When was the last time you were stuck in traffic when next to you pulls up a guy in jeans on a motor cycle with a woman, fully covered in black fabric, nothing but eyes peeking out, on the back – oh, also, exhaust pipe puffing out black smoke that makes your eyes sting? Seen that lately? Me neither until today.  How about people lighting fires by the side of the street– sitting on the curb next to their hot coals to guard against the cool desert air creeping in? When was the last time, in the shadow of  a glowing and immense Citadel Mosque with many domes, did a plexi glass, flourescant lit Burger King ad called your attention. There it was today with dare devil highway, median covered in black skid marks from tires, bumpers and who knows what else as underlines to the scene? Ahh, how about the kind of poverty and over crowding where homes are built illegally by the road with the rebar and junk sticking up from what look like unfinished roofs? They just keep building up, I guess. I’d also never seen a woman and her 8 year old dart across 4 lanes of testosterone-driven, traffic before today. All in “Day One” of the trip.

Oh, horse and buggies share the same roads with old vw-like buses with the doors ripped off so people can hurl themselves out quickly (city buses); dust covered cars with various and sundry cargoes tied on top; people sitting on top of cargo on top of cars and trucks. I’ve seen all this today and so much more.

Kanina and I agreed that no movie producer has ever shown this place the way it really is. It simply could not be reproduced with the same punch as it feels in real time.  More like a 6D movie vs 3D movie.

A photographers paradise, though. Men wave, point, and shout at other men in an animated fashion a lot. In stores negotiating the simplest silly things, fights break out.  Jumping out of cars and waving arms seems quiet common. I’ve always been afraid of fighting but this is just a communication style  here and for some reason, it’s awesome. Old and new cultures colliding all make you want to point and click but with jaw gaping open, and drugged out on the sensory overload, the shots whiz by. I did get a few pics in but it was only day one. I’ll do better.

The most amazing sites today were

1.  a room full of middle aged, older, and younger 20 some-things who were clapping and singing along to classic Arabic songs (belly dance stuff) that a kanoun and riqq player were putting out. Shisha pipes at every table, snaking their way into the mouths of head scarved women and guys in Fez hats running around dealing with the coals. Everyone from every age just sitting there tight to the band, after dinner or before, singing along and clapping as if at at a summer camp.

I melted with excitement and emotion. In pondering the emotion I said I felt like I had met the real heart and soul of what I’ve been drawn to for the last 15 years in belly dance.  The pure, classic instruments being played in their home-land to an audience who’s love of music was just so honest and forthcoming.

Our New England musicians rock it, too. This band may not have been any more amazing than what is home. But, the location, the audience’s multi generational enthusiasm, and the fact that all we did was open a door to a restaurant off the khan Khalili. There, along with the brass table tops, arabesque scroll design work, and shisha pipes was the most delightful happening all centered on the love of the music. I fought back tears at what a perfect end to this day we were having.

Baba Ghanouj and a chicken stew went down perfectly with this scene in the background. Kanina’s hummos was awesome, too. She did not offer me a bite of her pigeon (yes, you read that right) and that was ok with me. She’s so cool.

We’d have stayed longer but Tamer, our cab driver, and Karem, his friend who speaks English quiet well were waiting for us outside. They took IMPECCABLE care of us all evening. Even helped us with negotiating at “most amazing site #2” (I think- so many to choose from).

2. Mahmoud’s 4 floors of belly dance stuff.  Yeah, folkloric dresses of all styles, hips scarves of all styles, skirts, canes, Taktib, Bolts of fabric in all sorts of cool glittery patterns hanging all over the joint. I’ve dealt with some of these folks over the internet but to be there and see and meet the three men watching soccer on TV who were in charge LOL.

A big bonus for me was that Kanina, Karem, and Tamer, came in with me. The guys jumped right in translating for me and giving me courage in negotiating. I charmed them a little with a few Arabic words I’ve been working on forever. As they all argued about how I’d get my red canes which would have to be made for me, I shouted “Tehbbe tekle Hagge” (I want something to eat). They laughed. I left a deposit, went to eat, and will go back to wrap it up sometime in the next two weeks.

When I think of all I saw today, I am so grateful and inspired. To see this side of the world and to have the love of music, folk dance, and Raqs Sharqi in my life, to be able to study dance with the great Randa Kamel, it’s just beyond me. I pray I can make good on all this provocative experience, this gratitude, and the gift of these glimpses into the bigger picture of the world.

I hope this blog has given you a taste of what I saw today. If it did, you are certainly exhausted, like I am and full of wonder.