Sunday, November 14, 2010

Silence of the Lambs...and the Value of Communication

Let me set this one up for you. It is Thursday.  Day before school holidays.  Day before Eid Adha and the hajj to Mecca begins. A few days before the sacrifices begin.  We have a lovely day at school, with a simulation of the Pilgrimage performed by my kids (they circle the kabah and walk between the mountains, drink from the zamzam well). After an afternoon of Eid art (glittery fireworks and cotton ball sheep) I decide to take the kids out for a play before going home.  We can't go to our garden as they are putting in the playground.  I decided to go to the soccer pitch. We begin our game, and as the children are playing, I finally notice the large group of higher ups from the school- the director, the owner, the accountant, all looking at something.  I figured it was construction related (which is what this group is usually sorting out when I look out my window!) I didn't think anything of it, until the kids all stopped playing all at the same time, to stare in that direction.  "Look mees! Look mees!" I look, and see something black laying on the floor, about 7 metres away from us, in the school yard.  I thought at first it was someone hurt, so I just said oh lets go inside.  Then I looked a little closer and saw it was a cow laying on the ground...with its throat slit and blood everywhere!!! When I finally figured it out, the kids had seen it all- some had even seen the sacrifice actually happen- the knife to throat, blood spurting...well, I ran, dragging the kids with me, absolutely traumatised at what I had seen.  Once we got inside, the kids were showing me what the cow looked like- its neck was twisted and its tongue was hanging out and eyes bulging.  We had a little talk about the meaning of the sacrifice (see below!) and what a dead animal looks like.  They were not upset...I was!  I sent the kids home, and I returned to see the cow.  By that time the butcher had already done his work, and the meat was being given to the matrons and maids at the school.  Afterwards, I went to the director and was so embarrassed about the kids seeing a slaughter in the playground...she laughed and laughed and said they have all seen it before, and will all see it this week!  So, the moral of the story, I am running away to Cyprus so as to avoid the slaughter...and once in a while communicating to your staff about the slaughtering of cows (2 sheep were to follow!) in the playground is sometimes a useful thing! 
Cows being delivered for the sacrifice (seriously.  There are a tonne of animals on the road for tomorrow!)
Its been a while, but lets just jump right in to the slaughtering that is going to happen this week...Its Eid Adha, the holiday that also marks the pilgrimage to Mecca for millions of Muslims.  Here is a little religion lesson.  Ibrahim was going to sacrifice his son to God, and God stopped him at the last moment and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead, to show that he knew Ibrahim was serious about sacrificing his son.  On the spot where he was going to do the sacrifice, God ordered Ibrahim to build a temple.  This temple is the kabah, the black box that Muslims circle 7 times at Mecca (forgive me if this is not quite correct, this is the children's version that I learned at school on Thursday). So people are now on their pilgrimage, but people who are at home celebrate Eid.  This is when people buy a sheep, goat, or if you are of high status, a cow and sacrifice it in representation of Ibrahim's sacrifice.  The whole point is to give 1/3 of the meat to people less fortunate- your doorman, the maids and matrons and security guards, 1/3 to your family and 1/3 is kept by you.  This happens on Tuesday (thankfully I will be in Cyprus then!) and apparently there is blood throughout the streets...

Sheep on the side of the road, waiting for families to come buy them

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marriage Proposals and CEGs

I don't want this blog to be about work, but you all know how much I love teaching and love being around the kids.  So this is a post about my day since it was crazy and exhausting, with the usual Egyptian flair to it!

Today was Sports Day for elementary.  It was a lot of fun, but i have never had so many kids cry!  I did not organise the day, so perhaps the organisers can take credit for the tears.  But it was full on lay on the floor and cry like a baby day.  By the end of it, that's all I wanted to do!  And it was bloody hot again, so everyone had a hard time.

Next, parent teacher interviews.  Egyptian parents are VERY overprotective and very involved in their children's education.  I have 18 children and they ALL complete their homework every week.  ALL of them.  I have never had that once in the last 2 years of teaching!  At least they are over and parents and kids are happy! (hamd el eh la- thank god).

