Tag Archives: silver lining

Noodle Haste Makes Taste Waste


For the past few weeks, everyone in our program and their brother had been raving about the Uighur restaurants in town. During break time all I would hear is “Uighur this, Uighur that, noodles noodles noodles!” And to be honest, I was getting pretty fed up with it, as in hungry, as in wrathful that no one had been inviting me on these noodlespeditions even though I’d made it expressly clear from the beginning of Uighur-mania that I would love to go sometime and eat unwarranted amounts of cheap food.

First of all, what’s a Uighur? And is that a ooo–aye—gar? Or a uh-ee-ga-hur? Or maybe a gweer? Is it style of serving people, like those restaurants that serve everyone in the dark so they can know what blind people’s lives are like? Is it the cuisine from one of those countries in Europe that only rich people know about (credit: 30 rock)? Is it one of our rare capitalized adjectives like Friendly or Happy? In answer to these questions: Uighur is pronounced exactly as it is spelled and is exactly what it sounds like–Weegur as in meager and it is the name of an ethnic population in Chinese that is Muslim. For an low quality, confusing article on Wikipedia about Uighurs, click here. Otherwise, suffice it to say that there is an ethnically Muslim population in China known to English speakers as the Uighur people, and there is a community of them in Cairo because many come to study Arabic and/or Islamic studies at Al-Azhar university, one of the most preeminent institutes of Islamic scholarship in the world. They come here seeking spiritual knowledge and we go to them seeking delicious noodles. It does seem a fair exchange.

We finally organized a trip to this Uighur restaurant and I was not only invited, I was the guide since the original planners had to back out due to a shotgun invitation to a wedding. I was not a great guide. We ended up both taking a taxi and phoning a friend only to find the restaurant we were looking for was closed. Luckily, there an open one about 10 feet away, though we had heard rumors that this one was not as great. After eating my meal, however, I believe whoever said that should have their tongue cut out and served to the patrons of that restaurant as payment, since the food was awesome.

The restaurant contained four tables with enough room for perhaps 20 people and a kitchen the size of the bathroom in my apartment. It was full when we first got there, so we waited on the steps outside the almost open-air restaurant next to an empty baby carriage and a bowl of peeled garlic cloves. Traditional ingredients?

A table opens up and we shuffle in to the beat of a young man stretching and slapping fresh dough on the counter in the kitchen right behind us, his bare hands massaging the very noodles we were about to consume. Before we sat down, I thought it was a good idea to take a picture of the guy making the noodles since I, being tacky and foreign, consider normal things very interesting. I ended up taking a bad picture of noodle guy as well as offending the owner of the restaurant, who was not crazy about having tourists taking pictures of him like he’s in a zoo. I spent the rest of the night trying to get back on his good side by smiling a lot, but this never worked out to my advantage since he would say things like “There’s none of that left.” or “64 pounds” and I would just grin and say okay, clearly not understanding what he said until a second later when I felt like an idiot and was still on his bad side.

Despite my cultural faux pas, we managed to order five dishes by pointing to pictures in a literal photo album of the various offerings at the restaurant, dishes that still contained surprises since tofu and chicken look surprisingly alike and temperature levels do not translate well through photography. All the dishes we ordered were delicious, however, and were not unlike the more authentic Chinese food I’ve tasted in the states. This wasn’t any Panda Bowl, China Buffet, or Happy Garden. And the noodles! Oh what noodles! We ordered a soup with beef and lo-mein like noodles of unfathomable length, and I would just stick my fork right into the midst of it and start twirling until I had a veritable skein of noodle yarn in my hand and then like the pagan kings of old I would rip into it and feel the tender noodles break off around my hand until there was a little noodle graveyard right in front of me on the table.

I committed another critical error, however. In my noodle haste, I forgot how much I like to be able to taste the food I eat, so I decided it would be a good idea to shove a torch of noodles at near-boiling temperature into my mouth. Instantly I felt the outer layer of my oral cavity wither and die. It was worth it, though, worth the pain of that moment and every other mouthful. I don’t regret anything and I hope to be back to try that other restaurant and see how it compares to its cousin. We also paid only 15 pounds each for the meal…that’s less than 3 dollars and less than 24 Moroccan dirhams.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Eau de Tahrir: l’urine

Currently we’re in the last week of  the CASA summer session, and I think I speak for most of us fellows when I say we

There are more of these now...and no cars

DON’T WANT IT TO END.  PLEASE GIVE US MORE READING! GRAMMAR GRAMMAR GRAMMAR! Just kidding, most of us  are ready for freedom, ready to have time to go exploring in Cairo, sleep in later, watch television, movies, read books that aren’t in Arabic, not feel guilty about frequenting websites like when parents text, etc. All of us will, however, forget Arabic completely in our 6 week break, so that’s kind of a shame.

