Monday, April 27, 2009

Ala’s engagement reception

Last week, my student Ala invited me to his engagement reception at his fiancee’s house. So, I went with my next roommate Joseph. First, I bought a basket of flowers with a card. After we left the metro station, we walked 15 minutes. Along the way, I bought some apples and melons as housewarming gifts. We arrived at Koosharee Abu Rabia, or Father Spring’s koosharee shop. I called Ala, but no answer. We waited for another 10 or 15 minutes. Joseph and I decided to enter the koossharee shop and get something to eat while waiting. A few minutes after we began eating, Ala called back and said a 12 year old relative would meet us in a few minutes to lead us to the house.

Imagine about 40-50 people stuffed into a small living space, with loudspeakers the size of a small closet at either side, blasting obnoxious Arabic music, and everyone bumping and grinding to the music.

This is the first time I’ve been to a party when a man comes up to me and says, “Andy, come with me. I want to dance with you!” Well, when in Rome…

Ala’s cousin Fady, who speaks good English, plays in a band and asks if I am Japanese.

“Sorry, Chinese.”

I notice more than a few attractive ladies in the room and ask him who they are.
“Oh…are you looking for a one-night stand?” he asks me matter-of-factly. “Because if you are, then this is not the right place--too close. Everyone knows everyone else.”

“Fady—in your future dealings with foreigners, especially Westerners from the US or Canada or Western Europe, you shouldn’t assume they they are all looking for a one-night stand. Only about half of them are loose. The other half are VERY loose,” I explain.

He laughs.

“Where do you go to look for a nice Christian girl?” I inquire.

“Church, of course! I’ll take you,” he responds.

After more than an hour or so of dancing, the side room opens up for food. Most people rush into the dining room and take a position next to the table to fill their plates. However, they don’t move. They stand there to eat piece-meal from the plates.

I see turkey, chicken, beef, and pork passing around. Dolma, or grape leaves stuffed with rice and sausages. MaHshe, or cucumber stuffed with rice and meat. Lettuce, tomatoes on the side. And lots of Stella beer.

After some food, Joseph is dragged back onto the dance floor. As he and I are the only non-Egyptians at the gathering, we are dragged into the concentric circle of dancing fools for a few minutes of flailing arm movements.

Shortly before midnight, we leave the party and amble slowly back to the metro station, our ears still ringing from the loudspeakers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The secret habit

Last week, I helped my Egyptian friend Mhmd to prepare for his English exam. During a break, he casually brought up the subject of the secret habit. He didn’t know the English word for it, so using his right hand, with his thumb touching his fingers to form an “o”, motioned up and down. I asked for the word in Arabic, but he hesitated, saying it was very vulgar. He was reading from a document in Arabic about the subject. It warned that those who conduct such an activity will suffer from backaches and knee aches. (This is the first time I've ever heard of such a side effect, but not so different from going blind or having hair grow on your palms).

I told him to look up the subject on Wikipedia. Once the page loaded, I asked him to read the “benefits” section. He was a bit surprised. I encouraged him to read more and get more information from various sources, and not just from his Imam.

Dating or the lack of
Mhmd has a girlfriend. Or rather, a lady friend whom he sees once a week. He wants to marry her, but has never kissed her. Or been intimate with her. He doesn’t even greet her with a hug, let alone a handshake. He cannot invite her over to his house for dinner. And she cannot invite him. Because they are not engaged yet. If he wants to take her to the park, he must go with other friends in a group. And of course, the movie theater is out of the question because it’s in the dark. Too much temptation. However, it seems the only quality time he has with her is attending religious lectures with her and his family. Such is life for a single person in Egypt. So, it is rather surprising that the secret habit is not practiced more often.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nathalie's Response

Oh my god andy, i just found this. I did nt read it, this is too long for my little brain and i think this is completely inappropriate You make a fuss and such a long and precise story out of what. We talk nicely throught internet, met, liked each other. i slept two days in ur bed. let my bags in ur flat guys for what, five days, or something, hand around during the day, talking with u, chech mails... And so what, what is the big deal.

You are young, already you are making a fuss for such a natural and informal thing...

about meher : thanks you for the pity of this pathetic guy about an old lady. just by the way.
and thank you for relating this to me. by the way.

