Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feluccin' Awesome!

I fear the blog updates will become more and more scarce as the semester goes on. There's just too much happening all day, every day, and not enough time for me to even sleep. But I don't mind at all.

The problem with this is that even though I've been here for... four days, I think? It feels like at least a week and a half, so I'm having a hard time trying to remember what happened yesterday, because it's already become hazy. Which is another reason why I should keep updating this as much as possible, so I don't forget everything the second I get home. You just do so much all day long from sunrise to almost sunrise again in this city, that the days just go on forever. Which could be good or bad, depending on how much you like Cairo.

So day two of orientation was yesterday, but it was just a "general advising" meeting, where we got information on what we should do to prepare for registering for classes. It was hosted by, of course, the fearsome Tomader, and her really nice and obviously abused Dina. Dina was actually in charge of the thing, and she gave a real powerpoint presentation this time. She made it about two minutes before Tomader grabbed a microphone and cut her off, to basically say the exact same thing. This continued for some time (Tomader started whistling into the microphone while Dina was talking, to signal that it was time for Tomader to speak), and then some Doctor of Something came up to tell people what to do if they want to be in a higher Arabic level, and of course Tomader not only cut him off, but actually made him set down his microphone so we couldn't hear them when they started to get into fights. Then it came time for the questions from the students, and all hell broke loose. People started yelling at Tomader about the fact that we were told our tuition fees covered up to 15 credits (which we were told), but it was changed after we paid to only 12 credits. Well, then. You do NOT yell at the Tomader. It turned into sort of a screaming match, and that just opened the floodgates once people saw a sign of weakness in Tomader. This other girl who failed the Arabic placement exam twice thought she still deserved to take it a third time to place in a higher Arabic course, and Tomader shut her up pretty quickly with some sharp words. At some points, all sorts of people were just shouting stuff, or booing Tomader until she changed her mind about inane things people were fighting with her about, like what time the test results would be posted at. Even though we were supposed to cover more classes than Arabic, the orientation had to be dissolved, because I think Tomader feared a coup. All in all, it was very, very entertaining.

I took off with Emily and her roommates, because they kick ass and all the guys from my floor slept through the orientation. We successfully navigated the subway system to some area I think Emily wanted to go to. But when we got there, it was sort of slummy and filled with only American stores and restaurants (a Hardees with a Pizza Hut above it on the second floor, next to a Baskin Robbins). Plus it was noon on Friday, which is the time when everyone and everything stops to pray for a couple hours. At one point, we got in two cabs to try to find a specific restaurant, and while waiting for the cabs, some kid came up to me and started begging for money. He couldn't have been older than eight, and he was totally covered in dirt. He was part of a group of nearly twenty kids, who I suspected were orphans. I couldn't give him any money, because then I'd have to give all the kids money, and things would just go sour once I took out my wallet. But he wrapped his hands around my wrist and picked his feet off the ground, so I was actually carrying him. I pried his fingers off my arm and got into the cab (front seat, so the girls don't get raped, right Tomader?), and then pried his fingers off of the door so I wouldn't get them stuck in the cab. Then he punched me in the face through the window. It was more of a light push with his fist, but he was obviously pissed about the lack of money. I felt pretty bad, and I understand why he was mad, but I certainly wasn't going to give him money after he hit me. Still, seeing poverty like that was really depressing.

Anyway, we couldn't find a restaurant and ended up going to some cafe so the girls could use internet, since their apartment doesn't have any. Some of us then had to take the shuttles to campus for the Survival Arabic Course, which will supposedly teach us enough Arabic to get around Egypt. Everyone's split up into classes of six or so people, and I was already friends with the majority of my classmates (with the exception of the guy who mumbles everything and is constantly smiling like he's the Grinch or something), so I knew it wouldn't be too bad at all. Plus our teacher is really good and pretty funny. So even though it's three hours a night for the next week, I have learned a ton in only two days, and the class isn't too bad at all.

