Week in Review

This past week definitely felt like everything was returning to normal. I started Arabic, Beginner, Level 3 and I’m delighted to have Suheir back. I find that for 90 minutes straight I’m staring intently at her and my brain is whirring loudly trying to comprehend and answer. It’s fun, though I have to remember to blink.

Monday was a holiday, as I mentioned, and we celebrated October 6th by hanging out at home. Ron has resumed his graduate courses at the University of Maryland’s online campus (obviously) in database management. He took a few classes about two years ago, but then with the engagement, wedding, moving, and all, he put them aside. He enjoys them, but they are very time-consuming, so between working, homework and entertaining the cats, I’m definitely relegated to fourth place – but not complaining, nope, supportive Dip Wife prevails (for the most part – though whiny, needy, annoyed at time-suckage, never-going-anywhere wife has her moments, too).

Wednesday was my CSA trip entitled, “Walls of Cairo,” in which we were taken to see some atypical sites, including remains of the fortress walls built around Cairo in 1087. It was fascinating! I had the same great tour guide who showed us around the Citadel, but luckily this time she was not saddled with wilting westerners. We remained quite perky and were even able to keep up with her. I will write this up separately as we saw a lot and I ended up taking over 200 photos (and it was just a 4-hour walking tour).

Afterwards, a friend and I grabbed a falafel and fries at a fast food place in Maadi that I had never tried. It looked like a KFC to me (and they’re all over the place), but it was great falafel! I took a cab home and for the second time that day, had a cabbie offer me a cigarette – which I declined, and he promptly lit up. The first one, on the way down to Maadi, was quite chatty and I did my best to practice my Arabic. He asked first if I was French, then German, and finally I offered American (thought it might be fun to be French, but then there’s always the possibility that he could speak French and minimal as it is, my Arabic is lightyears better than my French, which is nonexistent). The taxi driver to Zamalek, though, was a bit obnoxious. Before even getting in the cab, I leaned in the passenger window and asked if he’d go to Zamalek (I always ask first, as Ron taught me). He asked how much, I offered 40LE (which is about double what an Egyptian would pay). He said 50LE, I said no and walked away. He drove up next to me and said ok. I asked again, Zamalek for 40LE? He said yes so I got in. As we’re heading up he says, smiling, “40 if no traffic, 50 if traffic.” I smiled in return, and said, “No, 40, I can’t control the traffic.” This went back and forth for a little while before I let it go.

There was a lot of traffic, gee it’s #$*$*%##**!! Cairo with 20 million people, what a shock! He made a few comments here and there about the traffic (as we were sitting dead still in the middle of it), and I just said, “It’s not bad.” By the time we got to Zamalek, I just felt worn down, so without a word I gave him 50LE (essentially $10). I told Ron that once in a while I’ll do this just to avoid the hassle and to give me peace of mind. The extra $2 is worth it to me. But what I hate is that I ruined it for the next expat, who he’ll try to scam as well. I don’t typically relent, but once in a while if I get a feeling that someone’s going to be difficult, I’ll do it. I’m more than happy to pay extra for someone who does a great job and doesn’t ask for extra. Then I’ll tip big.

This incident, unfortunately, set me up nicely for one of my outings on Thursday, to the Fish Garden (see next post). First, I went to class at the embassy, then had plans to take a cab out to the train station at Ramsis Square. I’d never been there, just driven by, and I read that there was a train museum there (how clever) and an entomological museum (curiosity wins out). So I grabbed a cab and he took me straight to the station. I asked if he knew where the museum (pr. matHaf) was, and he said right in front. Well, I guess technically anything is “right in front” depending on your point of view. But I was apparently never facing the right way. I walked all over, around, in and out, through, under and in between. Finally I gave up, and being that there’s not a lot in the area that appeared to be of interest, I opted to just walk in the general flow of human traffic, figuring they had to be going somewhere.

There was one little incident that happened in the train station. I was walking around inside and admiring the tiled mosaics along the wall, the clock perched high to tell you you’re running late, the stalls selling candy and magazines. Aside from all the gallibayas and hijabs, it was very similar to any train station in Europe – three sides, one open allowing trains in and out, high rafted ceiling, and bustles of people and luggage. As I milled about, I held my small digital camera at my side. I have found that it can be useful to surreptitiously take photos so as to not bother or offend anyone. In the past, I have made sure to turn off the flash and turn off the display and it has worked beautifully, providing I aim correctly. As I was standing near the entrance ready to exit, I took one last photo and saw behind me a bright flash. Arrgh!! Didn’t mean to do that. Instinct took over and without a backwards glance I quietly pocketed my camera as I scooted outside. For all that effort none of the photos turned out – got a lot of rafters, very little else. Oh well, next time.

So I found myself in a rather swift flow of foot traffic having no idea where I was heading. I knew enough that I was heading in the general direction of Tahrir Square, where I caught the cab and where I wanted to get back to. I walked along some streets with basic stores and stalls, saw a falafel stand with a man standing in front of a boiling vat of oil rhythmically grabbing handfuls of pale green taa’mia batter (falafel) with his left hand and tossing them into the oil, while his right hand gently stirred them with a long-handled wire scoop and periodically pulled them out when they were done.

At one point I was able to find a street sign and was pleased to learn that I was actually on Ramsis Street. I knew the entomological museum was at 14 Ramsis, so I started walking one way, came to 28, so I turned around and walked the other way, and walked and walked. No numbers anywhere and those buildings that weren’t abandoned, were banks or other businesses. There was one possibility, so I wandered in and asked the guards if this was a museum (pr. Fiih matHaf?). I got in response, “La, mish matHaf.” Darn. So after walking back and forth and back once more, I figured I better move along before the street guards start marking me as a stalker.

I grabbed a cab and asked him to take me to Zamalek, where my intention was to check out two small parks along the Nile. Earlier in the week I had checked out two others (again, this will be a separate post), but I wanted to complete these. So with great confidence I told him to take the “6 October” bridge. Only after getting on the bridge, did I realize I meant the other bridge. Darn, again. And since it’s a one-way street, whose one-way-ness is actually adhered to (which is unusual in Cairo), I couldn’t ask him to take me where I really meant. So I gave up and had him take me home.

I had some lunch, organized my thoughts and despite the growing issue of air quality here, decided to make a second visit to the Fish Garden. I’m delighted to say that the temperatures have dropped and the days are quite lovely. It’s warm, but there’s typically a gentle or even not-so-gentle breeze blowing, and it’s really pleasant. The negative for this season, however, is that the overall pollution in the air has gotten significantly worse with the added mixture of burn-off from the rice fields all around Cairo (Heather, do you have this in Tokyo too?). So now there’s often a smell of burning something in the air, which tends to manifest in an extra tickle in your throat after you’ve been outside any amount of time. Lovely. At least we’re not sweating.