Tag Archives: Englizia

Grizzly One Pant Man

The beloved vessel

There is an interesting character that I see daily as I walk  to the metro. All I know about him is that he owns one pair of pants and a car. It is not clear what he does when he’s not washing his car, opening all its doors and playing music loudly , or sleeping in the trunk with the trunk door open. In short, he’s a bit of a mystery.

Recently he’s taken to talking to friend and I when we walk by him, always starting out with a warm “Thank-you. How are you?” To which I respond in Arabic “Very well” and then he says in English, “You speak Arabic. Very good.” To which I say in Arabic, “Thank you.”

Apparently this conversation never gets old, since it has literally occurred 20 times. There’s something reassuring in the fact I only need to walk past him in order to earn a “thank you.” If only I could earn a paycheck by passing people while trying to ignore them as well. At any rate, I thought I’d made an online dating profile for him since he seems like an interesting guy with dreams and a set of wheels.

okcupid.com profile for “Grizzly, one pant man. With car”

My self-summary: I may seem like a pretty simple guy, especially since I only speak extremely broken English with foreigners. The reality is that I set out years ago on a journey to live a nomadic lifestyle with nothing but my one pair of pants and my car in order to break free and discover truth.  But I fell in love with a girl and followed her to Medan Messaha, trying to woo her with thank yous and how are yous. I lost her when she went inside the Pizza Hut. I waited for her for ages, but either she never came back out or she sneaked out while I was napping in my car. So I’ve been here for the last twenty years, not learning any more English and cleaning my car compulsively.

What I’m doing with my life: Eventually I dream of moving my car to the other side of the square. Until then I want to figure out how to do laundry and wash my car at the same time.

I’m really good at: speaking broken English with foreigners, sleeping in semi-open spaces, moving my car from one side of the street to the other, washing my car, arranging the knick knacks in my car, yelling occasionally, rolling up the cuffs of my pants, etc.

The first things people usually notice about me: I resemble the Santa Claus hanging in my car, except for I look crazier, have slightly darker skin, am thinner, and role up my pants. I guess it’s mostly just the beard that causes the connection. People also notice the huge gaps in my teeth and my bizarre stare.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food: I had a Twix bar once and that was pretty good. I kept the wrapper and used it to decorate my car.

The six things things I could never do without: the sponge I use to wash my car, my car, my pair of pants, my community of people who are equally busily unemployed, buckets, beauty

On a typical Friday night I’m out: on Friday nights I like to turn the music up in my car and open all the windows and doors and just make sure everyone around me knows that I have a car with loud music.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit: I once watched someone choke to death and didn’t help them since I was in the middle of getting a spot out of my car upholstery and had just applied the fabric cleaner.

I’m looking for: someone kind of like my car, but a woman. And a newer model.

You should message me if: you’re willing to help me clean my car, you agree to never touch my car with your bare flesh, you will find somewhere else besides my car for accommodation, you’re okay with always being second in my life, and you are equally skilled at speaking broken English at foreigners.

Thank you! How are you!

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Is He Trying to Hypnotize Us?

He looked like this little guy

On August 8th, 2011, I and friend visited a fancy place in Zamalek in order to hear the winners of the Egyptian “This I Believe” contest recite their essays. I went to pretend like I cared about culture, and my friend (who is real) wanted to go because she had heard of the “This I Believe” essay contest in the states. No refreshments were provided, even though this event was sponsored in part by the American Embassy, so some of you may be sadistically happy to know that your tax dollars did not provide even one mini cupcake to a hungry American. Let us hope the tax dollars went to more democracy funding related endeavors and not refreshments at a different event that happened to coincide with this one. Some of the essays were more interesting than others, and all of them were in Arabic, making it harder to pay attention and I found myself thinking about winter for some reason.

Right after the event ended, I and friend were at the book table engrossed in the back of the translated This I Believe when a man accosted us at unawares. For the next eternity-like twenty minutes, we stared deer-in-the-headlights-esque as this man spewed a never-ending list of English vocabulary words and expressions at us while also reciting his resume/CV.  While “talking” to him, I felt desperate to leave yet was also held captive by a grotesque fascination with the creature that stood before me.  In my entire life I had never been subjected to something so much like a live infomercial, and this one was selling one thing: Ahmed.

Though I’m sure he was aware we were humans, his did not desire to converse with us so much as to have sentient beings (targets) to talk at that could actually understand his ridiculously ornamental use of the English language. A sample of his conversation could be deadly since it is so rich in English idioms, vocabulary, and antioxidants. Nevertheless, in spite of my own personal danger, I will attempt to communicate the absurdity of his personality and manner of speaking. I will  give him credit for at least being aware of a vast quantity of English words and phrases despite the fact he did not always use them correctly. I have exaggerated the extent of his errors here, though had you been obliged to listen to him for untold lengths of time I can assure you that you would show no mercy either.

