Friday, 31 August 2012

The wake-up catch-up

Every so often, I'll finish a blog leaving something unsaid.  Last night, I knew that my ramblings were getting a little lengthy, and the hour was getting late, so I figured I'd leave out this part of last night's conversation.  Unfortunately, I woke up after far too short a night's sleep and my mind went back to one of the questions the manager asked me last night.

"What do Canadians think of Egypt?"

I started by confirming my impressions of Egypt to date.  The people are incredibly helpful and so far I'm thrilled to be here.  I love the history here and the museum was incredible.  At this point he stopped me and asked me to redirect my thoughts towards my impressions before I got here both of Egypt and the Middle East.

With apologies to my grade 9 geography teacher
I would anticipate that most people's immediate thoughts would gravitate towards the following:
  • Geographic features:  Nile, Desert, sand, Suez
  • Cities:  Cairo, Alexandria
  • Exports:  Oil
  • Monuments:  Great pyramids, Sphinx
  • Historic Figures:  Cleopatra, Tutankhamen, Ramses
  • Movies:  Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Taylor
  • Zahi Hawass:  (gets his own category)
  • Politics:  The Revolution
  • Artifacts:  Hieroglyphics, mummies, Rosetta Stone
Middle East?

Given that our conversation was more philosophical than superficial, I didn't share these initial thoughts; but I realized that in my mind, Egypt was a country without a category.  It came as quite a surprise to me ... and I'm glad that my Liberal Arts training helped develop my "where did this thought come from and what am I going to do with it" skills so that I could communicate this concept with some hastily constructed justifications.  When I read the BBC, it still feels strange to be clicking on the Middle East when I'm looking for articles about Egypt.  Iran and Iraq ... definitely part of the Middle East.  But Egypt ... it feels like a country of its own.  I know that Egypt is part of Africa, but I think of Africa as those parts south of the Sahara.  Overall, the best description I could come up with is an Arabic Athens.  Egypt has that Mediterranean feel to it in my mind and that separates it from the other African and Middle Eastern countries.  But, there's a little too much sand to place it totally within the Mediterranean category.

We have always treated Egypt as a source of awe and amazement (which is probably why the revolution seemed to come as such a shock).  I remember when the Tutankhamen artifacts came to the Royal Ontario Museum; the tour spawned a two-year Egyptian art pop-culture fad.  I can't think of a movie based in Ancient Egyptian History that wasn't a success:  Cleopatra (and upcoming remake), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy.  Until recently, any press that I can remember has always been sympathetic to Egypt.  Unfortunately, the best description of how Canadians feel about Egypt escaped my mind at the time - when I told people that I was moving to Egypt, the vast majority of people either wanted to visit Egypt or knew someone who had been and loved it.  And with a sly grin, I now get to say, "I'm here."

Well, for now I'm preparing to return to my battle with the greedy washing machine.  I'm hoping that they're able to repair it on Monday as the contests of wills when I'm trying to open the door is getting tiresome.  As school starts in three days, it's definitely time to get my prep done and lessons prepped.  And depending on how my day goes, tonight may end up being one of my geeky tourist moments as I've yet to take any photos of Cairo at night.

Finding some semblance of comfort

The school feels vaguely movie-like - at times I'm Clueless

After a little over a week of trips to and from here, I'm starting to feel a little more grounded.  Oh, I still have my Alicia Silverstone moments while there, but I'm feeling vastly better than I did 10 days ago.  My classroom is coming together, and along with an extra day of work time (Sunday wouldn't have felt like Labour Day anyways), I'll be at the point where I can say enough.

Yup, palm trees in the courtyard.
Getting ready for class has been a relatively all-consuming endeavour for the past week.  A large part of my workload has been developing and arranging all of those things that I never anticipated would need to be considered.  What's my late policy?  How will I deal with classroom management issues?  I assure you that this isn't going to devolve into one of those "teachers are underpaid because nobody knows all the things we do..." soapbox sessions, but I never really realized how much goes on behind the scenes.  Even having done my three practica during teachers' college didn't really prepare me for this.  But, given that today was payday, I shan't dwell on the negatives for too long.

