Friday, January 05, 2007

Egypt - Day 4 - Party time!

Party time!
Jed was 18 today and his father organised a fine party time in the bar. All of us dressed up in Egyptian or Roman garb. Gil – Isis (long white dress, golden necklace and golden disc and horned hat). Carl – mummy in sarcophagus (cardboard with hieroglyphics and vulture). Callum – Anubis (black teeshirt, trousers and cardboard head of Anubis). Me – fellaheen. Miguel – belly dancer (worryingly realistic and full of eastern promise). Jackie – Cleopatra (fantastic wig and jewellery). Danny – obelisk (cardboard). Josh and Trash – pyramid (khakhi coloured tent). Started with meal on terrace and speech by Jed’s dad John – delivered in mock-Roman prose. Very funny. His mum and dad made a fine Anthony and Cleopatra.

Then into the bar for a knees-up – karaoke followed by dancing. Miguel did an extraordinary erotic dance while Jed sat on a seat in the middle of the dance floor. He kept in character before and after shooting sexy glances, mincing about, running his veil around his neck. The waiters were astonished. Homosexuality is pretty common in the Arab world and this was way beyond any normal public display allowed in normal Egyptian society. Interestingly, we were to witness an extremely similar dance performed by a young boy and waiter just days later in an Egyptian restaurant.

Took a one hour Arabic lesson, laid on for free by the Hotel, delivered by the sports coach, who basically handed out a sheet, read each phrase one by one and expected us to repeat it. The retired gynaecologist was having none of this and started to construct sentences as soon as he had enough words to string together. This was off-script for our teacher. We three pupils ended up discussing and teaching ourselves. One older guy was a retired gynaecologist who had worked in Egypt. I enjoyed practising the numbers in the gym as the coach could correct my pronunciation. With a little regular repetition and reinforcement they started to stick.

Education in Egypt
Pharaonic teaching was basic and in fact literacy was limited to a very few – some estimate as little as 0.4% of the population. Corporate punishment was common with the rod always on hand. There is ample evidence for the teaching of writing from discarded ostrica. Reading and writing were confined to Kings, priests and administrators.

Islamic teaching from its inception was wholly rooted in the Koran (which means recitation). Children are taught to learn as many of the 500 suras as they can master from an early age and the Egyptian government even offers cash prizes for those that can recite the entire work. Madrassa-based education depended on the deep embedding of the Koran and all else sprang from this deep-seated belief. Modern fundamentalism rejects most secular teaching and law. This ‘learn by rote’ approach may explain the fanatical and unshakeable belief that reaches its most extreme in suicide bombers, who despite the Koran’s explicit rules on not committing suicide, convince themselves that paradise awaits them. Koranic belief becomes so ingrained in that it is not questioned. Islam (literally means submission) thus erases critical judgement.

We see exactly the same phenomena in fundamentalist Christians, whose biblical recitation blinds them in exactly the same way. I have had direct experience of this. As a board member of the Brighton Dome and Festival I have been lobbied by these fanatics. They even write to me! In a debate organised by the Festival we witnessed several stand up and argue that we were all damned. There was no debate. Their faith was indeed unshakeable - and unpleasant. I have this vision of heaven or paradise inhabited purely by fundamentalist Americans and suicide bombers. That’s one holiday I won’t be taking.