Sunday, November 15, 2009

Egyptian Wedding Celebration

Hany invited me to his cousins wedding celebration. The party happens the night before the wedding so it was just the grooms family and friends. As the only white people there, we were of course an attraction. The celebration was in some back streets where they had set up a bunch of chairs, a dj stand, a live band stand and a number of lights. This all surrounded a dance area at the intersection of the two alleys. The music was playing, but no one was dancing so the groom's father invited us up to dance. We quickly became the center of attention and got the party started. Soon after we began dancing, the women closed in and made a circle. When we finished dancing, others began to as well. Mostly men dancing with men, only a few women danced all night. At one point, a neighbor came out on his balcony and threw candy and cakes down for the kids. Everyone was very happy and those of us who were dancing took turns gyrating our way into and out of the circle.

Dinner and cakes were served and the dancing continued for hours. While the adults were sitting and eating the kids began to dance. This was there one chance to be part of the dancing, at other times they were pretty much pushed out of the dance area. We left after a few hours, but I was told that the party will go all night and that at some point, the groom is covered in henna and hit six times with a stick by his father. He then hits his younger brother six times and so on. The mother gets six kisses from the groom.


The other day, my shower decided to start running on its own, the faucet was off, but water was coming out. I played with it and nothing changed so I called my landlord. While on the phone with him the water stopped. So I told him not to worry about. 1 hour later the water started again. I tried playing with it and it wouldn't stop, so while we waited for a plumber we decided to collect the water because eventually we were going to run out.

Turns out the plumber couldn't come until the next day. Once I heard this I decided to play with it some more and in doing so I discovered a brilliant way of stopping the water. I turned the faucet all the way to hot (while still in the off position) and then shut off the hot water heater. This seemed to work, the water stopped flowing. I then went the bathroom and when I went to wash my hands in the bathroom sink and turn on the faucet guess where the water came out got it the shower faucet and not the sink faucet. At this point I kind of laughed and said ok, well the pipes must be connected because they're in the same room. No biggie.

Later that day I went to make some food, I tried washing the vegetables in the kitchen sink, but no water came out. That's right, it was coming out of the shower faucet! So turns out all my water sources are connected and when the plug in the shower faucet breaks, it prevents water pressure from building strong enough to force the water elsewhere. The plumber eventually came and solved the problem and now my kitchen water pressure is better than ever, but my shower's pressure is worse than ever.

Egypt vs. Algeria soccer game

Right now countries around the world are trying to qualify for the world cup, in many cases group play in winding down and teams are winning their spots. Egypt is in the midst of the qualifying round and had the last group match last night. It was against Algeria, a hated soccer foe. Algeria was 1st in the group and Egypt was 2nd. Egypt had to win by 2 goals to force a one game neutral site playoff or win by 3 to qualify for the cup and knock Algeria out.

A little history lesson now...
Algeria and Egypt have historically been two of the African soccer powerhouses. This has forced a bitter rivalry between the two nations. In past matches, Egyptian fans have thrown rocks at the Algerian coach and injured 4 players in the process. In I think it was 1989 when the teams played in Cairo, a fight broke out in the hotel the Algerians were staying in and an Egyptian lost his eye in the mayhem. This resulted in an international arrest warrant for one of the Algerian players who is now a de-facto prisoner within his own country. Here's a good read on the rivalry

In anticipation of this game, the US embassy issued its first warden's statement that was sent via email to all registered Americans here. The message warned against going to the area of the stadium let alone the game due to heavy traffic and the possibility of crowds becoming violent. So what did I do, yup you guessed it, I bought myself a ticket to the game. Four of us went and as soon as we got out of the taxi we became the center of attention. We had red shirts on, had our Egyptian flags with us and got our faces painted. We made some Egyptian friends and then went off to find a way into the stadium. One police officer told us we had to go around the corner so we did, but shortly after doing so we saw a huge crowd of Egyptians running towards us so we decided we should turn around and move with the crowd. We eventually played the dumb American card and didn't speak any Arabic. We told the police we were American and little by little we were able to get past each riot police barricade. This worked until the final gate where we just had to push our way with the crowds of Egyptians forcing our way though the police line.

The game itself was awesome. Egypt scored in the 2nd minute of play to go up 1-0. Soon after the Egyptians just missed another chance. It went into half time with the Egyptians far outplaying Algeria, but only winning 1-0. In the second half, Algeria played a very defensive game. If they lost 1-0 it didn't matter, they were still making the Cup. Egypt's play was horrendous in the second half. People even began leaving when there were 5-10 minutes left in the game. 6 minutes of stoppage were added to the end and in the 5th minute, Egypt scored and the stadium erupted. Flags were waving everywhere, people jumping everywhere and random flares were being lit. By winning 2-0 Egypt has forced the playoff game this Wednesday night.

After the game the streets were mayhem, but a fun and friendly mayhem. Flares were going off everywhere, people were dancing with blowtorches, dancing on top of buses and trucks and cars. Dancing in the streets blocking traffic. Women were also the most liberated I had seen since being here. There were car fulls of girls and women driving around. Women dancing in the streets. We met up with some Egyptians and partook in the shenanigans. We started in Heliopolis where there was just a big gathering in the streets, as it started to wind down, we walked up towards where the car doughnut spinning competition had begun. From there we caught a ride to another party, we did the ride in true Egyptian style. Two people were sitting in the open trunk, three were sitting on the roof and I was sitting on the hood with another friend. We stopped and joined the party in front of the President's house and then hopped back on the car to move onto another street party. This one was a big fire circle in the street. We danced and partied with the Egyptians outside and inside the fire circle. Last night is by far one of the best memories and experiences of my life. We had started partying for the game at about 2pm and I eventually got home at 5am.

Here are some links about the game and pictures from CNN. Picture 2 of the guy leading the cheer, I was sitting to the upper right of him

Lesson learned from this day...don't listen to US Embassy warnings, HAHA, just kidding Mom. All of you please cheer for Egypt to win on Wednesday night so I can have another night of crazy street partying that will be even crazier than last night.


I've been wanting to get out to the Saqqara Pyramids for a while now, but just haven't bothered to do so. I finally did the other day and boy was it an adventure. I took the metro to Helwan, the last stop on it and just across the river from Saqqara. This is by far the cheapest way of getting there because any metro ride you take is only 1 pound (20ish cents). The cab ride should have been short and pretty cheap, but not with the cab. I told him Saqqara Haram (Saqqara Pyramids) and of course he said ok and started driving. After a while it felt as though we had been driving too long and even though I had kept telling him Saqqara and he said yes the Giza pyramids were appearing in the windshield. Giza is 11 Km south of Cairo and Saqqara is 30 Km. So this cab driver drove 20 Km north instead of taking me across the river. I took a metered cab thinking it would be better for this ride so I don't have to argue my way out of a tourist price. Well, not with this driver. I eventually had to call Hany to tell him in Arabic that I wanted Saqqara Pyramids and the cab driver than told me not to worry about the meter. Well that was nice of him until we finally got to Saqqara (70 Km later) and he wanted what the meter said. I told him no gave him some money and walked into the entrance area. Well he followed me and got someone who spoke English to harass me about it. I told the guy what happened and how much I paid and he basically told the cab driver to get lost.