THIS guy is pathetic, believe me.
He called me today about the ac remote control. Sure i do ac remote control traffic, u didnt know about that, ion fact i am not a journalist but a big dealer of remote controls. i sell it 1 euros in the black market in france.

THIS is pathetic. Poor guy and poor you. You should have send him to hell when he called u but obviously u didnt.

His room was perfectly neat, everything was just like i founded, never saw any ac remote control, never put any ac, it was cool enough, cant even remember where was this ac machine. PATHETIC i am telling u.

Also andy, relax and dont be obsessionnal out of nothing
If things had been different, of course i intended to treat u, guys, to restaurant, and have a nice party the three of us, OF COURSE.

but since u think i am a greedy shit i would disturb your convenience
more seriously you disappointed me so much and i felt so insulted by your behavior and attitude last hours that to tell u the truth i dont have the courage to just pretend i am still happy with you and spend an evening with you.

if you would like anything i could buy for you of if something would please you, just tell me i would be happy to make a present to thank you for your hospitality. but i dont really feel like spending time with u right now. This long letter with the also insulting title u sent me now i didnt read it as i told u, but i already can feel that only the principle that this is so long and so is already wrong and something is crazy about it.

just let me know if you would be pleased with something, ok


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A bone in the soup:

The story of Nathalie Berard, a random houseguest who just wouldn’t leave

Dear Nathalie,

First, I must say you have been a ball of fire in my life this past week and for that—I thank you. Because balls of fire do two things at least:

1. They bring light to the darkness and heat things up.
2. They upset the usual routine and cause some excitement. And now, you have given me something to talk about for the next few months. Or years.

Second, you are a charmer (on your good days). And I really enjoyed getting to know your colorful past (especially the sex with the Egyptian brothers in Luxor) and character. I enjoyed your humor, observations about people (especially the one about those who are young and stupid become old and stupid, not necessarily old and wise), and flirtatious nature; disagreed with your politics, your cynicism, and your constant moving from one place to another. However, you made up for many of your weaknesses with your cooking and humor. And kudos to you for squeeging the bathroom floor after showering (David never did this!). And even though you forget your dish of courgettes and yoghurt, they were the finest I’ve had in a while. So, thank you for all of that!

Had we known each other as friends previously, you would’ve been more than welcome to stay at my place for a week or more. However, we DID NOT know each other before this past week. And that’s precisely the point!

So, that’s the positive. Now, the negative…

April 7, Night 1: When I welcomed you into my apartment, I should’ve been much clearer with you about the limits to my and David’s generosity. I should’ve clearly said “one night” only. And then, on your way. As you remember, I gave you my bed. I don’t do this for just anyone. I do it ONLY for close friends and family. You were none of these. Yet, I felt a natural compulsion to offer you my bed. You can psychoanalyze this later on and perhaps ascribe it to my Chinese background or perhaps, my one year of living in Egypt and learning from the kindness of Muslims. Whatever the reason, both David and I were too polite to say anything to you such as: please leave after one night. After all, we are not Germans.

After that first night, you thanked me for my hospitality, but complained that my room was the noisiest you’ve stayed in for a long time. And you gave me the impression that you wanted to find another, quieter location. And that’s when you went to Zamalek.

At breakfast, you asked me “can you spare me some breakfast?” And then you asked me if that was correct English. I explained to you that if you use the word “spare” in English, it means you are begging. At the time, I thought you had made a simple mistake. Now, upon reflection a few days later, I think the mistake was a true reflection of the person who spoke it. And that’s precisely the point!

April 8, Night 2: you stayed in the Zamalek apartment with the Indian. We thought that would suit you well. You may remember that after I returned home, you complained to me via text about the Indian guy--how he wanted an exorbitant amount from you: “U too cute! Noticed the bastard asked for 150LE a night. Now wants my id. Yaky!” I even asked you if you would like to return. And when you did return the next day, I welcomed you with open arms. You told me that you could not find quiet in that place. While the room was quiet, the work site below disturbed you.

