Sunday, September 9, 2007

In Which We Lose Our Minds

Things have gotten a little crazy here in Cairo. Let's start at the beginning.

Four days ago, it was the last day in which you could check out of the dorms and get most of your money back. After that, you would lose all of it, I think. Naturally, I had no plans to leave the dorms.

However, I was sitting in my room, minding my own business, while Ahmed was sleeping in his bed (he has to sleep for 20 hours to gather enough energy to sit on the computer for four hours a day until he goes back to sleep). The RA for our floor walked in, introduced himself for the third time, and said, "If you want, you can move down to room 417." I was confused, so I said, "Okay, thanks, but I think I'm fine here." Then he said, "Yes, but we need you to cooperate. Ahmed wants his brother to live in his room, so we would like you to move."

What the hell? How rude is that? The kid is here two days, I'm here two weeks, and I'm being asked to move all my stuff to another room? Does he really need to live with his brother, who is only two floors below us, and who he probably lives with at home? And why do I have to move? We have a third roommate who could be asked, as well as Ahmed's brother's roommates. I've become great friends with all the guys on my floor, I've gotten comfortable in the room I've come to think of as my temporary home, and suddenly this spoiled (seriously, the kids that go here are wealthier than you could ever dream) little brat puts me in this position? In my mind, I had two options, neither of them favorable: I could suck it up and move, giving in to that little jerk and significantly lowering the amount of fun I have in Egypt, or I could say no, but then live with a kid who would hate me, and whom I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving all my stuff behind with all day while I was in class. I was pretty furious, and you can believe that I stopped being so nice and tiptoeing around the room while he slept - I slammed the door shut and open every time I left (which I made often), and I invited people in to have loud conversations. Passive-agressive non-confrontation is the greatest.

But then Emily, Catherine Catherine, and Laura got an apartment. We were all kind of confused, since Catherine and Laura had been looking for an apartment, but Emily just moved out on the spur of the moment. So Beckett, Tara and I went over to see it, and it was pretty amazing. First we walked up these really awful stairs, that were falling apart and filled with hobos and garbage, so I was expecting the worse. And the elevators - how to describe them? They had to have been the first elevators ever. I laugh every time I ride in them. But we got up to their floor, walked in, and all yelled, "Oh my God!" at the same time.

We didn't know the place was fully furnished, nor that it was so huge. They have a fancy dining room table, two lounge chairs and two couches, a TV with free satellite TV, a coffee table, three fully-furnished bedrooms with two bathrooms, a washing machine/dryer, and even paintings on the walls, rugs on the hardwoods, and shelves with various decorative objects on them. It's incredible.

So Beckett and I started talking, and we began to consider getting an apartment in the same complex. We actually went downstairs, expressed our interest, and toured two apartments, one of which was directly below the girls. This was at 11:10 PM. We had 50 minutes to get out of the dorms, if we were going to do this. Beckett asked what I was thinking, and since the apartments were both nicer than the girls', I said, "For me, the decision is which one do we take." So with that, we said we wanted to take the one right below the girls, landlord Ahmed (get used to that name - the majority of the men I meet here will be named that) said we could come back tomorrow to sign the papers, and Beckett and I took off running to get to the dorms. Luckily, we were only two blocks away.

We ran up to our Resident Director's room and asked what we had to do to check out so we could get our money back. He simply said, "Get out in half an hour. Get packing!" so we ran downstairs and packed in literally five minutes. Roommate Ahmed seemed absolutely thrilled, even helping me to pack. We signed out and returned our keys at 11:45 PM, 15 minutes before we'd be stuck there for the semester, and then we dragged all our stuff the two blocks back to the building. In less than an hour, I had put in an offer on an apartment, checked out of the dorms, and been turned free on the streets of Cairo with all my belongings. It was kind of nuts.

We ended up spending the night in the girls' apartment, with Beckett and I sharing a bed with Emily, which kept us up (talking, pervs) until 4:30 AM. What I forgot to mention until now is that class started the next day at 8:00 AM.

When we all got up and had showered using the same towel (can you see why you get extraordinarily close with people in only a couple days while traveling?) we boarded the shuttle from the dorms to campus. Normally those who live in apartments have to pay for the shuttles, but we still had our housing IDs, so we get to ride free! Jackpot!

Classes were pretty strange. I skipped Arabic, since I was planning on dropping it, so I went to Global Politics of the 20th Century, which is taught by a classy old British woman, who may or may not be a Dame. The Egyptian students really (for the most part) slack off, since they're so freaking wealthy, so none of them had pens or paper, which pissed the Dame off, but not as much as the kids who walked in half an hour late, eliciting a perfectly snooty, "Well!" from her.

