Typed up: at our apartment in Cairo
Posted from: our apartment in Cairo
It feels a little bit like on this trip I'm always complaining about how tired I am. Part of it is (of course) that we don't give ourselves any rest. We think we do, but it always turns out that what we plan is harder than we think. We're discovering that just 2 hours of Arabic class really takes a big chunk out of the day. We "commute" about 25 minutes each way. Then I enter the day's new words into Mnemosyne (I'm getting OK at touch typing Arabic) and we need to study them. On top of that we also often have homework which takes even more time. And then cooking, stretching, taking care of various chores eats up most of the rest. When we do think we have time we go sight seeing or do something else that isn't completely relaxing.
The classes are going quite well. We're taking classes at the Arabeya institute. It looks like all the teachers are girls who recently graduated from college, majoring in foreign languages. The teaching feels very free form, without a book and just a rough schedule. After learning the script, we mostly do what we want to do, writing new words and learning grammar as we go. We are now at the point where we can make simple sentences, and conjugate verbs (present and future tense). Sometimes this is useful, but we still need to do a lot of pointing, or find somebody who speaks a bit of English, to get our point across.
To get to class we take the metro. While the streets are dirty, the metro is very clean. Much cleaner than in New York. A ride of any length costs just LE 1, which means that most Cairenes can only barely afford it. Nevertheless it gets really busy at rush hour. Trains run about every 5 minutes, but they're still very full. There is no concept of politely waiting. When the train arrives at the central station simultaneously a large crowd tries to exit and enter the metro. There's often a little shoving involved, because the doors open just briefly, and they'll close whether people are in the doorway or not. (The mechanism isn't terribly strong, so you can fairly easily hold it open for a buddy.) Women who don't want to be sandwiched in with the men have the option of riding on one of the two women-only cars in the middle of the train. Sometimes they're less busy, and sometimes they are just as packed.
I signed up for DSL 3 weeks ago, and it finally started working a few days ago. Until then I would routinely walk to an Internet cafe about 12 minutes away. There are actually several that are closer, but I'm picky in that I want one that lets me plug in my laptop, and has a decent connection. Many of the very cheap cafes are filled with kids playing video games. I've seen little kids play Grand Theft Auto in a 'net cafe, which is another interesting contrast from the conservative feel of other parts of life. Most of them play some MMORPG though. Also very popular are places that have a bunch of PS2s set up for playing Winning Eleven (a soccer game). Most Internet cafes are also filled with smoke, which seemed to affect Danielle more than me. But now we have Internet at home (3 days out of 4, so far), 25KB/s down, 6KB/s down, LE 90 per month, plus LE 30 per month for a wireless router, TEData.
To follow up on the football post, it works as advertised. We watched football on Sunday nights, but don't bother getting up at 3am on Tuesday for the MNF game. We do watch too much TV otherwise, at least while eating, stretching, cooking, and just about any other time we're at home. Right now Goonies is on, and before that we watched most of The Fabulous Baker Brothers (which is quite good).
Sex relations are probably the biggest thing that is foreign to me and that I don't understand. On the one hand I feel that all women are oppressed by having to wear a veil, on the other hand I feel that they're all quite happy and don't appear to be oppressed at all. I did feel weird when a waiter mimed to me that he approved that Danielle was covered (except for her head). And there is the women's metro car, and I've accidentally startled a few women who I caught without a head scarf. But then the other day the neighbor came out to help translate without her head scarf on, and at the doctor (minor muscle pull) my arm was massaged by a female nurse which nobody thought was strange. On TV you barely see any veiled women at all, and apparently that is OK.
2 days ago we were invited to a wedding party in the flat next to us that was last night. We agonized a bit over gifts and dress. We ended up bringing chocolate and flowers for the couple, but it looks like nobody else brought anything. (Maybe the gift giving happens at another time?) We had some extra chocolates for ourselves, and despite fancy packaging it was pretty bad. The flowers weren't all that either. We can only console ourselves with the thought that we did our best. We did OK on dressing though, deciding to go conservative. We knew the party started because we heard loud music from the flat next door.
After a bit we went over to join in the fun, which was just a bunch of people sitting around enduring loud music at that point. When the bride and groom arrived, everybody streamed out to the stairwell to watch them and more of the wedding party come in. Now it had become quite crowded, and the bride and groom danced the first dance. The next event was the presentation of the jewelry, which the bride and groom then put on each other. Unlike at home, where you'd wait and give everybody a good view, they just went on with it and everybody crowded around as closely as possible. Then we ate some awesome food, mostly rice stuffed in vegetables, and samosa type things. After that there was the cutting of the cake, and the bride and groom feeding each other cake. Finally the bride and groom exited and left in a car procession to drive around town.
Throughout all this there was lots of dancing and people surrounding the dancers while clapping. Especially many of the women were really awesome dancers, and it was great to watch them dance and have a good time. Danielle and I were both dragged into the dancing group a few times. Needless to say she did a lot better than I did, but we all had fun. I also took a ton of pictures and video, partly at the urging of other guests. Despite the fact that we weren't able to talk to anybody, we still had a great time watching the spectacle and interacting with the few people that we did.
So we're still experiencing a lot of new things, and we're also a bit stuck in a rut. Regardless we're looking forward to the next stage of our journey. We haven't quite figured out what it's going to be, but upper Egypt, the Red Sea, and Jordan are all likely destinations.