17 August, 2011

Bottoms Up!

Oh the heat, noise and the dirt have been getting to me!  A tired and lazy girl am I.

I have been a negligent attender of gyms and studier of Arabic.  Even after going to such great lengths as going to sleep before 10:00 pm and taking a multitude of multi-vitamins, I have been unable to locate my energy anywhere.  Where did you go?!  Won`t you come back?

It might sound like this is the beginning of a complainy entry, but actually despite the fact that I am a soggy noodle I am still having a great time.  I cannot account for one useful thing I did yesterday (besides make a pretty delicious pasta dish and study a wee bit-o-Arabic) and yet the day flew by and it was lovely.  Just walking about and visiting with Kazzu and Eneda was the makings of a very fine day.

Plus I got an image for everyone`s viewing pleasure.   This is a common sight on the main road near where we live.  Goats (the dead and edible kind, not the petting zoo grass munching kind) can frequently be seen getting unloaded from the backs of old trucks and then are hoisted up and proudly displayed in front of the shops to be sold.  This is not for the faint of heart nor for those kind of vegetarians who don`t enjoy a bit of veal brains every now and again.  But I thought the look of these upside down goat rumps was too interesting not to share.  Bottoms up people!

14 August, 2011

Khan el Khalili

All done Arabic school for a little while!  It was a whirlwind two weeks but definitely a good start towards being able to communicate.  Give me a few more weeks/months to review and practice and we shall see where I`m at.

For our last day of classes on Thursday we each did a short speech or a skit in arabic.  I played the role of a cab driver and my partner was the cab victim (er - rider).  We were met with rather glowing reviews and even earned some laughs.  And Scott keeps telling me I`m not funny!

Thursday night we went out for Thai food to say goodbye to another temporary staff member from Scott's work.   We're becoming regulars at the Thai Elephant; now if only they would consider using airconditioning - we always leave there soggy with sweat!

Friday began was a  leisurely morning - shoot!  I slept in and missed church.  Still not accustomed to running my weekends with the Sundays first.  Then off to the Gezira club where Scott played basketball with the guys and the girls went to the ladies gym.  You`d think with this fair amount of gym-ing that I would be getting fitter but it seems that the heat (and possibly the pollution?) are no match for a few half hearted workouts per week.  My energy levels are quite low and my buddies seem to be feeling the same way.  Bring on the cool autumn breezes.  Please?

Friday night Scott and I joined Eneda and her hubby to go check out Khan el Khalili market.  This market is one of the must-see places when in Cairo.  It was established in 1382!  That is crazy!  One website I visited even hypothesized that the existence of the the USA can be attributed to this market.  Maybe a bit of a stretch, but here is the link where I read that so you all can decide for yourselves:

What an incredible place.  Once again I was extremely aware that we were absolutely in a foreign country.  Completely strange, old, beautiful, dirty and loud.  Scott and I had been reluctant to go (despite everyone telling us that we really did need to see it) because we had heard that the vendors are very aggressive and persistent and would follow you until you bought something.  Well we needn`t have worried:  I encounter more persistent children selling mint or fruit in front of our apartment on a daily basis than anybody we dealt with there.

The overall structure of the market was hard to explain: it seemed like a confusing puzzle of roads, narrow alleys, overlapping awnings, shops, and mosques just stacked up in an elaborate but haphazard configuration. All of it dapled with dust, garbage, rubble and of course CATS.

One major complaint for us by the end of the night was all of the traffic.  Apparently before the revolution the market was for pedestrians only, but since then without the rules being reinforced there were many scooters, trucks, and car trying to honk their way around all of us.  At times it was pretty stressful!
But the noise did not dampen some of the fairly magical sights. The moonlight and the lighting of the mosques was amazing. We could have been there hundreds of years ago and it probably wouldn`t have looked that different.

07 August, 2011

Purification Ritual?

I would like to ask the rule-makers of vegetarianism:  Exactly how far can one stray and still ever deem to call themselves a vegetarian?  I may require some vow renewal or carrot juice shower or something to purify myself after what happened this past Thursday.

Scott and I went out to dinner with friends on Thursday night at 7:30 pm.  This was perhaps a foolish choice of dining time on our parts because it is Ramadan. During this particular time everybody is finishing up their big Ramadan supper meal and they seem to be in no mood to serve us.  We went to La Pacha - a rather large boat permanently docked on the Nile with a wide variety of restaurants on board.  We ate at a nice enough restaurant at the entrance to the boat because there you can order from any menu on board.

