Sunday, October 21, 2007

Only in Egypt... you wake up to find outside your front door there was a sand and brick cascade during the night.

And, one more picture from Lebanon. My favorite ad campaign ever. If only they had remembered to put their product somewhere on the sign as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Well, I'm back safe from Lebanon. And we didn't even get to see one lousy assassination! The trip was amazing though - probably my favorite week of study abroad thus far. It was absolute, ridiculous luxury from start to finish, and I'm struggling to find anything that went wrong all week. Let's start at the beginning, I guess.

On Tuesday, Beckett, Allyson, and I boarded a plane to Beirut. Everyone else (all freaking nine of them) would be joining us on Thursday, so for two blissful days it was just three of us. The plane ride was probably the best plane ride of my life (excluding the business class trip from Tokyo to Chicago, of course). Middle East Airlines is awesome. The flight was under one hour, but we still had very comfortable seats, private TVs, and we even got meals! It was amazing. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the week. When we landed, we passed some Lebanese celebrity (seriously, this beatiful woman had a TV camera on her, people all around her, and two massive stacks of luggage with people pushing them for her) and entered the city of Beirut. We hopped in a cab and told him where we were going, but he stopped within about three feet and got out, screaming something. Next thing we know, he's ripping open the trunk, whipping some guy's suitcase in there, and then opening our cab door and shoving this man in next to me. So... I guess we're sharing a cab, then? Turns out our cab driver was on crack or something. He kept ranting and raving in the craziest, high-pitched scream for the entire 30-minute drive. He barely spoke a word of English, but since they speak real Arabic and not the bastardized Egyptian version, Beckett was able to translate most of it. And the guy next to me turned out to be really, really nice. At one point, we drove past a couple tents with Lebanese flags all over them, and he whispered to me, "Hezbollah. Shhhh. Bad." This wouldn't be our first Hezbollah encounter.

After dropping off our newfound friend, we arrived at "Talal's New Hotel," which still has bullet holes in it from the civil war a couple decades ago. New, indeed! We had read some reviews online that said Talal has attempted to molest several girls who stayed there, but at $7 a night he could molest me all he wanted! We were a bit wary about meeting him, and at first he was pretty creepy. He instantly started snapping at us, but once we got settled in our rooms, he gave us all free waters, and from that point on he was incredibly nice. And not once did he rape anyone! The hotel was actually really nice for $7. We shared one bathroom with about 20 people, however, which isn't such good news in the Middle East. One woman I only saw going in and out of the bathroom - and I saw her seven times the first day.

We threw our stuff in our room, took a little breather, and then set out to explore Beirut, not knowing what in the least to expect. We wandered into this area near the downtown, which was incredibly creepy. It was totally destroyed in the civil war and was recently totally rebuilt, so it's impeccably clean and European. It looks exactly like a part of Disneyland. Not only that, but it was completely devoid of people. We would eventually come to see that all of Beirut was frighteningly empty, but no one had a good explanation as to why. So we stood there, in the middle of this empty European courtyard, not knowing what to do. We picked a sidestreet, and immediately came upon a massive wall of barbed wire. Okay, dead end. We picked another road, and ran into several soldiers (unlike Cairo, these guys' rifles are most definitely loaded) and a series of roadblocks. We were allowed to walk through unbothered, but it was really unsettling. The problem is that this Disneyland area is directly next to all the governmental buildings, so it's unbelievably beefed up with security. Every once in a while soldiers would come up to us and check our bags at random in the middle of the street, and there were cement blocks, barbed wire, hundreds of soldiers, and even a couple tanks, all around the area. We likened the whole experience to the movie 28 Weeks Later - it felt as if Beirut had been wiped out by a zombie attack, and we were now among the first people to resettle the city under military protection. That's how strange it was. But eventually we got used to it.

