Sunday, July 10, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Three Years Later

Three years ago today I arrived in Cairo and this is what I’ve learned in that time:

  • I learned that everything is my fault. The nuclear catastrophe in Japan, yeah – that was because of me. Somehow my vagina caused the tsunami followed up by the earthquake.
  • I learned that I was put on this earth to serve man.
  • I learned that my dog having a penis, albeit without balls, still ranks higher than I do simply because he has weiner, he is man.

In all seriousness, this is what I’ve really learned in three years (to be fair, some of these things I should’ve learned ages ago):
  • People will always disappoint you no matter where you move.
  • Life is full of mysteries and the older you get, the more mysterious things become.
  • All men lie. I repeat: all men lie. It’s just finding the one that gives you the right lies.
  • Women are always catty no matter how old they get.
  • Your best friends come from some unlikely places. The ones you thought would stay around forever leave and the ones you never anticipated to stay are in it for the long haul.
  • The older you get and that little extra you put back for a shopping trip ends up going toward doctor checkups and other health-related ailments.
  • Working hours get longer, days get shorter, sleep is an illusion.
  • Revolutions aren’t necessarily as momentous as you see on TV.

There have been so many times that I’ve asked myself what I was still doing in Egypt, and for those of you living here, I’m sure that you understand these sentiments. From harassment to local work ethics (or lack thereof), there are many frustrations and being a single female in a male-gender oriented society doesn’t make it any easier.

Living through a revolution and continuous political instability, I thought at one point I was going to be forced to leave and that made me think about the happy times that Egypt has brought me. I was walking in Maadi one day and had tears in my eyes thinking of all the things I would miss. As cheesy as this sounds, I thought about how much I would miss Noha. After seeing another American’s nails and being pointed to Beautique, Noha turned into much more than just my manicurist. I had no idea how special she would become to me when I wrote a blog on November 11, 2008 talking about a “Great Find for a Girls Evening.”

I’ve seen Noha veiled and married. I watched her unveil and also divorce. I’ve seen her business expand. I’ve seen a woman that was fearful her business would fail when her American business partner had to pull out, grow her spa and even invest in other business ventures. I’ve had numerous adventures with her whether it be going to my first female mosque, eating koshery, making sandwiches for cabbies during Ramadan or just going for coffee. Very rarely will you find an Egyptian that is genuinely nice as many only have ulterior motives; however, when you find an Egyptian that is genuine, that is one of the sincerest forms of kindness you can ever encounter. Noha listens to my rants, she is always supportive and more than anything, she’s one of those people that embodies that sincerity.

From my September 14, 2008 blog, Sounds of Ramadan, I never would have thought that Sameh would still be around bringing such a smile to my face every time I visit Costa Coffee on Road 9 (which, for the record, isn’t as often as it was three years ago).

I also look back at some of my early blogs and chuckle (New Year, Newfound Positivity). I used to wonder why pessimistic expats remained in the country if they hated it so much. I could now be considered one of those pessimistic expats, but I believe that pessimism is the wrong word and realism is the correct term. You don’t want to listen to the advice given to you upon arrival by those that have spent years here. You need to find out for yourself. I’ve learned that I can’t force others to open their eyes sooner and they have to learn just like I did (Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing). Sometimes it’s hard watching this – especially when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex (ie foreigners dating Egyptians – Tis the Relationship Season), but again, it’s all a learning lesson and you have to trust that others will make the choice that best suits them.

One thing that never gets easier and I might argue only gets harder is the revolving door for friends. Living an expat life gives you the opportunity to have friends all over the world, but once a year, I’m faced with having to watch more friends who have become family leave. Before living overseas, I was always the first one to leave. And now the tables have turned. I saw a lot of close friends leave in 2010 starting with Andy, going to Ashish and then all in one month I had to say goodbye to my best friend here and partner-in-crime Natalia, my “Little Biotch” Justin, Jeff (aka Heffe), Laurie and Steve (Departing Ways). Let me clarify that while I know a great deal of people here, there are very few that I consider so close to me as the ones that I’ve mentioned above. The revolution has taken away more friends than imagined. Just when I said I wasn’t going to add on any more friends, now it looks like I will also be saying goodbye to Pinar.

Every time one of them leaves, I promise that I’m no longer going to have any more expat friends. And just as soon as those words come across my mind, here comes another one to the list.

For the 4th of July weekend, I organized a boat trip for a few close friends. We stayed overnight and as I stared at the stars that night, I thought how lucky I was to be able to live my dream. I’m in a country that while it presents a lot of frustrations, I’d only read about from afar. I never thought I would be able to say that riding alongside the Nile is a part of my daily routine, weekend trips to the Mediterranean and Red Sea are usual weekend activities or did I ever once think I would get to see history in the making with the revolution (although I’m going to leave my true sentiments of the revolution out of this blog for obvious reasons).

And as a brief, for those of you located here looking for a really cool adventure that you might think is beyond your means, please read how you can obtain your own private boat from Porto Sukhna below.

Taken in 2008, my first fellucca (boat ride) on the Nile
Three years later, July 4th weekend on the Red Sea

Renting Your OWN Private Yacht in the Red Sea

I feel like I’m just now stumbling across some really amazing and affordable activities, and I was thinking to myself: “I wish I would have known about this all along.” So I’ve decided to share with you something that I did for the first time July 2 that was a lot easier than you may think.

My friends and I decided that we would like to check into renting a yacht for the 4th of July weekend. A friend pointed me to this one website and when I inquired about the charges, it sounded reasonable: LE 1,500 for 12 hours and LE 2,100 for 24 hours. The problem: they wanted the money up front, they gave no receipts and no copy of an Egyptian ID. Since I didn’t know anyone personally that had used this company and with the increase in dubious actions post-revolution (and no accountable authority to really help to recoup the money should it be stolen), I was worried about it being a scam.

A colleague helped me get a different boat last minute. The price was LE 1,200 for 12 hours (6 am – 6 pm) or LE 1,400 for 24 hours (6 am – 5 am). You can talk to the boat captain in advance and he will make sure that you have fishing equipment and bait and/or snorkeling gear. A rod and reel was about LE 25 each and we purchased two kilos of shrimp for around LE 60.

The staff, composed of two guys plus the captain, were so incredibly sweet. The only downside to this particular boat was the sleeping arrangements. The bedding hadn’t been washed in ages if ever and the shrimp were so small that we only caught baby fish. My suggestion: bring your own bedding and food in case you don’t catch any fish. Make sure you bring enough to share with the boat staff. The captain refused baksheesh (tips), but we gave about LE 50 a piece to the other two members. 

We really enjoyed our time and have another boating trip set up on an even better boat for July 29. I will be sure to let all of you know what it’s like and post the contact information in case you and a group of friends would also like to partake. In the meantime, if you want to try the boat that we just rented, please send me a private message and I’ll be happy to supply the information. Word to the wise: the boat captain and staff do not speak any English.

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