Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An extraordinary day

Cairo-May 16, 2008

As I boarded the metro train yesterday, my stomach began to grumble. I felt very sick and decided to get off at the next stop, Dar El Salaam, which means House of Peace. I found a bench and lay down. I thought I would rest for 5-10 minutes before getting back on the train. No more than two minutes passed when a group of 10 people surrounded me and a man in a shirt and tie asked me in English, “are you ok? Do you need a doctor?”
I replied in Arabic, “I’m ok. I have a pain in my stomach and I am resting for 5 minutes. It’s no problem. Thank you very much.”

With that reassurance, they went away. After another minute, I got up, thinking that I better stay in a sitting position to avoid drawing attention. A few more minutes passed and I felt much better. Just as I saw Egyptians helping the blind man in the metro a few months earlier, I now was the recipient of their compassion.

* * *
-Regib, the doorman, asks me about my family in China and if they were affected by the earthquake. I tell him no, Alhamdulillah.
* * *

In the afternoon, I take the taxi to the Ahly Club to tutor my student Barsoum. The taxi driver tells me that his father is in the hospital with a broken leg. He hands me a piece of paper with a black and white picture of his father and Arabic writing. It looks like a document that perhaps patients receive when they check into hospitals in Egypt. He then shows me what looks like a cardboard cast. “My father has no money.” He says that it’s been hard to pay the bills. Initially, I feel very sympathetic. If this were my first month here, I would gladly give the driver a few extra pounds; however, six months in Cairo have hardened my heart to such stories, even if they are true.

I instinctively think that the driver conjured such a tale. I then ask him if he has heard of the great earthquake in China a few days ago. “More than 14,000 are dead and another 20,000 are missing. I have family who suffered from the quake. Some of them are still under the buildings!” (This is a lie, but I wanted him to know that he isn’t the only one suffering.) He is silent for a few moments, but then returns to his father’s story.

When we arrive at the Ahly Club, I get out of the cab and hand him a few pounds for the short trip. He returns it to me, and in an incredulous tone, asks, “what’s this?!”
I throw it onto the passenger seat and walk off.

I tell the story to my Egyptian roommate, who confirmed my suspicions: this is a typical story taxi drivers use to try to get foreigners to pay a higher fare. He said my response was appropriate.

* * *
After I get off the microbus and climb the stairs to the 26 July Bridge, I pass a 13 year old boy in a yellow T-shirt, carrying a big square piece of glass. He has set it down for a moment to rest. He greets me and we begin talking. His name is Moustafa and he is on his way to work in Zamalek. He asks me if I know Kung Fu. I answer yes and explain that I began learning it since I was small. I ask him, “Do you know Kung Fu?” He shakes his head, saying he never learned. When we reach the other side of the Nile, I bid him farewell as he slowly makes his way down the bridge clutching the big piece of glass. It’s tough to be a kid in this country.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Forget Iowa. How about that Egypt Vote?

Though overlooked by almost all of the major presidential candidates, American expatriates are mobilizing to have their voices heard in November
By Andy Lei

It is a beautiful spring afternoon and the crowds, many wearing shorts and T-shirts, are out enjoying the sun. A young man wearing an Obama 2008 baseball cap stands near a young lady holding a stack of leaflets. A cameraman is getting ready to film them both extolling the virtues of their candidate. It would seem like a typical campaign rally in a United States presidential year, except for a few small details: The man’s T-shirt sports the slogan “Egypt is Barack Obama country,” while the Sphinx watches impassively in the background.

This seemingly out-of-place outing was organized by members of the local chapter of Democrats Abroad (DA), who were making a 30-second video on the Giza Plateau that they hope will achieve YouTube fame and attention for their candidate.

Traveling or even living abroad doesn’t mean people leave their political passions at the border. According to the US Election Assistance Commission, 330,000 overseas ballots were cast in the 2006 congressional elections.

Alison Dilworth, chief of American Citizen Services (ACS) at the US Embassy in Egypt, says that about 32,800 Americans are living or working in Egypt. However, the embassy does not categorize American nationals based on ethnic background, so it is unknown exactly how many of these are Egyptian-Americans. Of this number, about 40 percent, or 13,120, regularly register to vote from election to election.

Given how close the last two US presidential elections have been and how close the Democratic primary race has shaped up to be, some expatriate partisans are extra-motivated to mobilize the overseas vote.

go here for the rest of the story:

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A visit to the chipsy factory

When Norman and Michael visited the Saqqara Step Pyramids a few months ago, they asked for directions to the microbus. Abu Khalid, the man who helped them, invited them to a wedding party. He introduced himself as the chief of the chipsy (Potato Chips) factory in 6th of October City, a suburb of Cairo. He invited them to the factory for a tour anytime. They operate 7 days a week and never take a break. They exchanged phone numbers and Norman returned to his Alexandria classes. So, last week, Norman and Michael decided to head out to the factory to look for Abu Khalid. The microbus ride took about 30 minutes to the suburb. The roads were surprisingly new and clean. Many new developments are cropping up in and around the city.

After we arrive, we hitch a ride with a man in a pickup truck. We sit in the back of the pickup truck like migrant workers. A few minutes later, we are at the factory gates. Norman and Michael explain to Said, the security man, their purpose in visiting the factory. He is friendly, but a bit wary of our story…until they describe Abu Khaled: a bit on the heavy side, a beard. Said completed the description: going bald, right? A big stomach, about this tall?

“Yes, that’s Abu Khaled,” confirmed Norman and Michael.

“He’s not the mudeer (director) of the factory. He’s the chef in our cafeteria!” explained Said.

We realize the problem: chief versus chef. Of course, what a simple mixup.

On our way back to the bus station, I sit inside the truck with Mohammed, our driver. He’s lived in the area 20 years, the same age as the city. He explained that the city is full of factories: BMW, Mercedes, Suzuki, potato chips, pepsi, coca-cola. You name it, they got it. China—number one! (with thumbs up) America—number bottom!

This was a gentle comparison. Once before, a taxi driver praised China as a great country and the Chinese people as “haboob” or lovable people. However, when he mentioned America, he spat out the window.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Miss u by SMS

I got this cryptic text message on my cell phone last night from Yaseen, the student who is applying for asylum in Spain (see March 20 posting “Estimado Espana—por favor, you quiero vivir en su pais”)

If 1000 person miss u I’m one of them
if only one miss u that’s me
if nobody miss u be sure that I’m dead

I don’t know what to make of it except that the previous message indicated that he was sick. I hope my friend is ok.

I will try to get in touch with him to check up.

Meanwhile, I will go visit a potato chip factory in the morning by the pyramids…

Yes, everyday in this City is truly an adventure!