2hwa Culture in Cairo

The 2hwa (pronounced aah-wuh is such a beautiful thing.

2hwa (or قهوة) can mean coffee or coffee shop.

There are different kinds of 2hwas and they’re made for different kinds of people.

Some 2hwas are only for old men. They don’t have a sign that says “OLD MEN ONLY” but any woman approaching can clearly see that she’s not welcome there. These are usually “neighborhood” 2hwas where men go to watch sports, play a board game, drink coffee, and smoke unflavored معسل tobacco from a hookah pipe.

Some neighborhood 2hwas are welcoming to women and families; Our local 2hwa had reserved the inside tables for women and families. (this ensured that the women wouldn’t be harassed or bothered from male patrons and/or passing onlookers) More and more women are smoking shisha (hookah) in Egypt and it is slowly becoming a more accepted practice but it is by no means a “normal” thing for women or teenagers to do.

There are fancy 2hwas (i visited one in the souq or market) and there are cafés like Costa Coffee or Starbucks. The owner of the 2hwa is called the ma3lim and if he’s not present his second in command becomes the ma3lim. It’s his job to ensure the customers are comfortable, nothing sketchy occurs, and people feel like coming back.

International Studies

My classes this semester were awesome. I had some of my favorite professors, i’ve written papers on some of my favorite topics, and i’ve spent quality time with my best friends. I’m incredibly happy with my choice of majors and if you’re considering pursuing a degree in International Studies I highly recommend it! Here’s a brief overview of the classes I took this semester.


Survey of French Literature Since 1800

FR4163 — Dr. Logan Whalen

This course treated french-language texts from French authors from 1768 to 2005. I am extremely happy that I took this course. Dr. Whalen was very personable and the course expectations were clearly outlined from day 1. Some of the texts were rather long; however, the readings were generally spaced out and it was always very manageable. My favorite texts from the class were Rene (Chateaubriand) and Magnus (Sylvie Germain).


Arabic Literature and Culture

MLLL-3413 — Dr. Waleed Mahdi

This class used film and literature to gain a sampling of popular themes discussed in media from the Arab world. I’m not a fan of movies so I thought the course was a little movie-heavy for my taste. One book, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, was particularly fun to read.


US-Arab Cultural Encounters

IAS-3783 — Dr. Waleed Mahdi

The readings for this class were mainly focused on presenting the main theories one comes across when studying the Middle East (Orientalism, Occidentalism, post-Orientalism, Class of Civilizations, etc). I found this ideological overview to be helpful in my other classes.

** I wrote a combined final paper for both of Dr. Mahdi’s classes comparing Kanye West and Shaaban Abd Al-Rahim and their representation of marginalized communities

Advanced Arabic

ARAB-3223 — Dr. Hossam Barakat

The vocab we learned in this class has already proved to be useful. I think this class gave me a great base to work with when I take Media and Politics next semester. I appreciated the mix of grammar, culture, and vocabulary.

Arab Spring

HON-3993 — Dr. Joshua Landis

Another wonderfully informative class from Dr. Landis. I am never disappointed with his courses. The assigned readings are perfect for gaining insight into the political landscape of the Middle East. I wrote 3 papers for this class: a paper on the Egyptian Revolution, a paper on ISIS and Syria, and a paper on US-Saudi relations. Overall, I would highly recommend this course to IS students who are interested in geopolitics, the Middle East, and International Relations.

Caroline in Cairo: Observations

Over winter break I traveled to Cairo, Egypt where I spent a month with Lamis and her family. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of Arabic, saw some crazy stuff, and returned with a lot of stories! Here are some observations I made while in Egypt.



I’ve taken all forms of transportation available in Cairo.
Train- pretty cool. average train ride. my ticket from Cairo to Alexandria and back was 90 Egp.
Bus- no. never again.
Minibus- so so so crowded. also scary.
Microbus- super cheap and generally pretty trustworthy. Most tickets were 4 Egp.
TukTuk- So much fun! They’re usually decorated with feathers, lights, or stickers. The only downside is how slow they are.
Boxtruck- Yikes. Crammed with people, nails sticking out of the sides, guys hanging on the back, and a very bumpy ride.
Taxi- some drivers have timers that determine the fare. These drivers are suuuuper slow. Downside of taxi is that sometimes the drivers try to be funny.

