Last night, the second season of Hurra TV's Rayheen Ala Fain premiered. We talk to two of the stars, and perhaps the most controversial couple on the show, Sarah Al Mojadadi and our very own David Blanks...
It's the question asked by countless Egyptians everyday – Rayheen ala Fain? The second season of Al-Hurra’s reality TV series kicked off yesterday, attempting, again, to answer the question on everybody's lips. The show follows the lives of six men and women as they tackle day-to-day challenges facing twenty and thirty somethings across the country. One of those is Sarah El Mojadadi; a go-getting journalist with liberal views on life, politics and beyond. The show follows her in her daily life which, as luck would have it, includes planning her wedding as she gets set to marry CairoScene’s very own David Blanks. Yes – a white guy, which is cause for conversation in show’s segments that bring all six chosen characters together to discuss different topics. We have our own things to discuss with the newlyweds...
Which one of you is the Kim Kardashian of this relationship?
David: I think it’d have to be me probably… I just look good, I don’t have any ideas.
How did you meet?
David: A typical random hook up.
Sarah: I’ll tell the story as I remember it…
David: Then I’ll tell the real story.
Sarah: I just came back from Tunisia, I was reporting there for an Iranian television channel, Press TV, not a spy, it was work and it happened. I was a correspondent covering the elections in Tunisia and I came back to Cairo, I got really sick because of Tunisian food – I don’t like spices and shit and I felt like there was something wrong with me and I went to see my doctor, I was very ill. I was like ok, I’m going to go party at Cairo Jazz Club. You know I’m sick, I’m in Cairo and I’m not working so I went to Jazz and thought I would have fun and enjoy the randomness of being with guys and girls; I’m not a slut but I thought it would be nice to get some attention. Then there’s this friend of mine who introduces me to David at their table… and I liked the way he looked. Obviously it was his looks and his hair, because I’m a hair-ist.
David: You just got pissed off because I hit on your girlfriend.
Sarah: That’s true, that was really not cool, and yeah you know, we’re not talking anymore. But anyway, she kind of liked him too so there was two girls flirting with him at the same time and I’m just thinking I’m not going fight for this, what the hell! So I am just watching and observing what is happening and these two girls were like trying to talk to him like “Ooh, globalisation” and “History…” and whatever, and you could tell that I’m sitting in the corner just observing. He gave the most unattractive girl, his number. He never asked me for mine. So I go home and I’m like, why the hell did he not give me his number?
So I called the unattractive girl and asked her if she liked David, she said he wasn't even her type! So I asked for his number from her as soon as you tell an Egyptian girl that you want the number of a guy that she’s not interested in, all of a sudden she’s interested in him. So there was a huge pause and she was like “Uhm, I can’t find it.” And I’m like get me, the number now. She finally agrees and she gives me the number to call him, and I asked him out. That’s how it all started.
David, how do you feel about being the girl in the relationship?
David: Yeah, I’m down with that. I have no problem, it worked out well.
What’s your version of the events? Why did you not go for Sarah?
David: She was attractive to me and I needed to find a way to get her attention and jealousy was the key.
So the important question is though, how do you feel about harrisa and spicy food?
David: I’m down with harrisa and spicy food - I’m the spicy Kardashian side of the relationship, she likes to keep things chilled.
Sarah: Thanks to you, I’ve opened up my taste-buds.
Did you take him on your first date or did David choose where to go?
David: She stood me up. She asked me out and then stood me up.
She didn’t turn up or she cancelled?
David: She didn’t turn up.
Sarah: I slept, my dear.
Sarah: No, it wasn’t on purpose; I really wanted to meet up with him but as I told you I was on medication so I couldn’t... I sound like a drug addict but I pretty much passed out and I woke up in the morning saying, “Holy shit, I stood him up!”. Because we were supposed to have breakfast, right?
Sarah: I could hear the insults, you know, hitting me subliminally.
David: It was good reverse psychology because I was then like, obsessed, after that.
So when was your first official date, when you actually turned up?
David: You were supposed to leave for Tunisia, and then you blew it off. So she basically quit her job and stayed in Cairo, for me.
Sarah: That’s the guy’s version; you see the guy’s version is like “Oh my god, she fell in love with me, so she bailed on her career and didn’t go back to Tunisia because I’m awesome!” No. Sarah’s story is that I couldn’t get a visa to go to Tunisia and my producers were like Sarah, Egypt is going to get involved in a lot of political transitions and turmoil so why don’t you just become our correspondent and work for the Egyptian bureau instead. So that’s what really happened.
David: I like living in my little fantasy world.
Sarah: I live in my fantasies too.
How long was it before you got married?
David: It was pretty weird because I think our first date was at Apertivo and three weeks later it was her birthday and being the idiot that I am I thought. oh it’ll be nice to send her some flowers on her birthday when her parents were in town, so she calls me up and she says “Oh I love the flowers that you sent me, white roses are my favourite!” And then she says by the way my dad wants to have you over for coffee.
Sarah: My father was the one who answered the door for the flowers.
David: Three weeks into the relationship, we’re sitting there, having the talk.
