Photographing Maadi

Photographing Maadi

Maadi is an Egyptian neighborhood that was formerly built to accommodate extravagant villas and ferries. Although much of the original charm of the area has withstood the test of time and Egyptian urbanization, it almost seems as if worlds collide as the locals watch the iconic area be transformed into an arguably superficial center for chic dining and shopping, as the surrounding urban complex of Cairo mushrooms into the area.

A ‘50s era villa obscured by a ‘00s era pickup truck

A symbol of Maadi’s perseverance through the ages

The fitting metaphor

An antique shop exterior, hosting all sorts of artefacts from the Egyptian romance period

Merchant’s shops on the side of the road are common the the area, and have held up quite well

Live Smart, Die Old

Live Smart, Die Old

Younger siblings all around the world will surely understand the experience of having to ride on their older sibling’s reputations, as they followed in their footsteps through school. And if the discourse with teachers wasn’t “why can’t you be more like them”, then it was just a battle to prove that; no, our family name isn’t cursed.

 That said, I think I may be one of the few who ended up going to the same tiny university as their older sibling, which is a whole new can of worms, Especially when it’s the exact same major… 

So for my first few months at Webster, I was mostly referred to as “Nadia’s Brother.” Apparently she had left quite an impression, which is fair, seeing as she had won Geneva’s edition of Webster’s Got Talent.  It also helps that she was the youngest competing rower at the 2016 Rio Olympics at the age of 18. Now she’s 22 and her repertoire of crazy cool shit hasn’t stopped ballooning. 

Needless to say, there’s a lot to live up to. Nadia’s in bed with a nasty flu on the other side of the planet. So, in true younger sibling fashion, I decided to call her up and pester her a little about her very exciting life. 

Nadia transferred out of Webster to go to row on the UC Berkeley team, which she says is one of her proudest moments. 

“Webster was very good preparation for me, because I became very independent when I was there. It really provided me with a lot of tools to be ready for the states.”  At Berkeley,  she studied Film & Media. Nadia points out that in an alternative life,

“I probably would have studied environmental law because now I’m more interested in the logistical and legal side of fighting for the environment. but I still love the arts.”

These days, my darling sister is living it up in the San Francisco Bay Area as a UC Berkeley Graduate, working to save the wilderness, and teaching girls how to row a boat in the midst of a pandemic, and wildfires raging next door. I still distinctly remember how rowing took over Nadia’s life for about 10 years (and consequently our family’s,) but she embraced it. It consisted mostly of early morning trainings and late drives home from race events.

All the work paid off in the end when she found herself representing Egypt at the Olympics, and 

years after the fact, the hype lives on. 

“It’s more than I give myself credit for. People think I’m way cooler than I actually am. Everyone’s like “Wow you went to the Olympics” I’m like yeah I did and it’s cool but it’s not like I cured cancer. There’s still so much to be done” As I pointed out, she has done just that.

“Yeah I guess so. Sorry I’m so emo”, she jokes

“I’m working to help organizations advocate for the end of wildlife crime and environmental causes. So right now I’m  working with ADMCF,  an organization in Hong Kong. I work with their wildlife team, and make videos for them and highlight policies they want to change. They get pitched to governments and CITES, (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hopefully change comes from that.” 

The next day, she announced to me that one of her videos was shown to the Chinese supreme court, and now the trafficking of wildlife is going to be outlawed in Hong Kong. Sibling rivalries are never easy, are they…

Personally, I can’t recall a moment in my life where Nadia wasn’t obsessed with animals, so the trajectory she’s taken in life is pretty on-brand. This is the same girl who once bit me so hard when we were kids that I bled because she was pretending to be a lion. Typical Leo. 

Along with that, she has also been working with Richard Blair, a photographer and nature advocate, digitizing his photographs from the ‘70s and running his Instagram pages, along with completing numerous other errands. She recalls: 

“I spent three days a week sleeping up in Point Reyes (a national park in Northern California) two kilometers from the fire. I had to pack up cars with my boss’s stuff and drive them up and down to a downtown center where we had storage. I had to help him prepare for fire, there was ash raining on me and I was basically inhaling smoke and ash for three weeks. Almost lost my workplace, but the firefighters came through and saved the day“ 

It’s safe to say that along with a  recent job she picked up  as an assistant coach at a rowing club,  Nadia needed a break. Unfortunately, the one she got hasn’t been the one she was envisioning, semi casually mentioning how I’m interviewing her on her “covid deathbed.” Although it didn’t seem like that at all when she video-called me wearing a bucket hat and basking in the sun.

“I have Covid and it really sucks so please wear a mask” 

I guess nobody is truly unstoppable, but that doesn’t stop her from seeming like she is. 

