Monday, January 15, 2007

On my own, and finding Melissa

So, I overslept, called Lydia in confusion, and decided to take a taxi to ILI, instead of Kalimat or the Catholic school. I figured I would check them out later if I didn't like ILI, since I had only heard good things about ILI. I paid too much for the taxi, but oh well. I didn't know, then, what taxis are worth, and if the cabbie thinks he can charge you more then he will. The meters don't mean anything. So at ILI I took a lot of placement tests, to see what class I would be in. After 3 hours of taking tests -- I am going to be in level 3 probably-- and conferring with teachers, directors, front desk folk, and the like, I stumble out, having committed nothing but to return their books the next day. People are very trusting... It was freezing in the school, and I had eaten one piece of bread and one egg in the past almost 48 hours, so I was kindof dazed.

Then I approached 2 women leaving the school, and went to lunch with them. I could barely eat even then. we had foul and ta'amiya, and i only ate the ta'amiya. Its like felafel with veggies in a tiny pita. foul is kinda like tahini, bean paste in a pita. for 2 little sandwiches, it was only 1.50 LE (egyptian pounds) which is like, 20 cents. Its amazing. So, slightly revived and a bit reassured (the girls I went to lunch with seemed not nearly as scared as me, although one was older and had already been there for 3 weeks and was half-Egyptian anyway and staying with family, and the one was a fearless 24-year-old journalist who says "if you can't go somewhere alone, you can't go at all," whatever that means I disagree!). Then back to ILI for the computer lab, ah, such reassuring contact with home. I had felt so cut off in my flat, with no phone, internet, telephone...

So I decide to go look for a phone. I ask for directions at the front desk, and make my way down a Major Road, weaving in and out of traffic, like the skillful one that I am. But, my skilll vaporizes in the cell phone shop, where a girl who looks oddly chinese is yelling at the shop guy in arabic, and I cannot communicate. So i say, i need to find someone who speaks arabic, and leave. I call my friend Lydia (the airport pickup, and first night's stay). She says, call her back after 7. I also tell her of my desire to stay with someone, anyone, not alone in the flat.

So, then I decide to find stamps, envelopes, an egyptian arabic phrasebook, a decent map of cairo. I know I can find these things at the AUC (american university in Cairo) bookstore, which is downtown. So I ask random people how to get there, in broken arablish. It fails. They all give different directions, all of which involve a taxi. i am reluctant to take a taxi, but realize it may be my only hope. I sit down on a wall next to some girls selling tarmis, which are these little yellow beans. They rip me off, and I hold thier friend's baby Abdul, and they freak out over my hair and eyes, and we try to communicate, and it was fun. They are not much help, but walk me across the street to get a taxi. He also rips me off (so did the first guy. apparantly even egyptians think taxi drivers are thieves. my new host says, "the only way to get a fair deal is to make a scene"). But I get dropped off at AUC, which is closed. Well, well. They won't even let me in to go to the bathroom. So I walk down some rather dark and deserted streets (but I see other westerners! I try not to act too excited), trying not to feel creeped out, follow the light, find a very nice modern American bathroom in a British coffeeshop, stop in a stationary store to buy envelopes, and finally find Midan Tahrir/Sadat (apparantly most things have 2 names...) which was near where I lived last time. Its a huge loud traffic circle right downtown, near the Nile, the big hotels, a lot of stores, etc. It is insane. You can go under it through Metro tunnels, otherwise you will surely die (not really, I've done it above ground. once. with a group leading me.)

FINDING MELISSA: So I decide, I'll take the Metro. But I have no idea where I'm going. I ask a zillion people, no one makes sense. Finally me and some guy talk it out (in French, bits of Arabic, and bits of English), and I get a direction and a stop. But when I get on the train, the stop doesn't exist. So I ask the woman next to me. She speaks English! I show her where I am trying to go. Its near her house! My flat and hers are like 4 minutes apart. She's from California. Plus, she knows Lydia! In Egypt, as everywhere, who you know is very important. So, we get off at the same spot, and she calls a taxi, and it takes me near my house. I return the cell charger that I had borrowed from the nice woman at the electronics shop on the corner, and my new friend, Melissa, says that she has a phone (I had asked her to help me buy one, since her Arabic is much better than mine.) It was left over from her brother in-law's travel. My phone won't take a SIM card, which is apparantly how these things work here. Whatever. So, we go to her flat. She finds the phone. I almost cry, I am so happy that I've found a friend, who is helping me, and is so nice as to give me a phone (at the store, new, they are 400 LE--about $75 I think). Plus her flat is soooo much nicer than mine, and she has roommates (2) and little plants and pictures and Bible verses on the fridge and I feel very at home. So, I call Lydia to find out if she had found anyone i could stay with, to avoid the loneliness of the flat of solitude. No dice, she cannot find anyone for me to stay with. I tell my new friend Melissa my predicament. We go down to a few shops, where she helps me set up the phone. Its very complicated, the system is not at all like an American cell phone plan.

Then, she says she has texted her roommates and they say I can stay with them. I met them both and they are very nice--Liz and Marie. They are American Christians, Liz and Marie are teachers, I think, and Melissa is a nurse. So, we go to "my" flat, and get my stuff, and bring it over here, and I met Marie who is letting me use her computer, and it is lovely, and they say I can stay as long as I need to. So it is also nice becuase I can get my money back from Lydia for the Flat of Loneliness. But I hoped to find a permanent place quickly in Mohandiseen, becuase it is a long trek to school from here. Melissa gave me directions of how to get to school (it takes an hour, and involves 2 taxis and the Metro) that is much cheaper than taking one taxi. But I feel like a pro, because Marie said that she didn't take a taxi alone until she'd been here maybe a month. So, this long and complicated commute is a pain, but its not so bad. It also seems warmer in here than in the old flat. So, I have a nice place to stay for awhile, a school, and a phone... such progress from this afternoon! I am infinitely reassured just to have other people in the flat.

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