Saturday, November 8, 2008

Band of Outsiders

I always find it funny when BBC World's weatherpeople describe conditions in the Middle East as "dry and sunny" as if it's really ever much else. They've moved onto weather in North America and the Caribbean while I ask myself the vital question "how much halawa is too much?"
I didn't manage to fall asleep until somewhere around 6 AM this morning and didn't stay asleep even then. My admirable attempts at slogging through the outline and annoted bibliography I have due next Thursday were thus markedly slowed by a fog of fatigue. If you find my prose a bit lacking in this entry, that will be why. Despite some progress, I'm not sure where the rest of the day went apart from a successful outing to the post office. Strangely, when I'd mailed my grandmother a card recently, it supposedly cost 2 LE to send. This price was determined by weighing the piece of mail, something that the post office employees did today as well. The card weighed the same as the other, but now inexplicably required 2.25 LE to send. I can only hope that both make it to their destinations.
For dinner, I'd planned to run two doors down to Zaaim for koshary, but decided I needed something green. I ordered in from Taboula, getting a rather sizeable tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and radish salad that wasn't half bad in addition to some eggplant fatteh. By 8, I was headed out the door to the nearby apartment of an acquaintance with with whom I share a mutual friend that I made during my trip to Alexandria. The latter is a lovely Polish girl named Ewelina who's spent many years in New Jersey and loves absurdist and classic films as much as I do. It was thus that the three of us watched Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Part, also called Band of Outsiders in English. Though I wasn't overly fond of Godard's Week-End, I think Bande à Part has the potential to be one of my favorite movies and the bits I saw of À bout de souffle (aka Breathless) a couple of years ago were great. It could've been the sleepiness, but the film itself seemed to blend with the shabby-chic apartment and its decades-old wallpaper, high ceilings with crown molding, and worn-but-elegant furnishings that recalled an era of stuffy British colonial administrators. A single dangling light socket emptied of its bulb left the room lit solely by the glow of the city that came in through a window that opened onto a small balcony. As she stepped out for a cigarette upon the film's conclusion, Eve (pronounced Evie) as she's called for short, transformed the balcony scene into a veritable tableau vivant offering her opinions and interpretations of the existentialist and Marxists themes in her Polish-accented perfect English between puffs while surveying the Cairene skyline from under her jet-black, straight-cut bangs. The whole ordeal felt wonderfully pretentious, but our conversation afterward and a subsequent phone call from my father were just as important in making my day a good one despite the tiredness and Egypt-fatigue. Eve and I conversed about how the dynamics of social life in Egypt and how being surrounded by new acquaintances rather than old friends from home forces you to be rather more reserved with genuine feelings and inner struggles as you play up the fun, party-tricks, friend-winning aspects of your personality. This leads to introspection and times where you tackle your problems alone when you'd otherwise go to a friend or family-member. We agreed that, in the end, it can sometimes be productive and help you to know yourself better, but that we also miss the relational depth enjoyed back home.
As I headed back to my apartment, I felt present in the moment, taking in the montage of street sights and sounds that make Cairo unique unto itself. I passed a Nubian store, still open late in the evening selling cassette tapes and souvenirs, some men slouched semi-somnolently in chairs, perhaps in a nominal attempt to watch over entrances to residential buildings, a glowing TV flashing images of Olympic athletes to a triad of enthralled onlookers, and then I drew a deep breath. Hoping this was some kind of revelatory, "come to Jesus" moment when I come to understand clearly why I am in Egypt despite its manifold vexations and what to make of my future both here and more broadly, I let out a sigh, marched forward into the night, and promptly tripped over the uneven pavement so ubiquitous in this city, nearly plowing into a woman in a hijab, her amply-bearded husband, and their kids. Serves me right for all that grandiose thinking. I was, however undeterred from thinking symbolically and decided that the combination of all of those elements was indicative that, like any other place in the world or any other time in my life, there's good and bad and it's up to me to maximize the good where and when I am.
Providentially, perhaps, I received a phonecall from my father who, among other things, advised me to relax and not to get so worked up about the life decisions awaiting me. Approaching them rationally and calmly is not something I've been good at lately, but hopefully with some deep breaths and heeding my parents' admonitions, I'll be able to manage things a bit more healthily in the last five weeks remaining until I spend some time in the States and France.
And to top the evening off, I just executed one of those vicious, miserable little mosquitoes, how much better could it all get? Ha!

Omar bin Laden and his wife in limbo after being sent back to Egypt
Egypt delays Palestinian unity talks in wake of Hamas boycott threat
Sec. State Rice arrives in Egypt for talks
Seven-year-old hash dealer arrested in Suez Canal town of Ismailiya

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