Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Christmas in Germany, Halloween in Egypt

It’s official. On December 21st, I am off to Germany to celebrate a real Christmas abroad. I plan to eat myself stupid and cook Indian food for Johanjiman and company.

Only one snag: I can’t book a return flight because the EU doesn’t allow one-way flights from Europe to non-EU countries…or something like that, anyways.

Hopefully, with Benjamin’s help, I can get this worked out tomorrow.

Oh, and Happy Halloween. It tends to be a forgotten day abroad.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Kent vs. Car

Had my first run-in with a car today. I was walking past someone coming in the opposite direction when the mirror of the car clipped my wrist. The guy I was passing let out a sound I can’t put into words, the driver didn’t think twice about stopping, while I just kept going. Made me wonder how close I was to having more of my person smashed by the vehicle.

On a different note, one of the post-Ramadan phenomena I was looking forward to seeing was whether or not metro travellers would take the stairs instead of the escalator. Well, I’ve taken the metro twice and I can tell you that the escalator still remains the ascender of choice.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Chillin' Was Right

Ain’t problem with chillin’, when the chillin’s right. But when things ain’t happenin’ the way they supposed to happen, you know Triple T is gonna condense the nonsense. Just because I’m on vacation, don’t mean I’m out to lunch…I come to play, baby!

Terrible Terry Tate


Highlights from Dahab:

-Tom and I ate more seafood in one sitting than any other person in the world that night (1.5 kg of Calamari, a 1 kg fish, and a half kg of clams).
-Watching a meat poet roast a Bedouin-style goat on a spit, while basting it in pomegranate juice.
-Doing nothing for four days.
-Walking around barefoot
-Swimming in the ocean after a solid Indian dinner
-Sitting on pillows and cushions in a nightclub
-Watching two consecutive sunrises

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ramadan: Mission Accomplished

Ramadan finished today as quickly as it began four weeks ago. What did we learn over that time? Not to trust Australians when it comes to ordering food, of course. That was definitely proven during eftar tonight, when instead of ordering for us all, Tom graciously split the table of 12 in half and allowed us to make two orders.

I’m still trying to figure out what’s going to happen without Ramadan. It’s the only version of Egypt I know, so whatever is coming up will be new to me. One thing I can definitely say I’m looking forward to, though, is eating breakfast. It’ll be nice to have that extra jolt of energy in the morning that will allow me to walk up stairs without feeling dizzy.

Next up: four days of feasting in Dahab.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sweetness

Ridiculously awesome is when you:

1. Help out at a Ramadan tent
2. Have an amazingly tasty Egyptian sweet to break your fast
3. Have the best chicken noodle soup ever conceived
4. Witness a kitchen with giant propane burners for cooking cauldrons
5. Smoke sheesha from a jar with a bunch of people that don't speak English
6. See an Egyptian coughing from said sheesha and then laughing hystericallly about it
7. Kiss about 10 guys on both cheeks (the typical greeting and goodbye gesture) and then have some kid try to kiss you on the lips

All in an hour's work.

Please, Put Some Clothes On

What could be more culturally insensitive than pink booty shorts and a low-cut, bright purple top? Or perhaps not even wearing pants or shorts at all, but rather a dangerously short “sleeper”? No, wait, it’s gotta be the short skirt, stiletto heels, and a low-cut tank-top, right?

Such is the clientele at the Egyptian Museum.

"I Was Just Hammerin' Dudes"

After 2 hours sleep, and still fasting, I rolled out of bed at 6:00 AM to meet Megan and Simon, so we could go out to the Endangered Animal Market. That’s all I needed to hear to be persuaded to go at such a ridiculous hour. On the way, I was informed that there could also be a military surplus section. I am a sucker for that kind of thing, so I was doubly hooked.

When we arrived, it became painfully obvious that this place was like a giant garage sale. There was so much junk (Mom and Dad, the storage shed times 100). Anything plastic was there; CRT monitors, tapes, shoes, and the list goes on. This part was spread over the railway tracks, so I assume trains don’t go there anymore. As we got further along, we saw numerous antique stores and even saw a 1980 Soviet Trophy that some guy wanted 20 bucks for. We even got to use an actual grammophone.