6th of October City
During the trip home today, I was looking out of the window and realized that surprisingly enough, Cairo is starting to feel like home.  Oh, it's a little bit lonely at times, and my list of valuable phrases has only increased from about 5 to 15, but I'm at that point where sights are starting to seem familiar.  I'm no longer shocked by the pedestrians that cross the highway in the morning; although they are helped by the speed bumps in the highway (Giza's way of trying to encourage drivers to maintain a speed of 60 km/h), I still don't see myself trying that crossing anytime soon.  I've actually started to internalize the sensations felt during the drive so I can slip in and out of consciousness on the way home and wake up when we exit the highway at Maadi.  I'm even starting to recognize some of the strays in my neighbourhood.

In case anyone is considering visiting me, my current list of valuable words/phrases is:
Sah-baht  al  Care ... Good morning                             Mah-sah  al  Care      ... good evening
beh-kom  dah       ... How much is this                          Mah-ah-sah-lah-mah ... goodbye
Lao  Sah-maht      ... Please                                          Fa- heem                  ... I understand
Mish  Fa-heem     ... I don't understand                         Shh-mel                    ... left
Share-ah  meh-teen  Cam-sa - sab-bah-een ... Road 275
Yeah-mean           ... Right                                            ah  lah  tool               ... straight ahead
Yell-ah                  ... Let's go (thank you True Lies)     in shah-al-lah            ... "if god wills it"

As I'm sure you can imagine, I rely heavily on Mish fa-heem right now.  I'm sure there will be others that I thoroughly enjoy, but in shah-al-lah has to be my favourite.  Although there are theological overtones of fatalistic beliefs ... that isn't the true meaning in practical use.  The first usage is ... I've got a two o'clock appointment and I'm running behind and traffic is hell ... I will arrive there in shah-al-lah (ie  at some unknown later time).  When I return to Canada, and Shannon asks me when I want to go to Red Lobster, I will definitely employ the second usage.  Given that underwater cockroaches (lobster, shrimp) are my least favourite meal, in this case it means something like "if god wills it, I'll go there but don't expect that I will unless fate compels me."  In effect, it's a very polite euphemism for never.

Just a couple of quick vignettes from tonight and I'm done.  I decided that I'd walk to a new wireless store to get my data topped up, and couldn't find where it was located.  Oh, I'd drawn myself a sketch of my route ... but street signs don't exist here (that I've seen), and I soon realized that I was within a couple of blocks but couldn't find the store.  After walking up and down what I believed to be road 216, I knew that it was time to ask for directions.  So I wandered in to the closest grocery store and was thrilled to find that they had my favourite pop.  If I haven't mentioned it, most of the pop over here is either Coke, Pepsi or fruit based ... and my favourite has to be Schweppes Gold Pineapple pop.  Well, I asked the cashier and he wasn't too sure.  The moment that I pulled my map out to try to figure out where I was, someone else in the store came over and tried to help me.  When he couldn't, he walked out to the street and found someone who knew where the store was and made sure that I knew where I was going.  Although I didn't understand the directions, as he kept saying "momen", I wandered where he was pointing, and found the store beside a coffee shop named "Mo'Men."  When I say the service is excellent here, I mean it.  The moment you're lost or confused, people always go out of their way to help.

My second event during my walk tonight occurred at my favourite stationery store, Samir and Ali.  I'm sure it's a standard practice, but once you find somewhere that you feel comfortable (when you're not familiar with the area), you automatically head to that store or location no matter what.  There's a pharmacist right beside my building, but I always walk 10 minutes to the Grand Mall despite the limited selection because he understood my drawing of bandaids.  Similarly, I buy my water from one store (by Grand Mall) and my bread from another store (especially since I just found marmalade there) - even though both stores sell both items.  Well, I was at Samir and Ali tonight getting some school supplies and happened to run into one of the managers there.  When he found out that I was a teacher, he invited me in to his office and we chatted for about 30 minutes about politics, religion ... and he translated some additional phrases for me.  (Please note that I would never broach one of these subjects myself, but was happy to discuss them once he started the conversation).  During our chat on religion, he confirmed that the reason why he was helping me was that it was part of his faith.  And given the number of people that have helped me out and gone above and beyond what I could have expected, I realize that his behaviour is typical - people really do walk their talk in Egypt.  It's definitely a refreshing change from the West where many many people only seem to dust off their faith around Easter and Christmas.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Problem based learning (or experience is a harsh teacher)

So, I was having a fairly good day today.  I found an optometrist that would fix my glasses for free (I have been wearing my back-up pair).  That same optometrist helped me find a barbeque lighter so that I can actually use my stove.  Found the recommended emergency stomach medication, found alarm clocks at a good price and even located a couple of promising clothing stores.  Wow, things were looking up for me today.  Sadly, I tried to stretch my luck a bit too far.

