Book Review: The humorously arrogant travels of Gihan El-Gharabawy

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Tuesday 12 Apr 2022

Gihan Toheb El-Safar (Gihan Loves to Travel), by Gihan El-Gharabawy, Cairo Ghorab for Publishing and Distribution, Cairo, 2021.

book cover
Gihan El-Gharabawy s book cover

The book in question today is ‘Gihan Loves to Travel’ (Gihan Toheb El-Safar). The author Gihan El-Gharabawy puts her name in the title and classifies the book as satirical travel literature.

The book’s title is reminiscent of sitcom titles like ‘Caroline in the City’ or ‘Seinfeld,’ which was exactly the intent of the writer, to write a funny book focusing on one person’s experiences.

Putting one’s name in the title of a book is quite a risk, it displays certainty that the reader will be interested in a book about the author’s travels.   

El-Gharabawy has a provocative style in telling her story; she defies the reader from the beginning. The first title is, ‘A necessary introduction: If you don’t want to read it, feel free not to do so.’

With a feeling of superiority that she conveys to the reader, the message is this: dear reader, I do not need you. It is an unusual writing style that she might find funny, but it is actually unacceptable. Even though writers sometimes fall into the trap of preaching and teaching the reader, and writing to satisfy all readers is an impossible mission, stating bluntly that the reader is the last thing on the writer’s mind is flat out wrong, to say the least.

In the introduction, the writer declares that each story and visit will give hints to the reader about the time of the visit. This was a big misjudgement, because the younger generations who might read the book will likely not recognise the historical events mentioned in the book.

For instance, in her visit to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, she mentions that there is a sad feeling among the public over the splitting of Sudan, which is expressed in cafes and restaurants. Without coming right out and saying it, it is clear the people in the north were not happy about the division of the country.

The visit was a few years after the separation, and even the readers who are old enough to recall that major political event will probably not be able to know the visit’s date. 

The author writes about her trips to 19 countries. She uses a sarcastic, funny style in describing her experiences, particularly in recounting her Lebanon visit. She was able, through her “chauffeur” – a young man driving a high-end BMW – to learn how the Lebanese people think.

They care about their “prestige”, wearing brand names, driving high-end cars, paying attention to their image and looks even if it means they have to borrow money to maintain a prestigious image.

The writer’s sarcasm and humorous style are shown when the driver made her pay $80 for gas, a huge amount for her budget. “After all you are riding a BMW,” he said.

She paid, although still annoyed, saying to herself “you materialistic low life rascal, I thought you were a friend doing me a favour in the name of Arab brotherhood for a journalist trying to strengthen the ties between Arabs.”

Reading these words in the Egyptian dialect makes the reader laugh. In that story, she nails the humour and describes a difficult situation in a comic way.    

The part that I found interesting was the Iran visit. Egyptian-Iranian relations were severed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Iran’s theocratic regime decided to name one of Tehran’s main streets Islambouli Street, named after Sadat’s killer. This was unacceptable by Egypt’s political leadership and people alike. Since that incident, political relations between the two countries were awkward to say the least.

This was the news given by the media, but no one actually went to Tehran to check on that street and tell us if the name is still there. The writer visited downtown Tehran, went to the hairdresser on that street and gave solid news that the street still carries the name of Sadat’s killer.

In her chapter “A Kiss on the Consul’s Cheek”, the conservative reader gets a bit curious. She kissed someone and wrote about it? The story was about getting the USA visa. She was supposed to meet the consul for an interview before getting the visa.

She describes the stern Egyptian employees at the US embassy, and eventually she meets an American girl who tells her, after a few questions, that she will receive her visa in three days. Our heroine is surprised and says, “but I haven’t met the consul yet,” to which the girl replies, “I am the consul.” The author is overwhelmed and asks to kiss her on the cheek because she was nice and the visa applicant was so happy. That was the kiss story, funny and unusual that makes the reader laugh. 

After taking out the humour, which is not always funny, and the reasons for each trip, which needed to be deduced from her words sometimes, the book gives meagre information to the reader.

The writer promised the reader in her introduction that “he is not buying a book, but a plane, where he or she will discover what the Facebook did not tell them and the atlas did not write.” This was an ambitious promise that was not fulfilled.

The book is exactly what the title says, Gihan loves to travel and decided to tell the reader about it. Her experience is personal, and no reader can get direct benefit from reading this book.

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