Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An addendum from class

I'm in class, but I wanted to briefly post something that seemed kind of metaphorical for the my ups and downs and final settling in here in Cairo: I grabbed ful and ta3mayya on the way to class and arrived on campus early. I grabbed a seat in the empty class room and began to munch on my Egyptian street fare. After a little while, the AV guy who sets up the laptop and projector for the professor came in and began to do his thing. I kept lunching until the AV guy produced from his bag an envelope and asked me if I knew a Carl and added my last name as well.
"Um, that's me," I said. He then handed me the notorious envelope from my mom and little brother with photos and notes that I had thought lost to the void. It was funny that it should happen on my last full day in Cairo of the year and that I should have been the only one in the room at the time.
T-12 hours until I take off for Amsterdam, leaving the wonderfully temperate winter weather of Egypt for colder climes.

Homeward Bound

I'm taking a break from my paper (of which three and a half pages remain to be written) to catch the old blog up and to say goodbye for a while.
Yesterday was more of the same, Christmas shopping and paper writing. Though I'd planned to be more studious, I caved and joined Phil and Jenn, Marise's friend, for dinner. Just prior, I did some shopping at the fair trade store in Zamalek in a mad dash for Christmas gifts and a bid to hang out with my friend from high school, Sheila, before my departure. I'm not sure that I covered everyone in my frantic gift-buying outings to the Khan and to some of the stores in my neighborhood, but I did my best. Anyway, dinner was at the rooftop bar above Sabai Sabai. Though it was a bit chilly, the views of the Nile and the Thai food we ordered up more than compensated. Later tonight (or rather early tomorrow morning if we're being technically correct), Marise is taking Jenn and I to the airport. We fly to Amsterdam at 4:15 AM and then get separate connections. I fly Amsterdam-Detroit and then Detroit-Peoria. Sometime before that, I have to finish this paper and begin work on my law final which I suspect I will have to work on in a haze of jetlag tomorrow and the day after. Ma3lesh.
My last class of my first semester of graduate school is in a couple of hours. It's so strange to think of how much has happened in the last four months! I'll have to admit, Egypt has really grown on me and I'm looking forward to coming back in January (though I definitely won't complain about being able to hang out in the States, France, and Belgium in the interim!)
If my entry is lackluster and scatterbrained, I blame my paper-writing and general franticness brought about by packing and tying up loose ends. Hopefully I'll be cool, calm, and collected in late January when I return to blog about further adventures in Cairo.

Egyptian attitudes toward US government policies turn even more negative
Egypt cell service to begin operations in North Korea
114 migrants attempting to reach Israel are arrested by Egyptian police
Pressure to marry causes stress for Egyptians

Monday, December 15, 2008

Couscous in Garden City

I'm perched on my couch, set to launch into a rousing several hours of paper-writing again, but thought I'd update briefly before doing so. Yesterday, after pounding out a few pages, I went to the Khan with Ross to try and finish up the bulk of my Christmas shopping. I won't detail my purchases (because so doing might ruin surprises), but I will say that haggling and joking around with the merchants was great fun. Whenever anyone asked me where I was from, I made them guess. I got the sun, Canada, Germany and the US. I'm not sure what being from the sun entails, but one of the guy's that picked America said he had so guessed because only Americans wouldn't tell people where they were from up front. Ha! Ross and I grabbed a cab a little ways from the Khan, but still didn't manage to avoid the sketchy kind of cabbie that lines up outside tourist sites. He demanded 10 LE and we told him we absolutely weren't paying more than 6. In the end, we paid six and that was that. Before going home, we stopped in a bookstore that had some really cool 50s-ish looking story booklets in Arabic and a number of other languages, so we bought a few. Working a bit more on my papers for a while, I had to be back into the streets of Cairo a couple hours later to make my way to Garden City for what turned out to be an excellent dinner of Lebanese and Moroccan food at the home of some French acquaintances. Though I often have occasion to speak French here, last night truly reminded me that I've been gone from France for nearly a year and a half. I was the only American in a group of nine francophones, seven of whom were French and two of whom were Egyptian. We spoke French, naturally, for the entire dinner. I think my mouth and tongue have become unaccustomed to making the kind of sounds necessarily for good French pronunciation. Anyway, the toum and hummus were tasty appetizers and the couscous was great. Homemade dessert, French mœlleux au chocolat, topped of the meal. After dinner we chatted and tried to guess which theme music corresponded with various TV chose and movies, mostly American. I think the French had a better sense of American pop culture than I did. It was funny to hear them reel off the names of American series in French (as they're often quite different). Alas, the time soon came for me to put my nose back to the grindstone and I stayed up 'til 2:30 adding more bulk to my torturous essay. I am off to try and do the same.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

