I was turning and tossing in bed one night, so I got up to fetch my notebook and leapt back in bed. I plumped up the pillow behind my back and sprawled on the bed with the notebook on my lap. I accessed the internet, checked my email then logged on to Facebook—which has become an epidemic revolutionary phenomenon worldwide. I received a group invitation which I couldn’t ignore, as I usually do. The group called themselves: Egyptians born in the 70s! Just from the name of it & since I was born in the 70s; I accepted their membership invitation & started surfing their page on Facebook. Mainly, the group members shared what they remembered about Egypt in the past either by posting their comments on the wall or by sharing photos & videos. As I was reading their postings, my lips curled—pushing back my cheeks in a bulge and exposing my dimples. My face crinkled in laughter as some posts were hilarious for example:
You think that Captain Maged is the best football player – Sharing a taxi with other people going to different places because cabs were so rare! – You used to walk up to the TV to flip channels or to adjust the volume – You used to guess the names of websites because you’ve never heard of Yahoo – The best gift you ever got from abroad was a gigantic bar of Tublerone – The mob assembling in front of McDonalds in Gamet El-Dowal Street on the opening day squashing each other to get in first – The urban legend of El-Baron Palace being haunted & how daring it was to try to get inside – You had to have a pair of shoes with a light emitting device – Didi song for Cheb Khaled & singing it without actually understanding a word! – You smuggled Mickey Magazine with you in the toilet to evade studying or doing your homework – You couldn’t figure out how to insert a straw into the flat part of the compressible, cone-like, aluminum container of Best Juice – You think that Adham Sabry can liberate Palestine – You achieved a score of 75 to 80% in Higher School Certificate & joined the University of your Dreams!!!
Ah! The good old days… I remember that life was simple and choices were limited. I didn’t have to struggle with fits of shilly-shallying as I am nowadays—picking up a chocolate bar at a supermarket can be a wearisome task! All those heavenly lip-smacking brands…
I also remember that we had 2 channels to watch on local Egyptian Television (Channel 1 & Channel 2). There wasn’t such a thing called cable TV yet. Today, I sit comfortably on the sofa with the clicker in my hand, flipping through the hundreds of channels on cable TV—Here’s a movie that I love & another one on a different channel—Now there’s an episode of one of my many favorite English soap operas just about to start & a sitcom episode on another channel—Aha! A riveting talk show on this channel… Twenty minutes of tentative clicking end up with one final click on the TV switch off button which ensues inevitable boredom!
One of the 80s die-hard customs regarding local TV is the follow up of Arabic series during the Holy month of Ramadan. It’s unofficially and socially mandatory. The indelible absurdity of being in a gathering and finding yourself the only person in the room who doesn’t get what everybody’s talking about and the worst part; when your turn comes to comment on one of the characters, actors or plots in some series and you have absolutely nothing to say! Thanks to cable TV which turned this LOCAL die-hard custom to GLOBAL!
The ubiquity of the radio was inexplicably phenomenal. The broadcasts were very entertaining and informative. Some of us still listen to Eza’et Elshark Elawsat (Middle East broadcast) with its distinguishing music that we all love. Those who were interested in English music had to tune into the European program 95.5 fm to listen to the one & only English speaking DJ back then; Hala Hashish with her characteristic husky voice. Om Kalsoom broadcast was from 5 to 10 pm everyday for all Om Kalsoom lovers. We witnessed the rising of famous music superstars like Amr Diab, Mostafa Amar, Hamid Elsha’ery, Mohamed Fouad, Medhat Saleh & many others. We actually heard them sing for the very first time! We used to buy audio cassette tapes for all of our favorite singers & rent videotapes (movies) at places like Video Rack & Arab Contractors video stores. Of course not everybody owned a VCR which was a sign of extravagance & the same goes for cable TV—a necessity of life nowadays!
