From my first morning here, I have been awakened with the sound of hammering each day. It starts somewhere around 6 am, and continues until midday. I know what it is, it’s the construction men on the roof of the building (I am on the top floor) doing…whatever it is they do. I went up there once at night, but all I could see was a gravelly expanse and some unfinished brickwork. I don’t really know what they are hammering- if I am to imagine it, they are just sitting there with a hammer pounding on the floor ha ha.
So every day I’ve gotten that lovely greeting. Sunrise is sometime during the 5 AM hour, so it’s already light out when it begins. I actually can sleep through it though, because on of the things you quickly learn about Egypt is that it is constantly noisy. For most tourists, this is a huge problem. The noise is considered annoying and disruptive.
Truthfully, I was surprised when I didn’t experience it the same way. Actually, I found it comforting. In fact, I find the silence at home discomfiting. It feels too solemn, like there is no life, or we are all dying. The noise here is a constant reminder of vivid life being lived, and so in that sense I find it reassuring. I think I may even sleep more soundly with it.
Shukurah and I usually wake up around the same time the hammering ceases (noon!). We start our day slowly, and honestly it’s not that unusual here. I’ve been told that matrons here live a ‘fluffy’ life, meaning that they like to stay at home and not tend toward active schedules. I don’t think I’m totally on that level of ‘fluffy’, but I am on vacation so I do enjoy the down time when it’s appropriate.
On the fluffy days (which I try to limit to the hotter ones, which thankfully haven’t been too frequent so far), I stay home with her and read, mentally write this blog, play, nap, cook, etc. One of the things that’s been hindering my progress in these posts is that my phone charger cord has been dying, and since all my photos are on my phone it’s not practical to transfer them all with so little charge. I am still working on getting a replacement.
Which leads me to the next aspect of life here, and I’m not sure how to refer to it. Things here do not run on proper schedules. It’s very tangential. For example, an Egyptian native may endeavor to run certain errands in the day. He or she may start out trying to tackle them one by one, but somewhere along the line it gets derailed. It could be something like they run into a friend who wants to stop them and discuss something important. It’s considered polite to take time to do this, even if it takes an hour of the day. Or maybe someone is working on something online at a cafe, using the internet, and the power goes out and the time it will be finished gets pushed back. Or any number of things. What I’ve noticed is that things never seem to take the time they are expected to, and even more amazingly, most people don’t seem to mind the delay. Even when there is really bad traffic (which is normal in heavily populated areas like Cairo), no one seems to get impatient or on the verge of road rage.
On the days I decide to go out for routine shopping or dining, I am always one of many pedestrians on the roads. Walking is a staple form of transportation here, and I actually can appreciate that since I don’t live in a city that facilitates walking like someplace such as San Francisco or New York City. Here, everything is pretty much within walking distance. If not, there are tons of alternate forms of ‘public’ transportation that I will detail another time.
While walking, the noise continues. Horns are CONSTANTLY beeping. For an American like me, who has learned to associate horns sounding with an angry driver, it’s almost a game to try to determine the basis for all the honking here. Sure, some of it is because of frustration, but some of it is also greeting someone known nearby. Mostly it seems to just be announcing of the presence of the driver, as a collective way to maintain safety on the roads (I will have to detail how people drive here in that other post, too!)
Along with the sound of horns, there is often the sound of arab music or quran recitation wafting from nearby restaurants and businesses on the roadside. Since people are out doing business or congregrating socially, voices in arabic conversation provide another acoustic backdrop to the day’s events. I don’t think I’ve ever been any place in the US except perhaps SF where it felt like everywhere you turned, there was life. Granted, much of life in Egypt is very difficult and people have to do so many more things than what the average US citizen does to create a comfortable existence, but in the end I get a sense that one of the basic purposes for which humanity was created is being manifested here. And so for me, Egypt feels realer than my own existence in America. It feels more authentic, and in a strange way- more carefree.
Shopping trips usually require visiting more than one place. There is no Walmart or Target in Egypt. There are similar stores, but most likely found in Cairo our outside the smaller cities. Where I stay in Banha, the only commmercial franchise I’ve seen is KFC. So when I go grocery shopping, I visit small stores that almost mimic many of the halal markets I visit in Atlanta. I get my produce from one of the many farmers who have come into town from the surrounding farmlands to sell their crops on street corners. I buy my sweets (konafa being my favorite- can’t seem to find any authentic, fresh kind in Atlanta) at a small bakery. Meats are bought directly from a butcher.
I take these several bags of purchases, which hang on the arms of Shukurah’s umbrella stroller while I shop, back up to the apartment. I will make dinner without any pre-packaged or processed ingredients- mostly a staple meal like seasoned meat with rice, bread, and water to drink.
After dinner it’s common to take tea. Actually, taking tea is something Egyptians do throughout the day. I’ve seen vendors with teapots strapped to their backs selling tea to public crowds in Cairo. Many shops I’ve been to have it’s own tea service for the proprietors, and even many outdoor vendors keep one also. Evening tea is often taken at a cafe, where the music (arab love songs, mostly) tends to be louder than necessary.
The night weather gets drastically cooler during the evening. Some nights I’ve even been cold enough to run the room heater just to stay comfortably warm! Because the day starts later, people often stay up late into the night as well; ending the day around midnight or a little after. In fact, it’s entirely common for even places like doctor offices or small businesses to run until later than 10 PM.
This is really the gist of an average day. There are many layers and details I have left out, which can be adequately addressed in subcategories which I will delve into in coming posts. I apologize for the lack of photos in this one, but in shaa Allah I will have plenty to come. I am in the process of trying to transfer them and will write more posts this weekend in shaa Allah.