Tag Archives: aristocracy

The Moon Eclipse and the Green Laser

I went back to the houseboat yesterday in order to witness a total eclipse of the moon happening over the Nile. Even without the eclipse, the view from the houseboat at night is awesome since you can see the cityscape reflected in a body of water, exactly the kind of view that seems to have pleased humans the world over for millenia. It was a little hard to appreciate the rarity of the event since it seemed somewhat anti-climactic.The entire evening centered around the moon disappearing completely and thus looking like the sky does 70 percent of the time at night. Maybe it would have been more interesting had we been out in the country somewhere where the pollution didn’t fog up the view so much.

Even though the eclipse only happens once every sixty years or something, I found the houseboat community to be more interesting.

It is made up entirely out of foreigners, and at one point, everyone was popping out on their balconies and talking to one another just like we were in some kind of sitcom. The guy to the right and below my friends apartment came out in his wifebeater and beer belly and informed us about the mechanics of a lunar eclipse as if we were troglodytes  just as the chipper British lady living next door appeared on her balcony-separated from friend’s balcony by only a screen- and began eating her dinner, which smelled delicious. According to what she said, it was just something she whipped up. The people on the left side were all on their roof and calling us to come over to hang out. For a reason that remains unknown, they had a ridiculously strong green laser that they were making good use of by shining it everywhere. I’m sure there were tons of fish blinded that night in the nile not to mention humans living in apartments across the way.

Eventually we did go over to his neighbors and sit on their roof and watch the moon finish disappearing and then slowly reappear. Expat meetings like that are always a little bizarre: everyone’s there for a different purpose and the only real similarity between all of us is that we all happen to not be from Egypt. In fact, in these houseboats and in many upper tier apartment buildings, Egyptians are completely prohibited. I have yet to understand all the reasons for this, but it appears that there is a significant amount of racism propogated by Egyptians onto Egyptians themselves, and so foreigners are preferred tenants oftentimes with a specific clause that there will be no Egyptian guests, though sometimes this only applies to Egyptian men. We’re learning about Egyptian tourism in my Egyptian dialect class, and apparently foreigners are preferred in hotels not only because they can usually pay more but also because Egyptians order too much food and have too many children that mess everything up. It’s interesting hearing from my Egyptian dialect teacher the reasons why Egyptians are generally not as welcome in some hotels….the investigation goes on.

Weekend now=more time for blogging.

Tagged , , , ,

Old. Hot. Big.

Of course I’m talking about the dusty hollowed out water buffalo carcass I saw today. Just kidding, I saw a live water buffalo. They are such beautiful and noble animals, and delicious as well I’ve heard. I wonder if there is any ancient Egyptian mythology detailing their extensive history helping the human race. Topic for a later blog….

No but seriously, I went to the pyramids today on an excursion organized through the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo. When you travel with AUC, you travel in style. I didn’t pay a dime for the trip, and we had a yacht on wheels to carry us out the pyramids and ferry us around them, an art history professor telling us about the history of the pyramids, and all admission fees to the boat museum, the temple, and the pyramids themselves paid for. The only thing lacking was some kind of on-board food and drink service, which would have come in handy right about noon when every drop of moisture I brought with me had been evaporated by the merciless sun.

The pyramids are not far from Cairo. In fact, they are almost directly within it and are slowly being surrounded by it. Millions of people are able to make out the pyramids through the smog from their windows in the many high rise apartment buildings in the city. It was so strange to be winding our way through Cairo streets and then all of the sudden to see a pyramid pop into sight right out my middle school history textbook.

They were everything I thought they would be (see the words above), but there’s something to be said for visiting a place that is 4500 years old. I love imaging all the people that walked where I was walking over the past millenia and remembering how they had such ordinary lives just like my own, except for the semi-frequent mummy attacks that must result from living so close to the pyramids.

We didn’t go into any of the big pyramids, but we did go into equally small and smelly spaces. One of them was the burial chamber for a notable, and on the walls were all these dumb pictures and I was just like “Come on, they couldn’t even speak English? Why do we bother even learning about this civilization.” But I guess the craftsmanship was incredible. Everything was done with stone tools (that’s what our “guide” said) and it was incredible to see how well preserved and elegant it was. That chamber had the distinct odor of feet, which resulted from a stinkier group having gone in before us and the lack of ventilation. I can only imagine what the bigger pyramids smell like after a long day of tourist stink filling up the stagnant air.

