October 31, 2006
So being the “hawagea” (foreigner – implied “not so smart”), I did not know about Eid el Fetr – the celebration/vacation at the end of the month of Ramadan. WOW, we get a week off because Ramadan has ended? That’s kinda nice.
THEN we found out that EVERYONE travels for Eid. Cairo nearly shuts down during this week, as everyone goes to the beach, or to visit relatives, or just to holiday somewhere else. We found this out about half way thru Ramadan. The Egyptians had their bookings for all kinds of exotic places, the old-timers had their bookings for all kinds of exotic places, Jack and I were just figuring out that ?maybe? we should travel.
Just about that time, we see a flyer/poster in the Hostel advertising for a 5day/4night trip to Morocco. Two nights each in Casablanca and Marrakech – sounds exotic! It is affordable. WTH – how bad could it be? [insert foreshadowing music here]
I spend about 4 days trying to track down information about the trip – and with a bit of trepidation about the organization of the trip, we put down our deposit. We are committed.
There are other small snafus. Jack has not received his “Residence Visa” yet. I have mine, but his was messed up because we have different last names. He extends his “Tourist Visa” and gets “Re-entry” permission and that seems to be fixed. Only took a week and about 4 visits to various offices – we’re making progress.
We “insist” on getting the flight numbers and itinerary, so that we can look at the flights, etc. We decided (with slight feelings of not being a “team” player (which we got over)) to get our own airport clearance and a car/driver for our return.
In case I haven’t mentioned it in previous posts – airport clearance is a GODSEND. A “fixer” meets you inside customs and immigration to collect your passport. He goes straight to the head of the line and gets you processed in about 3 minutes – NO LINE. He then gets your baggage and “escorts” you thru customs – no hassles, easy as pie. It would be (as Jack says) “Cheap at twice the price”
The day before we leave (our departure is 9:30pm on Sunday October 22nd, from the hostel – flight at just past midnight!) we pack, pull out all the possible paperwork that we could need and we are READY FOR MOROCCO!
On Sunday – we head downstairs about 30 minutes before we are due to depart. There is CHAOS in the lobby. Students leaving for holiday. Students arriving for the tour. People visiting. Cats prowling. We eventually find our way onto a mini-bus for the trip to the airport. In general, the trip to the airport was uneventful. We were obviously the old people on our bus (by about 2 decades)! We resigned ourselves to that fate and decided to have fun.
Checking in was as chaotic as any check in usually is – especially with 30+ people, all traveling on “grouped” tickets. We were all checked in, and waiting in the boarding area 20 or so minutes prior to boarding. By this time it is past midnight, I’m fading fast. When we finally boarded the flight, it didn’t even matter that I was in a middle seat in coach! I was ready to check out for the majority of the flight.
Ready – yes! Did I? No. I spend a large portion of the flight talking with one of the AUC Housing staff who was coordinating the trip. It was a pleasant conversation, but eventually both of us needed sleep. I woke up just as we were landing in Barcelona for a “quick stop” before going on to Madrid.
October 28, 2006
Here is the “quick” webpage of photos from our trip to Morocco.
Hope you like them. Actual blog post to come…
October 20, 2006
If your delicate sensibilities are offended by a mental picture or description of expanses of tender skin being violently denuded by the application and rapid removal of hot wax, please refrain from reading further.
I hate shaving! I “learned” about waxing over 10 years ago, and have opted for the short-term violence of waxing over the daily PITA of shaving ever since. For the last few years, I’ve had a MARVELOUS spa around the corner from the house where I went to “Bee Waxed” (pun intentional). Waxing is a very personal, and often uncomfortable process, that one does not enter into lightly, especially if one is having hair removed from “personal” places. Bee Waxed has been a wonderful haven for the last few years. The proprietress, Bren, is GREAT at what she does and has become a good friend. Needless to say, I was nervous about moving to Cairo and having to find a new place to be waxed. Trial and error in this area is not a fun thing!
