Monday, January 11

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Cairo adventures: Shisha and keffiyeh

A professor once told my class that the West is continually re-discovering East. I would modify that a little bit. It's always discovering bits and pieces, mostly having to do with the accessories; becoming heavily enamored; and fitting them to its own concerns. Tibetan prayer flags, anime, and so on and so forth. Shisha and keffiyehs are of particular interest within the college crowd of which I was so recently a member, and this past week I have had the opportunity to observe them in their native habitat, more or less. Shisha originated in India some five hundred years ago and keffiyeh are more of a Palestinian thing, but the point stands that Egyptians were doing them well before American kids ever thought to.

Shisha is ridiculously popular here, as is smoking in general. Walk a block downtown, and you'll pass three combination tea/coffee/shisha cafés, not counting the four that you couldn't see in the alleys. Guaranteed, no matter when you pass, there will be at least four pipes out. Morning, afternoon, evening, night. I don't know if they're so into flavors over here as in the States as I've avoided indulging, but they are definitely not into passing the pipe here. Strictly one person for each shisha. Tend more toward the older set here, too, though not exclusively, mostly because students don't spend as much time at the cafés. If they are around, though, they've probably pulled one down one of their own from the line-up on the back wall and are watching the city pass by between puffs.

But only with men. I don't think I've seen a single woman stomping out a fag end, and I only saw my first sit down at one of the cafés today but that was just to talk to a friend. She didn't smoke or drink tea or coffee or anything.

They wear keffiyehs here, too. You can buy them on the street and everything. In all truth, I can only remember meeting one person who ever wore a keffiyeh, and I never would have known about its associations with Palestine were it not for a particular guest comic in a particular web comic. I'm not going to link to it. If you've read it, you know why.

Otherwise, yeah.

Not much to say except that it's one thing when some Western hipster claims it's a political statement. It's another thing entirely to wear a Palestinian symbol when your nation has gone to war with Israel in your parents' lifetimes.

Speaking of which, a few days ago, a woman asked me to sign a petition demanding that the world's largest prison (Palestine) be made free and healthcare, higher education, rainbows, fine dark chocolates and baby rabbits be made available to all its former inmates. I didn't sign and neither did the hostel's owner. He told me after she left that he didn't see the point. He didn't think the Palestinians really wanted freedom. Egypt had tried to help before, and they hadn't taken advantage of it then. Fun fact, Egypt prefers to call them the War of 1967 and October War.

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