We moved down to the considerably less-creepy Mediterranean coast, and sat and had drinks on a small pier at sundown. It was awesome. But our stomachs started rumbling, so we quickly set off to find our main goal for the night - sushi. We had all been craving sushi for the past two months, since we don't really trust the raw fish in Cairo, and since I hadn't had a good piece of sushi since the Tokyo fish market, I was going through some severe withdrawal. After about half an hour of wandering due to Lonely Planet's awful, awful maps (see every single one of my Japan entries...) we found the restaurant. What followed were the greatest two hours of my life. This restaurant was listed in Paris Vogue's "100 Best Restaurants in the World", and while I don't rely on Paris Vogue for any information whatsoever, I have to agree. The sushi beat many places in Japan, the service was awesome, and, of course, I was accompanied by two of the best people. Plus their fried ice cream was fantastic.

The next morning, we hired a private car (it sounds way pricier than it really was) to drive us down to the southern parts of Lebanon. See, Lebanon is incredibly tiny, so even the furthest attractions from Beirut are at most only an hour and a half drive. The driver didn't speak much Arabic, but was fluent in French, which Beckett also happens to be, since he lived there for a year. So we got along wonderfully with the driver, Beckett translating for all of us. On the way to Tyre (pronounced "Soor" for some reason), we stopped at the city of Sidon for about an hour. We saw an old crusader castle, which was kind of cool, and then wandered around a nearby market, where we saw all sorts of crazy things like decapitated goats and puddles of blood and stuff. At the end of the market was the "soap museum", so - why not? - we went in. The place was actually kind of cool. We got to see how soap was made. I swear it was interesting! Beckett and Allyson bought some soap, since they hadn't brought any along with.

Allyson can't believe all the soap.

We then drove on to Tyre. Our driver had to get back to Beirut to get his car fixed for whatever reason, so he knocked $10 off what we originally agreed to pay, and pointed out the bus station to us. We then spent about an hour wandering around these unbelievable Roman ruins. At first, it was just a massive Roman graveyard that was pretty much in ruins. But upon further examination (and climbing over barriers and whatnot) we discovered some awesome stuff. Most of the tombs were still filled with Roman bones, which blew our minds. Some were really piled high. We also found a couple small, hidden mosaics, and some really cool carvings and writings. The place was enormous, and just when we thought we were getting to the end of it, we turned a corner, and suddenly we were standing in an enormous Roman stadium. It was completely shocking, and we were stunned into silence for a second. We climbed all over the seating and explored the corridors below the stands, and loved every second of it. It was probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen. When we were done, since we had nothing to do for the rest of the day, we walked down to the beach, which sounds so simple. We had to walk past huge military encampments with all sorts of guards and tanks and barbed wire and towers with huge guns. But we never once felt threatened - it's just not something you see every day. Once we got to the Mediterranean, we found an awesome, deserted hotel, where we sat on the beach and had a late lunch. So far, two perfect days.

But the day wasn't quite over. When we returned to the hotel, we discovered our friends Oskar, Katie, and Tim had checked in, so the six of us decided to go out for dinner. We went to this place we had read about that offered 15-course meals for $35, as well as an open bar. Seriously. When we showed up, the place was practically deserted, so our awesome waiter Sleiman knocked $5 off the price for us. As if we weren't going to stay in the first place! So for the next two-plus hours, we ate piles and piles of delicious food that never seemed like it would end, and drank normally very high-priced wine. We definitely got our money's worth, especially since I kept asking for seconds on everything, which Sleiman would always kindly oblige. He then tipped us off to the best places around town, told us who to talk to to make sure we get the best service, and tried to return some of our enormous tip. What a classy guy.

The next day, I woke up sick. Perhaps I had a little too much meat? Well, shpuking or not, I had no time to stop, so the six of us set out to explore Beirut until the other six arrived. We were actually semi-dreading doubling the amount of people with us. All we managed to do in these five hours were eat some crepes and see the campus of the American University in Beirut, which left us extremely jealous and wondering why we didn't study abroad there instead. When we arrived back at the hotel, Emily, Megan, Elizabeth, Laura, Graham, and Catherine had arrived, thereby doubling our group size for the rest of the trip. Fantastic.

