Saturday, May 29, 2010


Nearly getting run down is a daily part of a pedestrian's life in Cairo. Maybe that's why so few people walk. A week or so ago, J and I were headed home after work. We were crossing a median with a rare area for parking near the Shell Building in Ma'adi. Teenagers often hang out in this area near the Shell Shop, an American-looking convenience store sans gas station. As we crossed, a grey car filled with three teenaged boys swerved into the median, stopping just short of flattening J, who moved out of the way in enough time to only receive a tap on the leg.

I don't know...had it been a long day? J slammed his hand down on the car. I flew to the driver's window, and J raced to the passenger side. J was yelling at a kid with fighter-pilot sunglasses who was getting out of the car, but I don't know what they were saying because I was shouting. I pointed my finger in the driver's face, waved my arms, said something in elderly-lady fashion about controlling oneself, and eventually flipped the bird as I might have done in high school. All of this resulted in getting called "habibti" (rough translation: my honey).

Did I mention that all three of these boys were dressed like it was 1987? Another boy with frosted jeans and a white sweatband pushing up his gelled hair emerged and pulled Fighter-pilot Sunglasses away from J and me.

A tag-team onslaught like this occurred on a recent vacation to Istanbul, when, at the end of our stay, we were charged the equivalent of $100 for two local phone calls. From two sides we simultaneously raged and delivered our personal forms of logic. For the first time, I seemed to be the impetus for a nervous sweat as the bald manager at reception held the bill with shaking hands and mustered a discount. This kind of multilateral attack is a new development for J and me, who aren't very aggressive. But it seems to be effective. In fact, I am not really sure why I am writing about it. But it seems important. I do know I am more likely to stand up for myself in public spaces than I was four years ago. I think I can thank Cairenes for that.

On second thought, I have been thinking a lot lately about the squeaky wheel getting the grease. It's something I've always hated - watching people who surface only long enough to complain somehow get what they want. You see this a lot in academia. It's not something I strive for in my job - that much of my Midwestern work ethic stays intact. But I've seen it in one form or another at every university I've been to.

I don't think the episode with the teens is comparable to the squeaky wheel. It's sticking in my head, I think, because there are these moments in Egypt where we just don't have a sense of humor anymore. I went through a persistent Egypt funk last year, and it was full of moments like these. J has noted that there are some days when I am likely to step out into traffic just to make a point (logical? smart? No.), and the encounter with the teenagers was one of those days.


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