I write this on a bus beginning the long trek back into Zamalek from AUC’s campus out in the desert. The drive typically takes about 45 minutes, but in the evening on a Thursday (the equivalent of Friday in the US), it can take up to two hours. I’m sincerely hoping that isn’t the case tonight.
I have now reached the end of my second full week of classes and work, and the cloud of dust from my initial arrival in Egypt is beginning to settle. I have hung up all my pictures on the walls of my dorm room—which by the way, is massive in size compared to the broom closets we’re given in the US. Dorm life here has a few notable differences. For one thing, there is a free housekeeping service that will come and tidy your room for you anytime you call them. I also just discovered that if you put your dirty dishes outside your door, they magically return to you clean. I’m being quite spoiled to say the least! Another major difference I’ve had to adjust to here is the strict segregation of guys and girls. There are guards posted outside the entrances of each dorm to ensure that no intermingling occurs! And if a man has to come up to a girl’s floor for maintenance or something, he is accompanied by a woman yelling “man on the floor!” at all hours of the night and day. I realize the main impetus behind this is that the majority of the girls I live with wear the veil in public—it’s only fair then that their living quarters be free of all males so they can remove it.
I have been surprised by how much more noticeably conservative Egypt is compared to Morocco. Because Cairo is such a bustling city, I assumed it would be fairly similar to Casablanca where I was raised. But I realize now just how much European influence there has been on Morocco and Moroccan culture, particularly in the urban, coastal areas. Egypt, on the other hand, is not only geographically distant from Europe– the presence of the Al-Azhar religious complex in Cairo makes it the heart of the Islamic civilization. It makes good sense then that its people would be, on the whole, more conservative in their dress and perspectives. Alas, no shorts for me come summer time!
The differences between Morocco and Egypt are indeed many. For one thing, though the language spoken in both countries is called Arabic, the two tongues have very little in common! I’ve had to start practically from scratch, but with the help of my fantastic roommate and floor mates, I’d say I’m making promising progress. Egyptian food is also very different from Moroccan food. While the staple in Morocco was khobz, a round, yeast-dough bread, Egyptians tend to eat more rice and pasta. Their signature dish is called koshary, a blend of pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils, tomato sauce and onions, topped with garlic sauce. Much to my delight, there is a lovely place right by my dorm that sells a big bucket of the stuff for 3 pounds—less than 50 US cents J Another common snack is fuul, a concoction of mashed fiva beans stuffed in a pita, and taamaya, commonly known in the US as falafel. One of my favorite sweets is fateer, a flakey, pie-like, delicacy that can be served with honey, powdered sugar, or Nutella. Vegetables are a little more difficult to come by in Egyptian cuisine… to get my daily dose, I typically go down to the vegetable stand, get a handful of peppers or carrots and eat them raw—without a knife since I don’t have one.
It’s been nice to develop friendships with the various shop owners around here: I’ve got my vegetable guy, my fuul and taamaya guy, my phone card guy, my baker… all have become part of my day to day life in Egypt. My weekly routine has become more or less solidified as well: class on Mondays and Thursdays, work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and a three day weekend to look forward to at the end. With my free time, I usually explore the city; I am not likely to run out of things to see anytime soon! In the evenings, I enjoy going out to one of the million little cafes around here, getting some tea or coffee and just sitting with friends. That’s one thing I love about Egypt– there is somehow always plenty of time for a nice long sit at a cafe.
Hopefully, this blog post has given you all a little peek at daily life in Cairo as I’ve been experiencing it. (Note the absence of tear gas, rioting and molatov cocktails). The bus is inching its way onto a bridge to cross the Nile—meaning I should be out of this prison within the next 20 minutes or so.
*sigh* Traffic: now there’s a word to sum up the Cairo experience.