Next, the ride home.  We find a taxi since our bus took the load of people home earlier.  The road is bumper to bumper, and it takes 1.5 hours to get home (usually 45 minutes).  I guess I am getting used to the traffic since the 7 cars across 4 lanes didn't bother me! I only cringed once when I thought we were going to get sideswiped-  I used to just cringe all the time...But of course a few things happened (oh this morning, I saw 2 camels in the back of a truck). A motorcycle wizzed past us at 110 km/h with no helmets on and the girl riding sidesaddle (it must not be modest to straddle a guy on a motorcycle)  with 5 inch stiletto heels on!

After our near miss accident (and believe me, these are a dime a dozen) the driver decided to start talking.  After many translations from the Egyptian teachers in the car, he tells me and the American that he loves Americans and Canadians and they are number 1.  He wants an American wife because he is very rich and looks at me.  I say I am a Canadian.  Then I get the whole spiel of you are beautiful and kind and you have beautiful eyes.  Will you marry me? Yes CEG (CEG= creepy Egyptian guy), I want to marry you, who drives a taxi and smells and doesn't speak English Canadian girls don't fall for that!  Thankfully we had pulled up to our drop off place and I could make a run for it...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pyramids Galore!

Remember when you were a kid, and you really really wanted something for Christmas?  And you wrote Santa a letter, and you were good the whole year round, and your parents warned you that Santa is very busy and he might not be able to bring you your present?  And on Christmas day you wake up super early, and just hope you find that Barbie house under the tree? And you walked down the stairs hoping for a glimpse of the tree, and there it is, under (or beside) the tree is the Barbie house of your dreams?  Remember that feeling of seeing something you wanted for so long?  Well, that was what I felt like the first times I saw the Pyramids.  And they didn't disappoint!  I have wanted to see the Pyramids all my life and there I was, going to the Opera to see Aida with the Sphinx and the Pyramids in the background.  It was awe inspiring! 

Not the best pic, but this is the return of the Egyptian army in Aida with the REAL
Sphinx and Pyramids in the background!
The next day, I returned to the Pyramids with a carload of Canadians (and an American) to go for a sunrise camel trek- which was so fun!  I felt like I was travelling thru time- no cars, just us in the desert. We did trek along side the pyramids, but the smog levels were pretty high that day, so I couldn't see them until the sun burned it off. When I finally saw the pyramids up close, it was something like a spiritual experience.  The feeling of awe at the immense work that went into building them 3000 years ago is mind boggling.  It was amazing.  Words can't describe it, but a photo is worth a thousand words...

A few photos of our adventures! As well as a few photos of the Red Pyramid at Saqqara and the BEnt Pyramid at Dahshur.

Camels and Pyramids

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You Know You Are In Cairo When...

So, one of my earlier posts was about fighting the expat bubble- trying to embrace the culture and see past the Ace Club or the expat circle. This post is all about the fact that you will never forget that you live in Cairo because of the following...

1. They drive like there is a woman giving birth in their backseat...all the time! Zoom in and out of traffic and squeeze 7 cars into 3 lanes.

2. Donkey carts

3. The language- its hard to forget you live in a different place when you hear and see Arabic all the time

4. taxis...everywhere...all the time

5. The sweet smell of sheesha

6. camels and pyramids

7. packs of dogs everywhere

8. Piles of garbage that people just toss on the ground

9. breathing air you can see its so dirty
10. cat calls, hissing, kissy sounds and general ways to get your attention- that could go to a girl's head if she wasn't so creeped out by it!
11. people used to walk down these streets 1000's of years ago
12. People try to cross the 100 km/hour 7 lane highways
13. I see dead people twice a week on the 100 km/hour 7 lane highways

14. Signs like these.  This sign was found on the stall door of the women's toilets at the Hard Rock Cafe!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I like to talk about my experiences, but I don't usually like to brag about myself...but this time I am!  I usually have a good sense of direction, I can follow a map and directions someone gives to me to get me places at home or in NZ.  I get to Cairo and it turns out I have a great sense of direction- and those of you who have been to Cairo know how hard it is to get around and not a single road goes in a straight line.  I just seem to have a sense and know where to go.  I am the one giving the taxi drivers directions, and I am the one that tells our latest (we are onto number 7) driver to school which turn off of the Ring Road to take.  I figured out how to get to school after the first few drives- a few of the other expats and the Egyptian girl who comes with us STILL don't know how to get out there!  So I have earned the nickname Sacagawea after the Native American girl who was a guide for the Lewis and Clark expeditions in America. 

