Tag Archives: the insanity that is Egypt

Hello Sweat Glands, It’s Been Awhile

1.) The day after I blog about how fabutastic spring in Egypt was it turns hot. Like hot, hot. Hot enough for me to walk around going ‘holy crap! its hot!’ However in reality it is only 1/10 of how hot it gets here in the summer. The weird thing about Egypt weather, that I’ve noticed at least, is that the weather changes in the middle of the night. Over the past month or so everytime the weather warmed up I noticed it at about midnight to 2 am. Its so odd to walk outside and think to yourself ‘is it really hotter now than it was at 4 pm?’

the cat just farted and it was horrible. i need to stop letting her lick my roz-bi-laban bowl.

Last night after I finished blogging and got ready for bed I passed by the window and felt the warmer than it was during the day air blow past me. I woke up this morning afternoon covered in sweat. Yummy. It just reminds me that I seriously need to be out of here before summer really kicks in because otherwise I might lose whatever weak hold I still have on my sanity. Let me repeat that: weak hold.

Unfortunately Mr. MM is really not fully on board the USA-train; yesterday he brought up the idea, once again, of staying here. He likes to switch up the reasons but this last one was the pig flu and the craptacular economy. He reasoned that neither of us are going to find jobs and we might die. (BTW I believe he was maybe probably kidding.) Just a few days ago he told me that one of his aunts was so desperate to keep him in Egypt that she offered to fund an English Education business for me. All mine; I’d manage and teach if I wanted to. The only thing is that I am not a business person and I am not interested in building a business (unless its selling FABULOUS clothes for Muslimahs in the States) and I am even less interested in staying here.

Things I would need to stay here:

  • A nice flat thats fully air-conditioned and that I don’t have to worry I’m going to be kicked out of.
  • A car.
  • A maid. (We usually have that now but the last one up and disappeared.)
  • I don’t have to work if I don’t want to. (I technically have that as well but any money I bring in gives us a good cushion.)

Life is Egypt is possible to get used to. If you so choose of course. Its like deciding that living with a schizophrenic roommate is do-able when in reality getting a new roommate would be so much better.

Two hours ago we had a goat going bat-sh*t outside our window.

Read that again, please.

A goat.

My first thought was: ‘is one of our neighbors having a sacrifice or did a goat just wander into our garden?’

And I live in a place WHERE BOTH THINGS ARE PROBABLE.

Sure I can get used to tantrum-throwing farm animals, but do I want to?

To be honest I have softened my viewpoint of Egypt. I think by now that I have been so thoroughly bitten (quite literally over a million times by mosquitoes but thats not what I mean) by the Egypt-bug that I can never ever leave Egypt completely. The thought makes me homesick. Also I must admit that Egypt, Cairo especially, is such a fount of insanity-derived creative juice that I can’t not write. It drives me to writing; its my muse, so to speak.

But do I want to stay here now? No. Do I like the idea of coming back when Mr. MM has an American law degree and the ability to bring down big bucks? Definitely.

I like the idea of being a pampered housewife, ok whats another word I can use? Housewife implies things like cleaning, which are quite prominantly not in my fantasies. Ok, being a pampered writer who may or may not teach a class or two at the AUC but has all the time in the world to haunt coffee shops and write. I could do that. I’m not even high-maintenance so pampered doesn’t mean spiffy clothes and italian leather purses. But I would need a nanny. Hm… Mr. MM may not like that.

Anyways, I can iron those details out later.

I lost my train of thought, where was I?

Oh yes, Egypt. I could live here again, but in much different circumstances. Egypt is a place where it is hard to be anything less than rich. In most places money makes things easier but lets be honest: middle-class in the west is a-ok. Most people in Egypt scrape by at the level of poverty or below. Mr. MM and I are middle-class here, but for me middle-class Masri-style is a big step down from middle-class ala americani. Its hard.

So to come back here it would have to be with money and a good amount of it. Thankfully the exchange rate is pretty good so we wouldn’t have to have that much.

And what about life here? Yea, its tough. In fact things are snow-balling here (ok not literally, did I mention that its really hot?) in terms of living condition and social harmony. Everyone is feeling the pinch of poverty, unemployment, corruption, the disintigration of respect and social morality, and loss of love for your fellow man. A month or so ago I finally realized what it was exactly: they have nothing left to lose.

Mr. MM and I were driving to Alex and a young man literally stepped off of the curb and into oncoming traffic as if he didn’t care if he got hit. Not exactly suicidal but without a thought of the consequences. To everyone in Egypt who reads my blog: watch the people on the roads. They have nothing left to lose.

