Tag Archives: egypt

Why I Plan on Selling Out to the Man ASAP

Now ready for salaried work

I’m leaving Egypt for good in about three weeks. My Arabic program, and in fact my entire journey with Arabic, is finally coming to an end, having died a swift but not painless death here in Cairo. Currently, my plan is to go home and marry my sister, or rather, see her married, and then scrimp and save my frequent- flier miles, cushion change, and Chick-fil-A coupons in order to purchase a flight out to San Francisco where I want to “be a writer.”

I was eating dinner at the second-best Thai restaurant in Cairo with boyfriend, friend, and friend of friend, when post-Egypt plans came up in the conversation. I told the friend of a friend that I wanted to be a writer, and he asked what kind of writer, and I said I didn’t know, at which point he burst out laughing. And this is a man who has maintained a neutral face for 98% of his waking life. Apparently my ambitions are a gut-buster. He followed his chuckles with a question, “So when are you going to sell out to the man?”

The conversation turned away shortly after this comment and the rest of the evening was filled with heated yet useless discussion of American foreign policy in which no one admitted that I was obviously right.

At any rate, I pretty much forgot about the remark until this morning, when I was simultaneously looking for jobs and trying to think of something to blog about today. Suddenly, I was struck with my answer to his semi-rhetorical question: “As soon as possible. I will sell out to the man as soon as possible.”

The man has a bad reputation for being a soul-crusher and brilliance-suck, but he (or she) also has health insurance, a steady salary, after-work parties, socializing opportunities with kwards (short for awkward people), logoed shirts, networking possibilities, and buildings to wander through after hours.

He’s also not the only person I could sell out to. I could sell out to yuppies and become a full time babysitter that tries to write short stories at work while the young ones struggle through one of my custom-designed mazes. I could sell out to slightly older yuppies and become a tutor that teaches children to worship the god of standardized tests by sacrificing as many Saturdays as possible to the Great SAT. I could sell out to the coffee bean or tomato and become a barista or waitress, where I will be brainwashed to believe that dinners and lattes are of earth-shattering importance.

All the while, I could be typing furiously on my laptop when I return from work, quipping, editing, and submitting, until finally an obscure literary journal accepts me as an unpaid intern at which point I’ll finally have no time to blog.

So you see, sarcastic friend of a friend who thinks my hopes and dreams are ridiculous and that I need to wake up and smell the black coffee of reality, not only do I like drinking black coffee now (as long as it’s Nescafe Gold), but I also think that selling out to the man (or woman) is one of my better options.

I didn’t say I wanted to starve to death. I said I wanted to be a writer.

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Sneaky Tourist Traps

And we were married in the morning.

We all know of the geographical tourist trap, in which suckers are lured somewhere and forced to buy a chewed pyramid eraser for five dollars.

Though this is the most common understanding of the phrase “tourist trap,” there are other, non-geographical tourist traps. This picture, taken at an ancient Egyptian temple in Aswan, demonstrates two of them.

Trap #1: Looking like a fool

If you’ll notice, the man standing next to me in this picture is wearing a pith helmet and a long sleeved khaki shirt that is ideal for archaeological excavation or rainforest trail beating. I can’t remember what he was wearing on his bottom or feet, but for the purpose of this discussion, let us believe he was sporting long shorts and thick soled boots.

Carefully selected according to internet research and documentaries based in the early 1900’s, this man’s attire clearly identifies him as a colonizer, an imperialist, and an unpleasant reminder of a confusing and difficult time in Egyptian history.

Though the costume is well chosen for archaeological excavation circa 1920, not only it is horribly outdated, but it is also ill-suited for his main tourist tasks, which are taking pictures and eating out 3 times a day.

Many tourists, when traveling to areas perceived as “exotic” or “developing,” will unfortunately resort to donning adventure wear. The reality is that even countries like Egypt, Ecuador, Morocco, and Jordan—to name a few—have major cities in which the inhabitants wear clothes that resemble the latest H&M threads more than the outfits European explorers wore a century ago.

The entire adventure clothes industry thrives off of selling people the very cargo pants, shirts with zip-off pockets, and shoes with built-in canteens that will make them look like idiots. In order to drive home the point that these people are clueless, the travel wear company might as well sell big foam fingers for more noticeable pointing and ankle bells to alert locals when a tourist is coming so they can look “native.”

Trap #2: Tourism-Induced-Sleepiness

Another lesser known tourist trap is the trap of tourism-induced-sleepiness, as exhibited by the young people on either side of my head. In my own experience, drowsiness attacks me the very second I enter a historical site, particularly one with open spaces, marble floors, and an appropriately cool atmosphere—museums are particularly perilous. After three historical visits in a row, I enter a very sleepy danger zone. The only way to cure this condition is by taking a long nap on a soft, white, hotel bed, or getting a latte. Either way it’s a win.

The sleepiness is not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, adventure wear—except for joke purposes–is always ill-advised.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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