Friday, August 25, 2006

Old Cairo and swindling

Cairo is crazy! Cairo officials decided to move a statue of Ramses from Ramses square to the Giza plateau, at 2 in the morning. My roommates and I were sittng around talking (yes, at 2 in the morning), when we heard racuous shouts, screams, and general noises of excessive revelery. Apparently, moving the statue was a good excuse to party. Unfortunately, our window does not look out onto the street, just a creepy alleyway with weird men in the rooms across. Before the wild street partying, I finally did some shopping! Alright, I was rather coerced into the shopping, but it was still fun. Some guy talked us into looking at his shop, and suddenly we were sitting down in a really cute perfume store sipping mint tea. Actually, it was flower extract he was selling, supposedly the pure essence of the flower without any added alcohol. Needless to say, I ended up buying a fair amount, but at least I have the beautiful, hand-blown glass perfume bottles to show for it. Then, of course, Hassan, our good friend who has a brother in Minnesota (he calls it Minne-snow-ta, a thinks himself very clever), leads Annie and me back to our hotel, but, oh, his friend's papyrus shop is along the way, so we stop there. I had been to the Khan-El-Khalil bazaar earlier in the day, and had been contemplating buying some papyrus, so this just increased my desire for some. I feel a little embarrassed telling this tale, but I'm learning, and soon it'll just be one of those "onetime, when I wasin Cairo" stories.

Today, we visited Old Cairo, well, me and 23 other girls from the dorm. First, we stopped at a mosque, where we donned green robes with hoods to cover our sinfulness from God. Actually, though, the Amr mosque was indelibly peaceful, quiet with soothing white marble and carpet beneath our bare feet. The women's section was fascinating; it seemed like a gathering place for women, to talk about faith, family, and anything else on their minds. It was my first time in a mosque, and very pleasing. The rest of the day we putzed around the narrow alleyways of Old Cairo, ducked into numerous churches and a synagogue, saw the well where (supposedly), Moses was discovered, and explored the absolutely beautiful Coptic graveyard. Then, we visited a grocery store and stocked up on essentials. It's funny, American goods are so expensive over here, but everything else is dirt cheap. I spent a little over 20 dollars on three bagfuls of goodies.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting lost and found

Whew! I had the most exhausting day! I got hopelessly lost once, semi-lost several times, rented an apartment in Arabic, walked for hours in stifling heat, got heckled at , abused, and otherwise sterotyped as an American female, rode two taxis, found out my ATM cards don't work, and returned home entirely ebullient on the scary streets. But getting lost is rather frightening, especially as you walk and walk farther into unknown territory, watching the scenery change from downtown to Old Cairo, the Islamic district. The stares I receive are so prurient, although every other girl I've talked with receives the same treatment (so don't worry, mom!) Men stare at every inch of you at their leisure, and they feel no shame at this. I've already gotten a few pretty good lines-I think one was "One hour of power?" Heehee! Many guys either whistle or hiss, most say 'welcome, welcome to Cairo' in that low voice.

Anyways, I retraced my steps after getting lost, returned to the AUC campus and the Hill House almost in tears. Dina, one of the admistrators, was very sweet and drew me a map back to my hotel. Before I left, I encountered a few girls who were looking for an apartment. Hey, why not look, I thought. Well, now I've signed an apartment lease for 10 months in a three bedroom, two bath flat in Zamalek, an island in the Nile. Finding it was extremely challenging, and I was lucky that one of the girls was fairly fluent in Arabic. We saw an advertisement on a tree (cheap advertising), called his cell, and he met us at the Hardee's and showed us several apartments. We finally settled on one with a view of the Nile for 3300 Egyptian pounds (LE), but then the owner came and raised the price to 3900. Well, that wasn't acceptable, so we negotiated, shouted, and bargained our way down to 3600. We accepted it, attempted to understand the Arabic lease agreement, and handed over our incomes (actually, I owe my new roommates a lot of cash because my ATM card doesn't work). Then the broker needed his share, so we probably over-paid him and left. We move in next Wednesday! I'm very excited! The Cairo Khan, where I'm currently supposed to be living, is alright, and I have very nice roommates, in fact, four of them. If you know me (and you probably do, since you're reading this), I like my space, and three people in my bedroom is rather uncomfortable. Plus, the hotel is smack-dab in the middle of downtown, a node for honking cars, shouting salesmen, and all night noise. The hotel is at least a fifteen minute (more like 25) walk from campus, but they never gave us a map, and negotiating the undulating crowds is like navigating a Minnesota road in a blizzard, almost impossible to tell what direction you're heading. I've got a map, now, so I only make a few wrong turns ;-)

I have discovered the perfect diet-the Cairo diet. Walk all day (literally), in sweltering, sultry, clothes stick to your body heat, drink a modest amount, and don't eat anything except a dinner. I think my tummy looks flatter!

There are a million thoughts tumbling tumultously through my head, but I'll stop now. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Welcome to Cairo

WOW! I just arrived in Cairo today, at about 3 in the afternoon. I stepped off of the plane and entered a sauna. I knew Cairo was going to be hot, but it has surpassed its expectations. For the first time in my life (and this isn't a bad thing), I am a minority. Standing in the passport control line, almost all of the people I saw were Arabs, and there were certainly no blonde, tall, blue-eyed Americans! Flying over Cairo, I felt so insignificant! Row upon row upon row of apartments covered the horizo-and then I saw the pyramids. Even from high up, they were magnificant!