Tag Archives: random

An Arm Lost or a Stump Gained?

Because arm stumps are gross. 

I was brushing my teeth yesterday and noticed my left arm was still bothering me. I looked down and realized there was nothing left of it besides a bloody stump that ended at the elbow in a jagged open wound. Blood dripped onto the white tiled floor and I thought to myself, “That explains a lot.”

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The Coffee Grinder Saga, Part 2

(This story is continued from yesterday….when I left you I was debating whether or not to plug in someone else’s coffee grinder of unknown current needs into a 220V outlet, a decision that may or may not lead to disaster)

After hesitating briefly, I decided I didn’t need anyone’s help and boldly plugged the coffee grinder into the 220V outlet and flipped the switch. Pop!…..(silence). These are the sounds that came from the machine; they were not the sounds of coffee beans changing into a powdered state.

And just like that, with a friendly popping sound, my life had changed. It seemed the universe was laughing at me.  Why hadn’t there been an earthquake to indicate the scale of the fiasco? Lightening bolts and pigs flying? A flood and a plague of locusts? The catastrophe didn’t seem real. I imagined that if I ran away, the whole problem would disappear as fast as it had surged into existence.

But I didn’t, and the appliance didn’t magically start working when I tried turning it on and off and putting it into the other outlet. It was, as they say, “fried.”  Then I  thought, “It’s just a coffee grinder…how expensive could it be to get a new one?” Even as I thought this, I knew in my heart of hearts that it could be very expensive. I had felt how heavy that machine was. I had seen KitchenAid Pro-Line written on its stainless steel side. This appliance had not been meant for the grubby hands of semi-dedicated Arabic students. How had I dared touch the cooking tools of my superiors?

$250 dollars from KitchenAid.com. That was how much this machine cost. 250 smackaroos, big ones, green backs, etc. That’s approximately 1500 Egyptian Pounds, or half of my monthly stipend, or 375 pounds of falafel sandwiches. My heart sank thinking about all those truckloads of sandwich.

If I could just go back and infuse myself with a desire to go to bed early, or afflict myself with a horrible illness, or make me love learning about voltages and currents, then we wouldn’t be in this situation. And yet, here we are. Here I am. And I will foot this bill like the semi-dedicated Arabic student that I am. Hopefully it can be repaired, but if not, I will cross desert and sea in order to bring back another one. And after that, even though I shouldn’t, I will feel entitled to use it whenever I want to go over even more frequently to the apartment filled with expensive things that break all too easily. Someone else, of course, will plug them in.

My Arabic teacher always thanks us for making mistakes so we can learn from them, so here are some takeaways from this experience so far:

1. Voltages matter.

2. There are some things no amount of education can cure.

3. Expensive things break as easily as cheap things.

4. Running away is always an option.

5. The value of money is relative.

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Sell Me Your Shoes, Give Us a Smile

Cars, Humans, Buildings

A few days ago, I and my friend were on our way to Fellaki Square in downtown Cairo, matters of international importance awaiting our attention.  This is an area of Cairo that I don’t love since not only is it extremely crowded and noisy, but it boasts a thriving community of sleaze-balls that feed off the steady stream of tourists frequenting these parts. The only occupation of these folks is to slink around and bother the linen clad foreigners passing through. And even though I and friend have been here since June, our appearances are hopelessly foreign and therefore we are subject to the usual tricks of the touts and harassers.

As we were walking, a man passes by us and says to my friend in English, “I like your shoes.” This was unusual. For some reason, the man chose to forgo the traditional “Welcome in/to Egypt” and cut straight to the bizarre chase: footwear. I and friend were confused but not intrigued enough to continue the conversation, so my friend said “Thank you” and we continued to walk away, our backs to him. Conversations that are already this strange when they begin are going nowhere we want to go.

Yet he had more things to say at us about the shoes, shouting after us “How much for them?” This was still bizarre. Perhaps he was just performing his usual shtick, which involves him hanging around downtown waiting for the rare well dressed foreigner in order to heckle them about their shoes. For all I know he might have  a candid camera show that he produces himself by uploading footage from his cell phone for a small but devoted audience. My friend, however, was not interested in selling his shoes, and I still harbored hopes of purchasing them myself and didn’t want to encourage anything. And so we continued on our merry way.

The heckler was not to be ignored, however, and capped off his shoe conversation with both a non sequitur and the most creative end to a drive by harassment that I’ve ever heard. “Smile!” he commanded. Clearly, here was a statement that summed up the interaction perfectly. It was an uncalled-for statement that fit well with the unwanted and purposeless transaction as a whole. Furthermore, as most people know, there’s nothing more grin-inducing than strange men demanding you bare your teeth at them. Unfortunately, the mood had been soured by the failed shoe sale, so this last statement did not compel us to return, nor did it produce the appropriate feelings that would electrify our facial muscles and pull the sides of our mouths up into smiles.

