressly advertised as "all expenses included." We had already paid $60.00 to see Beata and Horacio, but at least we knew what we were getting. As far as I could see, the sponsors were signing up the seminar participants to dance in the galas. O.K. Fine. Fair. But...I came to see Egyptians, not foreigners, and listen to live music, not tapes, although the dancers may have been good, and their tapes as well.

As it turned out, others had taken up my fight and forced the sponsors to back down. No charge at the door, theater seating and no forced extra drinks. Yay!

I had decided to go into the closest town to replenish my supply of Antinal after the first scheduled dance workshops were derailed due to electrical problems, room availability problems, and competing for space problems.

To be eligible for the shuttle bus to the town, you had to be a resident of the expensive hotel, included in the more expensive package. The charming Bedouin bungalows were not allowed to send their residents. So I took advantage of the chaos and pretended to be outraged because I was wrongly delivered to the other hotel after paying for the expensive one. Due to the complete disorganization of no rooms to teach, no electricity or tape recorders, etc. they gladly let me go on the shuttle bus. We were let off in Nama Bay, that previously pristine place mentioned before in front of Mustafa's establishment (a little baksheesh paid to the shuttle bus drivers).

What a place! Cages with birds, monkeys, every manner of fowl in a pool, dogs, cats, goats, giant minaret-shaped ceramic, many-windowed enclosures for wild birds to fly into, and myriad fountains. The eye couldn't take it in all at once.

I resolved to find my pharmacy and return early before the last shuttle bus left for the hotel in the evening to see the rest of this exotic establishment. I traversed the entire walkway by the sea, which had only recently been two or three restaurants and some thatched bungalows, and was now replete with French and Italian restaurants with French and Italian prices, bicycles for rent at American prices and snorkling and scuba diving gear available at English and Australian prices. I visited with and was offered copious cups of tea by many merchants, who had 2,000% inflated prices over Khan El Kahlili. I bought beer at the duty-free, the only alcoholic beverage allowed to be purchased fter 24 hours in the country, and that with a foreign passport (not Egyptian) and at American prices, which were still cheaper than the hotel's which has Parisian prices, and our Bedouin encampment was not allowed to sell alcohol at all, although we could bring it to lunch or dinner if we could lay our hands on it elsewhere.

The manager of the duty free introduced himself to me and told me, in perfect English that he had owned a restaurant in New York. He had left to go to California, but was afraid of the earthquakes, and returned to Egypt to marry the girl of his parent's choice. Learning that I was a dancer, he summoned his cousin who sang and played oud. I took out my cymbals and we began to play. The duty free filled with people from all over the surrounding area, who urged me to dance. And dance I did! Zagareeting, hand clapping, hands beating rhythms on any available surface until, exhausted. I sat down. I was offered yet another cup of tea and left with my purchases and promises to return.


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