At this point, besting my sister in our little rivalry feels a little like trying to dig an elephant’s grave with a spoon. While my sister was sweeping wins at races and competing at the Olympics, I was busy doing absolutely nothing notable. What did I do at the age of 18?  I don’t know, probably vibing or something. The only thing I have on her is that I was objectively easier to deal with for my parents. So what’s the secret to her iconic determination?

She explains: “Live smart, die old. Do what you want because you’re the only one that knows how much you want it, and regret nothing because at the time you did it it made you happiest. That’s my last quote.. I’m gonna go have risotto and sleep”

I let the bedbugs bite so you don’t have to.

I let the bedbugs bite so you don’t have to.

We always talk about “experiences that we would never wish upon our worst enemies” but frankly, we haven’t given enough attention to the ones that we actually would wish upon them. So in attempts to break the silence, I would like to offer an experience that would truly mess with that special person in your life, but not as to fuck them up totally (exept sometimes).

As you know, most cities and countries have some sort of dark underbelly that only the woke locals know about. Unfortunately it seems like all the exciting cartels and outlaws were wrapped up in cooler cities, so somehow Geneva got stuck with a marvelously disproportionate overflow of bedbugs. Now, this isn’t Gotham City. You’ll find that most people can lead a comfortable life here without ever having to be confronted by these cynical pests. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky. In fact, one might say I got screwed by them.

Addressing the stigma

As the exterminator who seemed stuck in the ‘80s told me, the reason Geneva has so many bed bugs is because nobody wants to report them, in fears of appearing unhygienic or generally gross. As it turns out, bed bugs don’t actually care about how much you shower or wash your sheets. It really is essentially a flip of a coin. Now I wouldn’t normally trust a 50-something year old man in double denim and a bolo tie with anything other than a lasso, let alone bedbugs, but I figured that since he deals with bedbugs all day, those clothes are probably just the uniform he burns at the end of work. I hope. 

Good riddance. 

But before getting ahead of ourselves, let’s rewind

Taking action 

If I were to give you one piece of advice when dealing with bedbugs, it would be to not be in denial. I assumed the itchy spots on my body were mosquitos. Of course, mosquitos don’t tend to come out in Switzerland in January. Eventually I woke up at 3am to the sight of two of these punks crawling on my duvet. Now, dear reader, imagine me on my bike 20 minutes later; under the rain and very much scarred heading on a dreadful 45-minute ride to my mom’s house. 

How’s that for regression? 

As it turns out, many survivors of intense infestations of bed bugs suffer of heightened paranoia, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts. In other words, keystone symptoms of PTSD. And in many cases, it is very real, as Alexis Hansen, a trauma-oriented psychotherapist points out in an article by The Atlantic. “It’s your safe space and something invading that is really terrifying,” You’re essentially being physically attacked during the time when you’re at your most vulnerable state possible. And as a person who suffers from lifelong mosquito invitation syndrome, I can attest that bed bug bites are infinitely worse than our casual bloodsucking summer flings. 

Luckily my infestation was not that bad. That said, I did find myself scratching my body, doing double takes at regular harmless brown spots, and having that mental image of the bedbugs crawling along my sheets and promptly yelping more than once over the following days. 

Good dogs and archaic solutions

Did you know that dogs can be trained to detect the presence of bedbugs? I sure as hell didn’t until I met Paco, the exterminator’s german shepherd mix.  Paco would sniff around my studio apartment for a while and perform a little head-bump into any piece of furniture that he felt needed to be dealt with. 

The studio used to consist of the following: 

  • 1 bed 
  • 1 couch 
  • 1 shiny new chair from ikea less than two weeks old for my online classes 
  • A quite large painting from a thrift shop that my sister had bought
  • Bookshelves 
  • Music equipment such as guitars, an amp, and keyboard. 

My studio apartment now consist of: 

  • An inflatable mattress with a double-sided tape moat around it (which will be explained later)
  • General sadness 

Old Mr Double Denim told me to get rid of most of my shit. Now, it could have been treated for bugs in their facility, but it would have cost more than getting a new bed completely. I’ve never had so much trouble parting with an object in my life – not because I was emotionally attached, but because I live on the 6th floor and the elevator is the size of an underwhelming closet. 

Not only that, but I also had to go pick up specialised labeled plastic bags to put the furniture into, and stick an A4 sized sticker that essentially says “HEY THIS THING IS INFESTED AND GROSS DONT TOUCH IT” 

As if I didn’t need any more public shame

Now, the process remains the same for any size of infestation. Not only did I need to get rid of most of my shit, and sleep on an inflatable mattress, but I also had to remove any electrical outlet and light switch covers, and literally rip off the wooden tiles that separate the wall and floor. 

