Friday, April 30, 2010

A little bit of Cairo... my first week.

I left Salt Lake last Friday, and the week between now and then has been overwhelming and absolutely insane. I arrived in Cairo with the same feeling in my stomach that I had when I first arrived in LA as a missionary. I stand out here like I did in downtown LA (even with my brown hair) and I sometimes just have to laugh as I look around at these hijab-clad women and mustache-bearing men… somehow I’m expected to talk to them. Not just talk to them, but engage in meaningful conversation with them. I’ll be able to do it by the end of these three months, and hopefully sooner, insha’allah. As I said, right now it’s all a little overwhelming.

This week, we’ve been staying at the Maadi Hotel with two roommates. They're awesome. We have a pretty crowded room... 3 beds in a room for 2.

Our main objectives for this week are to:

1. Get over jetlag

2. Get accustomed to walking, riding the metro and taking the taxis (not as simple or normal as they sound…) and in doing so, finding Arabs to speak with

3. Finding apartments

4. Getting used to the food

So far I’m doing okay… let me elaborate…



It’s not so bad really, besides the fact that I feel like it’s 3 am at every time of day. I can’t figure it out. I’m not the only one either. The other day I was studying in the hotel room with my two roommates. It was 11 am and we had only been up for two hours. One minute we were all studying, and the next thing I knew, it was 2 in the afternoon and we were all waking up. We had all managed to doze off and wake up really confused about three hours later. We have no problem getting to bed though either. We’re just always so sleepy no matter what. Hopefully we can get over that soon.



The metro is awesome. Especially since we’re not supposed to talk to men (or even make eye-contact with them) this is a great place to talk to the women. They have a women’s car (thank goodness) and I plan on only using that car while here. There are rarely women out in the streets, or in shops. Even in women’s clothing and shoe stores, it’s men who work there. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I think it might have to do with having to wear the hijab (head scarf) in public. They don’t wear them at home. Seeing as it might be a bit of a hassle to put it all together (some are so elaborately worn) I can see why some women would stay in as much as possible. Anyway, I’m not sure why, but all I know is it’s always a party on the ladies car. They get such a kick out of us speaking Arabic. I’ve made a few friends and hopefully I can talk with them for practice in the future. One thing I didn’t anticipate was the level of skill that it takes to communicate with a woman in a full niqab (head scarf that covers everything but the eyes). I was talking this dear woman, Umu Ganna, and I couldn’t believe how hard it was. So many barriers to communication… the metro was noisy, I was a foot taller and had to keep bending down and putting my ear by her face, there were no facial expressions and there was no lip-reading. Let’s just say there was a lot of nodding and smiling, and asking her 9 year old twins what she was saying. Any ideas of how to find women and girls to talk to are more than welcome… so far I have the women’s car and ladies’ underwear shops.

The taxis are a more expensive option than the metro, but not by much. The metro is 20 cents to ride as long as you want, and taxis are about 20 cents/minute. The good thing about a taxi is despite how tiny they are, you can squish up to 6 students into one (not pleasant, but possible) and split the fare. Also, it’s quite like a roller coaster, but less safe. So if you like adventure, it’s the way to go for sure.

You wouldn’t think that walking here would require getting used to, but it’s possibly the most dangerous mode of transport. Sidewalks in Egypt aren’t used for walking. People park cars, set up tables for their ‘restaurants’ set out items for sale, or park their donkey. It’s much easier to walk on the road, and once you get used to it its not bad. The hardest thing is getting used to moving your eyes around fast enough. You need to be looking down to avoid stepping on or tripping over broken glass, stray (or dead) cats, random steps or concrete blocks, children, sewage filled puddles, pipes and tubes and trash in general. At the same time, you need to be cautious of cars, bikes, busses and animals. There are lanes drawn on the roads here (sometimes) but it’s just a big waste of paint. No one stays in lanes ever. It’s just a free-for-all. You honk to communicate anything. As a pedestrian, it’s important to note that the honking isn’t angry, it’s just a warning that you will be run over unless you move out of the way quickly. No one will stop for you when you go to cross the road, you just need to go and time it just right so you don’t get hit. It’s kind of fun actually. Maybe I’ll film it one day. That would get me a lot of honking I’m sure. Even if there’s only one car in sight, and you’re trying to cross the street, that single car will come as close to you as they possibly can before swerving at the last minute to avoid you. Once you get used to that you just don’t notice. I doubt they actually hit people very often.