Now on to the ruins. They were great! A old tomb that was still in pretty good shape that I walked though. Then I was taken on a private tour of some other tombs with amazing hieroglyphics on the walls. Some were in color others were the chiseled letters. The famous pyramid at Saqqara is the step pyramid. It looks and is small compared to the Giza pyramids, but when I climbed up it I realized how big it was. In the picture of me on it I look like a tiny speck. The Saqqara complex was more interesting than Giza because you can just walk around and pretty much do as you please. Nobody stops you and if they do you talk to them and they let you do what you want, sometimes a little bribe is also required.


Halloween here was fun only because the Marines hosted a party at the Embassy, but it really made me miss being back in the States. It's just not the same here. I mean if you really want to stick out walking through Cairo, just wear a Halloween costume. The costumes at the party were also kind of lame, but then again it's not like there are costume stores in Cairo. I know of one and it's way outside the city in the new expensive suburbs. I think the most popular costumes were Cleopatra and wanna be Cleopatras and for the guys it was dressing as security guards which meant they wore a suit and sunglasses. I on the other hand was so creative (not really) I tried to dress as Steve Carrel from Little Miss Sunshine, I looked like him, but I don't think too many people got what the costume was. Costumes here are far less sexy as well, the promiscuous costumes here exposed shoulders and knees. Although the costume were lame, it was a good party, by far the best dance music selection a dj has ever made.


Alex is a great place! The water is blue and beautiful and the pace of life seems a little slower and less hectic. The drivers are faster, but the taxis don't argue for more money every time you get out. Cafes were more European rather than just chairs in alley ways.

My parents and I stayed at a hotel with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, just being able to sit out and catch a sea breeze was enough of a vacation for me. We did a little shopping, checked out the new library which was incredible, went to the beach and went to a Roman ruin.

At the ruins, the sky started getting really dark and I looked up to see a big black storm cloud rolling in. It was the first time I had seen such a thing in Egypt. There was a crack of thunder and it started pouring. People were running everywhere, but I was all but dancing in the rain. RAIN!! I hadn't seen rain in nearly 2 months. The only catch to Egyptian rain is that it rains dirt. There is so much dust and dirt in the air that the raindrops catch it and bring it down. We could see the dirt on our clothes and on all the cars.

The seafood, as imagined, was fantastic. We got fresh caught and cooked shrimp and calamari and hundreds of salads the one night. By far the best meal I've had here.

The train ride back and forth to Cairo was really interesting, we got to see the traditional peasant lifestyle and things were green. It really was a welcome break from the desert and dirtiness of Cairo.

I almost forgot, while in Alex, someone else asked Dad if his beard was religious.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swine Flu Round 2????

I know rumors are often misleading and false, but this was is just too excited to not buy into. Apparently, Egyptian health departments are keeping the actual number of students with swine flu like symptoms somewhat concealed, but a classmate's friend's mom (truly rumor status now) works for one of the clinics and has said that the Health Ministry is waiting until after the Eid holiday in late November (Thanksgiving time) to close international universities for the semester!

This would result in all my classes meeting in cafes, through skype, etc. All in all it doesn't eliminate any class time, but I'm sure it will once again change the workload.

But don't worrying, I'm not oinking yet!

Is that a religious beard?

My parents and I were walking to a restaurant for dinner, for some reason they attract more attention than I do from shop owners. It's probably because they look more put together than I do so they appear as a larger dollar sign. Shop owners will often randomly walk up to foreigners and speak in English and be friendly and tell you about their shop right down the street and ask you to come take a look and take a business card of theirs. The first store owner we crossed paths with tried this approach and Dad handled it well. The second one took a much different approach and it definitely threw Dad off because he talked for a while. Instead of saying hello or welcome to my country, this store owner was much more blunt and straight forward; the conversation began by him complimenting Dad's beard. I started laughing and had to turn away, I turned back just in time to hear the Egyptian ask if it was a religious beard.

The three of us were humored by the conversation and it definitely a unique approach to making a sale.

Entertaining Cab Ride

A few weeks ago I went out with my two real estate brokers and we had one of the funniest cab rides of my life. I had just returned from Morocco earlier that day, so Yury and Hanny (my brokers) wanted to use my passport to buy from a duty free store. In Cairo there are a few duty free stores dispersed throughout the city, they are pretty popular because they are the only places that can legally sell imported alcohol. The catch is that you need to bring your passport and you had to arrived in the country within 24 hours of visiting the store.

The first one we tried we needed a taxi to get to. When we got in, the cab driver saw white people and immediately put some tissues up to his face. You must remember that my school was still closed because of the swine flu scare and since there are no pigs in Egypt the only way for swine flu to spread is through foreigners entering the country. I know it's not spread by pigs, but a majority of people here belief it to be brought in by tourist and foreign residents. Not only did the cab driver put the tissue to his face, he also started leaning out the window as he drove. We realized what was going on and began to fake cough and sneeze. Yury asked me in Arabic about AUC; when I answered that I hadn't been back to class, the cab driver leaned even further out the window.

The cab arrived at a duty free and we almost fell out laughing. We tried to enter the store, but it was closed so we headed back to the streets to find another cab and head to the next one. A cab came from around the corner, we flagged it down and got in. Much to our surprise it was the same cab driver!!! We immediately started coughing.

A New Discovery

So you guys have read about Koshery, the somehow amazing dish made from the simplest ingredients. Well I found a dish that one ups it...Koshary Schwarma! It is the typical Koshery (noodles covered with wild rice covered in lentils covered in tomato sauce covered in fried onions and chick peas), but has an added topping of schwarma meat (either chicken or meat). It is absolutely delicious and my new favorite Egyptian meal.

Going to the Movies

So I finally saw Inglorious Bastards in it's somewhat proper form. Previously I had watched it online, but the subtitles were in Russian so they didn't help much. This time there were the English subtitles and Arabic ones as well. Tickets cost 15LE (~$3 US) and popcorn was affordable. So affordable that during intermission, yes they have intermission here too, I bought a second box. Popcorn was less than $1. It was great being able to go see a movie and buy popcorn without having to break the bank.

Intermission here was much different than in Ethiopia. The film didn't just stop and the screen go blank, when the film stopped a message in Arabic appeared on the screen. The intermission was much shorter, by the time I got back from buying popcorn (there was no line) the movie had already restarted.

Inglorious Bastards was fantastic, much better with subtitles I understands.

Arrival of the Parents

So Mom and Dad are here, time to do round two of tourist attractions. So far we've done the Citadel, the market, the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids. We also went on a dinner boat for a great all you can eat buffet and to watch Sufi, Belly and Whirling Dervish dancing. The first two types of dances were ok, the belly dancer was not a good one, she was pretty much shaking her breasts and ass and not really belly dancing so that was disappointing. The Whirling Dervish was incredible, the guy just kept spinning and spinning and the outfit was beautiful. At one point he was dancing with decorative bowls on his head and at another point he was spinning like a top completely covered by the outfit.

It's great having the parents here, perhaps the best part is that they are staying in a hotel, so for the first time in months I'm enjoying an air conditioned sleep and a shower that has consistent and forceful water pressure and hot water that doesn't disappear (I could even make it hotter). I'm just kidding about that being the best part, but it's not too far behind them being here.

Mom has surprised me in her street crossing ability, at times she's a little jumpy and nervous, but it's usually because a car is a few inches away from us. Dad is impressed by the drivers and trusts them more than American ones so he walks around like it's nothing; he did almost get hit by a motorcycle, the hairs on his arm literally blew in the wind as it whizzed by. My parents refuse to eat pigeon, but they have been good sports about trying other foods and my mom loves the juices and coffee.

