Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Festivities and the Return of the Fridge

Yesterday, following my Intro to Migration and Refugee Studies course, a few of my classmates and I went to Felfela for Egyptian food. Afterward, the two young ladies among us went to costume up for an early Halloween party (most Halloween parties were held last night due to Thursday's status as the Islamic world's Friday) and Phil and I went back to my apartment where we hung out with Ross watching political YouTube videos and a show on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon until it was time to head to our friends Brandy and Mary-Anne's apartment in Zamalek for some festive Halloween fun. The cab-driver who negotiated the traffic rather artfully was keen on talking politics for us. He explained that he liked Obama because he was new and used the same logic against both Bush and Mubarak, but especially the latter–they've just been there too long without doing a whole lot of good. The cabbie seemed hesistant about the inevitable transfer of power to the president's son, Gamal as well. It was a surprisingely frank estimation of the situation. The group at the party consisted largely of our fellow CMRS students and it was a hoot hanging out in a non-academic, informal atmosphere. Such fun, in fact, that some us stuck around until sunrise. The ride back to Bab al-Luq in the early morning was quite pleasant. The way the city looked lit by the pinkish-yellowish sky, the lack of traffic on the roads, and the relative quiet made wonder if I was really in Cairo. Happily, the greyish haze also lit up by the morning light and effectively obscurely visibility past a certain point brought me back to reality, although it kind of lent a gauzy, impressionist feel to the whole seen.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ross had gone to bed, outfitted with earplugs and out of reach of his found and the cacaphonous racket of our trusty fridge repairmen who chose midnight as the optimal time to return our fixed refrigerator. My landlord called me and told me that they couldn't reach Ross and were going to leave the appliance in the hall. "Ma3lish," I thought. I ended up dragging the thing when I returned home at 6-something in the morning. The men returned while I was still sleeping to hook it back up and now, thank God, there is frost in the freezer anew and the fridge has cooled down to a respectable yogurt-preserving temperature. You really don't realize just how many things you take for granted (running water, a working fridge, a vacuum, electricity, cranberries etc.) until you're deprived of them every so often. Now I'm sitting down, having enjoyed my customary snack of 'aish baladi and halawa, trying to enjoy Friday without getting to stressed out about the things I need to get done for school and in life. Tonight may include dinner with friends or another Halloween party, but beforehand, it will ideally include lots of research.

Condi Rice and others to arrive in Egypt soon for talks
Egypt donates equipment to Sudanese military
Egyptians fearful in face of uncertain times, flagging economy

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cross-Cultural Consternation

I'm perched on the couch that I vacuumed decades of dust out of yesterday, finally unpackaging the vacuum that our landlord inexplicably bought us a couple of weeks after I complained bitterly of the mess and and the "repairman" who had "fixed" out bathroom door made. I've just eaten a bowl of muesli and yogurt, the latter which, after spending a night in my broken fridge does not seem to have been saved by a transfer to the slightly cooler environment in the apartment across the hall. Rather than admit defeat and want to take out the broken icebox fiasco on my landlord through bodily harm, I ingest this slightly-rancid coconut-flavored mess with a bit of regret; the strange feeling in my throat leads me to fear I'll have to eat the costs instead of the rest of the yogurt.
Yesterday, I attended the CMRS seminar. My friend Natalie was presenting her findings on the Sudanese she works with and, though I didn't expect a poor performance, I was particularly impressed by her professionalism and the soundness of her research. Exhausted, I didn't stay long when a veritable herd of us trekked over to Horraya, instead preferring to return to the abode of the broken fridge.
Prior to the seminar, a man had showed up at my door speaking to me in Arabic and then got Ahmed, my landlord, on the phone to translate. He was there to diagnose our refrigerator which involved mostly poking it with a screwdriver. He left without having accomplished much, assuring me he'd return "bokra", tomorow. I accepted this and was therefore surprised when I was sitting on this self-same couch watching the documentary, Taliban Country, and heard my doorbell. It was my dear friend from earlier with a buddy carrying a bag of breadsticks, hardly the tools of the trade of a "refrigerator specialist" as my landlord would later inform me this man was. Convincing, really. The specialist and the generalist banged about loudly in my kitchen for sometime and, when I went in to see just what they were up to, I found, to my horror, that they'd commandeered one of our kitchen knives to use as a tool. As a certifiable OCD-ridden hypochonrdiacal germophobe, I was just imagining what kind of plague and poison were now infesting this utensil with which I may want to slice bread or prepare food in the future. Hoping that the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach would be my saving grace, I retired to my living room and the documentary until I heard water running. Lo and behold, they were washing up, availing themselves of perhaps the only bottle of eco-friendly, Method brand dish soap in all of Africa and my preciously scarce paper towels. In the process, they'd manage to throw the sullied knife on top of my clean silverware. At this point I let out a series of unintelligible gasps, grabbed the knife, and flinged it into the sink. I was tired, nerves frayed, and had come unhinged. In the end, of course, I can wash the knife and I likely won't miss the bit of wasted dish soap, but it was my fatigue that trumped up this violation of my personhood in my mind. Now, let me point out that there is a distinction between lambasting another culture and lamenting that the differences between one's own and another cause frustration. I am here engaging in the latter NOT the former. In general, expectations about personal space and one's personal possessions in the States are such that we don't touch strangers unless we must (to get someone's attention, to prevent them being hurt, etc. and even then we're uncomfortable with it) whereas here, you're touched all the time. People here wanting to get past you on the metro don't put their arms down and maneuver through, but rather grab the shoulders and touch the backs of every person on the way out the door. And then, there's the apparently more communal conception of possessions that leads the men working on my fridge to think that they can, without asking, use my things. My friend Erin discovered that workers general expect you to make them tea, especially if you're a woman. This was confirmed by my Egyptian friend, Reham. When the man who we quite erroneously called a carpenter"fixed" our bathroom door, he demanded bottled water. And then, as I've mentioned, there was the time when my landlord was over and I offered him something to drink and he never drank it or said thank you despite asking for it. Or the time when the "carpenter" and the landlord took a bar of soap from our bathroom and rubbed it along Ross's door to try and make it fit into the doorframe better. Then of course there's the related but different matter of the landlord, workers, etc. just crossing the threshold of the door and trampling all around the apartment. Once, the landlord just opened the door and waltzed into my bedroom (thankfully I wasn't in there sleeping or anything). Where I'm from, this would be perceived as an uncouth sense of entitlement. I constantly remind myself though that this idea is completely alien to the transgressors of which I've just so verbosely complained. I look for some alternate explanation, like some kind of noble idea that everyone's in this thing (life) together and share and share-alike, etc. In any case, however I may, in all humble cultural sensitivity, justify or explain their actions to myself, it drives me batty.
Well, while I've been on this rant, the original man (not the "specialist") who came to fix my fridge in fact showed up, ordered me to empty out the appliance, and, with two other men, took the broken-down old thing away. Now, supposedly we'll have the fridge back with a "new engine" in it yet today. We'll see what that timeframe we're really talking later on. I'd go and make lunch now but my frozen vegetables, thawed and refrozen, are across the hall and I'm not sure if anyone's home.

Israel apologizes to Egypt for statements made by Israeli politician
AUC faculty protest imprisonment of colleague
Boat full of activists arrives in Palestine

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fridge on the Fritz

While I'd grown used to my living room air conditioning unit sounding like a tugboat when the weather was warmer and we we obliged to make use of it, a new and ungodly sound has begun to plague my apartment. No, it's not the honking, or the rooster, or the call to prayer, or the construction going on a couple floors below, or the bikya man, or the incessant doorbell ringing of various people looking for money, it's my poor forlorn refrigerator sounding like a primary school fire drill. It has broken down and the freezer, defrosted. All of my perishables are perishing as we speak and my landlord will, he says, do something about it, but timeliness is ever an issue in Egypt. Unfortunately, my neighbors across the hall are absent and therefore, it's only a matter of time before my coconut yogurt and imported South African juices take a turn for the worst.
If I sound dramatic, it's probably from fatigue. I went to bed early last night, but couldn't fall asleep. I therefore arose and came back to my laptop to chat with friends from home, something I think I needed. I also downloaded Ingmar Bergmann's The Seventh Seal, which I've been hoping to watch for a long time.
Prior to my insomnia, I'd been in Zamalek with my new freelance journalist friend I've mentioned before. An Egyptian-British friend of his and another acquaintance of mine from Indiana and I all met up for Korean food at Hana. It was an enjoyable evening and the food wasn't bad. I've had more Korean in Egypt in the last two months than I have in the States in the last two years.
Now, alas, I must return to my reflection paper which is almost complete. I am trying not to mourn my juice and dairy just yet, hoping someone will return home across the hall in time for me to put my stuff in their fridge and freezer.

