Yesterday afternoon I went to check out a flat that a friend from school told me about. It was pretty far away, in Faysal, which is a neighborhood about halfway between here and the pyramids. (Life here is seeming more and more normal by the day, but its still fun for me when "the pyramids" is a normal point of reference). Two British women live there. The neighborhood has hardly any foriegners, and its very colorful and vibrant. I really liked it, but the flat was too expensive, too far from school, the empty room was dark, and both the roommates smoked. We hung out for awhile though, drank tea, and talked about modern Egypt.
We talked first about Mubarak. They say that he is keeping the people in poverty so that Egypt will continue to recieve foriegn aid, which he uses to line his pockets and keep his family in power. They also said that he wanted Egypt to join the EU, which I had never heard. There is apparantly some 3-year plan, but it seems impossible for Egypt to meet EU standards in such a short time. Also it seems bizarre (Egypt is by no means European) and also at odds with this idea that it helps Mubarak to keep the country poor. I also did not know that the EU has standards extending to all areas of life--minimum wage, price levels, quality of produce, automobile quality, etc.
According to them, the country runs on "baksheesh"--tips. They both work in tourism, and so they're used to dispensing payoffs and small bribes to do anything. Some wierd people apparantly want to spend the night meditating inside the pyramids, and you can pay the guards a lot and they'll let you. Apparantly with enough money, anything is possible. I have no idea why you'd want to do that. Also they say that all the guidebooks, even the "insider opinion" types, are heavily influence by payoffs. One of them wrote honest reviews for something like Lonely Planet and they were edited in the States and came back completely changed. They say that the "recommended" restaurants and shops, even in publications like "Cairo Guide" (published by American University in Cairo-- AUC--Press, and seemingly a trustworthy guide for foriegners living in Cairo) are just businesses that paid for a good recommendation. The older of the two offered to take me shopping, to avoid ripoffs. They told me about certain ripoffs that I had heard of, but not known any alternatives other than what was listed in my guidebook and Cairo Guide. So, I will probably take her up on that if I go shopping for something like gold jewelry or perfume (both of which are apparantly a big deal here and a good buy IF you can do it right, and don't get it diluted or something). She told me that shopkeepers will often pay off people who bring tourist customers in to their shops to buy something, and that even my "so-called Egyptian friends" would probably take these tips. This offended me slightly, since she claims she doesn't take tips on "principle." Well. I wasn't sure what to make of all this, but she seems to know what she's talking about. She's lived here for 16 years, and converted to Islam. We talked about that too, but I pretty much kept my mouth shut. There are all sorts of foriegners here. Her sort is the type I call "I am more Egyptian than you, but I'll help you out, and maybe in a few years you will know as much as I do."
She and I shared a taxi back to near my house (I definately give her credit for not overpaying taxis) and then I walked down a street that seems like a giant shopping mall to meet the guy who had my journal. I must admit, I had kindof hoped to become friends with this guy, but he wasn't having any of it. He handed it over, I thanked him, he said "you're welcome," and turned to leave. He was very polite, but, well, I guess I can't be friends with everyone.
I went home and got my phone, and waited for a friend from school to call. I had made plans with a couple people at lunch to go to some "modern Egyptian music" concert at the "culture wheel" concert center. We had no idea what it would be like. Once these friends of mine finally got their act together, I walked across the bridge to Zamalek (a super-posh, foriegners neighborhood in the island in the middle of the Nile). I couldn't find the stairs so I walked on the curb on the off-ramp, which was a bit scary. The concert center turns out to be almost under the bridge. It reminded me of some of the small theatres at school. At first the singer was kindof like a Norah Jones in Arabic, which I really liked. I thought about buying a CD. Then, she starts bringing on stage like everyone she's ever met---her sister, her brother, about 6 friends, and finally, on the last song, her little brother (dressed in an oversized argyle sweater and tight jeans and huge curly hair). The music was good, but I enjoyed it especially becuase everyone on stage seemed to be having a really good time and very passionate about what they did. They also had amazing singing voices. There was one guy who kindof looked like Lenny Kravitz who was my favorite. I was there with a bunch of ILI people, it turned out, but near the end all of them left except me and the guy who had invited me, Kevin. But they all missed out, becuase shortly thereafter, Lenny Kravitz and the skinny, 15-year-old looking drummer get up and start beatboxing to "In the Summertime when the Living is Easy." And it was so amazing, I couldn't believe it. Lenny is has the most astonishing voice. All throughout the concert, we kept laughing, because stuff would happen that we never would have been ready for. For example, the bald-headed cool-looking brother starts crooning, in English, a really cheesy love song. And then the sister sings a love song to God. And then some Arab harp accompanies the electric guitar. It was a lot of fun, and afterwards we got a free CD! I don't know if it has the more amazing stuff on it, becuase there were so many random people onstage, but I hope so.
Afterwards, me and Kevin went to Cilantros, a very American coffee-shop, but only for 10 mintues, becuase he got a call from a friend who had left early who had, for the second time that night, locked herself out of her apartment. But by the time we got to her place, the doorman had taken the lock off for her and let her in. So we sat in her (incredibly nice) apartment and watched English Al-Jezeera and talked about how much bad stuff is in the world and what a good news program Al-jezeera is. They really are amazing. Their world-wide coverage is truly impressive, as is the lack of discernable bias. Both Kevin and this girl live in high-rises in Zamalek. The view from her room is very impressive. I'd like to go there and take pictures. She lives alone in a 3 bedroom flat, and Kevin has a roommate (a girl), but lived alone for a month. I was blown away by how much they pay (it is like 10 times what I pay). But it is also really nice--which I realized when I got back and noticed that my hips might be bruised becuase my bed is so hard. And they have heat. In my flat, I sleep in long underwear, socks, wool socks, scrubs, 2 long sleeve shirts and a sweatshirt. Cairo is suprisingly cold. But, a good time was had by all, and I got to see yet another side of life in Egypt, this time for the young American with money.
This morning I was feeling very good about living here, until I got my first hiss. The guys here tend to hiss at me (or foriegn girls in general). It makes me angry. I also got the comment yesterday, "nice teeny-tiny tush." I swear I did not make that up. So, Egypt is great if you like ignoring comments like that all the time, dodging buses and carts and cars and trucks and minibuses constantly, walking in the street (inches from traffic) since the sidewalks are not user-friendly and involve a lot of high curbs and are often blocked by cars and trucks, dodging water thrown on cars being washed, avoiding piles of trash, weaving in and out of carts and fruit stands, and ignoring stares and whispers. So, I like it, but not always. Walking around can get annoying. Fortunately, there are no parking or traffic rules, so there is often a convenient space between cars double-parked along the street, and you don't have to wait for any kind of signal to cross streets (just whenever you feel brave enough).