The point is:
To have some workmen below while you are on the 8th floor is normal. Yet, you abandoned that place and did not pay. Granted, Meher said that he felt sorry for you, and offered you the room as charity only for one night: “i cant let an old lady roam around without shelter at night.” Furthermore, Meher wrote me and informed me that the A/C was on and the window open. Also,

“the ac remote control is missing. she didnt inform me

i dont mind the rent, i mind tht she didnt inform me

if u catch her, pls ask her abt my ac remote”

Perhaps, Mr. Meher is mistaken. Perhaps, he just misplaced it in the flat or the German girl took it; however, if you took it then, that shows another side of you.

The 2nd point is that if you took it, then to repay his kindness with your a) carelessness of leaving the window open and b) spite by stealing the remote control demonstrates your wickedness. Meher showed you kindness with one free night’s stay and this is how you repaid him. Oh…how you would’ve been a memorable figure in one of Shakespeare’s dramas or tragedies, my dear.

April 9, Night 3: you stayed with us again. And again, I gave you my bed. And I took the floor. This time around, you tried to be considerate and wanted to sleep on the couch cushions in the living room; however, as David was working all night and would go back and forth, thereby disturbing you or whoever was sleeping there, you decided to take my bed offer after all.

I was kind of puzzled that you returned, especially since you didn’t like the noise level of my apartment. You could’ve easily gone to a hotel; any hotel until you found your ideal room.

April 10, Night 4: David kindly took you to see Iman’s apartment.

I know that Iman asked for 550 LE/7 days. You wanted less. However, you stayed there 2 days. To give her only 50LE is unacceptable and very close to theft. Even at 350LE/ 7 days – a price closer to your ideal -- that would still be 100LE for 2 days. Your action here shows me several things:

1. Not only are you cheap (read: cheapskate, tightwad, skinflint, “bakheel” in Arabic), but you are not classy. You are what I would call “French white trash.”

2. You do not know how to thank people properly for their kindness. Iman treated you to dinner at a local Sudanese restaurant. She took the time and trouble to show you around and to offer you quality cuisine. She paid for your meal. Did you even offer to pay, as I did? Did you reciprocate? Ah yes, you said that you paid for her two taxi cab rides.

3. The pattern is getting clearer now: you stayed a night in Zamalek free. And then left. You stayed in Manial 2 nights free. And then left. Is this called “sleep and run” in French?

The point is:
you embarrassed both David and me by NOT PAYING anything for the use of her room for 2 days. Granted, she returned to you the 50LE you offered her; but, if you have any sense of decency about you, you will understand that she was offended by you more than anything. As you leave on the morning of the 19th for Luxor, you still have the chance to correct this glaring mistake by paying her at least 100LE. You could easily leave it with David. I doubt you will, as you either don’t have the money, or are unwilling to pay. I hope you prove me wrong.

And finally, Iman will think twice before she accepts any referrals from either David or me in the near future. This nasty incident will definitely strain our friendship. And I have you to thank for this, my dear!

April 11, Night 5: You returned to our apartment to use my computer and stayed with us again during the day. I was very sympathetic to your plight; after all, you were unable to use the computer or have internet access in Manial. And you needed to be close to your interviews with belly-dancers in downtown. That night, when we dined at the restaurant cook door, I learned a little more about your personality. You were unwilling to pay for even a 11LE salad (less than 2 Euros). That’s why I bought you the salad, because I pitied you and saw that either you didn’t have the money or were unwilling to shell out the money. And of course, I remember that you insisted on giving me back 11LE exactly for the salad, as you quoted a French saying to the effect, “good accounts make for good friends.”

Before our visit to the restaurant, at Stella Bar, you gave out your phone number to the two Egyptian men next to us. Remember that the first one offered to accompany you on your trip down to Luxor? And then he paid for your beer? As soon as you gave your number to him, he automatically assumed that you were a whore, ready to service him. Of course, since you are so ignorant of the culture here, you thought nothing of this particular action, which is quite commonplace in France.

Again, you stayed with us because you didn’t have the key to Iman’s apartment and she did not return your phone calls. And I gave you the bed, and I took the floor.
The point is: you should’ve gotten the house phone number of Iman. And the address. Very irresponsible of you.

April 12, Night 6: Return to Manial
I accompanied you to Iman’s place in Manial because you had no idea of how to get there. You offered to pay for my taxi ride back home. So, after our tea by the cornice with Iman, I asked you for 5LE. Iman, without even thinking—gave you 5LE from her pocket. Granted, you did resist several times, but I was a bit surprised that you took it at the end. Again, this shows me that not only are you low on funds, but you are not a proud person.

