Alif Shukr ya Misr

15 September, 2010

Translation: a thousand thanks, Egypt.

It’s our last full day in Egypt. It hasn’t really hit us yet that we’re going to start our journey back to the US in less than 12 hours. We’re doing the motions to leave but everything just seems really calm and oddly normal. Today was very productive. We closed our bank accounts, had our last Arabic lesson and said goodbye to our wonderful boss and our workplace. We anticipated a lot of hassle at the bank trying to close our accounts, but it went really smoothly. It took 10x longer for me to break up with Bank of Amreeka.

Last week we went to Nuweiba to experience a week of paradise to unwind after our final and most hectic term at Amideast. Although the last two times we went to Nuweiba were amazing, this time was extra special because we were able to do all the amazing outdoor activities that the town has to offer. We swam in the sea, climbed the mountains, went snorkeling, jumped off docks and slept under the stars. Now I can actually come home to America with a proper tan from a hot country. woo!

So now that we are entering a new phase in our lives, I thought I’d make a list of things I’ll miss and things I won’t miss about living in Egypt.

Let’s start with the things I won’t miss:

1. Getting stared at and yelled at wherever I go. I think this is an obvious one here. I moved here from NYC where everyone is too self absorbed to notice an ethnic girl walking down the street. American style anonymity will be much appreciated after being continuously starepunched by Egypt.

2. No one believing me when I say that I’m American. Whenever we take cabs, order food, or do something wherein we have to interact with people for more then 5 seconds, people ask us where we are from, which is fine. What is not so fine and dandy is when they give me a look of complete disbelief when I tell them that I’m from America. The person always points to Kenny and says: “he is American, you are not. You are Chinese!” Yes, America is a nation full of Kennys running around and waving American flags. The world should be so lucky.

3. Lack of ubiquitous Americanized ethnic food. I think this is just a sign of homesickness. I miss Americanized Chinese/Mexican/Thai food. There are international options here and there but something just isn’t the same. Maybe it’s the lack of corn derived products, lard and MSG. yum. barf. yum.

4. Grading things. I felt like I went on a red pen genocide for the past few months. Also, I can only handle so much bad English in a lifetime.

5. Our apartment. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. I definitely won’t miss the ants, the lack of sunshine or the crappy laundry machine.

6. Egyptian whiskey/gin/beer/vodka. oof.

Well, I could go on and on (or could I?) but I’d actually like to move on to the things that I will miss about Egypt. Overall we had a great experience in Egypt. Even the moments when we wanted to throw blind punches into a crowd of children eventually all turned into laughable moments. For example: there was a 2 week stretch when we were getting harassed by street kids every time we left work. They would start off by yelling the usual phrases “whass yorr name?” “howaaarrr yuuu” but after we cruised by them, tired and not in the mood to engage, they decided to up the ante and started yelling English profanity at us. I won’t go into details as this is a PG-13 blog, but if you would like to hear what they yelled at us, we’d be happy to tell you in a less permanent forum, perhaps over a beer. Anyways, Kenny decided that after a few days of this that enough was enough. KHALAS! He stomped after the kids, sending them scattering off into alleyways and dark corners, laughing maniacally as they did so. A couple of older boys claiming to be the brothers of the hooligans approached Kenny and apologized for their reptilian siblings. Kenny gave the brothers a stern word of caution, advising them to watch over the little hellions lest they be thrown at a gaggle of hungry rabid trashcats. Something like that. Well, whatever Kenny said must have led to quite the fingerwagging shame-on-you session because the next day I was approached with a peace offering. Three of the boys came up to me as I was walking alone. They apologized for their behavior. I asked them if they were serious or if they were just doing this because they thought it was funny. They insisted that they were sincere and presented a gift of three firecrackers to show how earnest they really were. They haven’t bothered us since. hamdilulah (thanks be to god… or kenny’s stern words).

So a lot of the negative things that we often complained about turned into positive or at least laughable events. There are many other things that were just awesome to begin with, and these are definitely the memories that we will hold onto when we come back to Americastan.

1. The people. Short street interactions aside, 99% of the people that we met in Egypt were amazing, kind, sincere, fun and had a delightful sense of humor. Our students were (for the most part) really eager to learn and talk about a lot of different things and were excited to see us, especially if we were done teaching them. The people we got to know in the various shops and restaurants were always eager to make new jokes with us or laugh at our intro level Arabic. And the various families that invited us into their homes showed that Egyptian hospitality is no joke. We were lucky enough to be able to attend daylong lunches, a wedding, an engagement party and other family events where we were treated as if we were part of the family. I even got to go to a Henna night, which is the Egyptian equivalent to a bachelorette party.

2. The food: Even though I can’t possibly eat Egyptian food everyday, I’m still gonna miss it. One thing that I’ll miss is Molokheyya. Molokheyya in English is Jews Mallow. WHAT? Mallow, not marrow. Many people made that confusion when they first came here. Anyway, molokheyya is a green leafy herb (also the name of the completed dish) chopped into tiny pieces using a mezzaluna, one of those semicircular knives with two handles. The chopped leaves are then cooked in a broth with garlic, tomato sauce and other spices. The texture is something you need to get used to, as it resembles really slimy and runny snot, but once you get past the initial shock of putting slimy green goo in your mouth, you realize that this is pretty tasty. Mark, our Egyptian Italian friend from Australia got me a Mezzaluna so I could make molokheyya back in the states. See, even the half Egyptians are awesome.

3. Abu rabia. I know, it can be so gross if you eat it a lot, but the idea of getting a Middle Eastern feast for two for under $3 is just awesome.

4. The Adhan aka the call to prayer. Some people might not like the idea of hearing religious things projected at them 5 times a day but it really is a hauntingly beautiful sound that I will miss when I’m sitting around in silent suburbia.

5. Using Arabic all the time. When we came to Egypt, we were completely helpless, illiterate goobers that had no idea how to say anything aside from hello (salam aleikum) and enough (khalas). Now we can hold semi-decent conversations and read things. Our Arabic teacher had a lot to do with this, as he was a great instructor and wonderful person in general, but it also helped that we were forced to use Arabic in everyday situations.

6. Nuweiba. Ohhhhh how I love Nuweiba.

So there is much more that I could definitely but I still have some packing to do before we go out to one last dinner with our friends so I will end the list here.

This past year has been absolutely amazing and has taught me a lot about the world and myself. I can only hope that this experience will not only help me personally but in my career as well. The next step for the both of us will be to move to DC so we can find jobs utilizing our politics degrees. I also know that this won’t be our last time in the Middle East. I hate saying goodbye to people and places I’ve grown to love, so I’d much rather just say “see you later!”

I know that this blog is centered around the idea of two Americans living in Egypt, but we both intend on continuing the blog after we come back. We’re both anticipating a bit of reverse culture shock, so we’ll include our musings on that. We’ll also write about how our experiences in Egypt continues to affect us in the states. We’re also going to continue practicing Arabic so I’m sure we’ll have many more interesting stories for our beloved readers. 🙂

Bye bye Egypt, we’ll miss you and your craziness! ma’salema ya Misr w nashufik urayyib, inshallah! (byebye Egypt and we’ll see you soon, hopefully!)

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3 Responses to “Alif Shukr ya Misr”

  1. Laura nisbet said

    Ahh, Set! Just a beautiful posting. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little teary-eyed right now…

  2. Jake said

    I’m also a little teary-eyed. You guys are gonna miss it so much. We just watched Cairo Time and it made me want to go back and stay.

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