Monday, January 15, 2007

A New Flat!

On Saturday, I was sitting around Melissa and Marie and Liz's flat, reading Brothers K, when Melissa came to talk to me about finding a new place. We had talked a lot since I had stayed there the first night, at first it seemed I could stay semi-indefinately, and then like I needed to leave after 2 nights, and then that I should feel free to stay, but that it would be nice if I moved asap. She suggested that I ask the 2 teachers with the Agouza flat (who had wanted someone long-term) if I could stay with them until the beginning of February, when I would find another flat. I thought this was a good idea. Through some text-messaging, they agreed, and I moved, immediately. I thanked the girls, told them that the flowers I had bought a few days ago and taken home on the Metro were for them--what a way to get stared at! Not only was I too tall and blonde, but I was carrying huge flowers!) I took a taxi over to Agouza, which is right on the river near Mohandiseen. The flat is about a 25 minute walk from school. Its nice, I have a little room with a lot of cabinets, and a little tiny monk-ish bed. It was nice to unpack my stuff, and to have a desk. Most flats here are furnished in a very ornate style, its kindof fussy, but I like it. There are a lot of mirrors, a lot of gilt, a lot of curly carving. They call it Louis Farouk, after the last king of Egypt before the revolution. It's all very well-worn, but it adds a level of luxury to life. Living in a K&G apartment has definately been good training for the zen required in dealing with stuff falling apart and only sometimes working in most Cairo flats. And in overlooking the constant dirt in the corners that doesn't go away, no matter how much you clean it.

Shortly after moving in, I took a walk around the neighborhood, to get my bearings and buy stuff. I made friends with the old guy who owns the electronics/junk/random dusty stuff shop across the street. His name is Farouk and he has travelled all over Europe and his English is pretty good. He gave me some nails, to hang up my map, and taught me some Arabic words. Now I go to him first for directions to anywhere. I was supposed to find a laundromat or something to wash my blankets, as they "smell used" in the words of one of my roommates, Christine, who gave them to me. So I looked a long time, but they don't seem to have laundromats, per se, here, but a few drycleaners, and these little storefronts where there are men with ironing boards and maybe a few washing machines back there in the darkness? So I keep meaning to take my blankets to one of them, but I couldn't be without them for a night, or I'd freeze. So I figure, they can't be that dirty. (I know, I'm gross.) I also was greatly intimidated by grocery shopping. Across from my flat are 2 little groceries, and on the corner a bigger one, but no one has peanut butter, and the refrigerators don't seem very cold. I am too sketched out to buy meat there, although I did buy dairy products. Also, prices aren't often marked, and you are expected to tell the guys working there what you want, and they get it for you, and keep all your stuff in a little pile, even though I am perfectly capable of grabbing and holding it myself and don't know the words for what I want in Arabic anyway. At first it was unnerving--hey, give me back my yogurt!--but I'm getting used to it. Then, I hear, I could bargain with them for prices, but I haven't. Stuff is so cheap, anyway. I only raise a fuss if I can tell I'm being ripped off a lot.

My flat is near the Nile, on the west side of the river. Along the Nile is the Cornishe, which is a big road with a sidewalk so you can walk kindof along the river, and there are a lot of big restaurant barges and felucca docks and stuff along there. There's a lot of neon. On the other side, near my house, is the British Consulate. The streets near the Cornishe are wider and cleaner, but the further back I wandered (my flat is about 2 blocks back) they get more and more mazelike. I walked in the evening, looking for bread, but apparantly the bread-dudes go home after dark. I did buy some roasted sweet potatoes for dinner, they were delicious. It was a bit scary, becuase it was dark, and I was lost. There were cats everywhere (there's always cats everywhere) and piles of trash, and lots of sidewalk cafes, and tiny shops. It felt very different very quickly. But I finally found my way back. The shopping quest continues every day, as I get used to what I can buy where, and for how much.

My roommates, like I said, are teachers. Christine is Vietnamese-American, she's spent her last 3 years living and travelling all around the world. She came here to learn belly-dancing, but dropped that, picked up playing some instrument (I forgot the name, she says versions of it exist all over the 'Orient' and that this is Egypt's version) and took a teaching job so she could stay here. Amelie is French, she teaches at a French school for Egyptian kids. I don't know much about her except she buys roses and goes horseback riding with Christine out in the desert past the pyramids sometimes and is good at it. They both work a lot, so I haven't seen them much.

