Monday, February 5, 2007

Boring Details and New Friends

I'm back in the school's computer lab, and its raining outside! It's rained twice now in the past couple days, which seems special to me since Egypt is supposedly a desert and all that. I also like it because after it rains the air is clear and pretty, as opposed to before the rain, when it is overcast and smoggy. We've all been complaining about the cold, but then realizing that we are being babies, when we compare what we wear here to the amount of cold-insulating clothing that most of us wear at home. I've met a lot of midwesterners here, suprisingly, and the Brits know a bit about cold too.

In other boring news, I'm sick. I got a cold, and I feel like I'm underwater. Its nasty.

But I got it from some cool people. In my last post I mentioned that I was going with a Swedish guy to Khan al-Khalili. We had a pretty good time, although I don't like the touristy-ness, and I really hate getting badgered to buy things while I'm walking down the street. I bought a rat trap and had one side taken off, and then rigged it up with a wire coat hanger to hang in my shower as a holder for shampoo and stuff. The various guys who were a part of this process thought I was nuts. I had some sugarcane juice, its pretty good stuff. Then Edward the Swede got a call from a friend inviting him to dinner, so we went to his friend's flat where he made us a ton of food. I learned how to play backgammon (boring) and ate with Gazy (the Texan-of-Palestinian-descent who can cook), Edward, and Graham (aka Harvard--he goes to Harvard and hates it, so I make fun of him). Then Sarah came (a friend of Gazy and Graham, an American also), and we all went to some guy's party, where there were a lot of AUC guys, and maybe 2 other girls. A bit awkward. Sarah and I were going home, but she had forgotten her key, so she stayed in my apartment. It was very convenient since my roommate was out of town for a long weekend and I get lonely. She's really cool, I felt very quickly at ease with her.

The next day I woke up with a nasty stomachace, plus I was really tired from having stayed up til 3 the night before. So, I went back to sleep. After awhile I got my lazy self moving and went to meet Kezia, and we went to Maadi to teach English. It was the first class I taught by myself, and only my second time going. English is a very confusing language, I realize. And the different accents don't help at all. My students don't like that I say "a pencil" like "uh pencil" and Kezia says it with a long a. We have fun though. The lessons are kindof silly sometimes: "Is this your hair? No, this is my hair?" There are about 15 of them, mostly men, all Sudanese refugees. The textbook we use has some awkward situations, like having the teacher ask the class if they have a CD player, a pager, an electronic address book, etc. I had to explain what a lot of those meant, as none of us have them. I don't think there is a book "English for Refugees". I find it a bit uncomfortable that they introduce themselves as a refugee. It sounds like such a desperate word, but it is just life. A lot of them have been in Cairo for years. A few that I talked to are waiting for a visa to Australia or other "western" countries. I haven't talked to anyone who's planning on going back to Sudan. The class is organized by Refuge Egypt, which is run by the Episcopal Church in Zamalek, All Saints. Its a really cool place on the church grounds: there is a sortof cafe outside, there are people and kids everywhere, and it just seems very welcoming and happy. There's African music playing in the office where Kezia works. Refuge Egypt has a self-sustaining handicrafts business, Tukul Crafts. Its very successful, and I want to go check out some of their products tomorrow when I go to the church to pick up Kezia. Here is the website for Tukul Crafts, and I'm sure you can find more info about Refuge Egypt if you look around the site:

I also learned from my roommate about a similar program in Mokattam, the slum that I visited last summer. She (Lauren, my roommate) and some friends go visit a family there every week, and there is a business that provides jobs for kids. They make all sorts of products, mostly out of reclaimed fabric, I think. I want to check that out too.

On Friday I went to church in Maadi and had an excellent hamburger at a restaurant with Marie (my roommate from the first week), her friend Roxanna, and Kezia. We are planning a movie night. Back at home, I went to a coffee shop with Graham, Sarah, Gazy, and some of their friends, but I was really tired and zoned out. So I went back and took a nap. That night we went over to Sarah's flat and had Shabbat-she's Jewish. It was very tasty, pasta and garlic bread and fruit and cheese and wine and salad and chocolate. Then, after much debate, we went to Gazy's and watched an old Egyptian movie. We looked out his window and saw the same building as shown in the film, only now its much dirtier. Cairo in the 70s was apparantly very clean and modern, it didn't look very crowded, and women wore short skirts. So much has changed (except the buildings and cabs, they've just gotten older). Then we watched Syriana. The problem was that parts of the movie are in Arabic and Urdu (I think) but we only had Arabic subtitles, so we picked out what we could and were in a bit of a fog. It didn't help that it finished at 4:30. We were tired, and Gazy offered to let Sarah and I sleep in his bed while he moved to the couch, but he didn't have enough blankets and we felt bad about this situation, plus, it would be a pain to explain to the bowab (doorman and general busybody) in the morning why two girls had spent the night, so we went home. So, again, Sarah spent the night, and I went to bed late. Sarah and Gazy had been sick, and I think it was them that gave me my cold. But, I had a lot of fun.

