Despite undeniable demand for reform, capitalism has certainly brought easy access to the world’s vast beauty that many often neglect:
Despite undeniable demand for reform, capitalism has certainly brought easy access to the world’s vast beauty that many often neglect:
Perpetual market convergence between Eastern and Western worlds has created hotspots around Asia for international business and cultural meshing. Shanghai is one of many cities like this in Asia, and western expatriate environments are now very common throughout China. I arrived in Shanghai on a boat with 200 dollars to my name. 6 weeks later, I found myself living here:
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Since January 2011, Egypt has been setting the standard for revolutions in regime based predominately Arab states across the Middle East and North Africa. Former President Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet stepped down from power in February 2011 leaving behind the high cabinet of the Egyptian military to essentially run the country until a new government and electoral system is in place. The Egyptian military is inherently tied to the recently ousted regime and many of the issues protestors originally rallied against still remain. Protestors in Tahrir Square are again rallying around similar problems and are eager to see reform:
New movements and younger generations throughout the region share a common interest in that they want fully representative democratic government, a notion that has become known as the Arab Spring.
All footage was shot between July 8th and July 24th, 2011.
Expressions of a Revolution: Egypt’s Revolution Artist Union
Text and Photos by: Kevin McAfee
Since January of this year, Egypt has been undergoing a revolution that has set the standard for regime based Arab countries currently experiencing the same phenomenon. As with any revolution, the people of Egypt are seeing great hardships and learning the cost of creating a better country for themselves. Between the martyrs of the first wave of the revolution who died beneath the hooves of the ousted regime’s horses and the angst of a population currently struggling with different emerging political factions, there is plenty to be inspired about.
An overwhelming need for an expressive outlet among protesting Egyptian artists led to the organic formation of the Revolution Artist’s Union on February 3rd, 2011. Over the last six months, over 600 artists have found their way through the masses in the famous Tahrir Square to be a part of the collective expression. The group is comprised of painters, poets, photographers, and even playwrights. Members describe the group as inherently peaceful but with a strong cause in the Egyptian revolution as they claim to be protestors before artists. At times, that mentality has come at a cost.
In April, members of RAU painted a large image negatively depicting the Egyptian military in response to recent military violence on peaceful demonstrators. Two members, Omar Fathy and Mohammed El-Tarras were captured and detained by the military for the painting. When other members of RAU became aware of their capture, many formed in front of the district holding building where they were being held and demanded their immediate release. With the unity and power of what has become that of a large family, the two detained artist were released after some time. Incidents like this have been steadily decreasing as the military and police try to reform their image with the public and peaceful demonstrations are now freely allowed for the most part.
Later that month, RAU held a public exhibition for all to see in the metro station beneath Tahrir Square. Prominent RAU leader and director of poetry and literature Amjad Shashai described a scene during that exhibition in which he freely recited his poetry as something he had never seen before in Egypt. “Before it was like breaking the rules, but now it’s not. Before the revolution that would have been considered very abnormal, but people watching were happy, it was great,” he said. Prior to this experience, Amjad was captured and detained on three occasions by both police and military officials.
Art Evolves with The Revolution
Each new day of the revolution brings new obstacles and conflicts both between protestors and authoritative officials and among differing factions of protestors themselves. However, the newest wave of the revolution has proved inherently peaceful and that tends to show in many of RAU’s newer works of art. Two sisters who paint for RAU, Raihana and Rabab Sawabi, were compelled to create a visualization of peace between Christians and Muslims after clashes between small groups of each religion became well known in May. One of their paintings entitled “One Hand” depicts Muslims and Christians living side by side and shows similarities between the two religions that may serve as common ground. For artists like Raihana, the revolution has perhaps become the most artistically motivating inspiration ever experienced.
“I used to paint when I was young but I stopped. I heard about RAU on an announcement in Tahrir and decided to start painting again after 7 years of not painting” Raihana said.
