Monthly Archives: April 2015

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 3- A typical day in Egypt

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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.

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Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 2- My Apartment

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I know I’m a little bit behind in chronology. Life in Egypt is, like I said, unpredictable and often doesn’t follow a set schedule. Plus I’ve been working through the jet lag (more so Shukurah’s than mine) and doing a lot of things to settle in. So I will try to play catch up as quickly as I can.

My apartment is on the 11th floor (which happens to be the top floor) of a building still under construction. It’s not at all uncommon here for buildings to be occupied before they are finished completely, and in some cases that NEVER even happens anyway. Apartments here are generally for sale for ownership, much like a condo in NYC. However, in my case, one was leased for the month I will be here. It was already completely furnished, which increased the rental price of course. However, leases here can be for any length of time- from a week or two up to several years.

My apartment normally rents for $4500 Egyptian pounds per month, but since it is “off season” the final cost was only $3000, which is $400 USD. The utilities are included in the rent. It is actually a very nice apartment when compared to the standard apartment available for the average person. Where I am staying is in the northernmost area of town called “the villas”, which is locally known to be the nicest and most affluent area. I think my apartment reflects this.

elevator

This is the elevator I take to my floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full size elevator in Egypt. They all are just big enough for two people, though 3 will often squeeze in. What I like about my elevator though, is that every time you push the button to call it, Quran recitation starts playing over the speakers and remains playing the entire time it is in use. I tend to believe that one of the reasons I find being in Egypt to be less stressful than the US is because everywhere I go, it seems like Quran is playing. In clothing shops, in cafes, in the cabs, on the streets even at times.

front door

One of the things I was most impressed with when I first saw my apartment was the doors. As you can see, they are much more elaborate than the doors we see on apartments or even houses in the west. This is my front door. I found the blingy gold doorknob a bit amusing. But, it doesn’t turn. It’s just for decoration, I guess. The only way to secure the door- whether from the inside or out- is to lock it with a key.

treedoor

This is a door of another apartment down the hall. I thought it was beautiful, and I really wish we had the taste in the US to make our doors so elaborate and of solid quality.

diningarea

This dining set is what is immediately on the right when you walk through the door. It’s a pretty decent set, as you can see.

sofas

This entire living area is called a “hall” in Egypt. I loved the colors of the sofas and draperies. One thing I noticed last time I was here, was that window treatments are big deal. The colors and fabrics are rich and the presentation is lavish, so I was really tickled that my apartment had the coordinating draperies to match the other furniture.

entcenter

One of the other things I love about Egypt is what a typical westerner might call its “tackiness”. What I mean is, I’ve noticed that the style of Egypt is focused on looking decorative, but at the same time there is not necessarily the same criteria as to what constitutes tastefulness in pursuing that. So as you can see, I have tinsel garlands hanging on my hall walls, and the entertainment center is painted lavender (not quite the match of the red/black color scheme going on everywhere else). Even though my western upbringing registers it as incongruent, there’s something about it that seems innocent and childlike, and so it has become endearing to me.

hallway</a

This is the main hallway of my apartment.

hallceiling

Even the ceiling here has amazing details, as do most of the other rooms.

detail

On the wall are several of these floral stencils, too.

insidedoor

But I think my favorite part was the doors. Like the front doors outside, each room had gorgeous solid wood doors that were a nice touch.

bath1

Bathrooms here are called water closets, or WC’s for short. This bathroom is the first door on the left. I don’t use it, but it’s still tastefully decorated. One of the things I want to point out here is the shower: see how it just sits in the middle of the room, with no curtain or containment? This is something I noticed last time I was here, and apparently is commonplace. You can take a shower in a small bathroom like this one with nothing to block the spray onto the toilet or sink, and the water will naturally drain to a corner of the room (usually behind the toilet somewhere). Any excess water you can squeegee toward the drain, too.

kitchen

kitchen2

The kitchen is the next room on the left. You can see it’s not very big at all. Large kitchens don’t seem to be a priority here, and in fact this one is considered large by comparison. The clothes washing machine sits openly next to the sink, but clothes have to be hang dried- either out on a balcony or on an indoor drying rack. From what I’ve seen, the balconies are used most. Dishes must be hand washed.

bath2

This bathroom is the third and last room on the left side of the corridor. It’s the one I use most, and I’m only including it because I continue to be impressed with the details in the tile work. The red and black verticle tiles are on both sides of the wall, and complement the overall color scheme in the kitchen and hall. But I would have to say my favorite thing about the bathrooms here is that they have bidets! I need to look into getting one for my own house.

girlsroom

I call this room the “girl’s bedroom”. My apartment has a total of 3 bedrooms, and this is the second furnished one. It is the one straight at the end of the corridor. Behind the draperies is a small balcony, which has a limited view.

balcony view to the east, and believe it or not that is not even the main part of Banha

balcony view to the east, and believe it or not that is not even the main part of Banha

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West view from the balcony, the river is part of the nile delta

lookingdown

Indeed, most of the windows open only to other brick walls that are part of this building or the adjoining ones. All of the bedroom furniture in this and the room I use are matched.

wardrobe

One of the main differences between the US and Egypt is that there are no closets here. Instead, clothes are put in old fashioned wardrobes like this one. Although I don’t like what that means in terms of space (there is no way my entire closet could fit into a standard wardrobe!), I like the elegant feel of opening a wood cabinet to get dressed in the morning.

spareroom

This bedroom is the second one on the right hand side of the corridor, and it is vacant. Some miscellaneous things were left in here, such as an iron and ironing board, a generator light for possible power outages, and some other odds and ends. I don’t go in this room, but I wanted to show a picture of it because it shows how clearly the ceiling work looks here. I think it’s a fantastic detail and another I wished we had more of in the US.

mybed

myroom

mywardrobe

And this is my bedroom. These photos were taken before I took full possession of it. I’ve actually moved a few pieces of furniture around and left my clothes everywhere lol, I don’t need everyone seeing that. But it’s clear this room was as tastefully coordinated as the others.

