Tuesday, July 3, 2007: I spend my day, as usual, at Al Azhar University. The class seems interminable. The air conditioner barely works and the room is stifling. The room looks like it is something out of a ghetto, with broken desks, dilapidated tables, and no chalkboard. As a matter of fact, the teacher turns the table on its short side and writes with a marker on the table top, treating it like a blackboard.
The teacher speaks English, so it is too easy for me to ask questions in English. This is the problem with having a foreign language teacher who speaks the learner’s language. I’m not forced to learn, so I don’t.
At the breaks, we stand outside in the heat around the courtyard. I am wearing a coral headscarf today with a kind of knit cap underneath. I haven’t found a way to make myself look less than horrible in the headscarf. Today I look like a gypsy. It’s pretty ridiculous because women in Egypt don’t wear it this way. This particular scarf is tight around my head so I feel like a burglar with a stocking over my head.
After school, I take a taxi to Ma’adi to meet Mohsen in his office at Progress 2. Mohsen is a friend of Jerry’s from Reston Runners, the running club in Virginia that I have belonged to for a couple of years. Jerry used to work for CARE in Egypt and met Mohsen there. They often run marathons together all over the world. Mohsen is one of the founders of Ma’adi Runners, a running club with both Egyptian and expat runners.
Ma’adi lies on the Nile River about 12 km upstream from downtown Cairo, on the east bank. The Corniche, a waterfront promenade of the kind found in many Egyptian towns, runs parallel to the river. The main road into Cairo follows the Corniche.
Ma’adi is the least densely populated neighborhood in Greater Cairo, and much of the town is inhabited by well-to-do Egyptians, as well as expats, many of whom are connected with embassies, ambassadorial residences and international corporations located in Ma’adi. The Cairo office for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) is also located in this suburb. Mohsen’s company is a contractor for USAID and other international agencies.
In Mohsen’s office, he tells me I look prettier than my picture. He must have thought I looked pretty darn bad in my picture, because after wearing the coral headscarf all day in the heat, my hair is a fright. I’m hot and sweaty and feel downright unattractive. He offers me a Turkish coffee and some water while I’m waiting for him to finish his work. He then asks if I’d like to have dinner somewhere in Ma’adi, or if I’d like to go to a market and pick up a picnic dinner to take to his holiday house about 15 minutes east of Ma’adi. I say the picnic is fine.
At the market we pick up kushari (Egyptian pasta, rice and lentils with tomato sauce and crispy fried onions; it’s often thought of as the Egyptian national dish) and a salad and some meat to barbecue. At his lovely holiday house, we sit outdoors by the pool and drink Stella beers and open a bottle of wine. We have a great rapport, lots of joking all around. He makes fun of me because when I tell him I’ve written the first draft of a novel with an Egyptian character named Raghib; he says I’m not pronouncing the name correctly. He says, “How can you write a novel where you can’t even pronounce your main character’s name!?” We laugh a lot, talk about our mutual friend Jerry, about our lives, about my interest in Egypt. It’s so much fun and I feel there is a lot of chemistry between us. He won’t tell me one thing about his situation though, and I feel certain he must be married. The holiday house, after all, looks like it is inhabited by a family, although no one else is there. But he is secretive about his family situation and won’t tell me a thing. He tells me I should come to the Cairo Hash House Harriers on Friday and tells me where to meet him.
He drives me back to Muquttum, where I find Lisa is still out with Mahmoud. Every night we’re in Egypt, she crashes right after class, napping often for several hours, then she goes out with Mahmoud until around 3 or 4 a.m. So I am the early bird tonight. We still have class tomorrow, so I must get a decent night’s sleep.