Tag Archives: sheesha

Sit-in or sit down?

Politically minded people/ people who are mildly aware of their surroundings would note that there has been some

The Arabic actually read's "Emily's Jam"

activity going on in Tahrir square. The protests that began yesterday in earnest continue in the form of a sit-in, thus all traffic through the square is completely blocked off and identity cards are required to get through. The political future of Egypt is still very much in flux and it would do well for stakeholders as well as those concerned to pay close attention.

While a sit-in does have its benefits, there is also another option, a nobler option one might say: the sit down, as in sitting down at a café and drinking coffee/sheesha for hours on end (the verb in Arabic is the same). I choose this option, and undertook both activities this very night to the great surprise of no one. I and “the gang” headed to “our” favorite spot, a spot I would even call my “jam,” also known as Boursa since it is an outspreading of open air cafes in the closed off streets of the financial market and the word Boursa means stock exchange in Arabic (I think).

At Boursa, over games of backgammon and dominoes, we discussed topics ranging from American politics to American movies, with varying degrees of success. When discussing the election of 2004, we hit a stumbling block when trying to explain the Electoral College, which remains somewhat of a mystery even in America. American films were a bit easier, though I and friend were proven to be ignorant of many films our country has birthed.

On the way home in a taxi, the driver explained to me that he had to go around Tahrir square and take a different bridge to Doqqi. Not understanding what he said except for the word “bridge” and “Tahrir” and thinking he was asking me which way I wanted to go I said “Whatever you like…whichever is easier,” and then he said, “No, Tahrir Square is closed off. No one can get through.” And again I replied, “I don’t care which way you go…at your ease.” By then we were passing a street that enters Tahrir and I could see it was completely blocked off by cars and there was a big white tent in the middle. As he turned away from the square towards the different bridge I finally realized what was going on as he said, “There is a sit in…the square is completely closed.” And I replied, “Oh….well I guess you can go this way.” And we both chuckled.

Though I told him to take me to the Ambassadors’ Hotel which is very close to where I live, we ended up making the entire trip to the door of my apartment building after a lot of “You can let me out here…well I guess a little further…here’s good…well maybe up ahead a little bit…yeah just turn here…” And we both chuckled again. He tried to refuse payment, but I showed him, and I gave him a 25 cent tip (of borrowed money). I meant it to be more but my skills in mathematics are very limited. This driver more than made up for the loser we had last night. There are good taxi drivers…may the entire world know!

Also, Che Guevara was at Boursa tonight, topping off a long day of post-death revolution making with smooth sheesha smoke.

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Do they have T.V. in the mornings?

This was the meter going too fast

As has been my Friday custom since I’ve been in Cairo, I did not leave my apartment until the ripe hour of 8:30 pm, at which point the sun was safely beyond the rim of the earth, scorching another people somewhere. I don’t know if I’m just complainy and/or high maintenance, but it sure does get hot here. I have no problem with the weather per say; I just have no desire to be out scampering around in a cauldron-like atmosphere–hence the clever avoidance strategies i.e. sleep. Since I realize the weather will get hotter and is already hotter some places in America, I will save my strongest complaints for later.

Apparently, however, I’ve been missing out on a different world. The streets, they say, are calm on Friday mornings and one might actually use the word “pleasant” to describe walking outdoors. They might as well say that unicorns pull the buggies and the nile is filled with iced tea, but so help me I will witness for myself the miracle of Friday morning next week. I might stay up all night just to wander the empty streets and eat the candy leaves of the acacia trees in the soft light of dawn, but I will do it.

On a different note, tonight we took a taxi back from our favorite hang out spot, Boursa, which is in Midtown and probably about 10-20 minutes in taxi from Doqqi, depending on the traffic. After we got into the taxi we commented, in English, that the meter was running faster than usual, much faster. It reminded me of cartoon characters’ eyes when they turn into slot machines out of extreme desire for something, the image flipping faster than you can say “hold on there one hot second, pal.” Mr. Taxi Driver noticed we were staring at the meter and talking about something in our foreign tongue, gestured to the meter and said “Expensive?” Great guess, bucko. To be fair, you had the advantage of remembering the time you took the meter to your cousin and asked him to rig it for you, so I’m not going to say you’re a genius. But we were grateful for what was, in essence, an admission of guilt, and got out as soon as we knew where the heck we were. On the bright side, we got to walk a little bit, which we hadn’t done all day. On the dark side, we had to walk in the presence of Cairo night dwellers, which aren’t always the most savory of folk. Except for us, of course.

There were protests today in Tahrir, but they were peaceful, so that’s good. I heard the number tens of thousands thrown out there, also the words “carnival atmosphere.” Tomorrow I plan on sitting at home, promptly followed by feasting on camel meat.

Also, the title to this blog post is a vague reference to 30 rock…let credit be given where credit is due.