My new routine is pretty cushy. I sleep wayyy in since school doesn't start until 11:30. I walk to school, which means I go through my neighborhood and to a major road. I have to cross near what seems to be a highway off-ramp, which is terrifying. Its a fun adrenaline rush every morning. I usually get behind someone else, and follow them. Then down another major road, where I sometimes stop to buy bread from the dudes that sell it on big carts. This road has all the normal traffic, plus a lot of donkey-pulled carts with bread, potted plants, fruit, etc. Sometimes there are also dudes on bikes with big wooden baskets full of bread balanced on their heads. I'm in awe of them, but too embarrased to take a picture. I'm only just now feeling like I have a right to be here, and not to hide my blond hair, and to see some of the same people every day. So to pull out a camera would be hard. I need to go with a friend, I think I might feel more freedom then. The other day I was buying bread (its flat bread, you get about 7 circles for 2 pounds, which is... oh, 30-40 cents). He gave me my change, but I was distracted talking to this foriegner guy who I had passed earlier on the street and came back to ask me where I was from. I was pretty intrigued by this guy, and had just told him that I was sorry I couldn't go to lunch with him and his cousin becuase I had to get to class, when I realized the bread guy had shortchanged me. So I had to go back and make a scene. Everyone was watching me try to convince the guy to give me 5 more pounds back, a bystander came over and helped. It was satisfying, I feel more established.

In the afternoons after class, I come here to the computer lab to check email and write. I learned yesterday that they kick us out at 4:20. I don't have a computer in my flat, and neither do my flatmates, so this is my only chance, unless I go to a friend's house. I've been checking out other flats in the afternoon, since I have to move out of the one I'm in at the end of the month. I went to one with some girls I'd talked to at school, and its pretty nice. Its kindof expensive and a little musty, but its close to school and has a heater and comfy beds. Its a little shaky as to if we will find a 3rd person, but its really nice to live with other students. Its very friendly. Another one I looked at was very nice and big, and it was decorated with little postcards and pictures and wall hangings, which I really like, and the girl was very nice (another teacher) but she and I have almost opposite schedules, and it is even further from school than I already am.

I went yesterday to look at one downtown. It was a long, trafficy taxi ride, and then the taxi driver couldn't find the street, so we circled around a lot. When we finally found it and I got out, I got halfway up the stairs, reached into my bag to find my notebook where I had written the floor number, and couldn't find it! I had left my notebook in the taxi. Just the day before I had been telling Christine how vital the notebook is to me. It has journal entries, Arabic words I am learning, directions, phone numbers, info about all the flats I've been looking at, shopping lists and lists of things to do, and everything. The girl with the downtown flat was very nice, but it seemed that there wasn't much hope. But I remembered that I had written my name, address in the States, and email in the front, and my phone number on the last page I had written on (just the day before, for reference). So I prayed, but generally, if you lose something in a taxi, you can kiss it goodbye. I liked the flat, and it was very cheap, bu she said that the roommates were always quiet, and rarely had people over. It would be ok for me if I decided I really needed money. Its only 450 pounds a month, which is... like $80. And she had painted it in funky colors, which is nice. But I saw an ashtray (Amelie smokes, and while it isn't a big deal, it made sitting on the sofa less appetizing. I've heard two perspectives--there's so much pollution in Cairo so its best to keep it out of the house, and there's so much pollution/smoke in Cairo so what does a little more matter?), and there was almost no furniture in the common area, and the bathroom and kitchen were kinda depressing. Plus, it would be a hassle, and about an extra 8-10 pounds a day, to get back and forth to school. So I probably won't take it.

I left the flat, praying that God would return my notebook to me, but recognizing that if it didn't happen, I would have to be ok with that. I called a friend of a friend from Chicago (Busayo, Ronke's friend), who is apparantly the daughter of someone in the Nigerian embassy. She was really nice, and hopefully we can hang out after she is done with her exams. I had heard of a bakery with good cheap croissants, so I found it, and bought 3. Next door is Beano's, like a Starbucks. I had a nice evening with a tea latte, a tasty crostini sandwhich, and a Vogue magazine. It was overpriced, but totally worth it. It was escapist of me, I admit. The waiters spoke English, it felt like America, almost. But I had a good time. And, I hadn't been there 20 minutes when my cell rang! It was an American guy, who was in the taxi I had just left and had my notebook! Apparantly the driver had asked him if he read English and he had found my number and called me! I was ecstatic, but really, not all that surprised. I feel that I have been supernaturally looked out for. I thanked the guy a lot, and the taxi driver, and the guy, Eric, is going to meet me this evening to give it back to me. I just hope he hasn't read my whole journal...

So I took another taxi home (looking very carefully after my belongings), read Brothers K (its so exciting!) did my Arabic homework (and more, I was very motivated) and went to bed. Today, after class, I went with Marissa from my class and bought kofta on the street. It was tasty, and i even managed to get it for 3 pounds instead of the 4 he quoted me. Anyway, I'm going to look at 2 more flats (all of a sudden I have tons of options, and keep hearing of more) and meet Eric and get my notebook back. Praise God!


nathan said...

How does Brothers Karamazov relate
to your experiences in Egypt and

mosey said...

It's really interesting to learn about your old (at the time, new) experiences in egypt. some bits remind me a lot the experiences I had in tel aviv, israel. my closest friends back in the states have never traveled to anything like the middle east or africa and it's a bit of a relief to read about someone else who has experienced similar things... grocery store anxiety and general day to day learnings. does that make sense? i'm babbling. i'm just glad you wrote this. but it makes me wish i would have logged my time in israel also.