At the museum Dad looked like a little kid. He was so impressed by the artifacts, both in there grandeur and the massive amounts the museum has. You could see the joy in his eyes especially when he was looking at the King Tut mask. Mom loved the jewelry and noticed the designs on many of the bottles and tables resembled the designs on objects my Great Grandfather brought back from his overseas adventures of the mid 1900s.

This trip to the Pyramids was completed on camel instead of horse. Mom has dreamed of riding camels by the Pyramids so we went one step further than just riding, we took a 2 hour tour of the area by camel. Dad was in awe by the Pyramids, at one point as we were walking up to one he joking wondered if his great-great-great-great-etc. grandfather had helped to build this one. On this tour of the Pyramids I learned two really interesting facts. 1. The three big Pyramids were built for the King, the 6 smaller ones were built for his Queen and daughters. 2. In front of the Pyramids there are excavation sites were they are uncovering new tombs. These tombs are not royal ones, but rather where the bodies of those who built the Pyramids are buried. After a Pyramid was built, all those who worked on it were slaughtered in order to prevent them from sharing the secrets about how to enter the Pyramid, etc.

The Sphinx, while in the same compound is fenced off from the rest of the Pyramids. You can see it from outside the fence, but it's much cooler when you go in. It's fenced off because it costs an additional 60LE per person to enter the fence. I told my parents not to worry, last time some kids helped us get in for free. Well this time, the kids didn't need to help, I talked to the tourist police officer and he let us in. Afterward he followed us to get a little tip, but hey a 20LE tip compared to 180LE entrance fee, I'd say it was well worth it.

This round of site seeing in Cairo is over for my parents. They're off in Luxor and Aswan doing a tour by boat down the Nile. I can't wait to see pictures. They come back to Cairo Friday night, then we're off to Alexandria for the weekend and then back to Cairo for 2 days before they head back to cold Buffalo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Micol in Cairo Part 2

We got back to Cairo and Micol had one more day left. So we ventured back to Khan-al-Khaleli. It's a huge market in Islamic Cairo. The vendors "harass" you to look in their store, it gets even worse once they see a bag in your hand; they know you're shopping then and not just looking. After a couple of hours of wandering, shopping and haggling we were done and wandered through one of the nearby neighborhoods. I learned that it is very important to use my limited Arabic in the market, one salesman was giving Micol a price and when I spoke up in Arabic he looked surprised and immediately lowered the cost - it was still more than it should be, but it was a much better starting point for haggling.

Micol ate quiet well here and experienced all of the Egyptian delicacies I have come across from koshary to baked goods and even pigeon. Yes that dirty bird is not so dirty here. They are raised on peoples' roofs and fed well and they taste delicious. A sweeter and juicier chicken, almost half way between chicken and duck.

Unfortunately it was time for Micol to head home, off to the airport we went and through the metal detectors she went - shoes on I must add. It was sad seeing Mimo go, it's been weird not having her around all the time and being on my own in a new and different place. It was time for me to head home, get some sleep for the night, wake up do some school work, go to class and then meet my parents in their hotel. It's now their turn to visit me and see Cairo!


For the posts about Micol in Cairo and Ethiopia make sure to check if she has left any comments since I am sure I have left things out by mistake.


After a short layover in Khartoum we arrived in Addis Ababa. It was kind of gray and rainy!! I was rather excited for this since I'd been living in a desert where it doesn't rain and I hadn't seen clouds in weeks. It was a little chilly for me, Micol made fun of me...Buffalo boy was chilly in mid 60 degree weather. The weather confirmed that my parents are going to have to meet me at the Buffalo Airport with an Eskimo outfit it they expect me to walk outside the airport in the lovely December weather.

The city seemed very modern, yet very old at the same time. Buildings were new, yet very run down. The road plan provided for a very spread out city where the suburbs appeared nice and the downtown appeared not so nice. I knew going to Ethiopia there would be a lot of poverty, but I wasn't prepared for the type of poverty. There were lots of people suffering from polio and lots of amputee war veterans. At one point, two kids came up to us and asked for money for food. We gave them 1 birr each (about 8 cents US) and they were some of the happiest kids I had ever seen.

So what did we do??? Well we spent a bunch of time sitting in cafes eating and drinking, went to the largest market is Africa, saw a movie and walked around. Food was pretty cheap and beer cost about 60 cents US. Apparently the coffee was very good and the tea was ok to me. The tea was mostly camomile tea. Burgers were very common there and was primarily what cafes served if you didn't want National food. The National food, especially the bread, was much better than any Ethiopian I've had in DC. In DC the bread is like a gooey napkin that you eat the food with, but in Addis it tastes delicious and makes the food so much better. The market was interesting, a little unnerving because you always had to watch your pockets and make sure nobody pick pocketed you. Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, pick pocketing is a real problem, but unlike most of sub-Saharan Africa, there is very little violent or gang related crime in Addis. We spent a couple of hours just wandering around the market taking in the smells and sites. Getting to and from the market was interesting. We took a mini bus taxi. They stop at specific destinations and a kid, between 14-18, leans out the door of the van calling out where they are going to as they pull up and then collects your money. Now on to the movie, we saw Bedazzled; yes the Brendan Frasier movie. Not something I would normally see, but it was the only movie in English and the Amharic (official language) movies didn't have subtitles. Well we missed most of the first half of the movie, even though the people working at the theater said it started in 30 mins. As we're watching, the film all of a sudden stops and the lights come on, I'm thinking great what happened, but I was wrong, nothing happened it was time for intermission. It was a real theater like intermission. A bell rang, people left for the bathrooms, men came in and sold pop and doughnuts and other snacks, a bell rang and then the movie started again. I was pretty happy we at least got there before intermission so I could learn that it happens. The tickets were 16cents US so even though we missed most of the first half we got our money's worth.

After a couple of days in Addis, we decided we had to leave. We tried to go to Lalibela, but all the flights were over booked so instead we decided to rent a 4x4 and a driver and go to Awash Natoinal Park for two days. The drive there through the Ethiopian countryside was beautiful. We drove through the park for 8 hours, walking some of the time with our game scout. We saw Oryx, Warthogs, Monkeys, Baboons, Crocodile, Dik Dik and tons of birds. I took a picture of a tribal herder carrying his Kalashnikov and then got yelled at by his tribesman who had the same gun, thankfully our game scout resolved the situation. The tribesman wanted money for the picture. After this little adventure we kept walking through the palm tree jungle to the volcanic hot springs. Once there I swam in one of them, it was really hot, almost beyond jacuzzi hot, so hot that I was red when I got out, but my skin felt great and it was the cleanest I felt since I had arrived in Cairo! The water was so crystal clear and the surroundings were so green and tropical, I loved it.

After driving through the park we arrived at our hotel, well not really hotel, but where we were staying the night. We had a camper trailer, not the luxurious kind, but a extra large pop-up like one, in the middle of the African savannah. There was a lodge with a restaurant and they had a table set up for us. It was sadly one of the most, if not most, romantic dinners Micol and I have ever had. Our table was right one the edge of the patio overlooking the Awash River Gorge, it was late enough at night that we could only hear the river and see tribal camp fires, but the ambiance was great. That night it rained like crazy, massive downpours and thunderstorms. I was loving it and so were the people of Ethiopia, they've had a prolonged drought that is cutting into food and energy supplies. It rained so much that most of the park roads were barely navigable the next day so we just drove back to Addis.

