My dear friend (I was going to call her "best friend" but didn't want to step on any toes cuz for real I have several "best" friends. Then I thought "BFF" because it's amusing as hell to me but I thought something in the intended tone might be lost on my audience: many of you I know like cilantro, and we all know what that means about your IQ.) and roommate has just moved to Rome/Cairo. She's been in Cairo a few weeks now and one of the first things she tells me is she is surrounded by Cilantro. No, not the herb, the fucking cafe.
I know. As if. Well, apparently this chain of cafes is as ubiquitous in Cairo as suicidal cab drivers. The cafes, Dear Friend tells me, have internet connections, nice amenities, a quiet, relaxed ambiance and, you know, allow women. In other words, this is a Western-style chain standing in direct opposition to the segregated, loud, cheap and dirty ahwas, traditional Egyptian coffee shops.
What's upsetting is that the biggest chain of coffee shops in all of Cairo is named after my nemesis. Or is it? I mean, is it really a term of distinction to be a coffee shop chain? Is it really so awesome to be the very Egyptian icon of Westernization and cultural atrophy? Dear Friend tells me she'd never spend any time there, that she'd really prefer to hang at the ahwas, but damnit, honky needs her wireless connection and the ice cubes next door might make her sick. Then there's also the issue that she isn't really allowed in those "realer" places, having tits and all. So, on that front Cilantro represents progress, of the good sort that creates the eponymous noun liberals prefer to call themselves; they allow women.
I have a tremendous amount of patience for other cultures, mostly because I recognize after 25 years in the US of America one I don't know that culture is the kind of thing one can ever understand, but more to the point, I don't like to be too judgmental -- do whatever you want, please don't kill my dog (I don't have a dog). I have serious problems with religion, but, that's with all of them, not a particular one. Most of my problems are rooted in the fact that people do irrational things that are objectively bad for themselves and everyone around them in the name of a god or spirit or faith that they don't know exists. Yeah. That sounds a lot like a judgment to me too. Anyway, some of the worst forms of what I don't like about religion involve violences and injustices against women, a group I'm (on the whole) pretty fond of. Genital mutilation (ha, you thought you were reading a cilantro blog), anti-birth control policies and a general limitation of that great word W loves to throw around -- freedom -- are but a few nuisances women have had to endure at the hands of "their" religions. Exclusion from public cafes would be another.
So, while I'm down with dirt and noise and all those authentic things Western travelers like to tell themselves they like so they can have authentic experiences, in the end I value the kind of progress that allows a woman to order a fucking cup of coffee. And if that kind of place goes by the name Cilantro.... Point for cilantro.