Young men heckle and harrass because once they finish their almost meaningless education in schools that don’t care about them and with teachers who take bribes or have a personal vendetta against them they only face a future of probable unemployment and no hope for marriage for at least another ten years. They have nothing left to lose.

Women walking down the streets in the hot sun with small children while carrying the weight-equivalent of another two small children on their heads decide to cross a free-way, dragging said small children behind them, dodging cars and making people slam on their breaks, when in reality there is a pedestrian bridge a matter of 1/5 mile up the road all because they have nothing to lose. Ok, maybe a couple of children. But they’re almost starving, unable to imagine how they’re going to feed themselves and their children for the next three days. They have nothing left to lose and so extending the effort it would take to carry their things and children that far just to cross safely doesn’t add up for them.

If things continue this way here I imagine that Egypt will crumble in ten years. Maybe less.

Egypt was a beatiful, safe, peaceful country 35 years ago. Fifty years ago Cairo is said to have rivaled Paris for beauty. I have hope that Egypt will be that way again someday. But not now.

Thanks Mubarak. Just putting that out there.

Did I mention its getting hot? I sure hope Mr. MM doesn’t decide that he can’t leave Egypt. I’d really be lonely without him. On the upside I have told him that if we are here in the summer I’m moving to Alex.

He thinks I’m kidding.

I’m not.

You Call That English?

Everything here is held together with scotch tape, donkey spit, and sheer determination.

This isn’t an ‘I hate Egypt’ post either because I’ve actually gotten used to it and am no longer phased by the completely illogical methods through which things are run here.

Now I just laugh and figure out how to still do what I need to do with nothing but a rubber band, a screw driver, and a couple of pieces of extra bubble gum.

Monday evening was my first day of work and would it surprise anyone that I taught two classes on my first night? No? One of the teachers told me he arrived in Cairo Monday morning and they had him teaching classes Monday night. Welcome to Egypt, now get to work. For training I spent twenty of the sixty minutes they gave us asking him questions about the book and the methods the program requires (none.) The rest of the forty we sat around talking about books, philosophy, and world travel.

Then- just to illustrate how small an 18 million person city actually can be- as I stood waiting for the taxi to take me from the headquarter branch (and by branch I mean the original flat the company made into an office) to the branch where I will be teaching a man came up to me and asked me, in Arabic, if I was the wife of Mr. MM. Uhm, why yes, yes I am. He looked vaguely like one of Mr. MM’s many cousins which is what he turned out to be but having only seen me two times and me having no recollection of ever having met him he recognized me. Weird. He is taking English classes at the main branch. And then, while sitting in the evening after my classes were finished the office boy of the branch I teach at mentioned seeing me in Hurghada in January and after some short sleuthing it turns out that he worked the safari that Mom, Maria, Mr. MM, and I went on. Seriously. Two in one day.

Back to English. I got to the office to begin teaching- as I was sure I would be doing- and for my first class I actually had a book to use but no CD for the listening sections. Nice. For my second class I had NO book and NO CD so I basically partnered up with my youngest student and worked with him from his book. Way to plan ahead O’ bosses mine.

Like I said, barely phased me. In FACT- had they actually had their shiz together I probably would have been surprised.

If they have their shiz together for tomorrow’s classes I will be surprised.

All in all I had a good time, its pretty much exactly what I did for two years in the Language Lab way back when. I taught small groups for French and Spanish- we did the book activities, listened to tapes, and talked about language. Thats what I do now in a nutshell. Armed with a white board and some markers (and possibly a book and hopefully one day a tape) I’m leading my students forward into a brighter, English-filled future.

[cue theme music]

It felt natural to be up in front of students again, I really think that teaching is where I should be. Any fear of public speaking that I had pre-Language Lab was gone by the end of my teaching days there. I had never really thought about where I lost my inhibitions but I know that I aced my Speech class even while being the only student wearing a hijab (and actually being one of only two other women on campus who wore one.) Acing public speaking while looking weird: pwned.

Now of course all of my students are curious as to how I came to Egypt, how I met my husband, and how I became Muslim. But they’re fun, and inquisitive, and ready to learn and that makes classes fun. I’m hoping I will enjoy this job, the one foreseeable problem will be that they have you work straight through without breaks. I work three days a week 4-10 and I have a class from 4-6 (I think I will at least), another class from 6-8, and the last class from 8-10. I’m so glad I am not working that schedule full-time.

And yes they’re bringing teachers over from the States and using them for slave-labour. A turn of the tables don’t you think?

