Category Archives: Ma’adi

cairo, day 3: a brief visit with mohsen, a felucca ride and a valentine’s day dinner

Sunday, February 14:  This morning, Ahmed goes to work again and drops me at one of the big hotels to use the internet.  After checking my emails, I take a taxi at 10:30 to Mohsen’s office at #6, Road 214, Digla Office: Progress 2 in Maadi.  It’s been 2 1/2 years since I last saw Mohsen in Cairo and I want to say hello to him while I’m here.

me and Mohsen in the Progress 2 Office

me and Mohsen in the Progress 2 Office

He’s quite busy at work, so we just have a cup of tea and chat for a bit, after which time he must go out for a meeting.  It really is nice to see him again after 2 1/2 years, even if only briefly.

me with Mohsen outside his office

me with Mohsen outside his office

I remember one of my favorite things to do when I was here in 2007 was to take a ride on a felucca on the Nile.  I rent the boat by myself to go out on the river.  It would have been quite peaceful, but another Egyptian named Khaled, whom I had also met on Facebook, calls me and wants to meet me while I’m here.  I’m free during the days, but in the evenings I have committed to spending time with Ahmed.  That is the whole reason I came to Egypt after all.  I tell Khaled I have time to meet him this afternoon, but he has determined he wants to take me out for Valentine’s Day.  I tell him I’m seeing Ahmed, who I’ve already told him I came here to see, tonight for Valentine’s Day.  He won’t let it go and keeps me on the phone during almost the entire hour I’m on the felucca, arguing with me about how I should spend Valentine’s Day with him rather than Ahmed.  The whole thing is so ridiculous since he’s known the story from the start.  Finally, I tell him I have to go, that he could easily meet me anytime this afternoon or tomorrow, but he insists he wants it his way or no way.  I finally just hang up on him, infuriated by his inflexibility.

the felucca captain

the felucca captain

me on the felucca, for old times' sake

me on the felucca, for old times’ sake

felucca on the Nile

felucca on the Nile

me on the felucca

me on the felucca

the felucca and Ma'adi

the felucca and Ma’adi

Ahmed picks me up around 3:00 and we head to the Carrefour.  We wander around the Carrefour buying food so he can cook me dinner tonight for Valentine’s Day.  I am a little disappointed because I was hoping we’d go out.  But it turns out to be quite a lovely dinner in the flat and I’m impressed by Ahmed’s cooking abilities, despite the kitchen being quite disgusting.

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Felucca, Ma'adi, Middle East

“why, why, why?” followed by a double-feature felucca ride & the grand cafe on the nile

Tuesday, July 17:  More Arabic studies today at Al Azhar University.  I am beginning to hate these classes because of the horrible conditions at the university in general and the classrooms in particular.  I sure liked studying Arabic a lot more from my Iraqi teacher in the USA in an air-conditioned room.

I am expecting a call from R today, but it turns out he can’t call.  I get this email from him:

C,  Was planning to call you but won’t be able.  Seems like the whole spider bite thing isn’t over and so I’m off to the Dr.  Not sure when I’ll be done, but I’ll try to call on Wednesday.

Was at the Liberty Tavern with a dozen students and a guest speaker last night.  Closed it down.  Great time, but I left feeling melancholy.  Damn, I MU.

Hope all is going well.
Love,
r

I write him back:

Hey R,
What happened with the spider bite now??  Are you sure it wasn’t a brown recluse?  It sounds awfully serious and long-lasting for a spider bite.  I hope you’re okay:)

It’s good you had a nice time last night.  I know you love to go out drinking with the students and guest speakers.  Did you spend the night at the office, or did you get a hotel with a student??  I wonder if you would be as honest as me!

I’m in an internet cafe now and the guy is blaring Arabic music and all I want to do is dance.  I’m having such a wild and crazy time here in Egypt, I can’t explain how happy I feel.  The guy’s going to burn a CD for me.

