Countries are like relationships.
In that each person/country has their problems, their baggage… but choosing the right one for you at any given time in your life is about which problems fit with your personal shape of neurosis.
Say what you like about the state of Egyptian politics, you would probably be right. But the fact remains that as an artist in my hometown – London- I face an unending struggle to balance affordable housing, arts funding, education systems with my need to create work and all the necessary instability it brings. And this is only getting worse. Stuck with the conservatives another few years we are looking at yet more struggle, especially for the likes of me.
International arts funding being the way it is, and the open and free nature of the creative community and system here in Cairo, I am currently finding success much more easily that I do at home. But more than success, respect. London, despite being my home, felt like a series of locked doors- “please state you’re name and CV to enter… no sorry, never heard of you…” Here people come to class just to try, come to shows because they’re curious, and in an emerging scene such as this one, (dance here is still relatively young) if you are working on solid ideas with a reasonably developed practice- you are a commodity. There is a strong sense that this community is building something- and the next few bricks are vital. I want to be a part of that.
What's more my work has a stronger impact. I'm working with a group of veiled women now who come to my class because its a safe space to move, express themselves with their body, remove their veil and not be seen by men. I feel like I'm giving them something more than a dance class. I want to get more involved with the women's movement here and try to have a greater impact.
This city has an addictive energy. Perhaps I spent too long working in the countryside and the London inside me needs some time living at the other extreme? I’m moving around and struggling with traffic and speaking Arabic and wrestling my basic-as-hell washing machine and making the most of things and eating local veg and meeting people and being greeted warmly and I feel very keenly the urgency of life. Dancers dance because they love it. They have something they need to express. There is no time for trivialities here. Stick to the important stuff. Everyone loves, dreams, struggles, laughs. The streets buzz with constant electricity. Do they put something in the water?
Then there is another factor… it comes down to priorities. I met an Egyptian friend after she’d been living in London for one year. I asked her- what’s it like going the other way. What is it like for you as a guest in my culture? She said she loved the UK but the reason she could never feel totally at home was simple. In Egypt, if her friend needed her or wanted to see her she would go, regardless of work, studies etc. What she couldn’t get used to in the UK was everyone’s tunnel vision focus on their career. First priority at all times is work. Evidenced by my last week of sitting in cafés every single night with friends who, if I try to leave early to work the next day, beg me to stay. Most people’s priorities here seem to start with family and end with friends. Of course they work- very hard I might add for many of them- but the culture places a heavy emphasis on personal connection. I think that’s why I have started to feel so at home here. The work has been challenging and rewarding and ego-boosting in spades, but its still me and my work and my journey. The thing that has shifted in me recently is much more personal than that. I can’t remember the last time I went out more than once in a week. I can’t remember the last time I had this many deep conversations, this much connection to other people, this much creative inspiration. I’m sure café culture and sharing of ideas used to be a big part of European arts practice, but now we can barely afford a coffee once a week let alone every day.
So, in sum, I am going to be a struggling artist wherever I go… but here I can be a free, respected, inspired and struggling artist. I have no idea if I’ll stay 3 months, 18 months or longer… and for sure I’ll be back for stints in between if the right project beckons and to see family and friends. But hey, it’s ever so tempting to ride out the rest of the Conservative minefield out here. Call me when Jeremy Corbyn gets elected and I’ll come home.