Friday, August 22, 2008

Carl in Cairo

After what was perhaps the most glorious and satisfying shower of my life, I got dressed and plopped down on an overstuffed armchair in my new (to me, otherwise, quite old) rather kitschy living room to write up this entry.
Arriving yesterday into Cairo International from New York via Frankfurt, I enjoyed a very easy entry into Egypt: no delays at passport or customs and no lost luggage. My ride, the grandson of the cousin of the father of a friend of friends (al-hamdulillah for obscure connections), arrived in typical Egyptian fashion: late but full of hospitality and goodwill. In Egypt, the concept of time is vastly different than our efficiency-driven American paradigm. The wave of Cairene heat hit me as I left the building and headed for the the black SUV that was to convey me through the treacherous streets of Cairo and to my apartment (eventually). "Not as hot as I remember," I thought optimistically myself, reflecting on my last visit to the country in late July, 2005.
Though infinitely thankful not to be taking a taxi, I had to laugh (nervously) to myself as my friend's driver stopped half a dozen times to try and ascertain where exactly we were going. He deftly dodged other cars, cyclists, and fearless pedestrians as we made our way into downtown Cairo, which we promptly left, ending up driving through Zamalek (a neighborhood/island in the Nile) and to the wrong side of the river into a quarter called al-Doqqi. Amazingly, I remembered the layout of the city from last time, and was able to explain that I was pretty sure we were going the wrong way. Of course, the driver didn't listen to me at first, but later relented and ended up bringing me to my new home on Tahrir Street, not too far from AUC's old campus.
My roommate, Ross, a Rotary ambassadorial scholar from District #5810 in Texas has turned out to be a godsend--he lined up the apartment before arriving and has been here for a while already, enabling him to show me the ropes and work out kinks with the landlord. Though fading fast from lack of sleep and the time change, I managed to have lively conversation with Maged, the young man who'd come to meet me at the airport, Ross, and our neighbor Karyn until it was time for us to get some grub. We wandered through the crowded, dirty streets to, of all things, a Swiss restaurant. Now, when something is "Swiss" or "Italian" or anything else exotic in Cairo, it's not quite authentic. In fact, I was able to enjoy moussaka, a Mediterranean dish, though the Egyptian take on röschti might've been interesting.
Though I'll readily admit that Egypt is overwhelming and quite intimidating, as pre-dinner and dinner conversation turned to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the idiosyncrasies of Egypt, Islam on the very first night, I knew that I'd made the right decision and that this year, though hugely challenging, will be fantastic. As one might expect, Ross and I have a lot in common in terms of interest. In fact, we found out that we both interned in the same section (Diplomatic Security) in our respective embassies (Lima, Peru for him, Paris for me). Ross has already made connections with a Young Diplomats club and I have friends in the area from a Global Young Leaders Conference I did in high school as well as other connections that should be a good start to our meeting friends and serving as ambassadors of goodwill and understanding. Hopefully we'll soon hear from our scholarship coordinator at Rotary HQ about being assigned clubs, but no word on that yet.
Though I got a relatively good night's sleep, jet leg is keeping me a bit groggy, so I'll leave off blogging for now!

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