Last night was as insane as usual.  Between Mohsen and Basim and Lisa, I wonder how on earth I have drawn these people into my life.  I have so many stories to tell, but damn, they won’t be half as good in the telling as they are in being there.  I am so excited about how every day might unfold.  I told Mohsen I’m happy to take anyone willing along on my grand adventure, but since he doesn’t like even the basic things about me, then I’m leaving him by the wayside and continuing on.  You wouldn’t believe some of the things I said to him last night.  I made him drive me to a date with Basim and yelled at him the whole time because he was poking along.  I said, you need to step on it; you’re so pokey.  I said, honk your horn and pass that truck on the left like all the other crazy drivers around here. He said he likes to drive safely.  I said that is his problem; he’s too damn careful.

Anyway, this will all make sense when I tell you the whole story.  Take care and I’ll  talk to you when you have time.  DAMN, I MU 2!

~ Cathy

P.S. Take care of yourself, spider bites, cold showers, and all.

In the evening, Lisa and I get a taxi together to go into Cairo.  I am tired of wearing frumpy cotton pants so I decide I will wear jeans.  I think jeans are always the most flattering option for my body.  But.  Not in the Middle East and not in July.

Why, why, why did I wear jeans tonight?

Why, why, why did I wear jeans tonight?

We are sitting in the back of the ancient taxi, sans air conditioning (most taxis in Cairo have no A/C),  in the nightmare of Cairo traffic.  Stop.  Inch forward.  Stop.  Inch forward some more.  So frustrating and so freaking hot.  I say to Lisa, in a plaintive moan, “Why, why, why???  Why did I wear these jeans?”

Sweat is pouring off of me.  There is no relief.  “Why, why, why???” I whine again..  Lisa laughs her head off at my lamentations.  Later these words becomes a joke between us.  Every time we encounter any problem in Egypt, Lisa says, “Why, why, why???” We crack up laughing at our dramatic renderings of these words.

We finally arrive at our destination, some cafe somewhere in Cairo where we are to meet Lisa’s friend.  Sweet, sweet air-conditioning.  Why, why, why have I been so enamored of coming to work and live in the Middle East? I have never enjoyed heat, not for one day in my life.  Heat is part of the territory in Egypt.  What on earth have I been thinking?

Lisa and her friend

Lisa and her friend

Lisa's friend, Lisa and me

Lisa’s friend, Lisa and me

After having coffee with Lisa’s friend, Basim comes to pick me up at the cafe in his old Mercedes.  He has one ancient decrepit Mercedes and one much newer.  I never know which one he will be driving when he picks me up.

He drives me to Ma’adi and tells me he wants to take me on the felucca on the Nile.  I think he is hoping that he will have a chance to kiss me;  there is certainly no chance to do so anywhere else in Cairo.

Basim on the felucca

Basim on the felucca

me on the felucca

me on the felucca

Basim hires the felucca for one hour.  The felucca captain stares at us the whole time, makes small talk.  We enjoy the sunset, the slightly cool breezes from the venerable river.  But there is no chance for a kiss because the felucca captain is right there.  We are not alone; we are three and one of us is an intruder.

After an hour, Basim tells the captain we will hire the boat for another hour.  We head back into deeper channels.  Finally the captain stands up and his head is above the awning on the boat.  A moment of privacy.  Basim goes in for the kiss.  A miss, a clumsy miscalculation.  When we do connect, it’s awkward.  Our rhythms are different.  A big disappointment.  Oh dear.  After all that pent-up longing, this is what it comes to.

I think the perfect kiss is where both partners are flexible.  They meld into each other, they adjust their kiss to the other person’s style.  But when one person is hell-bent on doing it his way, it simply doesn’t work.

The felucca ride comes to an end.  We dock and walk next door to the Grand Cafe on the Nile.  We sip on fresh mango juice with little pink umbrellas in them.  I think we’re both relieved it’s over.

Basim and his fancy mango juice at the Grand Cafe on the Nile

Basim and his fancy mango juice at the Grand Cafe on the Nile

me at the Grand Cafe

me at the Grand Cafe

me with my fancy mango juice at the Grand Cafe

me with my fancy mango juice at the Grand Cafe

Basim can be very socially awkward.  I think he’s regretting his attempted kiss.  I’m feeling frustrated with his awkwardness and want it to be easy-going between us.  It isn’t.  It’s uncomfortable.  So much for romance in Cairo.