We arrived back in Addis about 8 hours before our flight was supposed to leave, we tried to catch an earlier flight, but they didn't have any so we walked to a cafe and sat there for a few hours and then headed back to the airport for a 5 hour wait until takeoff. Looking back on the trip I can definitely say that Addis and I and I think Addis and Micol have a love/hate relationship, but overall Ethiopia was pretty cool and I def. want to go back and explore more of the countryside and some rural towns.

Micol in Cairo

Micol arrived shortly after my return from Morocco. It was great having her here. She loved the excitement and chaos of Cairo.

Now that I had a visitor is was time to do all the tourist attractions. We began with the Egyptian Museum. All I can say is AMAZING!!! Every history museum I've been to has an exhibition on the ancient Egyptian civilization, but this was an entire museum dedicated to it. Tons of statues, artifacts, mummies, animal mummies, sarcophagi, etc. The King Tut room was incredible. The gold mask that was on the cover of National Geographic was in the room and it was stunning. So ornate and perfect. 11 kilograms of gold! After a while the museum didn't become boring, but it became mundane; there's just too much amazing artifacts that your brain begins to fry and things don't look so amazing anymore. After about 3 hours we left and wandered around Cairo for a little.

One night we took a falucca (a replica of ancient Egyptian sail boats) out onto the Nile. It was so peaceful and relatively quiet. It provided a great escape from the noisiness and hecticness of downtown.

The Salhadin Citadel was interesting. It was built by Islamic conquerors as their fortress overlooking the city. The walls contain the most stunning Mosque I have ever seen. It was huge and the interior had all the elegance and decor of a Renaissance European Church. The ceilings were vaulted and painted, there were massive crystal chandeliers and the walls were all marble. The Citadel also provided some amazing panoramic views of Cairo, it was crazy seeing my home from this viewpoint. The Military Museum inside the Citadel was interesting and a little unnerving for us. It truly portrayed how proud Egypt was of the October 1973 War (Yom Kippur War). The government pushed the perception of victory and the sentiment expressed by the display reminded me of the perception (we didn't lose) of the Vietnam War back home, except here the soldiers who died are portrayed as martyrs.

We took the subway to Coptic Cairo. I had heard rumors of the metro's creepiness, but it was surprisingly pleasant and easy for us. A one way ticket cost 1 LE, so about 20cents US. Coptic Cairo was very unique, it almost felt weird walking around a completely Christian section of Cairo. The area was filled with tourists and believers. The followers of Coptic Christianity would touch certain pictures of Jesus or Mary or the glass cases containing the remains of Saints and then kiss their fingers. I'm not sure why this is practiced, but I did learn about Coptic Christianity. The Holy Family came to Egypt when they were exiled by King Herod from Israel, they spent about 2 years hear until an angel (I think Gabriel) told them it was safe to return home. Due to their travel throughout Egypt, there are many holy sites in the country. Coptic Cairo became the center of the Christian population in Egypt. Coptic Christianity is now a branch of the Orthodox faiths so there was a huge Greek influence and lots of Greek writing throughout the area and on tombstones in the cemeteries. Unfortunately, Ben Ezra Synagogue which is in Coptic Cairo was already closed for the day by the time we got to it. This Synagogue is the oldest in Cairo and is supposedly built where Moses was found in the reeds of the Nile River.

After looking at the Churches and cemeteries, Micol wanted to do some shopping. We were looking in one store and I was intrigued by the chess sets. The shop owner told me the price and when I told him it was too expensive he offered to play me for the board. If I won, the board was mine, if he won nothing happened. So I figured I'd give it a shot. Well once I agreed, he leaned out into the street and called his brother to come play. His brother was pretty good, I lasted all of 15 minutes, but it was an entertaining match.

One night we went to the top of the Cairo Tower. Similar attraction idea as the Empire State Building or Sears Tower. We got a pretty cool view of the Cairo night skyline. Off to one side we could watch a soccer match form above and see the development of every play and move by both teams.

After a few days and a small taste of Cairo, it was time to head out of country with Micol. We wanted a mini vacation and some time to explore somewhere new. We wanted something not too expensive and not too overwhelming since we only had a short amount of time. Well guess where we picked...Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

Monday, October 19, 2009


I apologize for my recent absence from the blogging world, but it's been a crazy month. I traveled to Morocco for 10 days, then Micol came to Cairo, then we went to Ethiopia, then Mimo left and then my parents arrived. The 'rents are gone for a few days so I have time to update y'all on my adventures.

I want to start this one with a note to the world...if I ever speak of hiking a 14,000 foot mountain on a whim again, please try and stop me. I doubt it would work, but at least try instead of telling me that it sounds awesome, or get some good pictures, etc. It was awesome and I would maybe do something like it again, more on it later.

I began my trip to Morocco on a train from Casablanca to Marrakech. I heard that there isn't much to see in Casablanca so I didn't want to waste my time there. Marrakech was interesting, reminded me of a small Cairo. There was a huge market in the center of the Medina that was open all hours of the day. I often found myself wandering around the city looking at different Mosques and ruins and eventually winding up back in the market place. I ate most of my meals in the market at little stands, other stands sold amazing fresh squeezed OJ, there were monkeys and there trainers, African dancers, belly dancers and I even got to play with some snakes and watch a "dancing" cobra. The vendors in Marrakech were rather aggressive in trying to get me to buy things, but negotiating was pretty easy and I was proud of my skills. The exchange rate was very much in my favor, $1 US was 7.7 Dirhams. Things were priced reasonably, little more expensive than Cairo, but I could eat for $3 per day. Life would pick up at night once it cooled down a little, the market turned into a huge gathering place and street performers were found all over the piazza. I spent two days in Marrakech and was ready to leave, it was an interesting place, and the more I look back on it the more I really do love the place, but I was anxious to climb Mt. Toubkal.

I took a grand taxi from Marrakech to Imlil, the tiny Berber town at the bottom of the hiking trail. A grand taxi, does not mean some sort of limo or luxury ride. It means at least 6 people plus the driver in a mid 90s Mercedes. In Morocco there are petit taxis which are smaller Peugots and such that will carry single passengers around the cities, a grand taxi is meant for longer trips and usually has to have at least 4 passengers before it will leave, and by at least 4 I mean usually carries 6-10 people.

It was recommended that hikers spend a day in Imlil to acclimate to the high altitude. In Imlil it was walnut harvesting time. Men would climb the trees and get out on the thin branches and start beating the different branches with a really long stick. The stick was obviously made for walnut harvesting. Women would collect the walnuts from the ground and bag them. Kids would participate in both activities and when the harvesting was done for the day, they would collect rocks and throw them at any remaining walnuts. It was a really cool thing to see. Harvesting was not just happening in the town, but all up and down the valley I had to hike up. While looking for a place to eat, we (I was with a woman from England who I met in the grand taxi) stopped at a butcher shop to observe the locals' activities. The meat was fresh, the goat head was sitting on the ground in front of the shop. The butcher told we could take pictures and then asked me if I was Chinese. I know a number of you are cracking up right now (especially Zach and Jenna), but I don't think it was just because of my eyes, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the Brit was of Chinese decent. For dinner that night, we ended up eating in a little restaurant right next to a butcher shop, I ordered fresh kofta. The butcher brought over the meat and then it was cooked for me, very few things have tasted as good as fresh meat kofta.

