Sunday, March 18, 2007

En fin

This was my blog from August to December, 2006, during which time I was a study abroad student at The American University in Cairo in Egypt.

Since my program ended YouTube has become popular and I can now embed a video of me in a taxi cab driving through the streets of Cairo. Check it out!

En fin

This was my blog from August to December, 2006, during which time I was a study abroad student at The American University in Cairo in Egypt.

Since my program ended YouTube has since become popular and I can now embed a video of me in a taxi cab driving through the streets of Cairo. Check it out!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

23 Sharia Sherif

You may have noticed a while back that there was an aborted mission to Sharia Sherif that resulted in Helen music heaven. Well, that saga did not end, and so begins one of my favorite purchases ever.

During our Eritrean cooking lessons we had asked the head woman, Fatima, where we could find this special Eritrean red pepper (shatta). At first she was rather vague, mentioning downtown, and then Sharia Sherif, and finally, acting as one who had begrudgingly been forced to reveal what she secretly wanted to reveal the whole time, she lowered her voice and said quickly, "23 Sharia Sherif." In conjunction with another downtown shopping trip Jayanthi and I made our way to Sharia Sherif and found ourselves finally in front of 23 Sharia Sherif. A stationary store. I walk in and ask, thinking that maybe they have an Eritrean working there informally, but the woman at the desk looks at me like I'm crazy when I ask for Eritrean shatta instead of a 24 pack of envelopes. Even I'm feeling a little bit shady, thinking that "Eritrean shatta" sounds like the best codeword for drugs I've ever heard, but when we ask a man on the corner selling doo dads and sweaters on a table, he immediately points us down an alley, tells us to turn left and to go to the first floor. Of course I don't expect anything bad to happen to me, but I am glad to have Jayanthi with me so that I don't think that I'm crazy. We enter the apartment building, go to the first floor, and walk to the end, wondering if we are meant to just knock on a certain door. At the end of the hall we can see to our left an open door revealing a room with a few men sitting, and luckily one of them notices our bewieldered expression and comes to our assistance. We ask him about the shatta, and he simply nods and leads us into the kitchen, asking us to sit down. He reaches into the cupboard and brings out a plastic bag with a KILO (2.2 pounds : ) ) of shatta. We ask if he has anything smaller, he says no, we say how much, he says 35 pounds, we pay, we leave, and the exchange has just been completed. No small talk, no questions about how we knew he was here, no questions about Eritrea, just a transaction.

So I now have a 1/2 kilo of Eritrean shatta and a story. You can't really ask for anything more, can you?

Jayanthi left last night and now it is just me and this, my last day in Cairo. Of course I woke up sick, having all of the extreme and rapid temperature changes finally catch up to me, but lots of tea, a hot shower, my American drugs, and the exhilaration of today will surely do the trick.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Well, he did just move to Bahrain

Masr lil Masreen! Egypt for the Egyptians!

Lots of happenings in the world of Helen! The past two blogs have been from Lise and Jayanthi, the former having left two nights ago and Jayanthi to leave tonight, and I tomorrow night/Friday early morning.

I was worried that Lise and Jayanthi leaving would leave me twiddling my thumbs and wishing the going away process was finished, but I've been using up every single minute! I think a quick run down of my day is in order, even if only for me to remember everything!

Today I went to the "Cities of the Dead" in the morning with my friend Brian. There is an area of Cairo where little buildings and tombs have been built for the dead for years and years, but housing crunches and poverty have led nearly 300,000 people to make the cemetaries their home, often without sewage, running water, or electricity, although many of the areas have been built up. It was eerie to walk through these quiet areas with only a few people out and about, surrounded by mostly empty small buildings. I have no pictures because that seemed really inappropriate, but there are probably some on the internet. Afterwards we went to Al-Azhar park, which was absolutely gorgeous and an equally strange Cairene experience because everything was green and flowery and super clean. Apparently a European NGO had a hand in developing the park a few years ago, making sure that all-local labor was and would be hired, and that the proceeds from the entry charge would go into development projects in the neighboring areas. We could see the new housing projects begun by the park's money, and it was an exciting thing to see a development project that was equally enjoyable in and of itself and for the things that it is doing. After hanging out at the park I headed back into the center of the city to meet up with a friend for lunch and to check on a library fine. Lunch was really nice, though I hate having to have days and days of goodbyes, and afterwards I went with Brian again to Sout El Cahira (Sound of Cairo) to buy more music. I am a bad girl.

