Shar in Egypt, Part I

The past two days have been a wild blur of excitement for me. On Monday, I could barely make it through the school day knowing I’d be picking Shar up at the airport later on that day. My excitement was mixed with anxiety – what if something went wrong? What if she missed the flight or couldn’t get into the country for some unknown reason? I spent my prep periods alternating between grading and obsessively scrutinizing Lufthansa’s website for flight information.

My favorite aspect of this was the weather report. The site boasted clear skies over Frankfurt. Cairo, however, had one word beside it: sand. I think this is a very defining example of Cairo and the weather here. Also, I’ve seen the weather icons for “partly cloudy” before but I’ve never seen one for “sand”:

My driver, Alfie, had a good sense of humor and was super informed. I ran into the airport, sat on the phone with Ashley, and then headed over toward the trickle of passengers that had begun forming by the gates. I can’t convey the excitement I felt upon seeing her coming out. It was a mixture of relief (she hadn’t been murdered or robbed between Customs and here) and pure excitement. It’s also a strange thing, seeing someone so incredibly familiar in a setting that is completely unfamiliar to them. But we were both ecstatic.

It should be said at this point that despite Alfie’s amicability, I was worried I wouldn’t recognize him. I am terrible with faces, so instead I focused on his bright yellow pinstriped dress shirt. As Shar and I came to the parking lot, we fielded many invitations from cab drivers. The key is to keep walking and ignore them. Feeling like a pro (but unsure of where Alfie’s car was) I led her through the parking lot as one driver began calling to us: “Cab! Free cab! It isfree!” and then: “Nicole!” We’d walked a good couple of meters past him at that point, and I felt terribly guilty for not having recognized him. To be fair, he had put a black coat on in my absence, and that completely screwed up my yellow shirt plan.

she made it!

Shar woke up on Tuesday and ran with Ian and I at 5:30 in the morning, a feat which earns her major kudos in my book. But when faced with the long school day ahead, she decided she’d spend the day catching up on sleep, which was no problem for me. Tuesdays are marathon days for me; I teach periods 1-6 nonstop, and there really wasn’t anything exciting going on. The highlight of the day was when I confidently strode into my boss’s office with a pile of copies and tried speaking to her in Arabic.

I learned a new word that translates to “no problem” or “no worries,” and it also sounds really cool. Mis-mushkela is the phonetic transcription, but I’d look it up to be sure. When I said it, she stared at me for a minute before laughing in my face. (She does this pretty frequently when I try to speak Arabic, so I’m used to it.)

“What are you trying to say?” she said between peals of laughter.

“No problem,” I repeated.

“You’re saying ‘apricot’! You’re saying mesh-mesh.”

If anything, I enjoyed brightening her day, as she’d already explained earlier that they’d all been under serious amounts of stress in the weeks leading up to accreditation. I was thrilled to board the bus at 3:45. A one-hour commute stood between me and rugby and going out with Shar.

But of course, today would be the day a fifteen-car pileup would clog the Ring Road. In the two-hour bus ride that followed, I read an entire book. (And I get serious motion sickness, so to be able to read on the bus means it wasn’t moving.) It actually worked out well, because by the time I finished, we were just turning off the Ring Road to take an alternate route when we looked ahead and saw traffic jammed up for miles and miles.

“It’s going to be at least another hour, probably longer,” Raymond, our boss, said.

It was already quarter to six, and I couldn’t fathom sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for at least another hour, so I closed my book and said, “Would it be faster to walk?”

I was only half-joking. Jen shrugged and said, “It’s about two miles. You could walk.”

So I packed up my bags and asked if anyone was coming with me. At first, the handful of people on the bus did not seem to want to. Jen worried about whistles and stares and Blanca worried about finding our way (as did I). I wouldn’t have minded walking alone, as I could go quickly, but I didn’t have my pepper spray. There was still some daylight left, but the commute is terrifying in a bus and moreso on foot; there are no traffic rules, people wander in front of massive 18-wheelers (we ended up crossing one as its grill precariously edged closer to us), cars take off against traffic or up entrance ramps, and microbuses are constantly disposing of throngs of passengers, usually all male, who frequently get into fist fights or catcall.

Still, I was ready to face it. Luckily, Blanca, Jen, and Raymond got off with me. As we walked, I scanned the roadside for a sizable rock, just in case, and stooped down to pick it up.

“What have you got there?” Raymond asked.

“A rock. Just in case.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

I know it was probably unnecessary, but after seeing the rock, I couldn’t help but envision a scenario where I was being assaulted by a robber and thinking, “Damn, I knew I should’ve picked up that rock!”

It took us 45 minutes to walk home, and by the time Blanca and I hit our road it was dark out and my shoes were filled with dirt and sand. Still, as we passed the endless line of unmoving traffic, it felt wonderful to be on foot.

I didn’t make it to rugby, but Shar and I headed over to the BCA for dinner and drinks. At a little after 9, the rugby crew trickled in, and I enjoyed introducing her to everyone from rugby.

egyptian beer

Shar has been commenting on little things about Egypt that are different from home, but she really got a dose of the Egyptian lifestyle on the cab ride home. We shared a cab with my friend, Simon. Simon was very drunk at this point. He was seated in the front of the cab and Shar and I sat in the back. As the cab ambled over a railroad track, a car pulled up alongside us and men began whistling and howling at us through the window.

“I should get in the back with you,” Simon told us. “I don’t want you back there alone.”

I waited for Simon to ask the driver to pull over, but instead, he said, “Roll down your window.”

Confused, I did, and horrorstruck, I watched as Simon pulled himself out the passenger side window and onto the roof, where he disappeared before kicking his feet in through my open window and slinking in beside us. Before I could summon any words at all, we were nearing home, and Simon decided he wanted to get back on the roof again just for kicks.

Though I tried to restrain him by pulling on his legs, he clambered out the window again and back onto the roof. At this point, the cab driver had a few options.

In the US, maybe he’d pull over and shout. Maybe he’d get pulled over by a cop. Maybe Simon would have been arrested.

In Egypt, the whole spectacle was a fun game. Our driver smiled and laughed as he swerved the car at top speed down the road, trying to fling Simon from the top. Though Simon seemed nimble enough, I seriously worried for him up on the roof. At one point, he poked his head in Shar’s window, a look of pure excitement on his face, before disappearing back onto the top. (Shar, a new camera owner, managed to snap a blurry shot not unlike the famous bigfoot photo.)


We stopped at the end of my road and Simon slithered back in the window and into his seat. Though the event seemed hilarious, I was absolutely terrified, and hoped he made it home safely. Shar was very pleased with the insanity of it all, and really got a taste of the serious lack of rules here in Egypt.

And now, with a few wonderful days ahead, I’m going to try and show her all that Cairo has to offer. Off to take pictures!

Categories: Egypt

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