Friday, February 20, 2009

The first two weeks...

So, this is it everyone, the first installment of my so-called "Blog" of my Egyptian adventures. Needless to say, the account of my experiences in China left much to be desired and had many holes, which, I am glad to say, are not really holes, but only appear that way online. Seriously, it's all recorded somewhere in my journal, I swear! At any rate, I shall endeavor to make a more complete account of my time here in the Middle East for each of your reading enjoyment(s)(?).
I guess I should start on the day I went to the airport in Salt Lake. After visiting Rexburg, where I went dancing, and hanging out with friends in SLC, which are, of course, very important things to do but of a completely different ilk than this account is meant to convey, I began my journey as all journeys begin--late. Not so late that I was all that worried about missing my flight, but just late enough to add wings to my feet. (Or lead, as I was driving my car.) And, of course, there were not one accident, but two (yes two, within 100 yards of each other. Stressful day to be a cop I'm sure, especially when you're covering one accident and are suddenly called up to the next, which has just occurred.) slowing traffic on my way to the airport.
Got there safely at least, and parked my car in one of the absolute farthest lots away from the terminal I needed to be at, and then had to think of what to do with my keys, as Erin, my sister, was picking my ride up later that day. I finally settled on an ingenious arrangement involving a tin can, an unlocked rear door, the trunk, and an Ensign, to sufficiently hide the keys while they waited for the advent of their procurator. Then I headed into the airport for the first leg of my trip.
When I arrived in Denver, I found that London, my next destination, was under a foot of snow and shut down indefinitely, but the nice people at British Airways (Illhamdu lillah! praise be to God!) Sent me over to Lufthansa airlines to be rerouted through Frankfurt, getting me into Cairo four hours earlier than planned. (Note: This sudden turning of the weather is by no means an uncommon occurrence for me, and sometimes I feel akin to the "rain god" in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Winter weather followed me into China where it shut down 5 provinces for a week, then again came with me to WA state, to shut down the Portland area, and then actually thought it would be smart and head me off at London, but I tricked it and headed south. In Egypt it won't find me. Inshallah (God willing).
Wouldn't you know that the first person I really met when I got to Egypt was my crazy cab driver Sayyid, who was infinitely surprised by the fact that I didn't smoke tobacco (or hashish), drink, or have sex, and then proceeded to tell me all about his two wives, six kids, and how he was "number one crazy. Saddam Hussein, he number two crazy." At least he spoke a little English and was able to get me to where I needed to go.
After hauling my 60 pound suitcase, laptop, camera, and backpack full of books up four flights of stairs, I met the Ali family, who had graciously invited me to stay with them until I found a place of my own. Phyllis is a teacher here at the CAC (Cairo American College, which is really a HS/Junior High) and Adel, her Egyptian husband, does real estate...or something, I think. Sarah, their 24(ish) year old daughter then took me to meet the extended family, who, as is typical in Egypt, all live in the same apartment building, each son of Adel's father having their own floor. There was much rushing by the women to cover their hair with their "hijab" (the handkerchief-like headpieces to cover their hair, which, I found out, are more a part of popular culture than religious observance, as sometimes they just decide it's not worth the trouble...haha) and excited speaking of Arabic, and confusion on my part other than, if I recall, a very short introduction by myself consisting of my name, and a few "itsharafna"s (pleased to meet you). Lena, who is 6 or 7, took an immediate liking to me and determined to single-handedly teach me to speak Arabic, beginning with "hazozo," the word for bracelet. So far I've learned the words for necklace, earrings, watch, sandals, and shoes as well from her. :-) Man I love kids.
Fast forward a few days. I arrived Wednesday night, and met the branch here on Friday (the day that the Muslims have their weekly meetings at mosque, and which the church has also determined to be the best day for religious observance of the Sabbath.) It was fast Friday, but I can't recall if I fasted, it being my second fast day that week...I did bear my testimony and meet a lot of cool people. And learn about the upcoming Chili cook-off...more on that later.
