Possibly the best kind of day is a day that is inexplicably great for some undefinable reason. The day when I saw the pyramids, for example, was amazing and unforgettable and all of the above of course, but there was a very clear reason for it. Last Wednesday was perhaps an equally perfect day, though I did nothing quite so remarkable as seeing the Pyramids. My residual good mood from Wednesday has kept me in very high spirits even as the academic load here has decidedly picked up in the past week or so.
It started off great anyway, as I only had one class which didn’t start until 11, so I finally got a decent night of sleep. As I leisurely rolled out of bed and strolled to class around 10:45, I was delighted at the 70 something degrees of perfect weather with the slight breeze that makes Alexandria such a pleasant place to be at this time of year. My class was with one of the most thoroughly entertaining professors I have ever had, and I consistently laugh straight through his class while somehow still managing to learn a lot of Fusha (standard Arabic). When class ended two other girls and I were done for the day at 1 pm, and we decided we needed to take advantage of our oddly light workload and the perfect weather. We went to my regular sandwich table where I eat at least three times a week (two bean sandwiches for 2 guinea/~30 cents…if you branch out from beans it costs only marginally more). We ate them on a balcony at the Medina, then dropped our school bags in our rooms and headed out for some wandering.
We wandered along the Corniche by the sea for a few blocks first. We came across a group of 24 street cats casually lounging around a bag that it appeared had once contained fish–I have since concluded this weirdly large gathering of cats was almost definitely the Aristocats, though sadly they did not sing and dance while we were there. We stood for a while cooing over the cats, and particularly two adorable kittens among them, and a man about our age came up next to us to welcome us to Egypt. We surprised him by responding in Arabic, and proceeded to have a lovely conversation which ended with the discovery that he was also a student at Kuliat al-Adab (the Department of Literature) where the TAFL Center is located, so perhaps we will cross paths again.
One of my friends has been in need of sunglasses for the entire month since we arrived in Egypt, so she decided this was the time to finally find some. We walked to Ibrahimmiya, which is a neighborhood with a lot of semi-outdoor shopping. On our way there, we were distracted by a jewelry store window. As we were inspecting the rings, a girl of about 7 approached us to introduce herself. We got past names easily, but after that the combined effect of her very soft voice, and the fact that she was somewhere between 3 and 4 feet tall made it quite difficult for us to understand her. We finally realized that she was asking if we were married as a group of three shabab (as we sometimes fondly and sometimes slightly less fondly refer to young Egyptian boys or men) wandered over presumably to help translate. The timing of this exchange meant that as they arrived we were assuring Rahama (the girl) that we were not in fact married, which prompted her to pick one of the three shabab for each of us and somewhat insist that we marry them. Luckily for us, these particular shabab seemed a lot more friendly than creepy, and did not jump in on the marriage joke as others might have. We were particularly grateful for this given that they appeared to be about 15. Thoroughly disappointed that she would not be witnessing a triple wedding in the street, Rahama ran off, and we were left to once again surprise Egyptians that we speak Arabic. We chatted for a bit with the shabab, telling them that we were studying Arabic here and where we were from. They asked why we would bother to study Arabic when so many Egyptians already speak English, we laughed that off, and joked about how surprised we were that we met three guys none of whom were named either Mohamed or Ahmed. They did compliment our Arabic, and for the most part seemed to understand it, which is by far the biggest boost of confidence I can get in Egypt.
We got to Ibrahimmiya, my friend purchased two pairs of sunglasses, and we continued to stroll through the outdoor markets. We turned down a side street that sold mostly meat–which in Egypt means it is filled with live animals including bunnies, chickens and various other birds, and even a giant sea turtle. We talked to the man with the giant sea turtle for a while (also understood and complimented our Arabic–10 points for Gryffindor!). He told us that sea turtle meat is delicious (I don’t plan on learning first hand) and it costs 90 guinea a kilo (~$13.37). He also asked about where and what we were studying, and once again the conversation was very uplifting.
The sun was still shining, and we had a bit of time left before we had to be back for dinner at the Medina, so we returned to the Corniche and stopped in Cafe Venezia, which we frequent for its Wi-Fi. We all ordered “Ice Mocha” which turned out to be a heavenly and rather unexpected coffee-chocolate milkshake, so that was a plus. After Medina dinner, the whole program and several of the Egyptian roommates went bowling, and we had a good time relaxing and getting to know some of the Egyptian guys from the men’s dorms a bit better. All in all it was one of the best days I have had in a while, though I did not do anything particularly out of the ordinary. The perfect weather and wandering with friends combined with the much appreciated lack of harassment to put me in a very relaxed and contented mood. Street harassment is normally a problem here–particularly for three obviously non-Egyptian women walking alone–I will address this on the blog at a point when I have had some more time to consider my own thoughts on the matter. However days like last Wednesday always serve to remind me that the men who think it is okay to shout “Hey beautiful/sweet/honey/etcetera” to us as we pass are a minority, and if you get the chance to talk to most Egyptians here they are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could hope to encounter.
I keep feeling like my blog sounds like the chronicles of an oddly cheerful person, and I promise you I am not trying to make Egypt sound sunnier or more wonderful than it is. There are certainly problems in Egypt, and anyone who follows the news will know that. A lot of the problems are internal political issues that have minimal effect on my life here, though for Egypt’s sake I hope they are resolved in the near future. Some other problems do affect me, and in particular Egyptian expectations of women which can often be a bit of a hassle for us. I will discuss these issues here at some point, but I want to ensure I have a better and deeper understanding of the situation before I make a public comment on my issues in Egypt. On top of that, these issues are primarily marginal to my daily life, and they are not impeding me from having a truly wonderful experience abroad. I cannot remember being happier than I have been here in Egypt so far, and so my blog reflects that. I am sorry if my cheerfulness gets dull! I am also sorry for my lack of pictures–often when I am walking around I am doing everything I can to convince Egyptians that I am not in fact a tourist, and constant picture snapping doesn’t tend to help. I will try to get more in the future, but it does not always feel like a good idea. Until next time!