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

1 comment:

Nicole Hanson said...

Congrats on your victory sir! Additionally, I LOVE backgammon, though I haven't played for years. Glad you enjoyed it!