Sunday, September 14, 2008

Letters from Egypt: Observations

I have good days and I have bad days. Some days I am so thankful for the experience that I’m being allowed to acquire at 26; other days, my frustrations seem to take over. It takes some getting use to and I hear six months is the turning point. No matter how much you try to prepare for a move overseas, you will never be able to remotely encompass the idea of what it will be like.  

You expect a different culture, language barriers, etc., but it makes no difference. Almost every day, I go to the same café, sit in the same seat, sip my latte and smoke a cigarette. I try to get there before feeding time for the Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan. Then I watch the street fill with people, hurriedly inhaling that first cigarette of the day (unable to smoke during daylight hours for Holy month) and all the families coming to shop and eat.  

There’s a new waiter, Sameh. He only asks me one question when I sit down, “Medio or Massimo?” He always has a smile on his face and he’s my favorite because he knows what I want immediately. He knows that my latte will be followed by guava juice and I’ve even become familiar with the female manager whom immediately calls Sameh when I sit down. As I was leaving today, he said, “Tomorrow?” I said, “Aiwa, inshallah” which means “Yes, God willing.”  

The women dressed in black stand around the front begging for money, often with children in tow. If the children are walking age, they, too, are sent out to beg for money (albeit they say, “Madame, food” but in essence, it is money they want). I was told by another Egyptian that many times, these mothers drug the little ones so they just lay there in their arms looking helpless so others will take more pity on them. Sometimes they sneak up to the café soliciting tables, but Sameh is quick to turn them away (still with a pleasantness).
Being foreign (and obvious since my hair, clothing and light features), I am always followed by these children. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to be stern in saying “Emshe,” meaning “go away” and today, a little boy yelled it back at me. I began laughing and so did he. However, you have to realize that if you give once, they expect it from you each time. And while no one wants to see children suffer, you have to understand that many times these women are making more money than some of the hardest laborers. Egyptians are incredibly kind to the poor. Some might do it for show, others do it simply because it is in their religion. There is a man out front of Costa Coffee on Road 9 that is deaf. He stands out front, blocks parking spots, directs cars to safely park after he removes cement blocks and/or trash bags and receives 1LE from patrons (equivalent of approximately $0.20). Restaurant owners constantly give him tea throughout the evening. Today he even received some ice cream. I find it very fascinating that every Egyptian in that area knows enough sign language to communicate with him.  

Sometimes I wonder what passer-byers must think of me as I’ve become a permanent fixture at the cafe. Maadi is small. Everyone knows everyone. If you introduce yourself to a cab driver, he pretends he knows you personally and will discuss you among other cabbies. Boabs, or doormen, always know your name even if you have no idea their’s. At the same time, you must use caution and know that just like in your own culture, there are bad people. Some rules I’ve learned (especially for single females) are located on a special tab.
The deaf man directing a car into the parking spot he has conveniently blocked off

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