Young and talented painters like Raihanna and her sister who create peaceful depictions of future progress in Egypt are abundant, but no more common than those who want to embrace and commemorate the past. On January 28th, 2011, more prominently known as “The Day of Anger,” former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime ordered hundreds of soldiers on camels and horseback to attack peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Those who lost their lives on that day became known as martyrs of the revolution and are considered to have died with great honor. Among other works of art, RAU artist Mohammad El-Tarras, comically known as “Picasso,” devotes much of his time to creating portraits of revolutionary martyrs. There are hundreds of these beautiful portraits at every RAU exhibition by dozens of artists and they are iconic of RAU’s presence in Tahrir Square on days of protest.
The Future of The Revolution and RAU
The newest wave of the revolution in Egypt kicked off on July 8th when the public returned to Tahrir Square with demands of quicker reforms. Since then, twelve new ministers have been sworn in and the Square has remained occupied with peaceful protestors who say they won’t leave until their demands are met. Many want Hosni Mubarek to be tried, then if found responsible for the deaths from the Day of Anger, jailed or even executed. A democratic election is said to take place in the coming months but an official date has not been set and that seems to make many Egyptians uneasy.
It is uncertain what the future will bring for the Egyptian revolution but according to Amjad Shashai, it is certain that the Revolution Artist Union will be there. RAU is currently looking for a sponsor so that some of the artists can travel around the world to show the artwork that has accumulated over the course of the revolution. The proposed traveling exhibition would have three goals: promoting the economy and restoring tourism interest in Egypt, teaching the history of the revolution, and of course showcasing the artwork itself. The group has high hopes for achieving both private and public endorsement for their traveling exhibition as the engagement of art and history could provide a brilliant outlet for educating the world abroad about this important revolutionary time.
Tex-Mex in Cairo: a Revolution Within a Revolution
Photos and Text by Kevin McAfee
If it just so happens that you find yourself traveling just South of the inner city bustle in Cairo, you may encounter the perfect fix for home at La Sombra Tex-Mex restaurant. While living in Dallas a few years back, Rene Rangel visited Cairo multiple times when he decided to try an entrepreneurial endeavor that likely never crosses the minds of most Texans. From San Benito to Dallas, and from Dallas to Cairo, Rene is not your average Tex-Mex restaurant owner. “I guess the number one question a lot of people ask me is why Cairo? And I say well, there’s no Tex-Mex restaurants here and there’s too many in Texas!” smiles Rene over a plate of scratch fried corn nachos and a fresh squeezed lemonade.
Cairo, like most big cities apart from their known monuments of interest, has much more to offer than the sphinx and pyramids that make it world famous. Maadi is a notably eclectic neighborhood layered with people from all over the world. Just down the road from where recently ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s sons currently reside in prison, stretches Road 223 in Maadi, where on any given day you might hear French, German, and English all on the same block, and nestled among its various shops, you will find La Sombra Tex-Mex restaurant. Make no mistake, this neighborhood is as sophisticated as it is beautiful, and it’s no coincidence that places like La Sombra find their way here and continue to exist even during such an unpredictable time in Egypt.
From El Paso to Nacogdoches, from Brownsville to the panhandle, you pretty much know what to expect on the menu at a Tex-Mex restaurant. What makes a Tex-Mex restaurant in Egypt so compelling is that items like gourmet corn chips and tortillas don’t find their way between the cumin and coriander on the spice racks in local Egyptian markets. Keeping that in mind, you will find a uniqueness that you seldom experience in a typical Tex-Mex joint.
“We got from your combo plates – beef fajitas and chicken; we have chicken and beef quesadillas, we have big burritos, veggie tacos, and we even make fried burritos – kind of like a Chimichanga but my mother taught us another way to make it …”
Sure the selection may be relatively typical for this genre of food, but the unique location of this Tex-Mex restaurant forces creativity among ingredients. All of the corn chips are hand made and flash fried, every tortilla is homemade, and both the salsa and queso are sorted out among the same natural ingredients that compose the rest of the scratch made food at La Sombra. Ultimately, you will find yourself paying about the same amount as you would at a local Chipotle for a homemade and high quality all-natural meal while comfortably seated in a sophisticated neighborhood in a part of the world that is currently setting the example for emerging democratic societies in the Arab world. Curious?
