Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring is here!

So, word has reached me of some malcontent in the ranks of my readers about the untimliness of my blogging. Poo! (big wink ;-) But my life is just truly not all that noteworthy to be recorded more than once a week, but here goes.
First of all, some general notes about Al-Qahara (Cairo). It's warm again! Yippee! The temperatures are rapidly ascending into the 70's and 80's with spots of sunshine amid the roiling clouds of pollution that wash over Cairo. I've become so spoiled, I don't know if I'll be able to handle those Minnesota winters after the mildness of a Nilotic climate, but what am I if not adaptable, so I'll manage, insha'allah. With the warmth comes the yearly sandstorms that clog the air with fine grit and dust, the khemseen, although, to be honest, I sometimes find it difficult to determine the difference between a particularly polluted day and a sand storm. Pretty sad, huh? I almost feel like I should take up smoking or some other respitory-afflicting habit and observe if there is any difference in my health. To be honest, I doubt there would be, but, just for the record, mom, I'm not going to experiment, promise! Yesterday, I awoke in time for my 9:30 reading and writing class, rolled out of the sheha with Frannie, waited to see which elevator was working (it never actually seems to be both, usually one or the other is inoperable), got down to the building lobby, and noticed an almost palpable haze between my building and the Hotel Flamenco, which is right across the street. Shimmering with muted sunlight, the air was truly the worst I have ever seen it, clotted with an opaque whitish smog, and the buildings across the Nile were entirely obfuscated from my view, and I could only catch a very vague glimpse of their outline as the cab sped along the Corniche. Crossing the Qasr-el-aini bridge into downtown, flanked by the pairs of stately stone lions sitting vigilant on both ends, I could hardly see past their grim paws to the great river, let alone down any length of the water in either direction. Then, in typical Cairo fashion, the air had cleared by midday, and sitting in the courtyard during my break was a pleasant affair of 70's, sunshine, and a constant rhythm of voices entering and leaving the area.
Another interesting aspect of life in Cairo-because the government is fairly reviled (and with good reason), many of the ministers and important officals require motorcades to travel to and from work every day that stop up traffic whenever they pass through. So, imagine my frustration when, already slight late to class (I do a three person car pool most mornings, myself, Frances, and Eli, and coordinating all of our variously procrastinating and frentic morning routines is a study in the art of leaving 10 minutes later than planned, due to sundry crises that arise each sabah in our lives), the shurta, or police, an stopping traffice to allow some arcane official safe passage through the people he is sworn to govern, but who loathe him so that he must be always shielded in a procession of gleaming Mercedes and BMW's. Ahh, Egypt, every day there is some new story on the repression of the government, whether it is arresting a blogger for his anti-Mubarek statements or banning an author from selling her books. I just wonder how long this society can maintain its current state of dictatorial 'democracy' and how long the 25 years of state of emergency law can continue. At some point, every corrupt vehicle must derail, as its foundations slowly rot away amid an atmosphere of treachery, suppression, and separation from the people. When Egypt's train will finally falter I cannot say, and perhaps it will mend the rifts within, but I do not wish to be in this country when it finally plunges from the malformed and corroded path it follows.
But, enough on politics, I know so little about them that I am hardly an authority to lecture. Last Wednesday, right. Ah, yes, that was a typically arduous school day, now that I have all of my classes, but my new class, Spoken Amia, is a hoot! My prof, Nabila, is a grandmotherly type who's fathomless resevoir of energy is magically transmitted to her students in the process of learning colloquial. It seems slightly antithical to finally be learning somewhat fluent Egyptian only to be sent back to America where none of this knowledge of relevant. But I will have the information, if enclosed somewhat hermetically in a drawer in my brain, for my future hopefully abroad. Anyway, Nabila is wonderful, and I laugh more in her class than in all of the others combined, which energizes me for the rest of the day. After classes, a rest, and wagibation (homework), a group of us gathered at the Deal's in Mohendiseen to watch the Barcelona-Chelsea football match, rewind, and bid Cary goodbye. After the match in which Barcelona was defeated, to the dismay of Jema, our resident Catalonian, some of us headed to the Cairo Jazz Club to dance for a bit, randomly meet some of our AUCian friends with the same objective, and then return home, or at Frannie and I did. Everyone seemed to be keeping the party going long into the night. It was the last time I saw Cary, and I found our goodbye slightly surreal about the thudding music and milling chaos of the Club, but I'm already learning I don't like goodbyes. Facebook conversations just aren't the same as face-to-face contact, but I made her promise to come visit me (and Cary, if you're reading this, don't forget!) in MN and attend to swing dancing competition in the fall. And I don't let people back down on their promises, I'm rather indefatiguable in my persistence at times ;-)
On Thursday, classes finished for the week, and I rested, to the relief of my body that is now, Imsik al-kreshib, operating at maximum health for Cairo. Later in the evening, Frannie and a few other of my friends gathered at the quirky Pub 28 for drinks and gossip. The next morning, as I packed up my laptop to meet my Thailand-trip friends to plan our amazing vacation (OMG, it's happening!!!!), Ismail called and invited me to foray into the desert for the day with some of his friends and cook out near Saqqara. Well, the invitation was enticing, but I already had plans, and he wanted to leave within the hour. However, we compromised, I met swiftly with Lesley and David, and then ran back to the apartment, grabbed a jacket, and met Ismail early afternoon. Heading, well, in whatever direction the pyramids are, we passed them, to my perpetual awe and his Egyptian ambivalence, and continued past Giza until we reached the Saqqara Country Club, superbly situated next to rolling sand dunes and canyons perfect for desert driving ;-) One of Ismail's friends owns a Jeep, a nice new Jeep Cherokee, so we zoomed out into the desert, vroomed through few canyons, and arrived at a remote locale on the floor of a wadi (canyon) where several others were already setting up camp.
