Well, we are several days into Ramadan, and life has both altered drastically and not changed much at all. Of course, classes are the same, at the same time, although regular AUC students (ALIers are special ;-) have altered class schedules. Morning classes are an hour earlier (finally, someone else gets to experience those 8 am Arabic classes) and evening classes are usually an hour later to accommodate Iftaar, the evening meal that breaks fast. The first day of Ramadan, Frances and I were walking home from the gym around 5:30, and we reached the main road, glanced around, and saw nothing. Almost no traffic, no pedestrians. The streets of Cairo were empty. Until you have spent significant amounts of time negotiating through the masses of people and risking your life every time you step into the road (I just stare the cars down and start running when the accelerate; boys think it's flirting to stop inches in front of you with their rattling old car; I think someone needs to teach these boys that near-death experiences are not conducive to romance. The few cars that were in the street at this time were speeding, and I mean really zooming, to be home in time for iftaar. I think many of them were pushing 60 mph down the narrow lanes and twisting corniches of Cairo. This phenomonon, the consummate paucity of vehicles and people, really helps to illustrate the importance of Ramadan and Islam in Egypt. The entire world stops for iftaar, regardless of one's career or social status. All of my neighbors, even the strange one across the alley, gather with their families for iftaar; wafting aromas from every Egyptian family's apartment always signal the approach of sundown, as do the incredible traffic jams around 2-4 in Cairo. Do not plan to travel anywhere and actually be on time. You won't be ;-) Not everyone fasts, of course, it is a major obligation, but everyone seems to observe iftaar.
I actually enjoy life around campus during Ramadan. As horrible as this sounds, I feel rather privileged to be able to enter the cafeteria on campus and grab a chocolate bar or can of pop. I do feel a bit guilty when my fasting friends cannot partake of my snacks, so I do confine my gourmandish appetite to the cafeteria or the fountain area outside. It is probably a bit rude to gulp down a bottle of water or munch on some candy when they are not allowed even a drop or crumb ;-) I have discovered one benefit to a woman's monthly curse ;-) During this period, women are not allowed to fast, so it's fun to enjoy surrepitious eating with them for a few days. I usually don't have time between classes to eat much of a meal anyways. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have class from 8-2 without more than a 20 minute break in between, usually less. On Tuesdays, I have class from 9:30-3:30 straight through. After class, I break my forced fast at the very gourmet restaurant, McDonald's, usually rounding up a few non-fasting friends to join me. It is wonderful during Ramadan, you can actually find a table here, although McDonald's is certainly not the cheapest restaurant in town. A good meal costs about 25 LE, that's almost 5 dollars, tres chere! Despite the harassment, being blonde does have its benefits. Today, I was with three other people, and I got my food way before them. Actually, it is rather pathetic how well the McDonald's staff knows me. They've got my order memorized!
There is more to Ramadan than fasting, but this is the most salient observation one can make. Nights are pretty crazy, as restaurants stay open all night long. People usually eat around 5:45, spend the rest of the night visiting, watching TV, and rarely sleeping, and then wake up around 2 to eat before sunrise. Thus, in some neighborhoods, there are guys that walk around shouting to wake you up just in case you were asleep. For those of us who attempt to maintain a normal schedule, these guys can be rather annoying, but it seems I'm the only one who hears them, probably because I am usually just going to bed around 2 and my window is partly open, due to a mass of cords going nowhere. Banging some sort of drum-like instrument, the guy wanders up and down our street yelling...something...but he always goes away after about five minutes, and I can take some rest.
What else...People do seem genuinely nicer during Ramadan, not everyone, of course, but I think they are really trying to follow the tenets of Islam. I don't receive as many catcalls, and the ones I do receive seem to be directed in a politer manner. Well, that's probably not true, but I like to think it is. Oh, yeah, and sweets are a major part of iftaar, and Ramadan as a whole, which is always a good thing. The iftaar meal actually has a very set order of dishes: first comes soup, but I don't know the rest. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get invited to someone's house for it.
Most things in Cairo are very cheap compared to the U.S., and flowers are no exception. My roommates and I have been purchasing beautiful bouquets of roses and other colorful buds for about four dollars. We get to pick out the exact flora and everything. I guess it's rather sad, buying yourself roses, but I don't mind. Most guys need lots of training to learn a girl's floral taste.
If you read my previous posts, you know that my scuba adventures have been halted, at least for now, but I am going to the beach for the weekend, for real this time. I'm going to Hurghada, a recently developed city 6 hours south of Cairo on the Red Sea. I'm going to spend two wonderful days lazing around the Sofitel resort and soaking up the sunshine. I convinced one of my roommates to tag along, which, one would think, would not be that difficult, considering that we will be staying at a capacious resort on the sea. Most college students, sadly, are not as spoiled as I am, and are perfectly satisfied with 10 dollar per night accommodations. Anyway, my request was refused my a surprising number of people who just had 'things to do', and I was despairing for a travel partner until Frances looked up the Sofitel on the internet and decided she wouldn't mind a trip to the beach. I'll let you know what Hurghada's like when I get back ;-)
Of course, because I will be spending hours in my swimsuit on the beach, I needed some serious primping. This is going to sound rather disgusting, especially if you're a guy, but I haven't shaved my legs since I arrived. I can't wear short skirts or shorts, so I just haven't had the motivation to de-hair them. I will candidly confess that my legs were rather, err, manly (although blonde, so not that bad), and I hadn't gone swimming at the Hilton because I was too ashamed of them. There comes a point when something has escalated so far that it just seems pointless to remedy the situation until absolutely necessary. The beach trip rendered my hair removal necessary, so I went to a salon today and got them waxed. OWWWWW! I think torture would be less painful! I am proud to say I didn't scream or even flinch, but, my God, I was screaming inside. I can't even imagine what waxing more sensitive areas must feel like. A quick note about the salon I went to-it is about 7 blocks from my apartment, about a ten minute walk, and far classier than the previous salon I had visited. There, they weren't terribly cautious about sterilizing instruments or giving you clean towels to rub your feet, and, having been warned by several people back home about certain fungi transferred by unclean equipment, I was slightly leery about returning there. It wasn't a dirty place, but it certainly wasn't sterile. Here, they had clean towels wrapped in plastic and took much better care of their attention to purification, etc. I was very impressed, and, mom, I think even you will approve of this place. I was a little worried about bringing you to the other salon. Of course, the prices here were slightly higher, but not by much. Waxing always costs more than sweeting, but even with that, I only spent 70 LE for the wax and, oh yeah, a delightful pedicure. I tipped them well, as I made them work almost to iftaar, and it is Ramadan. It was a husband and wife, I think, and they man gave me the pedicure, but there wasn't any strange sort of sexual attention usually assoicated with a random guy rubbing your feet. Maybe it was because his wife and children were in the room...Anyway, I'm definitely going back there, but I'm going to stop rambling because this entry is already far too long. I'll be back tanned, God willing!