The point is, it was not you who really paid for my taxi home; it was Iman. If anything, you try to avoid paying for others if possible. You are a true Westerner and you give the French people a bad name. My Arabic tutor called you selfish today after I told him about your charming ways. In fact, I have told your story to two friends now and both have laughed their heads off at your behavior.

April 13, Night 7: you returned after noon and stayed until about 11pm. I was not angry at all; rather, I was pleasantly surprised that you returned. You asked me if I was upset at your return. You may remember I replied, “You bring the light.” On one level, it is a compliment that you are so comfortable with me and David that you returned to us. Almost like a pigeon that returns to its sender. However, you spent the entire day here, without any urgency in finding a hotel for the evening. In fact, as you were ready to step out the door, you did not even have an address for the hotel. How, my dear, were you going to find the hotel if the taxi driver did not know? Or if I didn’t go with you? Or for that matter, you did not have plan B – the name and address of a second hotel. You said you had one in mind in downtown, yet you did not have a phone number or an address written down somewhere.

Also, I noticed that you took the Lonely Planet (LP) Egypt guide book from my bookshelf and placed it into your purse. I’m confident that you would’ve returned it to me before your departure to Luxor. However, it would’ve been nice to ask me. To give you an idea of how most people approach this concept of borrowing items, whenever David needs to borrow a book from me, he will usually knock on my door gently, ask if he can enter and borrow my LP Egypt book. This is the man I have lived with for 4 months and have had countless conversations about nearly everything under the sun. In other words, he is a very good friend. And yet, he STILL feels the need to ask me! Again, the points are these:

A. You are seriously unprepared for contingency plans. You’re not a planner and you go by the seat of your pants, which gets you in trouble.

B. You take without permission and take as you like; perhaps, this is what you do with your close friends, but remember we are not close friends. Please remember this point in your future dealings with strangers and new people in your life. Yes, you are a big girl, but this is important.

C. “The trick is to get as much as you can out of the place while paying as little as possible.” You told this to me on the couch. This seems to be your driving philosophy in hotels and travel, and perhaps in life as well. It strikes me as odd that you talk constantly about spending good money on a luxury hotel room, but not willing to pay for it. In English, we call this the “freeloader.” You, my dear—are a freeloader. Say it. Repeat it until it rolls off your tongue. It’s a good word and will contribute greatly to your vocabulary and understanding of the English language. Perhaps, you have a word in French for this as well?

It pains me to say this, but you have problems. BIG problems. Perhaps, your therapist can help you with them when you return to Paris. Then again, can you afford one? Does that French government subsidy (for American readers: read “welfare”) help you beyond eating and drinking monthly?

Strategy of leaving behind your things so you can return.

I saw this strategy once on Seinfeld. The character George Costanza would always leave behind an article of clothing (hat, scarf, gloves) at the house of a new woman he was dating so he could return and therefore see her again. While I can’t be certain of this with you, it does seem awfully similar. So, it was not terribly surprising that you always seemed to leave your two large bags at our place, along with a travel bag in our bathroom; that way, you always had a good reason to return to us.

Question for you: how many days did you expect to stay with us? 3, 4, 5 or the entire duration of your 12 day stay? Each step of the way, it seems that you were not concerned about finding a hotel room; rather, you waited for us to find you a place; first, the room in Manial. Second, the Mayfair Hotel. You may be 47, but you behave like a 17 year old. Excuse me, a 7 year old. No, my dear, you are not old. You are young at heart and irresponsible and inconsiderate. And ungrateful. What a combination!

I recognize that you’ve had some medical and mental problems in recent years; your insomnia of 9 months perhaps contributed greatly to your stress and current difficulties. And for that, you have my sympathies. I cannot even begin to imagine your world or your constant headaches. So, I feel for you and pity you more than anything.

The old English adage says
houseguests are like fish and cheese: they begin to stink after 3 days.
Such a wise maxim. And had you simply stayed away after you moved over to Iman’s house, I think that we would have been able to maintain at least a friendship or professional relationship. Unfortunately, even this is not possible now.