Sarah: But I have to admit that I haven’t had very nice exes so my dad was like, wow a guy who is actually thoughtful enough to send you white roses for your birthday, I want to meet him.
And did he know at the point that he was white?
Sarah: No, he had no idea but he signed it ‘David’ so my dad was being all curious like hopefully he’s ‘Dawood’, right?
How was meeting the family?
David: It was great, man. I had a good time, it was really funny she had to do the whole hostess thing. Like here she is in her little dress and high heels bringing in tea and all this sort of stuff – it was like watching a trapeze act you never knew when she was going to take that plunge.
Sarah: My parents were being vindictive so they bought out the smallest china. We have all these different sizes so we got the littlest cups you could imagine because they were hoping that I would, you know, trip.
David: Her parents were having a great time, it was an opportunity to really abuse you.
Sarah: Yeah they did, they really did.
Was there a moment when you were like I want to marry someone else?
David: I was really happy with Sarah right from the start.
Both of you guys have pretty strenuous careers, how do you balance that with your relationship?
David: It’s dividing the decision making. I make the big decisions and she makes the little decisions like when are we going to travel to and where we’re going to live and all these things, so we balance it out.
Sarah: No, no. We do have an interesting relationship because – I don’t want to use the words alpha or beta – but I am used to being in other relationships where I was the one stealing the show and I dated unemployed guys so I used to find myself being their mummy and their girlfriend at the same time. But with him, he’s got his life and I’ve got mine. You have to know when to let the guy take care of you for God’s sake. He's not a mummy’s child like all of my crazy exes.
And about the wedding planning – who was in charge of that?
Sarah: Both of us I guess.
David: We split it up but basically she had the foresight about getting married on a Saturday instead of a Friday.
Sarah: You’re very sweet.
David: It was going to be a revolution, we were trying to find a hotel with security, one way in and one way out. So you were smart because you did that, despite the apache helicopter going by the window on our wedding night. Other than that, it was good.
And did you feel like your wedding was over shadowed by the situation in Egypt?
David: It was really interesting; I thought there was a really beautiful thing about it. Things were so tense that when the people came they really needed something to have fun.
Straight up – what is more important to you, Sarah or food?
David: Sarah is more important to me, for sure.
Who does the cooking at home?
David: I do the cooking, 100%.
Do you ever give him criticism for the meals?
Sarah: Yeah I do.
Sarah: I do. I know this off topiv and it’s a sensitive issue but I have to bring it up. I love potato salad and David was convinced that his potato salad was awesome…
David: Because it is.
Sarah: No it’s not. There’s just something off about it and I told him that once and I did not hear the last of that. I think he was using, I don’t know what it was like garlic, or mustard; something that you shouldn’t find in a potato salad.
David: So much of our taste is labelled when we are kids, this is a childhood comfort food and we’ve had it one way or another.
Sarah: I want my potato salad mayonnaise-y and he has more mustard and that’s where the clash is.
Is there anything else that you completely disagree on, like a restaurant that one of you loves and one of you hates?
David: We don’t disagree much on that kind of stuff… I like spicy stuff and you don’t.
Sarah: He’s more adventurous. I think it’s more about whether or not whether we both have different likes, or tastes in restaurants but for example he could go eat like, a raw fish or something like that.
David: If I see something on a menu and I don’t know what it is, I would order it for sure. We went to a French place when we were in New York in East Village and they had a pig’s head and I had to order that.
Sarah: I had problems with that like why would you have a pig’s head?
Is it the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
David: No, the weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten was the camels’ hooves – they take the foot and they slice it up and they braise it.
Was that here in Egypt?
David: Yeah, that was here in Egypt, in this little place, I had chicken feet there, too. It was like a Portobello mushroom.
Tell us about the show.
David: I’ll let her talk about it but I will say one thing and that she had left Tunisia after Press TV and as our relationship was developing, she was under-employed because she was still looking for another journalist position which she subsequently found. However, the time she was really bitching about not having anything to do and stuff, this opportunity came along and I really pushed her to do it.
How did it come along, did they approach you?
Sarah: Yeah, pretty much my best friend was called for auditions because they thought she was the one who fit the category but then she turned them down and gave them my contacts. They called me and I was discussing it with Dave and I said “Dave, I just got a call for an audition for a reality show, do I go for this?” This sounds really weird, I’m not a Kardashian but he was all like “Go do it, it’ll be fun”. Alright so it was just because Dave kind of helped me to see that this could be a good thing, I said, why don’t we audition together and it was quite interesting. The people were lovely and I got to meet the producers and writers who they kept telling me that it is not a very glamorous show – it’s not like Made in Chelsea or the Kardashians or stuff like that. It’s more about six Egyptian characters that come from different, radically different, economic backgrounds. You have these different clashes in opinions and religious views, even ideals and their philosophies, and they want to see whether or not we coexist together as a group of friends. That’s why the show is composed of two different story lines: there are lines for each individual character in what they want to do and where they want to go with life and the other sequence is more about group discussions where we sit together and we talk about sex or we talk about politics and religion and family planning and all that stuff.