One day Sacagawea decided to go to Road 9 and do some shopping at the teacher supply shop.  4 of us took a taxi there, did our shopping and decided we would eat at Lucille's, a local burger joint (very good!) We were all tired after a long day at school, someone had a sore hip and I couldn't remember how far back Lucille's was on Road 9 (this is a road about 2 or 3 km long, with a lot of bars and restaurants on it as well as shops!) I was pretty sure it was in the middle, and we were at the end.  So we walked to McDonalds which was about 10 metres away from the teacher store and hopped in a taxi.  I said keep a good watch, I think its close!  Away we went, did a big loop since the road is a 1-way and travelled along...and kept going and going and going.  We finally saw a sign...for McDonalds (remember, we just jumped into the taxi at McDonalds)! and right across the street from McDonalds was....Lucilles! The restaurant was literally right across the road from the teacher shop. We just went around in a big circle. Needless to say, the taxi driver must have thought we had lost our minds...or how naive these "American" women are! (I can hide behind that when it is convenient!) I did lose a bit of standing as the compass of the group, although I have redeemed myself a bit after our driver got us lost in New Cairo! Lead on Sacagawea- most of the time!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ana gate...and Sand Storms, Arabic and McDonalds!

Ana gate- I have arrived!  Really, I just mean I am back.  I really like this term, and use it in the bus when we arrive at school, as the driver honks like mad to inform all of the residents, guards and teachers that we have arrived. I fell of the blogging wagon since school has started, there just aren't enough hours in the day!  So this is just a big mish mash of a post. I have also been taking Arabic lessons, so that eats up even more of my time.  But I am really enjoying them, and trying very hard to learn it.  Arabic is such a difficult language, and Egypt has its lingua franca (basically its own dialect of Arabic- they can understand the rest of the Arabic speaking world, but the rest of the Arabic speaking world can't understand them- meshy? that means ok?)  I am practicing with the dedas at school (our maids) but they are a lower class so their language is different again...but more on the class system later.

Last night was the first sand storm I have ever seen!  We were sitting having a wine and dinner out on the patio at the expat club Ace and the wind picked up.  We all thought it was going to rain, instead it sanded on us!  I think half the desert ended up in my eyes and the other half was in my lungs.  Trees blew past and I am sure a camel or 2 flew through the air as well.  I wiped my face off in the bathroom and the tissue was black!  Needless to say, I had to have my third shower of the day!  Certainly not something that I really want to experience again, but we have been told to be prepared for March, as that is when the African winds blow and we will be sanded over!

Today I have been shopping at Carrefour (the big French chain) to get classroom things as well as groceries.  We always have lunch or dinner after braving that shopping experience, as it seems like all 20 million people from Cairo are always there at the same time.  There are many choices at the food court, but for some reason all I ever want is McDonalds.  Its not like I eat McDonalds a lot at home, but here I think its the comfort food thing, it tastes the same wherever you are (Canada, NZ, Egypt!). I rarely eat meat here, so sometimes I just like a crappy Macca's burger (if you can call their burgers meat!) It does taste the same, but of course has the "local" special meal- NZ had the kiwi burger, here they have the McArabia burger.  I haven't tried it yet, but then again I never tried the kiwi burger either!

Recognised the world over!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Miss B Can we go Swimming?

I am back!  We finally have internet in our flat, so I can start posting any time I want! 

Today was the first day of school!  It was a very exciting day.  The last month has been very exciting, as the group of people who started the school have tried so hard to squeeze their vision into the physical building!  International schools are backed financially by a very rich person, or a group of rich people.  There is a group of 10 people who are the founders of the school, who have all be part of the process from the beginning.  They are a very inspirational group, and I have to say that with all of the stress and chaos that has surrounded us this past week with working in a construction zone, and with the Egyptian bureaucracy (more on that in another post!) we have all remained friends and have a very close feeling of family.

Our classrooms were finally finished last Sunday (the work week here in Egypt is Sunday to Thursday- something that is very hard to get used to!) and we were all supposed to get into our classrooms that day.  I arrived to find that I had half of a floor and no furniture.  It took until Thursday at lunch to finally get my floor in place.  The marble under the laminate had cracked and needed to be replaced.  So Thursday afternoon, the dedas (maids) and I cleaned.  Then I spent the entire weekend at school working to get set up.  The end result is good, but I sure am tired! 

The floor until Thursday!

The finished product!

