Sunday, August 24, 2008

Slow Going and Cheap Cuisine

My first full day in Egypt was rather slow, which was fine since, as I mentioned in my last blog, jet-lag's my close companion these days. I did, however, take the important step (with the help of my roommate) of procuring a cellphone. About 400 minutes set me back less than the equivalent of than $20. We did some other wandering around, had grand ideas about going to Carrefour, a hypermarket (kind of like a Wal-Mart), but ended up wandering our neighborhood--Bab el Louq. In the evening, we went to a French-esque place called Le Bistro where I conversed with the waiter in French. Blaring through the speakers were the stylings of French and American crooners and, of all people, Cat Stevens. Perhaps he's found admiration anew in Muslim countries because of his conversion.
This afternoon, we had quite a different and much more authentically Egypt lunch with another Rotary ambassadorial scholar, Ambereen Shaffie. Representing District #5710, she and I had met back in late February/early March at the outbound orientation session. The lunch was at a koshary place in Tahrir Square. Koshary is a cheap and delicious meal...and I mean cheap. For the equivalent of $0.94 one gets a "medium" bowl of the concoction of pasta, lentils, chick peas, etc. I myself couldn't even finish it. It's a great source of nutrition (especially protein) for vegetarians or partial veggies (like myself).
I went with Ambereen to Zamalek, where she's living in the AUC dorms. Let's just say that the island in the Nile is quite a different neighborhood than Bab el Louq. There're trees, more and more clearly visible street signs, Westerners milling about, and Western-style cafés. In one such café I gobbled down a gingerbread man (who knew you could find such a thing in the Middle East) that cost more than my entire lunch. Ambereen and I chatted about Rotary and the kind of service opportunities we're each hoping to find here. Because my graduate studies will focus on refugees, I naturally hope to find some avenue (and there are countless here) to volunteer with them.
My next Zamalek stop was yet another café where I met up with a guy formerly with the Red Cross in Washington, D.C. who is now studying Arabic here. We chatted (over "lemonade" which is, in fact, made exclusively with limes in Egypt) and I dragged him along to help me navigate a nearby grocery store. I came away with lots of juices, remember how plentiful, inexpensive, and delicious the various varieties were here last time, some aish baladi (the Egyptian answer to pita), hummus, labneh, lentils, and more. I was tempted to buy the Ramadan bag--full of goodies for the month full of fasting and feasting that I'll surely be talking more about soon, but wasn't sure what to prepare with the ingredients inside or how to prepare them.
Well, Ross and I have orientation tomorrow, so further descriptions (and photos!) of my neighborhood will be up tomorrow.

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