So really, I am very pleased with what I’ve got here. Indeed, it will be that much harder to return home and leave this nice refuge behind (as if that wasn’t going to be hard enough!).

So to conclude, what happend for me on day 2 was basically waiting for the internet guy to come connect the wifi and a late night shopping trip (the one that didn’t happen the night before). I had to be taken some bit out of town for a decent grocery store, and really it was kind of like a walmart with appliances and household supplies on the top level, and the groceries on the bottom. All the produce had to be weighed before it could be put in the cart. There was a complete bakery, meat deli, and cheese deli. I was overwhelmed trying to familiarize myself with where everything was, find the right product among everything on display, and then choose something that was affordable and not to expensive. After it was all done, the grocery bill was $800 EP, which is about the same amount I would spend on an average shopping trip (roughly $100 USD).

In shaa Allah, my next entry will be coming soon!

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 1

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egyptplane!

I arrived in Egypt yesterday afternoon. I thought that since the longest leg of the flight (8 hours) into Frankfort was overnight, I would sleep well and be somewhat rested when I got here. But between the time difference and my time of departure, I was only getting sleepy when we were about to arrive there. So no sleep on that flight. I didn’t get any on the flight into Cairo, either.

One of the characteristic things about Egypt is that it is extremely unpredictable. I was reminded of this as soon as I arrived. When I came here in November, I was told to pay in Egyptian Pounds when I requested my entry visa. Of course I didn’t have any EP on me, so I was directed to an ATM machine that dispensed in the local currency. I thought I was smarter this time, and went to the ATM first to get the EP before getting in line for the visa. HOWEVER, when I got there, I was told they do not accept Egyptian Pounds, only US dollars or Euros. The ATM only dispenesed EP, and I had no American cash on me. I went to two different windows and was rejected like this, so I got stern with them and told them this is what I had and asked who I needed to speak with to get my visas. They took me to a third window who was willing to take the currency I had, but nicely added about a $30 EP surcharge (without telling me, of course- I saw this when they gave back the wrong amount of change) to reimburse themselves for going to the trouble. This sort of thing is really not unheard of here- and rather than risk my ability to get through immigration I just took what they gave me with my visas and headed out.

Egypt is truly whimsical. Following standards is not a priority, and you can never know how things will go. When I got to customs I was expecting to have my suitcases searched and answer questions as to what I was bringing with me. Instead, I was passed right through the checkpoint without even being requested to present my passport as everyone else was.

Fortunately, getting out of the airport only took me about 45 minutes this time. Last time it was about 2 hours. I had to find my host outside, as they were not letting anyone in to the lobby to meet arriving travelers. Even though I was ridiculously tired, and it was about 80 degrees out, the day was hardly over. I was taken directly from the airport to a nearby mall. The malls here are much larger than the ones we have in Atlanta. We are talking FIVE levels of shops. There are many similar vendors as what we see in American malls- particularly in the food court. And yes, I took advantage of the opportunity to get a halal Hardee’s burger there! But one thing I wasn’t expecting was a security checkpoint (like the kind you have entering a government building- scanner and baggage check) upon entry into the mall. I was told that the reason for this is because malls are sometimes targets for terrorists attacks (on the infrequent occassions they happen). The irony to me in this is that while Americans are so afraid of what happens in Muslim countries like Egypt, thinking it is overrun with extremists and terrorists, they are just as concerned about it and actually going to greater measures to secure themselves against it than we do (at least when it comes to shopping at a mall lol)!

When we left the mall, I saw a group of about 10 men walking past. Four of them were military police, and I was told that the rest were probably troublemakers and they were probably being taken for questioning. What was interesting about all this was that they were all walking like a group of friends- one officer even put his arm around one of the other guys in an affectionate way. There was no sense of anyone being in trouble, nor any unnecessary show of authority by the officers- in fact the opposite! It’s always amazing to me when I see incidents that totally contradict the American stereotype of Egyptians or Muslim nations in general.

I fell asleep immediately in the car ride back to Banha. That was despite rough roads, blaring horns and frequent sudden stops because of traffic. Driving in Egypt is a story in itself, and in shaa Allah I will go into more details about it tomorrow. I will also have to write a separate blog about the apartment I am staying in- it’s phenomenal! I think I spent the entire evening after we got back in last night checking it out, then finally going to bed early around 9:30 PM local time.

Since the apartment still needs a better internet connection, I am writing right now from the cafe I spent a lot of time at in November when I first came to meet and visit with Ahmad, the man I will be marrying here in Egypt before I return to the US. One of my favorite things about coming to Egypt is just this- sitting in a cafe enjoying some tea and the social atmosphere. Indeed it is a daily ritual here for most everyone, and something I miss a lot when I’m back in the US.

The plans for the rest of the day are to go grocery shopping and fix up the apartment in a way I like a little bit in shaa Allah. Tomorrow I will include a lot of pictures in the blog post!