Hello friendly shopkeeper I bought a water bottle from this one time, would you mind if three Americans crowded into your shop to interview you?

I know my last post was recent…but this one was too tempting to miss sharing it…

At the end of last week, all five of the Egyptian roommates on our hall whose job it is to help us with homework when they are around traveled and they all have yet to return to Alexandria. This became a challenge for me and the two other girls in our media class as our homework for tomorrow morning entailed asking four Egyptians an 8-question interview about their news reading and watching habits. We ran into each other in the hallway and debated what we should do. We decided to try our luck outside.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had bought a water bottle (and a kinder bar, whoops!) from a very nice man–whose name I now know is Salah–who either owns or works in a convenience store around the corner from our dorms. He was one of the people, like I mentioned in my previous post, who was so pleased to meet an American learning Arabic, and was more than happy to let me attempt to speak. He seemed like an ideal candidate for our somewhat absurdly long interview, so the three of us headed for his shop.

“Hello a second time!” I said as we entered the crowded little shop. He seemed genuinely excited to have us there, and was extremely accomodating as we stumbled through our very detailed questions. When we didn’t know the names of newspapers he wrote them out for us and had us copy them down. As we were interviewing, people would come by to get a soda or a water bottle, and as the three of us basically filled the space of the little shop, Salah would ask us to hand him whatever the customer was asking for. All in all this process took about 20 minutes.

We were somewhat lost for a next stop but decided to try Aseer Mecca–a juice counter by the dorms that a few of us have frequented in the evenings. I was a bit tentative about this choice, as Aseer Mecca is always quite crowded with customers and some people who just seem to hang out there most of the night. At any given time there are four or five employees within earshot and perhaps 20 or so mostly young men scattered about in front of the shop. But we decided to go because we at least knew the shopkeeper was nice and would recognize us.

He was also very accommodating, but I definitely felt like we were often in the way of the many nighttime customers at Aseer Mecca. Eventually, he called another worker up to the cash register and stepped aside to answer our questions. Luckily, this time around we had practiced them once and were familiar with the way the questions should sound. We obliged by buying some juice and thanked him before heading off for our third target.

It was at this point one of the other girls remembered that Mohammad (a University of Alexandria student who works for Middlebury) was currently staffing the Middlebury apartment. He at least was somewhat required to put up with us, and we had met him during orientation, so we went there. After that things passed much less publicly and eventfully than before. Still, I guess this is what adventures abroad is all about!

The two men whose business we interrupted are beautiful examples of Egyptian hospitality. True, in this case we were not in their homes, but both of these men went out of their way to accommodate foreigners who needed to conduct interviews through a language barrier. However embarrassed we felt, neither of these men tried to make us feel at all guilty for what was, in all honesty, a rather inconvenient request. This spirit of hospitality and accommodation is one of the things I love about Egypt so far. This is an assignment I won’t soon be forgetting…

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