Friday, March 6, 2009

Inert Elevators and Desert Foxes

Google's weather description of Cairo today does not read "sun" or "haze" as usual, but rather "sand". Yes, sand. Though I'm not quite sure that's accurate for today, the change in the weather that began yesterday was an agonizing reminder that it will only continue to get hotter from here and the sand forecast means the onset of the khamaseen (also called khamsin). Apparently, right now it's in the 80s out there in the world beyond my apartment.

In light of this, purchasing tickets to Tunisia for spring break yesterday was all that much more of a joy. Lonely Planet tells me that mid-March through mid-May is the perfect time to go and we (Ross, Phil and I) are going in mid-April. Mid-perfection, in other words.

After some trip-planning and koshary, I left with Phil to Ma'adi to watch The Secret Life of Bees at a friend's. It was nice to watch a happy film that wasn't a mindless comedy, we were briefly transported out of Egypt and into the American South (which, ironically, is almost more foreign to me than the Middle East as I've never been anywhere down there but Virginia and Florida). Immediately afterward, though, Phil and I were reminded where we were. We hopped in an elevator hoping to make our way speedily to the metro stop and head back downtown. No dice. As we descended from the 13th floor, we stopped on the 9th where two Egyptian men, the shorter one in a worn-looking suit and the taller, lankier one in a tan galabayya. Strangely, the illuminated G (for ground floor) became unlit and the man in the suit pushed it again. The doors closed and we lurched to a halt. "Oh good," said I. "Oh good," laughed the man in the suit before he began trying to call out on his cell phone, realizing that the interphone in the elevator was dead. None of us were getting service in the elevator car, though. By this time, I saw that suit man was carrying in his hand and handgun in a holster. Strangely, I was entirely unaffected. Par for the course, right? There I am trapped in an elevator with a jovial armed man, his sidekick, and my friend Phil in Egypt. What else would I be doing on a Thursday night? Suit man handed his weapon to his pal and proceded to pull open the doors of the elevator car only to be met with an even more solid set of doors to the corridor. He pounded, Phil pounded. Nothing. After a few more times of the doors closing again and suit man opening them, we heard noise outside. Suit man managed to yell for someone called Sherif who apparently scurried off to some control panel somewhere and turn off the electricity to the elevator. Great. Now I'm in the pitch black with a jovial armed man, his sidekick, and my friend Phil in Egypt. I took a drink of water, pressed a button on my phone that lit up the car with a feeble blue light, and kept waiting. Soon the electricity was on. The dear little G button was again illuminated, but the car had its own ideas. We ascended to the 21st floor where Phil and I bade our new friends farewell and took the stairs all the way down. We walked to the metro only to find that the last train in the direction of El Marg had stopped. Ma3lish. We went to a grocery store, got a cab, and headed back downtown theorizing about what would've happened if we'd gotten stuck for hours or days and wondering who suit man was and why he was armed.

Earlier in the evening, Phil, Camilla (the friend in Ma'adi we'd gone to visit), were purusing our university's illustrious news publication, The AUC Caravan. The content of some of the pieces in it is often good, even if the writing or framing of problems on campus are a bit off. One article, though, conveyed sheer absurdity. If you're down for a laugh, the article, entitled "Desert fox raids AUC campus" is full of gems. The title itself, alluding to German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's operations in North Africa during the Second World War, is a ridiculous hyperbole. "I did not see the fox, but if I saw it, I think that I would not come to college again," was the compelling testimony of one student while a construction worker was quoted as saying, "Even if there were lions on campus, we will keep working." Brilliant! Then why isn't the campus finished? The comments on the article are just as comical as the piece itself.

It's nice to have a bit of levity to make living here just a bit better, but it's all too easy to forget that there are people, presumably in greater Cairo, still locked up without charge. Human Rights Watch came out with another article on the situation of Diaa Eddin Gad and other activists on the 4th. He has been held since 6 February. I guess all I can do for now is blog and send letters.

This morning, my landlord's brother came over to talk to my Ross who in turn woke me up saying something about signing a document. It's the question of taxes again. Now they're asking us to outright lie in writing, claiming that we pay 1400 Egyptian pounds less than we do. We politely declined pointing out that being dishonest with government agencies isn't the sort of thing that puts foreigners in good standing with their host governments. Perhaps Dr Rizk should just lower our rent to that level. Then everyone would be happy (and honest). I just hope they don't forge our names on a legal document. Oh the joys of renting in Cairo.

Rapists sentenced to death by hanging in northern governorate of Kafr al-Sheikh
Russian diplomats cause row on EgyptAir flight from Cairo to Sanaa
Ancient statues uncovered, the latest in a string of significant archaelogical findings this year

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