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

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