Corporal punishment in Egyptian school results in death of student
An eye for an eye seems to be the one sheikh's solution for domestic violence
First lady of Egypt joins fight to combat FGM
Boat of political activists leaves Cyprus for Palestine today

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A bit of Chicago in Ain Shams

I spent most of my daylight hours yesterday reading, researching, and working on a reflection paper (which I have yet to finish) as well as nibbling on leftover Lebanese. In the evening, though, I marched to the Metro, weaving in and out of traffic and looking determined and impassive, though I was really just braindead from my day of isolation and study. The later was exemplified by the fact that I managed to walk all the way to the wrong platform going the opposite direction (Helwan instead of al-Marg) and wait for the train for a good five-ten minutes before realizing my mistake. Happily, I ended up going the right way and meeting Cynthia in Ain Shams. My class didn't start as expected (though whose expectations one is talking about, I can't say--I always expect things to happen in the most unexpected fashion and at entirely different times on entirely different days here in Egypt). The reasons were that the table-maker that Natalie and Cynthia had contracted to furnish the school with a few, usable flat surfaces had suddenly decided to take a vacation and that classes were larger than anticipated (generally a good indication of the enthusiasm of these young men to learn English, but a logistical problem nonetheless). We tried to further divide my class into two classes, meeting at different times. I still don't know how that worked out. I did get to meet a few of my students, though. Many choose English names or even words to be called by, not for classes, but in general here in Egypt. One of my students, who is from southern Sudan as nearly all are, speaks Arabic and Dinka and rather passable English. He's really excited for my classes. Another student was eagerly asking me questions about Chicago. Though I tried to explain that I lived some two and a half hours away, he was enthralled with his conception of the city. Interestingly, many of the guys wear clothes in a style imitative of America's hip-hop artists. The student wanted to know if Chicago looked like that, if everyone there dressed like the Sudanese at the school. Actually, I told him, many did. Some of them would fit in rather convincingly in the city. He then wanted to know why I wasn't dressed that way. I laughed and, instead of explaining America's cultural realities, I told him that that simply wasn't how my family dressed. I point to another student dressed in a white button-down shirt and jeans and told him that's how some people in America dress too. He ended up walking me back to the Metro past the hanging carcasses of dead cows, old men playing towla, speeding buses, and suspicious Egyptians no doubt wondering what a black Sudanese guy and white American were doing navigating the bustling streets of Ain Shams together. Wiching told me he'd been in Egypt for seven years now and that he'd just dropped out of high school after completing his junior year, but was a bit circumspect about the reasons. After he finishes his education here, he wants to travel or return home to southern Sudan (which is probably UNHCR's ideal for him as repatriation to that part of Sudan is possible--it's the Darfurians who still face grave danger). He continued asking me about my friends from Chicago and wants me to bring photos next time. Who knew Illinois was so exotic?
I was exhausted by the time I got home, zoned out, watched the news, read a bit for classes, and did some genealogy (yes, it's a compulsive sort of addiction that I do by default when my mental energy for higher-order thinking has drained away; it's a lot easier to read census records than formulate my opinion on the moral and practical legitimacy of camps as a solution to refugee crisis).
Unfortunately, a dash of insomnia has crept insidiously back into my nights and I just couldn't drift off. Instead, I listened to this week's episode of This American Life which was a series of vignettes from around Pennsylvania on volunteers from both campaigns and the problems they encountered. One of the segments delt with the racism preventing some people, otherwise staunchly aligned with his principles, from voting for Obama. The frustrating ignorance reminded me of spirited discussions I'd had with my paternal grandfather in which he liberally used racial epithets that would scandalize most people in this age of political correctness and offered spurious reasoning and fanciful stories to justify his distaste of black people. My other grandfather would vote democrat even if the candidate were blue, I think, but that doesn't bespeak a critical analysis of the candidate's policies or viewpoints, rather a loyalty to party handed down from his parents.
I keep forgetting Halloween is on Friday and am more annoyed by the prospect of trying to find a costume to attend various parties I've been invited to. Halloween for me is more of a family event where, in years, past, I've taken my little brother trick-or-treating and then we all congregate at home for pizza with my grandpa (the Democrat) who will have been handing out candy beforehand. Two years ago this Halloween, I was in a small church in the middle of France with my host family and last year I was just hanging out with friends at Bradley. Maybe I'll buck up, be nauseatingly ironic, wrap myself in toilet paper and try to get into the US Embassy party as a mummy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Clapping at the Koshary Joint and Ordering from Otlob

I spent my morning and early afternoon reading (surprise, surprise) but took a break to go to Zaaim for some koshary. My "friend" was there and, as usually he kissed his hand before shaking mine and grinned widely. Today there was music of the most generic Arab persuasion blaring from unseen speakers and the employees were in even more jovial spirits than usual. Grumpy from reading, I was physically made to clap along to the music and then dance to the amusement of everyone (including myself). I left with a 5 LE container of koshary (they put extra lentils and fried onions on to be nice) and a smile on my face.
On the way to Refugee Law, I passed a creative display at El-Shabrawi of a cucumber cut to look like a crocodile chowing down on fries. It reminded me of a photo I took in Paris of a bakery that had crocodile-shaped bread. Class itself wasn't too bad; a discussion of the exercises we were assigned to prepare us for the mid-term, which is next week. We were given a description of the circumstances of various people and asked to determine whether or not they fit the legal definition of a refugee.
I can't believe we're already halfway through the semester. I'll be home for a nearly three weeks in less than two months and then in France! Hopefully following that I'll be able to explore the Middle East a bit before starting back to school.
After class, I trudged home grumpy at the realization that I had very few ingredients to make dinner with. Happily, I ended up hanging out across the hall with Mélissa and Catherine and, while there, perhaps emboldened by my ordering cheesecake last night, I used for the first time and had Lebanese food delivered: some taboula, musabaha, falafel with tahina, and bread ran me the equivalent of about $9 including the delivery charge, tax, and tip. It's pretty reasonable, considering I have enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
I was reading the news early (as is my obsessive habit) and noted with concern that the US carried out strikes in Syria. I hope this is an isolated incident and that this will not further escalate conflict in the Middle East. Closer to home, I was reading about the selection process of whom to replace Obama with in the Senate should he be elected president. It's a shame that our terrible governor has the choice left up to him.

Another blow to freedom of the media in Egypt
Egypt has lowest human fatality rate of nations affected by avian flu
Female marriage registrar marries first couple
Egypt detains more migrants, but at least no fatalities this time

A Busy, Breezy Day

My day started at 10:30 with me dashing around to get ready for a Center for Migration and Refugee Studies meeting at the Greek Campus. Once I'd showered and dressed, eaten my habitual muesli and yogurt, and grabbed my iPod, I headed to join my fellow CMRS colleagues who are on the Master's track (which I, of course, am still debating switching to). Ray and Philippe were the faculty there and filled us in on thesis requirements and expectations. Aside from actually choosing the topic, completing a Master's thesis seems a lot less intimidating (but no less challenging) than I had feared when imagining what life as a graduate student would be like. I also had the chance to talk to Ray a bit after the meeting about some of my hesitations and questions about the program, whether to remain and pursue a Master's, and how to come up with a sound thesis topic eventually. I'm hoping to explore the possibility of coming at an issue in migration from an international relations perspective, which might be a bit more work, but certainly fulfilling, I suspect. My classmate Phil and I also talked politics with Ray and ended up being invited to watch the election results at his house, which sounds like a lot of fun.
A small detachment of those attending the meeting, congregated outside in the courtyard in the wonderful weather who's only drawback is that the autumn breeze blows up all sorts of unpleasant things into one's eyes. There, we reviewed a number of possible cases needing to be analyzed for our refugee law midterm which we'll be discussing in class tomorrow. Most consisted of circumstances of people seeking asylum or resettlement and whether they qualified those people for either or not.
From this yet smaller group, Erin, Brandy, and I walked and chatted in Bab al-Luq on the way to my apartment where I grabbed the carrot cake Amanda and I purchased in Ma'adi yesterday, and ultimately Erin and I headed for Zamalek, while Brandy headed to Al-Azhar Park with the Middle East Studies folk.
In Zamalek, I got coffee with a new friend who's a freelance journalist here in Cairo. He's been living in Egypt for three years--I admire his mettle. He was following up on the Moqattam cliffs disaster that I'd mentioned a while back--the rockslides that crushed parts of poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. He also generously brought me back Tom's of Maine toothpaste from a recent trip to America. Ok, so I'm a toothpaste snob.
I met Amanda and Erin for dinner and, though we were suppose to have Ethiopian, we ended up getting Thai. In the short, but respectable, time I have under my belt here, I've begun to develop the ability to expect nothing to go as planned. I don't expect everything to fail, but rather if something I'm hoping for doesn't work out, that something different, but still good will spring up in its place. It's a much healthier and more flexible outlook than moping around blaming Egypt for being chaotic, inefficient, and illogical (though it is all of those things in infinite measure). After dinner, we went back to Erin's to enjoy carrot cake and wine and were joined by Brandy. Not being sated by the dessert and tempted by the presence of a cake shop that delivers even late at night at no charge, we ordered a couple of slices of cheese cake which were actually pretty good attempts. Whether this was calorically wise, I don't think we care to think about. Erin shared stories and pictures of Africa with us and we discussed our musical tastes and some of the things we liked about Cairo. I only just returned from my very full day after midnight, about a half hour ago.
Monday I officially begin teaching English in Ain Shams. I feel like I've been trying to actually volunteer as an English teacher for eons to no avail. We'll just have to wait and see if it works out this time. I'll be sharing my native tongue with Sudanese gang members in the bright pink room I helped scrubbed down last week.

Oh, and I forgot to mention yesterday that in Ma'adi, a beared, traditionally dressed and broadly grinning man tried to give me (or perhaps sell me) a live pigeon in the street yesterday. He had no other pigeons or any cages around him, just a single pigeon. "Hammam?! (Pigeon?!)" No thanks, thought I, after recalling all of the new facts about avian flu I'd just learned at the seminar on Wednesay. Though I won't say the idea of briefly owning a pigeon didn't appeal to me (it surely would've gotten away since I neglected to bring along a cage...silly me).