He drives me to Muquttum where I meet Lisa and Mahmoud at the beginning of Road 9.   Basim takes off for home.  When I get in their car, I tell them about the disastrous kiss.  I tell them I’m certain I’ll never see Basim again.

Lisa driving

Lisa driving

Lisa has been practicing driving Mahmoud’s car and she’s very proud of herself to be driving in the chaos of Cairo.  We stop in a little cafe for some coffee and tea.

Lisa and Mahmoud

Lisa and Mahmoud

Eventually Mahmoud drops us off at our flat in Muquttum.  We wonder Why, why, why does life have to be so complicated?

Despite the fact I am certain I will never hear from Basim again, he texts me late tonight: The floka was nice and the company was great.  Looking forward to the next one.

Surprise, surprise!

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Felucca, Grand Cafe, Ma'adi, Middle East

a poolside meeting & a hectic drive to ma’adi

Monday, July 16:  Another day of classes at Al Azhar.  It’s the usual:  a sweltering day in the shabby classrooms suffering through Arabic and Tajweed classes.  During the day, I hear from Mohsen for the first time in 10 days, and he asks if I’d like to get together this evening.  I agree to meet him and we set a time for early evening.

When I get back to Muquttum this afternoon, I find an email from R.

C,  Great to hear from you, and your adventures.  Not so exciting as compared to my mowing, hedging, cleaning, but what can you do?  But I did get the workout and bike ride in (no one answered).  Now I’m paying the price as I’ve been pleasantly sore since Sunday. [Pleasant because of my ‘no pain, no gain’ sort of mentality]

Rested in part by watching the new Harry Potter movie.  If you’re a fan, you’ll really like this.  Quite good and fabulous special effects.  Drifted off last night watching a discovery channel piece on the step pyramid, Saqqara and Imotep.  Made me melancholy.  As usual, I got a fitful few hours and then back to the grind.

But a good day today.  Much doings and a neat guest speaker.  Drinking afterwards and probably a night at the office (easier than driving home).

Regrettably, there is no more to report.  Such is the life of we vicarious-livers.  So, please, keep me up on doings.  And stay safe and well.

By the way, I don’t mean to be too forward, but I was wondering if you would mind greatly if I might try to help make arrangements for your return to Washington?  If you could give me your ETA into the states, perhaps I could assist in logistics to facilitate the re-entry.  I surely don’t want to impose and could keep any arrangements flexible based on your own pre-existing plans and, of course, on your state of mind at that point in your adventure.  But I did want to offer up any assistance I might be able to provide.

Yours most sincerely,
rar

I write back to R:

Uh-oh.  Methinks you may be sounding a little formal and stand-offish.  Maybe I’m giving a few too many details.  I should stop.

Finally heard from Mohsen and will get together with him tonight.  Maybe I’ll be able to tell you an expanded story when it’s all said and done.

Sounds like you had a good weekend.  and no, I’m not a big Harry Potter fan.  I’m generally not fond of fantasy, preferring real life stories instead.

I’m sending this now…

I take a taxi to Ma’adi, where I meet Mohsen in his office.  Since I haven’t seen or heard from him in 10 days, I look forward to seeing him again.  However, when I arrive at his office, he tells me he only has a little time tonight as he needs to be somewhere for another meeting.  Of course, I am irritated by this as I wonder why on earth he has made arrangements with me if he has other plans.

He asks if I’d like to go back to his holiday home for a couple of drinks and a light meal poolside.  I agree and we go to his home and sit and talk and drink a glass of wine or two.  It’s a lovely time as Mohsen is great company and we laugh a lot together.  He’s got a great sense of humor.

