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.