All was going well until we decided to walk through the male clothing aisle of death. We quickly realized that 1. There were no tourists here, and 2. There were no woman in this part of the market. So, after some initial harassment, we decided that a Megan sandwich was in our best interests (me in the front, Simon in the back). Halfway along, some guy comes barging through and pushes all three of us. When he got into an open space, some guy got right up in his grill and started throwing punches. Then some other guy got up on a table with a stick and threatening to start caning the two fighters. It was pretty intense.

Our ability to move was based on me showing no regard for the well-being of anything the came in front of me and Simon pushing from the back. It worked pretty well for the most part, but I must say that Megan put up with a lot of grabbing and such. When we emerged from that hellish walk, we stumbled into a dog breeding enclosure. Apparently, people bring their female dogs to breed with random male dogs. What really happens is some guy takes a bull mastiff and scares anyone within striking distance. The Egyptians tend to spook the dog, who then goes AWOL on the crowd. It takes a lot of strength from the handler to restrain these creatures. But I think he still has a lot of fun doing it.

“I think those were two of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in Egypt.” Famous last words from Simon. After perusing the one stall with endangered animals (they had crocodiles, two owls, carnivorous hedgehogs, albino mice, possums, falcons, snakes, geckos, and some crazy bird that probably was the last of its kind on earth), we came across this vendor selling old bank notes. So, we all decide to stop and take a look. Only problem was that we were in a narrow pathway and the market was starting to get crazy busy. Not five minutes after stopping, a human river of sweat and testosterone started overflowing its banks. A common mentality in Egypt, it seems, is that patience is not a virtue, but a sin. So, getting through the seething masses in the shortest amount of time possible is paramount to the continuation of life.

I experienced a few bumps and nudges, but things were definitely getting worse. All of a sudden, I was thrust onto the table (covered with sharp objects). I managed to regain balance, only to get pushed right back. Simon was taking a beating protecting Megan from one side, but we all agree that I took the brunt of the attack. The jostling continued for at least 15 minutes. Eventually I was able to assume a position with a lower centre of gravity and start driving upward and into the crowd. In the words of an Aussie, “I just started hammering dudes.” A sympathetic Egyptian guy grabbed hold of my hand and we proceeded to form a bubble around Megan. It was so much fun. Any angst I had against the local population was taken out on the masses. What’s better is that you can just push and push without fear of any consequences. You just “hammer dudes” as best you can. Good times.

I never felt so happy.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Razor Ramblings: Thread Edition

Well, I can now officially say that I’ve been “threaded.” It’s a borderline barbaric technique requiring immense skill and a delicate touch. Oh, and it hurts.

Location: Close to work
# of Nicks: 4
Rating: 3/5

I had had my eye on this little place for a while. Of all the shops on my walk to work, it was the one that screamed out, “I know you want to stop in, so why don’t you just do it?” It was right, I did want to stop in…badly. How could you go wrong with an old man in a one-seater shop? I’ve always said that it’s experience before beauty in the shaving world and this guy was probably shavin’ people since before I was born. So, yesterday night, the stars aligned and I was able to test out what this guy had to offer.

Things started out well enough. There was no arguing over a price, no arm clutching, or other such pleasantries exchanged. Perhaps I could’ve paid less, but 5 LE was the standard shave price, so I had no problem offering it. The man just shook his head eagerly, “Mashi (okay).”

Lathers seem to be hit-and-miss in this country. Some use not enough crème, while others, this guy included, lay it on thick—he had just opened up a fresh tube, so he was more than generous with the proportions. But instead of adhering the inch-long piece of crème to my face, he put it right on the horsehair brush. Speaking of which, his brush was gargantuan…a relative behemoth.

While the overall foaming action was sorely lacking, this was the best lather in Egypt thus far. I felt the familiar cool tinge of the eucalyptus oils, along with the soothing action inherent in most skin crèmes. There was cause for concern, though, in the lather coverage. From what I could see, he just didn’t get low enough down my neck.

What I’ve noticed here is that blade artists tend to be gentle on the right-side of your face (the side they start with) and hastily violent on the left. There is also this penchant to go over and over a spot until the roots are torn out. This guy was certainly no exception. You could used to the pain after a while, but the first, and oh-so-violent, strokes often catch you by surprise.

