Saturday, August 18, 2007

Quick update

No time for words, so just a few pictures.

I've been taking care of two cats:


and her brother


That's not a very good photo of Gatsby, by the way. Or, at least, not very accurate - he should be blurry. He has a lot of energy.

Here is a photo of my apartment. I am chilling on the main sofa, and you can see Gatsby lounging on the other one.
I think I look kinda like a rock star in this photo, actually. It's all about bare feet on the table.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Okay, so a couple of weeks ago I was wandering around my neighborhood, trying to find a traditional (as opposed to Western) coffeehouse. In Wust el Balad (downtown) and Islamic Cairo they're pretty much impossible to miss, but in Mohandiseen they're difficult to find. I finally came across one, though, and while wandering the area around it stumbled on an area that was very, very strange. It felt more like walking through a hutong than anything else.

Today I came across a cool website called WikiMapia which lets people add annotations to any part of the world. So, I idly decided to look if there was anything for my neck of the woods in Agouza. Turns out there's quite a lot (each of the squares represents a comment or annotation): Map of Mohandiseen/Agouza.

What I saw surprised me.

To begin with, this is what much of Mohandiseen or Agouza looks like: wide streets, large tall buildings, lots of cars.

And yet, right in the midst of all of these buildings, here's the Egyptian equivalent of a hutong. It looks like some kind of weird mistake with the map, but it's not. All of a sudden, in the midst of all of these large buildings and wide streets, is a sudden, dramatic shift in scale.

Once I looked for it, I saw it everywhere. Here's the far northern corner of Mohandiseen, just before it hits شارع سودان Shari3a Sudan (Sudan St). Shari3a Sudan is a very interesting street, serving as a pretty clear demarcation of economic activity. On one side, shopping is fairly Western: everything is bought at shops, many of which have English names or at least the names spelled out in roman letters. Most items are fairly expensive. On the other side, shopping is either done in the suq (outdoor market) or from Egyptian-style stores (everything written in Arabic). The prices are incredibly cheap. In this map, the wide street cutting all across the top of the map is Shari3a Sudan. There is a small island of dense housing, the shape of which continues north of Shari3a Sudan (I can only assume the development existed prior to the creation of the road).

Another example: here there are three different density levels, or levels of scale (zoomed in). Again, I'm pretty sure that road splitting the map (going from North to South this time) is Shari3a Sudan.

So, here are some different housing densities in Egypt. As far as I can gather, people live in all of these places (I may have some of the locations wrong, if there's an expert out there please correct me):

City of the Dead
Islamic Cairo
Maadi (a neighborhood mostly populated by expats)
Garden City (location of the American and British embassies)

Yes, these all have the same map scale (i.e. are zoomed in the same)

I just thought this was pretty cool, and thought I'd share. Hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Frostbite imminent?

Right now, my hands are freezing. They're so cold, in fact, that they're numb. I'm shivering, and my nose is starting to run just a bit.

Yes, I'm still in Egypt.

Here's what's going on: right now I'm in one of the many modern, Western-style cafes scattered through Cairo (and Mohandessin in particular). This one, Macchiato, offers excellent and reliable WiFi, friendly staff, and apparently the best iced latte in Cairo. They're also bokers for tech: every wall, and several of the tables, feature flat screen televisions, each of which can be set to its own station via a remote control handed out on arrival. It also has quite effective and heavily-used AC, which is why my hands are shaking as I type this.

I'm writing here because as occasionally happens, my internet is out. Since the internet is my job, at these points I just have to suck it up and head out to a cafe (almost always Macchiato, they're used to me and don't mind if I mooch off of their Wifi for 6-7 hours while buying no more than a cup of coffee or two and perhaps a bite to eat. Tonight I had the minestrone soup, which on its own is poor-to-middlin but becomes a must-try because of the absolutely fantastic breads that accompany it).

My phone was thankfully retrieved, and I was also able to secure the extension to my visa, which is why I'd gone to Mogamma yesterday in the first place.

Arabic is going well, today we learned how to construct a versioon of the past tense, specifically kan + b-verbs. Normally, b-verbs indicate present tense, as in:

انا باروح القهره
ana bAruH al-Qahira
I go (am going) to Cairo

The kan كان verb is the "to be" verb which is normally not usually; usually you just say the sentence without the "to be" verb, leading to sentences like:

إنت مجنون
inta magnun
literally, You crazy meaning You [are] crazy

But you sometimes use kan كان for other tenses and times and contexts. In this case, you use kan in the past tense with the b-verb to indicate the past continous (i.e. something in the past that happened all the time or regularly):

في امريكا، ابا كنت باسوق كل طهم
fi amerika, ana kunt bAsuq kul yom
In America, I drove every day

Coming up soon (hopefully): simple past. And not a moment too soon: right now I'm sort of making it up and I'm sure I'm getting it wrong constantly.

Oh, and I learned how to say, "I lost...". Many, that would have been useful yesterday. The sentence, for posterity, is (I think):

انا ضيعت مهبايل لي
ana Deyy3at mobile-li
I lost my mobile

Once I have that sentence down, and a few others, I'm seriously thinking of compiling an ADHD Egyptian Arabic phrasebook. You just can't find phrases like, "I think I left my X here", "Sorry I'm late", "Please excuse the mess", and "What was I supposed to be doing again?" in your average phrasebook.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Time for an update

No kidding. I'll make it brief.

Okay, so I got back end of June from France. I found out there wasn't going to be a class in Modern Standard Arabic that month (that is, there was no one else at my level that month, so I would either have had to retake 2.5 or jump into a class that was too hard for me). So, I went for Egyptian Colloquial Arabic instead. And I'm really glad I did. Basically, I'd chosen to go with MSA based on the recommendation of an Egyptian friend, since it was the "proper" language and I could always learn Ameyya (spoken language) later. As it turned out, though, this meant that I couldn't understand anything that was being said around me, nor could I easily communicate with others. Although most Egyptians read MSA, none speak it and almost no one will understand you if you speak it. So here I was, in Egypt, learning Arabic but not able to speak or interact with anybody. It kind of ruined the whole point of being in Egypt. Since studying Ameyya it's been amazing to see how quickly my comprehension and ability to communicate has improved. Sure I'm not learning "proper" Arabic (Arabs from the gulf would say that Egyptian Arabic is in fact "bad" Arabic) but I'm learning a spoken language which is more important. I continued on with Ameyya this month and will probably either switch over to MSA in September, or study both.

Last month I went to Dahab, which was really nice. I'm ashamed to admit that I spent most of the time in the shade reading a book rather than swimming in the ocean but I still enjoyed my time there. Sometimes it's nice to take a break from doing anything at all.

I am currently taking care of 2 incredibly feisty cats for a friend of mine. They are 10 months old, are always running around, love jumping on me and anything that moves, and will chew on anything that isn't cat food.

I've met a lot of really nice people so far and finally have gotten invited to some weddings, which I'm really looking forward to -- I've heard that Egyptian weddings are really something (not as jaw dropping as Indian weddings though, I imagine -- apparently the wedding industry in India brings in $38 billion a year).

Today I went to Mugamma to renew my tourist visa (you have to do this every three months unless you manage to get a long-term visa instead). My phone fell out of my pocket on the way there, but my landlord Habishi, who is a really great guy, agreed to call my number for and it looks like someone found it. If all goes well they'll bring it by tomorrow morning.