Strike Two, You’re Out?

At this moment I have two very good Egyptian girlfriends who are having love problems. Basically both of them had been engaged once in the past and then had broken off the relationship when things didn’t work out, and both are now, or had recently been (respectively,) engaged a second time.

Lets give them underground names to preserve their anonymity (not that any of you know them anyways but whatevs): Ammena is currently engaged and Souad recently broke off her second engagement but has not told any of her extended family.

For those of us who were western-born (or raised) this is absolutely not an issue, painful and heartbreaking yes, but nothing that would induce us to raise any eyebrows. I mean heck, who doesn’t know someone who is triply or even quadruply divorced? Thats when things get a little hairy, you know what I mean.

But in Egypt its a completely different story: two strikes and you’re out. Especially when it comes to women, upon whom the blame is laid in even the most sexist of situations. Hell, if your husband goes out and gets a second wife its YOUR fault because you didn’t give him enough sex/dress up enough/watch his favorite TV shows/insert some other really inane and bullshit reason here.

I could rant, oh could I rant, on how women get the short end of the stick in pretty much every situation here but I will restrain myself to the topic at hand.

Once a girl has been engaged twice and neither relationship works out she is stygmatized as being faulty.

Something has to be wrong with her, two men decided to not marry her. What do you mean she broke off the engagement? Hmph, she must be too picky, she’ll never be satisfied. God knows I won’t marry my son to such an ungrateful woman.

Do you see how twisted the thinking is? Can any of us imagine this? I mean engagement is the closest thing practising Muslims get to dating. What if we were stygmatized after our second boyfriend/girlfriend? Men get off a little bit easier, but it is noted when a man is a serial engager, if only by the girl he wants to get engaged to next.

Either way both Ammena and Souad are up against a wall here. Both of Ammena’s relationships were scarred by personality clashes: she is a strong-willed and opinionated woman (which is a no-no here – God forbid a woman who thinks for herself) and she has had the misfortune to get into relationships with equally strong-willed and patriarchal chauvinists (which I consider to be the true personality failings.) For her she has the choice to conform or be shunned. Currently she is still in the relationship (which has the markings of an abusive one) but is unsure whether to continue or not. I do believe her fiance will probably become a domestic abuser and he plans on moving her to Saudi Arabia after the wedding which would further deprive her of all rights. I understand her hesitance, she doesn’t have very good prospects either way but I do believe that leaving the relationship would be the lesser of two evils.

Souad, on the other hand, left both of her relationships for religious reasons. Neither of her fiance’s were at her same level of iman (think equally-yolked mom) and her desire is to find a man who will help her to become a better Muslim. She has had noble reasons for leaving but it is the same for her socially. Once it gets out that she has had two failed engagements she will be marked for life. She made the decision to leave, but she second-guesses herself on whether she made the right choice. I think, overall, the situation for her will be a little bit better in terms of explaining to future prospects why she left her previous fiances. Assuming she does find a man with the proper level of iman, he would understand why religion came first for her over fulfilling societal expectations.

Both women are in painful situations placed upon them by the insubstantial and unfounded beliefs of a rigid and critical society.

Even in baseball you at least get three tries.

Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive

I am, against all odds I’m sure, much better than I was this time last week.

There are few words to describe the agony I was in but being a true blogger at heart I will bore you with the details anyways.

It started Friday night with an asthma attack and during my fit of coughing I noticed a twinge in my throat. A simple twinge. Saturday I noticed that the twinge had become a sore throat but considering the pollution here gives me those all the time I paid no attention to it whatsoever. Saturday night I remarked to Mr. MM that my throat hurt and Sunday morning when I got up for work I remarked to him again that my throat still hurt, and a lot more actually.

I went to work (Sunday being the Monday of the Middle East) and I must have been in quite a bit of pain but in all truth it has been eclipsed in my memory by the searing agony that I dealt with later. I do remembering updating my facebook status from “sore throat” to “increasing amounts of pain” to “giving up the ghost” when I called it quits and headed home at 1 pm after I found that I had lost my voice. I didn’t think too much of it, I ordered two milk shakes from McDs and nursed my rapidly worsening throat with cold ice cream. When Mr. MM got home I was bad enough to actually want to go to the doctor (a painful process here on good days) and that evening we went to an ENT and I was diagnosed with simple tonsillitis and laryngitis, given an antibiotic, some ibuprofin (wtf?) and sent home. To suffer. Seriously, homeboy gave me 400mgs of ibuprofin to counteract the pain of tonsillitis. EVERY 8 HOURS. I was in complete and utter misery.