The US pledges more money to fight bird flu at Egypt talks
Egyptian author pens fictional Chicago about Egyptian expats at the University of Illinois
Bloggers in Egypt arrested while an Egyptian blogger is honored in America

Friday, October 24, 2008

Brunch, a Bagel Store, and a Brezel

Seeking respite from the noise and stares of Cairo, Amanda and I again found ourselves at Lucille's, this time with Erin. Among the three of us, we had pancakes and waffles with maple syrup, hash browns, fried potatoes, toast, and omelets. Miraculously, we were able to order the omelets with egg whites only. Try that anywhere in Egypt and see what you end up with, I dare you! Basking in the Americanness of the restaurant, and the relative quite outside, we ended up shopping a bit after our meal. We wandered from one grocery store and fruit stand to the next, and eventually to a German-style bakery where I scored a free "brezel" (pretzel in German). Finding a bagel store was another pleasant surprise as was the courtesy of the man behind the counter. Amanda and I invested in some carrot cake for tomorrow which we plan to eat after dinner (hopefully Ethiopian food). The weather was sublime, probably in the upper 60s. A light rain fell, the first time I'd felt precipitation in Cairo that wasn't a leaky air conditioner. As if unsure how to descend because of their rarity, the raindrops weaved about in the air crazily rather than falling straight to the earth which, despite being in an upmarket neighborhood was covered in litter and stalked by mangy cats and dogs. The whole experience was refreshing, but we were reminded all too soon as we wandered north and found ourselves back in an even more trash-dense neighborhood replete with gawking, whistling men harassing my friends, and with obnoxious drivers honking the more negative aspects of living here. Collecting the money for tickets, I went up to the counter to buy one for each of us and had the man taking the money refused one of the 50 piastre notes that Amanda had given me. It was darkened as if burned, but not to any significant degree. I peered at him and slid the bill back under the window and he shook his head and said "change." Not giving in, I raised my voice and asked, "ay da!?" (What's this!?/What do you mean!?) He kept saying change and I told him that I had none and that it was legal currency and that, therefore, he was obliged to accept it. The volume of my voice increasing proportionally with the increasing length of time I was made to stand there and he tried to hush me at one point, put his fingers to his lips. Determined not to back down, I ended up screaming to the point where I was attracting attention, had a very kind Egyptian man trade me a 50 piastre coin for the haggardly note, and purchased the ticket. This is but one example of the bizarre obsession with the appearance of banknotes in Egypt. It's as though the cleaner and more pristine they are, the more valuable. Rather than blaming Egypt again, I reminded myself that the man who delivered me from my predicament was just as Egyptian as the man behind the counter and furthermore, recalled the time when, at a train station in Rennes, a snooty French ticketseller refused a bill. Ma'alish.
I am now back at home, reading a bit more for class and catching up on the news. Below are some links, as usual, to the goings-on of Egypt and the Middle East.

American student arrested and detained in Iran
Smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza mean booming black market business
More on the man convicted for molesting a woman in the street, an exception to the rule of unchecked sexual harassment in Egypt

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mexican in Ma'adi

I keep forgetting to mention it, but somehow the weather in Egypt has subtly shifted to something distinctly southern Californian and it's magnificent. I hear that much of winter is like this-70s and perfect. All of those days where I felt as though sunstroke were imminent now seem worth it. (Ask me again next spring though and I may have a different tune.)
Anyway, yesterday for lunch, my two comrades from the previous night's excellent Thai meal, joined me for Mexican at one of the scant few American restaurants in all of Cairo. Lucille's, complete with offerings of mozzarella sticks, burgers, fajitas, and all-day breakfast on weekends is an oasis of Middle America. I had vegetarian enchiladas that were quite convincing and delicious. Though I'm normally not a fan of country music, it was being piped into the restaurant and I waxed a bit nostalgic.
After lunch, Phil returned home to get school work done, and Amanda and I explored Ma'adi, itself the most Americanized bit of Cairo. After munching British chocolate biscuits and talking about life, we headed back to the metro where Amanda boarded one of the women's cars, the need for which is a disturbing testament to, among others things, the intensity of sexual harassment in Egypt. I hopped in a "normal" car and we headed back downtown, our train inexplicably stopping along the way necessitating our switching to another car. Thankfully a veritable gaggle of giggling girls from Amanda's car helped us to know that we were meant to switch.
Once back in town, I headed to meet with one of my professors to discuss my paper topic for her class. The meeting went really well and I realized both that succeeding is more clear-cut than I'd anticipated, but also a heck of a lot of work. There's much research to do to determine whether one of my paper topics is even viable.
Later on, I attended a seminar on pandemic preparedness among the Sudanese migrant communities in Cairo, and then headed to Horraya with the speakers and various groups of other friends and acquaintances. I spent the next few hours table-hopping and chatting. With Phil, I entered into a conversation with a few Egyptian men who had lived abroad and were comparing life there with life in Egypt. One of them, like me, wanted to return to Paris where he'd spent some time. He also seemed to have had a wife from every EU country, being divorced from each and currently married to a Swiss woman.
Today, I'm preparing for class and reading up on "the culture of humanitarianism". Again, I'm thinking of remaining for a second year and getting my Master's. Fickle, right?

Egyptian central bank chief says weaker Egyptian pound would be good
Egypt to give food aid to Zimbabwe
Ministerial meeting in Egypt on possibility of avian flu pandemic

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tasty Thai

I finally made it to the Thai restaurant my friend Erin had been trying to take us to since Ramadan, when we went there to find it closed. Unfortunately, Erin was feeling unwell, so Phil, Amanda, and I went just the three of us. The food was delicious and the company even better. I've now been here two months and it seems it's taken about that long to start to forge meaningful friendships out of fun acquaintances. After dinner, the three of us headed down to hang out by the river. I couldn't help but think of how amazing it was that our deep conversations, funny stories, and laughs were all taking place with Nile as the backdrop. I love those moments where I suddenly remember where it is I am. After Phil headed back to Ma'adi, I dragged Amanda to Metro Market where I stocked up on some juice from South Africa and the biggest size of halva they had (the 700g size instead of my usual 350g size, thus betraying my addiction). We then parted ways, heading to our different parts of Cairo, both having had one of those great nights that makes up for some of the harder Egypt days.
Tomorrow I'm meeting with the professor of my intro class to discuss possible paper topics and then later I have plans to attend a seminar on pandemic preparedness and healthcare in the Sudanese refugee communities in Cairo followed by an evening at Horreya with the speakers. Should be informative and fun!

Egypt shows symbolic action on sexual harassment in court decision
Coptic pope back in Egypt after treatment in the US
"Balancing Tourism and History in Egypt"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Doing my Civic Duty at the Embassy

I arose early, shaking off the grogginess that resulted from not having been able to get to sleep at a decent hour, had my usual breakfast of muesli with yogurt, and walked with my friend Catherine to Garden City where she works at AMERA, not far from the US embassy, which was my destination. American Citizen Services closes at 11, so I was sure to make it there in plenty of time to turn in my ballot. In the process, I met an American woman who's lived in Egypt for more than a couple of decades and it turns out she works at the American Research Council which is affiliated with the Arabic language scholarship I'm in the process of applying for. I enjoyed the morning sunlight that I so rarely see as well as the chance to have a brisk walk to wake me up. I bought some bread on the way home so I could have a snack before I succumbed to a much-needed nap (geesh, it sounds like kindergarten all over again).
Later on, I got the reading done for my Tuesday class whose topic for tomorrow is migration and refugees from the Horn of Africa. Beyond that, I sent emails to professors, ordered transcripts and did other similarly banal but vital tasks. I also perused some articles on politics in the US and foreign affairs before performing my role as a dutiful grandson and calling my grandmother. For dinner, Catherine and I went to Felfelfa where I hadn't been in some time and stopped at Zaaim on the way back to get some rice pudding. I will try and do something terribly exciting soon so that my entries have a little more spice to them. Graduate school, even in Egypt, has a way of keeping you busy.

Belgian-born nun who lived among and helped Cairo's poor dies at 99
Egypt increases contacts with anti-Syrian leaders in Lebanon
Organ donation and "Islamic definition of death" depated in People's Assembly
AUC move to desert may be good move for university, but bad for foreign students

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No News is Good News

Not much to report today, which leaves me wondering why I persist in sharing with you the banalities of my life here in Egypt. I shall continue nevertheless, for posterity, let's say. I was productive again this morning, doing dishes, laundry, and even push-ups. Ha! I collapsed after a number I'm too embarrassed to disclose. I also tried to narrow down my topics for class, but I think I have a little ways to go yet. Working on my application to the Arabic program, I wondered again what I should be doing next year, but remembered anew some of the reasons I'd been drawn to the Middle East.
Today, Law dealt with questions of extradition to countries with the death penalty of persons who might face it but are within the jurisdiction of countries that outlaw capital punishment as well as the African Union's expanded definition of refugees.
Following class, I headed home to whip noodles, pasta sauces, and frozen veggies into something resembling dinner and have taken a break to write up today's (terribly uninspiring I'm afraid) entry. I'll call again for questions if anyone has them about Egypt or the Arab or Islamic worlds or refugees or anything else. I'd be happy to answer them. You can email me or post comments directly on the blog.

Ultraconservative Islam on the rise in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East
Controversy over model on government warning on cigarette packs
Touring Egypt a everything else in the country

Mafeesh mafia fi Chicago!

I spent the day finishing my book review and then beginning some preliminary research on my various paper topics to make sure they are feasible to write about before contacting professors to write recommendations for me to participate in the Arabic program I'm hoping to do next summer. I had a wonderful evening when I finally got out of the apartment and joined friends Erin, Amanda, and Phil for pizza at Maison Thomas after we discovered that Erin's favorite Thai restaurant was still closed. A man suspiciously sitting alone in the darkened restaurant told us it would reopen tomorrow though, so we'll try and go Tuesday, hoping for the best. Erin and I split delicious four cheese pizza (literally split into four separate sections including bleu cheese, goat cheese, gouda, and something more standard) and a lemon tart pile high with meringue while Phil got the Hawaii which had pineapple and ham, which is hard to find in a Muslim country where it's against the religion to consume meat from pigs. Amanda rounded out our rather American spread by ordering a burger. We talked about movies, schoolwork, and, as always, politics. Erin's going to write one of her three papers on the effects of forced migration on marriage selection. She said it was really interesting to see people in camps from particular ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds taking spouses from entirely different backgrounds and she wants to explore the reasons for it.
After dinner, once I'd returned to my building, I ran into the guy who's in charge of the contact lens shop on the ground floor my building and, on a whim, went to greet him in Arabic. He invited me in and I met his two co-workers who shared some of their delicious dessert with me. I struggled to make conversation with my handful of Arabic words, but it was fun. Once I'd told one of them my name, he asked if I was from Washington. "Laa," I said, "Chicago. Enta eiref?" (No, Chicago. Do you know it?) He did and began making shooting gestures and said "mafia! mafia!" I laughed and then said "um, laa. Ana min medina soghayara, mish Chicago. Wa mafeesh mafia fi Chicago." which (hopefully) means "um, no. I'm from a small city, not Chicago. And, there's not mafia in Chicago." That was as close as I could come to explaining that organized crime had changed iterations a few times since Al Capone's days.
Heading back upstairs, I went over to return a book to my neighbors, and spent the next hour or two chatting with the lovely French girl who lives across the hall. We talked about the educational systems in France, the States, and Egypt and about our experiences here and our mutual disdain for our landlord. We also made tentative plans to visit an oasis, which would be a nice escape from Cairo.
This week is likely to involve research, Thai food, and fun. The rest is up to fate.