After arriving in Cairo I waited and waffled as long as possible, before both Jack and I decided that I was turning into a hairy monster and needed denuding! A friend here had mentioned that she went to a very high end spa nearby, and that it was clean, efficient and affordable. I’d reached the point that “It HAD to be done”, so she and I made appointments for depilitation (I don’t know if that is a real word – but you get the idea!)
The Mohamad al Sagheer spa is part of a chain of very posh spas that are based around a French “marine extract” concept. It was very different than any place I’d been in the States. We arrived and I met my “technician”. We went straight to work.
For comparison: when I used to arrive at Bren’s place, she would lead me to a small room and then depart momentarily while I removed whatever clothing was necessary and “draped” my private bits with a small towel. Those bits would be draped whenever there was not waxing actively occuring. This gave an illusion of propriety that makes having pubic hair removed not seem as strange.
At Sagheer, the girl closed the door, asked if I was ready for my waxing and said, “Take off your pants.”
WOW, that was forthright!
Once I had followed her instructions and situated myself on the table, she went straight to work. There was no “superfluous” draping involved. It was a tad odd, to be lying on the table, naked from the waist down, with not even the most superficial pretense of modesty. She was fast, efficient and very good at what she did, it was just a bit odd. I understand that the draping is more psychological than anything else. I’d never really worried about it a whole lot in the States, yet I was startlingly aware of its absence.
October 13, 2006
Last time we went to the Khan, just after arriving in Cairo, we got lost in some of the more “industrial” areas (where tourists don’t go). After being crushed by humanity in some tiny alleyways and then being in a warren of metalworks shops, I got TOTALLY overwhelmed and (more than a little) freaked out. Jack was great. He got us back to the main area, and I could breathe again. Since then I have been a little hesitant about going back to the Khan. Once bitten, twice shy – and all of that.
This evening, we went back. The whole area is different at night. Everything is even more different during the weekend during Ramadan. When we arrived, we went to a slightly different starting point and it made all the difference in the world. Midan Hussein, where we began our adventure tonite, was FILLED with tables of people waiting for Iftar (the announcement that the sun had set and they could eat). One could not walk across the square for the masses of people waiting to break fast.
We entered the Khan from near the Hussein mosque, and it was COMPLETELY unlike the last time we were there. THIS was what I’d expected the Khan to be like. For the first 30 or so minutes that we wandered the alleyways of the bazaar, it was nearly empty. Vendors and shoppers were breaking fast. Many groups of vendors gestured to us to join them in their Iftar meal. We politely declined and continued to wander around. As Iftar passed, the hordes of humanity began to fill the small passages.
This time it was friendly and hospitable, if not still filled with agressive touts. Tonite, most of them seemed to think I was Spanish. Shouts of, “Hola, senorita” were my most common greeting. Everyone wants to sell you something, and I was not overwhelmed this time. We saw some nice rugs and poufs that we may go back and bargain for at another time. The rug boys were too lazy to even try to get our business, and the pouf guys were asking astronomical prices. Jack got to play hard-to-get with the shopkeeper at an alabaster stall, however. Both men seemed to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game. I was very glad I did not have to participate. I do not enjoy bargaining.
I began the motions of bargaining for a pair of slippers, but failed miserably. This gave Jack great amusement, and reinforced my hatred of bargaining.
All in all it was a very good evening. We got some beautiful alabaster pieces. We had mint tea at El Fishawy cafe – a former haunt of writer Naguib Mahfouz. We reveled in the insanity that is the Khan on a Ramadan Friday evening.
I am glad we are home now – relaxing and basking in the Khan afterglow.
I have to admit – I am not nearly as good a photographer as Jack, nor am I nearly as diligent about going thru the pictures and posting them as he is. I blame it on the fact that he “works from home” and has access to his photos more than I do. Even when I “have time” at school, all my photos are on my laptop at home.
So here are some relatively recent (since the Pyramids trip) photos of things and places that we’ve been seeing.