The following day we hired a minibus, since 12 of us would no longer fit in a private car. The driver was really nice, but only spoke this really strange mixture of Arabic and Spanish, which meant that it took both Beckett and I to translate every other word to figure out what he was saying. We couldn't figure out where he was from that he would speak this crazy blend of languages, since he didn't understand, "Where are you from?" in either Spanish or Arabic. The plan was to go wine-tasting, but when we arrived at the vineyards, we learned that nothing was open since it was the last day of Ramadan. So we continued on to the second part of our day, the ruins at Baalbek. These ruins are listed as among the best Roman ruins in the world, but not many people ever come to Lebanon to see them, so we were really excited. And they were incredible. It was several massive temple complexes, with thousands of giant pieces of carved statues, inscriptions, and paintings all scattered around the ground. One of the temples, the temple dedicated to Bacchus, was still almost completely standing, and it was breathtaking in its massiveness. There was only one problem: Baalbek is in the homeland of Hezbollah. And since it was the last day of Ramadan, things were a bit wild. First, we heard the call to prayer broadcast around the city. Okay, nothing new here. Then the call to prayer turned into some guy screaming in Arabic, which Beckett was able to understand a few words here and there to get the gist - most of what he was saying was stuff about America. And he wasn't screaming because he loves us. Then the gunfire started. They weren't shooting at anyone in particular, just up in the air to celebrate, but still. Our driver warned us that almost everyone in the city is Hezbollah, so we should keep our eyes down and say we were from Canada, but we were not expecting this. For the next hour as we explored the temple, it sounded like outside the complex was a war zone. The sound of AK-47s firing into the air was really nerve-wracking, and once the noise started getting much louder and nearer, we decided it was time to move along. But the temple was really amazing. On our way out, we passed two kids running around playing with what looked like real handguns but were probably just filled with BBs. Although, really, I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't.

On the way back, our driver found a vineyard that was open, so we did a little bit of wine-tasting. 12 college kids know nothing of wine-tasting, so we mostly just got some sips of free wine and then wandered around the building. It was up in the hills, which were absolutely beautiful and reminded me a lot of Tuscany. For the first time in literally two months, we weren't surrounded by noise. No honking horns, no screaming, no Amr Diab blasting from every radio and stereo. It was absolute silence, and I enjoyed every second of it. When we returned, we went back to the sushi restaurant, since it was Catherine's birthday and that's what she wanted (I may have influenced her decision a bit by stressing how great the fried ice cream was). Both our waitress from the other night and the owner of the restaurant remembered Beckett, Allyson, and myself, which made us feel pathetic and wealthy at the same time.

The next day, we decided not to hire a private anything and try out the bus station right down the street. It was actually shockingly easy. All we did was walk up to the bus station, and suddenly we had 30 people around us, trying to pull us onto their buses. So we walked up to the first bus, said, "Jaina Grotto?" and he said, "Yes! Yes!" while the other bus drivers also yelled, "Yes! Yes!" They really, really wanted us Americans to get on. So we played the drivers off of each other until we got a ride for 1000 pounds - 67 American cents. The Jaina Grotto, by the way, is the most popular attraction Lebanon. It's this massive cave with some incredibly impressive stalagmites and stalagtites. It was really cool, but compared to the ruins we had been seeing the past few days, it was kind of bland. The whole place was pretty entertaining, though. With the price of our tickets, a ride on the gondolas up the hill was included, so we jumped in the carriages, expecting a long, beautifully scenic ride through the Lebanese hillside. Instead the entire ride took about three minutes. The entire ride was about 100 feet long. It saved us from maybe a five minute walk. Naturally, we milked every second of our pathetic little ride.