More on Egyptian billionaire tied to the murder of Lebanese singer
Egypt applauds establishment of diplomatic ties between Lebanon and Syria
Egypt to assist Sudan in eradicating malaria

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Sudanese Soirée in Ain Shams

After making significant headway on my book review (of Barbara Harrell-Bond's Imposing Aid), I ran a couple of errands. The first took me to the market down the street to get a box of water. The guys that work there know my face by now and we all try to make friendly conversation in our Arabic-English pidgin. One guy inquired if I was from Germany. I get that a lot, so I must be phenotypically faithful to my German genes. I'm sure me lurching about trying to carry this box containing eighteen liters of H20 was a sight to behold. Undaunted, I heaved and swayed the three or four blocks back to my building and then climbed the steps to the fourth floor. I was so motivated, that after a brief moment of respite, I struck back out again, this time in the opposite direction and in search of bread. It's not at all like hopping in my old '96 Mercury Mystique and buzzing over to Kroger to buy multi-grain organic goodness. I feel like I earn every carbohydrate in the bread I purchase here just walking to get it.
After finishing off some baba ghanoush and indulging in bread and halawa, I settled in to trying and firm up the topic for one of my papers. In the middle of researching the treatment of Somalis in Minneapolis and Cairo, however, I was invited to joined Natalie and Cynthia in Ain Shams. These two girls are insanely dedicated to the St. Andrew's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, investing most of their time here in trying to provide opportunities to Sudanese refugees to help themselves escape violence and hardship. I didn't want to pass up the opportunity and thus found myself in a dingy flat scrubbing walls and washing floors along with fifteen or so southern Sudanese guys for whom this place will be a school. I've been switched to that location to teach English as the times of classes at the Ma'adi school conflicted with my classes. The whole ordeal was a lot of fun, but it was sobering to think what kind of struggles these young men have had to face. They are here in Cairo without their families and have turned to forming gangs to cope. The school in Ain Shams is just starting up and there's a lot to do to ensure it's success, but the fact that so many of the future students came today and have taken such pride in the place is a hugely positive indicator.

News of Egypt and the region:
Somali pirates threaten Egyptian economy
Democracy in Egypt
UN withdrawing non-essential employees from Yemen in wake of terror threat

Up, Down, and Busy

As I ride the roller coaster of adaptation to life changes (moving halfway across the world, trying to be an "adult", making important decisions) and cultural changes (the markedly different concept of time, differing values placed on verbal commitments, less personal space) I try to keep perspective, but it's a tall order. Four of my close friends back at home with whom I'm in frequent electronic contact and who also went the grad school route (is it just me, or is that what all undergrads are doing these days?) have all expressed frustration and uncertainty about this life decision and the transition into our post-college years. A couple have contemplated dropping out and the others aren't sure they've chosen the right concentration. It's not bragging if I'm talking about my friends, so let me just say that these four in specific are some of the brightest people I know with the most promising futures–it's certainly not an issue of them not being able to hack it. Although those of you who have already safely navigated the uncertain waters of your 20s may view this rite of passage with a bit of wistful nostalgia, there are many indications the task is getting ever harder, especially with the direction the economy is headed. The term "quarter-life crisis" has gained currency to describe the psychological, economic, and social upheaval that accompanies trying to sort out just who we are and how to go about shaping our lives. That said, rising to the challenge is not impossible and can, with proper perspective be successful and exhilarating (or so I hear). Still attempting all that and moving to the Middle East knowing hardly a soul often leaves me feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew. You know, Egyptians have the "luxury" of living with (and off of) their parents until they're ready to get married and have a steady job. Maybe they're onto something, but I rather relish my independence, I think.
The best ways I've found to cope include spending more time with people. A lot of the friends I've made here are older and have had more life experiences than I, which is really helpful. What's more, when I end up in a crowd of students and expats in Cairo, I find kindred spirits who love to nerd out over all things international or politics or travel. Another good approach is attempting to engage Egypt. Though it can seem somewhat like exposure therapy, I like wandering parts of Cairo that I hadn't previously explored and practicing my feeble Arabic with shopkeepers or taxi-drivers or whomever looks friendly and isn't yelling or honking at me.
Today, after class, I went to Café Horraya with some of my classmates and following that to the koshary place two doors down which, I finally discovered, is called Zaaim. It's funny that I've been frequently the place for two months and only now know it's name. It was even written in Arabic on the back wall the whole time. Anway, my two classmates who had exchanged war stories about their time in sub-Saharan Africa at the Lebanese restaurant shared more about their experiences, which was really cool. Brandy, the fourth member of our koshary-crew, and I bonded over our love of photography. I ordered the other three dessert in Arabic using a word I'd overheard a man use the other day. He was rewarded with rice pudding for his efforts, so I thought I'd give it a try. It worked, and the dessert was pretty tasty.
Schoolwork is becoming a bit more labor-intensive as the papers I'd mentioned loom nearer and a take-home mid-term in my law class is on the horizon just after a book review in Intro to Mig. and Ref. Studies. I'm also trying to organize applications whose deadlines are coming up--trying to get accepted into a summer Arabic program. On top of this, I'll be starting with the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative on Saturday. Should be fun and challenging!

of Egypt:
Egypt calls for "nuclear-weapon-free-zone" in Middle East
A writers' colony in an eco-village outside Cairo, who knew?
Egyptian women find their voice on the radio

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Up Early and Out of the Apartment

Something utterly miraculous befell me since my last entry: I was able to conk out before three in the morning and was up at quarter past nine! Dragging myself out of bed, I decided to be productive washing dishes, doing laundry, and tinkering with my winter break itinerary–I am now spending almost two weeks in France in January instead of one. Refusing to remain on this dastardly machine when Egypt, bathed in sunlight and particularly warm and welcoming weather, was waiting for me outside, I took off in the early afternoon with my cameras, my Qur'an, my iPod, and a map. I found myself on Mansour St., which took me to the neo-Pharaonic mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul, a national hero in early 20th-century Egypt. Like many monumental buildings and parks, the mausoleum and its immediate green but slightly unkempt environs were devoid of people who all instead seem to prefer crowding the streets. Not being able to visit, and not sure that it was the kind of site one did indeed visit, I continued on my merry way to Garden City whose winding, tree-lined streets choked with parked cars seemed a bit like what parts of London would look like if you sprinkled in copious amounts of sunshine and neglect. My ultimate destination was the island of Rawda at whose northern end is the Cairo Granda Hyatt (across the Nile from the Four Seasons) and at whose southern end is the Nilometer. I didn't visit either of these, but did meet with some curious sights as I wandered the al-Manyal neighborhood. The presence of what must've been colleges or high schools was attested by a thick layer of smug, boisterous young Egyptians, some dressed in shirts that had provocative English phrases they might not even have understood. If they did, they're quite naughty youths. One of them sporting a hairstyle that requires at least a gallon of gel to create began speaking to me in Arabic and so I politely told him in my own pidgin Arabo-English that I was less than fluent. He didn't seem to be mocking, so I wasn't bothered.
I ran onto a mosque that I took to gawking at, trying to find the best way to frame its minarets and dome in a photo when all of the sudden a rather quick-moving crowd of men precipitated toward me carried, of all things, an open casket. The deceased was a woman wrapped all in white (apparently, the burial cloth is called a kafan and is always white). I was quite shocked, but somehow not nearly as unnerved as I would've been should I have seen such a thing in the States or Europe. Somehow it sort of fit here. Presumably, they were going to the mosque. Islamic funerary and burial customs are very specifically regulated and governed by the religion and certain steps must be carried out within a precise timeframe.
After pondering what I'd seen for a little while, I headed toward the Nile. In between the storied river (which was quite emerald green today) and Al-Manyal Palace, I found a very shabby little park. I wandered in, amazed that a green space was open to the public only to find, of course, two men sitting on a bench, yammering obliviously away with a stack of tickets. They spotted me and told me that to "sit by the Nile" I'd have to purchase one of their tickets and that the "garden is not related to the museum" which, it turns out, was closed. "Bee kam," I inquired? "Foreigner price, two pounds." Having a bit of fun, I told him "ana mish khawaga! Ana aish fi Bab al-Luq!" meaning "I'm not a foreigner! I live in Bab al-Luq [the name of my neighborhood]". He smiled and shook his head and told me "Uh [yes], you are a foreigner." I forked over the two pounds. He was right, after all. The park with its broken, ant-covered benches wasn't particulary worth it, but I perched on one such bench anyone and watched the Nile flow by while listening to some music. I also read a bit of my French translation of the Qur'an and smiled uneasily at some young hijabis who were giggling and, apparently, mustering up the courage to say something to me in English. One of them managed to blurt out welcome before blushing, bursting into laughter, and scurrying off arm-in-arm with her friends.
I cross back to the mainland after leaving this greenish piece of riverfront mediocrity and found myself on Qasr al-Aini St. where I was approached by Arabic-speakers, apparently not from Cairo, who asked me for directions. Haha. I got out my big obnoxious map, tossed out a few Arabic words, and hoped that it was at least somewhat useful to them. My next stop was AUC's Greek Campus, but along the way I got slightly turned around and so asked a friendly-looking, tea-drinking old man if I was on Sheikh Ali Yousef St. Indeed I was, was the sum of his warbled reply in Arabic. At that moment, I decided that I so badly wanted a photo of him and his tea-drinking buddy, but was too chicken to ask permission and didn't want to be rude by just taking a snapshot. Dejected, I began walking away, dodging chickens who were themselves dodging donkeys and oncoming cars. "No!" I suddenly said to myself, "I'm not leaving without my photo." I went back to the man, pantomimed taking a photo asked if it was "kwayyis" (good) though I suppose I should've said "ok" or something. He indicated that it was fine, though his companion was less enthused and remove himself from the scene. I reassured him that I would take a photo of him. "Mish enta, mish enta" (not you, not you). I was pleased as punch with myself for my efforts as I headed toward Greek Campus.
In all three of my classes, I have a relatively large final paper. Int'l Refugee Law is between 10-15 pages (which is actually intentionally quite short to make us practice being concise but effective), Intro to Migration and Refugee Studies is 20+ pages, and Migration in the Middle East & North Africa is 7,500 words. Ok, so they're not thesis-length, but certainly no cakewalk, either. Anyway, we're supposed to be meeting with our profs about topics for these papers and so I took a chance that Dr Fargues, head of the program and professor of my Migration in MENA class, would be in. I rapped on his door and greeted him with a "bonjour", apologizing in French for not making a more formal appointment. He was quite amiable and made time to discuss possible topics with me. Tentatively, we settled on a comparison of American versus Egyptian policy toward Somali refugees. There are lots of Somalis in Minneapolis as well as in Cairo, so I think it might be a workable choice. Thankfully, in the Refugee Law, Mike had a list of topics for us to choose from. I'll be writing my paper for that class on whether persecution for reason of sexual orientation should be a grounds for refugee protection in countries that themselves prohibit same-sex relationships. Now, I just have to figure out what to do for Mulki's class (Intro to FMRS) and I'll be set to throw myself headlong into even more reading and writing.
Having about an hour to kill until I was to head for Mohandaseen to get Indian food with friends, I settled into a chair in the feline-filled courtyard outside the Social Science building and watched a many mother calico cat with her tiny calico kitten stalk the grounds. I'm not a fan of cats, but they were cute in a pitiful sort of way. I put in my earphones and listened to this week's episode of This American Life while realizing that the weather was bordering on gorgeous. A little less pollution and October in Cairo would be entirely liveable (well, at least from the perspective of one's personal comfort outdoors in courtyards away from the teeming masses and honking taxis). Barrages of tiny yellow leaves falling from the trees above were the closest thing I've seen to precipitation since I've been here and also made me wonder whether there's something like autumn in this neck of the woods.
For dinner, I went to Mohandiseen and had Indian. It didn't compare to Kandahar, but it was a fun enough outing nonetheless. I ended up in Zamalek at Alfa Market with my friend Erin afterwards. Grocery stores are some of my favorite cultural sites in foreign countries and shopping with a friend mitigates my insane indecision–so it was a good evening all around.
I'm definitely glad to the opportunity to have gotten out into the world today, so to speak: it's easy to forget when I spent too much time in the classroom or in my apartment that I'm really living in an entirely different world. I hope to take more advantage of the myriad opportunities waiting out there for me