I had a great day with the kids!  I have one of the largest classes in school, with 17 children.  So far so good!  I am glad to be a part of this school, and to be starting out something new.  I took the children for a tour of the school and we had a look at the pool...
Miss B, can we go for a swim?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Expat Bubble

I have heard about it, but after my first few weeks here in Cairo I never thought much of it.  At first, the 8 expats at my school were the only Westerners I had seen!  We were the only ones here.  So we kind of circled our neighbourhood, and hung out with each other at the local sheesha place.  Until the other Westerners started to arrive.  Turns out they are smart, and head home for the heat of summer until school starts (the majority of expats work as teachers or in oil here) Now, there are Westerners everywhere!  Wearing everything from booty shorts and tank tops to long pants and head scarfs.
The expat bubble happens when you live with other expats, and socialise with other expats, and go to expat clubs (there is a nice place called Ace down the road that serves booze and pub food, a little live music and a great patio!) and workout at expat gyms. And maybe look down your nose at the culture and its nuances, or not even bother to look at the culture. Or trying the language. Its so easy to do this when you live in a neighbourhood like Maadi, where the expat population is so high.  It is easy to miss, or dis, the culture around you when you are moving only in these circles. 
But how do you move out of these circles?  I can't speak Arabic, so its hard to find Egyptian friends.  Doing something I might do at home alone is sometimes not appropriate here (like go to a movie).  Joining courses and classes is an easy way to meet people, but I would be joining language classes, with other expats.  I have become friends with Egyptian people at work, but the male/female friendships here are very different (as in they don't happen- when I am with my guy friend here, everyone assumes he is my husband), and the work people don't live in Maadi.  I guess the question is, how do you make friends?  Its easy to say, but hard to do!
I am going to fight the expat bubble! I am still fascinated by the culture, and learning every day the way to do things (and not do things!)  and trying the language. I am going to start taking some courses (Egyptian food! Arabic!) and meet other expats, outside my circle, but also work hard to hang out with work friends, and get to know them and their lives. But I have to say, I will still enjoy that nice cold glass of wine at Ace!

4 Women With 1 Man = A Man With His 4 Wives

Or, Harassment

Before I left, I had read so much information about western women being harassed in Cairo, and it is a very common thing. The Lonely Planet and the blogs I read said some men will even be so bold as to grope you- since us westerners are all “loose”. I have been quite cautious about what I wear- long sleeves and cover my legs. One day I wore a t-shirt and a woman hissed at me when I walked by, but I am comfortable enough to wear a t-shirt and capris around my neighbourhood. And many Egyptian women who are not veiled wear tight t’s and short dresses. At this time (and its only been 3 weeks) I have not experienced near as much harassment as I had prepared myself for-only 1 day of it. The day we took the Metro to the embassies was the worst day as 4 of us women and 2 guys got on the mixed sex carriage of the train. Inside it was a wall of Egyptian men who blatantly stared…for 20 minutes! The women from work who wear “normal” clothes said its also our skin colour that attracts the unwanted attention, even if we were wearing the same clothes, and our hair- many men are not used to seeing unveiled hair, especially blond hair.

We stopped for a drink in a ahwa, a traditional coffee house and that was a mistake…those places are full of traditional Egyptian men. It was outright staring- some men even leaned off their chairs to look at us (we were wearing t-shirts). We then took the train home, and after watching groups of men push each other to cram into the last tiny spot on the train, us girls decided that it would be a prime groping opportunity so we took the women’s carriage (usually a carriage in the middle of the train that only women and children can ride in). It was much more comfortable! We met our male friend, who had been befriended by a greasy looking Egyptian man, at the end of the ride and decided to go find some booze (which is few and far between!) As we walked along, the man tried it on each of us- you wife? I said no (stupid me!) cause I thought he was asking me if I was my friend’s wife. He then told me “you beautiful” and said he would like to marry me…and grabbed my arm. I told him to go away and I walked up to the boy in our group, while the greasy Egyptian tried it on everyone else! Only after he left our male friend told us that the guy had asked him if all of us were his wives…only in the middle east!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Help, I’m lost!

We got a little lost on a visit to a mosque and Islamic Cairo. We stopped at 1 building and we were unsure if it was the mosque we were supposed to meet the others at. We decided to call them to find out where they were, but as we went to dial we realised our friend could not help us, because the landmarks are all similar-
I’m next to a sand coloured building;

There are lots of taxis;

There is a mosque;

There are lots of people;

There is a market.

These things do not help anyone in Cairo! EVERY building is sand coloured, every 9 out of 10 cars on the road is a taxi, there are 1000’s of mosques, there are 10’s of 1000’s of people on every street corner and in that area of town is a market everywhere! Luckily we figured it out and didn’t need to send up smoke signals, and made it to our tour.

Playing Chicken in the Roads of Cairo

I thought the roads were crazy in Maadi, where I live. Cars everywhere, horns honking, no break in the traffic to cross the road...I was mistaken. They are crazy downtown! I have told you about being in the car commuting places, but not about trying to cross the road! We ventured downtown to visit the US and Canadian Embassies and to see the Nile. As we got closer to the Nile, a large road was between us and the Nile Corniche. We thought we could wait for a break in the 5 lanes of traffic, but not a chance. It turns out you just have to go, and sometimes stand on the dotted lines between the cars. Once you start, you cannot hesitate. The cars will go screaming around you or aim right at you. Its like playing chicken (or Frogger, the Americans say!) with the cars. To get back across that road, we paid off a policeman to help us across…not much help as he nearly got killed and no one stopped for him! After this, we headed to a huge round-about and decided to get to the other side (only after we dodged cars we realised we could have gone underground thru the subway!) Again, we had to just go to get across, or if you can follow the Egyptians. The cars don’t stop for red lights or any crossing guards, so you just have to go and pray that someone will stop before they hit you (my handbag got clipped!) Then, the actual crossing sign is a person RUNNING, not walking!
The Nile
We also took a ride on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat down the Nile. I felt like Cleopatra…of course she wouldn’t have been surrounded by pollution or honking cars, but it was amazing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

Or, Prosperous Ramadan
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month when Muslim people fast from sun-up to sun-down. This is the first Ramadan that has occurred in summer in 32 years, so it is harder on everyone. I have heard many different reasons and meanings for Ramadan, and they are all lovely. Just as in any other religion, there are people here who have stronger faith than others. Women choose to wear the veil (hijab- a head scarf) for 2 reasons. Many women are un-veiled (I work with many women who don’t wear a head scarf unless they are praying). Some because it is culturally expected, and others because they have reached that level in their religion. So people take their fasting more seriously than others. During the fast, people abstain from 5 things- water, food, sex, smoking and impure thoughts. Young children, old people, unwell people, pregnant women and women who have their period do not fast. They are supposed to make up for the fast another time- some do, some don’t (I work with a girl who owes about 2 years!) Ramadan is a time for reflection, to reflect on what you have and to be grateful that you have it. Also to think about people who don’t have food or water. This is also a time to prosper- people give money and food to the poor (it is a Muslim’s duty to give to the poor all the time) and give food to passing cars when they break their fast.

The fast is broken with a feast (iftar) at evening prayers, and then again in the morning before the sun comes up (around 3:45 am). While walking thru Islamic Cairo just before the prayer call, people were setting up their food on the streets and getting ready for iftar. As soon as the call to prayer happened, people immediately had bottles of water to their mouths and started eating and smoking. And it was so quiet- eerily quiet in a city so large. At work today, us expats found a quiet room to eat in. We are all uncomfortable to eat in front of people who are fasting, although they say it is ok. It reminds them to be spiritual…I still don’t want to watch someone else eat when I am hungry!

Ramadan lantern and decorations at an apartment
During Ramadan, the time goes back 1 hour, so sundown happens earlier! Ramadan lasts for 1 month, and finishes with huge feasts. During this month, it is very family and friend oriented. People socialise and visit a lot, and have iftar at their houses. In many ways it is similar to our Christmas with eating and spending time with family. Some houses even hang lights with their Ramadan Lanterns. The lanterns are an Egyptian tradition. In old times, the Ramadan man would come to the houses with his lantern, and he would wake up the family to eat before the sun comes up. Now, every house hangs a Ramadan lantern during Ramadan to remember old times.
Ramadan lantern in the lobby of my building
So far Ramadan has been a positive start…tune in later on this month and maybe I will be singing a different song (people get grumpy and hungry!) when stores are always shut and I get nothing fixed in my apartment!

**This is what people at work have told me and what I have read. This may or may not be completely what happens- its just my perspective!

Funerals are Easier to Attend when you Attend the Right One!

This is a funny story, mixed with tears.  Our lovely Egyptian friend lost her father last week.  Very sad.  We went to the funeral to pay our respects, as you do.  We took our bus there, all of us expats from work.  The driver got lost many times, but we finally we found the mosque (it was one of thousands).  We all kind of looked at each other, and the Egyptians looked at us white people, and we took a deep breath and walked in.  When you go to a funeral, the room is divided with a wall, and the women sit on one side, and the men on the other.  The 2 men went to the men's side and we went to the women's.  Us white women sat in a row, facing about 6 Egyptian women, nodded and sat quietly. Our friend wasn't there, but we thought, its just the way here (by the way, it was about 930 at night!)  They begin whispering and poking each other, and finally, one comes over to tell us we are in the wrong place. (afterwards, my friend's said that would have been me if the situation had been reversed- I seem to be the spokesperson for our group!) The wrong place!  It is not Dalia's father's funeral, its someone else's!  Now that I look back, I laugh, because we went to the WRONG FUNERAL!

We left, and our friend's from work came to get us.  It turns out we were at the right mosque, but there were 2 funerals that night.  We just couldn't read the Arabic signs. So that was an interesting cultural/language experience!

Once we arrived at the funeral, it was very sad. It was more of a memorial, as her father had been buried the day before, on the day he died.  It is a Muslim tradition to wash and wrap the body in a certain way, and to bury it immediately.  I wonder if it also has something to do in the past from the heat.  
It was silent the entire time we were there, except for the man reading from the Quoran. It sounds beautiful.  I wish I could understand it.  We hugged our friend, and then sat down and it was a time to reflect.  And it was so deeply peaceful and heartbreaking to sit in silence and reflect on loved ones and loved ones who have passed, and to hold my grieving friend's hand. I found I really focused on the Quoran reading and it was such a profound experience, to sit in silence in a holy place and reflect on life and the passing of life. 

A Mosque in Islamic Cairo

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Doors of Hell Opened, and then Opened Again

Or so the people here say…I haven’t talked about this yet, but the heat is intense. I arrived during a heat wave, and I have never felt anything like it. It was about 46 degrees Celsius out, with humidity of about 30%...the Internet says feels like 52. So you can see how the doors of hell have opened! I didn’t deal too well with the heat that week, from being dehydrated and jet lagged. I had heat exhaustion at one point which just goes to show how bad it is. I make sure now that I drink about 3-4 litres of water a day!
The heat is constant, but the heat wave broke…to a lovely 36 degrees Celsius! This is actually manageable, most days.


(mom, this is just from my friends telling me all about it- I would never try it ;)
Think of the fat caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland who always has a sheesha (hooka) pipe in his mouth, smoking lazily from it and blowing smoke rings...well, that's it! Sheesha is a favourite past-time here in Egypt. It’s available everywhere, from the ahwas (traditional coffee houses) to our local hangout down the road. Sheesha is a water pipe with tobacco that is mixed with molasses. The tobacco is also soaked in a flavour, like apple juice for apple (You can get mint, watermelon, melon, lemon, orange, strawberry etc). There are coals placed on top and a pipe part to smoke from.  When you breathe in the smoke goes down the pipe, thru the water and out the mouthpiece- which is plastic and hygienic! Sheesha smells really lovely, and not at all like cigarettes and the taste is whatever flavour you choose.  Its still bad for you, even though people have told us the water is a filter...I read its like smoking 5 packs a day.  But once in a while, its a nice way to wine down--although a glass of wine would be much better!

No Problem, no problem!

The school is so not finished. It’s a beautiful school, with marble everywhere (black and grey and white) and all the amenities- apparently we are lucky and have more grounds to play in that many other schools- and there is not a lot of grounds for our western standards! They will still be doing construction around us as we teach. We mention that there is still work to be done, and the answer is no problem, no problem! This is the answer to everything, and we are learning that it’s the answer to things when people want to avoid dealing with something or don’t have an answer. There is dog poop on my stairs- no problem! We have no water- no problem! (we still have no water) We want to go to Maadi in the taxi- no problem! (driver can’t find where we live) We want to sign our lease- no problem! (we still haven’t signed it)
**I typed this a few weeks ago, before I had internet access...
The school- still not finished!  Still no problem!  We have no grounds finished, no pool, no basketball court etc.  I could go on and on!  I did manage to have a map in my bag to show to the taxi driver, there is still dog poop on the stairs in my building (a new pile), we did get our water back (but it goes away at dinner time!) and still no lease...but this has been explained to us- Egyptians will do it in their own time (we can add Egyptian time to Island time, and other "times" we have heard of- I think maybe its just us North Americans who have set times and we follow them!) and because it is Ramadan it takes even longer to get things done!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Indy 500 on the Streets of Cairo

Taxi in downtown Cairo

Or, regular commuting to work in Cairo.
This is the scariest thing I have ever experienced. It is SHOCKING how crazy people drive here. In Canada and NZ, these people would have had their licences removed for good, but here it’s the norm! Traffic rules are non-existent and signalling and headlights are only fancy decorations on your car. I have seen everything from mopeds (with a family of 4 on them) to cars from the 50’s to brand new Jeeps driving down the highway (as well as a pile of precariously stacked boxes of explosives, I kid you not!) The highway to my school is 5 lanes across, and at the best of times there are 7 cars across. They drive down the middle of the lanes as well...the white lines are decoration only. I could reach out the window and touch the other cars, which of course I don’t since we are going 90 km/hour. Then you add the people who are crossing the highway at random places and it gets hectic!

People honk for many reasons, and they seem to know what each honk means. Obeying the honk is something else. Short honk means I am passing you, I am coming up behind you, I am passing you on the shoulder, you are drifting into my lane, or I am going to squeeze into this small space. Longer honks mean you are not moving out of my way, you are going to crash into me, you are stopping and I don’t know why, get out of my way or we are in a traffic jam, I will just honk. Seriously.

Then there are the taxis. Taxis honk when they see a light skinned person like myself from down the street, then as the come up behind you, then as they pass and then again once they have passed…and then they back up and ask "Taxi?" Just in case I didn't hear them...

My Flat

I arrived at my flat at 4 in the morning. It was down a very quiet street with lots of cars (now that I see Cairo, there aren’t that many cars) and the door was wide open…not too secure! The marble entry way was not well kept, so I was a bit worried about it all but the flat itself has recently been redone, and we have marble through-out, as well as wooden floors. Everything has worked out and I love where I live! Nothing hugely different, other than the marble bathroom and granite counter tops!

We have been taken very good care of. Dalia and Mahmoud, who both work for the school in admin areas have been amazing. They spent our first week in Cairo running us around to banks, shopping and to find cell phones, as well as helping us to sign our leases and sort out any work needed in the apartments. They are locals, and live in our area of town. We even went to Mahmoud’s birthday party!

The other expat teachers and I have all banded together. We live within a block of each other, and it’s nice to be close since we have spent so much time together.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I live in the “expat oasis” of Maadi. I have yet to see more that a few westerner’s at the supermarket, and other than us I haven’t seen too many. From the sounds of it, most people are away for the summer, and the hot August month. The Egyptians who live and work in Maadi are used to seeing foreigners and their lack of clothing, and some speak a little English. The roads are dirty and covered in sand and rubbish, and the sidewalks are broken and also dirty. People walk down the roads instead. People like this area because it is cleaner than the rest of Cairo...I know, I said it was dirty! Its also very green- there are lots of trees here. There are cars everywhere, parked on the sides of the roads, driving down the roads and honking at everyone and everything. Taxis always honk as they come up to you, as they go by and after they pass- just in case you didn’t see them, or hear them the first 3 times. People so far have not even bothered to look at me! Which is fine with me. The ones who do talk, have been so friendly. Their English is very basic, only knowing a few words.

Friday, August 20, 2010

First Impressions from my Arrival in Cairo

I arrived in Cairo, Egypt after 2 days of travel. The flight itself was interesting, with people taking out their Qurans and praying at their chairs. And a very noisy flight- it was my introduction to the night life here, as the city comes awake after 8 pm. Here are my initial impressions:

-the heat was like a blast from a furnace- it feels as if I am standing next to a fire all the time

-the airport is surrounded by sand

-looking at the city as we flew in gives the impression of no order- the streets are all in circles and there is no straight lines

-Cairo goes on forever

-the drive to my flat was terrifying! No lights, lots of honking

-the people would give you their shirts off their backs-culturally they seem to give, give, give

-constant haze that you think is clouds (if you’re from the country) but its smog, and a constant smell- dirt and sand and heat coming off the ground