1st Microbus ride! In a boxtruck with Salwa (Lamis's friend) before it filled with people! a camel counts as transportation, right?! a mean taxi driver In Lamis's father's car on the way to her mother's village! a man in a village outside of Tanta driving his cart a donkey with a job I rode a donkey sans saddle. it was scarier than the camel.  Lamis's cousin was very patient and only laughed at me a little bit. the train to Alexandria. round trip= 90 egp a boat we rode in Alexandria

There are no rules for driving. At all.

Cars will try to run you over. Especially female drivers.

Crosswalks either don’t exist or they’re not visible. Crossing the street basically just means jumping in front of cars and looking mean enough to hopefully make them stop for you.

Sidewalks are where stores conduct business, the street is shared by pedestrians and cars.

Traffic lights and stop signs are suggestions.

Animal-drawn carts aren’t the weirdest thing. If you leave the house you’re most likely going to see at least one donkey pulling an orange cart



While in Egypt i ate pigeon, rabbit, quail, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, ful, t3mayya, kufta, koshary, mulukhayya, and just about every other thing you could think of. The food was always so good. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent host mother (my friend’s mom) who was continuously cooking for us.

1st meal in Egypt! kufta from down the street 1st breakfast! (Lamis's mom said "Don't port this picture! they'll think i'm starving you!") cotton candy at the souq! I wanted the heart and i didn't even ask, the guy just knew. snacks and drinks by the Nile (Lamis and her dad got a hummus drink) Lemonade with mint and pomegranate juice with seeds eating Libyan food with Lamis's old neighbors posing with a dead pigeon Lamis's aunt cleaning the rice for our lunch Lamis's aunt baking the rice a delicious home cooked meal in a village outside of Tanta creeper shot of the meal Koshary (not at Abu Tarek's place) Egypt has Chili's and Johnny Carino's ??? cotton candy by the sea (not pictured: the sea) a very popular seafood restaurant in Alexandria my plate of seafood

Nescafé is love. Nescafé is life.

Guests are served coffee, tea, juice, or Nescafé made to their specifications on a silver tray.

Every meal must have side dishes. Grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, other meats.

Black tea usually follows a meal.

There are endless types of cheeses and everyone has a different favorite. *Cue weird looks if you eat the wrong cheese with the wrong meat.*

You can get a sandwich for 2 Egp (shoutout to Shabrawwi) that tastes amazing.

Falafel is called T3mayya is Cairo. Just go with it.

Abu Tarek has the best koshary and that’s final.

Lemonade will probably never be the same for me. I drank a lot of Lemonade with mint, 2hwa mazboot (sweetened Turkish coffee), and tea with mint. I also tried fresh mango, strawberry, and guava juice!




There is a song for everything. Everything has a movie or TV show reference, a little chant, a song, or some connection to pop culture. 

Key gestures and phrases made my life 1000x easier.

ex: there’s a gesture to show someone you’re actually full and not just being nice.

there’s a phrase to tell the person asking for money that you don’t have any but you hope their life gets easier.

*sidenote* sometimes shopkeepers will tell you that your items are free and you don’t have to pay. they’re just being nice %99 of the time and you really do need to pay

I’m creating a second post dedicated solely to shisha and coffee shops.

The Quran is absolutely EVERYWHERE. This might’ve been the biggest shock for me when I got to Egypt. Almost every car has بسم الله, ما شاء الله, الله اكبر or some other religious phrase written in sharpie, painted, or (the most common) attached as a sticker. Taxis, buses, microbuses, and minibuses are especially decked out in written prayers asking for God’s protection. Quranic recitation is unbelievably prevalent. I heard recordings of the Quran being played in: taxis, microbuses, grocery stores, on the street, shops, etc. I was touring the Citadel in Alexandria and i even heard one of the cleaning men reciting the Quran.

*sidenote* One of the mechanics across the street from Lamis’s house blared the Quran non-stop 24/7 the only exception being during soccer games.

Idle chitchat is mandatory when a guest comes over. I really value alone time so i occasionally struggled to keep up with the Egyptian social life.

People stare. A lot. Some people make weird comments. No one ever touched me or was hostile. 

Personal space doesn’t exist outside of the house. There are a ton of people in Cairo and it’s very apparent when there’s a big event or holiday. (like New Year’s Eve)

Foreign brands are everywhere (they have cheetos).

People yell in the streets at all hours of the night. It’s fine. Most people are awake anyway. 

Being late is normal. Meeting times are just general suggestions, give or take a couple hours.