On the second run-through, he chose to go against the grain. I really have to appreciate this because you end up with a close shave rivaled by none…one that lasts a day (for me, anyways). When he was finally done wielding a sharp blade scarily close to my neck, he brought out this aromatic spray that I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to. He then proceeded to pump-action spray it all over my face. Every orifice was reached and I had to keep my eyes sealed shut to avoid crying.

Then he takes out this can, opens it, and withdraws from it a soft, round brush with what I could only guess to be baby powder. A few quick strokes around the delicate areas later and I thought that was that. Oh no, there was still more. He pulls out this thread and makes an offering gesture. “Hmm…I was offered this before and declined. This is something that I need to experience at least once, especially if I’m to maintain my journalistic integrity.”

It’s hard to describe what happened next. The guy basically formed some sort of cat’s cradle formation with the thread, with all four strands meeting in the centre. He then looped the thread through is mouth. Now, the purpose of this technique is to remove hairs individually via forced extraction. So, the guy used his thread contraption to pluck stray hairs around my eyebrows and hair line. Then he went for the ears. I must say, I’ve never even heard of anyone getting their ears plucked before, and I certainly would never voluntarily request it. That didn’t stop this guy, though, he went right at it. I can tell you that this is a pleasure-less experience. In fact, it really did hurt. That, combined with the spray from earlier, caused a few tears to well in my eye. I couldn’t believe it.

On one hand, I left the shop with an extremely close shave. On the other, the guy was lacking in overall face coverage. Nothing that a MACH-3 can’t fix, luckily.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What a Feeling

Ever since Ramadan started, it has been a goal of mine to help out at one of the “Table of Gods” that exist throughout Cairo. I refer to them as Ramadan Tents, and I probably mentioned them in a previous blog post. They’re basically designed to feed poor people. And one of the principles of Ramadan is that if you can’t fast, you must feed 10 poor people.

I’ve eaten at them three times. But not because the food is free or because I have some sick desire to steal food from poor people. For one, it’s a cultural experience not to be missed and I won’t lie…these tents feature the best rice in Cairo. I still maintain to this day that the first meal I had at the tent close to my work was the best meal I’ve had to date.

To return the favour, I went and helped serve food today. Words cannot describe the experience. It was simultaneously the coolest and most rewarding thing I’ve probably ever done. Volunteer work in Canada just doesn’t compare.

It started off with my accomplice, Megan, and I trying to work out what we could do to help. One of the guys there spoke a bit of Russian, so he greeted me accordingly and we were able to work some stuff out.

There were only a couple of patrons sitting, waiting for that all-important eating hour. So, we served them date juice, bread, sweets, and provided each with a spoon. After a few minutes, more and more people started to pile in. My main job was to take a tray full of sweets and deliver one sweet to each person.

It was great. People were thanking me in Arabic, Russian, German, English, Spanish, and French. I was doing my best to speak Arabic back, but I could really only ask them if the food was good and say “You’re welcome.” And the best part was that most were sincerely thankful for the food they were eating, and not because of the novelty of some white person serving them.

We met one guy who spoke English quite well and had a dream to live in Canada one day. He helped us out a lot and was able to direct us to various tasks that needed doing. There was also a group of three guys who were learning Russian. So, I stopped the serving for a bit to talk to them in. I found it amazing that we were speaking to each other in a language they had only been learning for two months and I hadn’t spoken for a year. Ironically, I’ve been speaking Russian with an Estonian girl lately, so I was actually a bit prepared to talk to these guys.

What made the entire time was when an older woman, wearing a golabeya, said a heartfelt “Thank you” to me as she left.

I just wish I could’ve done this more often.

I've Been Golabeya'd

So, I decided to take the next step towards Egyptian integration yesterday: I bought a golabeya (spelling varies). It’s basically the traditional dress worn by both men and women, however the styles are different from both. For those that know what a long Punjabi kurta looks like, a golabeya resembles that, but has a much looser fit. To make the purchase, Simon (an Aussie) and I took our bargaining act to Khan-el-khalili, the tourist trap market next to an ancient Egyptian mosque.

The key to all touristy markets is to head to the shady backstreets where tourist dare not venture. Or, go at 2 AM when the foreigners are all sleeping. Most of the shops were closed when we ventured through, but we did manage to navigate through a maze of walkways until we came upon well-lit street we could’ve taken from the beginning. We perused a couple of shops, trying on whatever we could, but came away with nothing. Our verdict was that the product we were being shown was too dressy.

