It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re pleasantly stuffed. Simon and I have worked out a deal: he’ll come by and wash, cut up, and prepare a fruit salad for me if I cook him dinner. While it does stand that cooking is a bit more of a process than cutting, I have always enjoyed cooking. Slicing grapes and strawberries, however, is utterly unappealing. Tonight, I branched out and used my coworker Teresa’s recipe for chicken and broccoli, and though a bit more garlic and soy sauce wouldn’t have hurt, it was still very tasty.
I really should cook more. If I’m not cooking, I’m going out, ordering in, or snacking on pretzels. And I think I’ve been overindulging in all of the above. Point in case: Gringo’s. Gringo’s is a new Mexican place that’s opened up around here, and its clientele has accumulated due to vicious word of mouth. Dave, the owner, is known by everyone except me, it would seem. Fortunately, even if I do meet this Dave fellow, he will not be able to trace me to the obsessive burrito-devouring girl that calls at least twice a week; by some happy accident, Dave has my last name listed incorrectly on the receipt. I’ve called so many times now that it would be socially unacceptable to correct him and would actually only make me look bad.
So, instead, I’ll cook. In an effort to be a culinary queen, I’ve decided to acquire some essential herbs and vegetables. This has been no easy task. Last week, our boss spotted a cart of fresh garlic and had the bus pull over to the side of the ring road so he could purchase a kilo. Due to a miscommunication, he received ten kilos, which resulted in a minor acquisition for me and a half an hour bus ride spent gagging. I promptly placed the garlic on the balcony, where it has weathered the recent dust storm in a plastic bag.
Today I went to purchase a plastic jar of ginger, but a woman was having a nervous breakdown in front of the spice shelf. As I studied the labels, I couldn’t help but notice her cowering beside me, clawing at her cuticles in a way that might have earned her a part in Black Swan. I wasn’t sure what to do but decided to leave when a store employee dashed over with a chair and her eyes began looking a bit more shifty. I opted for ginger root instead.
You might think that with all the eating I’m doing I’m gaining obscene amounts of weight, and you might be right. However, I’m attempting to counteract this with vigorous exercise. I’ve been running, sometimes twice a day, and a recent discovery involving how to properly throw a rugby ball has reignited my love for the sport. The highlight, however, has been the free time we’ve had at work lately. The kids have half days for exams, so the rest of us enjoy a fairly free afternoon. Susannah and I felt inspired to go for a walk/run on our “track,” a rectangular thing that loops around a small soccer field. We don’t know how long it is, and neither does the gym teacher, but he was quick to stop Susannah in her tracks and explain that she was walking the wrong way. We thought this was humorous until the following day, when the same teacher stopped another employee to tell her that she, too, was running the wrong way. Furthermore, he warned, if she continued to run the wrong way, she would suffer heart conditions and problems with circulation. For running the “wrong way” on the track.
After that first day, we recruited a small crowd of athletically-inclined employees who joined us for running, walking, and basketball. The gym teachers continued to actively police the track traffic, which is good, since apparently we’d all be misguidedly walking in the wrong direction if they failed to do this.
Shannon and I played a basketball game against three of the Arabic-speaking teachers, one of whom played in a sling. It’s been a while since I played basketball, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. From a Lifetime perspective, it’s also fun because we all suffer from a solid language barrier most of the time, and sport seems to bridge that minor gap in communication. We’ve essentially bonded over basketball.
Unfortunately, today I couldn’t do much because I didn’t get to school until almost 11am. As Susannah and I prepared for our massive spring break plans (which kick off this Friday), I realized that I had only one page remaining in my passport. Frantic, I made an appointment with the American Embassy to get pages put in. I figured the trip would be quick and painless, and envisioned myself entering a vast, marble building teeming with jovial Americans who would leap out of their offices and embrace me upon my entrance.
This was not the case.
I spotted our flag flying behind a high wall, along which stretched a long line of Egyptians. I walked to the end of the line and waited a grand two minutes before walking back up to the front and asking a helpful, English-speaking Egyptian woman for help. She and her husband were waiting for something regarding their passports, and she guided me to the front window, graciously letting me in first.
Thank God for that. My purse was checked four times. The first time, my camera, iPod, and flash drives were all confiscated and put in a baggie.
“You must leave these outside,” said the Egyptian woman. (Where were my American comrades??)
“But, I don’t know anyone outside! I have no one with me!” I sputtered, panicked. (My driver was lounging in his car back in Tahrir.)
“You can leave them at the grocery store,” the woman informed me.
The idea of leaving my precious electronics at a tiny Egyptian grocery store seemed akin to me handing them to a thief in an alleyway. Luckily, the woman from the line was right behind me and told me I could leave them with her husband, who would be waiting outside. I did this.
Again, my purse set off the electronic gate, and I had to have it searched. Again.
This time, they searched the side pockets and pulled out six flash drives. I had forgotten that I’d put my students’ flash drives in the side pockets and immediately felt inexplicably guilty, like they’d just discovered a few ounces of cocaine or something. Good thing I didn’t have my pepper spray.
I managed to look pathetic enough for the woman to take pity on me. She stuffed the six of them in her pocket and waved me in after asking me to uncap one of the seven whiteboard markers I had in the bag.
After I went through two more bag checks, the process went quickly. I thanked the woman from the line and her husband, who’d kept my things safe, and debated tipping him. (I decided it might be offensive, because they weren’t workers.)
As my driver headed into a thickening sandstorm, I thought about my experience, and wondered how on earth the embassy would be of any help to me or any other expats should danger come to us. We’d probably be stuck in a line outside, passing valuables out to the grocery store.
We drove back to school in the middle of a heavy sandstorm where tumbleweeds the size of cars bounced along the road with us.
Glancing out the window at the melee, I wondered for the first time in a long time where exactly I was, and how it could be so incredibly different from anywhere else.