June 19th, 2009 19th

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History In The Making

Glorious.

I’m left speechless as I attempt to re-live Egypt’s historical victory against World Champions Italy in the Confederations Cup last night. Following a quality performance against Brazil in the first match, the Pharaohs took African football to the next level, becoming the first ever side from the black continent to beat the Azurri. And what a victory it was!

Egypt vs Italy

I witnessed history being re-written at a bar near Place Monge with Alberts, Jose (pronounced: err-kho-thei) and Rocio. What a night! I had picked up Jose and Rocio from the airport yesterday morning, they’re here from the weekend, visiting from Utrera (an authentic, ancient town near Sevilla). They showed immediate interest in watching the spectacle. While Alberts thought it was a good opportunity to pay me back for all of the Barca games that I had watched with him and the Catalans!

I was the only Egyptian at the bar, as you might’ve imagined. In fact, I was the only one closely following the game (and not really hiding my emotions), proudly boasting my Egyptian national team jersey with the six stars, representing the number of times we have been crowned African champions. My new Egyptian friend, Mohamed el Dahshan, who I met through Paris-Blog-activist Ruth Pimentel, tagged along as well (although a few minutes AFTER the game was over). Immediately after, I took off to the other airport, Charles de Gualle, to meet my originally Valenciano but realistically Egyptian friend Toni Bolinches, who’s also here for the weekend.

The funny part was while I was on the way to pick up El Bolinches. The RER made stops that weren’t schedule, until they decided that the train is not going any further, and that everyone has to get off and catch the bus. I’m not sure how they justified it to themselves, but there weren’t any French complaining. Instead of taking me 40 mins to get there, I arrived to a stranded Bolinches in over an hour and a half. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I were trying to catch a flight.

Anyway, as I was about to get on the bus, one of the station organizers, standing at the entrance to the bus, said “Essalamu 3aleiko” (after noticing that I had the Egyptian shirt on), and so I jumped at the opportunity to express my joy, and went on in Arabic about our historical victory against the world champions. He said that he had watched the match as well, and was extremely happy for us. But then he dared to make the blasphemous move of saying “But against Alegria, you can’t win. You can’t beat us”.

Immediately after, there was a sudden silence as my ear-to-ear smile instantly changed to a serious frown. It was a look of a gangster who is about to pull up a gun and shoot the guy’s brains out. The poor Algerian’s face was converted to a look of fear and deep concern. His jaw dropped, his eyes wide-open, and his head slowly but surely turning away in an attempt to save his life. My hungry face was literally 10 centimeters from his, as he started to feel my fuming body heat. Seconds later, we both burst out loud into outrageous, obnoxious, Arab-style laughter and gave each other a symbolic fair-play hug that sent peace and love vibrations to the entire region.

I was still laughing by myself on the bus. And then I started getting into the vicous cycle of calculating how Egypt can make it to the World Cup, and that was sad. Regardless, a revolutionary win, an incredible achievement. Mabrouk to the seven thousand years of Egyptian civilization.

June 15th, 2009 15th

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Back On Track?

Not quite…but getting there, that much is true.

It’s hard to find the motivation to write when everything suddenly becomes insignificant. It’s tough to look up, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or even occupy yourself with other things. But there’s no other way out, this is the only route.

I’ll take this opportunity to give you all a quick update on what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. Well, the whether has been miserable. We get some nice and much-needed sunshine every once in a while, but frequently enough, I feel a bit confused as to why London has been unanimously voted as the city with the the saddest whether. I think the French capital should claim a bit of the fame, but that’s not very important as far as my experience is concerned.

In my French class I’ve been bumped a level (ie a month’s worth of classes) because my current level was canceled and the teacher thought I’m better off going to the level above. It’s good and bad. I mean, it’s finally refreshing to be in a classroom with people who can express themselves well, but I feel I’ve been jumping too many levels for my own good. My language base is nowhere near top notch, so I’m going to have to find the motivation to go over the basics on my own sometime soon. Today was my first day in B2, and the instructor, Lucie Marquer, has left an incredible impression – I’m really excited about the class. It’s come at a good time, as I had been losing motivation for learning the language as of late.

I had signed off the two big projects I carried with me from Egypt, and have been working on some freelancing with a couple of European clients. Things are pleasing in general, my only concern is that I do not have enough projects to guarantee me the income I need to survive till next month. But it somehow seems to work every time, so I’m not too worried.