Luckily, the great thing about the market is you simply need to shout out “golabeya” and people will flock towards you like sheep. A quick shout by Simon garnered just that. We ended up at a humble table stacked with cotton golabeyas.

“I think these guys know what we’re saying, so we should try to speak using fancy words,” says Simon. “These colours definitely meet my stringent requirements.”
“Oh, you mean that they’re commensurate with your standards?”
“Exactly. Commensurate.”
“Haha.”

Simon went for the beige, I opted for the light navy blue. Now all we needed to do was bargain. The vendor started with an obscene 95 LE (20 bucks) each, an offer at which we balked. We offered something a lot less, which provoked a demur from him. Here was the problem: I had no money and Simon had 60 LE, so we either were going to pay less than 60, or not get a golabeya. Our determination, along with the dirty tactic of walking away to one of the other many vendors, managed to get the price down to 60. He kept asking me to pay more, but all I could produce was a business card of a papyrus dealer I had met earlier.

So we walked away two happy individuals. All the was left was to “take the plunge,” of sorts, so we ducked into a dark alleyway, or so we thought. You see, to properly wear a golabeya, you can’t be wearing pants, shorts, or shirts. Boxers/briefs are all that’s required (although you could probably go commando if you want). As we were performing our little strip show, random guys just started walking up. Then a small crowd formed. We managed to get away after shaking a few hands and exchanging Arabic pleasantries.

I can’t really think of a better way to immerse myself in the golabeya culture than changing in a dark alleyway surrounded by old men. Awesome.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ramadan: Day...I've Lost Count

Ramadan is starting to get old. It’s hard eating earlier and earlier every day. I’m one of those people that eats dinner at like 8pm, not breakfast at 5:20. But, believe it or not, I’m not even excited about eating. “Oh man, I gotta go eat,” usually comes out of my mouth. Let’s put it this way…it’s become routine. Eating at 5:20 PM and 2 AM have become as routine as brushing my teeth and having a shower. I liked the spontaneous eating schedule I used to follow…I wonder what it’s like adapting back to it.

Alas, only 5 or 6 days left of this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What Would You Do?

Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if, say, I had been leaning against the taxi door when it flung open during a sweeping left-hand turn or I would’ve been one step ahead when the mini-bus brushed up against me.

Do you ever play out situations in your mind? Like, what would you do if you were about to get hit by a car? Would you jump up on the hood, then the roof, all the while performing some ninja kick for the crowd.

I hadn’t even considered that falling out of a taxi was a possibility before the other night. Now I wonder what I’d do if were to happen again. Would I grab for the door and hope that the taxi driver has the wherewithal to stop so I can get back in? Would I reach for the hand thing just above the window and hang on for dear life? Or would I just be like Nisrin and hit the ground rolling?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cairo's Champions

The inaugural Cairo Champion is definitely inspired by the holy month of Ramadan.

Meet the people that have to cook while fasting so that people can have their food for eftar.

We all know the science side of things. When you’re hungry and smell food, your body releases a hormone that tells your brain that you need to eat. Your stomach then begins to produce the acid necessary to breakdown the forthcoming food. If none comes, you’re left with this horrible feeling that your stomach is being digested.

That’s hard enough to deal with. I tried cooking for a bunch of people on the weekend. Pasta was the main course so I needed to cook down 3 kilos of tomatoes for the sauce. Wow, standing over that pot was difficult. It was all I could do not to dip my spoon in and start shoveling unseasoned sauce into my mouth.

Now, imagine doing that every single day of Ramadan. It’s perhaps the worst form of temptation one can experience. And it never helps when you have biology working against you. For the rest of us that just fast without food around, we know nothing of what these people go through.    

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Another Year Begins

(Thanks, Mom)

21 was a sweet year. It took me to Mongolia, China, and India.
22 went pretty well, too. I finished off India, got a degree, and went to Egypt.
I wonder what 23 is gonna be like.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cairo's Champions

I’ve witnessed many potential heroes here in Cairo. Some carry things on their heads, others serve heavily-sugared drinks at 4 AM, while some have a rocket-propelled arm. Whatever their extraordinary talent happens to be, these suitors are vying to be my hero…little do they know, of course.