The last time I see Mohsen in Egypt

The last time I see Mohsen in Egypt

While I’m at Mohsen’s, I get a text from Basim asking if I’d like to meet him at the Grand Cafe on the Nile in Ma’adi.  I know that Mohsen has other plans for later, so I agree to meet him at 9:00.  I tell Mohsen that I need to be back in Ma’adi by 9:00.  After we talk a while longer, have lots of laughs and swim for a bit in the pool, I tell him I need to go.  We have about a half an hour and I think that is plenty of time to get to Ma’adi.

As Mohsen is driving me to Ma’adi, I keep looking at my watch and wondering why he is driving so slowly.  I say, “Can you please go faster; you’re so slow!  You’re driving like an old man!”  I’m irritated at him for barely squeezing me into his busy schedule and by this time I don’t care what I say to him.  The traffic is horrible and at one point, when he gets off on a ramp, there is a donkey pulling a cart in front of us.  I yell, “Go around him!  You’re going so slow!!”  As he pulls out to go around him, we almost run into a big truck.  I’m shaking from the near accident and the stress of driving in Cairo, especially with Mohsen at the wheel and myself as the back-seat driver!

By the time we finally arrive in Ma’adi, I’m nearly an hour late.  Surprisingly, Basim is still waiting for me, but I can tell he’s quite irritated.  After a few awkward minutes, we actually leave the Grand Cafe and drive directly to the Muquttum Corniche where we sit at an outdoor restaurant called The Virginian.  I find it serendipitous that the place is called The Virginian, since I’m a Virginian.  Here, we drink some fruit juice and watch Arabic singers performing on a huge screen.  There’s a slightly cool breeze atop Muquttum Mountain and it ends up being truly a lovely evening.  However, there are still no opportunities for kissing. This is becoming increasingly frustrating. 🙂

When I arrive back in Muquttum, I find this email from R in response to my email above, sent earlier this evening:

Methinks you doth think too much.  Stand-offish?  Me?  Hardly.  I
still love the details and love hearing about your exploits.  Just not
much here to report.  I’ll call tomorrow.  Be well,

Love,
R

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Grand Cafe, Ma'adi, Middle East, Muquttum, Muquttum Corniche, The Virginian

a run with ma’adi runners

Friday, July 6:  This morning at 6:30 a.m., I catch a taxi along Road 9 in Muquttum.  I’m going to Ma’adi to run with the Ma’adi Runners.  I feel pretty brave doing this as it is pretty deserted at this hour on a Friday morning (which is equivalent to a Sunday morning in America).   I have to stand out on the road for quite some time before a taxi comes, and then it is difficult, speaking my limited Arabic, telling the taxi driver where to go.

Me sitting in the blue shirt, with Ahmed Seddick standing in the blue shirt, and Mohsen in the yellow shirt on the right

I am a pretty slow runner, so I am happy to find a few people who choose to hang in the back with me.  Ahmed Seddick, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, and a Dutch guy named Marcel hang with me at the back of the pack.  We run 4 miles through the leafy neighborhoods of Ma’adi, and even at that early hour of the morning, it’s hot, hazy and humid.

After the run, we go to a potluck at the beautiful apartment of a Scottish woman.  I am a little disappointed because after our meeting earlier this week, Mohsen, who is the “leader” of this running group, hardly speaks to me.  It is a fun time however, especially talking to Ahmed whose English is amazing.  As a matter of fact, this guy knows everything about everything, and is fluent in several languages.

Mohsen & Ahmed the Egyptologist

After the potluck, I return to Muquttum where I waste most of the day trying to email people in the USA on an extremely slow internet connection that keeps cutting off after I’ve composed long missives telling of my adventures.  The power in the building goes out for a couple of hours, causing endless frustration.  Then I make the mistake of telling the building owner I need to get a phone, and he insists on walking me around the neighborhood to every sleazy mobile salesman in town, each one of them trying to sell me crappy used phones for exorbitant prices.  None of these people speaks English, so it’s frustrating and I feel like people are trying to rip me off at every turn.  I finally refuse to buy any of the phones offered and decide to wait until someone who speaks English can help me!

Today, I write this email to R:

Hey you,
I am soooo sending you a big hug.  I wish so much that i could see you!  And be with you in every way…. and you DO know what i mean! 