On the way home, I met our doorman in the hallway and figured that I'd ask him to borrow a screwdriver to repair my shower curtain rod.  Although the mathematician in me appreciated the opportunities to consider triangles in more than one plane, the shower rod functions far better when it's parallel to the ground and not threatening to fall out of the wall at any moment.  I was thrilled to realize that he understood my need for a screwdriver and he even popped upstairs to help me fix it.  Unfortunately, when he needed to return downstairs to find some shims to fix it, I followed him into the hallway and the door closed behind me.

Well, I learned very quickly that I hadn't needed to obsess so much about my door not being locked when it was closed because I couldn't open it from the hallway when it was unlocked.  So there I was, outside my door with very little money in my wallet, no ID, no cell phone and no keys.  Given that all of my contact information was on my cell phone, I had no way to contact anyone.  For the first time, I experienced a huge dose of 'what can I do panic.'  After some time trying to discuss things with my doorman (who doesn`t speak English), we found someone who directed him to someone else who would try to break into my apartment.  I wasn't comfortable with the process, but I was getting desperate.  After waiting a half hour, the fellow arrived and within 10 minutes realized that he couldn`t break into the apartment.  Silver linings were appreciated today.

The second hour of being locked out of my apartment saw the start of my wanderings.  I had some vague ideas of where a couple of people lived in my area ... but I learned quickly that I couldn't figure out which buildings they lived in.  I wasn`t quite at the point of desperation, but it was coming soon.  I had a feeling that I knew where one person lived but they were a 15 minute cab ride away and I wasn`t quite ready to risk a trip there when I wasn`t certain that he would be home.

Hour three gave me a huge reminder of why I truly enjoy living in Cairo.  As I had nowhere else to turn, I wandered down to the local pharmacist as he speaks fairly good English.  I was a little worried when the afternoon pharmacist wasn`t there and the night pharmacist`s English wasn`t as good.  At that moment, a customer asked me why on earth I would be looking for a locksmith in a pharmacy.  Once I explained my situation to him, the customer translated my situation to the pharmacist ... who knew of a locksmith in the area.  So, my journey to the appropriately named Freedom Fish Market started.  Within an hour, I had found the locksmith, they had given me a ride home and my lock cylinder was replaced.

Well, teachers` college taught us to be reflective so ... here goes

  • Lesson 1:  Always have a spare key or two.  I now have three keys to my front door - one for my key ring, one for my wallet (as I always have it), and one that I will place with someone for safe keeping just in case.
  • Lesson 2:  Carry your cellphone everywhere - even within your apartment.  As someone that isn't used to carrying one, I never realized how valuable it was until I was lost without the ability to contact anyone I knew.
  • Lesson 3:  Keep back-up contact information on hand.  I had been intending to place some contact information in my wallet for the past week - it`s now been done.  
  • Lesson 4:  Take a deep breath.  Had I sat back and considered my options more fully, I would have likely found the locksmith (that was only 3 blocks away).  Now that my mind is a bit clearer, I can remember all the times that I`ve found someone willing to help me (even when I didn`t require it) and likely could`ve found someone to direct me a lot sooner.  In addition, the initial attempt resulted in additional damage to the door.
So, after a long day, it`s time for bed.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mistaken Assumptions and Pleasant Surprises

Well, it's time for one of those look back and laugh kind of posts.  I've been here a week, and still find myself more dazed and confused than confident.  I'm fairly certain that I'll get more up-to-speed on how life is over here, but for now, I figured that I'd best leave a touchstone for the anxiety / negotiation part of culture shock.  For as much as I'm loving many of the things here, I'm starting to feel some of the set-up anxieties that will usher me in to stage 2 of culture shock sometime soon.

