Wednesday, 19 November 2014


I've moved to a new flat in Cairo. I thought I'd left the cockroaches behind in my last kitchen. But they're following me. I'm as clean as can be, dont leave food lying around, dont like spraying, but sometimes it's the only way. I hate killing them. They have as much a right to life as me.... in a fit of peeve I wrote this poem. 

I'm in love with a cockroach
He’s really very cute
He hangs out in my cupboard
With the honey and the fruit.

My boyfriend doesn’t like him
He says he has to go
He thinks he’s got intentions
But I just tell him 'No!'

We’re really just the best of friends
He's only being flirty.
He waves his legs and wags his bum
My boyfriend says he’s dirty.

I like the way he rushes out
Each time I want to cook
I don’t mind him helping me,
But he just wants to look.

My boyfriend says he’s creepy,
'It’s him or me. You choose.
It’s a threesome that he’s after.
Someone’s got to lose.'

I cried for days, then bought a spray
I said, 'It’s hard, I know,
We’ve had some fun
But now it's time to go.'

He fixed me with an orange eye
And scuttled to the sink.
I fired the spray, he waved his legs.
I found it hard to think.

The boyfriend came to see him
And flicked him down the drain.
'Thank god that it’s all over.
We wont see him again.'

But there he was that evening.
He said we had to talk.
I told him we were finished
And stabbed him with my fork

                  More of my poems in, 
http:// (new Egyptin literary magazine in print),


Evenings out in Cairo never turn out as  expected.  It was Thursday night - time to relax at the start of the weekend. We  went  to  El Horreya  - a bar-balladi with high vaulted ceilings, the faded undertones of an older, colonial Cairo and vintage beer ads. Horreya means freedom, and the bar's main customers once pondered on the remote chance of it ever happening to Egypt  - artists, left-wing politicos, philsophers, writers. These days a younger, brasher  clientele dominates with a smattering of foreigners.   

When the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, the Pepsi fridges were moved to the entrance to hide the alcohol drinkers. Coffee drinkers were moved to the front. Some windows were smashed and remain covered up with cardboard, adding to the delapidated decor. 

We  joined  some friends and later two young  women came over  and were invited to sit with us. They were trainee doctors  and proudly declared themselves as feminists. They were Christians. "I'm a  Coptic Christian," Dina said 'But I can't stand their ways, so I pray at the Evangelist Church or the Catholic Church, depending on how I feel." 

 Her friend, Elizabeth, had just put a man in prison for two years for attempting to rape her. A rare event in Egypt - the prison sentence that is - not the rape.  "He was a taxi driver and I was sitting next to him and he started trying to touch to me, so I started screaming. I tried to jump out but he locked the doors and drove me to his home. His wife pulled me out and I thought she would save me but she just kept hitting me, saying, 'You must do what he says." I was in a nightmare. Then someone came to help me, and I got him arrested and now he is in prison." She gave a thumbs up and a big smile of triumph. 

"Harassment is very bad here. You cant believe the number of patients who try to sexually harrass us while we are treating them - not to mention our colleagues," Dina said while (unknown to me)  harassing my boyfriend under the table with her leg.  She then added, "And we only get paid 250LE  (£25) a month. We can't live on this." 

We were joined by Mohammed  a tall, handsome Sudanese man. He had just arrived from Sudan and recognised one of the men in our group. The party was getting bigger, and more raucous, but Mohammed retained  a quiet serious air. "I need beer," he said  in a quiet voice, "To forget."

"Are you on Facebook? Dina asked me, pulling at her long hair. Along with, Are you married? it's one of the most commonly asked questions in Egypt. "I want to be your friend. But I have some trouble with my FB. I write things against President Sisi  and the police have contacted me and warned me that I have to stop. But I don't care. They can go fuck themselves." Dina's FB suddenly seemed interesting.

 'There was more freedom under the Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsy," Elizabeth said, "Not that I would want that lot  back again. But at least we had Bassem Youssuf to entertain us."

 Youssef is a former cardiac surgeon who hosted  a satirical news programme called Al-Bernameg, initially on Youtube until it was taken up by a mainstream channel. No one was safe from his cutting satire. It was so popular  it was pointless phoning Egyptians during his programme - they never answered, and the streets were emptied.  Last year he was named as one of the most 100 influential people in the world. Since the ascent of Sisi, his silence has been deafening and he now has  as much influence  as Morsy's little finger. His programme is unlikely to appear again while the army is in power - a sense of humour is not a prerequisite for a general. Bassem has said he does not want to put the lives of his family at risk. He was arrested by  the previous Islamic regime but  was quickly released following public outcry.

But El Horreya is a place to make merry, and even if Bassem isnt cracking jokes, other Egyptians still are.  Mohammed eventually joined in with the laughter as his empty beer bottles began  to take over the table. One of El Horreya's workers came over to tell us to stop being so noisy - we are attracting attention. "If this was a group of all men laughing, no one would say anything," Elizabeth said, laughing even louder. 

The El Horreya closed and we were pushed outside, wondering where to go next. At  3AM, the night was still young in Egyptian terms. "Let's go to Vent," someone  suggested. 

 Vent is a nightclub. I've been once and vowed never to go again. The music is heartless crap  - and the crowd is rich, beautiful and over-sexed. The entrance fee is over-priced.  We managed to get in free. The place was emptying, but a few women in skin-tight designer dresses, coloured contact lenses and thigh length boots were dancing, while the men stood around, swigging their beer,  eyes popping out.

I sat talking with Mohammed who I noticed had a problem walking, but not because of the beer. His legs had been injured when he was beaten by  Sudanese police. His eyes filled with tears as the music continued its monotonous boom. "They raped me with a club stick. I'm here to get medicine, then I'll go back."

There is not much else you can do when someone tells you this, but hug him.