So the hike, it began ok, I made decent time. It's supposed to take 5 hours, I made it in 6. The hike twisted up from the valley floor and followed the river bed until it reached an Arab Muslim holy site. There is a big white rock that covers a small portion of the river that is said to be a healing site for all ailments. Only Muslims are allowed to cross the bridge that leads to the rock covered holy site. From this tiny town the trail begins to really climb uphill until the refuge where everyone sleeps for the night. The refuge is at 3,000+ meters in elevation. The air was much thinner and it made hiking the last 2 hours pretty tough. I was exhausted by the time I made it, but pretty happy with what I had accomplished. All that was left until the summit was 1 night's sleep and then a 3-4 hour hike up another 1,000 meters in elevation.

Day 2 of the hike began at 6am, clouds move in much thicker in the early afternoon than in the morning. The climb up to the summit, SUCKED!!! The air was really thin and the climb was very vertical. I had to stop every 15 minutes or so and catch my breath. I eventually made it to the summit and wow it was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! I was above the clouds, I could look south and see the mountains slowly fade into the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. When people ask what is your greatest lifetime accomplishment, I never knew what my answer was, but now I have an idea. Hiking to the summit of the 36th most prominent peak in the world carrying my own bag (f00d, water, etc.) and without a guide may be it. My flight home from Baltimore to Buffalo flew at 15,000 feet; when I was on the summit I was within 1,000 feet of that plane. After hanging out on the summit for a little, it was really cold and windy, it had snowed on the summit two days before I climbed and there was still some snow left, I began my trek back to Imlil. By the time I got back to Imlil it was 6pm, I had been hiking for 12 hours that day. My legs were tired and my knees were killing me from the pressure put on them of the hike down the mountain. I did get some great pictures and was really happy with my accomplishment (great weight loss regiment by the way, I think I lost about 10 pounds in the 2 days).

The hike took place in Berber areas of Morocco. This made for interesting conversations and interactions along the trail. At certain points there were little shacks Berbers had opened to sell souvenirs and drinks. Every time I approached one, the men working would ask if I had anything to trade them. They were especially interested in clothes with American labels and US cell phones. Trading with them was tough, I tried a Nike shirt, but they were willing to give me far too little in return.

From Imlil I headed back to Marrakech so I could catch a train the next morning to Fes. I had to take a grand taxi part way to Marrakech and then switch to another one. This grand taxi was a Mercedes station wagon so when we left Imlil there were 4 of us in the back seat, two in the front, the driver and one in the trunk with all the luggage. I thought it was as full as it could be, but I was wrong. A man flagged down the taxi and got in the front seat, not on the passenger side, but on the driver's side. The driver was basically sitting on his lap flying around winding mountain roads. A couple of times I thought we might die and one time so did the Moroccan next to me, but I eventually made it back to Marrakech alive and in one piece.

Fes was an interesting city. The medina was a tight packed mess of alleys and narrower alleys. Cars could not fit so there were many push carts and mules in the road. The medina was mostly markets, the famous tanneries and some Mosques. The tanneries were pretty interesting to look down on from the roof of a neighboring building. The men were basically doing the I Love Lucy grape smashing dance with hides in washing solutions and dye solutions. The dyes were very vivid in different colors, especially the red. The medina of Fes is rather confusing, but not at all like what the guide books say. They all recommend bringing a compass and preparing yourself to pay a kid to lead you out of the maze, but in reality only an idiot would have to do that. The city is built on hills (didn't know this when I planned on going there after mountain climbing, let's just say my legs were not happy with me!), the medina is the center of everything at the bottom of all the hills, order to get out of the maze, just walk uphill. Not to hard of a concept to grasp.

I stayed with a family while I was in Fes, a kid asked if I was looking for a hostel and I told him yes and the price I wanted to pay and he brought me to this house. It was great, they were learning English so one of the kids had to be the translator. I helped them with English and they helped me with Arabic and tried teaching me some French.

After Fes I headed to Rabat. In all of Morocco the French legacy was unbelievably obvious, but no where that I was was it more obvious than in Rabat. The capital looked like a European city and many people spoke French with each other rather than Arabic. The city itself was kind of boring, almost too clean and pristine for me. The market was ok, nothing different or special than in the rest of Morocco, but the one thing that Rabat had that I hadn't seen yet was beaches. I decided spending some time on the seashore and relaxing in the sun was a well deserved break before heading back to the insanity and dirtiness of Cairo.

Well it was time to head home to Cairo, I had an entire row to myself so I slept the best I ever have on an airplane. I was excited to get back to Cairo, not only was I heading home and to somewhere where I knew where to find food and a place to sleep, but Micol was on her way and was arriving within 24 hours of me!

Monday, September 21, 2009


In my last post, I mentioned that I agreed to attend a morning prayer with one of my brokers. After spending the night walking through some interesting parts of Cairo, I stopped at home for a little and then met up with Mohamed and went to morning prayer with him.

This provided a very interesting experience. After entering and taking our shoes off, we walked into the huge courtyard in the middle. This courtyard was basically a marble tiled recreation center. Women were socializing in one part, men in another and kids were running around everywhere. The kids here play pretty rough, most of the playing seemed to be mini-gang fights of one group against another and dragging other kids across the tiled floor. Every once in a while an older kid or an adult would break up a battle or dragging. It was a very lively atmosphere!

In one corner there were Gatorade containers filled with water with metal cups on top. These were provided so that people could wash there mouths out before praying. Basically wash out the remnants of cigarette smoking, etc. This was a pretty nice testament to the devotion and respect people have for Allah.

Although there was lots of activity, many men were sitting and reciting the call to prayer with the loudspeakers. This lasted for a while and some kept reciting while others socialized and others broke up scrimmages. Then all of a sudden the mosque went silent. At a certain point, a certain line is recited and this is the indication that prayer is about to begin. Everyone became quiet, kids stopped running and the men stood up and lined themselves up shoulder to shoulder and feet the feet of the person next to you in perfectly straight lines. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed, in my mind the scene went from near complete chaos to perfect organization and order within seconds.

The prayer itself was very short and was complete within 10 minutes. It consisted of a few repeated lines and a movement of bringing your hands to your ears and back down after each line. Then bowing to Allah twice, listening to a passage of the Quran, more repeating and hand movements, more bowing, another passage and that was it.

It was a fantastic experience, I had been to church and synagogue services before, but never to a mosque. I'm glad I did, it may turn out to be one of the most interesting and insightful lessons I learn from living here or from school. I had a very interesting and diverse weekend, it began in a synagogue celebrating Rosh Hashana and ended in a mosque celebrating the end of Ramadan and beginning of Eid El Fetr.

This is probably my last post for a while, tomorrow morning I leave for Morocco for 10 days and I'm not sure what my internet access will be like.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Night Time Adventures

Although Ramadan officially ended tonight with the birth of the new moon, everyone still stayed up. Around 11:30 pm we headed over to Khan el Khalili ( with our brokers. We wandered around the markets for a while, stopped in and looked around a 700 year old mosque and stopped for some tea/juice. The market is open 24 hours and it was hopping. Everything you could imagine was for sale. There were people everywhere walking around and socializing. The squares were filled with people just hanging out en joying the night. The mosque was very beautiful, just as ornate as any old European church I have seen.