Within the hour, several more of his friends showed up, all Egyptian and upper class, and we sat on the desert sand, joked as one of the boys tried, and eventually succeeded, in illuminating a portable charcol grill, and talked. Well, I mostly listened, as, believe it or not, I am fairly shy around new folk, but everyone there spoke perfect English, having been educated in educational instituitions such as AUC or other Western-formatted schools. Actually, it was wonderful Amia practice, because half of the conversation was conducted in Amia, and half in English, with language variance occuring in the middle of sentences with obvious ease. Until last weekend, I had not really encountered a group of Egyptians my age in a setting outside of school, and it was fascinating to observe (no, they were not a science experiment, I promise) the vast similarites between Americans and them. Most spoke with an American accent, wore Western clothes, drove American vehicles, and engaged one another in a very, errr, American way. Alright, that sounds kind of sterotypical and fairly nation-centric, but imagine that I have been absorbed in a society where public interaction between the sexes is haram, and suddenly I am in an environment where males are females are casually reclining, dressing in jeans, tank tops, whatever, drinking, and acting as equals, not as subordinates. I could have easily transplanted the group from the deserts of Egypt to the campus of any college in America without any aberration evincing itself between the two cultures. Well, except for the Arabic, I guess, and then there was the ride back to the Club, when we spend a good half hour playing donuts in the desert with the Jeeps and whipping the vehicles into skidding machines and zipping over sand dunes to plummet down the other sides. Creating clouds of dusts every time my driver yanked the wheel, our vehicle slid across the sand with such beautiful precision and speed, never faltering in its honorable quest to kick the other Jeeps' butts! OK, so, back home, you really can't race Jeeps through the Sahara with the Pyramids framing a setting sun, which is why I'm enjoying every ounce of Egypt while I can. I returned home, a bit sandy but flushed with the pure air and exhileration of the desert and later went to Deya's for a movie night.
Dawning far too early for a weekend, Saturday began dryly-dryly-yes, because my tower lost water at some point during the night, so I awoke to a silent and drought-stricken apartment. Unfortunately, I had class that morning to make up for my teacher's future absence at a conference (10 on a Saturday morning is not ideal, but Heba's too sweet to oppose), so I gathered up clean clothes and headed to the Nile Hilton with Frannie, where we both rented out lockers for the next three months (no more lugging tennis shoes and gym clothes to school all day!), cleansed ourselves, and separated, I to school and she to home. Arriving a bit late to class, I nonetheless still managed to catch two hours of Al-Jezira before returning home, still waterless, and then running around Cairo trying to purchase inter-Thailand air tickets with my friends. Bereft of fortuity, I came home again, this time to water, and studied for much of the night.
Sunday-classes and studying, nothing invariably entrancing. But my cab driver was slightly disturbing, as I went alone to school because my classes commence at 11 on Sundays. The entire way to school, he banged the steering wheel and honked the horn to the tune of a popular Arab pop star, Amr Diab, eliciting glowers from passerby and mortification from me, as I doughtily avoiding his repeated glances in the rear view mirror. Monday harboured a bit of excitement, as, during my last class, I repeatedly ignored Frannie's phone calls, to find out when class ended that a fire had flared in our building, cutting off electricity (if it's not one it's the other) and prohibiting residents from entering their apartments. It was a good excuse to gym, and when I made it home, the tower had reverted to its normal dilapidated state. Tuesday, nothing to note on the excite-o-meter, and Wednesday, I'm writing this!