Saturday I went to the supermarket, and to my friendly neighborhood fruit stand and tiny grocery store, and practiced Arabic, and improved my apartment. It is pretty awesome, Sarah says that after visiting it she became a bit dissatisfied with her own (huge, but sortof lonely) apartment. She says mine is "bohemian, in a leaky bathroom sort of way." Its kindof small, but it doesn't seem cramped. My roommate, Lauren, is very cool, although I haven't seen a lot of her. She was in Siwa for a long weekend, and just left again for Israel/Palestine. She went to a Christian college in the states, and now she is taking Arabic and working for a non-profit while she figures out what she wants to do with her life (besides becoming a "rad" old woman eventually and opening a hostel in the south of France). She is also very easy to get along with, and I feel is one of the answers to prayer for a roommate that can also be a good friend. Christine, from the old apartment, also became a friend. I saw her the other day as I was walking past her house, and we made plans: borscht night, going to the 2.50 LE store (like the Dollar Store, but less than 50 cents), going to see the scandalous/dark play her friend wrote.

Anyway, the flat has its issues (sketchy electricity in the living room, plumbing issues that are being fixed, some ants that I have dealt with, a toilet seat disconnect that I also fixed, and a few other things that took some getting used to). But on the whole, I like it a lot. K&G apartments have got nothing on Cairo in terms of quirkiness. It has heat, and hot water in the kitchen, which are improvements on the old place. It also can handle it if you flush toilet paper, which I understand is not a given. But the outlets in the living room shut off occasionally and have to be reset with a switch in the wall, there is hardly any kitchen storage (we keep pans and food items and bowls and stuff in the hutch in the living room), the shower leaks (but its getting fixed on Saturday), and the elevator door only shuts if you give it a bit of help (only on our floor, though, and only one of the elevators--there are 2, but only one works at a time). Its nice to have the lift, since I'm on the 9th floor. My room has an amazing view, east towards the river. The sun comes pouring in in the mornings. I can see Cairo tower, some buildings downtown, some palm trees directly below, and Mokattam hill in the distance. There are very pretty sunrises, and its fairly quiet becuase we are so high up. I like it a lot.

Saturday evening I went on a felucca ride on the Nile with Busayo and her friends. The boats are pretty small, it was just the 7 of us. They sail you up and down the river for an hour for a very reasonable price, once you bargain a little bit. It was a very nice time, we ate some Nigerian chicken and rice, along with lots of other food, and huddled under blankets, and looked at the city lights from the river. They are a lot of fun. Then we went to the flat of a guy that one of them had met, and I looked at his pictures of North Carolina mountains, which was nice.

On Sunday I went shopping for a little bit with Lauren, who needed sweaters for Israel, but then I went to the Cairo International Book Fair with Marissa. I met her outside the Mugamma downtown, which is this huge Soviet-bloc building full of terrifying beurocracy. I'll have to go in a few days to renew my visa, which I am not looking forward to. The book fair is like the state fair, only dirtier, and devoted to selling books (and random crap). I heard there would be cheap English books, but either we couldn't find them or there weren't very many. I did get some cool posters (farm animals in Arabic, anyone?). I used the nastiest bathroom I have ever used, which is saying quite a bit. The UofC bookworm in me was thrilled to see that the main attraction was halls and halls and halls of books. I also got interviewed randomly for Nile TV (stupid questions, and even stupider answers), but I didn't see it aired. Getting back was a bit of a hassle, we took a bus to downtown on the directions of a helpful guy (wow, an Egyptian guy who offers directions and doesn't offer any harrassment in addition!), and met an Egyptian man who had been living in Canada on the bus. He was equally nice, and tried to help us find a microbus back to our nieghborhood. But there was no direct one, so we took a cab. We still saved a good bit of money, and would have saved more had the taxi driver not cheated us. Getting off the bus we had to squeeze past 2 guys who were getting in a fight over something (read: nothing). That seems to be a fairly common occurance--generally everyone is polite, so that life in such a dense city can go smoothly, but every once in awhile there is a pointless, and very public, violent fight that everyone enjoys watching. When I got back, Lauren had a bunch of friends over, including Barrett and Andrew, who introduced me to her. I hadn't seen them since I had met them at a small group for church over a week ago, although Andrew and I had made plans that fell through several times. It was actually very amazing that I met them (and thus Lauren), since they don't go to that group often, and it was my first time too, as well as Andrew's. We were going to watch the Super Bowl, but it started at 1 am and I think the sports cafe they were thinking of going to actually didn't show it. I started to feel sicker, so I went to bed early, but I hear the Bears lost. Too bad, Chicago. One of my goals here is to know more about real futbol. The Nigerians know all about the current standings in the African cup, and I was completely in the dark.

Anyway, they're kicking me out of the lab. Ma salaama!