News of Egypt:
Are the new laws governing divorce and the rights of women in Egypt a success?
Human rights group condemns Saudi arrest and detention without charge of Egyptian
Rotary making a difference in Egypt

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Moon Is Full and So Am I

Despite struggling with some anxiety lately about what exactly to do with my life (in terms of next year and beyond), getting frustrated with the numerous small nuisances that abound in Egypt, and battling insomnia, I had what can rightfully considered a solid, respectable good Egypt day. I got a couple of letters from home (it takes about five or six days for a letter from Chicagoland or Peoria to reach Cairo) that I picked up from the office of the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies through which I have my mail routed. While running this errand on the Greek Campus, I ran into two Egyptian classmates and a classmate from Chicago and ended up having an interesting discussion about upcoming papers due and also Islamic culture. After musing about whether the Islamic or the West had a bloodier history (rather a worthless comparison), the two Egyptians (both Muslims) ended up discussing their diverging views on the role of slavery in Islam and the definition of a concubine (in relation to the Albanian-born Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Mohammad Ali).
Our class at 4:30 was on the topic I addressed in my reflection paper: Arab and Asian migration to the Gulf region. The discussion was kind of interesting, specifically the question of whether more rights or even citizenship should be according to long-term foreign residents. Soon I have to come up with a topic for a 7 500-word paper for the course. Yikes!
My favorite part of the day, though, was the return to Taboula, the Lebanese restaurant I enjoyed so much the night before last. This time I had a completely different entourage of classmates, two of whom have spent a lot of time in sub-Saharan Africa and were debating whether they'd rather have E. Coli or malaria, one of them having already had the first and the other having suffered from malaria four times. Quite the atypical discussion. Despite the risks, I do still think I'd like to visit sub-Saharan Africa. Sudan has a Rotary presence--maybe I should try and go there. I can see my mother's eyes widening as she reads this. Our American, South African, & Egyptian-composed dinner party numbered seven, all students in the Intro to Migration and Refugee Studies course. Apart from contracted illnesses in other parts of Africa we chatted about the Lebanese food spread before us, our musical interests, religion, Germans, various tribes in Kenya, and the election. Interestingly, those of us eligible to vote in the American election are all united around the same candidate.
The walk home was rather peaceful as I split from the rest of the group who took cabs or a metro back home and I headed down Sheikh Rihan St. which is always much quieter at night than the streets north of it running parralel. I looked up and noticed that the moon was as full as I felt after eating two kinds of hummus, baba ghanoug, falafel, bamiyya (an okra and tomato stew of sorts), halloumi, and taboula. The moon was about the only celestial object I could see as the ever fluorescently lit city with its polluted sky make the stars all but invisible to the naked eye.
Upon arriving home, I turned on BBC World and watched an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski to whom I quite quickly took a shine. The discussion of foreign policy made me a bit wistful that I've veered off of the international relations path somewhat for this foray into refugee studies. I think I'll be all the better for it, though--better-rounded and with a broader understanding of the world and probelms connected to IR.
Returning to the issue of my future, I've recently been poring over fellowship, internship, and employment opportunities while weighing whether or not I should stick around Cairo for a second year to get my Master's. I'm thinking of studying Arabic next summer since that hasn't really been in the cards this semester and may not be next semester either. We'll see! So many opportunities in the word and such little direction!

News of Egypt:
Relationship between the masses and the police indicate tense political reality in Egypt
Egypt destroys 10 tunnels used for transporting contraband to Gaza
Egyptian police murder yet another African migrant trying to reach Israel
The long journey of some Iraqi refugees in Cairo

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lebanese Food and Looking for Zs

Refugee Law yesterday involved a discussion on American military deserters from the war in Iraq and whether or not they could could be considered refugees (a timely topic in Canada at the moment). For dinner, I persuaded classmates Cynthia, Mitchell, and Mallory to join me at Taboula, a Lebanese restaurant about a hundred yards from the Cairo Capital Club where we have class. It proved to be an excellent decision. Cynthia and I split tasty falafel (of the true Lebanese variety, none of this Egyptian ta3mayya business) with taboula and tahina enjoyed inside warm, delicious pita and spinach sambusaks.
After dinner, I met up with a friend at a café who used to work for the Red Cross but is here studying Arabic for the year. He told me about an opportunity to study Arabic next summer that I plan on looking further into.
Feel particularly exhausted, I dragged myself home and was in bed around 1:30. This, of course, is quite early for me. I was hoping to convince my body that it was ok to catch zome Zs at the time of the night, but the ol' body wasn't having any of it. Instead of hopping on the insomnia machine (my laptop), I finished Brothers Karamazov. As is the case with finishing any truly good piece of literature, it's bittersweet. It's like having to say goodbye to a traveling companion. I fell asleep sometime after the pre-dawn call to prayer, only to be awoken by the dastardly rooster. Two things kept me sane--remembering I had earplugs left over from my Lufthansa flight and making the firm decision to wake up at 10:45 the following day (now today) no matter how little sleep I'd gotten so that I might more effectively fall asleep from pure exhaustion, hopefully resetting my circadian rhythm in the process.
Well, I ended up waking up at 11:40, which is actually quite something given that my habit has become to rise at 1:30 or even 2. I fought the urge to remain in bed for the rest of eternity and set about being productive--washing dishes, writing a reflection paper on Arab and Asian migration to the Gulf states, etc.
Ross arrived home not too long ago and invited me to get koshary with him. Because koshary is impossible to refuse, I joined him in getting dinner at the koshary place two doors down where we are greeted by the same overzealous server everytime. At least this time he didn't guffaw while trying to spoonfeed Ross his first bite. Afterwards, I mentioned the pastry shop across the street looking as though it might have some appetizing treats. Wandering in, we were greeted by a friendly old man with a few teeth missing (too many honey-drenched pieces of baklava, no doubt). I was able to understand a lot of his Arabic, but Ross handled the order we placed. For the equivalent of a $1.75 each, we came away with an entire tray of different sorts of baklava and konafa-like pastries with cherries in the middle. We returned home with our delicious loot via the juice shop where I practiced reading the Arabic on the menu while Ross availed himself of the fresh fruit juice. For the edification of all, I will include a photo of the treats that are now half-gone.

