CAIRO: Many mothers in Cairo were delighted to learn about the Baby Fair at the Intercontinental Semiramis Hotel, which ran for three consecutive days (March 19-21).
The first of its kind promised an endless variety of products and activities for children; finally, some recognition that the baby industry was a potential gold mine. Especially with the way Egyptians procreate with reckless abandon. The underdeveloped baby industry, coupled with the bottlenecks of a largely baby-unfriendly city, meant that there was a real opportunity to deliver something important to demoralized mothers. Yes, the Baby Fair would sweep in with its magic red cape and reenergize the quality of baby life in Egypt.
With that thought in mind, I took my two-year-old ( Little Guy for the purpose of anonymity) to the Fair with me as he is the toughest critic I know. Little Guy outlived the playground in the Gezira Club and felt no remorse when they closed it down temporarily to cull those crows for fear of bird flu. He was the first one out of us to register the blank stares of children taking their tenth pram ride around the ground floor of the First Mall. And since he was wise enough to admit that the streets were “dirty and the trees were “not green, I knew that he would be very honest about whether the Baby Fair was all it was cut out to be.
When we got there we had to go through a rather invasive registration process, where I was struggling with the organizers not to make me give them my mobile number. They reluctantly let us through, and the double doors to that mother-of-all-weddings ballroom swung open, and Little Guy and I ran, not walked, into the arena. The first thing that caught our eye was a mini-train that went around a small track several times and which the children seemed to enjoy. I stood in line with my son, already grateful I had come, but 10 minutes later we both realized that there was no real system to the line.
We were not moving forward, but rather just seemed to get squeezed into a part of the line that no one saw. The mothers around me were acting as if it was a public bus stop. And since I have very few opportunities to show my son a good time, or revel in the gleam in his eye when he does something special, I decided that this would not be the time I take the “higher ground. Moreover, it was so loud as there was some kind of baby star contest happening in the next room that no one would hear me if I gave a lecture on how important it was to follow rules and provide positive showmanship to the little ones. In short, I pummeled the 200 pound woman on my right and stepped over a pair of twins to slam my kid squarely into cart number one. Good. Now we can start.
The train ride was cute, but the momentum falls flat after that. The Diwan Bookstore stand offered viewings of Baby Einstein, and an assortment of intellectual activities like sessions with children’s authors and readings, but their noble efforts were de-railed by the atmosphere of chaos and noise that pervaded the arena. If I wanted Little Guy to read some books and watch a movie in Hebrew, this was not the place to do it.
So I went for a quick tour looking for more physical activities. I found two more; a brightly colored playpen with a few slides and mazes (Kenzi), and an educational toy area (edu). We sampled both for five minutes each, and then ran out of ideas. I decided Little Guy would have to be tolerant and give me the chance to walk around and see what companies were represented; maybe the Baby Fair had more to offer mommies than babies.
I found the delivery protocol family: Patchi, Choco Chocola, and Fleurtation. I found the social magazines that photograph mothers at parties: Flash, Diva, Kalam El Nas. I also found lots and lots of pampers. At one point my attention was seized by a company called Toy & Joy who organize Birthday Parties for children, which I thought was a great service, but then I read their catering menu (Cotton Candy, Pommes Frites, Hamburger, Sausages, Ice Cream, Cake) and I put the flyer back from whence it came. Feeling a little shortchanged, I bought some educational toys from edu, and left the arena, probably missing a number of retailers and seminars, but quite honestly, the feeling that I got was there was nothing new, cutting edge, or unique here.
Babies in Cairo are a really disenfranchised group; they have few alternatives for fresh air, healthy organic menus, exercise and physical activity, or even intellectually inspiring workshops. At a time when Dubai has such concepts as Baby Yoga (where mothers and babies attend yoga classes together) we have a 10:1 nanny to mother ratio in most public areas. At a time when Kuwait turned a national heritage site into a music center to conduct round the clock music lessons of every instrument available including the viola and trombone to children as young as three, we have the occasional decrepit piano teacher. At a time when Qatar launched a world-class academy to produce future Olympians, we feel grateful for the football and tennis lessons at the Gezira Club. There is no excuse. So unfortunately, this was no Baby Fair, this is no Baby town and in the words of Little Guy, the trees out here are “not green.