Friday, September 01, 2006

More shopping;-) for the new apartment and visit to the Egyptian Musueum

As always, I've had a last few exhausting days. On Thursday (yesterday), I woke up in my new capacious apartment, inhaled deeply as the light streamed in through my curtains, and wandered into my connecting bathroom to wash up. It was so wonderful to have my own space and not have to worry about whether I'm taking too long or wonder about the cleanliness of the space. My tiled pink bathroom has a very wide sink with an excellent drain (if you're a girl, you'll appreciate this) and a wondeful shower with excellent water pressure complete with a ledge behind to store all of the stuff girls deem essential. My room itself is actually rather plain, but I've spruced it up ;-) After lazing around for a little while, going down to the Metro and stocking up on paper products, lighting my incense to perfume my room (my new best friend), Frances and I went to Khan El-Khalil. We usually make Midan Hussein our base for exploring, and this was exceptionally significant today because a memorial sevice for the author Naguib Mafooz (I know I butchered his name) was held in the very same square earlier in the day. I know this because I flipped on CNN to discover a clip from the memorial service on TV. I was rather astonished to realize that I had walked in a place that was so recently in the news! Anyway, before entering the bazaar, we wandered into Islamic Cairo again and strolled down a crowded Egyptian street. I saw camel's feet, eggplant, cell phones, and Ramadan lamps all for sale within the same block. This neighborhood of the city is so antithical to my own that I can hardly grasp the superficial differences between cultures, let alone the little nuances. While we were walking, the call to prayer was announced from the various mosques in the area, and the noise filtered through the streets and surrounded you with an ethereal quality. Then, of course, the moment is broken by someone throwing rocks at you or proposing marriage. After wandering through the streets and admiring the amazing Arabesque architecture, we entered the Khan where I bought two poofs. They're basically cushions you stuff and set on the floor so guests have a place to sit, and they give my room a very Middle Eastern flair. Then, we wandered into the cloth makers' market, where some of the world's most beautiful quilts and wall hangings are crafted, I'm sure. Basically, people hand sew comforters, pillowcases, and other sized cloths decorated with painstakingly detailed lotus flowers, Arabesque swirls, Quarnic writing, and other patterns. Of course, I had to have one, and Frances and I visited one man's gallery, where hundreds of these were displayed. I cannot even fathom the amount of labor it took to craft the pieces he showed us, but I was impressed, to say the least. I looked at at least 50 before I knew which one I wanted, a gorgeous turquoise, black, and blue swirly pattern that currently adorns my bed. After a bit of bargaining, essential to any purchase in the market, I came away with my masterpiece. Later that night, after organizing my room, I visted my frinds at Cairo Khan, and my awesome RD, and got McDonald's at 1:30 am before taking a taxi back to my place.
Today, I had a date at 11 at the Egyptian Musuem (see above picture), which I kept, more or less, but was not terribly impressed with the museum. The artifacts themselves were endlessly fascinating, from the colossal stautes of Akentenon to the ancient papyrus scrolls of gods and goddesses. First, the guard at the gate was a little too friendly, professing his undying love to me and proclaiming my beauty. Then, cameras are not allowed inside, which is kind of a joke, because the museum is not air-conditioned, and the 100 degree humidity does far more damage to the relics than a camera flash. Even the Louvre allows you to bring a camera inside, if not use it everywhere. But no, I had to check my camera with a very dubious security lady. Then, the guard at the metal detectors (another joke, as I beeped but walked right on through), REALLY wanted one of my carabiner hooks on my backpack. Everytime I walked, by he'd ask. Rather annoying, esepcially since I offered him one if he'd let my bring my camera in, buy he said no. I'm trying to think of a better bribe ;-) Needless to say, we left soon after because of the oppressive heat. I've heard that they're building a new musuem out by the pyramids in Giza, with air conditioning, but, this being Egypt, who knows how long that will take. I whiled away the rest of the afternoon shopping along Talaat AlHaarb with friends, purchasing a skirt and two shirts, one without sleeves (scandalous, I know!) One interesting fact about Muslim culture: Don't go out with you're hair wet, as this is a strong indicator that you just had sex. To be honest, the reason for this is, after sex, you cannot pray until you've showered, so these two are irrevocably intertwined. Even Muslims don't entirely dispute this fact, so I plan on soon investing in a blowdryer. After this, we almost attended a concert, but that didn't work out, so I returned home. We rode the Metro to the AUC campus, and I was unabashedly impressed with the system. The station was spotless and clean, without a urine scent, and my blonde friend and I hopped in the all women's car (the front one). and were, for once, free of the brazen stares, points, gestures, and comments, of Egyptian men. The cab ride home to Zamalek was, for once, rather frightening. The cabbie took me through a more 'Egyptian' area, and suddenly a black man ran past shouting, followed by a gang of young men. The first man ran into a store, grabbing people and shouting. At first I thought he was robbing the store, but when the rest of the men showed up, I think he was asking for help. I didn't see what happened next, because traffic started moving again (thankfully), but I don't think I wanted to. When Egyptian women start fleeing the scene at an undignified run, it can't be good. I was locked in a cab, so I felt pretty safe (FYI mom). After returning home, I met Frances at a bookstore on Zamalek, very classy because it accepts credit cards, and bought some interesting Arabic fiction, translated, of course. Afterwards, we went to this wonderful Egyptian restaurant, Abu ElSaid, where I proceeded to down an entire bottle of wine ;-) Seriously, though, it was a baby bottle, and I didn't finish it all, and a weekend, so perfectly acceptable. When we asked the bartender, I thought the wine was 6 LE, but when the bill came, it turned out to be 55 LE. A bit of a surprise, but still under 10 dollars. The restaurant was disguised behind a very non-despcript pair of wooden doors, without a sign, but when I entered, the place was packed. And for good reason, with latticed iron lamps straight from Sheharzad, antique mirrors, velvet divans, and photos of the ubiquitious Mubarek. Very Egyptian!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My new pad

