Sunday, December 10, 2006

A week of happenings, horses, 007, and George Clooney

I'll confess, I did alot of partying over the weekend, although, partying to me is more or less hanging out with friends, occasionally to obscenely late hours, but with little alcohol involved. Thursday night found me engrossed in Princess Diaries II with Deya, after which Frances and I walked Deya home, I grabbed dinner with a friend, and then I went out 'clubbing' with Wust El-Belad and some others. Together, we made ten- myself, Steve, Aaron, Eli, Frances, Jeff, Cary, Maureen, Nate, and Isaac. If you will recall, I mentioned the club/bar/restaurant After 8 in a previous post, and I returned there on Thursday to hear the soulful tunes of Wust El-Belad, a local Cairo band and the eponymous gang that some of my fellow ALIers have created. Dancing the night away in a steamy, smoky, elbows-jostling-to-push-your-way-through-the-throngs was exhilerating for awhile, and our group had great chemistry, even though about half of them were engaged. At some point during the night, a few of us decided, because the drinks were so outrageously expensive (and not all that good either), that we were justified in purloining a few Stella beer glasses from the table, so all of us stuffed a few in our purses. And, I swear, I was not inebriated, as I only had two drinks during a period of 4 or so hours, although I cannot verify the soberness of all of my companions. In order to find a little room to show off my moves (which are, I must say, quite horrid), I did scramble up onto the table and swivel around for a bit, but eventually clambered down when the barely pellucid cloud of smoke began to choke my lungs.
I returned home late that night, slept in late the next morning as well, wandered over to the Coffee Bean at 1 for a late breakfast of chicken ceasar salad and chai tea, lazed around the house and read The Arabian Nights (a rather perversively erotic book, imo), took a nap, and entertained friends in the evening. And, by entertain, I mean I otlobed food from the La Pacha and piled snacks on the table to produce a heaping quantity of nibbles to consume throughout the evening. After lots of laughter and tortilla chips, I left with Steve to find another party in the building full of British ex-pats. I returned home extremely late that night, watched the sun rise, and got up around noon to go out with Frances again for some nibbles at McDonald's.
What did I do that afternoon? I feel like I studied some, surfed my new favorite website, (Andrew introduced me to it, blame him if you must, but it's hilarious ;-), had some friends over again for some studying/chatting, and entered the next to last week of classes ready to be done!
Every day this week was jammed with some sort of activity, and Sunday was the day of Islam, perhaps slight heretical, but inpentetrably fascinating as well. To give you a bit of background-a classmate of mine is doing some phd work on the hijab, or veil, and has been talking (since any sort of interview is illegal in Egypt, something to do with a hermetical dictatorship) with various members of the Islamic community, including the Muslim Brotherhood and others. Our media professor, Dahlia (I think she's one of the Brotherhood), set up a meeting with a group called Bridges that attempts to educate non-Muslims about Islam for my friend and encouraged the entire class to attend. Just another way education is different in Egypt than the U.S. Anyway, in the end only myself and two others ended up attending the presentation about Islam all of the way in Nasr City, a distant district of Cairo. On the way to the office, we did pass by the City Center and saw where the new Starbucks (the first in Cairo) will be opening soon, and eventually found our way up the building and into their facilities. Extremely modern and technological, the facilities were impressive and the director of the program presented a powerpoint on the basics of Islam, which literally translates from the gerund form of an Arabic verb to mean submission, purity, and peace. Much of the information I already knew, or had a vague sense of its veracity, but it was reinforced by the presentation. For instance, Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, and one of the most prominent, but obviously don't believe he was the Messiah. In fact, according to the director, Muslims believe in all of the holy texts, including the Bible, Torah, and, of course, Koran, however, only to the point that the other texts do not conflict with the Koran. If they do, than khalaas, they are invalidated, as the Koran is the untranslated word of God. Meaning, after a bit of interrogation, that the Gospel of the Bible, i.e. the tale of cruxcification, is nullified by contradictory statements in the Koran; in the director's words, the Garden of Gestheme (sp) was very dark and most likely the Roman soldiers took the wrong man. In fact, he said watching The Passion of the Christ only strengthened his conviction that Jesus was not crucified, as the gruesome torture scenes somehow verified that Jesus was become unrecognizable and therefore most likely not participating in the event. I'm not sure if that was Mel's original intent when he directed the movie, to aid the Muslim community's belief that Jesus was not crucified and his arduous ordeals were endured by someone else, but that was the result.