I’ll skip over the boring parts but it got to the point that I was dangerously dehydrated because I couldn’t get past the pain enough to swallow small sips of water. And beyond swallowing anything and everything I drank, even water, felt like acid melting away the lining of my throat. The antibiotic that Dr #1 gave me did SQUAT and so after two days of wanting to rip my hair out and thinking that death would be a better option than living we went back to another doctor who took one look at my throat, called Mr. MM over to see it, and then gave me what I can only believe was the most sincere look of profound pity that anyone has ever given me.

I actually had acute follicular tonsillitis which is like tonsillitis’ big brother on steroids. The one who terrorizes other little kid tonsillitises and steals their milk money. Anyways my entire throat was white with pus and infection and my tonsils were so swollen by that point that I was having trouble breathing.

Dr. #2, who is, praise God, knowedgable about medicine, wrote me an antibiotic that worked but which was almost worse than the illness itself. I wouldn’t know that until a few hours later.

Lets rewind for a second though. On this second trip to the doctor I got to see one of the upsides of living in Egypt and having awesome Egyptian in-laws: people who will drive across the city to come hold your hand while you wait in line to see the doctor. My youngest sister-in-law, her mother, and her fiance came to the crowded hospital to sit with us and then sis-in-law (who I will hereby refer to as “Hope”) decided to stay behind and ended up both staying that night and cleaning my house and also coming again a few days later to stay for a couple more nights nursing me.

It was wonderful and made me feel very loved, especially as Hope has a really great shoulder for leaning on and did a lot of holding me up. But one of the things about Egyptians is they think that the doctor they know is the best so after seeing Dr. #2 I went for a second opinion at the doctor my in-laws thought would be a better doctor, but oh were they wrong. This doctor is a specialist in pulmonary, not ENT. We got into her office and by this time I’m half-conscious, exhausted, debilitated, and barely able to breathe past my giant inflamed tonsils. Dr. Pulmonary thought that putting me on a therapy of pure oxygen was going to help so there I was, half conscious, with a mask strapped onto my face being instructed to breathe in and out through my mouth. Not only did the air dry out my painful, dehydrated throat but it also made me woozy so that I had to lay down and when I laid down my giant inflamed tonsils blocked my breathing so I became even more woozy. After all of this she doe s a quick look, says I have tonsillitis and blames it on having a cat.

It was midnight by this point, or actually after, and we went down to the biggest pharmacy by us and purchased the meds Dr. #2- by far the most competent of the doctors- perscribed, including the shot he gave me for pain. Another reason I liked him.  But I was administered the first of the most painful shots I have ever gotten in my entire life. He had rx’d an antibiotic called UNAYSIS that, I swear to you wallahi, felt like being injected with flesh-eating acid. First it would burn where it was injected and then it would spread and it hurt so bad the muscles around the injection-site would twitch spasmodically.

I had FIVE of those injections ladies and gentlemen. FIVE. Every twleve hours. The first one hit me like a ton of bricks because I had absolutely no idea it was coming. In the backroom of the pharmacy the pharmacist gave me the antibiotic and the pain medicine when I thought I was only getting one shot. I turned around, bared the bum, and then clutched the shelves for support when I felt it. I don’t know how to put it into words how it is when you’re totally not expecting it. I can take shots. I can even take shots that kind of hurt. But @(#&@$%*%^$!@*^#$$(@$#^&$#*@$#^#(@#%&$@&$#(#$&, not something that hurts that bad, and not when it comes out of left field. The pharmacist could have given me a heads up or something. I got the second shot for the pain killer and then limped out to the car, whimpering, Hope holding me up, and laid on the front seat face down because my bum hurt too much to sit on it.

Imagine how utterly pathetic I felt when I realized I had four more of those hell shots to go. Seriously, my bum STILL HURTS and its 4-5 days since my last shot. Like tender to the touch hurts. I wouldn’t wish those shots on my greatest enemy.

But they did the job and even the next day I was feeling immensely better.

Now, almost two weeks later, I’m finally feeling well enough to go back to work. I’m still exhausted. And I also developed a lung infection that makes me cough all day long for prolonged periods, but I’m on an antibiotic for that and am slowly getting over than one as well.

Honestly I have never been that sick in my life. I don’t ever want to be that sick again, inshAllah. Hopefully when I get back to the states I can get these tonsils out once and for all because two bouts of tonsillitis, as an adult, is too much.

Thank you guys for all your thoughts and prayers. I saw them when I came online and it made me feel better.

And now, I think I’m going to go sleep some more.