Well, it's 1:30 in the morning here, and I'm sitting in the bottom of my new apartment building sipping a mango smoothie (I'll let you know if I get sick; they're chunks of really good mango in it). I moved today! Yay! No more horrendous Cairo traffic or pressing crowds. Zamalek, the island I'm on, is so European, quiet and shady with graceful avenues and a too many embassies. It's not paradise, but it's seems like an oasis in the midst of the pollution bowl that is Cairo. My apartment is wonderful! I have my own bedroom with a big bed, basically my own bathroom (my roommates only come in to use the washer), a beautiful view of the Nile and a mosque across the river, and a cool breeze from the river, plus, of course, air conditioning. It's huge! There's a spacious dining room with a table that seats six, a large living room with seating for 10, satellite TV with mostly Arabic music videos, three bedrooms, two baths, and a lanai. My clothes actually have a home, and my bras have their own drawer (pause to wipe the tears from my eyes). We have the sweetest maid, Selwa, who doesn't speak a word of English, but comes to clean once a week and does a very thorough job. I'm literally only about two blocks from the Zamalek dorms, but I'm allowed male guests ;-) There's a sporting club on the island that I've heard offers horseback riding lessons. I think I may check that out in the next few days and see if I can sign up. Right now I"m going to finish unpacking and get some good sleep. Bye!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Islamic Cairo and Felucca

This post should be shorter than the previous one. However, since I received certain complaints from certain someones that I am behind on my blog, I will try to be regular ;-) Today was another frentic day of wandering the streets of Cairo. I have actually almost mastered the route from school back to the hotel along Talaat alHaraab, just in time to move out of the area and onto Zamalek. I was told by the ALI office that I needed to register at 9 this morning, so I dragged myself from bed and stumbled bleary-eyed to school, only to find out that registration goes until 1 in the afternoon and only takes 2 minutes to complete. Well, what to do with the rest of the day? Shop, of course! My two new roommates and I wandered down to Islamic Cairo and Khan El-Khalil, where one of them bartered for a very nice sheesha. Trekking through the streets of this area is a marvelous experience, walking in the cool shadows of the minarets, ducking into narrow alleyways, smelling the freshly baked bread wafting from the numerous stores, and always being scrutinized with a curious eye. Eventually, we ambled back to the main part of the market, where I proceeded to purchase a beautiful leather purse and two matching inlaid mother of pearl boxes. We attempted to walk back to my hotel, but the heat became so oppressive that we jumped into a cab. I always feel like a dripping faucet in this city, and I'm only cool when I'm in air conditioning. Anyway, after this, one of my current roommates, the mysterious fifth person, and I shopped for clothes in the stores in downtown. Clothes here are so trendy! I had mistakenly envisioned a far different fashion industry, but there are endless stores selling the latest camis, short dresses, flowly long skirts (my favorite!), and beautiful tunic tops, among other things. I 'managed' to buy a nice skirt.
Then, it was onto the felucca ride. A felucca is a traditional Egyptian sailboat, a type of transportation that has been used for thousands of years, although the current ones have electricity. Four friends and I met in front of our university (I took my first cab ride all by myself. I'm so proud;-) and walked to the Four Seasons. A pier in front of this has many feluccas waiting for hire, and we got one for 50 LE, total. That's less than 10 dollars for a private boat ride on the Nile. I was worried about mosquitoes, but there were few bugs and only a cool breeze to brush our hair and soothe our flushed faces. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Night of Sheesha