1 Paper + 2 Pages Done (Out of 20) + 3 Days Left + 4 Mosquitoes = 10 Neuroses

For the peace of mind of those who check my blog daily or weekly who may worry if I don't post something, rest assured I'm still alive. I am sitting in front of a computer screen, my eyes ready to pop out of my head, trying to create something cogent and convincing out of a sea of source chaos. Next to me is my tattered copy of Human Rights Watch's report on risks facing migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Israel and Egypt that served as an impromptu tool of execution for three mosquitoes now. One is left buzzing around and fled down the darkened hallway toward my room. If I get another bite on the bottom of my foot, I may start bathing in DEET.
Today I had my last Intro to MRS class and, as if to make it as painful a finale as possible, the professor kept us a full thirty-five minutes over. Since then I've consumed ful, ta3mayya, and koshary, and read through pages and pages of source material hoping to glean something useful for this paper. I was going to do some Christmas shopping at the Khan, but that's not going to happen until I make some serious headway. To add to my stress, I receive my take-home law final tomorrow. Joy!
Anyway, in a handful of days I'll be home and free of my graduate school stressors. Hopefully I'll have lots of happy reflections on Egypt and shiny, happy thoughts to share. In the meantime expect half-crazed word-processing with bouts of mosquito-murdering rampaging and little else.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Quiet in Bab al-Luq

Ross and I got koshary with Brian yesterday for lunch after another stop at the famed juice joint and then took him to Tahrir Square to get a yellow cab. Different from the haggle-heavy black and white taxi experience, riding in a yellow cab (in theory) means a metered ride free from smoke and loud music and, if you're lucky, the doors will even have functional handles. Since Brian's departure, things have been quiet. A lot of things were still closed for the Eid holiday. Ross and I spent most of the rest of the day in the apartment where I managed to write most of my second paper (that I finished earlier this afternoon). We went out for ful and ta3mayya sandwiches briefly, but that was about as exciting as it got until Ablavi came over and Phil dropped in for ludicrous conversation, mosquito-killing, and YouTube videos.
Today hasn't been a terribly exciting one, but finishing my paper was another huge weight off. I hope to make some headway with the third and final one yet this evening before and after I go out for Indian food with ten or so friends. At this point, it's humanly impossible to leisurely read over the sources and construct a well-thought out essay because of my professors continued changes to my topic. Nearly every other student in the class has had the same problems with her and we're breathing a collective sigh of relief that we won't have her as a professor next semester. Tomorrow is our last session of that class after which I hope to drag Phil and Ross back to the Khan to finish up my Christmas shopping. Sunday night, I'm going to the home of the French couple I met at Sequoia for a couscous dinner. I don't know if I have time for such things, but I couldn't refuse!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