I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time with this woman who is causing you problems.  I can’t remember her name but i think it’s some bizarre name.  Just take a deep breath and relax this weekend at the music festival.  Listen to music and close your eyes and think of me — at least for a moment!  Think of our time in New York — that always works for me when I am stressed.  And believe me, I’m stressed a lot here.  However, I am growing to love it in a bizarre sort of way.  Life is so different from anything I have ever known.  Every single thing I do here is a grand adventure. 

Last night Clint, Kevin, Tarik, Lisa, Shannon and I went on the felucca down the Nile at sunset.  It was absolutely amazing.  There was a lovely breeze, peace and quiet, and wonderful views.  Relaxing:) All I could think of was that I wished that you were with me and we had a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine.  It was quite romantic except there was no possibility of romance.  We all decided we would do it again, maybe a couple more times, while we are here.

Then we ate dinner and had drinks at the Grand Cafe on the Nile.  This was my second time there.  It is lovely beyond words.  I again could imagine you with me.  This is one of our favorite places: view of Nile, Arabic music, lovely breeze, twinkling white lights, terra-cotta walls and tile floors.  We also smoked some sheesha (apple flavored).  Then we took cabs into Cairo and wandered the streets.

This morning I got up at 5:30 a.m., got dressed to run, then covered up with long pants, shirt and hijab.  I walked to Street 9 and caught a taxi to Maadi, ran @ 4 miles with Maadi runners, went to a potluck breakfast at a Scottish woman’s (beautiful) apartment, and came back home.  I’m going to go out to see some sights today.  Tonight I may do a “hash,” where you walk @ 40 minutes, then go for beers.  If not, I’ll try to go out with some of our group.

I should be spending more time studying because my spoken Arabic is still pathetic.  I can read and write quite well; as a matter of fact, with the 1st assessment test they did, Ustatha Ahmed said I did so well on the test, he placed me in the advanced class.  However, during the week I was demoted when they realized I couldn’t understand or speak very well!  I actually was glad to be demoted, because I was getting lost already.

I was happy to finish my first week of classes.  Three more weeks to go.  I have such a fun time in Tajweed class (Koranic recitation).  I am so pathetic at speaking!  My teacher, Ustatha Mona, calls me “Cassie.”  She says, “Cassie, Look me.”  She speaks very little English.  Lisa, my crazy roommate is the only other student.  Poor Mona is a saint putting up with us.  Mona keeps trying to get me to make the proper sounds and I botch them every time.  Then she says, “Relax, relax.”  And when I do, the sounds come out right!  Then she is so happy.  The other day she was talking on and on about something and had her back to us as she wrote a bunch of stuff  on the board in Arabic.  Lisa and I looked at each other and we made these goofy faces, like we didn’t know what the hell she was talking about.  Well, I cracked up laughing and couldn’t stop.  This is bad, because Muslims take their Koran recitation very seriously.  I was laughing so hard, I was crying.  I had to leave the room!  I am utterly hopeless.  Lisa thinks I’m the funniest person on the face of the earth.  It’s so much fun to be around someone who thinks I’m hilarious.

Well, I’m going on and on…. and now I’m soooo nappy!  Have to go shower and sleep a bit.  Then on to conquer Cairo.  All our accommodation problems have been fixed for now, so I am happy.  Except for the fact that you’re not with me, I’m having the time of my life.  Each day is a new and wonderful, yet bizarre, experience.

So, dear R, have a nice weekend, and I hope we can talk sometime soon.  You never gave me a good time to call you.  When could I?  Give me several times, knowing that I am gone from 8-4 Sun-Thurs.

Salaam Alaykum (Peace be with you) Professor
The fakin’-it Egyptian

Soon after sending this email to R, I got a reply from him as follows:

So glad you’re having fun, and suds.  I still envy you, and even more, those near you.  I so admire your independence.  Just hearing about your scaling the peaks is a thrill.  I am enjoying my envy, and even my jealousies.  It all helps me feel alive.  The occasional sharp pangs are becoming old friends that make me feel in touch.