I have had an absolutely crazy past few days! I've hardly been in my room except for sleeping. Last night our awesome RA, Dina, took us to a beautiful restaurant on the Nile, Sequoia. All eighteen of us piled into 4 cabs and eventually arrived on the other side of Zamalek. We slid into two couches right next to the Nile, with palm trees waving in the breeze, soft lighting barely illuminating the tables, and picturesque views of the river. The restaurant has a 50 LE minimum, which is very easy to spend if you order food, sheesha, and drinks. Yes, that's right, Laura smoked sheesha, and it was fun! Mine was peach-flavored and bubbled pleasantly while I poofed smoke at the Nile. It was such a relaxing evening, reclining on our couches, smoking sheesha, drinking (well, for me, Diet coke), and sinking into the placid rhythms of Egyptian life. Of course, reality surfaced and we had to return to the chaos that is Cairo Khan. Getting a cab is always an experience, not the least because foreigners often seem to be charged more. Downtown is such a seething pit of life! I'll be happy to move to the much quieter Zamalek, but sad to leave my great friends.

The fifth mysterious roommate showed up in our apartment, and she's Egyptian (well, American Egyptian, but she's got family here). Now we've got a full house, but I'll be gone soon, although Sherine is really great! She knows all sorts of great restaurants and hotspots for us to hang out at. First, before I could have any fun, I had to take an Arabic placement exam for the ALI program. The ALI office finally decided to reveal themselves to us, although it was generally unruly and an extremely difficult test. I'm praying for good results tomorrow! After that, we wandered into the Egyptian Museum gardens, and my friend and I, Tanya, had alot of fun laughing at the tourists. Honestly, if any of you come to Egypt or the Middle East, don't dress sluttily, provocatively, or otherwise inappropriately. This means no tank tops or shorts. Yes, I know the temps are over 100 F, but just sweat it out, we do! By the end of the day, you will relish that shower, let me tell you. After wandering the museum, we took a cab to the mohendiseen neighborhood and visited a salon there. I had my arms 'sweeted', basically, waxed, but with this sugary, sticky, lemony substance that pulls hair out. A little painful, but I love the results! I also got a pedicure, and the total cost of my visit, with tip, was less than 10 dollars. Definitely not breaking the bank, mom!
After that, we visited Khan El-Khalil and just wandered the streets. You have no idea how many people can fit into one small alley until you have traversed these streets. Not the touristy area, but the stalls where Egpytians buy clothing and other goods. Wall to wall, elbow to elbow people, as far as the eye can stretch! Overwhelming, but amusing, and surprisingly safe! Other than those always appreciated hisses, catcalls, "Hey babe", and other lines, I felt pretty comfortable. One thing that amazes me-I see fully veiled women walking down the street, and then see them stop and paw through extremely hideous tight piles of men's underwear or barter over lingerie that I would not find in the U.S. I mean, these things are risque little teddies and bras that can really serve only one purpose, and it's not functionality. Anyway, I came back from that a sweatball, and ran into my roommates leaving for a resturant on the Nile, and I couldn't pass that up, so we went to a boat on the Nile, Nile City, and dined in a very nice Egpytian restaurant. We had a bit of trouble coordinating the cabs to drop us off at the right spot, but fate was with us, and we ended up happily dining in another charming place! I was such a tourist, whipping out the tripod for my camera and snapping a few nice photos. Cairo traffic always makes me laugh. Back home, we obey traffic laws and walk signals, but here, these things don't exist. We simply cross into the street amid honking cars and pray the drivers don't hate Americans;-) Seriously, though, it is like a scene from a movie where the star darts out into oncoming traffic and barely makes it across, but it's like this everyday! Tanya had it right, it's just like frogger! Honestly, though, everyone will stop for you, they may honk and act angry, but they'll stop.