After Arabic, we all went back to the dorm for the dorm orientation. It's optional, but most people signed up for the free food, drinks, and felucca (basically an Egyptian sailboat) ride on the Nile. First we sat through another orientation run by our RA's who are all really nice, but I'm pretty sure they lie to scare us out of stuff. For example, there's no way a girl in previous years went to Alexandria for a weekend and ended up marrying some Egyptian guy who clearly only wanted a green card. But then it was time for the food (Pizza Hut, which is spectacularly awful in Egypt) and drinks (Pepsi). But whatever, it was free. A small group of us just grabbed a whole pizza and took it out into the courtyard to talk about things like female castration and abortions.

But there was no time for that crap, because we had a felucca to ride! Emily (heretoforth known as Emily E., to differentiate her from Emily S. from Madison) and I had a great time getting fake excited for our first-ever felucca ride. We tried to get everyone on our bus to our level of excitement, but the rest of the losers seemed kind of indifferent.

When we got to the Nile, we had to walk down some steps to get to the dock where about ten feluccas were waiting. Of course, there were hundreds of us, and we only made it about halfway down the steps before we were being yelled at by the RAs to turn back around. So we did, and stood in a massive group pretty much in the street. Then we went back down the stairs, only to be turned back again. This sort of stuff goes on all the time in Egypt, and it never gets less funny. Finally, we all boarded our various feluccas, and we were out on the water. At first, the breeze was really nice, and it was very cool actually sitting on a boat on the Nile, but eventually we were getting sore from the seats and a bit bored because we weren't moving, and the breeze had stopped so it was back to ninety degrees. But our captain didn't seem to want to turn around, because he just unfurled the sails and let us sit out there for close to half an hour. The felucca definitely wore out its welcome. Although we did spot "Nile Bowling", which is a bowling alley right along the Nile. So we have to go there.

Once everyone had gotten off their feluccas, a group of about 10 of us hopped in two cabs to go to some bar on top of the Odeon hotel. It was in some strange back area of Cairo, but this guy Ian, who has lived here before, knows everything about this city, so we had no problems finding it. The night was really fun, even though the group pretty much split in half, mostly because five of us really hated this guy who tagged along with and refused to speak a word of English in favor of Arabic, even though he's American. Which is like the most pompous thing you can do. Just because you're fluent in Arabic doesn't mean you have to be a dick to everyone. So the five of us had a good time planning our hopeful trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two of the guys, Beckett and Kyle, are in the room directly next to me, so it was a relief to no longer be alone on my floor. Two of the girls don't live at Zamalek, which sucks for them, and the fifth one, Tara, proved to be a lot of fun. She's traveled pretty much everywhere, and she's fluent in Farsi, and knows a lot of Arabic and French. None of that helped when she got her tab and found out her three gin and tonics set her back over 200 pounds.

After our late night, we were up bright and early for the tour of Old Cairo, which I should have slept through. There were, again, nearly a hundred of us, and only one tour guide. So we couldn't hear anything, it was over 100 degrees, and most of the time was spent waiting outside of small churches and stuff for people to empty out so you could get in. We did see some cool stuff, but I want to go back there without the group so I can actually enjoy it. I have no idea what any of the stuff we saw was, but I think we went down into some room where Mary lived for a month and saw a well she drank out of, and then another well that has something to do with Moses (I think maybe it was his favorite well in Cairo or something), and also the first mosque in Egypt. The mosque was actually really cool. The rest I could have done without.

This is really long. So the same group from the end of our table last night went out for lunch after the tour. Dina (Tomader's abused underling) tipped us off to a great Egyptian place in Zamalek. The place was dark and very Arabic, and the food was fantastic. We bought a huge amount of appetizers and main dishes, and just gorged herself. I spent 45 pounds on pigeons. That's right, I ate two pigeons. And they were actually pretty good!

So more Arabic lessons and stuff. I'm bored of writing. At least I finally took pictures.

This is the best picture I have of the shore of the Nile from the felucca. At least you know what part of the felucca looked like now.

Mary totally loved this well.

Mutilated and divoured pigeons!

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