Sunday, May 31, 2009

Down and out in Cairo

I just saw a young Egyptian girl in the street next to the AUC campus gate. She seemed to be passed out. About 8-10 people surrounded her. One person was trying to wake her up by patting her cheeks gently. I asked one bystander “hussle ey?” or what happened. He had no idea.

I looked around me for a police officer. None. So, I quickly walked over to the AUC gate and greeted a police officer and asked him to contact the ambulance for the girl. As soon as he saw the commotion, he thanked me and walked over to her.

This incident reminds me of last year when I fell ill and lay down on a bench in the metro station. Ten people surrounded me within a minute. It is this strong community and caring which I will miss dearly when I leave Cairo in about 30 days. While people do help strangers in the US, my sense is that it doesn’t happen as quickly or in such numbers as it does here in Egypt. I could be wrong. I hope I am. In either case, I hope the ambulance came for her and she is resting in a hospital bed tonight.

Rabina yakrimha. May God be kind to her.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama to visit Cairo University next week, June 3

There’s a buzz in Cairo about President Obama’s visit to the city next week.

Already, Ahmed, the local shop keeper asked me about the upcoming visit. I asked him if he plans to attend. He said that he is not allowed.

Here’s the conversation with a 63 year-old taxi driver on my way to the airport:

Taxi driver: Obama is a man of peace. Unlike Bush, and his father, who were both men of war.

What do you want Obama to say when he comes?

Just to talk about peace. Clinton was a man of peace. And his wife. She came to visit Cairo and went to the Khan Alkhalili Market and Al Azhar mosque.
Obama speaks Arabic and his mother was a Muslim

His mother or father?

His mother.

Is life in Egypt better now than before?

Before! Everything was much cheaper. Mubarak—what has he done in 30 years?! Nothing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brawling in the streets

I witnessed my first real street fight two nights ago.

A commotion broke out close to my apartment. Two women were yelling at each other. A small crowd gathered around them. I tried to listen, but could not make out the jist of the fight. Soon, a rock was thrown. The shopkeeper at the corner quickly shuttered his gate. People started running, including this observer. It resembled the beginning of a riot in Los Angeles.

“What happened?” I asked a few people. No one knew. “A fight” one man responded.
Obviously. But, why? Over what? Honor? Romance? Football?

The next day, my Arabic teacher commented that this behavior is very common, especially during the summer months and in the Holy month of Ramadan, when people are fasting. And sometimes, Egyptians use whatever is available to them, including empty pepsi and coke bottles. At these moments, I’m glad that the people here generally don’t drink and have no guns. Alhamdulillah!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A murder in Upper Egypt causes delayed pay

There was a murder in recent weeks. The uncle of Mr. Esam, the director of the language center where I’ve been teaching English, was killed last week in Upper Egypt. The details are not clear, but it seems that it may have been a family feud. So, now it’s time for revenge…

My friend Yehia, who is from Upper Egypt, observed, “Taking revenge depends on their education. They might refuse to avenge their relative`s death if they are open-minded people. But this is a weak possibility because it is a matter of culture. They think that it is a shame if they do not avenge his death. As for how long, they will keep waiting until they get a good chance to kill the murderer. This period might last for days, months, or years.”

What does this mean for me? In practical terms, it means a delay in my pay. Mr. Esam has always been 3-5 weeks late in paying my wages. This time, I gave him a month before contacting him. When I didn’t hear from him, I decided that I would quote the words of the Prophet (PBUH) to him: “Give a man his wages before his sweat dries.” However, once I discovered the bad news, I had to delay my pent-up anger, so I simply said, “May God make this the last of your griefs.”

When I arrived at the office, Mr. Esam did not have my money ready. He tried to explain about account numbers and went into extraordinary details about delayed payments from the Bank of Alexandria. The point was--there was no money. I had travelled 45 minutes through heavy traffic to be told that, “sorry, I can’t pay you tonight.” A simple phone call would’ve been sufficient to tell me not to come. Yet, Mr. Esam is incapable of such a civilized act. To make up for his delay, he invited me to dinner the next day. I politely declined. He said he would give me the money at Tahrir Square by Hardee’s restaurant at 9pm.

Now, I think I will have to set pen to paper in my best classical Arabic to rebuke this wayward man. He should be so glad that I don’t practice revenge in the way of those from Upper Egypt.