CAIRO — International lingerie store Victoria's Secret came to Cairo in 2013, but somewhat surprisingly for a country of Muslim modesty, there has been a varied and flourishing lingerie business in Egypt's capital for years.
Most of the lingerie downtown is imported from either Turkey or Syria. The owners of the two lingerie shops who agreed to speak with Mada Masr are both Syrian, having left the country before the 2011 uprising and ensuing violence. Both say they're still able to obtain lingerie from back home, despite the political turmoil.
One of the stores, Bahaa Makki (the name of a well-known Turkish lingerie brand), also sells silver and gold body glitter, flavored lubricants and lip glitter. It's not difficult to find sexual aids such as lubricants and condoms in corner shops in Cairo, but finding toys for the bedroom can be trickier. Although Bahaa Makki's selection is limited to a couple of glitter tubes and lubes under a glass counter on the second floor, it's nevertheless an unexpected find.
According to Shorouq, one of the three young women working in the shop, one of the most popular items in the shop are the costumes, which include sexy nurse outfits and sexy firemen (or firewomen, in this case).
Hurts so good
Store owner Basher Mekky says that the pleather dominatrix-style costumes made by the Erotica brand are also quite popular. The costumes usually consist of pleather bodysuits made out of thin straps and black mesh, which show off the breasts and the crotch. The costumes come in all sizes, although the most popular is medium-large.
He says that "sexy" pieces have become more popular in recent years, though he isn't quite sure why. It could be a combination of two factors, Mekky says: Women want something that's special and will stand out as unique, which the flashier costumes and lingerie pieces offer. And secondly, style has changed in general. Mekky explains that sexier lingerie wasn't available in the past, but it makes sense that women want to buy it now that it is.
Omar Mohamed Sobhan, another Syrian proprietor of lingerie shops, says that most of the customers collect it piece by piece, so that when they get married they will have a large collection ready. He says that girls as young as 12 come into the shop with their mothers to pick out pieces, although once they reach 18 and beyond, they make most of the choices themselves.
Mekky says that about 60% of the women who come into his store are buying lingerie for their wedding nights. Along with the racier bodysuits, he also sells a range of lacy white dressing gowns and sheer flowing slips that he says are suitable for the morning after the wedding.
But Shaimaa, an 18-year-old woman working at Sobhan's shop, adds that women as old as 60 are loyal clients. Shorouq says that the clientele at her shop ranges in age from 18 up to women in their 50s. All women — whether dressed in niqab, hijab or unveiled — buy lingerie, the two women explain, although Shaimaa says that foreign women are the most likely to buy the racier outfits, like a bright red mesh body suit.
Another hub for lingerie is Shehab Street in Mohandiseen, where slightly different variations await.
On the classier end of the spectrum, the lingerie store A to Z sells bras and underwear made from high-end cottons and other material. There are still costumes and nipple tassels discreetly displayed, but the store puts more of an emphasis on the understated, less flashy lingerie than any of the other shops.
In A to Z, three young girls in their early 20s are browsing the selection. They gather to talk about an item, and then later, outside of the shop, their purchases are bundled away into pink-striped boutique shopping bags.
Yasmine Bamieh, the store's visual merchandiser, says the shop distinguishes itself by selling "good quality for good prices."
But at A to Z, like other stores, the Erotica brand with its skimpy bodysuits is still the most popular. Bamieh says she thinks these are in such demand because while people want to look conservative on the streets, looking sexy at home is still important to a lot of women.
"Underneath the niqab," she explains, "the way they dress is not so conservative."
The most glorious lingerie store is Saxon, hidden in an innocuous residential building next to the McDonald's on Shehab Street. There are no signs pointing to the store, and we had to ask guys hanging out at the kiosk across the street to find it. It's on the second floor, and the entrance is lined with mannequins in various "character" costumes. There's a mannequin wearing a sexy army uniform (glittery camouflage Lycra with the eagle of Egypt adorning the shoulder), and the perpetual sexy pleather dominatrix outfit.
The store has a wide variety of lingerie, ranging from everyday beige bras to underwear with plastic apples and tassels hanging off the bottom. There's even underwear with a feathery bird head attached to the front.
Saxon is an institution that's been around for 25 years. Unlike the lingerie stores downtown, most of the lingerie there is made in Egypt.
Another store, Display, sells masks and feathers along with sexy lingerie. A different store by the same name — which is run by the same man, who declined to give his name or be interviewed — was once one of the first sex toy stores in Cairo. The current owner of Display says the original sex shop shut down because of lack of business, as most people buy sex toys on the Internet.
None of the lingerie stores seem concerned about being shut down over conservative religious concerns. Display's owner is nonplussed at the suggestion that the original sex shop may have been shut down by the government.
"There was not enough business," he explains.
In the window of Mekky's store, there's a belly-dancing outfit with a diaphanous yellow skirt and a matching sparkling yellow bra. There are also a number of sexy slips and dresses in the window. "This is normal," he says, gesturing to the items. "Everybody does this, everybody puts sexy underwear in the window. There are no problems."
The shop owners say they aren't aware of any precedent for shuttering lingerie businesses for morality reasons, and they aren't concerned about a perceived lack of morality in their displays because most of their clientele are married women.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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