This seems really late in the game, but I think I never explained this. Egyptians neither call themselves Egyptians, nor their country Egypt, nor their city Cairo.

Egypt = Masr/Misr
Egyptians= Masrieen
Cairo= El Qahira/Cahira (it's a q/c sound in the back of your throat)

Going back and forth between the cemetaries and the park (because we kept getting wrong directions) we had to cross a 10 lane divided highway, but our success proved just how accostumed we have become to Cairo. It might not need to be said that Cairenes do not believe in lanes (although with this many cars, if they did it would be a nightmare) and there are no 'crosswalks' and certainly no fines for jaywalking. People just cross the street gradually, yet quickly, darting in between the coming cars, buses, bicycles, etc. You could never do this in the US because the drivers wouldn't know how to respond, thinking that they are about to run over you, but in Cairo you could never make it to the other side if you didn't do as the Egyptians do. Considering myself a former "hand-holding" crosser of the street I thought Egyptian streets = quick and ugly death, but I'm proud of my ability to cross the streets.

I think I must also exude a little bit more confidence in taxis, because I have not been accosted over the price nearly as much lately. (Knock on wood!) Taxis are quite an experience in Cairo. I didn't realize how wonderful I had it in Morocco, when the price was nicely displayed on the meter and then it was customary to add a dirham for tip. Here, like with many other things, you just have to "know." How you are supposed to "know" is another question. Some of the taxi rules I've picked up:

1) Girls- don't sit in the front unless all the seats in the back are taken. As part of the really (in my opinion) messed up logic regarding women in general, I've been told that some taxi drivers will take this as an indication that you 'want' to be, erm, touched. I've never gotten the impression from any of my cab drivers that they would take such liberties, but I guess it never hurts to just sit in the back.
2) Don't pay until you are out of the taxi
3) Don't ask how much, and if anyone asks you how much when you get into the cab, chances are you'll be asking to get out a few minutes later because the requested price is so ridiculous.
4) There will be plenty of ridiculous taxi cab experiences, such as:
* Taxi drivers driving off in protest of the amount you've offered, without even bargaining first, and leaving you confused on the side of the road, money in hand.
* Lots of fights- taxi drivers never ask for more money, they yell for it. Don't be surprised if policeman or other bystanders are brought in to negotiate between you and the cab driver.
* (A personal favorite story) I really enjoyed the voice of the reader of the Quran that my driver was listening to, and I asked for his name after I had gotten out of the car. In a beautiful gesture he lit up, took out the tape, and insisted that I take it.
5) The insides of taxis are also lots of fun. Seats covered in pink and black leopard prints, little Ramadan lamps, God's eyes, Qurans, Mickey mouses, stuffed animals, air refresheners, etc. hanging from the rearview mirror and attached to other parts of the car. The dashboard is also often covered in fabric or fake fur. Some taxis have their doors wired to play "It's a Small World After All" when opening, others have this wired to their breaks.
6) Taxi music is fantastic. A lot of drivers listen to the melodic Quranic recitation, others have old music playing, or the latest tape from Amr Diab. We've also heard Bob Marley and Cher. CDs have not really hit Cairo- everyone listens to tapes, which are certainly cheaper, but not as easily converted. Also, noone really buys originals of anything- it is all copies. Copyrights aren't too important in Cairo- you can take entire books to any copy shop and have them copied with no problem. This is particularly great considering books are so expensive, especially textbooks or other English books.