Also, remember my thought about friendship? Well, I’ve decided to drop you as a friend and contact for these reasons:

-You’re a user. Your cell phone for example. I find it appalling that you benefit from the use of a nice cell phone from your male friend in Paris, whom you find repulsive. While he thinks that he may have a future with you, you are simply using him for his phone, his car and who knows what else he may offer you. You are what Immanuel Kant warned against: never use people merely as a means. Unfortunately, I don’t think you ever benefited from your education. Ah yes, you never even read Voltaire’s Candide—your own literature!

-You’re a liar. From day one, and from the first time you advertised on CS to the time you called me, you lied. At least you’ve been consistent.

You said in your ad,
“Willing to pay for a month of course but it has to be cheap.”

Did you ever pay one month for any place? Did you ever intend to do this? I highly doubt it. You found out at the end of March that the Frenchman would not be able to accommodate you; yet when you called me last week, you gave me the impression that while he was wishy-washy, you still intended on staying at his place, most likely. Then, you told me there was “a bone in the soup” meaning, it didn’t work out. If you were more truthful and honest with yourself and me, you would have told me simply that he had guests, and that you could not stay there. Instead, you misrepresented yourself to gain sympathy from people who would be open to an old French woman who was turned out on the streets at the last moment by a heartless landlord. You should enter politics. I think you lie better than most politicians, my dear.
-You’re inconsiderate and selfish

Unfortunately for you—the potential for friendship ended as soon as you arrived at our apartment. As inconsiderate as you became, I was still willing to accompany you to the Mayfair Hotel. Why? I don’t know.

As you recall, you only wanted to take your purse and overnight bag to the Mayfair Hotel, hoping to return to us the next day or so. You may remember—I said nothing. While puzzled about this particular action, I did not object. (Maybe I really am a pushover, after all?) David, in the most polite and diplomatic way possible, told you that you should NOT leave your two large bags with us, because to go back and forth so many times would cause you stress and not be easy. Instead of taking his advice, what did you do? You stormed out of our apartment, almost like we had insulted your mother’s grave.

And even when I still offered to help carry your larger and heavier bag, you told me to stay away. I followed you downstairs to hail a taxi.

However, do you know the straw that broke the camel’s back? After the taxi driver put your bags into the trunk, I tried to open the backdoor and sit next to you. You told me, “no, you sit up front.” Almost like I was the help. Or a servant boy to serve you at your call and beckon. You insulted me at that point. You insulted my intelligence and honor. I decided at that point, that you were going by yourself. And yet, strangely enough, you still wanted me to go with you, saying “Get in. Go with me.” How desperate of you. How sad. How pathetic to see a grown woman like you – 47 years old – to beg me, a total stranger to accompany you to a hotel. Were you that lost? Or lonely? Or deprived of company?

There was a man downstairs who was resting in the car. He was a Ministry of Interior military man—I told him about you and he wanted to get to know you right away and offer you a free room in his house. At hotel “Mohamed”. Perhaps, you can guess the reason for his generous offer? He’s married, but he’s always ready for a French fuck. He asked me about your preference for sex. I told him that you were French and open. Need I say more? He wanted me to call you right away to offer you his hospitality. I was tempted, but decided that you would be better off at a quiet hotel than to have Mohamed chase after you.

Suggestions for your future trips to Egypt or travel abroad in general: (Free. The Egyptians say Abu Balash, katar minu, “If it’s free, take more from it!” I think this fits you) I plan to use this site when I visit Lebanon / Syria next month. Who knows, maybe we will have the same hosts one day and can compare notes on who has the softest couch and which flat is the quietest. This will save you loads of money for hotels. And with that money, you can finally buy yourself some decency and honesty.

-Youth Hostels. There are some fine ones here in Cairo.

-Arrange a free stay with Hotel Mohammed of the Interior Ministry. I can give you his phone number and I’m sure he’ll pick you up at the airport.

If I don’t hear from you, then I will assume that you’ve received my letter, but choose not to answer; which is fine. But, I do hope that this letter gives you some things to think about; perhaps, even try to change your ways.

If we lived in the same city and had mutual friends, I would avoid you like the plague. However, it is better for me to simply say, good luck with your journey and search for peace and tranquility. I think I understand just a little more why you are on this journey.

السلام عليكم

Peace be upon you, my dear.