Our penultimate day was spent in the town of Byblos, the oldest consistently-inhabited city in the world. We explored some more ruins, which couldn't compare with those at Baalbek and Tyre, but were still pretty cool. Since the city has constantly been lived in, there were Roman ruins on top of ancient Egyptian ruins, which were all in the shadow of a massive Crusader castle. The park was enormous, but we all got pretty antsy within an hour, since we could see a really nice beach and we had all brought our bathing suits. On our way out, we noticed every single kid in the city running around with these sticks of wood. We were making fun of them, but then we found the store where they were sold. Beckett and I started having a sword fight with the sticks, and suddenly the fun of the sticks was revealed to us. So we instantly bought two. For the next three days, we were inseperable from our sticks. We tapped them on walls as we walked, had swordfights with them, turned off light switches with them, and even snuck them on board the plane on the way home. Believe, me a long piece of wood with some leather wrapped around one end with a thumbtack stuck in it is much more entertaining than it sounds.

The rest of the day was spent at the beach. It was part of this country club/hotel, who didn't mind us using their beach chairs. Since it was a country club, the place was filled with really beautiful people, all of them filthy rich. They all had trophy children, but the funniest part was that they all had a Filipino nanny. Every single one. So we were surrounded by beautiful Lebanese people, beautiful children, and Asian nannies. But everyone was really interested in us, especially a woman from Ohio who had married a Lebanese man and now lived there. She couldn't believe American college students would take a vacation to Lebanon. The place also served some amazing iced tea and delicious food - right down from the salad to the calamari to the strawberry cheesecake (the best I've ever had in my life). Once again, it was ridiculously luxurious, especially considering the fact that it was a Monday evening, so we knew at that moment all our friends back home were waking up to go to class. Suckers!

Our last full day, everyone that came late wanted to see Tyre since we had been talking it up (perhaps a bit intentionally to get them to go away for a while), so Beckett, Allyson, Elizabeth and myself hopped back on a bus to Byblos. We spent the entire day at the beach. It was the greatest day ever. All we did was swam, played in the sand, ate delicious food, napped in the sun, and watched beautiful people. We stayed to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean, and then had some dessert before returning home. Beckett ordered a fruit bowl, which he took to mean a fruit salad but was in fact a giant plate stacked with four whole bananas, five whole apples, three kiwis, two mangos, and various other unsliced fruits. I couldn't decide between the strawberry cheesecake and the banana split, so I just got both. See how hard study abroad is?!

The next morning, we settled our bill with Talal (under $50 for a seven night stay, internet access, and many 2-liter bottles of water), jumped in two cabs, and headed back to the airport. It was no trouble getting out of Lebanon or back into Egypt, thereby completing our flawless trip. I didn't even get sunburned from lying on the beach all day, for the first time in my life. To tell the truth, we were kind of dreading our return to Egypt, since Lebanon was such an Eden. And the second we got back, we remembered what we had left behind. It took nearly half an hour to get out of the airport parking lot, since our taxi drivers kept getting stopped by corrupt cops (as if there's any other kind here) demanding bribes. When the taxi drivers refused to pay the ridiculously high bribes, they were denied exit with passengers, so we were tossed on the side of the road. Ah, Egypt. Good to be back.

One last thing:

Everyone in the Middle East has a coke nail. You know, where their pinky nail is half an inch or longer, the better to cut coke with. So one night, one thing led to another, and long story short, I now have to grow a coke nail for an entire year on my left-hand pinky finger. If I do, I will get $365. Five people are chipping in, and we all signed a written contract. The experiment ends October 13th, 2008. Here's where we're at right now:

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mentally Iftarded

I feel like I'm doing this too much, but: I apologize for not posting anything. It's been a week since I wrote anything, and so much has happened. The other night especially inspired me to write it all down. But we'll get to that. Warning: this post is obnoxiously long.

First, as for that mysterious trip I mentioned, we have, in fact, bought plane tickets to Beirut. Ten of us will be doing Lebanon for a week. We leave on Tuesday, which (at the time of writing) is only two days away. I won't say anything other than don't worry, it's safe, and I won't be taking public transportation. Or approaching anyone who looks like he's running for a political office.

