Throughout Egypt, cats are like US squirrels, or pigeons. They’re EVERYWHERE. Seeing as our dorm units are mostly outdoors until you get to your actual bedroom door, it’s not uncommon to hear about cats exploring our rooms and lounges. It doesn’t really bother me- they’re usually in good health and just curious. There are also stray dogs that travel in packs right outside the main gate into campus, and sometimes one or two will manage to sneak inside. All of these animals are surprisingly fit, in good condition, and even tempered, but a few of my friends still insist on lovingly naming every stray animal they see “Rabies”.
The felines are just another example of the strange norms of life here. One of the most frustrating differences between life here and in the US is not the constant presence of religion, or the language barrier, as I expected. It’s the pace that things tend to follow. We all joke about the proper way to walk like an Egyptian: as slowly as possible. Getting to class can take twice as long if you’re walking with a local friend, given the various stops to greet other friends, talk on cell phones, and get sidetracked in general. In Sharm al-Sheikh, we had limited time to get back from dinner and change before the concert, so obviously our Egyptian friends were moving slower than ever. One or two of them would disappear at random, reappear with food or money, and stop to talk to friends. This also happens when we’re waiting to get food. There usually isn’t a proper line or number system, so hoards of people just surround the area, and sometimes you get what you actually ordered. The menus also change spontaneously- restaurants are usually out of most things they offer, and one even tried charging us double for our meal, claiming that we had ordered off of an “old” menu, and prices had been raised since then. It’s annoying, but it’s part of the experience. My friends and I have taken to reminding each other that “We’re in Egypt” whenever these things get us flustered.
Speaking of food, I’ve been tempted to try one of the local items on the menu at McDonald’s: the McArabia. I think it’s lettuce, tomato, and kofta (…some kind of meat) inside a piece of naan/pita bread. I tried ordering it off the menu the other day, but they had run out of it- go figure. At least I’m not going to go hungry anytime soon. My roommate, Eman, seems to have decided that I’m going to starve to death unless she feeds me, so I’m usually greeted in the morning with some bread, cheese and tea. It’s kind of like when you go to visit your grandma- she literally will not let me turn down food. I think she’s warming up to the idea of having an American as a roommate, though. Despite our immense language barrier, she sometimes asks me what my plans are for the day, and if her outfit looks okay. Now we both help each other on our Arabic and English homework, too. It’s nice!
The other day, Eman let me take a look at some of her English books. One was full of paragraphs and short stories to read, mostly about North American and the United States. It was really strange to read about the US from this perspective- the book talked about how Americans value their time like money, and are more uptight about it, and even how US youth have much more freedom when it comes to their religion, dress, and careers. Eman is taking a ton of classes to improve her fluency through the English Language Institute on campus, which is the sister program to the Arabic Language Institute that a lot of the international students are in. There’s a big separation between the students who are fluent in English and those that are not. English speakers were commonly educated in British or American schools, so they tend to be wealthier and more westernized. Non-English speakers are usually here on scholarship and are more traditional when it comes to religion and dress. It’s often their first time away from home. Jihad, one of my suitemates, walked with me to class the other day and expressed how much she misses her family. They live in UAE, in Abu Dhabi, and she has never been away from them for this long. A lot of the other Egyptians on campus go home for weekends regularly.
Oh- before I forget. The time changed again with the end of Ramadan, so now I am 10 hours ahead of Californians. Apparently it will change yet again sometime soon for some kind of daylight savings time, but who knows. Sorry that this post is kind of all over the place- I keep remembering random things that I want to include. Next post: my trip to the pyramids!