Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's been three and a half months!

So, I was coming up from the Metro grocery store today with a bag carrier and, as we were patiently waiting for the only elevator working in my building, he asked me how long I'd been in Egypt. It's been three and a half amazing months! I paused before giving him me answer, my mind reeling through the experiences of the past quarter. Have I really been enrolled in intensive Arabic courses for three months, and does my Arabic reflect that? I'm not sure, but if I were to rewind to the first few days here, when I roamed the streets fearfully, I feel that, indeed, I have absorbed an adequate amount of Arabic. I can understand, and speak (a bit) Amia, and I can somewhat understand news broadcasts, especially if I rewind them several times to re-listen. But still, my God, I've been here, in Cairo, alone, away from the U.S. for three and a half months! Christmas carols are being blasted from the MOA, snow is drifting through the starry night sky (I only mention stars because we have none here), and my home is Chaska is, hopefully, bedecked with lights and tinsel and trees and blow-up penguins. Yet, strangely, I don't feel a terrible yearning for home or the States, other than the occasional thought, "If I were in America, this would not be happening..." Of course I miss my family and friends, but I've crammed my life so repletely with activities and socialness that I hardly have time to pondering longing for my watenee (homeland). Perhaps as Christmas creeps closer, I'll feel more detached from Misr and more lonely for home, but right now I'm exhausted and just want to get through finals and relax! In a way, I'm also glad I'm not returning home over the break, like the vast majority of ALIers, for practical reasons, like chaotic travel and 30 hours in transit to the States, and more intangible reasons, like a dreading of reverse culture shock and the absence of Arabic. There are many things I miss about home, but I think there will just as many things I will miss about Egypt, like waking up to the call to prayer from across the Nile, the employment of the clothes line that always sways dangerously in the wind 100 feet above the ground, rising around noon on Saturdays and finding one roommate already up for hours and the other one sleepily emerging from her chamber, the community fo ALIers and ex-pats I've come to love (well, strongly like, anyway ;-), and, did I mention the weather? Balmy and warm most days, with a slight nip in the air that sends all Egyptians reaching for their downy sweaters, parkas, and scarves. I do love being a Minnesotan sometimes...
Enough nostalgia and crude philosophy...I think I left you Friday afternoon just before Mostafa's party, which was excellent, by the way, and found me walking home accompanied around 3:00 (a.m.). Normally, this would not be a very late hour, and I could have been up for more, but I was oppressed by the knowledge of my landlord's imminent visit the next morning at 9:00, which, unfortunately, the accursed man kept with Egyptian punctuality. His wife called at around 8:40, and I creaked out of bed blearily ( not drunk, mind you, despite my friends' best efforts to provide me with liquid courage), emptied the bathroom of my toilettries, washed up, and welcomed him and his shower-repair workmen (they completed the task satisfactorily, at least) at around 9:15. For the next three hours, my roommates and I discussed with him a number of issues, mainly, who should pay for the broken pipe (we ended up paying), whether we are allowed overnight visitors (he wants us to pay for these, there's a confrontation brewing still, I fear) and if we will pay him four months' rent in advance (which we adamantly refused). After lengthy arguments, insults (he called Akshaya and Frances sha'a, which, once we questioned our teachers, means naughty with deviant conotations, although I am tranquille, as I haven't had any prolonged male visitors), interruptions, appeasements, and abrupt perturbations, he left, to the relief of us all, and we treated ourselves to a lavish lunch at Sabai Sabai, the great Thai restaurant in Zamalek. Not only does he take advantage of us because we are three unmarried foreign women in a conservative Muslim society, but our landlord converses with us in French, English, and Arabic, and only I speak all three of these, but at varying levels, so the comprehension of his statements is noos wa noos (half and half). Because we do not understand the hot water heater situation in Egypt (or many of the Egyptian appliances, for that matter), we're not entirely sure how to avoid another meltdown, but after extensive experimentation, I feel as if we have diminished our chances of catastrophy.
As the semester is drawing to a close, I am realizing that alot of my study abroad friends will be evacuating the country for their home universities(and, alright Christmas at home, so I'm a little jealous), as most only stay a semester, including Annie, my original roommate with whom I first explored the infinite fascinations of Cairo and received the first harassments from the streets. Tear. At least ALI is fairly immutable, but even so, next semester will begin anew. Before any of us get to leave, however, ALI simply must have a Christmas party/farewell party for the students, and, what, my Amia class decided to volunteer us to sing a sing by Sheikh Iman, a revolutionary who came to prominence in the 60's and whose music was banned for decades from Egypt for its incendiary messages. I've been practicing that song occasionally, wrestling with my wagib (homework), introducing Frances to the wonders of Facebook, and, of course, enduring the rigors of life in Cairo.
For instance, it has rained the past few days, which is usually great news, but I had clothes hanging outside, and the rainwater that falls in Cairo is laden with, ummm, carcinogens and other pollutants, so they need to be rinsed again. Actually, I always been experiencing the thaqaafa of Cairo for the past two days, Catalonian style. One of my friends, Jemma, is from Barcelona, and identifies with Catalonia, NOT Spain (never make the mistake of calling her Spanish), and avidly follows the Barcelona football team, so last night several friends and I went to Deal's, a great bar in Mohendiseen, to watch the match and cheer them onto victory. Today, during those too short 15 minutes blocks between classes when I enter the fountain courtyard to escape the proverbial 2nd floor hallway of Main where all of my classrooms are located, or sneak into the cafeteria to imbibe on Diet Coke and chocolate, I ran into Frances, who invited me on a date to the Hyatt theatre at 4 to partake of the 30th annual Cairo film festival, which is projecting divergent and controversial films in theatres throughout the city for several weeks. After several delays, I met her at the Hilton at three, called Jemma to see if she wanted to join us, as we were seeing a Catalonian film "Rival Rival" and took a cab to the Hyatt. You know you've been in Egypt too long when you pile out of the cab at the extremely sumptuous Hyatt entrance and realize that you don't fit in with the foreigners staying there, that you've become too Egyptian. Anyway, we trekked through the complex, went up to the theatre, bought the tickets and waited for Jemma, who arrived shortly, and entered into the lobby where we immediately raided the concession stand for popcorn. Unfortunately, or fortunately, a famous Egyptian actor was being interviewed in the lobby, and he happened to be positioned in front of a poster depicting his upcoming film, which happened to be located in front of the entrance to the movie theatre. Observing him for a bit (he was kind of cute), and acknowledging that the cameras and spotlights seemed hermetically anchored (i.e. not moving anywhere in the next hour), we realized it was past four and so, despite the rather strange looks we were receiving, snuck past him and into the theatre. I even managed to lightly brush him with my arm, unintentionally, of course ;-) Frances and I weren't sure how much we would comprehend, as the film was originally directed with Spanish and Catalonian actors, and the subtitles might only be in Arabic, but, praise God, the Hyatt also utilized English subtitles.
Walking the bridge after the film ended to catch cabs going in our direction, I realized that I serve dual purposes for my friends. Not only is my company pleasant, but, as Frances pointed out, I am a sponge to attract all of the harrassment aimed at our group. At one point, she laughing turned to me after some guy had walked by, did a 180, enthusiastically welcomed me to Cairo, and noted that she and Jemma get virtually ignored by the usual suspects when I'm around. It's my hair, I haven't suddenly blossomed into a stunning beauty, but it's amusing, especially since all of the harrassment today was the highly enteraining, putative and exhausted phrases. Ahhh, life in Cairo...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year