Ally and I had been invited to a mosque with one of our brokers for the 2nd morning prayer and since we accepted and we had to be at the mosque by 5:30am we all decided to pull an all niter. So after the tea we went looking for something a little more lively. We headed off from the market and found a place blasting Egyptian music. There were a number of men and women sitting around drinking tea, live music and some women dancing. The manager was very happy to see us and wished us all peace. One of our other brokers decided he wanted to dance and when he tried to get up and dance where the women had been it caused a big ruckus. Apparently only women were allowed to dance in the cafe.

After the cafe we wandered a little more and instead of taking a taxi home, we decided to walk through the City of the Dead to get back downtown. The City of the Dead is essentially the cemetery in Islamic Cairo ( ). There are millions of people who live there. People live within the mausoleums for basically free as long as they maintain them for the families. As of last year, street lights were finally provided to some areas of The City of the Dead. The people we ran into were very friendly and most of the kids would start shouting "hallo, hallo" when we walked in their direction. We came across a soccer game in the middle of a square, most of the kids playing were pretty good. Much better than the average American kid. Although some alleys had lights, many did not. The two Egyptians with us warned us not to take the unlit paths alone, but the rest of the lit area should be ok. The unlit areas can be dangerous. There are small packs of dogs, some mugging and there is a cultural belief that you will hear the screams of the dead. Rumor has it that the screams are not coming from the dead, but rather from the very poor who live in the cemetery and are suffering from organ harvesting scams. From my understanding this is a fairly well known and somewhat widespread activity that is tossed under the rug and virtually ignored. Apparently demand for the organs/bodies comes from a wide range of places including universities. Since we were a group of 5 we took some of these unlit paths and we did run into some people who lived outside and in the mausoleums and a few dogs. No dog-packs nor organ harvesters thankfully.

Being American

Cuz Jeff since my internet connection won't let me respond to your question in a reply comment here it is as a post...

Being American here doesn't seem to be a problem. We obviously stand out and some people will ask where you're from and when you respond America, they respond with welcome. The catch is that they then often see you as a dollar sign and try to start giving you a business card and talk about how they give tours, etc. It become frustrating to be American here, because you pay different prices for everything. There is an Egyptian price and then a foreigner price. If you know what you're doing and know how much things should cost, the foreign price is usually only 1 or 2 pounds more (about 20-40 cents). Being American in Kurdistan can't compare to anywhere else in this region except maybe Israel. The Kurds love Americans because we freed them from Saddam.


La'Shana Tova (Happy New Year). Yesterday was the first day I had to publicly be Jewish. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit nervous. From what I've picked up from people, Egyptian's don't necessarily hate Jews or are violent towards them, but for the most part if an Egyptian finds out you're Jewish they will basically dismiss your opinion and essentially disregard you. Although this is bothersome, I suppose it could be much worse.

Yesterday (Friday) morning, my friend who lives around the corner and knows Arabic pretty well came over (he's also Jewish). He had been woken up by the sermon (don't know what it's called in Islam) from the Imam of the mosque that's in between our apartment buildings. The sermon was being broadcast over the loudspeakers used for the calls to prayer, he understood enough of the Arabic to know that the Imam was blasting Jews and at one point urged the slaughter of the Jew. I found this interesting because it was the morning before Rosh Hashana began. Don't know if this was just this mosque or if it is a general message preached by a large contingent here.

Regardless we went to service that night at the oldest synagogue in Cairo. It was beautiful. The Israeli embassy flew a Rabbi in from France to lead the service. The American ambassador was there and a high ranking diplomat from the Israeli political division of the foreign ministry attended. The service was all in Hebrew, but was not too long and afterward they hosted a dinner for the 30 or so people who attended. Security outside was very impressive for Cairo. They had armed guards, high level police officers and private security. We had to show our passports and give our local residency information, telephone number, etc.

There were no issues during the service or after, we walked right out onto the street and as far as I could tell, nobody said anything, but I still wouldn't wear a kippah walking down the streets of Cairo.

At the dinner I met a number of interesting people, surprisingly (or maybe not since it was a synagogue) there was a large NY contingent. A guy named Zach I had been corresponding with about hiking in Morocco happened to be there with his wife, he's doing research for his PhD program at CUNY Grad Center. I met a girl who grew up in Syracuse and went to LeMoyne (sorry Lucy she didn't know you, her name is Justine and she dove). And most crazy of all, I met a guy who grew up in Amherst! He went to Williamsville North, but graduated in 1996. Small world.

On a different and lighter note, in order to do the hike I want to in Morocco I need hiking boots. Of course I didn't bring any with me to Cairo so I set out to find some. At least find some good, sturdy, good gripping and ankle supporting cross training sneakers. As you can imagine, this turned out to be a rather futile effort, not because they didn't have sneakers that would work, I did find a perfect pair - a Nike Gortex pair, but when I asked for my size most people laughed. It finally became a pretty fun adventure where I basically would ask with a smile and laugh and laugh with them when they said no. One shoe stand said no to having anything in that size for the shoes I needed and then tried to sell me basketball shoes. This morning I went to a department store. Reminded me of Boscov's in Binghamton. I found some hiking boots and a flashlight. I still should get a compass and sleeping bag, hopefully the hiking town at the base of the mountain has both! I'm bringing my sheet and long sleeve shirts with me just in case they don't have sleeping bags.

Ramadan may be ending tonight, the month ends with the birth of the new moon. Tonight we will find out whether Eid -the huge feast and party after the month of Ramadan - begins tomorrow or Monday. Either way, I'm excited to see what Cairo is like during a normal month and be able to get street meat and other food anytime I want. Apparently the hectic-ness I've experienced is nothing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


So I came here for school, right? Well that doesn't seem to be happening. The Egyptian Health Ministry has shut down all international schools due to a swine flu, sorry President Obama, I mean an H1N1 scare. So school is closed until at least October 3rd. I've already been in Cairo for 2.5 weeks with nothing to do, I couldn't do another 2.5 weeks here with nothing to do so I bought a ticket to Morocco. Not sure what I'm doing there yet, but I leave next Tuesday Sept. 22nd and have 10 days in country! I'm trying to set up a hiking tour into the Atlas mountains, spend 2 or 3 days in Fez and 1 day in Ouarzazate.

I have more examples of Egyptian inefficiency. Our toilet had been coined "the best toilet in Cairo." It flushed, didn't clog and only leaked a little as the bowl refilled. When hanging out at the nearby cafes, friends would ask to borrow the key and use the facilities. Well this quickly changed when the toilet stopped working properly. It only took a plumber 1 week to stop by and when he finally came over to play in his element, he spent 20 minutes jiggling different parts (the same things I had been doing) and didn't fix anything. He said he'd be back the next night to fix it. Well he came back, played some more and ended up breaking a piece of the toilet. The third straight night he came it was finally fixed and once again we have "the best toilet in Cairo," although it leaks a little more when refilling now, but at least the leak is on the side of the toilet where the bathroom drain is!

The other night I decided to cook dinner here for the first time. Of course this led to a fiasco. I wanted to use some minced garlic in one of the dishes and since I don't have a garlic press here I did it the old fashioned way. Placed that clove on the counter and crushed it flat. Not going to the gym for the past 5 months must have somehow made me stronger because I managed to break the counter. As I was pressing the counter snapped in half, literally, the only thing keep the counter on the wall was that it was attached to the sink. After breaking the "stone" slab, I looked underneath it. Here I discovered the brilliance of Egyptian inefficiency once again, although this time it may have been efficiency. Underneath I notice that there's metal support beams on the side of the counter that is blocked by the stove/oven, but on the side that is accessible, there was NO support. Seems like inefficient engineering, but at the same time seems like a totally efficient idea. The man who installed the counter basically insured himself of a future job. I found the fact that I broke the counter pretty hilarious, in fact my real estate broker and landlord had a good laugh too. Unfortunately they were speaking in Arabic, but from what I could understand I think they were slightly laughing about how I'm bigger than the average person here, but really laughing because a man was in the kitchen cooking dinner (a man that lives with two women).