So how did I get from cemetaries to taxis to the 'copy culture' in Cairo? All in a day's work my friends. Time to return to attempting to cram all my stuff in my suitcases. This has not been a fruitful endeavor, let me tell you. Too much stuff! (Too many packets from my refugee class! )

Monday, December 19, 2005

A last Welcome

I will miss “Welcome, welcome to Egypt!” and “Where are you from?”
I will miss movie nights with my girls
I will miss feluccas on the Nile
I will miss melted marshmallows with melted chocolate in honey cookies
I will miss sitting in Al-Azhar-Mosque and enjoying being in that quiet place, where people go to pray or just to relax
I will miss Helen dancing around wearing 15 layers and still moving her hips so very sexy
I will miss our baoab talking to me although I can’t understand him
I will miss PEANUTBUTTER, in tons as we had in our cupboard
I will miss the Gilmore Girls
I will miss telling people that I am from Estland or Liechtenstein
I will miss our tea sessions, the morning- and the evening cup, mint tea, green tea with mint, shai, hibiscus and then again, morning- or evening-cup, choice between mint tea or green tea and as final the amazing hibiscus tea and if you really want to go over the top, just have another shai at 12 o’clock in the night!
I will miss our belling stag on the wall
I will miss Jayanthi bargaining for hours at Khan al Khalili, shop owners there got poor now
I will miss men singing to me on the street, I won’t miss when they said bad things to me
I will miss good food, as there are chick peas, lentil soup, green beans, koshari and lemon juice but as well pumpkin ice cream and tons of popcorn
I will miss the relaxing and constantly sound of toilet’s water running out
I will miss the muezzin’s calls for prayers but I won’t miss the aggressive Friday prayers from our mosque
I will miss ripping off the handles of washing machines

I won’t miss the smog
Maybe I will miss a little bit the pyramids – but not very much, just because they are so photogenic.

Habibis, I will definitely miss you a lot! But wherever the flowers might have gone to...”when you leave I will follow anywhere that you tell me to, if you need, you need me to be with you, I will follow anywhere!!”

Yours Lise/a

Where have all the flowers gone?
by Marlene Dietrich

Where have all the flowers gone?Long time passingWhere have all the flowers gone?Long time agoWhere have all the flowers gone?Young girls have picked them, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?Where have all the young girls gone?Long time passingWhere have all the young girls gone?Long time agoWhere have all the young girls gone?Gone for husbands, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?Where have all the husbands gone?Long time passingWhere have all the husbands gone?Long time agoWhere have all the husbands gone?Gone for soldiers, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?Where have all the soldiers gone?Long time passingWhere have all the soldiers gone?Long time agoWhere have all the soldiers gone?Gone to graveyards, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?Where have all the graveyards gone?Long time passingWhere have all the graveyards gone?Long time agoWhere have all the graveyards gone?Gone to flowers, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?Where have all the flowers gone?Long time passingWhere have all the flowers gone?Long time agoWhere have all the flowers gone?Young girls have picked them, every oneOh, when will they ever learn?Oh, when will they ever learn?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Under the (Red) Sea

(Guest posted by Jayanthi)

Getting scuba certified while I was in Egypt was one of the things I definitely wanted to do - it was probably number one on my list of things I HAD to do while I was here. However, the road to certification has been bumpy....I didn't have time all semester to get certified so by the time I got started it was past Thanksgiving. The first few days were all bookwork and the guys at the center were great - did their best to accomodate my schedule. However my pool practice session had to be cut short because my ears would not equalize to the change inpressure under the water(even though it was just a few feet down). I thought it was just a slight cold that would go away in a few days, but it turned into a nasty persistent ear infection that had to be treated with antibiotics.

