Saturday, August 28, 2010

Les Misr-ables

As I predicted, the last six days weren’t nearly eventful as that first one. After bumming about the city for a few more days I moved into the dorms at the American University in Cairo. The drive out here was eye-opening, in that there was absolutely nothing but construction to see. We are quite literally in the middle of a desert.

I have had a cell phone for a week and have gotten three texts. So this is how the other half lives! The three texts were all from the phone company, confirming I had activated my phone. By the third I felt they were mocking me, as if to say you know you’re phone is on, why aren’t we seeing any activity on it? I’m anticipating a fourth text from them suggesting a singles botche ball league or something.

The campus is really beautiful and new. The food options: McDonalds, Subway, a bagel place, a candy shop, an Italian place, and a few small cafes. Oh and there’s an Egyptian place too. I hope I can adjust! The campus has been pretty empty this week, but everyone says it will be packed in a short amount of time. For now, though, it’s just the international students. Almost all the international students are Americaners, with the exception of my Canadian roommate. I tried to withhold any Canadian jokes for as long as possible, but that didn’t last long. He laughs though and put it gently, “USA and Canada have a brother-sister relationship.” The fact that he put it gently is a clear indicator who the sister is in that relationship.

On our first day we went to a nearby town, and there turned out to be a grocery market. Not having very much Egyptian pounds with me, I made the rational decision to buy 30 eggs, the most versatile of foods. But it was all for naught as we soon discovered when we got back there were no pots, pans, plates or utensils for preparing the food. Since then we’ve been observing the Ramadan tradition of fasting, with occasional snack food from the candy shop, as most of the other places aren’t open yet. When we finally do get a pot, I’m planning a Cool Hand Luke egg eating contest.

The next day all the international students went on a hellish trip to the old religious parts of Cairo. I saw three churches, each more boring than the last (with the exception Baby Jesus occasionally hid in some of them), an equally boring abandoned temple, and the oldest mosque in Cairo, which political correctness obligates me to say was really interesting. And in truth that was probably my favorite. A telling sign of the desperation of the group was when the tour guide asked, “Ok so do you all want to see another church or a dungeon?” and everyone shouted dungeon without hesitation. The dungeon was hot and cramped, but I didn’t mind; anything to feel again. When we returned eight hours later, Richie had moved in, but I was too tired and hungry to care. A few hours later though we played some futbol with the Egyptians living on campus, which was a really good time.

The next day was Friday, when the campus and country shut down for the day, especially during Ramadan. Nothing is more frustrating then spending a half hour lathering oneself in sunscreen, only to find out the pool is closed that day. We are in the middle of the desert, but we may as well have been stranded in space. We had yet to master the AC, so things got very cold. There was absolutely nothing to do. One of the few times I walked out of my room, I found Mitch huddled over the Mr. Noodles cup he had bought, scraping the insides for some sustenance. Things were dire. The light at the end of the tunnel was an orientation lecture at 5 that promised food to all who came. Right before we went Ryan arrived, equally excited about the prospect of food. An hour and half later of being told expulsion awaits those caught with alcohol and members of the opposite sex (and possibly playing cards?), there was still no food. Luckily a place similar to AU’s tavern was open, where we had sandwiches and lived to see another day. After dinner we went on a falluca ride on the Nile, which is a sail boat. Ritchie and I went on a boat with about 15 Egyptians, and it was really nice. The half hour ride convinced me of two things: I will never learn or speak Arabic, and I will die of second hand smoke before I leave here. Besides that realization it was a pleasant ride, by all accounts.

On the ride we saw some magnificent hotels which were very modern and luxurious. On the bus ride to and from, however, we saw terrible poverty. The distribution of wealth is terrible here. Half of all Egyptians live on less than a dollar a day, and the city is absolutely filthy in most areas. I thought Chemonics was clearing this mess up? Or have I been reading resumes for nothing all summer?!

Also, one final note, it occurred to me during one of the nights I laid awake adjusting to the jet lag, that famous ex-pat Gertrude Stein or someone equally irrelevant to history had termed the generation after World War I the Lost Generation. Now, as an ex-pat myself, I wonder if it is my place to term our generation the Lost Generation? The series lasted about as long as the war, if not longer, and we certainly lost our innocence with all the deaths. I don’t know, it seemed a more complete parallel at 3 in the morning, but maybe it’ll come back to me.


  1. Adam, as your Mom I feel compelled to point out after two very definite pokes at Canadians that your grandmother is 100% Canadian, which would make me 50% Canadian and then you 25 % Canadian - so before you completely bash their culture remember that! Other than that I really loved your post!!!

  2. I felt like I should comment to live up to your high expectations and since your mom did too. Should I call fedex to cancel that package of playing cards I sent you so that you don't get expelled? I really want to be witty right now but I just can't live up to your talent. So I guess keep having fun!