Monday, September 14, 2009


So yesterday was the first Sunday of Billieve season. Of course I wanted to go watch some football, Reid and Emily wanted to watch the Packers game, which by the way started at 2:20am here. We heard rumors that Harry's Pub in the Cairo Marriott Hotel plays NFL games so we were going to head there around midnight and at least catch the end of the 4pm games. Right before we left I decided that we should call them and make sure the games are on. Well I called, the guy on the other end sounded very perplexed when I asked about American football. Once we got confirmation of the unfortunate turn of events (Harry's doesn't play NFL games) we decided to google where else in Cairo shows the NFL. Every result we found was very disheartening.

We were getting desperate to watch, streaming games wouldn't work b/c our internet is way too slow. I found one post that stated that the writer had watched the Superbowl at the US Embassy one year, so I decided we should call the embassy and see if they knew of anywhere we could watch football. Well that didn't work, Emily called, but an Egyptian apparently works the phones at night and told us to call back in the morning.

We give up on football and decided we should at least go to a bar and pretend to soak in the NFL atmosphere. We tried one place that is always open, well last night it was not. We ended up across the street at Harry's Pub. Unfortunately they closed 3o minutes later, but told us to go to the other hotel bar next to them because they were open 24 hours.

Turns out it was a great thing that Harry's didn't play the NFL, the next bar we went to is easily one of my favorite places in Cairo! This 24 hour joint was called Roy's Country Kitchen and went to the extreme of having its employees where overalls. The Egyptian employees were all decked out in flannel and overalls! The inside was decorated with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam bottles, Campbell's soup, Green Giant, Jell-o and other 1950s advertisements. The menus were literally paddles (like fraternity paddles), not sure why paddles but that was great. Napkins were folded closed with a clothespin. Each aisle in the seating area was labeled as a different street from Bourbon St. to Michigan Ave. The walls were also decorated in Route 66 and other highway and mile marker signs. But what put me over the top was the sign above the kitchen entrance: "I spent most of my money on beer & women, the rest I just wasted." Apparently this is the perception of American country eateries. It was great, the place was hilarious and had phenomenal service. I can't wait to go back!

Lesson from the night...sit in the 24 hour McDonald's that has free wireless for the Bills game so I have fast enough internet to stream it. GO BILLS!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


So it's been 100 degrees here the past two days, it's horrible, it's just simply too hot to do anything.

I've come to learn two Egyptian phrases that seem to pretty common, "ok, no problem" which seems to always be the answer when there is a problem. And the other is "as you like," but nothing here is as you like. There's always a catch.

Wednesday night our broker brought into a section of Islamic Cairo where only locals live and venture. This was in a quest for an alternative Iftar dish. Well we get there, it's a hole in the wall place - usually delicious back home, but here it is quite frightful to eat at. He insisted it was delicious and his mom used to bring him there to eat the dish. They served one dish, it's a fruit dish called baumb. Not quite a dinner dish, but it would have served as a great dessert. In a bowl, there's a layer of sweet rice, covered in fruit and nectar. Sounds delicious right? Here's the catch, there's a nice clump of solid "milk" in the middle of everything. The solid chunk was kind of a soft cheese, but not quite a cheese. Either way, eating around the "milk" the dish was pretty good.

Thursday night was a fun night. We met up at the Odeon Palace, which is a hotel that has a rooftop bar. During Ramadan it has been fantastically quiet and a great place to relax and take in the atmosphere of Cairo, apparently once Ramadan is over the scene changes because many Egyptians go there. After enjoying our Egyptian beer and wine we went to the British Club. The British Club is essentially a British Community Center that is turned into a bar. It was a very western style bar, real alcohol (imported), dancing and karaoke. It's completely run by Brits and you can purchase a membership or attend as someone's guest. It reminds me of the AOH in Binghamton.

Last night we went to Hard Rock Cafe to try and eat some non-Egyptian food. During Ramadan every dinner is usually the same - grilled chicken, kofta, bread, rice and cucumber and tomato salad. Although it was a Hard Rock, it had a completely Egyptian atmosphere. Little kids were running around the place with no supervision by parents. This seems to be a trend here, kids can just run and do as they please this includes running through the restaurant and running into the buffet tables, getting in servers ways, etc.

I decided to be healthy and order a salad, I need some greens and veggies that weren't just cucumber and tomato. I ordered the haystack salad, essentially a Mexican salad. Well my salad came out and it was not "as I like." It was a Caesar salad. So I called the waitress over and shared her mistake with her, her response was oh you wanted "the highstack salad?" Well sure, even though it says HAYSTACK on the menu, but yeah that one. So she took back the Caesar salad (apparently Caesar sounds like Hay/Highstack). 15 minutes later I get my haystack salad, but once again it's now "as I like." It was my Caesar salad! They chopped the chicken a little different, added the corn, tortilla strips, cheese, etc., but managed to leave the Caesar dressing soaked lettuce as the base, removed the Parmesan cheese flakes, but left the croutons. So apparently Hard Rock Cafe Cairo is now serving a Mexican Italian fusion salad.

Even when I go somewhere to escape the headache that is accomplishing mundane tasks in Cairo, I learn that there is no escape. Apparently Cairo has mastered the act of inefficiency.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Tonight I had a fun little adventure...everything started off pretty normal, a group of us met up at the sheesha cafe around the corner for tea/coffee. Afterwards we decided to get some food, for the first time since arriving I tried an Egyptian dish I'd heard lots about - Koshery. It's basically a bowl layered with pasta, then rice, then tomato sauce, then spicy tomato sauce, then some fried onions and finally a few chick peas. About 1 pound of this mixture cost me 3.5 LE or about 60 cents. It was pretty good, very filling at the least.

And here's where the fun begins...walking home we cut through an alley and made it out to a main street, but a part I hadn't been on before. Once we crossed the street we saw a man walk into a building and when he opened the door there was music blasting from within. Dance music. This is odd here so we decided to investigate. We walked in and found a woman scantly clad, well at least by Egyptian standards, a man singing karaoke and a few other men smoking sheesha and having tea. Within seconds of walking in the woman was hanging onto my friend's arm trying to get him to come dance and the old man who was working by the door was trying to push him further into the prestigious establishment. I bet by now you've realized we discovered the wonderful world of Egyptian brothels. We quickly learned our mistake and nearly fell out onto the street laughing hysterically.

And yes, the inside of the Carroll Restaurant was lit with an all too distinctive soft red hue!


Reddan...I don't know how to comment directly in response to your comment so I've made a new post. The exchange rate is around 5.6 which means for every $1US I get 5.6LE

That goes pretty far, here are some prices...

Foul Sandwich - 1 LE
1.5 Liters of bottled water - 2 or 3 LE
camel ride by the Pyramids - 20ish LE
shawarma sandwich - 5-9 LE
bananas - 5LE per kilo
mangos - 10-15 LE per kilo
portable 3G wireless internet USB stick unlimited access - 200 LE per month

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Some observations so far...