News of Egypt and the Middle East:
Cairo-Alexandria Stock Exchange rises in wake of government interventions in banks
Egyptian law discriminates against Christians, causes criminal prosecution and custody issues
Lebanon versus a food fight

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Metro to Ma'adi

The Indian last night turned out to be relatively spectacular. Though it might not have met the standards of those who regularly feast on the finest Subcontinental cuisine, it suited me, a humble Midwesterner with but one Indian restaurant in his whole hometown (Sizzling India on Main St. in Peoria). We had veggie samosas, pakoras to start, paneer makhani and the house daal for our main courses, and delicious pistachio kulfi for dessert. All of this was followed by some sugar-coated fennel seeds which are said to aid in digestion (I like them because they taste like black liquorice).
Today, I had a meeting in Ma'adi whither I took the metro, making friends along the way (as I tend to do when in train cars with curious Egyptians who merrily initiation conversations, asking the most personal questions about my religion, where I live in Cairo, and the like without giving it a second thought). My destination was the Gugu Center where I'll be teaching English to advanced students at least once a week. We toured around and I met some of the Sudanese refugees that Natalie works with through her Youth Violence Prevention Initiative which is affiliated with St Andrew's. Curiously enough, the pastor at that same church is friends with my grandmother's cousin who is originally from Emden, Illinois.
Natalie, as I've mentioned before, is a former ambassadorial scholar herself and has begun to receive positive feedback from Rotarians about really making the project effective. The YVPI has also recently received some funding from the UNHCR. The Initiative's main areas of focus are as follows:

(1) skills training and secondary school level educational opportunities;
(2) promotion of creative expression as a coping mechanism building on the community’s appreciation for hip-hop culture; and
(3) structured, reliable access to sports and venues for physical activities.

I'm obviously involved in the first bit, but anyone can contribute to the overall mission by donated funds or, if you're in Cairo, by volunteering to teach. Please contact me if you're interested in either and I'll refer you to the proper people.
On my way back from Ma'adi, I had a substantial wait for the train, so I took out the Qur'an I purchased in Morocco last year and began reading it. I see Muslims doing this all the time on public transport and I've often wondered how it would be received if I did it. Well, it made me friends, haha. "Are you Islamic? I saw you reading a Qur'an," said a curious bystander. I explained that I'm a Christian but was hoping to understand more about Islam. He smiled appreciatively and we chatted about life in Cairo until he reached his stop.
Well, it's back to reading I go. The topic is again a variation on the theme of defining a refugee.

News of Egypt:
Egyptian journalists fined for doctoring photo of religious leader
France invites Egypt to proposed G14
A story on the hijab in Cairo
Egyptian Center for Women's Rights calls for law against sexual harassment

Friday, October 10, 2008

From Korea to Kandahar in Cairo

Yesterday was quite a full day. Our classes, now that Ramadan has ended, last three hours and the difference is quite palpable. I got koshary to go and left for my Intro course where I turned in my reflection paper on the refugee régime and its relationship with states' security interests and the language of humanitarianism. A couple of my classmates and I, after escaping from the fluorescent torture chamber, decided to get dinner. A nearby Lebanese place didn't have any room for the likes of us non-reservation holders, so we wandered to the Cleopatra Palace Hotel where one of us had heard there was a good Korean restaurant. I was skeptical as we rounded the corner and came upon the dodgy façade, but was pleasantly surprised inside. The kimchi was delicious as was our main course, bibimbap. Jamie, one of our group of three, had lived in South Korea for a year. She opined that the food in this Egypto-Korean joint was quite good, but that perhaps the rice was a little on the Egyptian side. The presence of dozens of Korean tourists ostensibly confirmed the authenticity or at least acceptability of the cuisine.
It was after ten by the time I returned home, but my evening was just beginning. My next stop was a house party in Mounira at an apartment near the French Cultural Center. Appropriately, there were a lot of francophones, affording me yet another opportunity to socialize in my second language. The rest of the number of guests were Canadian, British, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Italian, American, etc. I had a humorous conversation with my Ethiopian chum, Ammanuel in which he was earnestly trying to discover what American women really mean when they say "I don't know."
Finding myself still there, lost in conversation at 3 AM, I decided I probably ought to go home and sleep. A small herd of new acquaintances and one of my classmates had other plans and convinced me to join them at Odeon where we remained until sunrise. Honestly though, with the way my sleeping pattern is, it was worth it. The conversations I get to have and the experiences people share are truly unique.
Currently, after having slept in quite late, I've been buckling down and doing reading on whether people who are military deserters or trying to dodge military service obligations can qualify as refugees. In less than a couple of hours, I'll be heading to dinner at Kandahar which, though named after a city in Afghanistan, serves Indian and Lebanese food. Don't ask, I have no idea.

News of Egypt:
Education in Egypt
Rice not content with condition of human rights in Egypt
Egypt, Syria, and North Korea only three countries that ban commercial GPS
8 Egyptians charged in 'Eid sexual assault

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Hubbub and al-Horreya

I didn't get around to writing this entry yesterday because not long after I got home and wished my little brother a happy birthday on Skype at about 1:30 AM my time, I was feeling exhausted and went to bed. Did I fall asleep right away? Of course not. Even without the aid of the rooster, I'm consistently unable to drift off until after 4! Not a good habit. I'm not keen on the idea of dabbling in Egyptian-made pharmaceuticals, though. Anyway, realizing after more than an hour that I wasn't going to crash anytime soon, I listened a recent episode of This American Life that explains the current economic crisis in a straightforward and convincing way. I'd definitely suggest checking it out if, like me, you were a bit fuzzy about all of the details of what led us to what some are suggesting is the next Great Depression.
Earlier yesterday, I finished my reflection paper on the refugee régime and later took it over to my TA to read. Apart from that, I got to know my neighborhood a little better, surprised that I'd missed small streets quite near to where I've been laying my head for a month and a half. One was lined with stores selling glasses, another had various parts of a cow hanging from meat hooks, and all were full of vibrant colors and curious Egyptians. I ended my little walk at a nearby market that sells basic groceries and other staples. I had a jovial conversation about having a couple of boxes of water delivered that would indeed have been a success if the water had ended up at my apartment. Despite giving them my address and apartment number and receiving assurances and handshakes, I am still without H2O.
On the way back from my TA's apartment, I got some koshary to go and returned to wait for the landlord and the "carpenter" who burst into the apartment not a quarter of an hour later like some kind of Laurel and Hardy skit gone terribly wrong. They were yelling at one another the whole time and making a terrible mess of the two doors that have been waiting to be fixed for nearly a month. I confronted the landlord about the fact that our landline was cut off a few days ago (thus preventing me and my neighbors accross the hall ordering groceries since you cannot call the store from a cell phone) and he mumbled something about it being reconnected today (it's not). I might point out that this is a breech of contract, though I didn't bother to remind him of that just yet. Anyway, the carpenter partially fixed the bathroom door which now almost closes and doesn't sound like a bolt of thunder when being opened or shut. Whether or not this slight repair was worth the bits of paint and wood-shavings that became interwoven with the dusty, dirty rug in the hallway, I have yet to decide. After the carpenter and landlord left for my neighbors' apartment without cleaning up the mess, I calmly joined them there and inquired as to when he expected it to be clean up. The carpenter, in turn, followed me back, asked for a drink of water (we of course had none) and rambled on in Arabic about bokra (tomorrow). He then wormed his way out of my delightful abode and I again followed him to the neighbors' apartment where I again asked Ahmed when the mess was going to be clean. Ahmed began yelling at the carpenter to take the vacuum from my neighbors' apartment and use it in mine. Immediately, of course, my neighbors reminded him that the vacuum has not worked since their arrival (and indeed didn't work when we lived over there either). Ignoring the warning, Ahmed and friends (now up to three with a "plumber") began to bring the vacuum out and, knocking it over, spilled dust all over their hallway. After this fiasco, Ahmed and the carpenter returned to our apartment. While forcing the carpenter to wet the detached bottom of a mop and wipe up the bathroom floor, Ahmed lifted up the rug and shook it, sending God know's how many decades of Cairo dust into the air (and everyone's lungs). I yelled angrily and told him this is why a furnished apartment with rugs should have a vacuum cleaner that works to which he replied, "We'll see about that." Promising, really. This all paled in comparison to the subsequent altercation that Ahmed had with the girls, one of whom he threatened to evict. There was much argument over the contract and Ahmed ripping people off and things not being fixed. It became so loud that I heard it across the hall. So far no one's evicted, we still don't have phone service, and there's not a vacuum in sight.
Anyway, following this hubbub, I went to meet friends at Café al-Horreya in Falaki Square near where I live. It's something of a landmark: a loud, smoky, fluorescently lit café that's glory days were long ago, perhaps when the British were around. Old men play chess on one side and a healthy mix of Egyptians and expats congregate on the other, availing themselves of cheap beer or, in my case, a Fayrouz–Egypt's endearingly mediocre carbonated non-alcoholic malt beverage with fruit flavors and no chemicals or concentrates. The café's name means "freedom," perhaps a bit optimistic in such a country as this, but the conversations there often wane political from what I hear. Last night, at least, it was so as we discussed Iraq and the upcoming presidential elections in the States as well as the role of religion there. I walked home after a few hours, reaking unpleasantly of smoke. I do wish Egypt would go the way of America and Europe and spare me having to inhale other people's secondhand smoke.
Well, I have class in about an hour and a half and have a few things to get done beforehand so I'll close here with some news:

Measures to deal with Cairo's "Black Cloud"
Rioting after pregnant woman died from injuries inflicted by police south of Cairo
Cairo becomes one of top ten emerging global outsourcing cities
Increasing public dissatisfaction in Egypt