As you may have noticed somewhere between weather and sports, Egypt underwent a drastic change in political direction when the people stepped up to their inherently corrupt leaders and demanded president Hosni Mubarak and his entire regime’s resignation. Inspired by the uprising in neighboring Tunisia, in late January 2011 Egypt began setting the standard for a change toward a free and democratic society that has never been seen in the region, and that process is still in its prime.
Between the ensuing civil war in neighboring Libya, similar protest based clashes in Yemen and Bahrain, and the ongoing civil unrest in Syria, there is no doubt that this region is bound for a drastic change in favor of human rights and freedom not unlike the American revolution. Despite how unfortunate and confusing the whole scenario may seem on the news, Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square tend to be resilient and unified in the idea that a progressive democratic society is the only way for Egypt to move forward in the world.
The recently regime employed police are currently establishing a civil basis with the public, civilians continue to go to work and carry out their daily endeavors, and protestors by the thousands continue to peacefully occupy Tahrir Square with the expectation that what remains of former president Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet, otherwise known as the high cabinet of the military, will meet their demands.
There are countless varying ethnic, political and religious factions living in Egypt, especially in oh so eclectic Cairo. What one thing might mean for the 10 percent Coptic Christians living in Cairo may mean something completely different for the majority Muslim population, and will likely mean something entirely different for the western expat community. Though uprisings and protest may on occasion impede a given workday for the average citizen of Cairo, Rene and his Egyptian wife currently reside peacefully here in Maadi, where, like most of the city, everything is business as usual. There are countless foreign companies, many relating to the petroleum business, keeping enough pockets filled in neighborhoods like Maadi to create demand for a business like La Sombra for plenty of time to come. Rene is optimistic about the future, but seems well aware that his entire reality could change just as soon as it did when he decided to come here and open a Tex-Mex restaurant.
“I’ve been here three and a half years. It all just depends on this revolution. Of course Egypt’s in a state of shock right now and they don’t know which way this country’s going and that definitely has a big effect on the expat community so we’ll see”
With the perseverance of good folks like Rene, the forward thinking of the Egyptian public, the continuance of peaceful protests, and perhaps a little luck, the currently low market for tourism in Egypt will rise again, and one day you might find yourself over a plate of tacos or nachos in the newly formed democratic republic of Egypt.
Honestly, Buenos Aires was too much fun and distracting to motivate myself to make a video about the the meshed Italian and Spanish culture here. However, I did need to sort out a free place to stay while here so I made this video for a hostel in exchange for free housing.
An old friend, Fory Graham, has been living in Rio de Janeiro for quite some time, mainly to cater to an apparent obsession with Samba music. Honestly, I was much too distracted in Brazil to come up with anything more than this relatively uninformative video, and I can’t wait to go back.
Alright so maybe I’ve just been having fun so far …
Trindade is, simply put, a really laid back beach town. While I was making this video I came up with a great idea as to how to stay for free in hostels – making an internet commercial for them. I’d bet my life the people at Kaisarra wouldn’t have charged me anything if I had just offered to do that. Fortunately I’ve sorted places to crash for the rest of my time in South America, however if, or rather when I need to stay at a hostel again, I’ll make that offer for sure.
On another positive note, I heard through the grapevine that the food network picked up Iba’s food trailer after watching my video. Whether or not that’s 100 percent true I don’t know, but for now I’d like to think so. Congrats Iba!
Casamance is a great spot to grab some fresh healthy African food. The owner, Iba, is from Senegal and I made him a little internet commercial with my new camera. Check it out: