So I began teaching an English class last week to kill some time before my own school starts. It's pretty fun. All of my students are around my age, most college graduates trying to obtain proficiency in conversational English. Last night, after going over our lesson, this conversation took place: "Mr. Hunter, can we listen to a song or maybe watch a video?" I replied, "Sure, as long as we can discuss the lyrics afterward. What type of music to you like?" "Celine Dion!" the females announced, nearly in unison. "What?...No. Absolutely not, what else?" The girls in my class then began listing reasons why Celine Dion was such a fantastic musician/songwriter. I described to them the Dark Era of the late 90s when that damned Titanic song was used by some government agency conducting a sort of psychological conspiracy against the American Public. I couldn't do it, the notes would bring back too much pain, I explained. They weren't buying it, and I was too weak. We watched the Youtube video of "Because You Loved Me," and worse, sat around talking about why he loved her for ten minutes thereafter.
Anyways, here are some recent photos:
Texas In Cairo. Double Entendre.
French Mastiff, Pet Store. I want to adopt this dog. I've named her Lucy. Not to be confused with my Aunt and Uncle's Whippet.
Boulder In Cairo. Still Expensive.
Sears' Mountain Dew Code Red Iftar. Great First Meal.
Old Cairo comes alive after the sun goes down during Ramadan. Once the city center, Old Cairo remains a sort of flashback to the past after Progress moved north along the Nile to what is now Downtown, Zamalek and Garden City. The narrow, unpaved streets wind in every which direction, testifying to the utter lack of city planning in this historic district. Think Disney's Aladdin. After iftar--the breaking of the day's fast at sundown--it feels as though the day begins. People come out of their homes, shops and cafes open, children and men play soccer in the streets. The commotion doesn't begin dying down until after the last meal before sunrise, beginning the following day's fast, around 4:30am.
Thrice I have been to Old Cairo thus far, and not once have I seen another foreigner. Last night, I took the metro into Old Cairo with my buddy, Sears, to meet up with a few Egyptian friends. We congregated at a cafe somewhere in the Middle-Of-Nowhere. The cafe, run by an old, extremely friendly Cairene, Nani, was spilling out into the streets after iftar. Tables and chairs were set up on both sides of the streets with men smoking sheesha, playing backgammon, drinking tea, and watching the single television on Nani's patio. Sears and I were set in chairs facing a large group of men watching the television serving the patio of Nani's cafe. Half engaged in lazy conversation, Sears and I were suddenly awoken from our daze by two men on the patio shouting at each other. It escalated quickly. Shouts turned to shoves, two men turned into about twenty, a quiet patio transformed to chaos in a matter of seconds. I sat with my legs crossed, Sears with his hands behind his head, both relaxed. One of us, I don't remember which, commented on how the situation's entertainment value was directly correlated with how physical it became.
This went on for a minute or two before Nani was able to calm everyone down and get back to their seats. No blows were thrown, but I did see an older man slap a kid in the face pretty hard. When relative calm was resumed, I asked my Egyptian friend, Mohay, what in Allah's name the problem was. This is what I learned:
During Ramadan, a bunch of new television shows are released which people refer to as, "series." Each series airs a new episode daily for the entire month of fasting, usually right after iftar while people are getting ready for the day (night). From what I can tell, the series are extremely popular among younger generations--it's sort of like an entire season of Friends or Sex and the City airing within a month's time. So this particular night, a patio full of men were watching the next series episode of a Cairene, Friends, when someone grabbed the remote and changed the station to an Egyptian football game (soccer). One guy on the patio became really angry, really quickly, speaking out against his offender.
While Mohay was telling me this I began to consider, as are those of you still reading this, the boldness of the man who would openly express his fury in this situation. If you're at a bar in the states and Dude A is watching Friends, and Dude B grabs the remote to put on Monday Night Football, Dude A says nothing. If he does, Dudes B, C, D, etc., pretty much gain the right to ridicule, if not physically overcome Dude A under full protection of the law. I didn't really say much, because I thought there might some sort of cultural misunderstanding. However, Mohay said the guy wanting to watch the series was outnumbered by every other guy on the patio. (I guess he deserves respect for boldness). He then told me that, in Egypt, wanting to watch a series over a game is for Khowels (see Cairo, Day 2).
After two weeks of living the Egyptian city life where I've accomplished next to nothing save a few Egyptian phrases, I decided I needed a vacation. Thursday night, Sears, Zoe (American expat working in Cairo), and I took a bus to Dahab, a small city on Red Sea in Sinai. Last night, from Dahab, we were herded into a micro bus with 12 other travelers at 11:00pm to St. Catherine's monastery. The ride lasted two hours through the mountains and the driver frequently passed cars on the two-lane highway with blind-spots ahead and no headlights.
At this point, my interpretation of the situation at hand was that, if we survived the bus ride, we were going to hike up Mt. Sinai from the monastery, through the wee hours of the morning, and watch the sunrise from the very place Moses and the Lord hung out 6000 years ago. Yeah, I know, it sounds awesome.
Upon arriving at the St. Catherine's parking lot, I couldn't help but notice an abundance of buses and 1500 people standing around in small groups, taking instructions from any of the hundreds of Bedouin men also in the parking lot. We exit the bus, and are approached by a man named Mohammed, who introduced himself as our guide. He told us our group's name in Arabic, "Habibbi," in case we were separated--evidently staking his claim of white people for the night.
It's 1:30am, and I'm annoyed. I do not enjoy following man-made dirt paths up desert mountains. More so, I do not like being led up a dirt path by a small man that keeps shouting directives at me and grabbing my arm to make sure I don't get too far ahead of the group. And finally, I detest walking up dirt paths in a line of 1500 people as if following Pied Piper. Mohammed would make the group take breaks at 10 minutes intervals atop every other switchback where inevitably there were STORES selling Coca-cola products and bags of Fritos. Also, literally every 20 yards on the moon-lit path for the first half of the hike there were Bedouin men sitting with their camels trying to sell you a ride to the top. I refused upwards of 50 Camel rides last night. The price was negotiable, starting at 85le (approximately $15). I assumed the prices had risen since Moses' day.
Finally, I had enough. Ignoring Mohammed, I left the group, set my own pace, and reached the summit of the revered peak around 3:45am. Once there, I found a spot away from the well-lit cafe, and pretended I didn't hear any of the 50 men loudly advertising their mattresses and blankets for rent. I fell asleep briefly, only to be awoken by 1500 people arriving to claim their spots for the sunrise, talking loudly, taking photographs in the dark, and generally giving it their best to piss me off.
Whatever. The sun rose. It was bastardized by a crowd of tourists posing like idiots aside brown men and small ceramic effigies of pyramids. The pyramids have nothing to do with Moses and Mt. Sinai and are located hundreds of miles away on the mainland of Egypt but, hell, it's all in the same country and they're just trying to make a few bucks.
Oh yeah, at St. Catherine's monastery, you can go in and pay to see the actual burning bush that God used to speak to Moses. Naturally, it's still alive. Also, many Christian academics believe the biblical Mt. Sinai to be northeast of St. Catherine's, closer to Jordan. FML.
Aside from that, Dahab was fun. Hung out and went snorkeling in the Red Sea.
An example of what every single restaurant looks like in Dahab, without exception.
See the land across the Red Sea? That's Saudi Arabia. This is about as close to Saudi as I'll ever get. Fine by me.
In Walden, Thoreau says, "The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us." Well, these days, loss of the vital heat within me is of no concern. Forecast for this next week:
Tues - 104 Wed - 103 Thurs - 104 Fri - 105 Sat - 104 Sun - 103