More engaging than the presentation was the question-and-answer session afterwards, where we bombarded the man with some intense questions about Islam. Until that evening, I had not realized how fundamental the concept of original sin is to the Western Christian world, that we are bore with the blemish of sin on our souls and only Jesus' death and resurrection can save us. Muslims believe that Adam and Eve both ate the fruit together, as partners, and that the soul is born pure and ready to welcome God, not besmirched by ignominy of man's original sin. Thus, there really would be no reason for Jesus' death if all we need to do is follow Allah and the path of Islam. It strikes me as ironic that, in a religion that proclaims the equality of men and women in all things, and that has no concept of woman's first deception, Muslim women are much more oppressed than Christian ones. Also, at points the man was very forward with us, quoting one of the more racy hadiths (sayings of the prophet) which states that, even during a man's ejaculation during sex with his wife, if it is done in a manner pleasing to God, than it is an act of prayer. Well, he was trying to explain that a Muslim should lead his/her life in constant prayer to God, and we were wondering how this was possible, until he told us that living a life pleasing to God is a sort of prayer. After pondering these ruminations in the hellacious cab ride home, I quakingly ascended into my tower, studied, and went to bed.
Monday: Classes, of course, from 8-2, except that ALI had a wonderful Christmas/End of the semester party for all of us to attend, which most of us did with great fervor. Many of the classes performed skits or songs for the group, mine included (I sang with the 5 other boys of my Amia class a revolutionary song from the 60's, in Arabic, or course), and, for a little while, I felt the tiny flicker of camraderie that always ignites when ALI gathers and we all act like one big, happy, entirely disfunctional family. Truly, though, I don't know everyone, but I know alot of people, and it is wonderful to be able to talk to about anyone in my core group of friends about almost anything and know they will empathize and understand. Nothing is a secret for very long, of course, but once you get past that, you're cool. After the presentations ended, Deya and I snuck out while everyone else was eating, returned home, did some homework/took naps, and met up at my place to watch Casino Royale. Yes, the new version, unedited (this is a big thing, you see, because if you watch it in theatres in Egypt, any sexy scene will be mysteriously cut out along with much of the plot), courtsey of a friend who will remain nameless due to copyright reasons but whom we all adore. Frances and a few of her classmates watched Borat, while Deya and I stole the speakers and enjoyed Daniel Craig and 007 for two and half delicious hours of giggling over the sultry scenes and groaning as Bond was tortured in a way that no man should endure. Eww. We've begun quoting the romantic scenes to each other in class when we're bored. It was very good, and I certainly don't mind a blond Bond, especially in his snazzy tux or tight little swimsuit.
Tuesday: More classes, and we even had a sub for writing, which was a bit awkward, but she taught us the in'sha'allah clause, so we enjoyed her. After school, I hit the gym and then returned home to meet Frances' younger sister, Mary, who's staying with us for about a week and a half until they both fly back to America and leave me in Egpyt all alone over Christmas ;-( Happily, some friends and I are going to Dahab over Christmas and for awhile afterward, so I shalln't be too deprived. I realize, writing this blog, that I talk about the events of my life, but very little about the actual emotions and little things that make each day a success. At nighttime, when I really should be in bed, and my roommates and I sit up and eat popcorn and gossip desultorily about various subjects; when I run into someone I know in the courtyard, glance at my watch and realize class is about to start, but then run into five other people I can't resist talking to and being slightly late for class; running to McDonald's after classes are finally done for the day and indulging in McFly's (McFlurries) and complaining about the workload and classes; rolling out of bed late as usual and scrambling to be ready on time and then wasting five precious minutes surfing Facebook before leaving; waking up from a nap to a phone call and hearing the familiar voice of a friend calling to just talk; ambling down to the Metro at midnight to stock up on American junk food and sleepily ignoring the flirtatious clerks; saying one word in Arabic and being complimented on my excellent language proficiency; and, quite simply, living in this amazing and frustrating city and discovering my limits and deficencies, learning that failure occurs, that triumph is better, and that freedom is beautiful, be it Catalonian, personal, Egyptian, or something else.