But maybe it’s unfair to stop at one. As far as I’m concerned, anyone that does something on a regular basis that I would be either a)afraid or b)incapable of doing is a hero. If a millions came out to watch a guy carry something on his head from point A to point B, he’d be the one making money hand-over-fist…not those guys putting a ball in a hoop or a puck in the net.

The best part about these people is that they’re humble in what they do. There’s no trash talk, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, holdouts, agents, or hissy fits. They just get it done, day after day. No matter where you come from, you have to respect that. If you don’t, you’ve never worked a day in your life.

This is why I’ve decided to introduce a new blogment. I tried stealing from the alliterative genius of “Razor Ramblings” and “Tiffin Talk,” but all I could get was “Cairo’s Champions.” Regardless, these people are the true reason why Cairo functions. They are the heart and soul of the city. And they deserve to be given respect.

Starting Sunday and continuing for an indeterminate amount of time, you can read “Cairo’s Champions” while considering career options. Perhaps you’ll stumble across something you never thought of doing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ramadan Taketh, Rivo Giveth Back

You really gotta love the pharmaceutical industry in the developing world. Where else can you find, and trust, ridiculously cheap drugs? Well, I hope you can trust them.

I still felt fairly feverish last night and my neck hurt rather badly, so I decided to go against my own contempt for pharmaceuticals and buy some pain killers. Pharmacies here are pretty much exactly the same as in India, except they’re a lot less sketchy. One would be inclined to trust drugs coming out of Egyptian chemists, but where’s the fun in that?

Unfortunately, the place I went was out of ibuprofen, so I had to settle on aspirin. For a whopping 10 cents I got 10 pills. Even I expected to pay more than that.

So, meet my good friend Rivo. The package looked pretty decent and had some English words on it describing what I was getting myself into. No liability warnings or anything like that, though.

I must say that Rivo did take good care of me. Two pills and I was down for the count. I slept rather peacefully and woke up feeling rested and a heck of a lot better.

Not so for my roommate, though. Apparently he had a night similar to mine the night before. I’ll have to get the detailed report later.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ramadan: Day 16

Ramadan Giveth, Ramadan Maketh Sick.

The last 12 hours have been hell. It started when I almost got hit by a mini-bus. Actually, I did get hit by a mini-bus. It was turning right…I was walking straight. All of a sudden I feel something rubbing up against my arm. I turn to see the broad-side of the bus 6 inches from my face. Yikes.

Fast-forward 30 minutes. Normally, I am ravenously hungry at 3 AM and, thus, pack away the food during sohur. Not last night. I had been feeling off for most of the evening, so the grub was downright repulsive. That didn’t stop me from eating, mind you, it just made eating a lot less enjoyable.

Move ahead to about 6 AM. I woke up on absolute fire and sick to my stomach. My neck was stiff, my lower back hurt, and my head was throbbing. Sleep seemed impossible, so I just lied there hoping it would go away. Any time I got up, the fan in the room caused me to shiver uncontrollably. So for the first time since arriving I had to curl up underneath a blanket just to stay warm, even though my fever was running awfully hot. By 8:30, I was able to convince myself to do what most people fear more than fear itself: manually induce vomiting. After the first attempt, I realized that I would need some water to facilitate the process, so I broke fasting only to heave it back up right away.

I did feel a lot better after that little event, but it still didn’t help me sleep. At some point over the next two hours I could feel my fever dissipate and the shivering cease. Little consolation, though, as all I could do is wait for Salman’s alarm to go off over and over and over again without him waking up.

Alas, I made it to work, albeit after a “zombified” walk that took close to an hour, instead of the usual 40 minutes. Because I am sick, I can break fast, but I don’t think eating is such a good idea at this point.  

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to all you Canadians out there.

What The?

Three guys pull up to the curb with the music blaring at 4 AM. They get out onto the sidewalk and start shakin’ what their mommas gave them. One minute passes, they get back in and drive away.

Random?

Ramadan: Day 15

Ramadan is now officially more than half over.

I’d like to say that hunger, thirst, and my troublesome nicotine and Pepsi cravings (no, wait, that’s someone else) have not been the bane of my existence over the last two weeks, but that would be hogwash. Hunger still inhibits my ability to be productive at work. Thirst still haunts me at every turn on my walk to work. And, yet, I feel desensitized to it all. So I’m hungry? Suck it up, princess. A little thirst never hurt anyone, right?

