|View from my balcony window,|
where towers and televisions look skyward.
Things that have happened
1. I've moved. After a brief attempt to live with my closest Egyptian friend fell through, I moved in with a fantastic guy from the same program who lives in Shubra, which is a more working class neighborhood but also a very "old" neighborhood that has a large Christian population. My metro stop is called "St. Teresa," and the view from my window is a church and mosque with a steeple and minaret standing just a few feet apart, as they are on either side of a small alleyway. When I had a toothless taxi driver take me home one night from the more upscale area where most of my friends live (can you tell I'm scraping for street-cred here?), he recited to me a dialect poem that he had written called "al-Garas wa'l-Izaan" or "The Bells and the Call to Prayer." Indeed, you can hear the bells go off about once a day and the calls to prayer at their appointed times throughout the day.
2. I've read a bunch of Arabic novels. I have now read a total of six Arabic novels over the past 7 weeks. One of which, Seasons of Migration to the North, I'd read in Arabic a few years ago. I've finally read a Naguib Mahfouz novel in Arabic and liked it a lot less than I expected, and read the second Yusuf Idris novel I'd ever read, and liked it a lot more than I expected. My teacher is a radically disorganized novelist who was also a teacher at Middlebury Arabic school when I was studying and working there. She's a very good teacher (minus the disorganization) who expects a lot from our writing. She asked us incredulously one day: Why is that you don't use applicable Qur'anic references to punch up your writing? Why don't you use popular sayings to add spice to what you say? This is somewhat like asking fourth graders why they do not weave Shakespearean allusions into their book reports on Misty of Chincoteague. They probably only know "to be or not to be," and that only becomes applicable in a very limited number of circumstances. I have been able to use the few Prophetic sayings and Qur'anic phrases that I know... "Actions are according to their intentions" (Prophetic saying), "And perhaps they are actually well aware [though they pretend that they do not]," (Qur'anic allusion). If only the actual content of the essays were up to the standard of these bold wisdoms.
3. I've become more cultured. Cairo, it turns out, has a lot of stuff going on. Art galleries, music, movies... there are a lot of things to do and yes, they do market to foreigners and Egyptians who are fully literate in European/American culture (the rock concert with the Bob Marley crew rocking out in the corner comes to mind) and often speak perfect English. But it's been nice to go to lectures, go to galleries, and begin to feel like there are things about Cairo life that allow me to just relax. This has certainly helped me settle into a groove such that I find life here much less stressful on a day to day basis.
4. In that vein, I've apparently begun to fit in a bit more. I've been asked for directions by Egyptians in Arabic without a moment's hesitation about 4 different times. Being on the metro on the way to Shubra helps because they figure you must actually be from here if you're getting off in Shubra. Usually it's people from out of town (Alexandria, to countryside) who are trying to find out where Ramsees station is. Helpfully, the naming scheme of Cairo's metro system does not line up with the naming scheme for its train/bus system, so the main Cairo bus/train hub, which is called Ramsees, is directly above the metro stop formerly known as Hosni Mubarak, now known as Shohada (the Martyrs, ie. of the January revolution).
Thus, nearly all requests for directions have involved people asking "how do I get to Ramsees?"
- "Well," I tell them, "you get off at this stop that is called Shohada, though on this map it is still listed as Mubarak. I know it doesn't make any sense. There is no Ramsees Metro stop. Trust me." (or, usually, "wa-llahi." which is an oath meaning "by God" that is used pretty much all the time by almost everyone I've ever spoken to. It can also be used as a question: "By God?" to mean... "Really?!")
- "Where are you from?" they ask incredulously, not sure if they should believe this man claiming to be knowledgeable. It's well known in Cairo that if you want directions, you always ask at least 3 people if you can because everyone wants to be helpful so badly that they'll usually give directions even if they're not quite sure.
- "I'm from America, but I live in Shubra. You're not from Cairo... where are you from?" Haha! Turned around that "you're not from here" bullshit right back on ya!
5. I've fallen in love with the concept of mini-buses and the wacky world of unsystematic but utterly reliable Cairo public transportation options, which is such a complicated matter that I will leave it to another post. One that I intend to write soon, if God wills it (insha'Allah).