October 9, 2006
Having taught for nearly 10 years in Seattle and now being in Cairo, people often ask about the differences/similarities between the student populations.
First – I must preface with, I am looking at Washington Apples and Egyptian Mangos. These groups have little in common. And yet, they are alike in so many ways. I know it sounds like a cliche, and it is still true. The ages of the two populations are EXTREMELY dissimilar, and still their preparedness is suprisingly similar. The American students are initially very guarded with faculty members, and the Egyptians are very open. My community college students were often financially struggling to go to school, my Egyptian students all come from “good families”. There are few scholarship or financial aid students at AUC.
I gave midterm exams in my classes over the last 2 days. For the week preceeding the exams, I’ve had e-mails and visits by students asking, “Do I have to know this for the exam? What about this?” I’ve done my Socratic best to side-step the questions, much to the chagrin of my students.
So in yesterday’s exam, students worked diligently, asked questions during the exam, and a group in the back DISCUSSED the exam. I warned them, stood in the midst of the group, made individual eye contact with each of them during warnings – to little avail. So I marked their papers to lose points. They wailed! How could I be so HARSH!!??
Today, one student walked in late, took his assignment out of his binder to give to me, and preceeded to leave his notebook OPEN on his lap. When I took the binder and asked him what he thought he was doing, he told me that he was soo worried about passing in the assignment and beginning the exam, he FORGOT that the notes were open on his lap. “How could I think he would USE them??”
And yet, to every cloud there is a silver lining. I had to laugh. At the end of the class period, the remaining students get VERY hard of hearing when I say that the exam is over, please pass it in. So I say it again – to no comprehension. So I clap my hands in a sliding motion, so that the “top” palm slides horizontally over the “bottom” palm (as if I am wiping crumbs off my hands) and loudly say, “Khallas”. Every student jumps, looks up and immediately hands in their paper! LOL
Khallas is the Egyptian word that means something like, “Done”, “Over”, “Enough”. I’ve heard it enough times from my students, now it was my turn. I chuckled all the way back to my office.
October 2, 2006
I guess I’m too programmed by having national holidays listed on calendars and expecting them to STAY there.
I got to work today to find out that the National Holiday (Armed Forces Day) that is “scheduled” for Friday is being celebrated on Thursday. So, today, Monday, we were informed that we have Thursday off as a holiday!
God I love this country!
Everyone wants “small money” (piaster notes or 1 or 5 pound notes) no-one is willing to give them out as change. CHANGE – what is that? Practically no-one has change, or if they do, they’re not giving it to you/me/anyone.
“Mafeesh fakkah” = no change. Get used to it.
It costs 5LE for me to take a taxi to school – I have to have exact change. So does everyone else, so EVERYONE gives the taxi driver a 5 or 5 ones for fare.Â Yet if you give him a ten, he tells you “Mafeesh fakkah”. It is the same just about everywhere. If you try to pay with anything bigger than a 20, people can’t/won’t give you change. Just for reference 20LE is about $3.20USD. If I try to buy an 8LE coffee with a 20LE note, I get the exasperated looks, sighs and gesticulations that indicate I’m trying to break the bank! Even at the bank, they are reticent to give small money out. I tried to buy 20 five pound notes with a 100 pound note and had to INSIST that they give me the small bills!
I believe that part of it is that if there is no change given, then the change is left. I am ok with this in some cases: if my lunch costs 18LE, I give 20LE and never ask for change. I have issues with it when my taxi ride is 5LE and all I have is a 10.
There is also the oddity that there are no coins here.Â ALL MONEY IS IN BILL FORM.Â This means that the wallet is constantly stuffed with bills that are nearly worthless.Â A 10 piaster note is worth $0.017 or 1.7cents!Â There is a BILL for that amount.Â This seems ridiculous, yet the bills are around.Â AND if you ASK for them, you will be told, “Mafeesh fakkah!”
Get used to it