Category Archives: Egypt

Traveling: Useful for Watching the Humans

Oh you know, I was just floating down the Nile on a ship.

On April 16th, 2012, at approximately 12:03 pm, I returned at last from a journey that spanned a total of 1190 miles (1927 kilometers), and approximately 4 millennia, stretching from Istanbul in the north to Aswan, Egypt in the south, from the time of the mysterious Pharaohs to the more familiar civilizations of modern Turkey and Egypt.

Though I remain pale as an alabaster rose I do, however, sport the beginnings of a shapely frecklestash.

I saw the sultans’ puffy pants and the bare breasts of ancient Egyptians; the pith helmets of eager yet uninformed tourists, and the North Face jackets of unhappy American families. I sampled the modern cruise cuisine of Egypt, tasted the street fare of Istanbul, dined from the secret recipes of palace chefs, and ate starches whenever possible.

My sperries received a beating from all of the walking and then another lashing from me for being a mediocre shoe. My clothes are stinky and there is multinational grit in my purse.

So what did I do after all, in the grand scheme of time and space? What did it mean to travel to distant lands, even farther from my already distant home and sleep in beds that were not my own in places where I didn’t know who washed the sheets?

What does it mean to sit in a shady park full of blooming tulips and look out over the Bosporus, commenting on the rooftops of strangers in a country where I could not pronounce anything correctly?

For me, as an alien, these journeys give me a chance to deepen my understanding of human culture, helping me to better imitate it in my own life. Witnessing other humans acting in a way similar to humans in my region increases my functional knowledge of their kind. As I view the holy places of civilizations long past and watch others imagine the hope and desperation of those who surrounded the temple walls, I learn the act of historical empathy from the humans themselves, one of the most difficult emotions to mimic.

I am more than a little humbled by the grace of the mother queen, who granted me the privilege of leaving my base and seeing a timeline of human history that spans four thousand years. It is also fascinating to think that I am in some ways a continuation of that same history, because we plan to wipe out the entire human race and bring all of it to an end.

More on the trip and its starches to come soon.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Lunchtime Revolution

You know you’re in Egypt when you’re surrounded by Russians in Hurghada and see this walking in front of you on the beach.

Based on a true story that happened last weekend.

We’re on vacation and it’s lunch time.

We’ve all had a hard morning. After sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, some students ventured to the beach, where they were subjected to a blazing sun and gorgeous views of the red sea. Unfortunately, their fragile psyches were scarred by the unreasonably high ratio of body mass to swimsuit size, and they saw more Russian butt cheeks than anyone should have to see in a lifetime. They need nourishment.

Others of us suffered equally in the lobby, where we were tortured with 90s pop music, cigarette smoke, and slow wireless internet.  Our applications did not load quickly, and people we did not want to see came and sat next to us. We are exhausted from the effort of maintaining simple sanity in the face of such hardship. We need refreshment.

It’s 1:24. According to the itinerary, lunch is in six minutes. We seat ourselves at a dining table, preparing to renew our souls. Silverware is fidgeted with, glasses filled with water. We are ready.

But something’s wrong. The staff is still setting out the food. The buffet is yet incomplete, and only the salad bar looks prepared. This does not bode well.

A few minutes pass. It is now 1:30. The staff gives us no signal. Do we sit like dumb beasts? Do we help ourselves to salad? Do we drink water and laugh as if everything were fine even though our stomachs cry out for salvation?

Unable to wait any longer, I decide to go for the salad bar. Just as I’m about to grab a tong-ful of cucumber slices, the staff member in charge of fruit arrangement stops me and says firmly “You wait five minutes. Please,” and points to my seat with disdain. This was not a request. I turn away, starving and indignant.

“Excuse me?” I think to myself,  “Are we not on vacation? Is this not an all inclusive resort? Can we not act as we please? Is the salad bar not sitting in front of me, waiting to be devoured? Are there not hungry students behind me, waiting to eat? What kind of a cruel topsy turvy upside downy hell is this?”