There were about 8 waiters and we were nearly the only diners in the whole place.  They all generally stayed in a huddle chatting rather than ya know, waiting on us or something.  In general most places that we have been to tend to be incredibly overstaffed compared to the number of customers.  Try buying a loaf of bread from a bakery with 5 dudes behind the counter waiting for you to choose what you want.  Intimidating.

Anyway, half of our table of 8 ordered from one menu, the rest from another menu.  Scott and I ordered veggie pakoras to start and several other people ordered appetizers too.  When some of the food finally began to arrive our waiter kept putting each dish right in the middle of the table rather than in front of the person who ordered.  I think they were trying to encourage communal eating when really, none of us were interested in sharing what we had specifically chosen with the 7 other people at the table.  So when 4 small golden medallion shaped fritters appeared in the centre of the table I pounced on them (before I could be mistaken for a good sharer) and asked of the waiter: "Pakoras?  Veggie Pakoras?"  He nodded vaguely at me.

We began to notice that half of the table had received their food and half hadn't.  Some main course items were coming out before other people's appetizers.  Weird.  We later discovered that everyone that had ordered from the Indian menu was still waiting for their food while everyone who had ordered from the main menu had received their items already.  Okay, but our pakoras were from the Indian menu.  So by that logic, they should have been one of still to be delivered items.  Unless these were not our pakoras...

My first few bites I trustingly take are good.  "This is delicious".  I tell Scott and the others.  Soft in the centre and a nice mellow flavour. I determine since it is all white inside there must be only cauliflower and potatoes (I can't think of any other white veggies).  By my third bite I'm starting to think "this is not a veggie taste that I know"...  We jokingly hypothesize that perhaps it is the deep fried veal brains that my friend's husband had ordered as an entree.  Ha, ha we laugh.  As if we would be eating deep fried veal brains.  I stop enjoying my tasty medallion as we ponder the possibilities.

Aneda asks the waiter in Arabic what the menu item is in fact on my plate.  He replies in Arabic something that starts with an "m".  Aneda's expression is unreadable to me.  AM I EATING VEAL BRAINS OR WHAT??  Reluctantly she confirms my worst fear:  I ate veal brain and I liked it.

I fight away tears and a total meltdown (I won't even let Scott eat veal, let alone veal brains; forget about the idea of me being the one eating it).  With 7 witnesses at the table watching my reaction, I decide to continue to project a level of sanity and do in the end manage to even see the humorous side of it all.

About an hour later, our actual veggie pakoras arrive.  Too little too late, I choose to take a different tactic:  "What is THIS?" I bark at the waiter as he lays it down.  "Veggie pakoras" he replies.  Well why didn't I think of that earlier?!

04 August, 2011

Has Anybody Seen my Week?

I seem to have misplaced some time somewhere.  This entire week went by in a blur.  I owe my blog 5 full days of recapping and just can't bring myself to dig back that far!  So instead I shall mush it all together in one entry.  I have decided this is not cheating - I make the rules around here.

I began Arabic classes on Sunday, July 31st and this is the reason for my negligence.  Today, Thursday, (which again is like our Friday here) brings to a close my first week of classes.  From 9:00 to 11:00 am each day I have been trying to cram as much information in as I can and then hoping like crazy that not too much falls out.

Success: I can now greet people, tell them how I'm doing (as long as the answer is "good!") and tell them my name and where I am from.  With some peeking at my notes I can count to 100, tell time, and tell people my phone number and my address.  I can read the number characters and know about 5 letters.

The only immediate application of my new found skills is that I can properly greet our apartment building Boab and say thank you and good bye.  Our homework for the weekend is to place a food order for delivery in Arabic.  I will write out what to say before I call in and then we'll see what food items I actually end up with.  Our teacher is expecting some funny stories to come out of this assignment and we are to e-mail what happened to him so that he can share it with the class.  The fact that he is anticipating us having tales to tell at all is not exactly a vote of confidence!

Besides school, I have been maintaining my rigorous routine of going for coffee, going to the Gezira club for gym-ing and pool-ing, and being around the apartment on occasion to let in the repair men and housekeeper.  As a result, I am well-caffeinated, my muscles are sore, our apartment is clean, and our airconditioner is FINALLY fixed!  I am very grateful for my pals Kazzu and Edena who are doing a lovely job of keeping me entertained and engaged.  (I have to say nice things about them now since I recently told them about this blog...)

Plans for the weekend once again do not yet include seeing the pyramids: this may come as a shock to some, but it is still a wee bit too HOT!