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Not Much of Note

Today was a pretty uneventful day. I did a little reading, bought some stamps, picked up a few course packets, went to class, and came home and made dinner which I shared with the lovely French girl across the hall. Before and after this dinner, Catherine, Melissa (la française), and I had rousing discussions about foreign policy and politics. Catherine is a McCain supporter and I, as may be gleaned from earlier entries, am in the other camp. We're both hoping to catch the debate later on.
Melissa, Camilla (Catherine's third flatmate), and I were going to order groceries but to do that, one must have a functional landline. Lo and behold, Greasy Landlord neglected to pay the phone bill which, combined with carpentry work that's needed done for three weeks, makes me want to neglect to pay the rent. Some days I still feel like jumping ship and moving to Zamalek.
Anyway, here's some news for those who're interested:

More Muslim-Christian violence, this time in the other direction
Egypt makes half-hearted attempt to address sexual harassment turned violent over Eid

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pizza and Pumpkin

Tonight's entry will be mercifully short since I spent a good chunk of today working on a reflection paper on the international refugee régime for my Intro class. Craving much-missed human interaction, I left for the evening to join my friend and classmate Erin in Zamalek where we had some of the best pizza in Cairo at Maison Thomas. Though I usually qualify assessments of non-Egyptian food with "it's pretty good for being in Egypt" I would put this pizza up against what most of the pie shops in Peoria have to offer, certainly including my father's favorite, Agatucci's. Maison Thomas's mysterious "Argentina sauce" (which bears no resemblance to chimichurri) was a delicious addition to our pizza funghi and I'm ashamed to admit that, like a good Egyptian, I added some ketchup here and there as I'm now firmly entrenched in the habit of adding the condiment to my pizza. After dinner, Erin and I stopped by al-Diwan, the English-, French-, etc. language bookstore across the street. It was there three years ago that I was first introduced to the works of famed Egyptian author, Naguib Mahfouz. On the way in, though, a gaggle of American tourists asked us if we spoke English and, when we answering in the affirmative, asked us where Abou el-Sid was located. This is the (delicious) Egyptian restaurant where I went with my Rotary host counselor several weeks ago, so I was tickled to be able to point them in the right direction. I followed them down a side street a little ways, verified with a local in Arabic that it was where I remembered it, and sent them on their way.
Though our stomachs weren't perhaps in accord, Erin and I decided to go to a tasty cake shop that she and Cynthia had discovered called Pumpkin. Nostalgic for Pumpkin Festivals past, I was elated to find that they did, in fact, have their own twist on a pumpkin pie. I was thrilled to be able to have a taste "from home" as it were that's quintessentially autumnal for me, but the sweet meringue on top and my already-full belly didn't allow me to finish the whole thing. Now that I've had my dose of pumpkin for October, I am on the hunt for good carrot cake. Anyway, Erin and I talked about life, her experiences in Kenya, and our future plans both broadly and with respect to our program at AUC. It was quite a nice evening if not particularly Egyptian.

Some news of Cairo:
Convoy attempting to bring supplies to Gaza Strip halted by Egyptian police

Egyptians hopeful the upcoming American elections will bring with them a warming of relations
Mubarak pardons jailed journalist

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bititkallim arabi? Shwaya shwaya.

Though it's only a quarter past four in the afternoon, today has already been a good day. With new confidence and new words in my Arabic repertoire from spending five days surrounded by quite talkative Egyptians, I'm making an effort to speak the language as much as possible. At three different stores and in two different taxis, I was a whirl of niceties, questions, and understanding. I was able to explain to an employee at a supermarket in Zamalek that I wasn't having any of his 59 LE (nearly $11) toilet paper and wanted to return it and then to raise a stink about him refunding me 58 instead of 59. Thank God I've learned my numbers! Elsewhere, I remembered the proper way to politely say excuse me to a woman (the forms of words depend on the gender of the speaker or the one being spoken to, depending on the situation) and was able to understand her response to my question in Arabic. For all of my gushing about my progress, I must admit that my command of the language is still very rudimentary and gleaned from conversations with Egyptians rather than any formal classes. Perhaps I'll make a point of taking some sort of Arabic class next semester to polish things up a bit.
Now, I'm settling in after running errands in order to do rather a large amount of reading on "Humanitarian Regime Policies and Politics". I have a paper due on the topic on Thursday. Though I should already have thrown myself into the material headlong, I find it necessary to continue recapping my jaunt to the Red Sea. Doing so thematically, rather than chronologically, is probably best considering that my days were quite similar to one another:

A Ball of White Cotton
The Red Sea near Ras Sudr isn't quite as clear or alluring as down at Sharm al-Sheikh, but then again, the experience of staying with an Egyptian family in their condo in a vacation "village" is altogether different as well. I liked the less flashy, more Egyptian character of it all.
The only white person for miles, I shouldn't have been surprised that I would attract stares just as I often do in Cairo. I was, however, amused that this curiosity with my appearance extended even to my hosts. Some of Maged's shirttail relatives were even surreptiously snapping shots of my apparently glamorous American self. When I shed my shirt to go swimming with everyone else, I was told that my skin was "like milk". The even more imaginative simile in which my referent was "a ball of white cotton floating on the sea" pretty much takes the cake. Though I contented myself with taking in the scene of the here rough, there smooth, partially rock-strewn beaches, the passing ships in the distance, the mountainous formations across the sea back on the African side of Egypt and those toward the east, further into the Sinai peninsula, everyone around me insisted on remarking how much they admired my hair or how cute I was. It doesn't do much for a 22-year-old man's self-image to hear how "adorable" he is. From stud to plush toy in no time flat, I tell you. But really–to those of you 20-something guys out there with dimples, scant facial hair, lights eyes and light hair who are in the market for attention, I can assure you that there are veritable armies of matronly Egyptian women just waiting to (s)mother you, tell you how sorry they feel for you being thousands of miles from your own mother, and how you really should eat more (and will, in fact physically atempt to assist you in this endeavor).

"You Don't Eat Meat. Do You Eat Chicken?"
In my normal routine, I eschew all meat but seafood, making exceptions only for the rare indulgence in steak-frites in Paris and for those times when my grandmother forgets I don't eat ground chuck. (Mercifully, she recently discovered that even in Lacon, you can find tilapia.) As my willingness to make these relatively small and narrow exceptions shows, I'm not militant vegetarian. Thus, in the spirit of flexibility and not wishing to offend my hosts here in Egypt or miss out on the local cuisine, I was prepared to take place in limited carnivory should I find myself at a Rotary event or in a private home. Apart from these situations, maintaining my normal quasi-vegetarian lifestyle in Egypt is usually not that much of a struggle. Things like koshary, ta3miyya, and fuul are leguminous godsends that help make up for protein not gotten from meat. But despite the ubiquity of these vegetarian staples, the concept of vegetarianism is quite a strange thing to most Egyptians. (Heck, even some of my own relatives in the States think I'm a bit crazy for not salivating over burgers and hot dogs on the grill in the summer.) Maged's family is no exception. Thankfully, hospitality is a hallmark of Egyptian culture and they didn't mind trying to accomodate despite the evident bafflement. "You don't eat meat?" they would ask via Maged who valiantly served as my translator throughout the trip. "Do you eat chicken?" I would sheepishly reply in the negative, wincing at the thought of inconveniencing my gracious hosts. They didn't mind and instead, doubled up on the ostensibly vegetarian portions of the meal (never mind that the fasulia, a vegetable stew featuring green beans in a tomato broth had beef stock and the molokhiyya, chicken stock). Their curiosity piqued, many asked why I was a vegetarian. I obviously didn't bother to clarify that by American standards my eating fish disqualified me from the vegetarian club and that chicken, fish, and the flesh of any imaginable animal was considered meat these days. I tried to get off the hook by saying it's healthier. How on earth would I have Maged translate my conviction that my diet reduces energy consumption and is thus better for the environment? or that I pass on everything from Thanksgiving turkey to spaghetti with meat sauce for reasons of social responsibility? It's so strange coming to a country where all of my (perhaps high-flown) idealism is so alien to the day-to-day lives of the people around me. If it's slightly challenging to try and explain myself to family in central Illinois, it's utterly impossible to do so in Cairo. I won't even extend this discussion to organic food! Ha. It makes me wonder what sorts of cultural values Egyptians would have a hard time tying to explain to Americans. In the end, I think my favorite aspect of the trip culinarily was the pomegranate seeds heaped in bowls and dusted in sugar.

"Do You Think You'll Get Divorced One Day?"
"My brother and I have different fathers" I explained to a gaggle of the same woman who earlier were plying me unceasingly with ta3miyya when one of them inquired as to the nearly twelve-year age difference between us. They all became downcast as they jumped to the conclusion that my own father must have died. "Oh no," I lightly explained "my parents are divorced." As mentioned in my last entry, my conversations with Maged and his family covered quite a gamut of social issues. My hosts, part of a growing number of Copts belonging to Evangelical and other Protestant churches, are shocked by how rampant divorce in America is. In Egypt, divorce is certainly not unheard of and is, in fact, on the upswing, but social attitudes are not quick to change. While I would never suggest that Americans who get divorced are immune from heartbreak or difficulty, the act is largely free of the stigma that paints divorcées in Egypt with heavy shame. Maged's family was at first puzzled when I so casually explained the complicated dynamics of my own family as I've been used to doing ever since I can remember. I told Maged that nowadays the question "Are your parents married?" is not at all uncommon in the States. A look of shock. "Do you think you'll get divorced one day?" asked Maged's pregnant newly-wed cousin. I reassured her that it wasn't on my to-do list and I didn't expect to, but that I didn't think most people went into a marriage planning to get divorced.