The hardest part has been not being able to have a social beer. I see my friends cracking open a cold one in a seemingly seductive way, only to remember that I made a pact with myself not to touch the stuff for 28 days. And then there is my birthday, which is in a few days. One thing I know for sure is that there isn’t going to be a re-creation of my Indian birthday extravaganza. Could be worse, I suppose.

I guess I’ll just have to do it old-school and bring out the cookies and juice. Those parties are still fun, aren’t they?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Razor Ramblings: Repeat Performance

Normally I wouldn’t rate the same place twice, but these are extenuating circumstances.

Place: Next to the place we always have iftar
# of Nicks: I don’t remember any
Rating: 4/5

Salaam, habibi. Shave? Shave?”

You know a shave is gonna be good when the guy starts off with that line (habibi means “my love” in Arabic).

I had had a haircut there the night before (ya, another one) and had left with the owner of the establishment, Nadr, kissing my forehead and hands in what I can only assume to be an effort to get me to come back. Smart man. Anyone that provides that kind of customer service is going to have me as a repeat customer.

The younger guy that had cut my hair was busy with another patron, so Nadr was left to deal with me. And deal he did….

The lather was normal, for Egypt. I realized then that there just isn’t the appreciation for the venerable “Shave Culture” here that there was in India. Not a problem, though. I can work with anything…but can my face stand up to a definite lack of foam on a weekly basis?

The Nadr went to town. Not literally, of course, but the way he was raking the blade over my face, he might as well been driving a road-grader. Now I’ve had some bad shaves, but there was something different about this one. It was, shall I say, painfully delicate. All I could do was just close my eyes, grit my teeth, and hope I still had some blood left in the morning. And, yet, he moved with grace and elegance, ensuring never to puncture or scrape the white, soon-to-be leather.

The second lather/shave came and went without incident, except for the technique. Nadr went up instead of down. Then, something remarkable happened. Expecting a shot of whatever spray comes out of the bottle they use, Nadr reached for the horsehair brush and proceeded to lather for an unprecedented third time. Simply amazing.

What earned the man his 4 rating was the longevity of shave effectiveness. Granted, I had the work done at 11:30PM, but I woke up in the morning feeling like I had just shaved normally.

So far, this was the closest shave I have ever had. Take that, Gillette.
  

Sweet

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mongolia Knows How to Do It


Introducing Mongolia's new 20,000 Tugrug note. It's worth about $20 CDN.

That's a nice lookin' bill if you ask me. If only the US could learn from other countries who make money look a lot nicer...

Cairo at Night



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I Needed That

Brilliant experiences are often found in the strangest of places. As you may have established from yesterday’s post, I was struggling to find anything cool about Egypt. That changed last night.

While walking home at about 1 AM from a enlightening balcony discussion with the resident Brazilian and Mexican experts, I stumbled upon a street food vendor. Here’s the thing: I love street food vendors. I want to be a street food vendor. I would be happy if I gave it all up to serve chai in India or shawerma in Egypt. As such, I have a borderline ridiculous respect for these masters of the culinary beat.

I couldn’t help but stop and see what the guy was offering. After peering into two bowls contain random meat, I quickly deduced that he was serving sandwiches. A quick calculation later (me + hungry = sandwiches), I was using my severely broken Arabic to figure out how much I had to shell out to get what I could only imagine to be a treat for my stomach. I told the guy that I wanted four sandwiches (they weren’t very big) and found it would cost 4 LE (80 cents CDN). Good news.

The guy seemed a bit surprised that I wanted to sit down at his makeshift table, but he did oblige and serve my food on a plate. As a “garnish” he brought over a big plate of tomatoes and pickles. I polished off what I think was a liver concoction in two of the sandwiches and a smoked ground beef mixture in the other two. I don’t usually eat liver (provided I know it’s liver), but this stuff went down without a problem. I then turned my attention to the tomatoes…I can’t quite acquire the pickle taste.

We exchanged the customary “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” pleasantries soon after I finished eating. As expected, he exclaimed, “Ahh…Kent, like the cigarettes.” Yep, that’s me. I’m just one giant stick of tar and nicotine. As I went to leave, his helper offered me some shai. It’s just black tea and sugar. Sure, it doesn’t contain the complex flavourings of its Indian sister, but it hits the spot after a nice Egyptian meal.