100th Post

This is my 100th post which means I've been in Egypt a handful of days more than that. Crazy! So much has gone on and now that I'm going to be home for a little while in less than a week, I'm becoming more prone again to reflecting on the first half of my year spent as a Rotary scholar here. My conclusions about my decision to select Egypt as a study country are wholly positive. The challenges and difficult times are worth it for the lessons I've learned, the flexibility I've gained, and for helping me to appreciate the outstanding moments.
Yesterday, there were a great many of these. Brian, Ross, and I had breakfast and headed over to meet Marise, Jenn, and Phil at the juice place (the centerpiece of Brian's visit in Egypt). Because there were six people and only five places in the car, Phil ended up in the trunk during the first leg of our trip. This is probably wildly illegal in the States, but more or less permissible in Egypt (as is hanging out the car window, as we later found out as well). I think Phil, Brian, and Ross, who took turns in the trunk throughout the day probably had as much fun doing that as seeing the sites. Normally, I'd be horrified that we were doing such a thing but hey, when in Egypt.
The five of us Americans purchased our student tickets to get into the area while Marise, our resident Egyptian-Canadian-American , got a much cheaper ticket. I cannot begin to understand the rationale behind the dramatic price differences--we don't charge foreigners outrageously higher ticket prices in Washington D.C. to visit museums and monuments as far as I know. This upcharge applies to hotels here and a great many other things. Ma3lesh. The Great Pyramid didn't open until one, so we visit some smaller pyramids and the Sphinx in the meantime. Brian and Jenn rode camels and Marise followed them on a horse while Phil, Ross, and I took goofy tourist pictures with the Sphinx and the pyramids. We met up later to get tickets for the last standing wonder of the Ancient World and ended up arguing with a power-tripping (bribe-soliciting?) Egyptian man who conveniently put up a sign saying "no cameras" after we'd arrived at the entrance. He later got chewed out by his superior, but either way, Ross managed to smuggle in his camera. Of course, nearly everyone else (especially Egyptian visitors) made it in with cameras too, past the oh-so watchful eye of the "guard", but there's not a whole lot to see on the inside anyway because the artifacts are all in museums around the world. Our next stop was meant to be Saqqara, some kilometers to the south. There one finds the step pyramid of Djoser, the oldest standing step pyramid in the world. A bit peckish, we stopped at a koshary place along the way and were the only Westerners in sight, much to the amusement of the locals. We had a throng of children "befriend" us and follow the car as we left. We passed so many donkey carts, oxen, and even a camel or two as we got further from Cairo. Palm trees and agricultural fields lay between us and the sun beginning to set over the pyramids at Saqqara. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, this also meant that we'd reached the time of day when the complex closed for the evening and we didn't managed to get in to tour the step pyramid. Our humorous conversations, Phil's story-telling, and the beauty all around us was more than enough to make up for it, though. With Brian in the trunk, we headed back to Cairo to Ramses Square where Marise and Jenn bought tickets flanked by Ross and Phil while Brian and I napped in the car. On top of the normal wear and tear of climbing the pyramids and getting up early, I began to realize I was falling ill, which is a bummer. By the end of the evening, I had a terrible headache that kept me up last night. This morning I popped some Excedrin and am hoping for the best. We headed to Café Arabica in Zamalek next and got fiteer, which was delicious. Ross, Marise, and Jenn were having us all draw pictures to be analyzed as we waited for the food to arrive. The conclusions were as funny as the drawings. The Khan al-Khalili was next. We haggled our hearts out for Christmas gifts and souvenirs. It was quite a lot of fun and a lot lower pressure than when I'd gone there a few years ago with Alia.
This morning, Ross and Brian went to visit the Citadel. Since I'd already seen it, need to get papers done (and fast!) and am not feeling too well, I'm hanging here until lunch. We're going to grab koshary and then take Brian to a cab so he can go to the airport whence he'll continue onto Jordan, his next leg in a brief Middle Eastern journey. It's a bummer that final papers and departures are bringing our few days of fun to an end, but we'll all inevitably have fond memories of the experiences.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tourist Tuesday