The other small smelly place we went down into was the queen’s pyramid, for which we had to crouch as we descended down a very steep and narrow shaft and then turned the corner around another very steep shaft into a chamber where about 20 of us  looked around at each other and at the stone walls and then decided it was time to leave. I almost had a moment of panic when I began to think about what would happen if we got stuck down there and slowly suffocated to death. We’d have had to kill people in order to save air. I was also worried about mummy wrath and plagues.

No description of the pyramids is complete without a describing the tourism workers that accompany the experience. Tourism is the number one income for Egypt as a country, and after the revolution there was a huge decline in the number of tourists, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Despite the fact it’s hard to see kids selling bookmarks all day when they should be in school, and men whose only source of income are the dumb camel rides that tourists seem to love, it doesn’t make it any less annoying to have people offering you “gifts” and “Egyptian prices.” That said, it wasn’t too bad. You just say no thanks a bunch and walk on, sister. Don’t take anything, don’t let them do anything for you and you should be fine. If you really want a singing stuffed camel, though, be my guest. Haggle away and don’t look back.

Note: look at pictures on Flikr. There are more than just ones of the Nile I promise.

Tagged , , , ,

Post apocalyptic mall from the desert future

American University in Cairo: new campus

Classes start tomorrow. Thus ends my brief stint of living like a posh Cairene, going out to cafes all the time and wastin’ my stipend like I’m Cleopatra. I went to a place called Mosaic tonight and enjoyed a lovely grape sheesha with a plate of hummus on the side and hibiscus tea to drink. There was enough left over for lunch tomorrow. SHABAM.

My roommate and I got semi-lost on the way back from said cafe, but it wasn’t for too long and we got to see the other side of Doqqi: poorly-lit streets, slightly less well off neighborhoods, cats crawling on garbage piles, kids zooming by on scooters, clotheslines, dark stairwells…. Not too shabby.

We had our orientation out at the new campus of the American University in Cairo today, which is probably the most bizarre place in the world. First of all, it is surrounded by a sea of half built buildings in the desert, part of the “New Cairo” everyone is talking about (I think). The two workers I saw out there will be hard pressed to finish this century, but at least they’re a team: one to hand the bricks, and the other to carry.

AUC’s campus is also massive, most of it consisting of long marbled courtyards beneath gaudy eastern style arches. The campus was nearly empty except for us and the employees of random Western-style food outlets scattered in nooks of the eerie flat-faced buildings shimmering in the heat. The sound of the fountains and the wind in the gardens only accentuated the emptiness of the place. I got the feeling I was on a campus designed and implemented according to what the future might be like if everything was based on faux-eastern mall architecture right before there had been a huge climate shift. Spooky. Alternately, it felt like the campus had been discovered well preserved in some sort of dome in the middle of the desert as a relic of a by-gone era of aliens more advanced than us.

The ride out there took about an hour and 15 minutes both ways in over air conditioned buses outfitted with wifi so you can fulfill your dream of forgetting you are actually in Cairo/that you are one of the miserable beings who is in thrall to the commute to a campus designed for a world that does not exist and almost vomit inducing in the level of its opulence.

Thank goodness we’re at the Tahrir campus.

Tagged , , , ,

Me no workie well in coffee shop

My life has recently consisted largely of spending time in Cilantro, an upscale coffee shop/café/place to get wi-fi. Despite the large number of pounds I have spent here, I feel my time has not been well served for the following reasons, in addition to the basic fact that I don’t work well in coffee shops.

1. I order a latte and get hopped up on caffeine which makes me jittery, nervous, paranoid, and prone to distraction.

2. I am surrounded by people that I want to stare at and/or talk to.

3. There is a window that I want to stare at.

4. Cars are honking and the wind is blowing and these things are distracting

5. I drink my latte too quickly and then it feels like I’ve done everything I want to do, resulting in restlessness and procrastination of everything I’ve remembered I have to do

6. I forget to check my to-do list because I’m distracted.

7. I feel continually underdressed. I will never fit in clothing-wise anywhere except for gas stations in the south or christian potlucks hosted at apartments.

8. I go with people I know and have conversations with them. After each conversation I’ve completely forgotten what I was doing, where I am, and what my name is.

9. I feel guilty because I’m not speaking Arabic/doing anything with Arabic. The weight of the guilt makes it impossible to get anything done.

10. The internet doesn’t work.

A good part of coming here is partaking in the wisdom of previous Cilantro customers, some of which is written on the wall in faux-graffiti style. One lovely patron said the following gem: Sometimes you love someone somewhere in sometime; which you can’t do anything 2 stop it….but it exists.

But what do you do if that person is not “real?” Or if he’s Conan O’Brien? I NEED TO KNOW MORE!

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: