Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You know that feeling you get when your traveling. That you have (generally) moved beyond where people know you and you an be more free (more open?). At least this is me. Not that you hold me back, but still. . .

Hanging out in Cairo is like that, but on 'roids. I assume people will guess Im supposed to be a little different anyway, so if I want to be a little extra friendly thats ok. Who doesnt like friendly? Maybe Im just fighting against stereotypes about Americans. And Egyptians are themselves so friendly and accepting. It feels just right.

But, Ive noticed I tend to try to ratchet it back when I see other (obviously) foreign people. Why? Do I assume they will be more freaked out?

The truth is, i kinda like air drums.

Story; I got off work at 5pm (9am cdt) last night and in the elevator on my way to the ground floor some very excellent Bruce Springsteen came on. Glory Days. I was about to really bust out some killer moves, thinking that the lobby would be empty and if my licks were discovered by the doorman it wasnt a great issue. I was shocked (and the beat was thrown off) by some woman standing at the front desk.

It took me two months to notice there are a half dozen little birdies in cages behind the front desk of my building. Too much ipod.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I pity the fuul!

Unlike Morocco, Egypt does not seem to have a “national dish”. But, if it had to be anything, I think the winner would be fuul. Maybe its because I can make more puns with it. Maybe because it seems like it is everywhere. Maybe because no one else does it quiet like them.

Fuul. They say broad beans, but they are really talking about Hannabal Lector’s fava bean. Mashed up like refried beans. For reasons that I don’t understand they come from a huge special cooking pot that seems designed to be difficult to wash out. I am sure there are some things stirred in, I am just not clear what. A typical fuul has a little tahini on top, maybe some cumin, red pepper, lime juice, pepper, etc. Served and eaten with pita bread. Can also be shoveled into the bread for a sammie if you are in a big hurry.

There are two fuul places I would like to profile.

4 Fuuls. These guys set up their fuul cart outside my apt every morning and cater to a range of people from business men to those with a faded dirty blue collar. They dish up fuul as fast as possible and yet it seems like to get an order in you need to shout and plead. Fuul is flying, and the guys that work there seem covered in it by 9am when I show up. Brown beans drying in their hair while they work a disorganized assembly line of people stirring first one thing then another into bowls of fresh fuul. Ive always assumed that when it’s hard to even get the food, it must be good. And it is. One great part about 4 fuuls is that they lack any seating. There is one table about 2 meters long, dirty by 7am. Other seating and eating areas are rather ad hoc, and I would not advise parking your car on their corner. My favorite part is the bowl of fresh tomatoes, dill, onion, and other goodies that really freshens up the meal.

Magic Fuul. Magic because like Brigadon it appears from the mists of the Garden City. Also located within a few blocks of my apt, they roll out the car and set up sidewalk seating as the sun goes down. An excellent sit down experience, they bring several plates of side dishes to your table in addition to the main course fuul. I don’t like the fuul as much as 4 Fuuls, but fried eggplant makes pretty much any experience in life better.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I went hashing this weekend. Not “that kind” of hashing. Hashing is a strange sport invented by crazy British expats so that they have an excuse to drink and maybe get some exercise.

I met a few other American grad students and we went by metro and taxi out to a strange suburban club for expats. People say I live in a “nice” neighborhood. I do. The ACE club is in a “very nice neighborhood”. About 30 people and 2 dogs rally up, vaguely find rides and head out. I thought this was a sorta casual suburban jog, and inappropriately wore my Chaco’s, which seemed like a less and less good idea the further out of town we went. Keep in mind that Cairo is like any other metro area with 14,000,000 people. It has extensive suburbs, and we were going out past the last one.

We missed a turn. “Ah! There is the marker” my driver shouts over what was either Nigerian music or reggae covers of pop. I also had missed the marker, which is understandable because it turns out to be a roll of plastic trash bags by the side of a wildly dirty and polluted road. Maybe a joke by the hashers, a group known for hilarity.

The car works its way up into a slowly growing suburban sprawl of some even nicer houses and apartments, with a terrific view of some lesser pyramids, and also about 25 brick factories whose smog shrouds the area in something more tangible than mystery.

