Saturday, December 27, 2008

Letters from Egypt: Holiday Blues

I began writing what my first Christmas overseas was like and got immediately disheartened. So I stopped. Although I did save the paragraph I wrote on Christmas Eve in order to show the before and after effect.

Wednesday, December 24

This isn’t my first Christmas alone, but it is my first Christmas overseas. I suppose the main reason I have a touch of holiday blues is simple: it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I’m not going to look at Christmas lights strung up throughout the neighborhood; I’m not going to the mall hearing holiday tunes; or window shopping with all the decorations. I didn’t realize Christmas was this week until, oh yeah, a few days ago.

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m in my office trying to get into the spirit. Sherif has just called me to ask what I was doing for the holiday, and he could immediately tell I was down. We got off the phone and he said, “Don’t worry, it’s going to get better.” As soon as I hung up, I just started crying. I’m still crying.

Saturday, December 27

While Christmas Eve felt like my whole Christmas was shot, it turned out to be a very pleasant one. I went to a couple of holiday parties and I finally got to hear some good Christmas tunes. I feel like I need a break from Cairo. I like certain things here, my friends, job, etc. but sometimes I feel so worn down. I try to pick up as much Arabic as I can, and even though nine times out of 10, I butcher it beyond belief, people are still appreciative that I’m trying.

When the women all in black try to sell me travel-size tissue, I now respond, “Ana mich mez kuma.” It means that I don’t have a cold. It’s actually quite humorous and everyone I’ve said it to thus far has gotten a chuckle out of it. Expats in Cairo, you should try it!

I’m worn down because my frustrations are getting the best of me. I’m going to say this now and if you have something negative in response, that’s fine. However, I didn’t start this blog in order to be weary of the things I write. I wanted to write my experience. Don’t take it as a direct attack on you or your culture.

I don’t know how things are going to change next year, and I’m really trying to get my head all cleared out to start 2009 on a positive note. What I will say is this: I once read an article in the New York Times, beautifully written and very descriptive on story tellers in Morocco (Keeping a Moroccan Tradition Alive, One Tale at a Time). From then on, Morocco became top on my list of places to visit. Then when I moved here, going to Morocco became more of a realistic possibility. However, at this time in my life I have no desire to ever go to another Arab country. This is how I feel right now, and who’s to say how I will feel in another six months. Like I’ve said before, there are good days and bad days, and well, “Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.”

Eat of the Week:

Felfela

(downtown)

15 Talaat Harb St.

2 392 2751

Tradition Egyptian cuisine at very reasonable prices. It is located in Downtown Cairo. The unique thing about it is that the restaurant caters to vegetarians, but let’s not kid ourselves – I’m anything but a vegetarian (and it provides beer and wine)! You walk in and find funny-looking tree-type tables, he

aring pigeons from nearby cages and the best part: the restaurant serves alcohol. I can’t remember the names of everything I liked, but I will tell you that the chicken liver is very tasty! I was not too impressed with the chicken kabab and if you get it, make sure you have a sauce of some sort to dip it into. For starters, definitely get the lentil soup. It isn’t brothy, but instead creamy. Squeeze the lemon, add a little salt and pepper and hmmm hmmm good!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Letters from Egypt: What I've Learned in Six Months

Taken on my way from Heliopolis to Maadi
 
I was told that six months would be a turning point. I would know how I liked Egypt, and whether I had more of an idea of how long I would stay. Hmmm… Instead, what I can tell you are some of the things I’ve learned. 
 
I’ve learned that I still don’t know for sure how I feel about Egypt, but I’m learning everyday. This will be my first holiday season outside the US. I have to admit that right now, I’m a little homesick. I miss NY winters, the Christmas parties, phone calls with family and watching Christmas cartoons. 
 
I’ve learned that Egypt makes me think more about myself: who I am and who I want to be. I remember going off to college, thinking of what kind of person I wanted to be. I knew that I was never my true self in high school. I became exactly what I set out to do. Then when moving to Arizona, I thought of things that I could change, but realized there wasn’t anything. That was my first mistake. So when moving to NY, I took what I learned and became what worked for NY. Unlike Arizona’s move, I came to Egypt knowing that I had a great deal to work on. I only hope that I am changing for the better.  

I’ve learned that I do not fit in. I will never be in one group and/or classification. I’ve never been. However, I finally understand that's not a bad thing. Sometimes it is nice to be versatile.  

I’ve learned that just when I thought I had patience, I find that I’m still a work-in-progress. Little things still make me lose my cool; for instance, the guy coming to collect the electricity and laying on my doorbell because I didn’t buzz him in within five seconds.  

I’ve learned that my instincts are almost never wrong…almost.  

I’ve learned that no matter where you move, there will always be stories.  

I’ve learned that you have necessary friends and friends of necessity. Circumstances bring people together who wouldn’t normally befriend one another. I was in a sorority, this is a perfect example. The expat community is another example. However, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t have anyone in your life that doesn’t offer something positive.  

I’ve learned that sometimes, no matter how much you want to help, you just can’t. That old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you just can’t make him drink.”
 
View Friday night overlooking the Nile

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Letters from Egypt: Meet Frustration

Taken on a stroll through the market on Road 7
Last week was an extremely rough go of it. I learned a great deal. If you are moving here for a job – no matter your occupation – go ahead and take my advice: you will never, and I mean NEVER, understand the typical Egyptian work mentality. It will by no means compare to what you are use to. Be prepared for the guilt trip some will undoubtedly lay on you and understand you cannot be friends with your employees – it will be used against you.

I know what you’re thinking: oh, she just had a bad experience. Oh no no no, even my Egyptian friends, albeit westernized, agree. Simple things that you take as common sense need further explanation. For example, in my line of work, I simply asked someone to cross check phone numbers to their website. Instead, the person looked at our website.

The main issue is when something goes wrong, no one takes blame for it. They either a) beat around the bush or b) place the blame anywhere but on themselves.

Oh, and quickly, allow me to give an update on the gender bias. I have been followed more as of late, even to the point that a man would not allow me to cross the street (he was in his car and inching up each time I made an attempt). I had someone stick his elbow out in order to hit me in my chest. I way-laid him. Egypt has just passed a law that a man can get up to three years if he assaults a woman. Good luck explaining to police when they never speak English. It has also been said that an accused man can pay 500LE (about $100) to avoid charges.

98% of foreign women are assaulted and 80% of Egyptian women encounter the same. Yes, if you are a female, you are going to get some sort of unwanted attention. It is also important to note that if you have low self-esteem, you will never feel better about yourself than when you are here. I suppose it is a Catch 22, but either way, no matter what country you are in, no man has the right to touch a female inappropriately. Be careful, be cautious and most importantly, be patient. I lost my patience last week and slowly but surely, I’m trying to recover.

I feel that I have to relay the bad times in order to be objective. Note my disclaimer: this is not all Egyptians, but it is a majority. Being a female with my boss out of town this week, I realized just how little I am taken seriously because of my gender, despite my education, working knowledge and background. These are things that are very hard to understand being from the US where equality is demanded.

I’ve decided to start listing places that I feel foreigners would love, and it is important to know where to do simple things such as getting your hair done (which will be featured in the next post).

Sushi Lovers Enjoy

This sushi place offers an excellent variety and my favorite, maguro (tuna). It is fresh and the service is friendly. English is spoken, albeit not fluently, but enough to get by. The inside is clean and very cozy. My selection always includes the salmon salad and the spicy boston roll with tuna – a must have for a first timer.

Sakara Sushi

23 Road 205

Degla Maadi

012 140 4984

022 521 3323