Sometimes, like right now, I wonder what would have happened if we’d stuck around for longer. Would he have pulled out any other gems, like “Your teeth are good. How much for it?” I don’t suppose I’ll ever know the answer, but then again, I don’t suppose I ever really want to talk to him again. Maybe I’ll watch his show.

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Message From the Ants: You Are Powerless Against Us


Though we love our new apartment, one of its only flaws is the continual potential for an ant infestation.  The potential was realized this afternoon, when I heard a scream in the roommate’s room. Concerned, I rushed in and happened upon my roommate being held down by a giant masked ant with a knife at her throat. “Man,” I chuckled, “this infestation is both exceedingly ugly and worse than I thought.”

But really, there was a literal river of ants flowing from the balcony door, around the corner, and into a crack in the wall. I’m not great with numbers, but there must have been at least one or two, maybe millions, or something like thousands of ants endlessly streaming into the wall, carrying an unknown substance to their queen for her to feast on. Powerless to stop the flood, we left the apartment and discovered upon our return that they had vanished, only one or two unpopular ones left behind. As we commented on how bizarre the experience was, I found a tiny note in the corner of the room near the ants’ escape crack. It was typed out very clearly and left little to the imagination, except for picturing the tiny ant computer. Here is the note, as it was written but slightly larger and edited for profanity.

Dear pathetic human scum,

I assume by now you’ve noticed we have no regard whatsoever for your existence. It matters very little to us the arbitrary barriers you have placed on our earth, or the packaging in which you wrap our food. You cannot keep us out. We are tiny and there are millions of us. You are large, pasty, gangly, and one. You can’t even crawl up the sides of tile wall or build tunnels into the earth. Did you really think your two opposable thumbs would be a match for us? The thought is laughable. Between us, we have billions of limbs. In one hour, we could make a statue of President Obama  the height of the Empire State building out of our severed limbs and then dismantle it. You could write three emails.

Do you know how many possible entrances there are in your room alone? What about just the area surrounding your bed? Thousands. There are thousands of ways for us to invade in the middle of the night, swarming across your face, tickling your nostrils until you wake up and begin screaming. As you thrash about clumsily you might take some of us, but you can’t actually believe this will affect anything. You might be bigger than us, but our combined weight is a number your puny brain is incapable of comprehending both because of its size and because it is rendered in kilos, so I’m not even going to waste my ant breathe. The trick we performed earlier was meant to send a message: you are weak and powerless. Your degrees mean nothing to us. Bam! We’re there. We’re a river. We’re a thick, writhing mass that makes the carpet look alive. Boom! We’re gone. You have no idea what happened. You’re in the dark. You’re drooling, clueless, as you will remain.

We are in the walls. We are in the ceiling. We have this entire place surrounded and if we ever have the cause to investigate a sugar or pie situation, there will be no mercy. We will throng and our queen will feast. Bring chemicals if you must, just know that where one falls three rise to take his place, each a little crazier than the last.

Best regards,

Patrix “7 leg” O’Norkle, ant representative and part-time gym attendee (credit: MB)

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Make Your Own Cairo Street Sludge

Just add water and blazing heat

It never rains in Cairo, but the ground is always wet. This is one of the great paradoxes of this country. From whence does the moisture come from, if not bequeathed upon us from the bounty of the sky? This man made street moisture is a conglomeration of air conditioning residue, also known as Cairo rain, car washing by-product, and people throwing water on the streets to keep the dust down. The final result is unwanted, unpleasant, gloopy, sticky, ubiquitous, puddles.

Personally, I hate stepping in puddles. This aversion is not limited to Cairo. I hate unprotected puddle stomping everywhere and especially so when I’m wearing open toed shoes or pants that leave part of my leg bare and thus unprotected from any stray drops of street water.

The puddles here, for a variety of reasons, are particularly unappealing, and I shiver every time I’m forced to step in the street goo. What if it splashes onto my pants, squishes between my toes, or (God forbid) somehow makes its way into my mouth. No amount of pure grain alcohol would be enough to make me feel clean again.

I was searching for what exactly makes Cairo street water so special, and found this recipe on allrecipes.com. I haven’t tried it yet, but it had great ratings and comments.

Extra-Foul Cairo Street Puddle

By-products of at least 3 animals (feral dogs and cats are acceptable)

Powdered garbage

Handful of trash

Motor Oil

Human Spit


Air-conditioning residue

Spilled Pepsi

One shard of glass (optional)

Dust (to taste)

Mix all of the above ingredients. Leave for years. In the morning, add an extremely inappropriate amount of water, making sure to waste as much as possible. Let sit in sun and reduce for 4 hours. Encourage cars to drive through. The mixture will be most foul before 4 o’clock pm, when it might completely evaporate. Does not keep well. Makes a great gift!

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