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Things I Take for Granted Now

September 19, 2006

As my roommates and I wait patiently for our Pizza Hut to be delivered, I wanted to share some of the things that like, the Pizza Hut, you won’t find around the world. They don’t get put into most my posts because they’ve become normal, part of the landscape that I see every day. When I tell stories about home, I don’t need to put in such details about Connecticut or DC, because we’re all from America, and we all know the background that those stories are set in; what cars look like, how people cross the street, how people dress. Here are some details that are more of the fabric of Cairo.

I’m from the East Coast, AND I’VE GOT SOMEWHERE TO BE: The concept of personal space isn’t completely different, but it is a little bit off, I think, in terms of awareness of where you are in relation to others, and how you move. I am often the quickest moving object on campus, especially in the times where I have 10 minutes between classes. I just walk fast (no doubt influenced from my attempts to walk from my dorm on F St. to the GW Library in 5 minutes last year – It can be done). Another way this ends up is my constant accidently bumping into other people, because – if I might be a little stuck up here – they are in the way. As in standing in doorways having conversations while I’m trying to leave a classroom or relaxing AUCians crowding an entire staircase as if its been converted to a bleacher. Most of these are minor, and I just have to remind myself to be calm about it.

Which, in that episode of West Wing, was the only acceptable cheer at soccer games: I keep on meaning to record this with the video portion of my camera, as I probably hear it at least twice of the multiple times it is sung every day. The call to prayer is just that, a song/chant calling out to the Muslims in the city (80 percent, I believe) to stop what they are doing and pray. I’m not sure if its meant to make everyone drop what their doing and pray towards Mecca, or simply a reminder that mosque services will begin soon, but it is ever-present. What is most stunning is that the call is heard from loudspeakers throughout the city. I’m not sure where the closest loudspeaker is to us, but it must be close as possible, because it is LOUD. The initial call goes on for about a minute, and the only thing I can understand is “allahu akbar” (meaning: God is great, or literally, God is greater… (implying perhaps “than everything else”). I keep on hoping that the streets will be quieter after the call, but it never happens. About ten minutes or so after the initial call, a lower, not-singing voice confirms “allah al-akbar”, and its all over.

On Friday, the Muslim holy day, the call to prayer is no longer a 10 minute thing. I kept going in and out of sleep last Friday morning, but as far as I could tell, it lasted hours. I imagine it as a mosque service in which you never have to leave your house, but otherwise, the Arabic is too advanced and the singing style too ornamental for me to have any understanding.

Hybrids in Egypt? Let’s Work on Automatic Steering first: I’ve described Cairo to some people as a New York City that never got out of the 70s. In some respects, this is not true, in others, it never quite left the 20s, nevermind the 70s. The cars, with the exception of a few buses and commuters, the cars are old and beat up. They blow out exhaust that wouldn’t pass a DMV test. Yesterday, the pollution was so bad, in the morning, I thought it was fog.

Tissue, Tissue Everywhere, and Not a Sheet to Wipe: The unwritten rule of Egyptian bathrooms is BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper). I’ve taken to always having a packet of tissue (normally for noses) in my bag for these situations. We often run out in our room, so we have tissues for that too. Why tissues are more prevalent than good ol’ TP is a confusing question, but I suspect some sort of Egyptian syndicate is pushing “Flora” tissues. They are everywhere, in place of all other paper products. I have never seen a car/taxi that doesn’t have a full box of tissues on the dashboard, or cafeteria that doesn’t sell them by the pack. Instead of napkins, I’ve gotten a box of tissues with my meal.

Your (not-so)Friendly Intersection Police Officer(s): Egypt has compulsory military service for males, and since this population is so large, the result is a white-uniformed police office at every intersection. Or more accurately, one white-uniformed police office working while 4 others stationed to the intersection sit and drink coffee. They rotate around, but when they are working, they have the job of human-traffic light and good-will officer for those attempting to park where they can’t park. There is another group of officers for each intersection with shiny “Tourism Police” badges on their sides. I haven’t been able to distinguish exactly what they do different from the other officers, but I guess I’m not technically in their jurisdiction anymore (hello, student visa).

I’ll be thinking of more little things, as they have become so normal to me, it takes a while.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karly permalink
    September 20, 2006 9:44 am

    TAYLOR! By reading your blog I would think that we are in the same country.

    There is NO toilet paper,

    No sense of personal space,

    No sense of punctuality,


    I live right next to a mosque and hear the 5am call to prayer every day

    but the only huge difference I can come up with is that we don’t have pizza hut…. and it makes me want to cry….

    Miss you and sympathize with your troubles.

  2. Dominique permalink
    September 26, 2006 12:21 pm

    Taylor, it is great to hear that you are adjusting to the cultural schock of the foreign lands. I sympathize with your tissue issues! I do enjoy the pictures. However, your dad and I were discussing the picture where you look like the cult member in your green robe. Do we need to de-program you? I wish you the best and i can’t wait to hear about your journey. Good luck with the next journey. You are in my prayers. Hey, how’s the food??? more power to Pizza Hut and McDonalds. David would be in his glory….”what, there’s a McDonalds here, i’m in.” If there’s anything I could send you, let me know.
    The Johnson Lookout Hill Rd. crew.

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