art of resistance, Egypt

BuSSy: A Place For Untold Gender Stories.

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BuSSy is a performing arts project that has been slowly changing Egypt for the last ten years. It aims to empower men and women to express themselves and talk about the things that are “not to be talked about”. Through storytelling, they raise awareness about social issues that are crippling Egypt nowadays. To find out more about BuSSy and their efforts, I talked with Nadia Elboubkri, BuSSy’s project manager.

When and how did the BuSSy project start? What was the motivation behind it?

In 2005, the American University in Cairo hosted a performance of the Vagina Monologues. Many female students felt the performance was daring but irrelevant to Egyptians. And in reaction to that… BuSSy was born! In 2006, a group of female students started The BuSSy project – an annual performance of true stories of women in Egypt. The very first BuSSy performance was a collection of stories submitted by women in response to a flyer that read: “If you have a story about yourself or a woman you know, please pick up a submission form and share it.”
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The monologues, which were written and performed by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided for the first time in Egypt, a space for free expression on issues that society often failed/refused to address.

Despite  being constantly subjected to censorship attempts from both the private theaters and state owned ones, BuSSy was able to carry on and expand further. In 2010 the project developed its scope to include stories of both women and men. Both genders are invited to share their personal experiences during the workshop and later on stage.

In 2012, we began working on a larger scale, instead of one workshop and one performance. We started conducting several workshops around Cairo to produce different performances each year that include stories of both genders. Some of the performances and workshops revolved around specific timely/relevant themes such as harassment incidents during protests and domestic violence.

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You’ve been holding performances on stages all over Egypt for the last couple of years. What are the biggest obstacles you faced on your way?

The issues that BuSSy often discusses in our workshops are often taboo in Egypt, rarely spoken about publicly, and often women are shamed and considered dishonorable if they are sexually violated, let alone if they speak about it in public forum.
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BuSSy gives women a space to discuss these stories, whether anonymously or with their own names… Though many choose to remain anonymous. We hold workshops in cities all over Egypt, and invite women from all walks of life to come and share their stories with us. Then, we put the stories together into a performance, and the women [if they so choose] go on stage and share their stories.
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This all sounds a lot easier than it is… Often we are faced with community backlash – community members heckle the storytellers on stage, some women are forced to hide their identities, we can’t feature some of our storytellers on film, or publish their pictures on social media.
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We are also subject to government censorship. Most recently we were forced out of a government venue [the Cairo Opera House] because a performance we were invited to give there discussed issues that were deemed “immoral” by the government, such as masturbation and sexual education.
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Because of this, we are now crowdfunding for our own space, because we promise a safe and judgment-free environment for our storytellers, and that has become increasingly difficult to find…sometimes we hold workshops in unsafe neighborhoods, or rehearsals in parking lots, and even our own living rooms, because we can’t find a space to work.
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Gender issues are in the focus of your activism. Through your stories, what are the big issues Egyptian women and men face in relation to gender roles and expectations?
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Many of the common issues that Egyptian women and men face are related to the high rates of sexual violence, which has its roots in the occupation of public space and culture-based gender dynamics. A common thread in our workshops is street harassment, and women feeling scared or ashamed to go outside in public, often spending excessive time deliberating about what to wear, where to walk, etc.
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For men, similar issues arise, there exists harassment of males, though it isn’t always discussed. Our workshops help both genders find connections with others who have had similar experiences, and show them they are not alone, which empowers them to step on stage and tell others,thereby raising awareness about the issue.
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Having this space to express often hidden stories from all parts of the society is of incredible importance to many. What were the reactions of people when BuSSy project started and how did it change throughout the years? Were they scared in the beginning? And do you have bigger support now?
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Bussy is fortunate to have a large and loyal support base in Cairo, when we hold workshops and performances they are almost always sold out. However, we still have our fair share of difficulties in addressing the public. Many audience members are shocked during our performances, people have walked out during a show, or addressed us afterwards to tell us their thoughts.
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However, many of our audience members are the opposite too–cheering us on, or wanting to join us in our next workshop and performance. In cities outside of Cairo, because we are very new to them, it takes longer to thaw the ice. Our workshops have been a great way to connect with the community, and after getting to know the storytellers, we find that they also become willing to step on stage and speak about issues that have never been publicly addressed in their communities. They are breaking ground in their communities!
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You’ve mentioned the cooperation with other theatres – private and state owned ones. What was the case most of the times – were they ready to cooperate with you or were there censorhip efforts?
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Ever since it’s birth BuSSy has been facing a lot of difficulties finding spaces to hold the workshops and rehearsals.
We have held workshops and rehearsals in school court yards, garages, flats, public cafe, rented rooms, bookshops…
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For BuSSy to continue to share with the world the remarkable histories of our storytellers, we need a safe and open space to hold our workshops, create other activities that would help sustain the project on the long run, and help it operate independently away from censorship and content-controlling funding – which is commonly practiced by hosting venues.
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It depends on the circumstances, the legality, and the independence of the venue. But, anytime we are asked to submit a script for review or to censor our language, we respectfully decline holding our performance in that particular venue. It is one of our most important principles to share the stories exactly how they are told to us.
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BuSSy is currently crowdfunding to create a space for women and men to speak up about their untold gender stories. What would be your hope and dream for the future?
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Our crowdfunding campaign is not only aiming to acquire our own space to hold workshops and events, but we are also seeking to become self-sustaining within the next few years. We plan to hold regular storytelling workshops, open-mic events, mini-performances, and more in our new space, and hopefully, over time, we can support our own activities, particularly our activities outside of Cairo.
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/all photos © BuSSy/
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The Croatian version of the interview can be found on Libela.
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art of resistance, Egypt