Saturday found me searching for the Fajr Center for the Study of the Arabic Language. I found it, with Adel's help, and went through most of the registration process, then returned Sunday to complete my registration and pay my fees ($250 for a 75 hour group class in formal Arabic, or Fusha), and Monday to begin class. I would say I was surprised to find that I was the only person in the class, but they'd told me about this possibility and I was quite satisfied with the outcome. I mean, that's a great price for one on one. What was NOT so great was the fact that after every 4 hour session on the first three days I left class with a headache. My instructor, Abdu, insists that only Arabic be spoken in class, and only uses his limited English in emergencies, which is great for teaching the language, but not so much for the comfort of my cranium. After the fourth class, however, I found that I was headacheless. Excellent, now I can study like any other class (ie. right after it finishes) instead of having to have some cool-off time for my overtaxed cerebrum. Since then, Josh, a guy from church also studying Arabic, has joined the class, and things have become a bit more lively. We don't go through quite as much stuff, but we have a lot more fun. And, I am finally starting to be able to make sentences and express simple ideas, not to mention making all of the exquisite gutteral sounds that are nonexistent in English. (I swear, we went over all those letters in one throat was SOOOO dry afterward...) There are also some interesting gospel parallels in the language, like the fact that the colloquial word for bread, "aieesh", literally means "life," and that the word for planet, "koukeb," is extremely close to the word "Kokob" used in the book of Abraham. Type and a shadow in all things, for sure.
When I haven't been in class, I've spent time studying, wandering the streets, figuring out the insane mini-bus system here, which is in reality a most excellent mode of transportation, as the drivers know exactly where they're going and for what price (unlike most taxi drivers, I've found out, much to my dismay and that of my pocketbook.), and looking for an apartment. Had several leads, but then struck gold after I posted an add on Craigslist. I was contacted by a housing agent informing me that his Egyptian friend was in need of a roommate. Turns out that Ahkmed, who is now my roomie, is the owner of a local fruit and veggie shop known as the tree, after the large live tree growing through the roof in the middle of the store. Very noueveau if you ask me. I pay under $200 US per month, get wireless 3G internet, a room to myself, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables I care to eat.
Speaking of food, I've found several things I love here in Egypt. Beginning with the falafels. Crunchy deep fried balls of goodness, falafels are the best friend of the Egyptian on the go. Here, they're made by grinding raw fool beans before mixing them with spices, and sometimes wrapping them around an egg, and dumping them into a vat of boiling oil. Coupled with tomatoes, cucumbers (which I can actually stand now for some reason), and an amazing sauce, all stuffed into fresh pita bread, they make for a great, quick meal in the morning before class. And the fact that all the sandwich guys shout out my name when I enter the store makes it that much more appealing. (I'm a regular there now.)
Juice shops abound, and serve everything from fresh guava, to sugar cane, to berry yoghurt banana delight, to carrot juice. (I asked for that once by mistake. I will never forget the word for carrot I'm sure...) Finally, there's Koosheree, a blend of rice, macaroni, chickpeas, and tomato sauce, sometimes with a nice sauce of foolfool kheimy (hot peppers) which most Egyptians don't like, but I relish. (China sort of spicified my palate I guess...)
Oh, and spiciness reminds me of my former vow to share the most excellent insanity of the branch chili cookoff with you all. There were entries claiming to be everything from South American shamans who ate the prepared peppers to see visions, to a recipe rumored to be from an Egyptian tomb and translated with the help of Hugh Nibley, to a long Welsh named chili, to what Joseph Smith declared to be "the pure Adamic chili." I think that I preferred the chunky, tender meet and slow-cooked perfection of the "South American" chili the most, though the "insert unintelligible long Welsh name here" chili came in a close second.
So there you have it, a short synopsis of my first 2 weeks in Egypt. So far I haven't seen the pyramids, been attacked by a terrorist (unless you count rabid taxi drivers at the airport), or spit on by a camel, but I'm sure those things are sure to come. I'll keep you informed, hopefully at the relatively short interval of every two weeks. (Inshallah!)


Joseph in Egypt