I sit down. The time is 1:35. Angry mutterings rise from the table, “What did he say?” “Why can’t we eat the salad?” “I’m so hungry.” “What does it matter to him? They’re not even doing anything to it.” “grumble grumble complain grumble.”

And so we sit, staring at each other, grousing from every end, the buffet a mere 10 feet to the right.

Finally I could take it no more. What was this madness? It is lunchtime, the time in which we eat the lunch.

“Colleagues,” I said. “My peers, friends, brothers, sisters, acquaintances,  enemies, and Steve, will you stand for this, that we should be deprived of eating lunch at the appointed hour? Will you submit to the arbitrary tyranny of the hotel staff? Will you cower and recoil in fear from a single man? No, dear friends. This is our lunch time, and lunch we shall, a great lunch, one that shall go down in history as the greatest resort lunch ever taken. Brothers, sisters, Steve, let us lunch!”

And with that I rose and went to the salad bar. A great cheer erupted and the others followed. Lunch we did, and I learned that the taste of victory is only as good as the food at the hotel.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Jam Quest

All the sweetness of sugar, with a hint of fruit

What started as a quest for 70% fruit jam ended with me hopelessly lost and asking a gas station attendant for directions to the Nile.

When I first came to Egypt, I had a peasant’s understanding of the world and was content eating jam that was merely tasty and cheap. To me, jam was just a colder and more gelatinous form of candy that happened to contain the occasional hunk of fruit. However, here in Cairo I encountered people who subscribed to a different jam-philosophy. Oddly, they believed that jam should taste like fruit, not sugar. I heard the term “fruit percentage” for the first time as they sneered at jams that consisted mostly of artificial coloring and sugar.

Because of them, I was forced to try a jam that contained 60% fruit. It was a strange experience. My taste buds, accustomed to being blasted and then numbed by the sweetness, instead found themselves underwhelmed.

I enjoyed it on an intellectual level, but my ignorance had not yet been beaten out of me and I  wanted my sugar jelly back. However, something strange had happened to me. I had been afflicted with the sugar-guilt. Now when I went to the supermarket, I secretly craved the cheap, facemeltingly sweet jams, but the sugar guilt haunted me and I purchased the sixty percent instead. I thought maybe the reason I didn’t love it as much as my friends was that there wasn’t enough fruit. Perhaps if I tried a jam with more fruit, I would see the wisdom of jam snobbery.

I had heard rumors of Mom’s jam: a 70% wonder found only at a place called Dina Farms. Months ago I had seen this store, and after spending too much time inside one day I decided to go on a jam hunt, relying only on my memory and my innate directional instinct. I set out confidently and within ten minutes found myself completely lost on the edge of what seemed to be a forest in the middle of Cairo. “Where did this come from?” I wondered.

Then I thought to myself, “The Nile. I must make towards the Nile. I will use its mother banks to as a great trail of breadcrumbs.”  I happened upon a gas station attendant and asked him where the Nile was. Confused at my apparent confusion, he asked me where I was trying to go and I said resolutely:  “I want to go towards the Nile” He pointed me in the right direction and soon I saw the glimmering waters in front of me. I was happy to be on my way home, albeit jamless.

Later on, I considered how ridiculous it was that I had just used a 4130 mile long river as a landmark to find my 2 person apartment. I imagined my reaction if a bedraggled tourist in downtown Oklahoma City asked me where the Rocky Mountains are and decided sometime’s it’s better just to leave such matters be.

P.S. Vote for Belle at Educlaytion’s March Movie Madness. She’s up against Atticus Finch, and let’s be honest here…she deserves to beat that sucker.

Tagged , , , , , ,

How is a lampshade like a fire hazard?

a work of brilliance.

Every skype conversation with my parents begins the same way: “Hello? Can you hear me? I can hear –wait hello? Now I can’t see you. (Typing: turn your camera on) Okay that’s better. Wait can you hear me?” etc. Last night we repeated this sacred ritual and like usual surprised ourselves with a successful conversation. After talking about weather and church for an appropriate amount of time, given our backgrounds as Middle Americans, my parents commented that my video’s quality was quite poor. Based on the image, I was a freak that lived in a highly pixilated cave, one side of my face shadowy with never ending night and the other a dull orange.