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Fevered Bewitchment

Sometime around 9 o’clock last night, a sorcerer cast a spell on me separating me from my spirit animal and causing intense ramifications in my physical body. Without the gentle but clumsy aura of the giant anteater mellowing out the harsh edges of my own “amethyst” being, I was consumed by what felt like the hottest fever I have ever had.

I was out with some friends doing the same old thing in a place I had never been before, the Hussein area of Cairo, close to Al-Azhar University, that same old thing being smoking sheesha. The Hussein area reminded me a lot of Morocco in that it was the typical winding narrow alleys filled with vendors selling all kinds of things that instantly become dust collectors. We were heading for Feshawi’s, an apparently well known place that makes it into all the Lonely Planet guidebooks. After asking about 8 people where it was, we wound our way there and I suddenly found myself in a crowded café filled with patrons, soft gold light diffused by intense clouds of smoke, and people passing through selling everything from necklaces, to henna, to music, to tissues, to hookas, etc. Someone was playing the oud in the background and people were clapping along with the music.

We sat for a while, and at some point in the night a man who seemed normal but was actually a sorcerer came by and showed us an electronic candle that lit up if you blew on it or tapped it. None of us were interested, so he left. But after he did so, I began to feel hot; I thought it might have just been the cramped quarters and the fact I was almost sitting on the stranger in the booth next to me as well as inhaling death, but when I started to get chills as well I knew that something was not quite right. We left a little while later as my health continued to deteriorate, a combination of the sheesha, the separation from my spirit animal, and having only eaten bread and chocolate all day.

Things really took a turn for the worse once we made it into the metro station. We boarded the packed, sauna-like metro car, and began an eternal wait for it to take off. Though I didn’t want to alarm my friends on account of the sickness ravaging my body, it seemed likely I was about to faint, so I was forced to say something. “I do not feel in a good way” I heard myself sputter in Arabic as my hearing began to go faint and my surroundings lost the appearance of reality. The gibberish I spouted obviously concerned them and they ushered me out of the metro car and I sat on a bench for a second in order to try gain a further grasp on consciousness. A few minutes later, the car was about to go, so we quickly boarded once again and as we sped along underground, I leaned against the door and stared at a spot on the ground trying with all my might not to pass out. One possible benefit of my near incapacitation is that I was only vaguely aware of the usual metro staring.

Finally, we arrived at the Dokki metro station and I thanked the sweet Lord that I wasn’t going to end up in a hospital that night. My condition had stabilized by that time and I was able to walk and even make light of the whole situation a little bit as they accompanied me to my building. As I headed upstairs, I wondered what in the world had happened. On the way to my apartment I also had the pleasure of seeing a dog with a dead cat in its mouth.

I took what I thought was ibuprofen and tried to sleep. I lay there for about an hour, a fever consuming my body and strange thoughts pervading my mind, thoughts about wizards and last prayers. Finally I decided I needed to take more painkillers since my headache was threatening to cause blood to spurt out my ears. At this point, I came to the unfortunate realization that I hadn’t taken ibuprofen at all…I had taken anti-diarrheal medication. Alas, the red fog in my mind prohibited me from realized the small blue pills were not at all what ibuprofen looks like. AHHH. I then took real medicine and slept fitfully and sweatily. I woke up at about 6 and vomited up 5 cups of water, just like clockwork after drinking them. Needless to say, I didn’t go to school at all today. Instead, I lay around the house like a harem-dweller and watched the Naked Gun 3, which was hilarious, and an Australian cooking show. Being sick is great for watching television, definitely a benefit. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow; I look forward to lots of pity. We shall see. If I don’t feel better, there will be more movie watching.

Moral of the story: keep your gem guards on you at all time lest a wayward spell penetrate your aural defenses.

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Here’s to vomit

Turns out there’s actually quite a bit of homework involved in this “fellowship” thing. I feel like I’ve spend most of the last 2 days plowing through the Yacoubian Building and I still have more work for tomorrow. Will it never end? Answer: most certainly not. But I’m not complaining.

After being stifled in my apartment all day aside from a misadventure to the grocery store that was characterized by paranoia, confusion, and congestion, I road a boat on the Nile for a little bit and then ended up having a fairly pleasant but perhaps not that interesting of a night with other human beings. We ended up at the Cairo Jazz Club and a really neat band, Station, was playing so we enjoyed moving to the rhythm for a spell before peacing. The band was a fusion of all kinds of styles and I could definitely feel a Sufi inclination in it…the beat in some of the songs felt like trance music and I wanted to let my hair down and float away.

But the story that I want to tell involves vomit and is from a few weeks ago. When we were still newly arrived to Doqqi, roommate and I were walking along one of the main streets and all of the sudden we saw a man that was ralphing up a storm right outside of a pharmacy. It was in the middle of the day and we weren’t sure what exactly was wrong with him, but out of nowhere he just started hurling almost directly in front of us into a drain. It was very strange. No one took notice, or maybe everyone turned a blind eye. I wish I could have done so.

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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.

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