Day 2

26 September, 2009

I’m writing this on my iPod (again) because I foolishly left my converter kit in California. I’m getting one tomorrow, but my laptop currently rests on my bed, charging with Sets converter.

Set did a great job of capturing the chaos and wonder of our first day, so I have little to add. Today began late- I woke up at noon to the Muezzin (Muslim call to prayer) and threw some clothes on. My Australian roommate Lachlan was nowhere to be found, so I walked up the street to the main area and waited for Set. I had a piecemeal conversation with equal parts Arabic and English with Ibrahim, our compound’s watchman. The way he passes the day is by chainsmoking (I counted 4 in 15 minutes) and shooing away the hordes of stray cats that roam about our neighborhood.

Set and Lachlan showed up, so we set out in search of groceries. Here, our paltry Arabic skills grew by leaps and bounds. I managed to pay the correct amount for some staples- namely bread and jam- by speaking entirely in Arabic. As an added bonus, I don’t think I was overcharged a single piestra! First priority is going to be learning all the numbers in both written and spoken form so I don’t seem like such a tourist next time.

After a lunch of pita and foul medammes, the three of us got our passes to Paradise Beach. This is the private beach that seems to cater to foreigners and the wealthy, but there was one large obstacle- finding it. One thing we have strived not to do is be “Ugly Americans”- after all, it’s not our country and there’s an entirely different legal and social set of values. So, with Set being unveiled and lacking a Burquini (google it) we were a bit nervous and confused upon looking at the few male swimmers and the veiled women on the beaches.

Fortunately, the private beach’s security guard waved us over. We were immediately beset upon by his helper, who took our bags and set up three chairs for us, then inexplicably moved us to another three chairs 20 yards away. A one LE gift for baksheesh, and it was time to swim!

The Mediterrenean is a beautiful, blue sea that looks like it was ripped from a postcard. The water was warm as a bathtub and clear enough that you could see your feet drawing clouds of sand as you shuffled your feet along the bottom and still have a foot of visibility. We lingered on the water for an hour, and got cleaned up for our first trip into Alexandria.

(Note- while we will be taking classes in Alexandria, we are staying in El Agamy, a suburb about 20 minutes outside of Alex. The best parallel I can draw is that El Agamy is to Alexandria as Pasadena is to Los Angeles)

Set touched on it, but driving in Egypt is like living through the chase scenes in “The Bourne Identity.” Lane markers are ignored, and brights and horns replace left and right turn signals. Many drivers don’t even drive with their lights on at night. Yet in spite of this, I have yet to feel unsafe, or even see evidence of a single car accident. Every car seems to move expertly through the traffic, and I think a chaos theoretician would be able to write a hell of a paper on Egyptian traffic patterns.

We arrived at our school a short time later. It’s located off a small sidestreet near the Stanley Bridge, and is composed of an office and several classrooms. We received a brief orientation and had a small dinner, then drove back to El Agamy.

Upon return, Set and I grabbed our cameras and set out on the Bitash (main road). We spent about an hour wandering up and down the streets taking photos and having short conversations with some people we met. Worried about being invasive of peoples privacy as we took photos, we were pleasantly surprised when two old men smoking shisha outside a building smiled and posed for us.

It’s the end of our first real day in Egypt, and I must say I’m enthralled and fascinated with the place. The people are inquisitive and friendly, and our meager (but slowly improving) Arabic is met with patience, not scorn. There exists a certain charm in the rubble-strewn ground, and a kind of electricity that seems to crackle out of the shops and conversations that surround us. I’m not under the illusion that every day will be as easy or fun as this, but as far as first days go in a place where few speak your language, one could certainly do immeasurably worse.

Tomorrow is our first day of teaching training. Photos and
More updates to come!

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