Last weekend, a big group of us attempted to find a place called the British Club. Basically, it's a semi-secret pub run by British ex-pats, and pretty much its only clientele are American students and Brits. It took forever to find the place, until we literally stumbled upon it. Walking down the street it was supposed to be on, we stopped and asked two guards in front of a completely non-descript, gated house, "British Club?" who pointed right at the building they were guarding. They let us through the gate, and after ringing the doorbell to what looked like an apartment (flat #1, naturally), we were let in. The problem is, you have to be a member, which costs 100 pounds, and then members can get two friends in for 15 pounds each. But when the owner saw 10 American kids, even though we weren't members, dollar - er, pound - signs flashed in his eyes. He waived the membership rule on the condition that we say hello to his mother, and let us in. The bottom floor was populated by, in his words, old farts, so we took over the upstairs pool table. One of the British people from downstairs came up to teach us how to play cricket on a pool table, which was a lot of fun, considering we were betting on it (only one pound each, which is kind of like betting with Monopoly money). I lost that game, but I won the second game. Of course.

The next day, Beckett and I were bored, so we called up Brian and decided to visit the Cairo Zoo. We had heard from people who went to the zoo and supposedly bribed the guards to let them hold baby lions, and who can say no to baby lions? So Beckett and I jumped in a cab. Unfortunately, we found the worst negotiator in the entire city. The following conversation took place (in Arabic):
Him: How much?
Us: 5 pounds.
Him: No, ten pounds.
Us: Okay, ten pounds.
Him: Yes, yes, ten pounds. Twenty?
Us: No! Ten pounds!
Him: Okay, okay, ten pounds. Fifteen?
Us: NO. Ten pounds or stop here.
Him: Wait, wait. Ten pounds.

What an idiot. But he eventually got us there, and we definitely only gave him ten pounds.

The zoo was as depressing as I expected. It's incredibly dirty, the animals look more depressed than usual, and large numbers of animals are crammed into tiny cages. We imagined the "bribing" would be difficult, but all we did was walk in front of the "jungle cat" building, and two guards called us over. They unlocked the back entrance and brought us in, giving us a private tour of the so-called "jungle cats". There was at least one real jungle cat, which snarled through the thin mesh wire at us, but the rest were just white, fluffy housecats. He then opened up a cage door, and before we knew it, he was placing a desert fox in our hands. The little thing was really strange, and shivering like crazy. I felt bad for it, but it was kind of cool holding what looked like a real-life Pokemon. Of course, the second the fox was back, the guard was asking for money.

We continued onto the lion cage, where the guards called us over as well. One let us into this back room, surprising us with two enormous lions in a relatively small cage, with fairly spread-apart bars. It was pretty alarming to see a full-grown male lion at least twice my size (and about ten times my weight), and even moreso when the guard put a chair directly next to the bars, within five inches of the lion's teeth, for us to sit and take pictures on. But what he did next was terrible. He grabbed a stick (once we were safely away from the bars) and started prodding the lion in the face, to provoke it into roaring and attacking the bars for our benefit. We were definitely not okay with it, and told him to stop. But we came here for the babies, so we asked him where they were, and he said he would take us to the next room, where the babies were. Once we got in the second room, though, we realized we were in a tiny space with five cage doors attached to it, each one protecting us from a full-grown female lion. Before we could protest, he whipped open a door, grabbed a lion by the mane, and dragged it out almost onto my feet. It was terrifying. The poor thing seemed abused, because it didn't even put up a fight, and just laid there. But I knelt and pet it on the head, half pitying it and half-scared-out-of-my-mind. With the lion still at his feet, he asked for 20 pounds per picture, and there was no way we could say no to a man with a lion next to him. So we paid up and left. Alas, no babies were seen. We quickly left the zoo.