We head off road. Or rather on a dirt track. I asked where it went, and was told “to the desert”. After about 15 mins going further and further where Chacos seem less and less a good idea, we stopped and people gathered together. I noted more than a few beers being drank.

The idea is to follow one of two desert routes from marker to marker. Originally hash marks on trees we have adapted this so flour or red lentils on the ground. What is problematic is that it can be very difficult to find one from the next so there is a good deal of starting and stopping. Add to this a some false trails. . .and you have a quick 100 min desert hike. I opted against the run, thinking I would wait until I had real shoes on, and was even remotely in shape. The entire event finishes with a rally at base with some odd “get to know the new people” moments, a beer, and suddenly Im in a Chinese buffet with 15 expats. Good food, kinda pricey, did not have the traditional desert.

The original constitution:
• To promote physical fitness among our members
• To get rid of weekend hangovers
• To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
• To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

If this doesn’t describe my life fairly well, I don’t know what does.

More information?

Monday, May 25, 2009

So the top to my laptop is kinda loose. Not an emergency, not preventing it from working. I heard about a good computer repair person and emailed him today. This is the response I got.

"...don't worry i will be able to fix it for u if god will."

and that is just how it goes.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One lesson learned in Morocco was to always try to get change. If you could take a big bill and break it down to a smaller one via some normal transaction, that was a good idea. Inevitably, the next person you buy something from will not have anything close to enough change on hand to break your seemingly huge 20dh note.

Not the case in Egypt. First, the idea of coins is only slowly catching on, with 1pound coins being the largest. After an afternoon of shopping this leaves me with pockets bulging with old well worn semi-torn pieces of paper. At home my desk is littered with piles of them, making me look like a low rent drug dealer or extortionist. Because things are so relatively cheap, yet I want to have some reasonable amount of money on hand, I have been building up huge supplies of small change and find myself in the odd position of wanting to ask someone to cash in the stack of 5pound notes for something more reasonable like a 20.

It is a very odd in which we live.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I think Im hinting at something with the title of this blog, but it will probably change later. Here is a quick post about car horn use.

They love it. People in Cairo consider the horn to be useful for the follow different expressions; hi!, get out of the way, Im coming behind you, I see you, Im a police officer, You are terrible, keep driving (despite traffic being stopped), or just as a spontaneous sign of joy.

Point is, they honk all the time. All this honking sorta desensitizes people, so some horns have been changed a little to give them more notice. This sorta horn arms race has also failed as they dont really make a person any more interested.

Some people dispense with just a honk. But others are more creative. Double, or triple honks are not unheard of and are indeed common. Sometimes leaned on, sometimes short, they come in all shapes and sizes, helping sorta personalize each one for both the honker and situation.

There are some people whose apartments overlook these major streets, and I have no idea how they sleep. But, otherwise, in a lot of ways the honking isnt bad. People are more interactive. They want to let you know they are sorta there, about to come up behind you, or just say "hi". Like a lot of things here, its grounded in some level of community and expression that I find often lacking in America.
Now is as good as time as any for first impressions. They say they are lasting, like psychic forever friends.

Cairo. Im sure there are green leafy places full of quiet and tranquility. I have not found them yet. Maybe a private walled garden somewhere.

This isnt to say I have done a great job in looking. Im hanging out in a hostel that is on a fairly major road, alive 24/24 and 7/7. Depends how you feel about that I guess, but it def has influenced how I view the city. A hot fuss.

The people are either as nice as Morocco, or I am more respective to their niceties. Its funny how when I was in Morocco I felt like I really needed to "integrate". But, now I feel like I can do my own thing more. So if I want to stand out a little, thats my prerogative. If that means I walk down a street that is clearly for local car parts dealers, thats ok too. I think that this balances out both sides of the equation a little better.

People have commented on the heat here. As in "hey, its going to be insanely hot scott". Im looking forward to seeing if it can beat out Morocco in July. That would be a neat trick, because Im fairly sure it would lead to spontaneous combustion.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Twitter:

You might notice Ive added the twitter thing. I feel like there were a lot of times when something interesting might happen but being either far from the computer or forgetful I might not write about it. So Im hoping to be able to tweet as interesting things and thoughts. Or at least what I think are interesting. That's the idea. Also, Oprah.