Papsi al-Kelb
Aside from the many relatives, friends, and relatives of friends that were staying with us, there was another guest who, in fact, caused quite a stir. In a different way than Maged's high level of English and Western-style education, Papsi was a prime example of the cultural influence of America in the Middle East. How? Just by being a dog. As you may recollect from other of my entries, dogs are usual found on the street of Cairo in packs scrounging for food, dodging cars, and being kicked. Many are even poisoned or otherwised done away with. The pet stores in my neighborhood (of which there are too) would, in the States, be shut down in seconds flat by even the most forgiving inspector. Cats are sometimes confined in birdcages while neglected, malnourished dogs are chained tightly to doorways. Given this environment which may be related to the rather particular relationship between Islam and keeping pets, the large majority of Egyptians are not used to interacting with canines, especially not lapdogs or house pets. It was in this context that probably half of the guests in the condo were skittish around this exceedingly inoffensive little creature. Maged's uncle, a man in his 50s, was so terrfied of the animal that, when it walked quietly into the room, he jumped out of his chair folded it up and ran screaming in circles, riling up the dog who began chasing him and barking excitedly. The grown man roared death threats and waved the chair crazily while I did everything in my power to refrain from bursting out laughing from my position on the couch.
On a sadder, but still dog-related note, I found out during my trip that our faithful old man of a dog back in Peoria died. Barkley was a faithful friend, especially to my little brother who's having a hard go of it in his absence. That degree of attachment is just another example of how different a role domestic animals play in my home and host countries.

Well, I've spent far too long writing this cumbersome novella and should probably get to writing of a more academic persuasion. First, some news of Egypt:

Sectarian violents continues in southern Egypt
Egypt's Foreign Minister pays surprise visit to Baghdad, will reopen embassy there
Government detains more Egyptian Brotherhood members
Egyptian bloggers, the government, and religious conservatism

Saturday, October 4, 2008

...aaaand we're back!

I'm a bit jittery from taking some Excedrin Migraine to fend off a headache that set in while I was laden with my belongings and crowded into a hot subway car after riding back in a shabby charter bus from the Sinai, so if I sound a little crazy, do forgive me.
My stay in Ras Sudr was quite the cultural event, let me tell you! I began but didn't finish an entry on the 30th of September and couldn't publish it until now due to the lack of internet. It'll have to be good enough for now and perhaps I'll write more tomorrow if I get time. It reads as follows:
30 September 2008

Though quite tired, I’m up for the day and making the best of some down time before breakfast here at the “chalet” of my Egyptian friend Maged and his family. Located in a compound of sorts on the Red Sea, their condo is bustling with the family’s friends, relatives, and relatives of friends. With most of them, I can communicate only in smiles, a smattering of quite basic Arabic phrases, and blank looks. As I type, another ten are joining these ranks.
Our journey here began yesterday after I met up with Maged in Zaytoon, an area of Cairo about a half an hour north via the metro. [Breakfast and the Red Sea took me away from my entry, so it’s now about 3:45 in the afternoon but I’ll pick up from where I left off:] I was exhausted by the time I arrived because Maged asked me to be there by 3:30. As you may recall, I’ve developed the nasty habit of sleeping in until between 1:30 and 2, so I got up a bit “early” after a terrible morning’s sleep. My insomnia is fueled these days largely by worries about what do with my life, increasingly excited and happy reflections on how things are progressing here in Egypt and speculation on where they may lead, or, most often, a combination of all these things. It’s all worse when I know I have to get up at a specific time, because I wake up every couple of hours or so in anticipation. To exacerbate the situation throw in a rooster, a cheap mattress (shokran ya Ahmed), and an absolutely fantastic previous day that lasted past sunrise as follows:
-I was actually able to pick up my passport containing my visa extension with no complications (though suspiciously, the extension runs for about three months from when I arrived, not from the application for the extension itself). Given the bureaucratic nightmare yielded by the equation of AUC + government, this truly is noteworthy.
-I grabbed a granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait from Beano’s and headed to the law library, where I got the Internet key from some very suspicious staff before proceeding to International Refugee Law which was fantastic as usual.
-I walked home with Melissa, the French girl who’s temporarily living across the hall in our old apartment with Catherine and Camilla (the Dane) and discovered something truly miraculous along the way: the koshary restaurant two doors down had reopened, emerging like a (terribly delicious) Phoenix from the ashes of Ramadan.
-Sharing the above good news with Ross, we were soon consuming the sublime lentily, pasta-y, tomato-y goodness of koshary for dinner for the first time in literally weeks. The cost? A mere 5 LE (less than a dollar) for mine.
-The next stop, Mohandaseen to Amanda’s apartment. She works for the International Organization for Migration—I mentioned her before when recounting my most recent Thai dinner, I believe. We formed a fierce, two-person team of Minnesota natives and vanquished British and Egyptian competitors in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Though an unexpected 40 LE minimum charge at a mediocre faux-Italian café briefly put a damper on things, my love of board games and the excellent company kept me happy.
-Natalie, whom I often mention, was leaving for the States yesterday for a little while. This, of course was the perfect occasion to go to Odeon. So, after staying out in Mohandaseen ‘til after midnight, I cabbed over to our favorite haunt and stayed until sunrise chatting at length with an Ethiopian refugee about his experiences in Egypt. Although in my head it doesn’t seem so strange, I found it very interesting to learn that his family back in Ethiopia are relatively well-to-do. He was a journalist and had to seek refuge in Egypt because of his writing. Here for the past three years, he decided after the first that he would try and understand the experiences and hardships of fellow Ethiopians who were leagues apart from him socioeconomically. He rented an apartment in a poorer part of town and has, for two years, dealt with challenges that have been the hallmark of what he surprisingly calls the best time of his life. Having only a handful of years on me, he’s already extremely wise and seen quite a lot. After Emmanuel left, I spoke to a friend of Crysta (the Canadian teacher I’ve previously talked about) called Rania who’s British, but the daughter of Egyptian parents. She came back nearly a decade ago to begin teaching here and had lots to say about how difficult it was for her to adapt to the culture, even with fluent Arabic and insights into Egypt born of her parents’ origins. Two other Brits joined our table later on, sharing their experiences teaching English here. One is also apparently quite the chef—a good person to know when I tire of tameyya, fuul, and koshary (never!) Cynthia, a classmate and friend that I’ve hung out with in Zamalek and elsewhere before also joined us; she’s putting to use a background in violence prevention by helping Natalie in her work with the Sudanese. As the deceptively clean-looking morning light began to wash over Cairo, I made my way home for the fitful morning of non-sleep described above.
As I said, Maged wanted me to meet him at 3:30. He also told me, a bit frantically, that coming earlier would be even better. When I told him before 2 PM that I hadn’t packed, he insisted that I needed to get a move on, because it takes an hour to get up to Zaytoon en métro. “I just don’t want you to be late,” said the person who has not once been on time to hang out. My reply: “I’m not Egyptian.” Though this probably sounds awful, my snarky retort underlies a very real aspect of Egyptian culture—their concept of time. It’s vastly different than ours (in the States) and it’s not necessarily good or bad objectively (though I’ll make no bones about telling you it drives me nuts), but it’s undeniable. Second-guessing myself—something I generally shouldn’t do, especially vis-à-vis Maged, I’ve learned—I began frantically packing and rushing around. I dragged Ross to an ATM to be able to pull out money to pass on to him for rent and then headed straight to the metro. I was waiting for the train by 2:30 on the dot so that I could make it “in an hour.” Of course, I knew better and arrived in 28 minutes only to find no trace of Maged who showed up late. He then preceded to tell me that we’d not be leaving until after four, but he just wanted to make sure we were ready to go well in advance. I refrained from throwing the son of a family who are showing me such hospitality out of the nearest window as thoughts of things I’d left undone in my haste began to collect in my mind. Another observation about Egyptians that was highlighted by this was the stating of guesses or even wishes as absolute certainty (which is germane to never admitting when one doesn’t know something or when one is wrong—the classic giving wrong directions example comes to mind, etc.)
We left after 4:30, all said and done, and reached Amigo (near Ras Sidr) after dark. My time since then has been fantastic for experiencing more directly Egyptian culture and family life (if not at all conducive to sleep with what seems like a small army of relatives, friends, and whoever else turning on fluorescent lights, slamming doors, carrying on loudly literally all night long). My hosts are Copts, whereas many of the other Egyptians I know are Muslims. It's fascinating to try and understand the differences in values and identity whose origins stretch back several centuries.
Maged, his friend Ereny, and I have had rather humorous discussions about the differences between the American conception of masculinity and the Egyptian one. Maged even went so far as to suggest that English was a girly-sounding language and I tried not to rub in his face that his rugged, manly Egyptian men hold hands in the street and walk arm in arm, sometimes draped over one another, calling each other habibi (roughly "dear" or "honey"), and kissing each other’s cheeks while sharing what seems like a universal obsession with Céline Dion. I explained to him that rooted in this expansive physical comfort level somewhere were my continual requests not to be touched (I’m not a touchy-feely person in general, but this is all the more apparent in this personal space-less region). I'm not at all alleging that the average man in Egypt is objectively effeminate or, Heaven forfend, gay, I'm just illustrating how different customs and habits in one culture and be perceived extremely differently in another.
Interestingly, the conversation continued down the path of how, in the States, some people would label the above-described behavior as gay. A general discussion of how gays and lesbians in the States are treated and perceived led me to explain that GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered) people don’t all behave, dress, and talk the same way (something which I take for granted that people know, but something which hadn't fully occurred to Maged). This made me realize just how different the situation is in a country where being gay or a lesbian relegates you to life in the shadows, as part of an underground scene. Homosexuals are far more marginalized and maltreated than in the States. Just as I began to revel in my country and people being so "progressive" despite the lingering homophobia there, I was taken aback at hearing Maged (who hails from a conservative Christian background and has a lot of misperceptions about the existence and character of homosexuality in his country) suggest that perhaps homosexuality isn’t so awful and that it is best to be honest (a Christian virtue) with oneself and others though that, obviously, is not at all easy in Egypt. I thought it was a strikingly pure-hearted and non-judgmental response.

So anyway, there is where I left off–right in the middle of a rather controversial topic, no less. More observations to come. In the meanwhile, here're some links to the news of Egypt:

Egyptian governments officials and others in apparent attempt to "break siege on Gaza" on Monday
More oil, gas deposits found in Egypt
An Egyptian Christian killed in flare-up of religious conflict