Here are just a few of the differences that I never expected:
Sunlight:  I figured that the sun would rise at about the same time everywhere.  Well, tomorrow the sun rises at 5:27 and sets at 18:27 in Cairo vs 6:30 sunrise and 20:07 sunset in Thorold.  I'm not sure that the sun ever rises at 5:30 in Ontario.

Financial Transactions:  I'm used to a world where everybody takes credit cards and debit cards.  Even though I was aware that Egyptian society was far more cash-based, I have yet to find a shop that accepted anything but money.  I'm taking my debit and credit cards out of my wallet as they're rarely any use.

Pricing:  No price in Egypt is fixed.  I figured that upon visiting one of the Souqs ... of course it would be barter based.  But cab prices, store prices ... pretty much anything but food prices are negotiable.  If you don't like the price, you ask them to lower it.  If you still don't like the price ... you leave.  (please note that I have yet to master this skill).

Change:  Nobody has change.  And if they do have change, they rarely admit it.  If your cab ride comes to 5 LE, and you only have a 20 LE note ... you're lucky if you get away with only a 5 LE tip.  And, if you want to see the unhappy side of a storekeeper - hand them a 100 LE note for a 10 LE purchase.  Usually, you want to eliminate your small bills and coins ... here, you hoard them.

Language Barrier:  Yes, I admit it.  Despite realizing that this was an Arabic country, I had the unconscious belief that "of course everybody speaks English if there's an English sign out front.  I will be learning Arabic as soon as possible (to avoid my current frustrations at not even being able to say good morning comfortably), but I have learned that there's nothing more important than a piece of paper and a pen.  I've been able to draw things a number times to make myself understood.

Sanitation:  I've posted about this before, but I'm amazed at the amount of garbage that is left lying around.  I've seen city workers cleaning it up from time to time, but there are some sections of the city that seem to never receive a clean-up.

Animals:  I've never seen so many feral dogs and cats.

Politeness:  I knew that Egyptians appreciated the visits of westerners, but I had no idea the extent to which they would go out of their way to help you.  Staff hold the doors for you at fast food restaurants.  People often stop you to say hello and are thrilled to learn that you're from Canada.

Taxis and Deliveries:
Everybody takes taxis everywhere and everything gets delivered.  I'm still trying to do almost everything by foot ... and I'm running into problems because of it.  Aside from the blisters (drew band-aids yesterday), I'm going to have to realize that to get groceries and the other items I need, I'm going to have to shell out the 5 LE for a cab ride more often.  It's not the money that makes me reluctant ... it just seems so lazy to call up someone to deliver a fast-food dinner or to hop into a cab to avoid a 10 minute walk.

Toilets:  Yup, there's a different flushing mechanism over here.  No little handles that torque downwards here as toilets are flushed by pushing in a button.

Overall, I'm going to have to start "doing in Rome."  The main reason why I haven't got enough groceries is that I haven't yet found somewhere close where I'm comfortable getting them (along with a lighter for my stove).  Even though there is a store about 5 doors down from me, I'm uncomfortable shopping there as they speak next to no English and the prices aren't fixed.  As foolish as it is, and as much as I thoroughly enjoy the local Egyptian fast food restaurant Arzak (falafel and kofta tonight), I need to stop fighting it and just grab a cab and get the groceries.
The other thing I need to do is learn a bit more Arabic asap.  I had hoped to wait for the Arabic staff to return to school (as they're more than happy to instruct the newer teachers); but, my current vocabulary isn't cutting it.  I'd hoped that google translate would do the trick ... but Egyptian Arabic is not the same Arabic used in google translate (there goes my idea of typing in what I want to say and clicking the sound button when the electrical bill collector comes to my door in 2 weeks).  Currently, I have about 10 words at my disposal ... and there are too many situations where my words and gestures / drawings aren't cutting it.

