Thursday, September 11, 2008

An "Early" Morning

After going to bed following the previous entry, I squeezed in something like seven hours of sleep, waking up in time to head to the AUC business support office (why they call their visa processing assistance office that, I have no idea). I was all prepared with my passport, a photo, and the fee to get my student visa. For their part, AUC had processed my enrollment certificate. Too good to be true, everything's falling into place! Oh, expect for the government. The Ministry of Education or some other ministry hasn't yet given "student approval" or something to that effect. The lady assisting me suggested I get a three month tourist visa for 12LE. I said, "So I'll have to pay 12LE on top of the 62.10LE simply because the government isn't processing everything in a timely manner?" Not technically, I found out; or at least, not yet. I have until the end of September or so until my current visa expires, so I declined to throw more money (no matter how little) at the government than I have too.
Anyway, I should return to the previous topic of my last entry. The conversations I had were wonderful. The elections came up, of course. One Rotarian told me how he found it interest that, in his view, CNN and FoxNews swayed the American people so much. He said that the American election, like an unfolding drama, was the source of endless entertainment and intrigue.
With another Rotarian who'd lived in France as a child, I discussed, in French, the role of religion in Egypt. She explained that, in her view, Egyptians are very religious of their own accord, insisting that society didn't constrain them, but they believe as fervently as they do out of individual sincerity. We also discussed the affinity between Christians and Muslims as theists in the face of atheism, agnosticism, and secularism. I think many American Evangelicals would find they have a lot more in common than they expect with Muslims (and indeed, some have). On the ride home, religion was brought up again. We talked about Mohammad Abdu and the comparisons he drew between European Englightenment principles and Islam. Also discussed was the idea, central to Islam, that the Qur'an is only the Qur'an when it appears in Arabic–everything else is just a translation. Interestingly, my interlocutor admitted that he struggled with this since the Qur'an itself explains at great lengths that Islam is meant to be for all people. Other conversations touch on just how social Egyptians are and how this was affected and affecting Egypt's drive toward development. Egyptians who become high-powered businessmen and -women are unwilling to sacrifice their social lives and so get by on less sleep. A wife of one Rotarian who'd lived for many years in the States explained that she preferred living in Egypt because when Stateside, she didn't find the level of social interaction she was accustomed to: her American friends were busy with their jobs and their kids' afterschool activities during the week and were thus only available weekends. Unheard of in Egypt! Here, you make time stop for you and leave other things undone so as to be with friends. Alone time isn't valued much here either. I told Laila that my friend Maged called me one night when his parents were out of town (in Alex) and wanted Ross and I to come spend the night or hang out because he didn't want to be alone. She said she thought Egyptian men were "spoiled" in that way, always expecting to have someone around. Women, though not liking to be alone, were more equipped for it than men, according to Laila. Of course, these are often generalizations, but fairly reasonable ones, I find.
Just as stimulating as the conversation was the delicious food! New things I tried include 'amr al-deen, a drink made from sheets of apricot; mahamra, a spicy sauce made with peppers and walnuts; and konafah, a dessert served primarily during Ramadan made with shredded filo dough. Also, and I'm warning my vegetarian/pescetarian comrades not to read on, I had my first shawarma in Egypt. I'd had them in Denmark (of all places) and in the States, but not here this time. By the way, if you're hankering for a shawarma and you're in Peoria there're several places to get them. Nearly Bradley, there's Haddad's and in North Peoria, there's Pita's Mediterranean Wraps.
Oh, and all this talk of food reminds me of another topics of conversation–fasting. One Rotarian joked that all of the indulgence of iftar and sohour kind of negated (or at least made up for) fasting during the day. Some of the desserts are so rich that they appear primarily during Ramadan and much less frequently throughout the rest of the year. Not that I subscribe to the idea of fasting during Ramadan for any religious reason, but to try and understand what's going on around me, I'm going to try it for today. I refuse, however, to go without water, as the Muslims must.
So, instead of eating, I'll be reading (all day!) until my 8 PM Intro to Migration and Refugee Studies course.

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