I told them that I’d come back tomorrow, armed with my camera and appetite. As I walked across the street and away from the cart, I felt weightless. I had just had my best experience in Cairo to date.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Humbling Experience

Who’d have thought that I would experience India-Egypt culture shock, as opposed to Canada-Egypt? Well, apparently Janaki had that one figured out, but neglected to mention it. Anyways…

Living in another country is a humbling experience. Plain and simple. The root of my culture shock appears to come from not being the “master of my domain,” so to speak. When I left India, I felt like I could do/get anything I needed. Involuntarily, I expected the same thing to happen in Egypt.

And then, BAM. Reality checks are often the most painful, aren’t they? Everyday I have to keep reminding myself, “I’m not in India anymore, I’m not in India anymore.” Easier said than done, I might add.

But what was it about India? I still can’t figure that one out. Lifestyle, I guess. I left wanting never to come back. I left feeling fully satisfied with my time there, and not wanting another bite. I lived 8 months in Canada paying only lip service to the chai stands and shavers of Incredible India. And then I come here, only to realize that I want the carefree Indian lifestyle back. I never thought I’d say that. Ever.

Then again, I’ve only been here for 2 ½ weeks. What’s the rush? I can’t expect to be Egypt-proficient in that time. But because I feel like I’m integrating at light speed, that expectation persists. Instead of starting at the proverbial shallow end of the pool, I’ve cannon-balled into the deep-end without a lifejacket (did I mention that I sink). It makes sense, when I think about it, because I’m a sucker for cultural integration. I want to try all that’s crazy and different where I am (hence fasting for Ramadan). If I wanted to eat at a nice restaurant, I would’ve stayed at home, for example.

What I’ve learned is that they key to living in a foreign country (especially if you’re there for some serious cultural integration) is integrating at your own pace. If you’re going too fast, slow down. If you’re not doing enough, don’t let the traffic stop you.

For me, I think it’s time to slow things down and get back to writing my book.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What Do You Say to That?

One of the things I’ve noticed as a foreign guy in both India and Egypt is that local girls do not talk to you, let alone give you the time of day. Guys are always coming up and asking you questions and saying, “Welcome to <insert country here>,” but woman only offer the slightest glance, if you’re lucky, but even that is often in disgust. It’s frustrating because you feel like you know nothing about the female side of the culture by the time you leave.

Using that logic, I can’t even begin to explain what happened yesterday. It started when I was on the balcony (2nd floor) waiting for some friends. Three Egyptian girls, dressed conservatively, walked by on the street below. One of them kept looking over, so I looked behind me to see what she was looking at. Hmm…nothing there. Then, after they had walked a bit past me, two of the girls turned and gave a coy little smile and wave. Eye contact was definitely made and I could see them giggling, perhaps laughing at my general awkwardness. There was indeed some shock involved because I have not witnessed anything more than a glance.

Oh, but the night wasn’t done there. On my way to the bat cave, I walked by this group of people: an older lady, a young girl, and two middle-aged guys. When I was within range, the lady says, “I love you.” Whoa. I was completely taken aback. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just kept walking. The girl (from Brazil) beside me burst out laughing, but I could do no more than stare bewildered into space. What a strange night.    

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ramadan: Day 6 and 7

Just had my first weekend Ramadan experience.

You basically sleep until 3, move to the couch, sleep for another 2 hours, go for iftar, come back home, sleep for an hour or two, go out and do something, have a late-night dinner, and then crash at like 5 AM, only to wake up the next day at 3 and repeat the cycle over again.

For iftar on Friday we decided to try out a different Ramadan tent. The meal was essentially the same, however the 20 or so minutes we were there was marred be a scuffle between two guys. I was amazed to see two women in there trying to break it up.

Saturday iftar brought us back to the same place we had been a few days ago. Got some chicken and kebabs, along with the usual rice, bread, and salad. Perhaps the best part of the day was discovering the “bat cave,” a sheesha joint. Picture the grotto at the Playboy mansion, subtract that models and the hot tub, and you have our new sheesha hangout.

Not eating during the day is becoming so habitual that I question how long it’s going to take me to get back on the food once Ramadan is over.

Oh, and a second monitor was just brought in for me. Two 17-inchers lined up right next to each other. That’s a whole lotta monitor.