Groceries were bought at small grocery stores because there were no supermarkets back then. We bought snacks like Bimbo, Sham’edan, Corona wafer, Bonbon Sima, Sport cola, Chipsy (with salt only) & Rocket. We used to buy imported chocolate from Port Said & they were so expensive. Alfa Market, Sainsbury, Safeway & Shoprite were the pioneer supermarkets to open in Egypt. I remember my first visit to the Alfa Market, I stood for an hour an a half in front of the imported chocolate rack to pick up one chocolate bar! Not to mention that my meager allowance hardly allowed for one bar of chocolate! Absolute torture…
Our generation witnessed the invention of mobile phones which were pathetically expensive & big in size. The mobile lines were also expensive & you had to choose between two brands: Mobinil or Click GSM—now known as Vodafone. Yet it was a significant event, appreciated by millions of Egyptians because we suffered a lot from bad land lines back then. Many people didn’t have telephones installed at home because they were considered unnecessary sustenance. You had to go to the nearest grocery, kiosk, drug store or even visit your wasteful neighbor to make a phone call. You had to wait for so long to have a phone installed at your home. After the invention of mobile phones, payphones were strewn all over the streets. Menatel & Ringo (Niletel) were the first providers of public payphone services in Egypt.
We also witnessed the spreading of home computers (like Sakhr or IBM PC & compatibles) when DOS was the operating system, replaced by Microsoft Windows afterwards. We used the 5¼-inch diskette. By the mid-1990s the 5¼-inch drives had virtually disappeared as the 3½-inch disk became the predominant floppy disk. Then the CD-ROM drive took the place of the floppy drive. And later, the USB drive came into existence & became more common & convenient. Accessing the internet was extremely tiresome because you had to have a password & call the Council of Ministers (Magles El-Wozarah) in Egypt to get a free internet line. We used to borrow passwords from each other. Personally, I considered this filtching not borrowing.
During our childhood, we read books like Mickey, Adham Sabry (Mission impossible man) & Maged magazine where we tried so hard to spot Fodooly who was a hidden character among other characters in the magazine. We were weaned on Tom & Jerry cartoons. I guess the weaning process was incomplete because we still get that irresistible urge to watch them again—using our kids as a pretext, and laugh hysterically as if for the first time!
Cartoon for us also meant Captain Maged, Smurfs, Sesame Street & Woody Wood Pecker. TV during the month of Ramadan was very entertaining. We used to watch Nelly & Sherihan riddles, A Thousand Nights & a Night episodes and some of the interesting Arabic series like Elshahd we eldomoa, Layaly Elhelmia, Ra’fat Elhaggan, and many others. Watching commercial ads was fun and actresses like Nesreena, Yasmine Abdel Aziz & Nermeen Elfikky were still models doing ads. We used to memorize, recite & sing them together especially the comical unforgettable Tarek Nour’s ads in his melodious distictive voice! We still use them as slogans.
I remember some fads of the 80s & 90s like the Fantastickers we used to collect or exchange with friends, and Scoubidou
(Scooby-doo) with which we made key chains, friendship bracelets and other trinkets. Also, the oversized phosphoric t-shirts worn on Lycra tights & ankle sneakers (placing the tongue of the shoe outside!) were other sizzling fads. Not to mention how cool it was to wear a printed t-shirt with your favorite singer or band on it. Most of the teenage boys got the famous Kaboria haircut featured in Ahmed Zaky’s movie Kaboria. Wearing the outfit of Vanilla Ice (Ice Ice Baby) or MC Hammer (trademark baggy parachute pants) who were two of the most hardcore rappers of that era was a hip!. At some stage of your life, you wore one or more of the Punk Fashion stuffs which included wearing bandanas, bleach-stained jeans, ripped jeans, bondage pants, cargo pants, combat boots, fingerless gloves, fishnet stockings, hooded sweatshirts, sleeveless t-shirts, webbed belts (with the big metal buckle), wrist bands, leather jackets, tattoos, dyed hair (often in unnatural colors such as purple, blue, green or orange) & body piercing (ear and/ facial piercing). Footwear was typified by these local brands: Bata, cootchi shoes, arc shoes and amigo eltorky. The lucky ones had a pair of LA Gear, Spalding or Reebok pump and the luckier ones had a pair of luxurious and extravagant brands like Adidas or Nike.
