Tumult and Rugby

For those of you following the news – or even simply catching an earful -, you know that Cairo is experiencing some turmoil right now. (The real question is, when isn’t Cairo experiencing some kind of turmoil?) In the short time we’ve lived here (I say we, meaning myself and other expat friends), we’ve come to accept tension and uprising as part of the daily grind; it’s almost pointless to mention that there will be protests in Tahrir over the weekend when there’s rarely a weekend when there aren’t protests. So when I learned about the rioting in Port Said – which is about 120 or so miles away from Cairo – and the 74 deaths, I was unsurprised. I don’t think the severity of it really set in until we got to work on Thursday.

We had a moment of silence, and the day progressed almost as usual save for the canceled field trip. Many of the teachers were upset, and my students were anxious, many of them scared. We had barely made it through third period when we learned we were getting out early and school would be canceled for Sunday due to safety concerns. Apparently, though, this was only unique to our school; my friends are still heading in tomorrow, although my extra-diligent and devoted friends who usually take a bus in on Saturdays to get work done mentioned that their bus was canceled.

Here’s what I can tell you. My colleagues are upset; some of them spoke apologetically, telling us that Egypt just isn’t like this. People are appalled by the lack of intervention by police and security forces during the game. The majority of Egyptians I’ve spoken to believe the military is behind this; people who attended the match testify to watching the military open the gates, allowing people to pour down into the field and attack each other. Because of the violence, they have declared three days of mourning. I’m not entirely sure what this entails, as most businesses have been operating as usual, but it does seem a bit quieter at night. Protesters have again flocked to Tahrir – not unusual, as I’ve said – to rally outside the ministry buildings, and Cairo is all over the news again with reports of kidnappings taking place out in the Sinai area.

Everyone is worried because there doesn’t seem to be much direction here; people are anxious about what’s going to happen and there’s a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty here. I don’t pretend to know it all or to assume a false air of security when I shouldn’t, but I will say that I still feel safe.

Kyle and Beth both messaged me on Facebook to see how I was, and I notice lots of people posting on my roommates’ pages, worried. It’s hard for me to write that I feel okay while all of this is going on; it’s a strange dichotomy. Maadi is a bubble, which is good in some ways, although it can be a bit isolating. It’s easy to read the news and hear “Cairo” and think that all of the action is concentrated in one area, but Cairo is a big city. So right now, I do feel safe in Cairo, although my heart goes out to my students and their families and everyone else who has been affected by the violence in Port Said.

My roommates and I are often asked why we would choose to live somewhere like Cairo. Personally, I was drawn to Cairo because of its history and it being in a stage of transformation, and it’s interesting to witness and I’ve learned a lot. I am also drawn to the whole nature of being somewhere unpredictable. Coming home from rugby yesterday, Will asked Toshi, who used to work in Japan but now manages a branch of the company here, how it was working with Egyptians and if he’d want to go back to Japan. Toshi said that yes, of course it’s different here, because the Japanese work ethic and the Egyptian work ethic are completely different (talk about dichotomies). But, he said, “In Japan, everything starts at the same time. The train comes at the same time each morning. Work starts at the same time every day. Meetings start at the same time. Lunch is the same time.” Everything is exact and punctual. And that’s how it is in the Western world: punctuality, routine, familiarity.

Here in Egypt, if you’re late, you’re running on “Egyptian Time.” People are rarely punctual, meeting times change, school times change, everything is subject to arbitrary changes. This isn’t unique to Egypt; people in Bolivia ran on Bolivian Time, people in Argentina on Argentinian Time, and people in India on Indian Time. While it can be frustrating at times – when I say things change, I mean they change with no notice or warning and certainly not in a timely fashion -, I enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen each day. I enjoy having a different teaching schedule at work every day because I avoid routine and sameness. Every day is different. And I think it’s healthy and useful to be able to be flexible – really flexible – and accept and deal with sudden changes. I’m still not great at it. I still get frustrated. But if I wanted stability and predictability I’d stay in the US.

I’ve been looking for the same type of coffee now for two weeks; I bought it at Metro, and haven’t seen it since. When I’m not trying to bake something, it’s almost fun. You can go to Alpha Mart on the Corniche and be told that you’d have to know someone in the Embassy if you want baking soda, and then go back a week later and find shelves brimming with it. When grocery shopping, we have to make two trips to two different stores. It’s not convenient. But I like it. You learn from it and grow when you stop relying on things to happen as they’re supposed to and learn to be more laid back and accepting.

Cody has told me numerous times how he wants to continue living in “third world countries” and save the “first world” until he’s older. At first I thought that was appealing just because it sounded cool and adventurous. Now it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve been asked what I want to do post-Cairo, and I know for a fact I want to be abroad again, and in a developing nation. I have no desire to live in or teach in a Western culture right now. Maybe someday, but not now.

I realize I’ve written nothing about rugby in this entry despite the title. I’ll write another one later, because rugby sevens yesterday was phenomenal, and it deserves its own entry.

Categories: Egypt

1 reply »

  1. “Cody has told me numerous times how he wants to continue living in third world countries and save the “first world” until he’s older” You know me, looking at the other side of the coin, if you don’t put away some money you will not be able to afford to live in the first world.

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