There are a number of reasons for this, I explained. First of all, I do live in a highly pixilated cave. Second of all, my room is naturally dim because I only have two lamps. While thinking about the lamps, I was struck with the desire to show them something I was proud of, namely a lampshade I had made myself. I created this masterpiece by hanging a scarf between a curtain rod and a picture frame, hiding the lamp’s naked bulb behind a transparent scarf wall. However, instead of being impressed at my ingenuity, my mother said with an overtone of reprimand, “Now Emily, isn’t that a fire hazard?”

Where are the congratulations, the “well done, genius and thrifty daughter, for you have saved yourself the purchasing of a lamp shade and used a seldom worn scarf to diffuse light from a bare bulb?”

Also, of course it’s a fire hazard! Sometimes I look over and the scarf is draped on the naked bulb in a forbidden embrace. If I had left the room with the bulb and scarf in such a position, who knows what I would have found when I got back. The sock I’ve been looking for? A hole singed in my scarf? A fiery chamber of death? It could be anything! So yes. Technically, this precarious set up is slightly dangerous.

However, let’s not forget the fact I live in Egypt. The makeshift lampshade, or pre-fire if you will, is only one of many dangers I face daily. I also have to cross the street, no small task in a city with 5×10-7 crosswalks per person and billions of cars. Furthermore, according to World Bank statistics from 2004, Cairo is among the most polluted cities in the world. These pollutants daily become a part of my body, which itself is becoming more flammable. They’re also pollutants I’ll be bringing back with me to the states, where I intend to get as much medical work done as possible while still on my parents’ insurance.

The concern is certainly welcome, but I would prefer it to be done in a more thoughtful manner. I simply ask that if they’re going to worry, they worry about everything and in equal proportions. Road safety should probably come first, even before the worry I’ll convert, marry an Egyptian man, and never come home (in that order.)

For further questions on what should and should not be worried about and/or quotes from Late Night with Conan O’Brien circa 2006, please contact me. Thanks.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

I Am a Meat Flavored Chip

Hello there. I am a meat flavored chip, a food even most animals avoid. I see you’ve come to the shop for a snack, and luckily for you, we have many delicious offerings: tea biscuits, sawdusty wafer crackers, baked goods that smell slightly of garbage, refrigerated Snickers bars, and most importantly, all varieties of MSG laced chips: the Chipsys and Doritos and what have you. Sure we have the ketchup, chili lime, cheese, shrimp, and salt and vinegar flavors, but have you considered trying something slightly more repulsive? What you’re really looking for is me: a meat flavored chip.

Don’t think about it too much, about how this piece of fried vegetable matter has the distinctly smoky taste of leftover oil from a kebab grill or about how the almost fulfilling meaty taste and irresistible crunch leaves you deeply dissatisfied and spiritually drained, or about how you know your tongue will start to feel raw as your taste buds inevitably dull from the cocktail of chemicals that imbue me with my meaty flavor against the will of God.

You know that I’m an abomination, that this kind of taste should not exist on a chip. You know that your entire body should shrink away from me in disgust and recognize me for what I am, something wholly unnatural, a deviation from all that is wholesome. Furthermore, you know how you’ll feel about the whole affair in just 5 minutes, after your wave of hunger has subsided and you’re left tasting the chemical after notes of the artificial kebab flavoring as it bubbles up over the next hour.

But you’re hungry and your mind is not functioning quite right. The part of your brain that would recognize the horror of what you’re about to do is busy watching the food channel and drooling. Nothing can stop you and I’m so close. I’m right here, behind these bags of chips covered in far less carcinogens, the black color of my bag hinting at the evil that lies within, the evil that will soon be within you, creating in your stomach a veritable cesspool of laboratory substances.

Forget everything. Forget how you felt the last time. Forget that I am a meat flavored chip, nature’s scandal, and think of me only as the snack that you need right now. And the next time you want to spend a few hours in a bathroom, you can try out my buddy, the Doritos T-Bone Steak and Curry Collision. Treat yourself. Because you deserve something reprehensible.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: