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!