(Some take out we got - falafel with a side of fries... big mistake. That fry was stuck on the box... gross)

The food here is pretty good, but hard to handle. I’ve eaten more meat, cheese and white bread here in a week than I think I have in the last year in Provo. Fruit and veggies are scarce (on the street at least) and can be pretty sketchy. If you’re eating off the street, which hotel living merits, you’re better off with thoroughly cooked meat than a salad. I’ve had more than my fill of shawarma, falafel, fatira, and koshiri. I finally got sick of it and bought myself strawberry yogurt, guava juice and crackers. That’s my Sunday meal… (and by Sunday, I mean Friday. We do church on Friday here). Basically I can’t wait to get into my apartment and start buying actual groceries. Don’t get me wrong. This stuff is good, just too much of it can kill you.

Shawarma is like a pita full of yummy meat that’s cooked on a huge rotating spit thing. They usually throw some other random stuff in there. For example: I had a chicken one the other day that had mashed potatoes and pickles in it. These can also resemble burritos, all rolled up. They’re super tasty.

Falafel is ground up garbanzo beans, usually made into little lumps, and deep fried, thrown in a pita with tahini (sesame seed sauce) or other various sauces, with onions, lettuce, fries sometimes, and other things. Also good… and only about 20 cents.

Fatira is like a huge pizza, but the dough is like filo dough (the stuff they make baklava with) and everything is inside the dough. They stretch the dough out really thin, make a pizza in the middle or the dough, and then fold the extra dough up over the pizza. They cook it on both sides, slice it like a pizza, and throw it in a pizza box. It’s also delicious… they make desert fatirs as well with custard, nutella, butter and sugar, or whatever you want really. See? This stuff can kill you.

Koshiri is interesting. I’ve only had it once, but this is what it was like: They bring out this bowl of a variety of little pastas covered in very dry-looking spices and herbs, kind of reddish. No clue what they are. You pour some tomato sauce on top, and then there’s this ancient-looking bottle of vinegar with spices at the bottom on the table. You pour that over the top and moisten it all up, mix it up and enjoy. It’s so good, and really filling.

(my first koshiri!)

There are also fresh fruit juice stands all over the place. They’re really sketchy. Who knows if they wash the cups… probably not. But it’s worth the delicious juice if you ask me. You just have to shut your mind off completely to things like that when you’re here or you can’t possibly enjoy anything. If you’re looking for a cushy, luxurious trip, avoid Egypt like the disease it will give you. If you want chaos, heat, good food and a lot to laugh about…

Itfadalu! Ahlan w’sahlan fi Misr! (Please come! Welcome to Egypt!)


Finding apartments

We did okay here… I have yet to move in, so I’ll just say what I know. I’ve been there, so I know the following is true too…

We’ll have 7 girls in our place (two bathrooms, 4 bedrooms… I get my own room too! Yeah, they’re angry at me, but someone had to take it, right?)

We’re on the 18th floor, right on the Nile (incredible view or Cairo, the Nile and of the pyramids of Saqara… you can see the famous Giza pyramids on the horizon if you lean out a window). We have been blessed with brand new furniture, a microwave (very rare here…!), a washing machine, nice beds, hardwood floors, high speed internet, an awesome landlord, no TV (which I’m happy about), oh, and a hobbit doorknob. That’s right… a big brass round knob in the center of our awesomely old-looking front door. Don’t be too jealous… I move in tomorrow!

I start classes on Sunday… I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that along with pictures in the near future. Until then, Ma3sallama! (the 3 is the sound that is made when you constrict your throat and moan in a Gollum-ish sort of way. I’ll happy to demonstrate if you see me in person.)


oh, and by the way... the pyramids were awesome.


  1. The food looks delish. Expect more of the same when you get here.

  2. wow, you are so courageous! what a neat experience, I hope you have a great time over there. stay safe :)

  3. A big, huge, WOW! Enjoy for me. It'll be years before we can do something like that. We're in the crazy newborn stage right now. No sleep, no brains, just surviving an hour at a time.

  4. What a great first week. It sounds like it is exhausting and yet so exciting too. I hope you keep searching for female Arabs to speak with and that you find them. What about looking in residential neighborhoods. Are they outside in the yards or with children etc. It was so much fun to read about all of the details you filled us in with. Keep doing that as it is interesting to get a picture of what it is really like. Very strange and new. Speaking of pictures. I hope you will post lots soon.
    I love and miss you and think about you every day. How many hours ahead are you?

    Hugs, mom

  5. Aside from missing you, this post inspired me to go get a Shawarma! Hope moving day is going well and that you like being a little more settled in your new place.

    It was so nice to talk last night, and amazingly, aside from a headache I'm not too tired! Love you!


  6. this is great! i hope you keep on posting on a regular basis and that there are lots of pictures!

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