He approacheth.

“So… did you find the essays pithy? Were they pertinent? Were some of them loquacious? Laconic? Verbose? Trivial? You know what laconic means? Ah yes, it is a GRE word.

“No? The essays were not laconic? I think some were egregious, what is your opinion? Do you have a thought? Dare you naysay me? What does gainsay mean? I think it means the same as naysay (checks on his iphone….that meaning is correct.). The etymology says it comes from again, like when you say no again and again because you are emphatic. I always think of pneumonic devices for new words. Every split second I am thinking of a new pneumonic device. I am like an intelligent Neanderthal. But why do we beat around the bush? I know I am a motor mouth.

“Are you traveling this summer? The pulchritudinous of Italy is gut wrenching. What does it mean when you call someone mongoose in English? Nothing? When we call someone mongoose in Arabic it means they are sly. I am giving a tour this Friday at the Egyptian Museum. The tour is the bees’ knees, my speech is easy on the ear, and you will wind up on the flipside better than sliced bread. Will I see you there? Ah yes, you are traveling.

“Well I will forgive and forget, this conversation has come home to roost so they say. By the way, I give lectures here every now and then. On what? What are your fields? International Relations and Foreign Service? I gave an entire lecture on the hoopoe, and it was lush in illustrations and unfolded across the span of the hour. The name in Arabic for hoopoe is onomatopoeiac, which means it was taken from a sound. Onoma, means name, and peaia means maker, so it is a name maker; it makes its own name.

“I am composing a book that is about evolution to revolution, since evolution is revolution on a grander scale, and revolution is evolution on a bigger scale. Evolution is revolution on a grander scale, since it takes a long time and has very small changes, and revolution is evolution on a bigger scale. Let me ruin the book for you: my thesis is that when a system becomes rotten to the core, change is inevitable. You have to go? Okay, here is my card with the info of my people. See you later alligator.”

Again, this is only an idea of what he said and the kind of conversation that this was, not an accurate transcription of said “conversation.” I bet the tours he gives are awesome, but of course that would mean that I actually have to hear his voice again, something I’m currently willing to put myself through. I will remember the word “gainsay” though.

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Goodbye! Welcome!

As I was skype-chatting with my sister today (not Frank..the other one), talking about mundane things like my recent grocery shopping trip, I mentioned that I had a random “I love Egypt moment” when I was once again surprised by the friendliness of the employees at each place I stopped at, most of them telling me “Welcome” as I exited their places of commerce. The one exception was the nut store I went to, where the guy was only postal-worker friendly (that’s a nod to the comedy of Rick Steves, for all you fans out there).

Then not-Frank said something strange: “They said welcome as you were leaving?”  I paused to think. Why was this weird? How has my concept of normality changed in the miles between Cairo and the United States of America? I determined that the usual context for welcoming someone in America is upon entering a place of commerce or residence, the word signalling the beginning of a relationship that will last either as long as it takes to get ice cream or for socially unaware guests to leave. Regardless of the length, the welcome firmly belongs at the relationship’s initiation.

In Egypt, however, welcoming people who look foreign is an activity that knows no beginning nor end; some might say it is a way of life. Anytime is appropriate to welcome a foreigner, especially if they are simply passing on the street minding their own business, looking straight ahead, or appearing conscious. Indeed, it is common national knowledge that nothing says hospitality like one hundred weekly repetitions of “Welcome to Egypt” or simply “Welcome,” or even the rare “Welcome in Egypt,” “Welcome on Egypt,” or “Welcome Egypt” (anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that propositions are hard–no blame or shame being cast here). I’m convinced that even if the educational system were to fail them in every other way, each Egyptian child would leave primary school knowing how to make paper airplanes and say “Welcome (X) Egypt.”

Sometimes it can get annoying. Can’t they tell from my appearance that I’ve already been in the country for a whole 6 weeks and am almost completely Egyptian? What about my wrinkled linen pants and dress shirt, also wrinkled, doesn’t give that impression? On the other hand, the welcoming is just another reminder of the warmth of Egyptian society it is famous  for. People really are friendly–even let-you-borrow-money-friendly (most of the time). So in answer to not-Frank’s question: should there be any time whatsoever in which a person is not welcome? I don’t want to live in a world where that is true.

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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.

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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!

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