“But why don’t you just sleep at your mom’s?” I hear you ask. Well as one of the few tenants with bed bugs (they choose specific hosts) I was asked to stay in the apartment to essentially function as a litmus test to see if the product they use is strong enough or if they need to upgrade to a stronger chemical. The idea is that they’ll get caught on the double sided tape in attempts to get to me. And if they do manage to even get to the tape, that means whatever product they’re spraying isn’t strong enough. I’m left wondering why the world’s best biomedical organizations haven’t even tried to capitalize on a better solution than this one which seems to not have evolved past the 1800s

So sleep with the knowledge that there’s a hungry gang of bloodsucking children in your room, physically and emotionally exert yourself to the max to take care of the issue,  and then add entire days of online classes to the mix sitting on the floor. Suddenly you’ve got a fun roster of topics to bring up to your therapist at your next meeting. 

Silver linings

We’re all sick of talking about silver linings (thanks for that one Rona) but I truly did find that one of the silver linings here was that I can now be a true minimalist like every travel influencer and YouTuber these days. That said, fuck those pretentious assholes. Why can’t they just be sad like the rest of us? 

The other silver lining is that bedbugs are fairly easy to catch. So in theory, you could potentially plant a couple in the home of your least favourite person and watch their life get turned upside down over the following month. Bonus points if it’s during a pandemic! 

How to Embarrass Yourself and Own It

How to Embarrass Yourself and Own It

How to Completely Embarrass Yourself and Own It
Confidence in the face of humiliation

There is a bar somewhere in Geneva. It’s a bar that frequently hosts open mic nights and similar events. It’s also a bar where I will never show my face again. I tried performing there once, and it was a complete flop. Stage fright got the best of me, and so the crowd got the worst from me. That experience is sitting comfortably in the top 10 worst experiences I’ve ever had. But since then, I have botched dozens of performances. Unsurprisingly, I don’t really have the same view of those experiences anymore, and when I do, I own it. I may never show my face at that first bar again, but now I smile in the face of humiliation.

To constantly throw yourself into situations where you are not in control can do a tremendous amount of good for your self confidence and anxiety. It also helps develop robust coping mechanisms that aid in desensitizing you. These are a few key ideas to keep in your head when practicing embarrassment.

Find your space
The first step to this is to find a space where you feel safe enough to screw up. Some spaces are much more judgemental than others. For example, if you fumble over your words during an important class presentation, the repercussions will be worse than if you mess up your solo at a jam night, in the midst of a bunch of drunks. Learning to embarrass yourself in a safe, forgiving space is good so that you can deal with it and pick yourself up more fluidly in places where the stakes are higher. The idea isn’t to push yourself too far out of your comfort zone, but more like learning to functionally live within your ability and develop it no matter what. So, find a place where you can try new things. I use jam nights, but inviting friends over, just to cook up a dish you’ve never tried before is already a great step.

Once you have that, it`s time to fuck up.

Learn to accept imperfection.
In places where results are expected, the last thing you want to do is publicly talk yourself down. Just take the L home. If I were to stand on stage and say “oops sorry that really sucked” not only will that be even more embarrassing, but people who had not been paying attention will look at you with the bias you presented to them.
I sometimes jam at a blues bar with a bunch of 60-something year old men. Some of them are assholes. Whenever I’d be asked to solo when I was just starting out, I was terrified of these guys’ judgement. Not only did it make my playing worse, but when I did hit a wrong note, I would make a face. I’d cringe at myself to let the audience know that “yes I am aware that sounded off, don’t worry, I’ll work on it. I am a self aware and functional adult.” The kicker is that most of the audience are not musicians, therefore, their untrained ears won’t notice when I do screw up. My friend once expressed to me that he only noticed there were off-notes in my playing once I made it clear.
So now I smile all the way through instead.

Avoid getting defensive
Although it is completely natural to get defensive when we are faced with criticism, if somebody calls you out, avoid making a scene and trying to justify your actions. You can wholeheartedly disagree with somebody’s comments. You can argue with them too. However, if you are performing in a space where you are not completely competent, there is no reason to argue because you likely don’t know better. By all means yell at them in your head when you shower that night. But don’t risk making an ass of yourself by defending your actions in public. That is not a constructive way to embarrass yourself and own it.

Once you’ve managed to do all that, all you need to learn how to do is how to be resilient. You need to know that you won’t always have a flawless performance. You need to expect to hate yourself for a little while after that. But most importantly, you need to be ready to do it again.

These days, I jump at almost any opportunity to perform on stage or in front of people in general. I’d like to think that I can hold my own pretty well too when it does happen. One thing I know for certain is that once the world stops ending, and bars start hosting events again, I’ll be the first to sign up for the open mic.

But I’m still never showing my face at that first bar ever again.

A Narrative In Sound

A Narrative In Sound

Humans are amazing at creating meaning out of isolated events. It is exactly this that I wanted to study in this experimental. Where each note represents a generic shot, how does a short narrative change based on the order of the shots?

In other words, how does the melody affect the story? Can we create meaning from shots that are not connected to each other solely based on what we hear coupled with what we see? Six shots, six notes.