My instructor suggested I go ahead and give the pool practice another try once I finished my antibiotics and if it didn't work that was that. However, it did work!! After taking heavy duty decongestant, nasal spray, and two other kinds of medicine I was able to spend an hour 12 feet underwater practicing skill like taking my mask off and replacing it or what to do if I lost my regulator (the device that supplies air to my mouth).

Even though the scuba center hadn't planned a trip that weekend, they decided they'd take me by myself since it was my last weekend in Egypt and thus my last weekend to finish my open water certification. We went to Hurghada which is on the Red Sea about 4 hours south of Cairo and spent Friday and Saturday diving.

Breathing underwater is really hard to get used to - there's a constant awareness that you aren't really free to inhale and exhale naturally. After awhile I stopped thinking about it, but it was always in the back of my head. But really there were so many other things to do and see underwater.

We did 4 dives, all of them around really amazing reef formations with TONS of marine life. Aside from tons of fish that I can't possible begin to identify I know I did spot a moray eel, lionfish, clownfish (Nemo!), angelfish, a spotted stingray, and an octopus. We actually played a bit of tug-of-war with the octopus with this diving rattle stick my instructor had. I pulled superhard, but the octopus and massive suction cup-covered tentacles definitely won.

When we weren't in the water, we were lying on deck napping under the sun. The winter weather was a bit cool when we first got out of the water, but the sun was strong and we warmed up quickly (with the help of some good Arabic tea of course). The Red Sea is the most amazing gorgeous shade of turquoise that I have ever seen, with the water changing to a deep azure depending on the depth and presence of coral.

Though I would have loved to spend my last weekend in Cairo with Helen and Lisa, I did have an amazing wonderful relaxing time. And though I was able to check getting scuba certified off my list, exploring the Red Sea really was an incredible first time diving experience that I'll definitely always remember.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Said the Gramophone : Helen, I love you!

The pictures aren't too hot because I was racing against terrible batteries that I bought (and lasted me 30 minutes, no joke) HOWEVER. Do you know what you are looking at???????

THERE ARE RECORDS IN CAIRO. THERE ARE GRAMOPHONES IN CAIRO. These are some of the things in Cairo that have made me think in capital letters and exclamation points for the past hour and a half. Lise periodically hits her face as if to wake up and says "Lise! Das Ist Kairo!" - "Lise, this is Cairo!" and right now I feel like doing the same thing.

Today's mission:

* Pick up Lise's film at the Kodak in Zamalek
* While there try to go to 23 Sharia Shereef and see if there really is more special Eritrean shatta for sale.

What actually happened:

Today is Friday, so most everything was closed, including the film place, and apparently Sharia Shereef isn't anywhere near Zamalek, so our mission was completely unfulfilled. We decided to instead just wander around the wide and quiet streets of Zamalek, heavily populated by expatriates and subsequently not as crazy as the rest of Cairo and home to lots of more upscale retail, art galleries, embassies, supermarkets, etc. We passed by an art gallery and looked at the art of Hend Adnan, which was really neat, then we bought batteries and tape, and went into a Moroccan home furnishings store (!) It smelled like Morocco... it had all of the beautiful, beautiful things that I got so used to and bought very little of. Look Lise! I have a bowl with almost this exact design! These are the doors I want in my house! Oh, look at that lamp! Sigh. It was a fantastic trip down nostalgia lane and a reminder that I like the designs and pretty things in Morocco much better than here. We kept walking and went into the supermarket where we bought 20 boxes of Morning Cup tea, the best tea I've ever had and which I subsequently don't want to be without when I come back. While in Metro Lise remembered that one of the German rap groups that had come to Cairo to do things with the Goethe Institute had told her about a place with music upstairs from Metro. I didn't realize exactly what she was saying, and thought it was just a regular music store, but no! We went upstairs and found about three small rooms crammed with gramophones and old records and lamps and pictures and who knows what else. We went into the room with the records and were so overwhelmed. After finding that he charged 10 pounds ($1.80) for 45s and 20 pounds for full-length records we counted up our money and asked for 17 45s. For the next 45 minutes we just sat in chairs as record after record was placed onto the record player and our ears and hearts rejoiced. All of his music is from Cairo, so no Upper Egypt or Nubian music, but wow!!!! I stumbled upon one of the most amazing things in Cairo, yet. I think the trip to the Moroccan store is what did it, because in Morocco it always seemed like 'coincidence' after 'coincidence' was just falling on my head and we called them little "Al Hamdu Lilahs" (Thanks be to God) and today's trip was just a gigantic series of unplanned events that lead into a huge Al Hamdu Lilah. If it weren't for Lise needing to pick up pictures, me feeling too sick this morning to go to Church, her time spent with the German group, our decision not to find Sharia Shereef and to instead wander around, passing by the supermarket... etc. etc. etc.