In happier news, Allyson and I got internships at the Egyptian Museum. Allyson was the one to tell me about it, and I said I'd do it with her. So we went to the museum and simply asked if there was anything we could do there. This completely crazy Egyptian woman (no, seriously, she's crazy - all the employees there agree) said we would be making labels in the King Tut section. Alright, cool. She said to come back the next day and we would get to work. When we showed up the next day, the nicest Egyptian guy in the world led us through the curator's entrance so we didn't have to pay, and instead of taking us to the label-making room, he took us to this American doctor, Dr. Janis, who is currently adding pretty much every artifact ever discovered in Egypt to computer databases and needs all the help she can get. So we set up our laptops and got to work. Our first day was spent entirely on sexual sculptures. So we spent almost three hours staring at ancient, stone genitals. Of course, that part won't show up on any resumes in the future. It's kind of mindless work, but also fairly interesting being surrounded by so much history. Plus, if you're ever working with Egyptian artifacts any time in the future, you'll probably use this database, and there at the bottom of the pages for about several hundred artifacts, you'll see, "Danny Gottleib". Also, most of the books we're transcribing are in French, so all the other interns are 20-something French girls. And most of them are incredibly beautiful. Who would have thought the museum was where they were all hiding?

And now we get to the other night. But first! Three nights ago, Emily and I ran into each other in the grocery store downstairs. When we got to the elevator, this Saudi guy (I don't remember his name exactly, but it sounds kind of like Fawooz I think) got on, and started telling the same joke over and over - "You Saudi? I'm American!" and laughing really hard at it. He stopped at floor eight (I'm on floor nine), and instead of getting out, he talked to us for a couple minutes. His English is very poor, but we caught the word "embassy" a couple times and what sounded like "gays". It was clear we had no idea what he was talking about, so he invited us into his home. Of course, we said yes. Turns out he was trying to say "dates", because he fed us some dates and gave us an entire package as a present. Gross, but thanks. He then showed us all the expensive artifacts in his home, and invited us over the next night for Iftar (breaking of the fast after sundown) dinner. There was no way we could turn that down.

So two nights ago, Emily and I went down to his apartment at 6 PM and joined Fawooz, his wife, his three sons, and their female servant for a huge feast. It was actually pretty delicious, but he kept piling more and more food on my plate, and I was feeling rather sick near the end of the meal. We must have eaten for a good hour straight, without much talking because the entire family spoke about 30 words of Arabic total. But it was still really interesting.

After dinner, we hung out in the living room for a while, playing with his two youngest kids. The youngest, Abdullah, took a liking to me because I fixed his broken racecar, and then spent most of the night smashing it on the ground and bringing it back to me to fix it again.

All of the sudden, some guy was standing at the door, briefcase in hand. Abdullah ran over, grabbed him by the pinky finger, and dragged him into the living room. Upon seeing him, the wife and servant immediately left the room, and Fawooz politely asked Emily if she would join them in the kitchen. He expressly stated that I could stay, because this was his doctor. I knew this wouldn't be good. The second Emily had left, Fawooz tore his clothes off, and sat down on the couch in only his tiny, see-through underwear. The doctor, whose English wasn't too poor, explained that it was acupuncture time. Fantastic! What took place was more like electroshock therapy than acupuncture, however. The doctor stuck two needles into Fawooz's belly, attached clamps and wires to the needles, and proceeded to give him some sort of shocks that looked pretty painful. Every couple of minutes he would change the location of the needles. This whole thing lasted almost thirty minutes. Luckily, the TV was on, so I stared intently at it, pretending like I was laughing at the Arabic sitcoms I couldn't understand, but really laughing at the absurdity of what was happening. Abdullah kept tapping my knee, saying something, and pointing at his dad, but there was no way I was turning my head to see what was going on.

Unfortunately, Fawooz decided to mute the TV so he could ask me questions with the doctor translating, so I had to hold the most awkward conversation of my life, with Fawooz in his underwear and electrified needles sticking out of his stomach. Eventually, the doctor decided the torture was over, shook hands with me (I only touched his hand with the very tips of my fingers - who cares how awkward it looked), and left. And finally Fawooz put his clothes back on. Emily came back in the room, and after playing with the kids (Abdullah put a Saudi flag in the back of his shirt and ran around the room pretending it was a cape, hitting his head several times on the table), we quickly got out of there so I could tell her what happened. Before we left, Fawooz insisted that we were family now (how could we not be after what I witnessed?), and that he would give his "brother" and "sister" anything we needed, including money. He also invited us to Iftar every single night of Ramadan, and for lunch every day after Ramadan until we go home. He has my cell phone number and he knows where we live - directly above him - so I feel like I'll be asked back pretty soon. Needless to say, it was a hilarious experience.

