Sunday, May 31, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Ulterior Motives

I’m at a point right now that although I am surrounded by so many people, I feel alone. Recent events have led me to sit around while out with friends and quietly think, “Does this person genuinely want to be here or is there some ulterior motive?”

Excuse me, table for one, name: Pity Party.

However, this post isn’t going to be like that – exactly. If you’ve been following this blog, then you know I am almost at my one year mark (July 10 exactly) and I think of all the different emotions I’ve felt thus far, but what I’m feeling now is loneliness, albeit a different form than what I first felt when I arrived in Cairo. It is growing increasingly hard for me to differentiate the truth from the lies. Some people reading this might think this is based on immaturity or lack of experience.

I feel as though everything that I thought has been untrue. How long has this been happening? Why now am I seeing things with this skewed view? When will it subside?

If you met people who know me in Cairo, you’d probably hear them say that I have my guard up at all times. I’ve always been a firm believer that it is better to keep up the guard than letting it fall as the latter will only open you up for more heartache.

I remember what it was like trying to meet people here. The first two months were absolutely miserable. You will find that most expats are teachers. Being a teacher means you have instant friends via your colleagues. You’ve arrived at the same time and you go through the same issues together. How do you meet people when you aren’t a teacher and your coworkers are either not in the same age group, have a family while you are single, etc?

I met my first friend here, Natalie, while going to hike with Cairo Hash Harriers. I was tired of sitting alone at home with nothing to do. She and I went out one night and she knew some people at the venue. We all went to an after party together. Then through those people, I met even more. Before you knew it, I had a large circle of friends that consisted of both expats and Egyptians. Yet, while that lonely feeling of always staying at home itching to go out subsided, loneliness is back again as I wonder what some of these people are really doing. Are they here to be a good friend? I question a few as it is apparent to me that when in need, they are anything but there.

You also have to be wary as is human nature, everyone wants gossip. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a packed stadium and the ref blows the whistle; however, I foul out in the first 10 seconds because I’m not even aware of the game that’s being played. It is a totally different ballgame here and no one gives you the rules. Since I’ve been faltering on my blog updates, I’ve decided that I will bring two this week – hopefully. My next blog, which will undoubtedly yield criticism will be based on single female life and the guys that are present. It is interesting to say the least, yet, I’m going to be brutally honest about it. As I keep meeting more people via my blog, I noticed this is a question for many singles thinking or actually preparing to move here.

Eat of the Week:

Mezza Luna

Address: 118, 26 July off Aziz Osman St,

Phone Number: 373 52655

Opening Time: 7 AM - 12 Midnight

This place is one of the best Italian restaurants that I’ve visited thus far. Now, after living for a few years in NY, will I say it compares – no way jose. Yet, the Egyptian owner’s wife is Italian. The pasta is made there. The dishes are relatively good. The atmosphere is great and the service is also good. I suggest starting off with the Special Bruschetta. Any pasta is good although I feel the regular spaghetti needed more seasoning. I had the shrimp pasta with cream sauce and thought it was really good. My friends in Zamalak love this place (one of them being someone who also recently moved from NY).

View of the Nile from the Sofitel Gezirah (Zamalek)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Tourism Police

When I first moved here, I didn’t know anyone. So what did I do? I was so nervous to venture out alone that I returned from work immediately, got on my laptop, spoke to all my friends in the US and watched a bit of Arabic TV. I became a fan of a popular Turkish soap Noor (yeah yeah yeah, but the acting is hilarious and somehow, I got pulled into the storyline – please contain your laughter) and some Arabic music. My favorite singer became Hossam Habib (please check the link for my favorite song Shoft B’einaya), so understand my excitement when I was in a cab on my way to a club and I saw a poster advertising a concert featuring Hossam Habib and Samo Zein.

I immediately began calling all of my friends. To my surprise, my good friend Marwa went to middle school with Habib and began contacting him about the concert. I have to say that it was probably one of the best nights I’ve had in Cairo thus far. My friends came in from NY, we went to the concert, backstage, then onstage, then met Habib, continued to Cairo Jazz Club for a girls night with wine and then onto my favorite hidden jewel in Cairo – Abou Maar.

I know what you’re thinking – great LeAnne, really interesting story. Imagine what it’s like being in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, are too frightened to go out and think about the things that do bring you solace. Although now I have many friends here and rather enjoy my time, this reminds me of some of the very beginning things that I liked about Cairo. And it took me back again. What more could you ask for?

So I had my first visitors this past week, and...drum roll please...I finally went to the pyramids! So what if I started my 11th month here on May 10th...at least I saw them – right?

While having visitors, I endured so much hassle. I have decided to include tip prices, the number to yellow cab (which is metered and created by the government specifically for tourists) and just a few other helpful hints. After living here, I am thoroughly amazed at some of the tactics people will pull on you simply because you are foreign. Now, please note that this happens in all countries – Egypt is not privy – however, even when I spoke Arabic to affirm that I was not a tourist, I still received so much flack.