Things good here.  I’m way behind in grading but have overcome the  spectre of sloughing skin, amputations or worse.  This a.m., the Dr.  confirmed that I have conquered the beast and has released me.  His  earlier experience with a spider bite victim who died on the operating table was an old button that I apparently pushed.  I thanked him for his precautionary attitude and his wise drug application.  Bottom  line, I’m alive and kicking.  Still awaiting superpowers.

Work on the book progresses and I’m designing some business training/consulting products to bounce around. 

Getting out of DC is always a good thing.  I appreciate your ‘good wishes’ re: the weekend.  I empathize entirely since… well, since I can empathize entirely (damn that felucca).  Not to worry too much as the roughly once quarterly intimacy cycle hasn’t even begun approaching and is often skipped.

I’ll try to stay in touch, but it may be monday. I’m glad you feel  safe; but be sure to ‘stay’ safe.  5 weeks is enough.

MU!!
~R

I write him back:

Oh boy, another email and all at one sitting.  I’m so excited!  You make my day!

OMG, that spider bite sounds like it was extremely serious!  Are you sure you’re okay?  I hope so.  I wish the best for habibiti (my darling!-ha).  Did the doc determine what kind of spider it was?  How do you think it happened?

I’m so glad you’re making progress on your book and other projects.  Good for you!  I’m glad I’m helping to push you.  You are amazing and have so many dreams of your own.  I love that about you.  I love it that you’re always pushing yourself to experience and accomplish more in life.  You inspire me as well.

Since I know I won’t hear from you till Monday, I probably won’t check my computer after today.  It’ll be too disappointing not to see your name in my e-mails.  So, I’ll check again in the morning or late tonight, and if nothing, not again till Monday. 

I have tons of homework this weekend — lots of memorization, but I have so many exploring plans.  How on earth will I fit it all in?  I tell you, Cairo is so weird.  Everything is so out of the realm of things I know that I love it… in all its filth, chaos, beauty, and discomforts.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to anything.  You should see the roads.  People drive like there are no rules at all.  Lines on the roads mean nothing.  People drive the wrong way down one-way streets and honk the entire time.  With Egyptians there is a veritable cacophony of honks in the air. 

I can’t imagine doing that silly “hash” tonight.  Walking 40 minutes in the desert at 5:00 in the evening doesn’t at all appeal to me, but the beer afterwards draws me like a charm.  If Mohsen is going, I will go.  Otherwise, I know no one, so I won’t.  I’m sure something else will come up. 

Lisa’s supermarket boyfriend Mahmud is very nice and handsome.  She sees him every night!  I can’t believe she met someone the first day we arrived. He was quite charming to all of us; taking us out to the Grand Cafe and taking good care of us.  If I come away from anything on this trip, I will have wonderful memories of all the kind Egyptians I have met.

Today, when I ran, I was with Ahmed (27) and some Dutch guy.  We were the slowpokes.  Ahmed is very smart and does private tours for pretty cheap.  I think I’ll arrange to have him take me to the pyramids because then I can get any information I want; besides, he’s very nice.  He reminds me of Charlie in Mexico b/c of all the information he carries around in his head.

Oh well, off again.  Still feeling soooo nappy….
MU2 (sooo much),
~ C

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Ma'adi, Ma'adi Runners

a felucca on the nile and the grand cafe in ma’adi

Thursday, July 5:  Al Hamdullilah!  Today is the last day of the week, so our weekend begins!!  You can tell I’m not really enjoying my Arabic classes at this place.  It’s not the Arabic I have the problem with, it’s the horrible facility.  Never mind.  I could complain about this every day, but I’ll try to keep it to the minimum.

me at Al Azhar on Thursday afternoon... struggling to make it through these Arabic classes.

Lisa looking very lovely in purple

Immediately after school, a group of us sets out to Ma’adi to take a felucca on the Nile.  We’ve heard it’s best to do this at sunset, and we have timed it just right.