The next day, Allyson and I set off on another stupid field trip. Actually, this one wasn't nearly as bad as the Alexandria one. At first we were apprehensive, since our teacher had said, without a trace of irony, "Most classes take you to big, impressive sights. But we're going to places where you have to use your imagination!" However, we visited a few smaller, but still impressive, pyramids, a couple ancient towns, and went into some extremely well-preserved temples dedicated to Sobek, the crocodilian god. It was actually very interesting.

Out in the middle of the desert, there's this ancient home with this ancient bath that still has fragments of painted tiles on the wall. History nerds like me find this stuff unbelievably exciting.

Last night, Allyson, Beckett and I went out for pizza with these two Egyptian guys Allyson met somehow. Since our luck with meeting nice Egyptian students actually willing to be friends with Americans has been virtually nil, I was a little skeptical about these guys. But they turned out to be awesome. I can't for the life of me remember either of their names, which isn't good because we hung out with them for about 7 hours and they want to do a lot more stuff with us in the future. But they're two best friends who make a hilarious pair: one is a huge, Russian-looking Egyptian who spends all his time bodybuilding and doing all sorts of martial arts that make him really intimidating, while the other is a tiny, goofy little guy who actually reminds me a lot of myself. After eating pizza, we went to a cafe to smoke shisha. Allyson decided to go home to sleep, so the four of us decided we wanted to play pool, so we set off in the bigger guy's $200,000 car. Seriously. Granted, it's only that much because they have to pay extremely high taxes on any cars - they're rarely under $100,000 - but that still says a lot about how wealthy these guys are. First they were nice enough to go extremely out of the way to drive Allyson home rather than having her take a cab by herself, and then we went to a pool club, where I lost five times in a row to the little guy while Beckett and the other one (I really need to find out their names) played Playstation. It was a really awesome night, and I'm so happy to have Egyptian friends that are not only actually willing to be friends with you, but who have such hilarious personalities. We can't wait to hang out with them again.

And now tonight we just had Iftar with Fawooz again. This time it was only him, and he invited us to a French restaurant downstairs. He said to bring six friends, but we only brought Beckett and Laura. We were joined by his friend, a security guard (not the lame U.S. version - the security guards here have huge machine guns), and enjoyed a really nice meal. Fawooz was hilarious as ever, and even though he didn't strip down this time, he was full of jokes that we half-understood but laughed at nonetheless, and he acted just like a grandfather to me. When he found out we were going to Lebanon in a couple days, he immediately offered to pay for us to have limo service to and from the airport, and throughout the meal he kept tapping my elbow and muttering, "Do you need money?" and practically refusing to accept a no from me. He really is one of the most generous people I've ever met. We decided that we'd let him help us out a little bit, since he obviously really wanted to do something, so we mentioned our internet problems, and he made a couple phone calls and insists someone who speaks English will be here in an hour or so to set up internet. I'm still skeptical, since it's Egypt, but if Fawooz can't do it, no one can. The meal was added to by the sheer amount of languages spoken. Beckett is practically fluent in French, and the French woman who owns the restaurant was there with us, so we used her to translate. Fawooz told some joke about wanting only French girls to serve us at the restaurant rather than Egyptian men, and to relate the joke to us, a form of international telephone was played: Fawooz in Arabic to a waiter, the waiter in French to the owner, the owner in French to Beckett, and Beckett in English to us. It was a truly enjoyable evening with Fawooz, and he insists he's going to give us two boxes of beer once Ramadan is over, because Emily told him I sleep a lot, which he apparently took to mean that I'm an alcoholic. What a guy.

I probably won't post anything until we get back from Beirut, since I leave in a good 36 hours. So have yourselves a good week, and expect an enormous post around the 16th of October, with all sorts of entertaining stories. Unless nothing interesting happens in Lebanon. And, let's face it, nothing interesting ever happens there. Salaam.