Wednesday, October 19, 2005

day in and day out

Here in Egypt I definitely do a lot of the same things I would do at home or probably almost anywhere else in the world, but often these things take much longer, take more effort, or are simply so different that it's a little mind boggling. Here are just a few of those things...

1. Taking a shower. You may have seen the pictures in my first photo album. My shower is approximately 2' by 2', and has no shower curtain. I am happy not to have a shower curtain because the shower is so small that I would probably have panic attacks if I was closed in the space. However, it is very interesting to take a shower in this space. The shower head points straight down and often splashes onto the floor or sometimes even the toilet. When I am under the water, it flows freely out onto the floor. By the end of my shower, there is probably a gallon of water standing on my bathroom floor. I have a squeegee on a long handle, which is supposed to enable me to move the water into the drain on the floor. Unfortunately, the drain in my bathroom is on the other side of the toilet from the shower, and my squeegee is probably 5 years old. Not much water gets moved, though I do it anyway to pretend that the grout in the tile is going to last forever. For some reason, taking a shower and squeegeeing the floor takes about 10 minutes longer than taking a shower at home. I don't understand this at all, but whatever.

2. As Egypt's culture becomes more conservative, one of the "new" things that has happened is that going outside with wet hair is a huge faux pas. Apparently it means you've been up to something inappropriate, because why else would you need to take a shower? Since men here already think western women are loose and can be treated as such (see earlier post: "eew"), it's best not to test this whole wet-hair thing. Which means that I must get up about 2 hours before I need to leave, so my hair can dry. This week Sarah and I bought a shared blow dryer, with a diffuser and everything, so I can damage my hair to once again cave to cultural norms. I don't plan to use it every day, but even this past couple of days I have noticed that blowdrying my hair takes longer than I remember it taking at home. The electrical system here is different and appliances work differently. hmm.

3. Crossing the street. Most of you have read already my newsletter in which I discuss the perpetual game of frogger that is Cairo city streets. It is very dangerous out there, but I have become quite proficient at dodging cars, motorbikes, donkey carts, bicycles, horses, and McDonald's delivery mopeds. However, it takes quite a bit of effort to cross the street, and sometimes it takes several minutes, so you have to really want to go somewhere.

4. Eating. One must first go to the store to get food--no easy task. Leave the school compound, cross the street, wend your way through the large groups of people at the bus stop right in front of ZamZams. Get inside, beware if it's prayer time because the shop owner spreads his prayer rug in the middle of the store. The shop is about 12x12 (feet) (maybe) and is crammed with stuff. You can get sandwich bread, beans/lentils, pasta/rice, tomato paste, ketchup and mustard, NesQuick, candy and cookies, milk and juice (orange, apple, mango, pineapple...only sometimes can you find the no-sugar-added kind which is best), yogurt and two types of cheese, toilet paper, and a strange variety of other things, most of which you don't need, at ZamZams. For eggs you go to the egg man, a few doors down. For bread you normally go to the bakery just a few doors before ZamZams, but during Ramadan the bakery is closed. For fruits and vegetables, you go to the suuk--about a 15 minute walk and another street crossing away. For other items (like cereal, a wider variety of juice, peanut butter/jelly, sandwich meat (which I obviously don't need but some of my fellow YAVs do), "normal" cheese, any western food like Mac-n-Cheese, or Dr. Pepper) you must go to a supermarket--like the MetroMarket, AlphaMarket, or Carrefour. MetroMarket is easily accessible by metro (25 minutes, 1 pound 50 round trip), by the tram (20-ish minutes, 50 piastres round trip), or by taxi (about 15-20 pounds round trip). Alpha Market is only accessible by taxi or really long walk. Carrefour requires a car. What I'm trying to say is: you don't just run out for something. You have to plan a little bit, run to the right place at the right time, and be prepared for them not to have it/not to be open.

Once you've got the food, you have to cook it. Now, I'm the first to say that cooking takes time. But when packaged food is readily available you forget how much longer cooking from scratch, with extremely fresh ingredients, takes. At home I might use a pre-packaged tomato sauce, add sauteed veggies, and put over pasta. Here I have to wash the veggies really well first, I have to make the tomato sauce from paste and fresh (and sometimes canned) tomatoes, cook pasta/rice (no instant rice here), and then I'll be able to eat. And when you live in a culture where prepared food is common (fuul, tameyya, kusheri, etc) and ridiculously cheap, then when you have to take time to cook fresh food it seems like such a hassle. Now that it's Ramadan and prepared food isn't available, eating is taking much more time and effort than it did in September--or than it will in November through August!

5. Washing dishes. This is such a hassle it's ridiculous. I make so many dishes with all the steps in cooking (see above) that my dishes pile up like crazy in my one-part-not-very-deep-sink. The faucet is placed much too high for a sink so shallow, so water splashes everywhere as soon as I think about turning on the water. Should water hit a dish or, god forbid, a spoon, then not only will my dishes NOT get clean but my entire kitchen and most likely all the clothes I'm wearing will get drenched. It's quite an experience.


This is just a small glimpse of everyday life. I am not saying these things are bad in any way (except the dish washing, maybe), just different. I have noticed I am more tired here though I feel like I do less, and I think it has much to do with how much more effort it takes to do things. Combined with the heat and the pollution, it's a very interesting life here. So far, so good! :-)

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