As is suggested by my corny, alliterative title, we did a lot of touristy things today (or even typically Egyptian things). I've mentioned before that I am nothing of an early riser here in Egypt and thus it was that I slept until 11:30 or so (which is a bit early for me, really). Graciously, Ross took over my role as host and took Brian to get juice and food and visit Cairo Tower for a view of the city. The juice has become something of an addiction. I think Ross and Brian made it to Mohammad Ali (the juice shop) some three or four times today and made a stop at another juice shop closer to Midan Tahrir. They came back to the apartment by which point I'd gotten ready, had my habitual breakfast of muesli and yogurt, and even managed to work on one of my paper's a bit. Soon we were out and about, passing a detached hoof left over from the Eid on our way down Tahrir Street. That didn't diminshed our appetites though and we headed straight to lunch--koshary at Koshary Tahrir. Brian was a big fan and I have to admit that the quality of the food is better at Koshary Tahrir than at our neighboring koshary joint, though it's vice versa for the service. Our next stop was Coptic Cairo where we visited the Hanging Church and made friends with a few of the girls our age who serve as guides there. In addition to Arabic, one of the guides spoke French and Portuguese, another English and Spanish, and yet another English and German. Brian and I spoke in French, but respectively, we also threw out some Portguese and some German and Arabic. We also stopped by the Ben Ezra Synagogue (Egypt's oldest, dating from the 9th Century) where an Egyptian tourguide was giving a rundown on the place in fluent Mandarin Chinese.
Phil joined us part of the way into our wandering the area and came back downtown with us to our place where we hung out for a while before trekking up some of the most congested streets in this part of Cairo. The amount of people was overwhelming in stark contrast to the calm we experienced yesterday. The weather today, though, was just as perfect. Absolutely gorgeous. We had dinner at a place that Ross and I had gone to months ago. It was even better this time: clean, the "special beans" were delicious. It was basically unmashed ful with peppers. We all enjoyed pretty standard (and cheap) Egyptian fare. Next, we made our way to El Abd, a celebrated pastry shop in the heart of Wust al-Balad (downtown), and decided Ross would be the one to navigate the absolute madness inside to secure us a half-kilo of baklawa, konafa, and more. All that hard work ended in one of the many juice breaks which in turn was followed by our heading to the ahwa (café) where I've played my games of towla. Ross and Phil shared shisha, and we exchanged all sorts of stories. It's a blast having Brian here and that we've managed to drag Ross away from his papers. Marise and Jenn joined us and then the whole lot of us (sans Ross, who we again lost to wise studiousness) headed to Garden City where we caught a felucca. We shared our pastries with Jenn and with Marise (whose birthday it was), but also the boatman who snuck a couple more than we'd offered when we were taking goofy photos at the bow. The boatride around the nile, though, was fantastic. The views were great and I couldn't have been in better company.
Tomorrow, the six of us are reconvening to visit not just the pyramids at Giza, but also the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, and those at Memphis. It should be a lot of fun and hopefully followed by a bit of shopping in the Khan. It's too bad Brian's leaving so soon and the reality of my papers is lurking in the background--I could really get into this tourist stuff!

Chinese language becoming more popular in Egypt
Egypt and Syria spar diplomatically over Palestinians
Housing market impacts young Egyptians' marriage plans

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eid al-Adha

Instead of being surrounded by the carcasses of sacrificed animals and swimming through blood in the streets, I emerged from my apartment to find that the weather was about the most gorgeous it's been since I've been here and that many Cairenes were on vacation, leaving the city rather empty. They sky was actually blue with white puffy clouds with very little of the haze that comes with pollution. I managed to buy my train tickets and do some more cleaning in addition to corresponding with a professor about one of my papers before meeting Marise and her friend Jenn to drive to the airport where we ended up at the wrong terminal (EgyptAir listed the arrival information incorrectly; no surprise there). We finally figured out where to go and found Brian and had a fantastic evening altogether. Brian's my college friend from Pekin who's studying at Cambridge on the Davies-Jackson Scholarship. Ross joined us for a while when we went to get juice and to kill time at Horayya. I had sobia for the first time at the juice place. Though it was quite popular during Ramadan, I hadn't tried any until now and it was delicious. Phil met up with us at Horayya and we all briefly returned to my apartment and then onto Abu al-Sid in Zamalek sans Ross who was tuckered out. It was fun introducing Brian to Egyptian food--ful, ta3mayya, bassara, om ali, sugar cane juice, and sobia. The girls dropped us back off at Tahrir Square and Phil headed for Ma'adi while Brian and I walked Qasr al-Nil Bridge. He got a small taste of the obnoxious "helloooo"s and "what's your name"s and "welcome to Egypt"s and "where from"s that greet me whenever I go out. He told one guy in Spanish that he didn't speak English which is my approach but with French sometimes. It was generally a lot of fun to sort of see Egypt through the eyes of someone who's never been before. That and the weather and the general vibe of the day made it feel unlike any other and, despite the fact I didn't get much of either of my remaining papers done, I am thankful for it. I better do a bit of research and then head for bed. We've got a busy couple of days coming up.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sad News from the States

