After being in Egypt for almost two months now, I think that I (along with most of the other international students) have officially left the honeymoon period. We’re all finally starting to fall into a routine, but that’s not to say that a normal day here isn’t still full of strange experiences. Basically, I just no longer expect anything to make sense. ‘Normal’ here is being able to understand about 10% of any conversation around me, and utilizing lots of impromptu sign language. Here are a few examples of everyday life here that I’ve been meaning to talk about:
1. Currently, we’ve been faced with the task of renewing our visas. Most of the international students were only given tourist visas, which last anywhere from 1-3 months. We now have to reapply for student visas, although a good number of students have ended up just paying for another tourist visa. I’ve gone to the building twice to try to figure it out, and today was given the task of tracking down room P-041. My friend Gwen and I wandered onto the right floor (‘P’ for Plaza), and saw room 021 to our left, and 078 to our right. Upon realizing that this made absolutely no sense, and that the numbers followed no apparent pattern, we both immediately said, “this looks about right!” We were eventually lucky enough to run into a friendly Egyptian man who pointed us in the right(-ish) direction. I still have no idea if I’ve made any progress on my visa, though- I was just handed yet another piece of paper and told to come back in a week.
2. My friend Alex went to the clinic the other day because of a headache. The nurse, upon seeing his high blood pressure, told him to lay down for fifteen minutes to relax before going to the doctor. Instead of actually relaxing, he was soon joined by another nurse who started rapidly speaking in Arabic. Once she found out that the half-Egyptian Alex didn’t speak Arabic, “relaxing” soon turned into “fighting with the nurse over what languages you should speak”. Eventually the nurses gave up, and we waited for the doctor, who was on her five minute prayer break. I was expecting them to give Alex some medicine out of this whole ordeal- at least some pain relievers. The doctor ended up not knowing what Excedrin was. Her prescription? Drink hibiscus tea- and lots of it.
We deduced that the illness was most likely from the food we’ve been eating on campus. The only options that we have are the “Americana Food Court” (McDonald’s, Subway, and Italian food), Tabasco (a 24-hour restaurant), and Omda (traditional Egyptian food). None of these offer anything of substantial nutritional value on the menu. Salads are almost always iceberg lettuce, and rarely fresh. I guess this just goes to show what eating at an “American” food court will do for you. Egypt will have an obesity epidemic before you know it!
3. There’s also something to be said for the student newspapers around campus. They’re all written in English and Arabic- the front half is in English because it is read from left to right, and the back half is for reading Arabic from right to left. The English writing is a little questionable, but the issues themselves are pretty interesting. One of the current debates is about whether AUC should build a legitimate mosque on campus. There are already ‘prayer rooms’ on the top floor of most of the buildings and near the dorms, but students complain that they are difficult to get to, hot, and crowded. Since the vast majority of the student population is Muslim, it’s easy to see why this is such a big issue. Nonetheless, this is the “American” University in Cairo, which implies certain standards, including a secular campus. I’m looking forward to seeing how this debate plays out.
The tenet of Islam which calls for prayer five times a day has actually provided one of the most obvious differences between the States and Egypt. Restaurants, security posts, offices, and even the CityStars Mall have designated prayer areas. Security guards will routinely pull out their prayer mat and face Mecca right at their post, uniform and all. It’s one of my favorite ‘norms’ here. I’ve also noticed that many of the men here have a dark circle on their upper foreheads. It took a few days, but I finally realized what it’s from. While going through the motions of prayer, they touch their heads to the ground repeatedly. Doing this daily results in the dark mark that you see here.
Sorry for the complete lack of posts lately- it’s midterms week here at AUC, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library. I have a big test on Wednesday, so I’ll be free to update more soon!