Sorry for the rudimentary philosophy. Back to my life-I hit the gym, finally, but, unfortunately, realized I had forgotten an essential part of my wardrobe, a bra, because I was wearing a cami beneath one of those tunic tops I wear 4-5 out of 7 days a week. Not usually a point of interest, except that I ended up treadmilling in my usual trademark short shorts and a tighter shirt with little support. Knowing I was garbed inappropriately, I still did not realize how scandalous my clothing was until I signed out my locker at the end, like usual, and the manager exclaims (remember, they still think Frances and I are lesbians), "Everyone enjoys watching you work out so much! If there was an election here at the gym, you would win!" Fleeing the scene with chargrin, I got back, chatted with Mary, and then walked to Deya's house to rouse her from bed and go to dinner at Abu El Sid's in celebration of Mary's arrival. Meeting several other friends at the restaurant, we introduced Mary to our little community of ALIers and some excellent Egyptian food, walking to a bakery nearby for ice cream. I walked Deya home, followed her up briefly to wallow in trashy E! television and Conan, went home myself and slumbered.
When, mother, you may be asking, did I do my homework on Tuesday? Well, happily, there was none that needed completing, as Wednesday dawned an hour later than usual for ALI due to the institute-wide exit exam issued to all students. Scheduled to last 3 hours, the exam served as our placement test for next semester and as an evaluation of our absorbion this semester, and to be honest, I feel like I understood more of it than I did only 4 months earlier, when I took a similar entrance test before school started. Also, because of the prodigious length of the exam (three hours is alot of Arabic!), morning classes were cancelled, so all I had to attend today was Amia. During this class, someone popped a rather unamusing joke about George Clooney's presence on campus, and I snorted with disbelief. However, as I was leaving class and attempting to descend the usual stairs into the courtyard, guards were stolidly blockading all entrances leading to the Oriental Hall. Hmmm. Still a bit confused, I took a different route and found a group of students huddled around a windowed door waiting for someone. George Clooney! Apparently, he is Cairo for a day and gave a talk at AUC on the Darful crisis. I feel like his event was invitation-only, as all students were equally barred from coming near his presence. Slightly desirous of meeting him, I was more lustful for a horseback ride with Mary while Frances attended a dinner with her class, so I abandoned the groupies, left the chaos of campus, detoured briefly to McDonald's, and then climbed into a yellow cab for Giza.
Although I had promised myself, after falling off twice before, that I would choose a different stable, I found myself returning to D & I stables out of habit, and I did not regret this decision. This time, the owner greeted me outside the stables and seemed tentatively concerned about my previous evening excursion into the dunes and, as Mary and I mounted up to ride, assured me that my life is important to him. Of course, he was throwing me on a full-blooded stallion that pranced enchantingly and snorted with prurient eyes at Mary's mare, but I was still touched. However, if Egypt has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to use caution when riding horses, and I was apprehensive when I first sat astride the beautiful, muscular, fiery stallion, but I did not feel comfortable controlling him in the desert. My guide assured me I could, but, after we had woven our way through the back alleys of Giza to reach the desert, I stopped and stated emphatically that I was not riding the stallion into the desert, so the guide obliged and switched horses. The ride was glorious, and I think Mary also enjoyed it and galloping around the Sahara and over dunes with the cast of the pyramids hovering in the background. No falling off this time, and returning back to the stables I felt elated and relieved, and the patina of doubt that had infused my skin since last time dissolved to leave only exhileration. Riding back just after sunset, I observed the people of Giza beginning to enjoy the desert, from the groups of young boys and men racing magnificent, pure-blood Arabians into the dusk to the obdurate mules escaping their owners to troll the streets to the butts of camels as the heads munched on hay to the families gathering to eat their evening meal. I was finally intelligent this time, and used a yellow meter cab to take us to Giza, avoiding the hassle and awkwardness of using the usual black and white taxis. Astonishingly, the cab was amazingly cheap. I had the driver wait for us while we were riding, and drive us back to Zamalek, and, all told, the entire cost of transportation was 50 LE for about 3-3.5 hours of service.
Delivering Mary safely into the hands of a slightly concerned sister, we then prepared to head to a small gathering at a friend's house, the one with the beautiful Embassy apartment. First, however, we stopped in the Dokki Sheraton to visit the duty-free shop and use Mary's visa to buy some quality liquor. To our horror, we learned that you must be 21 to obtain alcohol from this store (she's 19), but we derived the greatest pleasure from the Sheraton's decorations, from the life-sized manager to the Santa sleigh on the ceiling to the real (we tasted the walls) gingerbread house in which we found, among other things, chocolate santas (they were very cheap so I bought one), live baby chicks, family portraits, cookies, and logs. The party was great, but I left before too long to study and write another blog. Whew! Until next time...


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