Ahmad El Abi: Oh Happy (Duckie) Day!

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Ahmas S. El Abi is an Egyptian artist who finds his truest passion in conceptual arts and photography. He manages all his projects by himself – from the inital stage to the finish line – trying to offer a fresh view of everyday life.

His perspective is a colorful one, and it is almost always spiced up with an enormous love towards rubber duck(ie)s, which means – it will probably make you smile, even if your heart’s a little bit rough around the edges.

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//all photos © Ahmad S. El Abi//

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For more, check out El Abi’s facebook page.

 

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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, travel

Cinemas of Morocco and Egypt.

maroc081,large.1422288691/Cinema Al Falah, Casablanca/

Stephan Zaubitzer started photographing movie theatres in 2003. Twelve years later, he has an impressive cinema collection in his portolio, from the United States and Romania, to Brazil and the Czech Republic. Among the cinemas he discovered and captured in his photos, there are many that can be found in Morocco and Egypt – from Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangier to Alexandria and Cairo.

Zaubitzer was fascinated by the dark interiors with their outlandish decorations, and by the exteriors, which always stand out from their urban surroundings. His photos allows us to take a tour around the magical world of movie theaters in Morocco and Egypt.

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//all photos © Stephan Zaubitzer//

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For more, visit Stephan Zaubitzer’s official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Palestine

Radwa Ashour: Living With The Sea.

The following is an excerpt from Radwa Ashour’s novel The Woman from Tantoura (translated by Kay Heikkinen).

11193228_756935071088032_1600094042379216030_n/Radwa Ashour, photo: Lobna Ismail, via Arabic Literature/

“The sea was the border of the village, lending it its voices and colors, suffusing it with scents, which we would smell even in the aroma of the large, flat stone-baked bread loaves. I don’t remember when I learned how to swim just as I don’t remember when I learned how to walk or talk.

In later years I headed for coastal towns. I said ‘the sea in Beirut and Alexandria is the same sea’, but it wasn’t. City sea is different: you look at it from the high balcony or you walk along an asphalt path and the sea is there, separated from you by a ditch and a fence. And if you decide to go to it you come as a stranger, sitting in one of the coffee shops on the shore, or carrying with you stranger’s gear – an umbrella, a chair, perhaps a towel and a swimsuit. It’s a limited visit: you come as a guest, then you pick up your things and leave.

Like most of the houses in the village, our house was entwined with the sea. I would go to it carelessly, almost unnoticing, two steps in the water meaning to wet my feet and then a wave would surprise me, wetting my whole garment.  I would jump back to the sand and in the flash of an eye it would turn me into a sand creature, then another jump and I would dive into the water all the way.

I would swim and play, alone or with the other girls and boys. We would share in digging, then ‘me, me, me…’. I would go down into the deep pit and they would spread sand over me until my body disappeared , leaving only the heads rising excitedly from its warm, sandy burial place. A grave surrounded by the laughter and devilment of the young.

Perhaps the sea, like us, is absorbed in watching and forgets itself in calm, or is gradually overcome by sleepiness after the long evening. Like the sea, we give in to the gentle torpor. We don’t notice until our mothers take us away, and we follow them like sleepwalkers. We settle into our beds, not knowing if we are in the house or on the beach, if what we see or what rings in our ears is the real wedding or a dream in our sleep.