For the last month or so, I have been working intensively on my new personal website www.tarekshalaby.com. I guess for me, designing is an effective approach to releasing stress and lots of negative emotions stored inside me, and I’m actually quite happy with the outcome. The website is complete, and you can see it, but I won’t be publicly announcing it and try to steer traffic towards it until a couple of days from now. It’s always good to be in private beta for a short while, just to make sure everything goes smoothly and according to plan. I’m hopeful my new website will help generate the necessary income I need for the coming period.

I also got some injuries, which led me to pay a visit to the doctor, but that’s a whole story on its own that merits a dedicated post. The bottom line is that I’m not screwed, but I’m not doing so well either. But I’m going to have to wait till I’m back in Egypt to get proper treatment.

I’ve also reached some conclusions regarding friendships with Europeans (especially people from the North), albeit not so positive ones. But I just realize how living in Cairo made me forget how many “friends” are like in the West. Thank God I’m going back home within a couple of months. I would never be able to live in the West indefinitely. Although you can always find the right people, I guess, no matter where you are.

VISITS! Definitely gave me a boost. Ruth Pimentel and Dani Ortiz were in Paris for eight days – had a blast. I’ve added the photos they sent me to the photo gallery page so that you can check them out. Also TONES, officially names Tony Haddad, was in the second capital of Love for about four days, and I think I’ve laughed more than during my entire stay! This kid never fails to overwhelm you, in every way! If laughter is the best cure, then Tones merits a PhD!

So this is the post that will hopefully act as a catalyst to get me back to writing regularly. Bare in mind that I wish to do the same with my new personal website, only focusing on design and technology. So I might be a bit like dust in the wind right now, waiting to see where events take me, but soon enough, I’ll be back in the driving seat.

May 6th, 2009 06th

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The Success Story Of Fine’s Beak

Remember Fine’s Beak? I told you it was the best place in Paris to get a Grec/Doner Kebab in this post. I just got back from there after having a very interesting conversation with the co-founder El Hady. That, and an incredibly awesome chicken kebab marinated in curry and eaten alongside fries dipped in “Andalouse” sauce for 5.90 Euros – to die for.

I’d say I probably pop in about twice to three times a week to check out what Khalil and my fellow immigrants are up to, and to get a quality and cheap meal at the same time. And since I tend to go at night, I usually hang out with Khalil, but today I went a little earlier and shared by authentic and tasty experience with Khalil’s partner, El Hady. I had seen him before, but we’ve never really “broken the ice” or bonded until this afternoon.

Like many Arabs, Tunisians are very fond of Egyptians, and believe in the Egyptian dream. What can you expect? If you don’t live in Egypt, it’s a lot easier to idealize what it means to be Egyptian, and see it as the Romans used to see Rome. Obviously, when you spend time there, you realize that the Egyptian government has done nothing but completely destroyed the country and has left it in ruins. Politics aside, El Hady was happy to share with me his traveling experiences when he ventured a road trip (via microbuses and public transportation) from Tunis, capital of Tunisia, to Fayoum, Egypt. His final destination wasn’t precisely Fayoum, it’s just that it was the last stop before we started heading back. The total time he spent in Egypt was about 15 days, and he had nothing but good memories in the land of the Pyramids.

He told me stories about how every single person he came across helped him out. People would give him directions, exchange phone numbers, and call him later to make sure he arrived safely. Not to mention that he enjoyed some homemade food via the numerous invites that he received from random people. Of course a taxi tried to rip him off at one point, but even then a fellow passenger intervened and saved him. It’s very refreshing when you hear such stories from others who have been to Egypt. It makes me realize Egypt’s importance in the Arab world, and it also makes me realize how much potential we have, in contrast to our current state.

So El Hady and Khalil have opened Fine’s Beak about 10 months ago (which is why it doesn’t appear on Google Maps if you go on street view, hence not being able to post a picture of it, but I will try to get one for you all soon). Basically, they are open every single day from 10am till about 2am. What happens is that El Hady opens the place in the morning, and stays until about 6 or 6:30 in the evening, which is when Khalil comes to take over, and they might overlap for a few minutes before the shift is handed over. Khalil then works until shutting at around 2 am. Hard workers. The only time of the week when they close is Friday morning, for the prayer, for about 1.5hours.

Each one is granted about 25 days of holiday a year, during which case the other has to work both shifts. And we complain that the weekend ends too fast.

It is kind of sad that they don’t get to enjoy Paris that much, and they definitely don’t have the ability to travel around. But at the same time, this is like the land of opportunity for them. And apparently the business is going well (their delicious taste is becoming a trademark!).

I can’t wait to go back next, but I’ve been trying to maintain myself to avoid spending too much on the long term, but more importantly, to avoid the slightest of chances that I lose my strong passion towards them if I visit too often.