Tag Archives: musings

Escalator Anxiety: Why Does it Exist?

I thought I was like most people in that I have never suffered from escalator related anxiety. Indeed, in my humble opinion, escalators are almost a basic right. I find few things more offensive than seeing a broken escalator and being forced, against my personal, American will, to hike up the stairs like a health freak and/or plebian. What could I ever do to deserve such self-debasement in sight of my very salvation?

Though the ridged steel and rubber of escalators runs in my very blood, based on my daily observation in the Metro station, a significant percentage of Egypt’s female population is not nearly as confident in their escalator usage.

During the morning rush, an entire horde of people is bottlenecked at an escalator in the Sadat Metro station, efficiently being funneled upwards. The crowd shuffles on at a steady pace and then just as it’s almost my turn, the woman in front of me hesitates before boarding as if she’s considering, “Wait, do I really want to do this?” or “Did I put on deodorant today?” or “Whose kid am I holding?” Though this pause might only cause a slight hiccup in the flow of traffic, it makes me want to scream wildly and set everything on fire since there is simply no good reason for her to hesitate. The eighty people before her didn’t hesitate before they boarded, and that includes the blind guy. Even though she might have to lift up her floor length garment, that could be done one millisecond beforehand or even simultaneously while stepping onto the escalator. Older women are worse offenders since they are sometimes legitimately scared of riding the escalator and test it out in the worst way possible. They gingerly place a foot onto the first step only to realize seconds later that half their body is slowly pulling away from them at which point they are forced to hop on in order to avoid a hospital trip.

Indeed, it is becoming more and more apparent that all my life I’ve overestimated how easy it is to ride the escalator. If it were this simple, an old lady would not have fallen onto me today and almost taken me on a lengthy bowling-like escapade ending that could have ended in severe internal bleeding. From this remarkable woman I learned not only how to incorrectly ride an escalator, but also that it is, in fact, possible to ride an escalator incorrectly.

She went wrong immediately as she boarded, when she did not lean forward in order to make up for the difference in speed between her lower and upper halves. Though she may have noticed her increasing lack of equilibrium, she proceeded to not grab onto the side of the escalator for assistance, and instead slowly leaned farther and farther back until she lost her balance entirely and latched onto me as she continued falling. I felt like I was being dragged to my death by a big tub of pudding. At the same time, luckily, two men also grabbed onto her and supported her from the back and on her left side so we did not all go for a tumble. She looked at me with wild eyes as she sent some swift escalator-related prayers to the Big Guy Upstairs. I, for my part, tried laughing nervously in order to make light of the situation, but my chuckles were not returned and may have only gotten in the way of her fervent muttering. At any rate, we all made it to the top safely, I probably the one in need of the most counseling in order to understand how someone almost fell off an escalator. Read that sentence again. I still do not believe or understand how this is possible and I saw it happen. This is probably one of those questions we’ll only be able to answer when we reach the big metro station in the sky, but until then, I either need to start doing push ups or watching out for wobbly old women on the escalators.

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You’re not from these parts are you

One of these things is not like the other

Brace yourselves. This might shock some of you.

I am not fluent in Arabic. It’s unbelievable, I know, and after 4 years of studying it no less. Moreover, I do not believe I will ever be “fluent” in Arabic. Though in the far future I may be able to consume the Arabic language perfectly through the mediums of reading and listening, I am completely certain that my language production will remain quite obviously non-native.

I dream of future self like this:

Native Arabic Speaker: “Hey you down for getting a bite to eat after we ditch this joint”

Me: “I think that a nice plan but first of all it is necessary for me to go to the house and get my knapsack since I have left her there.”

Despite my language short comings, I can still speak Arabic better than most infants, toddlers, and other foreigners. Therefore, I feel my Arabic studies cast in a particularly ironic light when someone, perhaps a toy shop employee, sees me, surmises that I am not Egyptian and instantly becomes mute, believing he cannot say one word to me unless he says it in English, a language in which he never progressed past “Welcome in Egypt.” He quickly determines that his only other option for communicating with me is through a complicated series of sounds, hand motions, and facial expressions that would be much simplified through the miracle of speech, which he has already ruled out.

Should I begin this mode of vocal communication by speaking in Arabic, the result is usually confusion, surprise, and then disbelief, sometimes with a swift return to hand motions and one word sentences. In the most depressing of cases, the person will not recognize that I’m speaking Arabic (albeit poorly) and will ask someone passing by if they speak English, and I’m standing there like an idiot thinking about my past four years of Arabic study, realizing it’s all led to this point of me being unable to find out where the spices are at the grocery store.

Here’s another example:

Man who comes to check the gas meter knocks on the door. I answer it. He notices I’m probably foreign, tipped off by the American flag I drape around myself at home. I’m speaking in Arabic, he’s speaking in English.

Me: Good morning.

Him: Good morning. (motions to his notebook) Gas.

Me: Please come in.

Him: (motioning with questioning signals, asking where the meter is)

Me: It’s in the kitchen.

Him: (goes into the kitchen, checks the meter, emerges) Eight pound.

Me: (I pay him and he gets ready to go) Goodbye

Him: Bye Bye

Of course, there are plenty of circumstances when I have wonderful conversations with people who are delighted to know that I can speak their mother tongue despite the fact they are slightly baffled that anyone would learn Arabic, saying

“Why? Why do you learn Arabic?” (I often ask myself the same question after every disaster similar to the spice search.)

But occasionally you meet a person who simply will not believe someone of my appearance could speak scribbly. Encountering this disbelief  is just another one of the joys of learning Arabic.

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There is a good man who keeps the pergola

this is the only picture I have of the pergola: it’s the thing above us. 

I do not know his name. He is the pergola keeper.

Right as one enters the metal detectors of the American University in Cairo: Tahrir Campus, there is a lush garden bisected by a 25 yard long pergola lined with wicker chairs and tables. A flower producing plant grows up and over the wooden structure, so the area is shaded and quite lovely to sit in and drink coffee and eat cookie during a break between classes.

All happenings in the pergola occur under the keeper’s careful eye. Every minute or so, a small red or purple flower falls from above only to be picked up seconds later as the keeper whisks by, having espied its descent immediately as it began. He walks with a slight limp and a gentle but determined manner. Should a student appear to need a table, he is at the ready carrying one over before being asked. As soon as the students leave, he rearranges the chairs and tables back to their original shape and waits for the next leaf or flower to fall.

I have never seen anyone so dedicated to the regulation of an outdoor area. I’m sure though he may have been interested in what was going on outside the university walls during the revolution, he wouldn’t dare leave his post for fear of a thick carpet of flowers or other plant debris covering the beloved walkway.

Not much is certain in life; at least we have the pergola keeper. Hell might be raised and the sky might fall, but he will guard his domain forever.

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