The sea resides in the village. As for the train, it has set times, appearing  and the disappearing, like the night-haunting ghoul. We are disturbed  by the roar of its engines as it approaches, the earth’s shaking as it passes, the friction of the wheels on the rails, its whistle bursts, the hiss of the brakes because it is stopping. The train passes through the town daily, and has a station in the east, in Zummarin. Sometimes it carries local people like us; mostly it is ridden by English soldiers or settlers with business in Haifa or Jaffa, who come and go by train. My two brothers ride Abu Isam’s bus once a week, going to Haifa at the beginning of the week and returning at the end, to spend Thursday and Friday night with us.”

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art of resistance, Egypt

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People.

The house still stands at the end of the curved, dusty road at the foot of Cairo’s great Citadel. It still has character and mystery; now, however, it is a unique work of art amidst its modern concrete neighbours.

It is the house where Hassan Fathy lived; a mansion without its master. That master was an intriguing man; one to whom some bowed, and many more raised a sceptical brow. He was seen as eccentric and a dreamer — the strange man who built his house of mud — not the man the world now praises; the architect who laboured for the people.

That is how Yasmine El-Rashidi (writing for Al-Ahram Weekly) describes her visit to Hassan Fathy’s house, on the centenary of his birth.

gal-post68/Hassan Fathy, photo via Design with Nature/

Hassan Fathy was born in Alexandria in 1900, and died in Cairo in 1989. He was a notable architect, a man with a vision, a man who truly wanted to use his knowledge to help his community. His mission was to provide a decent housing for all Egyptians and especially the poorest, the peasants  who lived outside the cash economy.

When he got his degree and was out on his first job (he was assigned to build a school in a remote farming area of the Delta) a life-changing experience happened to him – one that would help put him on a path towards different architecture. On reaching the village, he was shocked by the poverty of its residents, and wrote:

I suddenly felt terribly responsible. Nothing had been done out of consideration for the human beings who spent their lives there; we had been content to live in ignorance of the peasant’s sickening misery. I decided I must do something.”

And he did something, and kept on doing it for the rest of his life. He brought back efficient and sustainable building techniques, but also trained ordinary citizens to make their own building materials and even construct their own homes. He did not incorporate western ideologies into his architectural techniques, he rather used old techniques which were cheaper, sustainable and energy efficient.

New Gourna Mosque/New Gourna Mosque, photo © Hassan Fathy/

He brought back the use of mud brick, also known as Adobe. As Simone Swan writes:

Adobe became Fathy’s technological passion, and he remained loyal to it not only because of its durability over millennia—some adobe structures in Egypt are more than 3000 years old—but also because of its thermal properties: In many desert climates it maintains comfortable temperatures within a range of three to four degrees centigrade (5-7°F) over a 24-hour cycle. Furthermore, it is plentiful: Approximately one-third of the world’s people already live in houses made of earth.

In a world were architecture is praised mainly for its aesthetic value, Hassan Fathy’s vission is more than necessary. In Architecture for the Poor, he writes:

Although I believe that the appearance of the building has the most profound effect upon its inhabitants, yet one cannot house men in the Parthenon. One’s beautiful designs must serve the humble everyday needs of men; indeed, if these designs are true to their materials, their environment, and their daily job, they must necessarily be beautiful.

Boys Primary School Courtyard, New Gourna/New Gourna Boys Primary School, photo © Roger Viollet/

Unfortunately, precisely because of his vision and commitment to society, Fathy encountered many setbacks during his long career. As Swan puts it: “His commitment to the poor made him an outsider in Egypt, one who was regarded as a threat to vested interests in industrial building materials, banking, real estate and large-scale contracting.”

Still, he managed to work on more than 160 projects during his lifetime. In 1946 he started working on the Gourna Village project where he incorporated new designs and urban planning with older, more sustainable building techniques. Decades later, the model village is falling into serious disrepair.  World Monuments Fund (WMF) made this video in hope of carrying out a project to safeguard the site.

In 1957 Fathy designed a prototype of temporary housing for Palestinian refugees, in 1967 he worked on New Bariz Village (Kharga), his best known community project.

In 1972 he published To Build With The People, a year later translated by Chicago Press and published as Architecture for the Poor, which catapulted Fathy’s work to international fame. The revised title was not Fathy’s choice, but that of the publisher, and it is precisely that revised title that illustrates the issues Fathy faced in his career in relation to his vision.

I think that there is a big problem in that English translation, just like there is a big problem when we talk about charity instead of solidarity. The problem lays in the dynamic of power, in the hierarchy, in looking down on.

Let me quote Eduardo Gaelano on this one: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.

Fathy’s architecture was about people – seeing their needs, helping them, working with them, learning from them. Sure, they were peasants, they were poor, but they were also more than that, and Fathy’s architecture went beyond that. And it wasn’t and isn’t architecture that is limited to poor people. It was and is architecture that promotes sustainable, modest and yet beautiful way of living. That is what we all need to consider, rich or poor, if our wish is to preserve our nature, our culture and our future.