I managed to finish the first of my three final papers yesterday just as Phil arrived to hang out for a while before we met up with a few other people to have Thai. It was a nice meal, but I think the glamor of Bird Cage is wearing off--the service is uniformly poor. Well-intentioned, perhaps, but poor nonetheless. If the prices were lower, it would probably be a bit more palatable. After dinner, Phil and I took some photos exposing them longer to catch a stream of taillights in Tahrir Square.
The jovial and satisfactory nature of the evening was interrupted by disturbing news from a friend from boarding school: my junior year history teacher shot and killed himself in one of the dormitories where he was living and serving as a dorm parent. As it is not yet winter break, the dorm was full and, of course, the kids heard the gunshot. They'll have to live with that for the rest of their lives. Len Jones had a wife from whom he was estranged and a child. I guess he was struggling with that and other personal issues. I have not heard whether or not there was a note left or anything indicating his reasoning in his own words. It's terrible enough when something like this happens at a public or day school, but at a boarding school where the community is so tightly knit and you come to know your teachers very well, it's horrific. To those who might read this who are in the habit of praying, please pray for Mr Jones's family and for the community of Shattuck-St. Mary's, especially the kids who live in the dorm.
Though this has been in the back of my mind, I've been trying to get the apartment ready for when Brian arrives tomorrow. Our office is now a makeshift guest bedroom. I vacuumed, washed dishes, did laundry, wiped a thick, black layer of dust off of pretty much every surface I could, and wrote up a new outline and researched for my paper on the relationship between migration and the nation-state. I took a break to play towla again with Sasha. We each won once. On the way, a kid, perhaps for the Eid, was swinging a censer outside on the sidewalk. As he wafted incense that didn't smell quite right, he asked for money. I literally had none, so I headed straight to my engagement. My heart breaks to see so many people reduced to begging, but it was awful when I was returning home last night. There was a a woman laying with her child in her arms sleeping on a piece of cardboard and under filthy blankets on the sidewalk. This is literally a three-minute walk from my apartment. Up the street and across the square was an imported BMW, albeit surrounded in the litter than fills the streets of Cairo.
Anyway, I better get working on papers so that I have time to do touristy things while Brian's here. Tomorrow is Eid al-Adha, the day when Muslims around the world commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at God's command and God's subsequent provision of an animal sacrifice in his place. This means than hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and cows will be slaughtered and the streets of Cairo filled with blood. All this while I try and navigate my way to their airport. No stress, of course.

An article on the teacher I mentioned above
Police continue to harrass Egyptian bloggers
Egypt-Hamas relations degrade further

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Zipping Around All Day in Zamalek and Doqqi