Speaking with one of the other staff members, he indicated that within two weeks, all of these set-up issues will be things of the past.  For now, I'm back in the position where my to do list keeps growing ... and nothing is coming off of it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Pharoah's revenge - the blog version

Well, usually I won't post quite as often in one day, but I just heard my first "InshaAllah" regarding tonight's cocktail party.  In practical use, this means something between "I'll try to guess at the time, but don't expect 100% accuracy" and "yeah right, like that's gonna happen anytime soon."  I'm anticipating the former, which should give me enough time to get a few pics of the outdoor world posted.  Oh, and "Pharaoh's Revenge" refers to the standard digestive adjustment that westerners experience upon their arrival in Cairo due to the different bacteria in the food.  Surprisingly (likely due to the excess quantity of Imodium that I brought), my system adjusted immediately.  Of course, given the occasional refrigeration issues that occur over here, I anticipate that I'll welcome my excess supply sometime soon.  Sadly, I had to laugh when I read the packaging:  "store between 15º and 30º."  Ummm ... I am way too cheap to run my air conditioner that often and it's rarely below 30º in here on a consistent basis.

When my mother asked what I first sensed about Cairo that was different than the west, she was quite surprised when I mentioned that Cairo sounded different.  I did notice that the landscape tended towards beige as opposed to green but that wasn't a lasting memory.  And despite the warnings of air pollution, unless it's one of those extremely humid days, it's rare that things smell different.  The major difference is the sounds that you hear.  Definitely, top of the list are the calls to prayer.  As previously mentioned (and at times based on the position of the sun and lengths of shadows), a voice is heard to sing out in Arabic.  This occurs within malls, and around every mosque ... and can be heard for a 3 block radius.  Also, the barking of feral dogs along with the essential beepings of horns ring out frequently.

Really, it is proper etiquette

So looking back at my apartment, you'll see my garbage.  Apartments are typically run by a bowab (or doorman) who among other things, picks up your trash on a daily basis.  Although mine only speaks Arabic, I plan to learn enough to get to know him ASAP.  If you need anything done, he'll look after it.  If you have any questions, he'll find the answer.  From what I understand, his salary is paid monthly by the tenants.  The amount is unofficial and is paid 'voluntarily' by the tenants.  I'll find out how much the donation is in a couple of weeks when rent is due.

I may think of my balcony as dangerous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the elevators.  Step in, close the door, and watch as the concrete (and doors for other floors) move by.  On the 5th floor, I don't have too many other options (as I usually return home rather exhausted from a 30+ minute walk) so I've learned to adapt quickly.  Since I can't always get the main floor door to close properly, and the elevators stop on every other floor, my usual approach is to take the right hand elevator, get off on the 6th floor and walk down.  If my foot doesn't offer enough scale, you could probably fit 4 cases of pop side-by-side on the floor and that's it.  To add to the comfort inspired by my elevator, there is a box without a cover with a bunch of wires hanging out of it beside the elevator door on my floor.

I do live on a very comfortable street.  Maadi is one of the few areas of Cairo known for having a lot of trees and gardens.  I have to admit that it's extremely nice to have a shaded area immediately outside my building's door to help adjust to the temperature.  We have a number of feral cats in the area (I tried to get pictures of a couple of them under the covered car ... lighting wouldn't work).

And yes, at times the landscape is beautiful.  At least 1/3 of the trees are in bloom right now.

Unfortunately, to go along with the the beauty, there is also a lot of garbage.  Sidewalks are frequently cluttered with garbage, broken glass, sand ... or just don't exist.

This gym isn't just good ...
Found the library today too

Appliance Adventures and Internal Images

Dona Super Market - where prices vary day by day
Off the top, I do have every intention of cooking regularly in the near future.  Given our nightly sojourns to western-style restaurants (our orientation leaders' preferences), I've been happily living on a huge meal per day.  I would like to say that it's my attempt to observe Ramadan ... but there are a few other issues at play. I haven't yet found any large grocery stores in the area closer than شارع 9 (sharra tissa or road 9) which is a 20 minute walk away.  There is a limited selection at my local store (which I just happened to spy yesterday on the way to the Grand Mall), but my bargaining skills require further development before I become a regular customer here.

