Colm Hogan

I regret not meeting Hassan Khan before watching Cairo Time. Khan is a visual artist, music producer, and writer from that great city, and I met him in Cartagena, Spain, this fall. Khan and I both had installations in the same gallery, ARQUA (National Museum of Underwater Archaeology), and we shared several conversations in a cafe by the dazzling waters of the Mediterranean. When I learned that Khan was from Cairo, I asked if he had seen the movie by the Arab-Canadian director Ruba Nadda (I had given it a rave, if not raving mad, review: "One of the best films you will see this year is Cairo Time, a perfectly cast and paced story about [an Egyptian] man, a [North American] woman, and the biggest city in Africa.") Khan had no hesitations when he answered: "It was one of the worst films I have ever seen."

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But it was so beautiful, and it loved the city, its streets, its colors. Khan said: "Man, that's not Cairo. That's a fantasy. And that man who the American falls in love with, he is a kharteya." And what is that? "It's a male prostitute. They are all over Cairo and an embarrassment to my people. Those men spend their whole lives chasing white women and telling them dumb jokes. You know the first thing they say when they meet a white woman? They say, 'Welcome to Alaska.' You get? This is not Alaska. It's fucking hot; Alaska is fucking cold." (Khan spoke perfect English.) "But the American women always fall for that shit. They think it's being original or cute or something. Kharteya also have a dumb joke about camels."

But the Arab actor in Cairo Time, Alexander Siddig, is so noble, he comes from a good family, and he only hits on the American near the end of the movie. "That guy is not even Egyptian and he doesn't look Egyptian. Besides, being noble and all that, it's a part of the game. That's how these guys operate; they try to look like royalty. But that man is nothing but a kharteya." Indeed, indeed, you learn something new every day. recommended

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