I'm sure I've kept everyone in suspense by not crafting a blog entry yesterday, but I was in fact being both quite social and academically productive. Before I get to that, though, I'll catch up on the rest of Thursday. My advising session served to eliminate one of my options when my adviser convincingly suggested I not leave AUC without having some kind of accreditation to show for my coursework. He also, unhelpfully, told me it really wasn't about the decision one makes as how one makes that decision. "Sometimes," he added, "I flip a coin." Gee, thanks. I'll just flip a fifty piastre coin to determine the entire course of the next year of my life. Anyway, at this point my inclination is to just bite the bullet and take the class I'm not fond of that will drag me out to the new campus simply because it will give me both the graduate diploma and leave open the choice of pursuing the Master's if I so choose.
After advising, I ran into Cynthia and ended up going with her and Reham to Canary, a typical Egyptian sandwich place. The novelty of getting "street ful" has not yet worn off. I ordered a couple ful sandwiches, Reham got one and Cynthia got ta3mayya and we headed back to the Greek Campus to have our snacks. All was good in well until one of the ubiquitous street cats swatted my second ful sandwich onto the ground and began devouring it. Ma3lesh.
Next came class. We discussing the integration of immigrants and, since that's the topic of one of my papers, I chimed in with my opinions and insights (mostly for the sake of my participation grade rather than because of having anything ingenious and brilliant to add). Afterward, I conscripted my friend Brandy to dine with me. She'd already purchased koshary for dinner, so I stopped for a ta3mayya sandwich and a ful sandwich hoping that this time I'd not run into any pawsy, hungry felines. We took our sustenance within the cat-free safety of my flat while watching Al-Jazeera International--a treat for Brandy whose pricey Zamalek flat is not, for some reason, equipped with a TV. Once our Egyptian eats had been consumed, we headed to meet the British girl and Indian guy I met at Sequoia the other night for drinks and shisha (though I had neither, but some delicious lime juice instead) at a rooftop bar above the Thai restaurant in Zamalek that I go to from time to time. I hadn't known about the bar until Thursday night, but was pleased to have been made to discover it. The view overlooking the Nile is amazing and, even better, you can order Thai food up to the roof. Through Sophie, the British girl, I met an Egyptian documentarian who told us about a film he made following the history of an Egyptian lion-taming family. Supposedly this family owns all of the lions in Egypt. Who knew?
After arguing yet again with a cab-driver and threatening to disembark from his moving vehicle, I made it home safely and paid the price I originally told him I was going to pay. Rather boring, really--I'd kind of hoped to practice my tuck and roll on the 26th of July Bridge.
The following day (now yesterday) saw me awake in the honest-to-goodness morning. It was the first time I'd awoken before noon in eons. Naturally, I had a new lease on life at 11:46 because of this and decided to clean the kitchen. Since I've a guest arriving on Monday, I keep feeling the urge to pretend that Ross and I are model apartment-dwellers by tidying up. I cleaned all of the dishes in the sink, then the sink itself and the adjoining counter. The Egyptian fates conspired against me and our water, as often happens, simply stopped working for a number of hours. Ma3lesh. I ate some muesli and yogurt and proceded to do some online chores--extending my trip in France, checking out train fares, making sure I have places to stay, etc. Once the H2O was restored, I showered and headed to meet my fellow ambassadorial scholar, Ambereen for coffee and to catch up. We ended up lingering there and working on various things (I managed to get seven or eight hundred words done on my integration paper). Coffee thus turned into dinner. Ambereen headed for the opera after that and I continued working until it was time for me to join Brandy and Erin to go to our friends' place in Doqqi. Cara is our classmate who's here on Fulbright and Justin is her husband, they're quite possibly the friendliest, most stable, most wholesome couple you could ever hope to meet--sickening, really. Just kidding. Anyway, it was Justin's birthday and a bunch of us gathered to wish him well and play games like Apples to Apples. The festivities, which started at 9 wound down after midnight, but another Fulbrighter (there were three of them there altogether), and I (much better off with my tuition-paying Rotary scholarship, of course) stayed and chatted until after 4 AM. It was a lot of fun and I find moments like these contributing to my feeling more and more at ease living in Egypt.
Today, I'm determined to finish off the Somali integration paper once and for all and begin fleshing out my next paper. I'm breaking to get Thai for dinner later with friends, though, to keep sane.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Early Update

Having typed up my entry later in the day, I didn't have the energy to cover what a nice evening I had just after it. Following the CMRS seminar, my evening turned into an impromptu immersion into downtown Cairo culture. My friend Sasha who works for the International Organization for Migration and is far more street-savvy and adventurous than I happened to be at this seminar and dragged me along to her favorite shisha/tea/juice café which happens to be rather baladi. The word essentially means of the country or, by extension, of the culture of those Egyptians whose families moved to the city from the country for work; thus working class, popular, etc. Westerners (myself included) often misuse it to apply to anything we romanticize as remotely fitting in this category or whatever might be a bit "rustic" to our Western sensibilities. On the way, we stopped at another baladi joint for ful and ta3meyya sandwiches which cost me a total of 3.25 LE (=$0.58). Though I've lived downtown for over three months now, this was the first time I got food from such a place. My flatmate and fellow Rotary ambassadorial scholar, Ross, pokes fun at my fastidiousness and street food fears, so this was a small victory. Incidentally, it was also the best ful I've had here; far superior to Felfela's. I took my sandwiches to the aforementioned café which is really nothing more than a bunch of plastic chairs and worn wooden tables on the sidewalk. As sasha smoked shisha and sipped banana juiced, she taught me the finer points of one of Egypt's favorite games–towla. Though I'd heard of backgammon, as it's called in English, before, I'd never played and our three rounds of it turned out to be a lot of fun. I won the first and lost the other two. Ma3lesh! The atmosphere was wonderful with a sea of Egyptians around us, those who were paying attention glancing occasionally bemusedly in our direction. Sasha knows the waiters there and charms them with her effervescent personality and fluent Arabic. Ditto with the folks at the sandwich place. I was merely an accessory, a stiff, awkward white man in the midst of this vibrant, colorful scene. At the table to my left, a reminder of globalization came with a discussion in Arabic of Facebook. By the time I'd made it down Hoda Sharawy to Falaki Square to my apartment on Tahrir Street, I'd decided that I had a new fondness for both towla and street ful. Who knew?
I did get to thinking about how absurd it was that I could have an entire meal for $0.58 when the night before I'd gone to a place where the minimum charge alone was 75 LE (=$14). I realize we have cheap places and expensive places in the States, but the disparity between people who eat at these two very different establishments is far greater. To boot, I prefer the service at the baladi place ten times to that of Sequoia or Sabai Sabai or Kandahar.
Well, now I'm off to advising to determine which classes are right for me next semester (though two are required leaving me with only one elective to choose.) I was livid to find that the one class I'm not particularly interested in at this point (Pyschosocial Issues in Forced Migration) is out at the new campus. Furthermore, I've heard the professor is "difficult" and not in the academically challenging way. Hearsay's rarely wise to listen to though. I'm pondering whether or not to just skip the graduate diploma altogether and just take classes I find interesting. We'll see!