Koki Park represented our one & only amusement park. Later, Sindbad Park opened and it was the most enjoyable outing ever and the biggest brag of guts. School trips were limited to the Zoo & the Pharaonic Village. Cinema Al-Tahrin in Dokki represented the state of the art movie theatre. People scrambled for movie tickets & we used to see lots of celebrities there too. Many Pool (Billiards) clubs like the Roadhouse & Aristocrat opened and only the coolest people went there to play pool & snooker. Some people went to watch only while they smoked and sipped their fizzy drinks from elegant Collins glasses. Something about the smoky dim-lit atmosphere made it very enticing, it reminded me of the sexy Ahmed Ramzy shooting pool in one of his movies. Pool clubs were popular in the past but it wasn’t very common to see women shooting pool. Then, bowling centers with their vibrant ambiance became very popular. It helped people of different ages to mingle & have fun. We didn’t have enormous malls where you can shop, watch a movie or just hangout like we do today. We played games like Snake & Ladder, Lido, Monopoly, Domino and board games like backgammon & chess as well as card games like Estimation indoors or at clubs. That was before the widespread of coffeehouses which were merely small local cafés (usually open-air) restricted to men only, that served hookah (shisha) & a limited number of hot & cold drinks. Drinks like cappuccino, mocha, latté, frappe, milkshakes, iced tea with flavors & different fruit cocktails were unheard-of. Desserts like cheese cake, chocolate fudge cake, tiramisu, fruit tarts, mousses, cup cakes, muffins, crêpes and many others were first introduced at these coffeehouses. They spread out like a disease all over Cairo and competed with each other by cuisine specialization—unfamiliar to most of us, adding hot dishes to their menus, imposing a minimum charge policy, serving hookah, background music, providing patrons with board & card games and of course the furnishings & decoration of the place. As for fast food restaurants, Wimpy, Moa’men & Mc Burger were the best if not the only fast food restaurants in Egypt back then. That was way before KFC, Pizza hut, McDonalds and Arby’s opened in Egypt. I remember how we used to brag about eating there or even having a coke or milkshake!
Summer vacation meant Alexandria! El-ma’moura and Al-agamy beaches were everybody’s sanctuary. In the 90s the Betash Beach in Alagamy—still intact & preserving its reputation; was the main sanctuary for the middle class & some of the elite society too. I saw many celebrities there, in their bikinis or with their dogs! Then we heard about the North Coastal villages, Marina, Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab, South Sinai & Hurghada.
Our generation also witnessed the launching of the subway (Metro) in Cairo and the first day it started running on rails. We all hopped the metro to try it out. My heart was pounding fast the first time I walked throughout the subway station and passed through the automated fare gate to get to the platform & wait for the subway. I used to get lost inside the vast subway stations while trying to figure out a suitable exit to the outside world! The stations were clean & air-conditioned and so were the train carriages. Everything was nice and shiny from the floor you were standing on to the walls around you, even the seats.
I really loved the simplicity of Egypt with its ambiance of compassion and mercy. People in the same neighborhood were well acquainted. The weather used to be great before the global warming kicked in. It was warm in the morning & a little bit chilly at night all through the summer. The winter was very cold and rather rainy—all the more reason to wear our elegant coats that we paid a fortune for. In the summer, families spent most of their times outdoors in public garden, on the Nile Corniche and at clubs. The balcony (verandah) was where we spent most of our day as well as where we received our guests—we had relatives, friends and neighbors coming over all the time. People who installed air-conditioners were a minority because of their high prices and their aftereffect on your monthly electricity bill. Besides, the summer was really tolerable, a fan or simply opening a window in the room created a cool breeze. Cars in the streets of Cairo were mostly Fiat (128, 131, 133, etc.) or Nasr. Automobiles were neither air-conditioned nor did they include a power steering system. When my dad bought his first car with half-power steering system, people thought it was amazing and enviable! Parking the car was a tedious action. Thank God for the full-option automatic cars that we have today and the one-for-all remote control!
Nobody can deny the luxuries & comforts of life offered by technology but we have to admit that because of technology; family members became distant & slothful which in turn created a submissive, reliant and an aloof society. Technology is indispensable and addictive. You get so carried away and forget how God favoured humans among other species by blessing them with the ability to contemplate—which can be a curse too when overdone! Welcome to my world…