If only I knew what you wanted yesterday
So, having completed my shopping trip yesterday, I figured it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labour.  I had pasta or rice waiting for me along with my left-over chicken fajitas from the night before.  I figured I could just wash a plate, a pot and some cutlery and look out culinary world (ok, perhaps desperation bachelor sustenance).  Bravely, I approached the stove, turned on the gas and pressed the little button on the left hand side and ... no spark / no flame.  Well, there was a combination lighter / bottle opener hanging on the wall so I figured I'd give that a try ... no spark / no flame.  I could use the two emergency wood matches I found in a bottom drawer, but I'll save those for a moment of ultimate desperation and continue my fasting lifestyle for another day or two.  At least I got the majority of my dishes washed today.  I've already added a sink stopper to my to buy list as the plastic lid I used as a substitute resulted in me using far more Fairy dish soap than I wanted.  In the interrim, I have found Arzak el Qawther to satisfy all of my dinner needs.  I can't wait to try their Kushari tonight on the way home.  Egyptian fast food really is a dream come true - last night's beef Shawarma was fantastic.

Don't let the floral cover fool you
To add to my day off bravery, I attempted laundry.  After all, how tough could it be to operate something as friendly sounding as an "Extra Super 800 ES 180" washing machine.  Well, I quickly learned that the Extra 800 referred to the mg of acetaminophen required to cope with the frustration of trying to use it.  Part of the joys of figuring this out was the 60 second delay between turning it on and having it actually do something.  So I'd try a setting, wait for 30 seconds, and then try something else.  Also, please note those "buttons" underneath the detergent holder ... within 15 minutes I figured out that those were just images of what the washer might be doing if it got to that number on the far right dial.  Given the age of the washer, my 15 minutes of internet searches resulted in nothing.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that the water needed to be turned on at the back.  Oh, and the two cups of laundry soap recommended by the detergent manufacturer is about 3x what is required - imagine my excitement when I saw foam galore during my first load.  And the final joy ... the door handle doesn't seem to work.  Pull the door handle and nothing happens.  At least I remembered the screwdriver that had previously resided in the basket on top of the washing machine which allowed me to actually open the doors.  Well, the whites are white, and the darks are dark ... and after 7 hours they're starting to get dry.

Otherwise, I'm quite happy with the apartment.  I'm not sure how I'm going to use bedroom #2 and the half bathroom, but I can't complain about the space.  In no specific order ...

Above:  Between the number of wires hanging around, the proximity of the building next door and my acrophobia ... the clothes might dry faster out here but it's never going to happen on this 1.5 m x 6 m balcony.

Right:  The entrance way to my apartment.  It doesn't quite feel like home yet, but it's going to be an easy sight to get used to

The part of the L-shaped living room that I don't use (yet).  The couch may be more comfy and the dining table is right behind ... and likely I'll be enjoying this part more in the future (since the air conditioner is just to the left).

This is my usual sitting area.  I'm not quite sure why I gravitated to this spot (likely it has something to do with the TV being on the left and my Wii getting attached to it sometime in the future.

Finally, my main bedroom.  The entrance to the balcony of despair can be seen on the left.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Monumental currency and the joys of supply & demand taxi pricing

A history student's dream - money and monuments
So day two involved grocery shopping.  Given that none of us are fully ready for the undefined pricing offered at the local stores (and associated haggling), we headed up to the Carrefour City Centre to do our shopping (think Walmart with staff speaking some combination of the following languages:  Arabic, English, French, German).  The first thing I noticed was the variations in taxi prices.  To get to the City Centre, it costs about 20LE (about $3.50).  Once my shopping was done, it cost 35LE ($6.00) to get back home.  Given my lack of alternate means of getting home (with 1000LE worth of groceries and supplies).  I've heard of prices as high as 50LE for the same trip so I figured if the taxi driver was ok with helping me get the groceries into my elevator, I'd be ok with the price.  I should mention now that the money is bilingual.  The English side has images from Egyptian History and the Arabic side has pictures of Islamic buildings (I'm guessing Mosques).

