Thursday, August 24, 2006
Here is a picture of M, holding a bottle of Pepsi. T least, that’s what the ubiquitous Pepsi symbol tells me—I assume the Arabic writing translates, roughly, to “Pepsi.” I have several pictures I’d like to post, but at present we are subsisting on a faint, but free, wireless signal, which emanates from someplace nearby. We should have a faster DSL connection in a week or two, and then the pics will start flowing. Anyway, this picture is for M’s parents, and for my father, who still pines for the days when Pepsi was sold in a glass bottle. Come to Egypt, and have all the glass bottles you like. Click on pics to enlarge them.
Things have steadily become easier, though, to tell the truth, it hasn’t been exactly rough. The most potentially harrowing aspects of our arrival were expertly cared for by AUC staff, as already narrated. We had a day yesterday—we got out into this world a bit more. We were picked up in the morning and driven to AUC, which is a few “blocks” from the Nile, just off the island where we live, and close to Midan Tehir, the center roundabout of the city and the epicenter for horrible traffic. We met Louise, who oversees faculty services, and she helped us register our address with the Ministry of the Interior. Then we walked to the library to get our ID cards, and—bam!—we found ourselves right in the middle of a gaggle of American undergraduates, who were also getting their ID cards. Turns out M got an ID card, too, as my “spouse.” I’m glad, because this means she has access to as much as I do. I also got my office key and we went into my building and unlocked my office, which I will apparently share with 3 others, all of whom have covered the door and walls with black-and-white photos of the British Royal Family and cartoons poking fun at Hitler, Colonel Goebbels and the rest of the Nazis. So, it may be that I won’t have much say in the aesthetics of my office. We’ll see.
The real highlight was the taxi ride home. We were told that taxi drivers went by landmark, not street address, and we were told, at different points, to say “Zamalek, kinessa Marashi” (church on Marashli St., near our house), or just to say “Zamalek, American University.” We went with the latter when I lost the handwritten translation of the former, which had been so nicely scripted or us by Louise. We made the rookie mistake of getting into the taxi before settling on a price, although, to be honest, the driver did not clarify himself until we were in his grasp. He held up 8 LE (Egyptian pounds), which qualifies as a rip-off, but only a 50-cent rip-off. We went with it and we were off—through the epicenter for horrible traffic, squeezing into unbelievably tight spots, inches to spare between us and oncoming traffic. Our driver cut across several lanes of traffic. Interestingly nobody seemed angry. Egyptians seem bold and unabashed in certain circumstance, but also polite, deferential in others. I have noticed this several times already.
When we arrived in Zamalek, it became clear that our driver had taken on our fare without knowing where in the neighborhood we’d like to go. Intrepid M helped a great deal by mentioning the Italian restaurant on our block (didn’t help) and then our street. The first time the driver stopped to ask for help—a practice that is apparently common among the better taxi drivers in Cairo—I mentioned the Chinese Embassy, just the next block over from our apartment. We eventually stopped four or five times, with our driver usually appealing to a bored-looking police officer (you don’t go more than three or four blocks without seeing a group of them). And in this way we arrived at Bahgat-Aly Street. I handed the driver his 8 LE wadded up, as is custom, and out we went. Later we went to the grocery, finally, and we were done by 2 pm, when many places shut down for the brutally hot afternoon hours. Our reward for this day? We slept 11 hours last night.