Diana visited Israel and the UAE while here, so I ventured to the airport again to pick her up. We began to search for a cab to go to a nearby mall (City Stars also located in Nasr City where the airport is) and I have to say that flabbergasted is the only term I can use. Many people approached me asking if I’d like a cab. I stated where we were going and asked how much, and while nowhere near perfect Arabic, Arabic nonetheless. Each person responded 60LE.

Let me tell you why this is preposterous: I live in Maadi, approximately 40 minutes or more depending on traffic to the airport. I can get a cab for 45LE and that’s only because the drivers have to pay 5LE to enter/exit. I was going to City Stars – within the same area – and 60LE is absurd! Diana had to transfer between terminals and a cab driver tried to make her pay 60LE...BETWEEN TERMINALS!!! She ended up paying 20LE, which is also ridiculous, but grew tired of the hassle.

The pyramids were great, until our so-called “guide” demanded more money as a tip. I am very hard on people, I did live in NY for four years. If you work, I will pay you. However, do not DEMAND more from me as that will only make me angry. Needless to say, I got into a screaming match. So this brings me to wonder how much these people are gaining and really deterring tourists’ perspectives on the good Egyptians that are present throughout the country.

Well, for those of you that are coming for a visit or moving, I wanted to give you the prices I know and some tips in advance. The Egyptian government began the yellow cab service in order to help tourists, since that is the largest economic industry for the country. Just like in NY, you might get a driver here and there that takes you around the world, but at least it is metered.

Appropriate cab fare (subject to change with oil prices):

**Number to Yellow Cab: 19155 and yes, the dispatcher speaks English**

From Maadi to the airport: 45LE

•Maadi to Zamalak, Mohandaseen: 25LE

•Anywhere in Maadi: usually 5LE unless you’re going from Degla to the Maadi Corniche, then 7LE is sufficient.

•Maadi to Nasr City: I get away with 25LE, but I’m ruthless. Don’t pay more than 30LE.

•Zamalak to Mohandaseen: 5LE

**Please note that just as in any city, if traffic is at peak hours, adjust accordingly**

Other Tipping Venues:

•When at a restaurant, note that the service is already included. However, don’t be cheap. If you received good service, throw in some extra. If you’ve received bad service, it is not a rule that you need to leave on top. Just like in most countries, servers have to EARN extra (and I should know since I was one for almost 7 years).

•ALWAYS and I repeat ALWAYS look over your bill at restaurants. Unfortunately, some places will charge you for things that you never ordered, never wanted, or don’t even know what the hell it is. This usually occurs when you are drinking (also not privy to Egypt).

•An hour felucca: most will immediately try to charge foreigners 50LE+, I got an hour the other day for 35LE, but don’t forget to tip the boat captain. Don’t tip over 10LE, 5LE is alright.

Airport rules:

•Please call in advance and try to set up a driver. I hate the way these people are treating others coming for a good time. If you need help, feel free to contact me and I will try my hardest to locate you a driver.

•Do NOT allow anyone to help you with your bags. I even mean the cops trying to put it on the security machines. They want a tip.

Pyramids:

Now riding camels and other activities, I’m going to get back to you as although I decreased the initial price from the “guide,” I still feel I got screwed.

***JOB POSTING FOR EXPATS***

If interested, please email me directly via the blog:

Opening at Petroleum Africa magazine in marketing which includes database management. The salary is competitive, but on an Egyptian scale, however, it includes base salary plus commission. Basically, a win/win unlike solely working upon commission and wondering if you would sell an ad or not, now you have the base and the potential for a little extra. This is a snippet of duties as detailed from the person in charge:

Looking for part-time, potentially full time person to perform a variety of duties. The most important quality is the ability to be highly detail-oriented and conscientious. Potential areas of focus: ACT, AEA Marketing, Conference Coordination, some website work, correspondence with organizers and subscribers. Salary is flexible depending on what they can do and full/part time, but it is Egyptian scale.

Eat of the Week (and every day of my life if I had a car)

Abou Maar, located in Mohandaseen on Syria Str. (no real address since it is a local place and I cannot read Arabic. However, you will notice this hidden jewel by all the cars lined up outside just to get a taste of Cairo’s BEST shawarma. Hey – if you think you know better, let me know because I am always up for a challenge.

Personally, I like the lamb better than the chicken, but either way, both are tasty. I usually order enough for the next day as it is located in Mohandaseen. However, if you’re venturing to Cairo Jazz Club, this is enough incentive to go as it is nearby and you can stop by to combat those munchies from too much alcohol, or try to sober up – whichever you’d prefer.

I went last week at 1:30am as a random excursion with Marwa (her work hours are strange). We arrived and well, everyone is getting to know us as this is quickly becoming our regular place. They brought us soup – on the house – and let me just say, mmmmmGOOD!!! The service was great and although we were two females and there are beggars around, our carhop shooed those that kept bothering us. It is Syrian style shawarma, on tortilla-like bread – not pita, with tahina and if you like pickles, I highly recommend getting an order with an extra side of pickles.

The best part – the prices – also on an Egyptian scale. If you are able to find your way, please visit. Although I’m a bit nervous about posting this as I don’t necessarily want it to become too packed that even I can’t get my craving...oh well.