1. Speed limits (where they exist) and traffic lane indicators are completely ignored by every driver.

2. Drivers will honk their horn 1 million times to encourage another car to get out of their way before even thinking about applying the brakes.

3. Almost everyone's brakes squeal when they are actually used.

4. Egyptians seems to be very friendly and helpful, everyone that I have spoken to has gone far beyond any request placed upon them.

5. Emission standards and the EPA are great! There is a constant smell of burnt gas/diesel in the air. When you walk near the highways you can literally taste the gas.


Well it's been about one week since I've posted anything, hope everyone didn't get to anxious! I haven't posted much because I haven't been doing much...from Sept. 1-5 I was in survival Arabic class for 4-5 hours a day and it took me 2+ hours of traveling to get to and from the campus. In between taking the classes I was battling the wonderful bacterias and other food born friends that we don't have in the US. I've recovered now and am back to eating disgustingly huge portions.

Last night I finally was able to do a touristy thing. Not sure I've ever been so excited to be a tourist, but it's a pretty amazing place. A bunch of us rode horses out into the desert near the Pyramids. The Pyramids are an amazing site to see. The rise up above the glowing horizon line caused by the never sleeping city of Cairo. We took the horses to a bedouin like cafe set up out in the desert and sat and drank some tea and stared at the structures. The laser light show was still going on so we weren't able to go up to the Pyramids without paying a fortune, but we did get to see some of the show from where we were. It was quite amazing sitting there thinking about how every year I read about my ancestors building the Pyramids and then following Moses to freedom. There were even remnants of one of the 10 plagues! Every so often a Locust would fly by. When looking at the Pyramids, it makes no sense that people built them thousands of years ago, they're too big, too perfect...makes one wonder if aliens really did come down and construct them.

Riding the horses was an adventure within itself. These horses were not like American horses you can rent or take on a ride. Two of them were still being trained, I was put on one of them to start, which sucked because the horse had to be led the entire time. On the way back in I switched horses so I could just ride on my own and I quickly learned why my old horse had to be led. All it would do is run! Not only were two horses not broken in all the way, but two riders fell off and two horses decided they wanted to lay down and roll in the sand even though they had riders on them. Just a completely different experience than trail riding back home.

This is it for now, but I promise that things will be updated much more frequently now that I'm not going to class every day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


It’s Ramadan so the city is apparently much different than usual. During the afternoon you can drive and walk around without much of a problem. Most of the stores are closed and a lot of people are sleeping. But when the sun goes down, the streets come alive. It looks completely different at night, it’s nearly impossible to get my bearings at night; nothing looks like it did during the day. If you thought there was a lot of horn honking in NYC or DC, you would go deaf here. It seems as though taxis honk at you once to let you know they want to pick you up. Cars will honk a few times to let you know they’re coming up behind you fast and to get out of there way – people walk on the streets here, it seems so because if you walk on the sidewalk you are walking thru a sisha cafĂ© every couple of stores . Whoever invented Frogger definitely had recently returned home from Cairo. There are crosswalks, but they mean nothing more than lines on the street. People cross where they want and cars and people dodge each other. One great tip I have learnt is to try to make eye contact with drivers as your crossing, this usually convinces them to stop, or at least swerve around you. Sometimes you have to stop and stand in the middle of the street in between lanes of speeding cars in order to accomplish the original task of crossing the street.

Food during the day is a bit challenging to find. The McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC and Hardee’s near the apartment are still open during the day, but any authentic food is closed. As dusk rolls around, smoke starts billowing from every food stand, tables consume the streets and turn the side streets into one lane twisting roads, people miraculously appear and hundreds of shisas are ignited. Fasting has ended for the day and it’s now time to eat, socialize and relax. This goes on all night, people are out all night, shops are open and packed. As daylight nears people begin to hibernate from the sun. People seem to sleep all day and then eat and do all their chores at night. This makes crossing the street even more challenging at night, there are more cars, more people, and lots of cars that either don’t have or don’t use their headlights (I can’t wait for my parents to come and visit, it’s going to be great fun trying to get my mom to cross the streets)!

Everyone seems to be very friendly so far. I obviously stick out and when a few of us walk by people say “welcome” and if they have good English they’ll try to talk for a while. Unlike the US big bills are not the way to go here. Everyone here likes small bills, if you pull out you money and try to give 50 L.E. they’ll run their fingers thru your money and pull out a 20 L.E. and give you the 50 L.E. back with you change. This is mostly because of how inexpensive things here are. I went out with my roommates for shisa and tea, we ended up drinking three teas, one juice, smoking two shisas and eating fries, a delicious egg concoction and a cucumber & tomato salad and it came to 14 L.E. which is less than $3 US. The food has all been delicious, I’m a little bummer that it’s Ramadan because there are no street meat or falafel stands open during the day to munch on.

The break-fast dinners have been great though. The past two nights we’ve eaten at our apartment brokers’ office. They just yell out the window and within 10-20 minutes a huge try of food it walked through the door. There’s been chicken, meat, lamb, potatoes, roasted eggplant, hummus and salads. And when we’re done, they just yell out the window again for tea or coffee. I did try a coffee here the other day, although it still tasted nasty to me, I can definitely see why people prefer Greek/Turkish style coffee to the American style. Here the coffee actually has a flavor beyond dirty water.
It’s been an interesting first two days. Today will be more wandering around the city and tomorrow it’s back to campus for more orientation and Tuesday I begin my survival Arabic course. If you hear back from me later this week I guess the course worked.


So my adventure began on a bit, well more than a bit, of a sour note. Made it to Toronto plenty early, made it to LGA on time, caught the shuttle to JFK and made it there with enough time to check in and change my seat to an exit row. After getting my ticket I was informed that the flight was delayed for 3.5 hours and would depart at 10pm, but I figured no big deal, I have an exit row seat for a 12 hour flight so maybe it won’t be so bad. By the time I got to the gate (15 minutes later), the flight was delayed until 10:30pm, as the clock ticked closer to 10:30 I started to get a bad feeling because no gate number was appearing next to my flight, but flights leaving at 1am had gates. Needless to say I was not happy! A glimmer of hope appeared around 10, the flight crew showed up and was waiting to get on the plane. It’s finally 10:30pm, I’m thinking “Cairo here I come!” Nope! JFK Ramada Inn here I come! At 10:31 representatives from Egypt Air told us they were taking us to a hotel and we would know within 2 hours when we were leaving.

The hotel was a bit of a dump, rooms were musty, the buffet dinner was not very good and the wireless signal was horrible so I was fighting my computer and their modem for hours trying to establish a consistent signal. 3 hours pass, no word from Egypt Air. Finally at 3:30pm the next day I get a call to come get my boarding pass. I get to the airport, trade in my boarding pass, but my new one isn’t an exit row, it’s the last row of the plane. Shortly after boarding the plane I learnt I had the 2nd worst seat on the entire plane (the guy sitting next to me had the worst one). In front of me was a special needs child who was screaming and making half dinosaur half bird calls all night and then right across from my row was the bathroom so every time someone went to the bathroom I had the privileged of having the likes of a spotlight bearing down on me when the door opened. I’ve bet most of you have realized I didn’t sleep at all on that overnight flight.

I finally made it to Cairo, a day late, tired and aggravated…

Monday, August 10, 2009

1st post

Hello world!

The internet has just birthed a new blog. This is my first blog and hopefully it will be an entertaining chronicle of my upcoming adventures in Cairo, Egypt. I arrive in Cairo August 27th, so check back after that for updates on my travels.