Saturday, 5 January 2013

Where Can my Wife Find a Pigeon?

Our plans for Christmas gifts were relatively simple this year.  Shannon and I decided that we would do our shopping in Cairo as opposed to Canada.  Given that my Arabic and negotiating skills aren't quite ready for the local markets, this meant a trip to Sherra Tissa (road 9).  Now, I haven't done much shopping there so the locations of stores are still somewhat nebulous.  Although road 9 is one of the main expat shopping areas in Cairo, it has a mysterious quality similar to the Grand Mall - stores seem to move around and vanish.  In both places, I can locate a store one day and then won't be able to find it during my next three trips.  Well, we wandered through the silversmiths, scarf shops and alabaster shops looking for those ideal presents.  I knew there was a great bed and bath store on road 9 ... and it took two or three trips up and down the road to finally locate it.  During her time here, Shannon also realized that she would have a lot of trouble parting with all the scarves that she had bought as gifts so we made a return visit ... and the scarf shop hid from us for at least 45 minutes.

Before I forget, there is a 'delicacy' found on road 9 that all students love.  My tastes lean towards the Turkish bakeries as there's something wonderful about the honey they use here.  I can actually eat a piece of baklava here and not feel weighted down by a 50 kg meal - nor does my pancreas waive a white flag of surrender.  But for my students, the ideal treat is a cupcake from Nola.  All but one of my students are willing to admit that it's the icing and not the cupcake that make these wonderful ... the lone exception sees them as highly overrated.  Each time I wander by Nola, I'm tempted but have yet to give in.  (quick aside ... it's prayer time and the dog is howling along with the chant so please excuse me while I giggle silently).

Given Shannon's growing enjoyment of the local fruit juices, we stopped at Kiwi to grab a drink and consider further purchases.  We were almost shopped out so it was time to head to the Nile for dinner.  As it was early in Shannon's visit, we'd been sticking to western restaurants, so TGI Friday's on the Corniche (street that runs along the Nile) seemed to be an ideal choice.  She had already braved street food with me, a wonderful bakery on the way to getting my internet fixed, so she had enjoyed some of the local flavours; but TGIF is the ideal place to see the sunset over the Nile from Maadi.  The picture to the right was taken about 1 minute before
this one was taken.  Sunset to the right of the tree and typical afternoon view to the left.  So we sat back, chatted and considered what else was on the agenda.  Shannon still had some more gift shopping to do so I figured City Stars Mall in Heliopolis was next on the agenda.

During dinner, Shannon decided to mortify the staff working at the restaurant.  Service is always excellent so they really didn't know how to deal with Shannon's love of cats.

Shannon coaxed this little fellow over by offering to share her hamburger with him.  Unfortunately, he got a little greedy and left the wall to see if other patrons would be equally accommodating.  The staff chased him out of the restaurant, but politely looked at me as if I was slightly nuts when I told them during his second visit on the wall that he was ok there.

The next day saw us off to City Stars mall.  It's a huge and very western mall, but I figured it would be a great place to see and possibly grab dinner and a movie.  I knew that she still had shopping to do so we started on the 5th floor (I think) where they have a number of small crafts vendors.  Along the way, Shannon's stomach finally realized that she wasn't in Ontario anymore.  Maps at City Stars aren't the easiest things to find and once we found it, we couldn't make heads or tales of the floor plan.  So, with my limited Arabic in hand, I popped by a couple of the local vendors to see if they could help us find the bathroom.  I may have mentioned previously that one of the most difficult parts of Arabic seems to be the variety of ways that they pronounce the letter A:

  • hamam with a short second A ... bathroom
  • hamam with a long second A ... pigeon
It took me a while to realize why the first two vendors shook their heads in misunderstanding ... yup, I used the long A version.  During our following attempts to find the bathroom ourselves, I ran into a shopkeeper that helped Shannon out and reminded me of my pronunciation error.

Well, we had a great chat with the storekeeper and bought a couple of papyri from him.  Unfortunately, he ended the transaction with a phrase that always scares me:  "this is your store."  When Mr. Amir at the local stationery store uses it, I interpret it as "thank you again for visiting, you come fairly often and we appreciate your business."  I also have a sneaking suspicion that when the phrase is used at the end of your first visit, it translates as "thank you again for visiting, you didn't negotiate prices very well and we really appreciate your visit."  I've only run into this situation twice during my first visit and each time it signified my last visit to that store.

Given Shannon was feeling a little tired, we elected to head home instead of enjoying dinner and a movie in City Stars.  Unfortunately, it was dinner time, which meant that Shannon got to finally experience her first real taste of rush hour traffic.  Since the "convenient" taxis that the stores direct you towards come with inconvenient prices (about 20 LE more), we wandered out to the street to grab a taxi at normal prices.  Although it's a bit more of a crap shoot, since it's much more likely to find a cab driver that either doesn't want to go to Maadi or doesn't know his way too well, I do prefer to negotiate a lower price.  This trip came with a few more adventures than usual.  I don't know the way back from City Stars too well, so I figured the driver was taking an alternate route when he suddenly turned.  After 15 minutes, he'd finished refilling the tank with benzene (at a whole $0.50) and we were back on our way.  Our next stop was the local tire place to refill his tire after we bottomed out over a speed bump.  Finally, he missed my turnoff so we took the next one and I got to play the "does anything look familiar at night" game.  After an extremely lucky "schemel" and "yamine" ... I recognized the route to Grand Mall that our bus regularly takes and we were almost home.  On the way, I introduced Shannon to one of her favourite meals here, the chicken shawarma and we booked our trip to Giza and Memphis.


  1. I absolutely love your literary style of writing. I'm enjoying a trip through Egypt vicariously through your blog. Thank-you for sharing it. I keep sending Andrew and Mike your posts.

    1. I'm always pleasantly surprised to get positive feedback, thank you. I promise you that things will be far less silent over the coming 5+ months.

  2. I just went through and read all of your blog posts -- they're so great! Egypt sounds much less intimidating than all those news reports try to suggest.

    I am going to graduate with my education degree in a few months and I was thinking of applying at Heritage International School. I caught a mention of Heritage in one of your posts - that the same place you are at? I would love if you could tell me anything about the school itself and dealing with them.

    I'll keep on reading!

    1. Lucy,

      I'll be happy to give you an honest appraisal of life at Heritage and ensure that you get set up a lot better for the journey than I did. Feel free to contact me directly ( and I'll do what I can. Also, depending on what level you're applying for, I'll be happy to put you in contact with some of the other teachers who could give you a better feel for dealing with students at that level.

  3. Haha, I'm glad to hear Egypt has not changed. I do not know if you remember me but i was a student in Mrs. Filer's math class, and you showed me some calculus after school one time! I'm glad to hear you're enjoying your stay in Egypt, it really is a wonderful place once you get past all the negative media portrayals!