I then went to drop Arabic and add another history class. I thought I could just go to the registrar office, but of course Tomader needs to personally control every aspect of our lives, so we had to wait in line for over two hours just to add and drop classes. What was awful is that there was no way of seeing which classes were still open until you were face-to-face with Tomader. So some people waited for two hours for a "No". Luckily, the History of India was open, so I now only have class two days a week.

I got into History of India only five minutes before it started, so I raced across campus to get there in time, which I did, even though I got stuck in a long security check line. After class, Beckett and I had to get in a cab and race back to the apartment to pay Ahmed. He only accepts cash (it sounds shady, but with the exception of this he's actually really professional), so we withdrew thousands of pounds to give to him. I felt so awesome walking around with a huge roll of cash in my pocket. We signed the papers, gave him the money, and raced back to campus for the rest of our classes.

My last two classes were also pretty good. One I might drop - Social Problems of the Mideast. It sounds fascinating, but the professor is this ancient Egyptian woman who forgets what she's talking about and just rambles all class long. Plus there's an obnoxious girl who - even though the professor speaks fluent English and has lived in the United States for extensive amounts of time - feels the need to translate everything we say in English to the professor in Arabic. Everyone else in the class hates her. Oh, and there's a 20-page paper due. Yeah, I'm doing all I can to drop it. And my final one - Egypt in the Graeco-Roman Era - seems really interesting, and there are all sorts of awesome people in it. Plus we get to take five separate free trips to Alexandria.

After class, we went back to the apartment to actually move in. Our place is a bit nicer than the girls'. It's decorated like an 80-year-old woman died recently (and it kind of smells like it, too), with almost leopard-print couches, a matching ottoman/coffee table, a huge dining room table, a china cabinet complete with china, a fully-furnished kitchen with dishes and silverware, a balcony, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a washer/dryer, beautiful views of the Nile, free satellite TV, faux crystal chandeliers, trippy paintings, two of the biggest beds I've ever seen (well, to be fair, my bed is actually two twin beds pushed together to form one enormous bed), etc. I could go on forever. In short, we loved it and didn't regret our decision in the slightest.

We had our new neighbors (the girls) over for a housewarming party, and Tara, Kyle, and Erik came over, Erik bearing gifts of cookies and 24 rolls of toilet paper. What a swell guy. The party was mostly us channel-surfing until we found Legally Blonde in English, and all of us just enjoying the fact that guys and girls could finally hang out together in a comfortable way.

Eventually we went to bed, with Tara sleeping over, since this is so much better than the dorms. I ended up absolutely freezing due to my air conditioner, but I suppose that's better than sweating uncontrollably all night.

Today, we just lazed around for most of the morning while Tara was at the gym and class (she's quickly becoming our unofficial third roommate - she even provided the groceries). When she got back, we went to the City Stars mall, which was freaking huge, to buy some stuff for our apartment. We got towels, dish soap, laundry detergent, dishwasher powder, air fresheners, tupperware, paper towels, shampoo for beckett, and some other stuff that I can't remember for only 120 pounds - less than 25 dollars. It was awesome. We also bought a rip-off game of Scrabble for about 7 bucks. We had a little scare in the cab when Beckett got a text message from his friend Brian, who is also here in Cairo - "Syria shoots down Israeli jet". The three of us kind of began to panic at the thought of the repurcussions from the Syrians shooting down a plane full of Israeli citizens for no reason, and we started debating the likeliness of a nuclear war and how soon we'd be evacuated from Egypt. We then found out later that Brian was a little dramatic, and the real story is that Syria fired at but didn't hit a military jet from Israel. Major difference. Although, I personally think the US press should be a little less biased and instead of "Syria fires missiles at Israeli jet," perhaps they should consider the headline, "Israel flies jet at Syrian missles".

Here's a short apartment tour:
This is how we pay the rent every month.

The gang watching Legally Blonde our first night in the apartment. Those tacky couches, chairs, and table all smell like a horrible barnyard. We're 98% sure they're stuffed with hay.

Beckett got the king-sized bed, I got the two twin beds, which I combined to create a superbed.

The view. For those of you who failed geography, that's the Nile.

This is painted inside my shower. There's all sorts of girly crap on my side of the apartment.

This is where we have all our formal dinner parties. And by that, I mean, "This is where we eat ramen noodles and play Scrabble."

I guarantee we never even touch this fancy china. But it's nice being able to say we have a china cabinet!

The greatest balcony ever. We plan on doing something more with it than some stupid chairs.

I swear this is real crystal. Diamonds, actually. Yeah, diamonds.

I love this. I plan on stealing it when we move out. It's this bizarre painting that came with the place. Note the signs for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and pi. Also the DNA in the bottom left corner, and the words "math" and "science" at the top center.

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