I have had quite a few Skype dates with friends and family back home recently, and it has been really nice to see my some familiar faces again, but these Skype dates have shown me how difficult it is to properly relate my stories from Egypt to people who haven’t been here. Though I didn’t struggle to adjust, so many things about life here in Egypt are so different than they are in America, that when I try to tell my stories to someone who doesn’t know Egypt they sometimes seem to make very little sense. Here is a series of amusing anecdotes for you, and I will try to relay enough background information that you can understand their context as well. Hopefully they can bring a smile to your face as you imagine these sorts of occurrences which are now a part of my daily life.
A Haircut Costs a Chicken
David, one of my classmates on the program, is living in a homestay with the kindest woman you could hope to meet, Mama Batta. She is famous among students on our program for sending David with a bag full of sandwiches, and if you start pondering lunch at just the right time, you can often score a Mama Batta sandwich for free (Thanks Mama Batta/David, y’all are the best). Anyway, early in the program she was assuring him that students who stayed with her were free to practice their religion in her house, there was no problem whatsoever. David has a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor, and made a joke that he would probably need to sacrifice a chicken, and Mama Batta immediately said that was fine, she would just need to put plastic down. We had all heard this anecdote, of course, as David’s birthday was approaching. I joked to Matthew that we should buy him a live chicken as a present. This idea was an inspiration to Matthew, who purchased a chicken at an outdoor market near his dorm and brought it to the Middlebury apartment on Sunday. When David finally arrived we presented him with the chicken and had a good laugh, and then we had to determine what was to be done with it. Matthew, who was in need of a haircut, decided that he was going to attempt to barter the chicken for a haircut. A few of us followed him to the barber next door who required very little convincing to accept the chicken in exchange for a haircut. Granted, the chicken had cost 30 guinea, and a haircut should be in the neighborhood of 5 guinea, so it was a good deal for the barber, but also it was a live chicken rather than the much simpler to deal with money. When Matthew passed the next day the barber informed him that he had eaten the chicken that night, and thanked him very much for the exchange. Only in Egypt…
People Pay You to Ride in this Car?
In addition to driving being literally completely insane, many taxis are in….interesting condition. One stands out as being definitely the worst. When we arrived in Cairo last month, our coordinator helped us get taxis to take us to the hotel. To begin, the man told us the meter was not working, so our coordinator was sure to tell us exactly how much to pay since she knew where our hotel was. Four of us piled into the taxi with our luggage, and we took off, looking forward to our weekend in Cairo. We immediately noticed an incessant beeping every few seconds, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It became increasingly clear that our driver had no idea where our hotel was (despite having assured us he was familiar with it), and we drove around in circles asking several random passersby for directions. The beeping continued under all of this confusion. Suddenly, as our driver was attempting to execute a three point turn, the car sputtered a bit and stopped. He got out, and opened the hood to figure out what the problem was. My friend who was sitting in the front seat turned back to us and said “Literally every warning light on this dash is lit up! I’m not sure how this car was moving in the first place.” This explained the incessant beeping. After doing I am not precisely sure what under the hood, our driver got back in the car and drove us a few more blocks. We couldn’t see our hotel, but he pointed to the right and said “It is that way, it is down there just a bit.” We headed “that way” with our suitcases in tow and walked for almost ten minutes with no luck. Finally we stopped and asked a man if he knew our hotel, and he pointed in the precise opposite direction, of course. We finally arrived, though I believe we were about half an hour behind the group that had left the train station at the same time as us.
Look! Americans! Quickly, Change the Music!
This is actually one of the most amusing things about Egypt: if a group of us enters an establishment for the first time, oftentimes said establishment switches to their American playlist. Now some of these have been put together nicely, and include music of a certain genre that matches the general atmosphere. Other times this is less true. Some of these playlists are a virtual dumping ground for all things American, and will play Frank Sinatra, Usher and Grease Lightning back to back. There is a cafe that a few of us have become regulars at as it is both near the dorm and has Wi-Fi that most of the time works. The cafe itself is very nice, always clean, and looks out on the Corniche. It looks like an ideal place to do homework. The first few times we went there however, they blasted their American playlist at incredibly high volumes. Their American playlist included Candy Shop, Get Low, and other similar songs that are not necessarily my preferred study music. Now that we are regulars they tend to keep their usual music playing when we are there, though I was there on my own the other night and they played Jenny from the block three times in two hours, which given that the waiter knows me was possibly related to my presence. Oh well, anything for Wi-Fi and a good cappuccino.
Anyway, I hope these few anecdotes can entertain you for now. I am sure there are more to come!