Monday, August 25, 2008

The Cheap Gets Cheaper

I realize that my last couple of entries were a bit lengthy, so I'll try to up the brevity in the future.
This morning, Ross and I headed back to AUC to visit the bookstore; I was hoping to find an Arabic phrasebook. It was, however, closed for inventory--something not mentioned anywhere else. Ma'alish! My diminutive Arabic vocabulary has been slowly but surely expanding as I listen and interact (and get some help from Ross and other friends. I'm sure he's tired of me practicing my ayin, which I'm convinced I'll never figure out how to pronounce. Egyptians are amused and more friendly when I thank them or ask a question in their language, so I figure, despite the minor embarrassment involved, it's good to practice.
We had koshary for lunch again, this time at a place Ross has eaten at before a couple of doors down from our place. The waiter, enthused at our arrival, was jovial and engaging but insisted on pouring the spicy chili sauce himself onto our meals. My germophobic little eyes widened as the condiment streamed out of an open container theretofore sitting on the table for God knows how long under his dirty thumb held over the opening. I cringed, but proceeded to gobble most of the delicious dish down. Ma'alish.
We returned to our apartment in time to hear a tinny rendition of happy birthday ring out (our awful doorbell, not a festive party) announcing that yet another man had come to collect on an electric bill that wasn't ours. That's how electricity is paid for here, to someone that comes door-to-door. A call to Ahmed our landlord whom Ross put on the phone with our guest seemed to fix things, to our relief.
Not a whole lot was accomplish in the day between this and dinner, but I did hear back from a Rotarian here in Egypt that I emailed back in July. Ross also received assurances from our scholarship coordinator that he was contacting someone. We'll see what comes of it.
For dinner, we wandered northward, a direction we'd yet to explore. En route, we were the only Westerners to be seen, save for the advertisements and mannequins defining for Egyptians some ersatz aesthetic ideal in which they would be just a little more beautiful if they looked a little less Egyptian. This kind of dangerous colonial holdover leads to whitening creams both here and in sub-Saharan Africa and has been blamed for cosmetic eye surgery in Asian populations in Asia and abroad.
Arriving at our destination, we found a surprisingly clean and tastefully-tiled restaurant serving food yet cheaper than Felfela where we'd dined the previous two nights. I bit the bullet and had a tomato and cucumber salad (despite being told something about not eating fruits and veggies you can't peel). We'll see if I'm dying of dysentery tomorrow, if not, it'll be a small victory. I also had spicy stuffed eggplant, some kind of soft Egyptian cheese with tomato, and baba ghanoug which is known also sometimes as mutabbal in Lebanon and thus at Haddad's on Main in Peoria where I enjoyed it from time to time in college. Elsewhere in the Arab world it's called baba ghanoush or ganuj–the Egyptian dialect of Arabic has the peculiarity of replacing the j sound with a hard g. Thus jamil (beatiful) becomes gamil, etc. All this, with bread, water, tax, and tip only cost me the equivalent of $1.58. I'm telling you, if you're worried about the rising cost of food in the states, I have just the place for you.
Anyway, soon we'll be heading back out into the night (it's 11:35 PM) to get some bottled water. Places open later and stay open later here, many until 1 AM. That's a welcome change from France where things always seemed to be closing too early for my taste.

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