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Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

and more.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Yusuf Idris: An Aimless Sort of Running (The Aorta).

Yusuf Idris was a great Egyptian writer of short stories, plays and novels. Here is an excerpt from his short story The Aorta (the story can be found in Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East). It was translated from the Arabic by Trevor J. Le Gassick.

Yusuf_Idris_portrett/Yusuf Idris, photo via wikimedia/

It wasn’t important that there was running; what mattered was that it was happening all over the place as if Doomsday itself had come. A very peculiar type of running it was, not like someone in a hurry, or fleeing in terror, or racing to save a life. No – an aimless sort of running, as if those doing it were trying to find some spot from which to actually begin their running and hurrying.

And so no one knew the goal or purpose of the others, all being in a state of watchful anxiety, concerned that one of them would find his own point of beginning which would then, no doubt, define their own. That’s why you saw people running so madly, crazily, and trying so desperately yet unsuccessfully to watch where the others were heading. Whenever anyone appeared at all hesitant and slowed down, or became more purposeful and increased speed and so seemed about to discover his goal, then dozens would rush toward him, hoping to arrive before him, to be the first to set off after a clearly defined objective.

This whole activity made the place, if viewed from high above or far away, seem to pulsate with sudden throbbings that then dispersed and subsided, it all happening at more than one place at a time. You would have thought the square paved with smooth veneer, if it had not been for those sudden pulsations occuring here and there that alone gave signs of life. You would have thought it all veneer of stone, or the human b eings gathered there lumps of multicolored rocks. No one knows whether blows were struck or not. Well, actually, I personally was struck by more than one blow, vicious painful blows. But it was impossible to know who was doing the striking because one had no constant neighbor and the continous fluid movement prevented you getting so much as a glance at the hundreds passing you or whom you were passing. In any case there were, most certainly, blows struck.

And what a surprise then! How could I ever have guessed that turning next moment to the person right beside me – the very first close neighbor whose features I had been able to properly examine – I would find, to my shock and amazement, Abduh!

But even as food Abduh was completely unappetizing, disgusting even; he was thin and weak. He never showed a glimmer of defiance, never faced up to anyone else to assert or defend his own existence.  He was ‘good’, that weakly, negative sort of goodness, as if he had a double hernia or something, and he sang sweet songs when by himself. He seemed ‘foreign’, out of place wherever he was, as if he’d never found his own country. When things got too much for him, he’d cry. His eyes would suddenly fill with tears. But there’d be no redness in them; the flush would gather into his nose, which would seem to swell and fill with the secretions.

Yes, for three whole days, morning, noon, and nights, I’ve been looking for you, Abduh, turning over the pavement stones in Cairo, breaking into houses, asking, demanding, pleading for help in finding you, searching every road, every street, every alley. My strength finally sapped, I fell asleep only to wake up in a rage of despair at finding you: my dream, my nightmare, and the pain of my hours awake or asleep is the thought of truning around sometime and finding you there, Abduh! 

‘Where have you been, Abduh, and where did you hide the money?'”

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Egypt, travel

Looking For The Sun: Going South Along The Nile.

I’ve already written about the photographer Myriam Abdelaziz and her project Menya’s Kids, which deals with child labor in the quarries of Menya, Egypt. It was about time to shine some light on one of her other projects – Going South Along the Nile, published on LensCulture. Abdelaziz writes:

In Egypt, where my blood is from, I traveled south…

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I needed to be closer to the sun. I was looking for a warmer place. I wanted to be with people who see the sun everyday, people whose skin has darkened, filled with all that sun. I knew that every single place, every single thing I would see there would be filled with that sun, I knew the South would give me this infinite warmth I badly needed, not to be bathed in but more inundated by, so I traveled south….

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Going south of Egypt, life only exists by the borders of the Nile river. Many tiny villages have been lining the edges of the river for hundreds of years, some only to be destroyed to give space for archeologist excavations to explore older times, or for modern hotels to be built.

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Going south I met the sun I was looking for and the people filled with it… every place I went felt timeless, while I knew it could be the last time I might see it.

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I photographed to keep this warmth I needed so badly with me.”

as/all photos © Myriam Abdelaziz/

For more on this project, go to LensCulture. For more on Abdelaziz and her work, visit her facebook page, and see her profile on Rawiya.

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P.S. While going through these photos, I recommend listening Omar Khairat’s relaxing and beautiful music. He’s one of the most successful and well-respected Egyptian composers of all time.

 

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