So it’s not like Big Brother?
Sarah: No, because we’re in Egypt. They wanted it to be similar to Big Brother but we couldn’t get to live in the same house because of obvious reasons so we would all meet. I’d get a call saying, “Hey Sarah, we’re going to go to this gym”, and they made us go and work out me and the girls, not the guys, and we’d go there and talk and have conversation sometimes at dinners, lunches, coffee shops, places like that.
David: They had really good dynamics though. Like one of the characters was a super religious, Salafi guy, looked dead cool and you could imagine the viewers had a certain impression of what he’s going to be like and he was like that to a large extent and we would sit down and get into an argument with Sarah – she knows her religious background, inside and out she could quote more passages from the Quran and the Hadith – and he’d never encountered that before.
Is there a particular way that the show's producers wanted to present you?
Sarah: They got really upset because they wanted to take pictures of Dave and I mayhem and getting drunk and I told them listen, it is us but I think it’s really sad that if you frame us as that, people won’t look beyond that – they won’t take me seriously talking about religion or talking about the ethos of our social problems here.
David: They did get some of that though.
Sarah: They did, they filmed us at Soraya Bahgat’s birthday party.
David: It was funky because you know because people were standing around dancing and drinking.
Sarah: It was a Great Gatsby theme as well so I was dressed up so you guys will get to see that. I bet the people of Egypt will think it’s really pathetic so I’m waiting for the critics to come out.
David, where do you see your role in all of these characters?
David: Well, when I was cast they didn’t script it; it was a true reality show so everything I did was pretty accurate.
So would they see what you were getting up to for that day and film or would they ask you to do something in particular?
David: They’d be like “Look, if you guys are going to this party can we come film you there or make lunch at your house for her we’d come do that? They did a large thread of our relationship and the wedding. They filmed us sort of undercover at the wedding, so it was mostly the stuff that we would do on a day to day basis and in the process we would talk about relationships and cultural differences – the timing was really smooth because a lot of the stuff was happening during the show.
So you were involved in the group discussions as well?
David: Not the group discussions, I don’t think I have any scenes with the other characters.
Sarah: No, he doesn’t at all. I think it’s just scenes between he and I talking about our future, wedding plans and one of our main themes in our story was where were we going to live – was it to stay in Cairo or are we trying to get out of Cairo and enjoying the massive hype of leaving this country?
David: The thing that was really beautiful about it was that it really broke stereotypes and as an American, I was happy to have the chance to and say that I was that I witnessed the revolution and that I was in Tahrir, I was there at the Battle of the Camel. There was a point where they filmed me praying too, and I was able to keep in touch with my Islam credentials.
We had no idea that you had converted to Islam! So you are Dawood?
David: Actually, I’m Ahmed.You don’t have to change your name, but I converted in ’96, so it was way back.
Were there any group discussions about you getting married to David? What did they have to say about that?
Sarah: Yes there were. The girls especially were quite fascinated about how my parents would allow me to marry a foreigner. In their backgrounds, for them to marry a foreigner, was quite surreal to them. I never felt that this was an issue, but it’s interesting to hear from different sides that this is a huge issue. There’s also the conversation about whether or not one would agree to marry someone who had been previously married because Dave has kids from a previous marriage. They were very stupefied – they were shocked as to how OK I was with it. The girls would come up to me and praise me saying they would love to do things like I do but they can’t.
Did either of you develop an ego after filming?
Sarah: I did. I think that they had problems with me because they were trying to film us in Mo2attam in sweltering heat and I was freaking out. I was a bit of a diva because I would complain about how hot it is, how sticky it is and oh my god, what is this shit?!
David: I had a blast, I enjoyed it.
Do you think you’ve been censored a lot?
Sarah: I don’t know if they would do that but they should. I hope so. They better!
Would you do something like this again?
David: I would, I had a great time I really enjoyed it because I like doing public things. At the end of the show they actually filmed us in New York, as well and that was a lot of fun. I had a blast; I would definitely do it again.
Sarah: My answer to that would be definitely yes I would do it but in the winter, never in the summer and in any Middle Eastern country.
Now that you’ve had a taste of reality TV, if you could pick any reality TV show to be on, what would it be?
Sarah: Made in Chelsea. It’s amazing; I want it here in Cairo, just having them here in Zamalek – or in Sahel!
Are you worried about what the editing process will show?
Sarah: Very much so but we will see I really try to be an optimistic person and I hope that they will not edit me to be this elitist bitch.
Are you being subtitled David?
David: Yeah, my Arabic isn’t too strong but they figured out quickly that I could follow conversation. At first they said that they can’t do this then they thought that the story was interesting, so they decided to do subtitles.
Don’t you feel a bit weird that your wedding is going to be on TV?
David: I don’t know, I don’t think it bothered me that much. I don’t have any second thoughts about that really.
Sarah: I don’t mind really. From a superficial point of view people could see that we’re not flaunting it that, hey we have money, we did this. Our view of shit isn’t just us, so it transcends classes and I feel that the other people felt that we genuinely did this, we had a party, it was fun, it was our wedding.