Men will invoke the name of God while catcalling you because that makes it fine???


Haggling is a must. Speaking Arabic helps. Being Egyptian helps even more.

The conversion rate during my time in Egypt was about 18-20 Egp/ 1 USD.

Egypt was very affordable for me but worsening economic woes have exacerbated class tensions as purchasing power decreases and prices of basic goods continue to rise.

I gave my dollars to Lamis’s dad to convert for me at the bank. I didn’t mess with conversion companies but I did see some around.

I bought lots of gifts and spent rather freely and i ended up spending ~1100 Egp / Week. (including a train to Alexandria and frequent trips to coffee shops)


I know that generalizations aren’t the best way to obtain a nuanced perspective of a country or a culture; however, the aim of this post is to provide a fun and funny glimpse into Egypt as I saw it.

How to Survive Living with Your Best Friend

I’m living in an on-campus apartment with my childhood friend Jillian, Lamis, and a girl named Celeste. Before this semester began I was told by a lot of people that living with my best friend was a horrible idea.

I’m took Political Islam, History of the Middle East Since WWI, Youth in Iran, and Macroeconomics with Lamis. She’s also the TA for my Advanced Arabic class. I’d heard stories of people living with their friends and how spending too much time together could be detrimental to a friendship. I’m lucky that for us this wasn’t the case.

Take time for yourself

Lamis and I have developed the ability to understand when we need space. We each take time in the morning and at night to sit in our rooms and watch Netflix or eat by ourselves. Having other friends is also important. It’s nice to be able to spend time with other friends without and jealousy.


Taking almost every class together made it really easy to compare ourselves to one another; however, we both decided from the very beginning that this wouldn’t help either of us. We each have our own strengths and skills. Instead of competing with each other we’ve used each other as a resource. She proofreads my Arabic essays and I proofread her English essays. We support each other through stressful times and are proud when the other succeeds.

Talk it out

Whenever get annoyed with each other or hurt each others feelings, we give each other some space and then talk it out. I think one of the main things that has helped us maintain our friendship has been constantly talking. We talk all the time about big things, little things, each other, ourselves, and other people. It really helps to have someone listen to your problems, especially when you know the other person isn’t going to try to solve everything.


Egyptian Sha’bi Music

Egyptian Sha’bi Music

Sha’bi music is a style of popular working-class music which evolved from baladi, an urban folk style originating in the Egyptian countryside, in the second half of the 20th century.

This genre has evolved greatly since legendary artist Ahmed Adaweyah achieved great success in turning Sha’bi music into a powerful genre sought by distribution companies in Egypt. Sha’bi music uses the popular dialect of Arabic to convey incredibly relatable music. The dominant style today is known as “Techno Sha’bi”.
Hassan el Asmar (October 21, 1959-August 7, 2011)

Drawing from early Sha’bi artists such as Ahmed Adaweyah, Hassan el Asmar discusses poignant topics in his songs Ketab Hayeti (The Book of my Life) and Allah Yasemhak ya Zamen (May God Forgive You, Oh Time). Some critics see Asmar as Adaweyah’s natural heir to the throne of Sha’bi music.


Sha’bi Music from Film

Another great example of Sha’bi music appears in the film Al Farah (The Wedding). The Egyptian word for wedding comes from the word in Modern Standard Arabic for happiness. Ironically, the most popular song to emerge from this film describes how the artist no longer recognizes himself and the resulting deep unhappiness he feels. The line “Ana mish ana”or “I am not myself” is hugely popular in Egypt. Despite the criticism Sha’bi music recieves for its utilization of simple language, the messages conveyed in Sha’bi songs often reflect the difficulties the Egyptian people face as a result of political, economic, and social instability.

A more lighthearted Sha’bi song that has received nation-wide fame also comes from a film. The song Helwa Rooh from a film bearing the same name is upbeat and fun. The song describes the beauty of a belly dancer (played in the video by world-renowned Singer Haifa Wehbe) and is often used as a song to which Egyptians belly-dance.

Shabaan Abdelrahim (March 15, 1957-Present)

Born in Cairo, Shaaban Abdelrahim was working as a makwagi (one who irons clothes) earning a low wage. His 2000 breakout song “I Hate Israel” became immensely popular while simultaneously attracting intense criticism. His catchy beats and political lyrics captured the hearts and minds of average Egyptians, catapulting him to fame. He is famous for his flashy clothes and his outlandish antics.