Stolen antiquities returned to Egypt
Egypt lifts ban on doctors going to Saudi
Islamist website calls for general strike to end Gaza blockade

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Paper Progress, a Settled Stomach, and a Supersalad at Sequoia

I'm about four fifths of the way through my paper on the integration of Somali immigrants into Minnesotan society. My eyes are about to bug out and my mind turn to mush if I don't take a break. I'm not sure that staring at the screen to blog is wise, but I can't not recount what I've been up to.
My stomach has providentially been restored to health or so it seems for now. This is quite the relief for such a worry-wort hypochondriac as I. And so it is that the only visit I ever paid to an Egyptian doctor's office was three years ago when my friend was suspected to have contracted typhoid. Let's just say that I'm not keen on being a patient in Egypt after hanging around that waiting room.
My insomnia has returned and kept me up until 7 AM yesterday morning. Needless to say, I wasn't awake for more than a couple of hours before I had to head off to my 4:30 PM class. Following this, my penultimate class with Dr Fargues (who I just found out was a visiting professor at Harvard for a year or two), I headed to Zamalek, first to grab my dad's Christmas present (which I cannot, unfortunately discuss because he reads the blog) and then to Sequoia, an upscale Nileside place for shisha and mezze, sushi, and other consumables. I was invited by a French friend who'd set the time to meet at 8 PM. Naturally, being the punctual American, I was flustered after realizing that I would be about fifteen minutes late. I should've stopped and remembered who the other attendees were because I arrived only five minutes after the "host." and prior to everyone else. The Scandinavians arrived next, then the other French, then the Indians, and finally the Egyptians. I'm not going to draw any sweeping conclusions about the order of arrival, but you can if you like. For dinner I had a gigantic salad of fresh mushrooms, arugula, and balsamic dressing and vegetable couscous. The salad was served in something that looked like a pail. Though I ordered vegetable couscous, it came served with chicken. When I asked the waiter to rectify the situation he did so not by bringing me back a batch of vegetable couscous, but by taking the chicken couscous back to the kitchen and picking the chicken out of it. I knew this because a found a piece of poultry still lurking in the bottom of the dish. Oh, customer service in Egypt. At this point, I am usually nonplussed and take such things in stride. Some of the other attendees included the French guy I already mentioned who studies poli-sci in Rennes and the French girl who's working in Tel Aviv, but I also met a bunch of other very interesting people. With a Croatian-French guy who works at BNP Paribas (along with Alex, the host, and Sylvain the student in Rennes) and his French girlfriend, a former international law professor who's doing another Master's at the Sorbonne, I discussed life in France and in Egypt, French cuisine and eating habits, and cooking for oneself in Egypt. Samantha and I both lamented the absence of good French bread. I also met a guy from near Mumbai who's hear working with the Egyptian army as a yoga specialist, of all things. A British girl of Indian and Bangladeshi origin and I also spoke of cuisine and where the best Indian food in Cairo is to be had. The conclusion was that Indian expats are probably a better source of tasty Indian meals than are the Egyptian-run restaurants. Two Iraqi-born Swedes were in our party. It's quite a challenge to your conception of blonde, Nordic-looking Scandinavia when you see two people of Arab origin so fashionably-apparelled and speaking English with Swedish accents. Another girl there was half-Norwegian, half-Palestinian. She and the Tel Aviv-based French girl (who is also Jewish) had an interesting chat about the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Later, we talked about ethnic identity. Alex, the host, is half-French, half-Spanish, with a Jewish grandparent. We all threw in our two cents about what it means to be Jewish, whether its an ethnic identity or religious, etc. One of the Egyptians there, Mena, joined in as our discussion shifted to the Egyptian identity. He's a Copt and many Copts have very strong opinions about their distinctness from Arabs. Many Muslim Egyptians though also emphasize their uniqueness. Egyptians are Egyptians in their mind and Arabs are people from the Gulf.
After several hours of conversing in French and English, our multinational group dispersed. I headed to Metro Market to grab some victuals and to return some bad halawa. I hopped a cab back to Bab al-Luq and had a verbal spat with the driver who demanded 10LE after I'd given him 7. "Mish mumkin!" I yelled, "Not possible!" He drove away, embittered, I'm sure. I felt bad as 3LE more would've only been another 60 cents or so out of my pocket, but it was the principle. If I were Egyptian, he wouldn't have made the same demand. After responding to emails, I went to bed with a combination of indignation and guilt giving way to thoughts about and plans for winter break.