And riding in a car in Egypt is a magical experience.  You're never quite sure how you get to your destination in one piece given the speed of driving and the lack of discernible rules.  There are no stoplights and the dotted lines signifying different lanes tend to be optional.  At night, headlights aren't often used and it can be tough to spot the vehicles coming your way.  Overall, the conventions seem to be:
The Arabic side of the same bills

  1. 3 to 4 beeps of the horn seems to advise other drivers that you're doing something that they might not expect (passing close by and in their blind spot or preparing to cut them off).  (during the night, flickering of the lights is used in conjunction with the horn).
  2. 1 to 2 beeps of the horn seems to be a general sign of I'm not sure that I like what the other car is doing (drifting into your lane, slowing down)
  3. 1 long beep of the horn tends to signify frustration with someone stopping quickly or doing something that completely impedes the progress of the car behind.
  4. And the last resort is always yelling "yalla" or some other request to hurry up.
Despite the multiple travel warnings of the dangers crossing the street, it hasn't been too bad so far.  I tend to be a bit more patient than the Cairenes, who tend to just walk out when they see a break in traffic with the expectations that people will avoid hitting them, which may contribute to my lack of difficulties.  The key seems to be walk when you have a decent space, maintain the same speed (so the drivers can anticipate your location) and don't stop or back up under any circumstances.  Given the difficulties that I've seen from others in our group of new recruits, I'm guessing that my Toronto childhood taught me a valuable (and previously latent) skill.

Food shop #1 - getting some of the staples ready
In case you're wondering what 1080 LE ($185) gets you at a slightly higher priced store, my shopping cart was overflowing with essentials and house set-up items.  Off the top of my head, some of the prices were (divide by 6 to approximate dollars):
  • Battery charger:  200 LE
  • Clothes drying rack:  90 LE
  • 12 x 1.5 litre Evian bottles:  170LE (supposedly a scandalous price due to recent shortages - I'll take $2.50 a bottle given the recent heat)
  • Towel:  35 LE
  • Sheets:  56 LE
  • 24 cans Fanta Apple pop:  51LE
  • 1.5 litre bottle of Pepsi:  3.85 LE
With the other 400 LE I got almost all of the initial necessities (laundry detergent, assorted cleaning products, dish soap, plug converter, food staples, spices & oil/vinegar).

Well, I'm hearing the mid-afternoon call to prayer (look to the top right with all the speakers).  This tells me that it's almost 3:55 (ie almost the time when the length of an item's shadow is equal to the length of the shadow at noon plus the height of the item).  I'm still playing a bit of blog catch-up as I have both photos from indoors (along with the challenges of figuring out what's necessary) and photos of the outdoors (10 steps from beauty to squalor).

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Arrival

It's definitely time to dust off this blog and get it up and going again.  After two years of preparation and a slightly hectic summer of job hunting, I'm about 2 weeks away from finally being a teacher.  Overall, it's been a whirlwind month (has it really been that long?) between first learning about the possibility of a job in Egypt and today.

Week one involved dealing with administrivia galore.  It seemed that whenever I tried to complete one task (getting certified in Manitoba), another few tasks were added to my to do list.  I found that I was so focused on what I needed to do (will my police check arrive in time) that I never really sat down to realize what was happening.

Week two was my week of waiting.  I started planning for the courses that I would be teaching and amassing any resources I could find to get myself ready.  Things started getting crossed off of my to do list and best of all, I was no longer adding to it.

My third week was the shopping week.  Things such as luggage, teaching equipment, power converters (etc) were acquired and it finally started to dawn on me what I was up to.  Despite having advised everyone how thrilled I was to be blending math, science and history in such an amazing way (teach two and live close to the third), it didn't really start to feel like reality until this week.

Finally, week four happened along with the typical last-minute crises that always crop up despite the best laid plans.  As my dealings with my student loan have always been slightly confusing and frustrating, my arrangements for repayment were par for the course.  I went through the typical packing crisis of what to take and how will I fit it all in such a small place (thank goodness my wife was able to keep a cool head during the process).

Well, I've arrived.  Sounds slightly anti-climactic doesn't it.  During my flight over (somewhere between watching the "Hunger Games" and "Shakespeare in Love", the full magnitude of what had been going on hit me.  At least my "what the hell am I thinking" moment of reservation occurred somewhere in the air over Newfoundland ... and it was too late to reconsider.  By the time I arrived in Frankfurt, I was tired enough that any concerns and worries had faded from my mind.  During the flight to Cairo, even the large population of crying children couldn't keep me from fading in and out of consciousness throughout the entire flight.

Well, time to get back to my kitchen clean-up.  Tonight will be our first touristy-trip part of orientation and I can't wait.