Reflections on two months in Cairo

So one of my roommate's parents are in town and we spent the afternoon touring around the Citadel (a major tourist attraction in Cairo) with them. Talking with her parents, who had never been to Cairo before, made me realize how much I've adapted to life here. I no longer worry about basic things like hailing a cab or buying food and I've grown to tolerate a lot of Cairo's more irritating idiosyncrasies like the congestion, smog, and harassment much better. But when I was talking with her dad about living in Cairo and he asked me what I missed from the US while living in Cairo and what I would miss from Cairo once I returned to the US it sort of floored me. I guess I'd thought about it before, but I couldn't really come up with anything to say at the time so it got me thinking.

I've been here in Cairo for almost two months to the day which means, as much as I hate to say it, that I'm almost halfway done with my time here. Realistically I know that the next two months and change will fly by faster than I can really know.

So what have I been missing from the states? It varies a lot from day to day but the biggest one, of course, is friends and family. I have gotten close with some of my roommates here in Cairo and it's such a comfort to be able to come home and talk to people who are experiencing the same things I am, but I really miss my friends from Olin and though I make healthy use of skype, it's of course not the same.

I also miss my professors at Olin. Decamping to another school for a semester has really taught me how lucky and spoiled I have been to have access to the kind of quality teaching that the professors at Olin provide.

What I miss the most frequently here is a broad variety of good ethnic foods. There's no chance of getting Ethiopian food here and the tofu pad thai, while recognizable as such, just isn't quite enough to ever satisfy my craving. The restaurant scene here is pretty dominated by Middle Eastern food. I really miss Mexican food. I'd even be grateful for one lousy Anna's burrito. Apparently there is a decent mexican place in Cairo (yes that is one mexican restaurant worth mentioning in the entire city), but it's way out in the suburbs and pricey :(. I will miss the local specialties of tamiyya (a variation on falafel) and koshari (macaroni, lentils, fried onions, chick peas, and sauce all mixed together, it's way more delicious than it sounds).

At the moment I really miss my laundry basket. Our apartment floor has washers and dryers but I hate making the dash from laundry room into my room with my arms overflowing with clothes and underwear terrified that a bra will slip from the pile and scandalize our Egyptian guards.

Did I mention that the American University in Cairo places guards on our floor (I'm in a university apartment) who make sure we're secure 24-7? They're absolutely wonderful men and really look out for us, but they are Egyptian so we try not to walk through the halls in pajamas or revealing clothes as you might the dorms at Olin. They're really sweet and I'll miss them when I go back to Olin, but it's also nice to be able to toss my laundry in the dryer or visit a friend down the hall in pjs or shorts.

What I'll miss coming back to Olin?

A big one is living in a city. I'll really miss being able to hop in a taxi and go somewhere, not worrying that everything will be closed after 8pm (as it sometimes feels in Needham), and being able to walk to everything I'd need in terms of groceries, class, or most other things.

I know I'll miss cooking for myself. I know that with my schedule at Olin it's just not practical but with the food prices here and the lighter workload I've really grown to enjoy cooking for myself everyday and shopping for groceries. I think I generally eat healthier than I would at Olin and it's relaxing. Tagging along with the lighter schedule here is the extra time I've been able to spend traveling, relaxing and going to the gym. The hectic pace of life at Olin can really get in the way of focusing on taking care of myself.

I'll also miss the weather here. I really played it smart missing spring semester at Olin when I get so sick of it being gray and cold for day after day and the winter seems like it'll never end. The weather here so far has been absolutely gorgeous, day after day of blue sky, mild breezes, and warm weather. However, I might change my mind about how great the weather is once it really starts heating up. We're supposed to break 90 in the next couple days. Fortunately it's dry heat so I don't feel it as much.

I'll also miss some of the cultural aspects of living here. You develop different kinds of relationships with people here, like I have a regular green grocer that I go to for my fruits and veggies and the Tammiya (falafel) guy across the street knows my face and can expect what I'll order. This happens at Olin too, we all make friends with Rosemary and Stefania in the dining hall as well as the other staff, but it's nice to have it happen outside a small community like olin. It also gives me plenty excuses to practice my Arabic which is, of course, improving much faster here than it ever did in Boston.

However, the downside to the friendly culture here is that sometimes people get too friendly and in not such a nice way. As a foreign woman in Egypt I get harassed regularly on the street, mostly just small verbal things but it can really change how you feel about Egypt and Egyptians, particularly the men. I've heard several different theories, but I still don't understand why some people here are so intent on getting my attention or why they do the things they do. For example we had lots and lots of children say hi to us today at the Citadel and ask us what our names were. It was cute and harmless though it did slow us down a bit. However, when my roommate had her crotch grabbed (we say "grabbed" but in Cairo that usually means what by American standards would be considered a pat) by a teenage guy it really becomes invasive and offensive. Fortunately these incidents are not very common. Personally I've only had one or two people touch me here; however, it is definitely something that has really changed my behavior in Egypt with respect with men. Needless to say I won't miss it at all.

Anyway, that's a story for another entry, but to end on a lighter note here are pictures from all the fun touristy things I've been doing.

Inside the tomb of a butcher to the royal household in Saqqara.

The Step Pyramid (the oldest pyramid) and assorted ruins.

Mohammed Ali Mosque in the Citadel in Cairo.

The white desert. This rock formation is called the chicken and the tree.

And of course, the obligatory camel ride to the pyramids in Giza

Hope you're having just as much fun as I am :)


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