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

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