Egypt's leading cleric slams Hamas for now allowing pilgrims to make the Hajj
Egypt's Foreign Minister expressed unity with those opposed to Iran's nuclear ambitions
Uproar over simple handshake shows Egyptian public's deep resentment of Israel

Monday, December 1, 2008

December? When did you get here?

Shopping at Alfa Market the other day, I ran into this lonely-looking Santa Claus in the back of the store, but even the gaudy Christmas decorations in stores that cater to foreigners didn't prepare me for today. What is today you ask? The 1st of December! I cannot believe that it's the month of Christmas and New Year's Eve and that I've been here in Egypt for over a quarter of a year now. Holiday planning and my trip to France and Belgium are underway. My month away from Egypt promises to be quite busy.
My stomach is being a bit more agreeable today and I've managed to make some headway on my paper (over 3,000 words at this point). I went back to Ain Shams tonight to teach English as usual and I sincerely regret not having brought my camera. In the run up to Eid al-Adha, the bloody holiday that will take place a week from today, more and more goats and cows have been appearing in the streets. In one particularly disconcerting display, a butcher-shop was brightly lit with the equivalent of Christmas lights that descended from the roof a multi-story building across the street. Flashing pinwheel lights and a host of different colored bulbs illuminated dozens of carcasses hanging on meathooks. And right next door were penned in cattle and goats, lowing and bleating in blissful ignorance, though I could have sworn that one exceptional cowlooked on with something like suspicion at the grotesque sight.
Class today involved prepositions and how they changed the meanings of various verbs like "put" and "take" and "turn". My student who'd been arrested came tonight and was actually one of the most eager to participate. After watching a video in law class yesterday on the rather bleak state of affairs regarding the rights of Sudanese refugees, I wished there was something more substantial I could do to improve their prospects of a better life. Tito, my best student, the one who'd ask me to help him learn French but hadn't come to class the last couple of weeks, showed up with his little brother who couldn't have been too much different in age from my won little brother. It's always sobering to think about just how different our lives are. The time I spend with refugees and studying their situations and experiences as well as living here in Egypt has transformed my vague theoretical awareness that the majority of the world lives in poverty and dysfunction into something much more viscerally real. And, as some of my classmates would point out, we don't even live in the "real" Africa. Spending time with family over the holidays, I'll be all the more appreciative of my life at home, but certainly painfully reminded that I can't blissfully assume everyone everywhere is just as happy, well-fed, and secure.
After teaching, I came back to my apartment with the noble intent of pounding out some more of my essay but since then have only managed to watch Al-Jazeera International and order and eat some pizza from Maison Thomas in addition to answering important emails. The hawkers on the metro have arrived at a new level obnoxious. One was trying to sell flashlights which he shined in people's eyes. Now, in my opinion, blinding people and trying to send epileptics into seizures just isn't a good salse tactic, but the deep sense of guilt Egyptians have toward the poor brought about a few transactions.

An article about the Cairo Metro
Increasing ire at alleged police misconduct
High prices, low demand complicate cattle sales as Eid al-Adha approaches