I can't stop smiling. I told him I would definitely be back. Next semester's radio show just got a thousand times better. Weeeee!

George Bush! Number One!

Just a few pictures from the Khan El-Khalili. Jayanthi took more; I mostly concentrated on taking videos. Of course, in my attempts to be subtle about the videotaking on my camera I ended up with really jumpy and fast moving, dizzying footage. A bit like the Khan itself! Yesterday I was always greeted with "Hola." Well, I was also asked if I was from "Spain? Poland? Canada?" Yesterday also saw a rise in questions asking "How can I take your money?" This is a new development in my history at the Khan, and I would say one of the funnier ones. I also got "If you come into my store I will marry you," which was also a major incentive to stay away. I also got some fresh 1/2 Strawberry, 1/2 Orange juice that was delicious, and also resulted in some fun conversation in Arabic with the juiceman. He lit up when I said I was from America and said George Bush! milla milla! 100 % He's not the first person to tell me how great George Bush is, and I get America! Number One! all the time, and not mocking me, either. Of course I don't know how these men really feel, but I've never had anybody say anything negative to me about America, unless we were in a conversation.

A week from now I'll be on my way to Germany, or in Germany, or leaving Germany. Something related to Germany : )

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Disillusioned but done!

I just left my last class at the American University in Cairo. Other than an easy exam left on Saturday I have finished all of my work. 20 page paper on how UNHCR doesn't meet basic human needs according to A Theory of Human Need, 7 pages on why International and Regional 'support' has only hindered the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts from being resolved, presentation on Iraqi novelist Alia Mamdouth's novel Naphtalene, a summary of Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, (both, especially Mahfouz, HIGHLY recommended) and an Arabic final were just part of my work for this week.

I'm not posting this to say "look at what I did" because I know others around me had much more taxing finals, but I just think that it is a good insight into the kinds of things that I've been thinking about all semester. Last night my Forced Migration teacher asked us if we had become completely disillusioned with the world of humanitarianism and refugee issues in general and the answer was a resounding YES. Congratulations to Barbara, Ray, James, and the most reading I've ever done for a class, for making me question my future and my beliefs in a way noone else has. They say you have to break down before you can build back up again, right? : ) The class ended in a really interesting discussion of Christian fundamentalism ( in part because of a lecture given by Karen Armstrong, scholar of religion that I missed out on because of class) . I'm starting to know that I'm about to go home... soon my work won't resemble at all what I've just done here, and instead lectures on "Islamic fundamentalism" will seem more foreign.

In celebration last night for having my brain completely destroyed by finals and my Refugee class in particular, I decided to try out some more of my Eritrean and Sudanese recipes. While the end result did not taste like what I had had at my cooking lesson, and didn't look the same either, it was still fantastic. I had to make some meat-substitutions which changed things around a little bit, but I thought were successful. It didn't hurt that on the last day of my English class one of my favorite women gave me two different kinds of special Eritrean shatta (red pepper) . Wow. So wonderful. I hope this week is full of more cooking experiments, now that I finally have an Egyptian cookbook. Too bad everything has meat in it!

P.S. Good luck to everyone at UGA finishing up exams and getting ready for graduation!