Shannon & Lisa in the taxi

the view of Cairo traffic from inside the taxi

Our group consists of Kevin, Clint, Tarik, Shannon, Lisa and me. We have jokingly dubbed ourselves as the “infidels,” except for Tarik and Lisa, because we are the only non-Muslims in the whole Al Ameen group.

shannon & clint

Lisa, me and Shannon in front of the Grand Cafe on the Nile

the feluccas at the dock

Lisa has her mobile with her and she keeps it attached to hear ear.  She calls it her “Blue Tooth,” and she has it stuck stylishly in her hijab.

Lisa with her "blue tooth"

We head out in the boat and love watching the other feluccas on the river as the sun slowly sinks into the river.

the feluccas from the water

me with the felucca captain

Shannon, Lisa and me on the felucca

the felucca

the sun sets

a view of another felucca from our felucca

the sun sets on the Nile

After our trip, we head to the Grand Cafe, where we order Stella beers, fried shrimps on pita bread, and we smoke apple-flavored shisha.  When we leave the Grand Cafe, our taxi driver has his music on full blast and is dancing away in the car while he’s driving.  Fun times in Cairo!!

me beside the Nile at the Grand Cafe

the waiter at the Grand Cafe sets up Kevin with shisha

tarek smokes some shisha

clint & shannon at the grand cafe

Lisa with a mysterious cloud coming out of her mouth

our crazy dancing & singing taxi driver

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, felucca, Grand Cafe, Ma'adi, Nile River

the grand cafe on the nile

Wednesday, July 4:  Today, we have class at Al Azhar as usual.  And as usual, it’s hot, stifling, filthy and uncomfortable. We sit through our interminable classes and then sit outdoors at the courtyard and sweat some more.

the courtyard at Al Azhar University where we hang out every day at lunchtime

me at Al Azhar on the balcony overlooking the courtyard

Lisa in one of her beautiful scarves

We can’t wait to get out, and when we do, some of us have planned an outing.  Lisa, Kevin, Clint, and I have decided to go to Ma’adi to smoke shisha at the Grand Cafe on the Nile, which my friend Jerry in the USA had highly recommended to me.

the view at night of the Grand Cafe

We take a taxi there and sit at the lovely outdoor terraced cafe that sits on the corniche alongside the Nile River.  It’s a beautiful cafe, with hanging lanterns, strings of tiny white lights, and terra-cotta walls.   The cafe is crowded and lively with beautiful Egyptians and foreigners partaking in shisha, mezze, grilled platters & fresh fruit juices.  A large screen shows Egyptian singers like an Arab version of MTV.  It’s quite an atmosphere.  Lisa’s friend from the Carrefour, Mahmoud, comes and meets us at the cafe and we all talk and smoke shisha together.

Kevin, Mahmoud and me at the Grand Cafe in Ma'adi

We all have a grand time in this atmosphere, talking about our impressions of our first week in Cairo and our feelings about Dr. Jones and the Al-Ameen program and Al Azhar University.  Most of us are pretty disillusioned already with the whole program.  Still.  Now that we’re away from the school, we’re having a grand time…at the Grand Cafe.

Clint

Kevin relaxes at the Grand Cafe

Lisa and Mahmoud at the Grand Cafe

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Filed under Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, Grand Cafe, Ma'adi

meeting a fellow runner in ma’adi

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.

my teacher at Al-Azhar ~ using a table-top as a blackboard

my teacher at Al-Azhar ~ using a table-top as 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.

Lisa and I on the open balcony next to the courtyard where we hang out during our breaks

Lisa and I on the open balcony next to the courtyard where we hang out during our breaks

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.

Shannon and Rabia ~ Shannon is one of my fellow non-Muslims

Shannon and Rabia ~ Shannon is one of my fellow non-Muslims

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.

Amina and another classmate whose name I don't recall

Amina and another classmate whose name I don’t recall

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.

Mohsen, poolside at his holiday house

Mohsen, poolside at his holiday house

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.

me beside Mohsen's pool

me beside Mohsen’s pool

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.

me in ma’adi by mohsen’s pool ~ with the wild hair

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.

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Filed under Al-Ameen Associates, Al-Azhar University, Arabic language, Cairo, Egypt, Ma'adi, Middle East