Many of us will also no longer have the great pleasure of observing the sit-in that continues to occupy Tahrir square on the way to class. Recently, I accidentally read something informative about Egyptian politics, courtesy of Sandmonkey, a well-known Egyptian blogger. In his recent post, he discusses how  the state within a state of Tahrir Square has begun to exhibit on a miniature scale the same social problems that Egypt suffers from as a whole. In the face of what I considered brilliant social commentary, my blog post on damp pants syndrome no longer seemed as ground breaking….but we can’t all be writing biting social commentary, especially since most of us are incapable of doing so. Anyways, take a look at the blog post and see for yourself what’s going on from the inside as opposed to my glancing-out-of-my-peripheral-vision-as-I-round-the-corner-and-turn-instantly-away-from-Tahrir-and-towards-the-relative-paradise-of-AUC-viewpoint.

One thing Sandmonkey forgot to mention was the direct connection between the length of the sit-in and the growing reek of urine steaming off the ground right outside the metro stop I emerge from on the way to class. He also didn’t mention where all the sit-inners go for their other bathroom needs. I haven’t seen any porter potties out there in Tahrir, but then again, I’m not sure what an Egyptian one would look like. It’s possible it could look like a white tent, in which case Tahrir square consists only of porter potties.

Tagged , , , , ,

It’s like a snow day

Tahrir without protestors

Late-ish last night bloody clashes between protesters and policemen began once again in Tahrir square, the focal point of the Revolution of Jan. 25 and also a place I pass through daily on my way to class. From what little I understand (and it is very little), some families were protesting and/or sitting outside some government building in rememberance of sons or daughters that had perished in the revolution. I think the police tried to dispel them by force and then the situation escalated from there.

All through the night the clashes continued, and over 1000 people were injured according to the most recent numbers I’ve seen, most of them from tear gas. Here’s an article about what happened. And here are pictures (not mine). Much of the action took place on the street that directly borders AUC and in some of the pictures you can see the building I usually attend classes in. Those classes were cancelled today of course due to the unrest and we’re still waiting to hear whether or not we have class tomorrow. Part of me hopes that we don’t since I’m not as prepared as I could be even though we had a snow day: there was a lot of facebooking, Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement watching, Moroccan food cooking, and Mohandiseen exploring to do today in addition to the homework I didn’t quite finish yesterday.

But the other part of me realizes I’m not fully comprehending the political situation here in Egypt. What else is new? It’s hard to appreciate the impact of the Egyptian Revolution on people who had been living under the Mubarak regime for 30 years and to feel the pain of people who suffered at the hand of the previous regime when I grew up in a society where most people have never been tortured, beaten, kidnapped, or killed for their political beliefs. And now, the slow pace of transition, the lack of clear change between the way the old regime dealt with people and the way the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is dealing with people, and the continuing economic crisis are all causing increasing levels of frustration especially among the original perpetrators of the revolution. Essentially the main causes of the revolution itself have not yet been addressed, and the clashes between the riot police and the demonstrators were just another example of the lack of change.

I’m no political scientist….just a mere college graduate with a penchant for 30 rock, but to me it seems that oftentimes a post-revolutionary community desires an unreasonable pace of change, leading to hastiness and unstable foundations for the future. Where is the balance between transition and meticulousness? How do you rebuild a society that has the same problems as it did 6 months ago or even worse because of the economic situation and security vacuum? Anyone with answers can  sent them to coolchieftantawi@hotmail.com.

How hard could it be to build a just society in Egypt?

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

Didn’t understand and wouldn’t like it if I did

I saw a movie, “ِAn Ant’s Cry,” tonight. The experience was costly in a lot of ways…money, time, broken expectations. The group met outside of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, in the middle of an unfamiliar district that was in a wasteland of hospitals and other hotels along the Cornish of the Nile. I though it a random place to meet for a movie unless, of course, the milkshake shop we planned to visit beforehand was close by. It turns out both were about a twenty minute walk away, but we were not informed of the distance beforehand, so it seemed we were walking down the middle of the street, cars zooming past us, heading towards an undetermined destination for an infinite amount of time.

We reach the movie theater and it turns out there’s not enough time to get milkshakes before the movie starts. At any rate, tickets are purchased and then comes the best part of the night: the popcorn. Oh it was quite salty and delicious and gone within 3 minutes.  It was just the thing a weary traveler needs after a trek along the dusty streets of Cairo.

The usher shows us our seats in the movie theater, a baby sits directly behind me, and the movie begins. At this point, I saw the movie as a barrier between me and my milkshake. The movie finally ended after an hour and a half of blaring music and shouting that was less than half-understood. We were rewarded for our patience with milkshakes, which were large and relatively delicious.

So I guess the story has a satisfactory ending, despite the fact I made a critical error tonight when I said “I just want to try you” instead of “I just want to try it” regarding a dessert one of our friends had invited us to enjoy. Ooops. Pronouns are hard to get right sometimes.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: