Posting Negative Experiences

October 7, 2008

I realize that some of my posts may paint a negative picture of Egypt and Egyptians. Nothing that I write is exaggerated and I try to be as true to my experiences as I can be. I think negative experiences, unfortunately, often have a stronger impact than positive ones, which may be why I write more often about bad things that happen.

Of course, there are lots of wonderful things about Egypt and Egyptians, and the Middle East and everything that relates to it as a whole, and I will make more of an effort to post these positive experiences to paint a fuller picture.

For example:

Students in my program get a monthly stipend, and the end of last month also happened to be Eid, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Because of this, the University was closed for about a week, and the director of my program mentioned to her friend that she was concerned because students would not be able to pick up their stipends and would be left without money at the end of the month to pay rent, etc. So her friend went to the bank and withdrew 1000 Egyptian pounds for each student. That is 30,000 Egyptian pounds, almost 5,500 US dollars, that a random Egyptian loaned to a bunch of American students trying to learn Arabic in Cairo. Pretty amazing, I think.

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Drinking During Ramadan

September 13, 2008

Last night I went to one of my favorite rooftop bars in Doqqi and was carded when I ordered a beer. You have to prove you are not Egyptian in order to drink during Ramadan in Egypt. In fact, most restaurants/bars that usually serve alcohol are either not open or do not serve during the holiday. That also means that Egyptian Copts, who are Christian, cannot drink during Ramadan, even though there are no provisions against drinking in their religion.


Synagogue

September 7, 2008

I have just been informed that when my roommate tried to visit the Jewish synagogue in Coptic Cairo today he was told that it was closed because of Ramadan. I think that is just funny as heck.


Firecrackers During Ramadan

September 2, 2008

Cairo is nice during Ramadan; it is a little quieter and people are a bit more relaxed and wish each other a happy and healthy year “كل سنة وأنت طيب.” The colorful lamps and lights make for a festive atmosphere along with the burning incense (which thankfully mitigates some of the usual smells), and little kids play with lots and lots of firecrackers. One thing I would ask though, is that before you throw your firecrackers on the ground (which, by the way, make really loud pops; they could easily be mistaken for gunfire) look and see if someone is walking on the sidewalk, like I was today, so the firecracker doesn’t hit my leg and explode a foot away from me. Thanks.


Gym-talk

September 2, 2008

I had another interesting conversation in the Weider Gym today with the Captain and some of his friends. I had been trying to hide my water-drinking from them out of respect for the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, which began last Monday, and during which Muslims fast during the day, among other things.

I asked the Captain and his friends how they are able to lift weights without drinking any water, and he responded by saying “because Islam is strong.” “Good answer,” I thought to myself. They then preceded to speak in Arabic (Egyptian dialect, or “amiyya” to be exact) which I am supposed to be able to understand, but since these guys are not the most educated of sorts their Arabic is hard to comprehend, especially when they are speaking fast, and not to me. I picked up that they were continuing their discussion of the topic and I heard “American” and “Israel” in the mix. I asked what they were discussing and one of them responded by asking “Why is America always with Israel (these are loose translations, mind you)?” I responded by saying (and yes this is not a direct answer) by saying that America is with Israel just like it is with the Palestinians and other Arabs (and yes, there is a difference, but you will see where I took it in a minute). I said that the US gives Israel money, yes, but it gives Palestinians and other Arab countries like Egypt plenty of money as well. And I did not even go into the Saudi thing.

The Captain’s friend said that the Egyptian people do not see any of this money, and that they don’t need it and don’t want it. There wasn’t much I can say to this because frankly, he was right. I asked him, “whose fault is it that Egyptians don’t see any of this money? Isn’t it because of the Egyptian government?” He responded yes, and because of America, too. Fair enough.

I asked the Captain that if the Israelis and Palestinians make an agreement that they both think is fair, would that be acceptable in his opinion? He pretty much said that the problem will never end and it will never be acceptable, and that Israel really has to go. I asked him why Israel has to go. He said “Do you like blood?” I responded “no,” and he said “then Israel has to go.” That doesn’t make much sense to me.

The conversation continued with another gym goer who told me that one of the problems with Israel is that it was built on a Palestinian state. Yes, he used the term “dawla,” so in my mind that means “state.” I corrected by telling him that there has never been a Palestinian state and that the Palestinians historically considered themselves to be part of what was called “Greater Syria,” which includes what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. For the record, this to me does not mean that Palestinians are not a unique people with a shared identity and do not deserve to have a state. However, Palestinian Arab nationalism is a relatively new concept and should not be treated as if it has been around since the beginning of time. So I understand his argument (and have heard it before and I think that it is a valid one,. Yes, there were Arab Palestinians living in what is now Israel and the Territories before Israel was created, and yes, there were more of them living there than there were Jews) but I reminded him that the UN did vote to create a State of Israel and a Palestinian state (which the Arabs, as a whole, rejected) and that although the situation was unfortunate for the Palestinians and should be reconciled in some way, no one is ever going to be 100% pleased.

I asked him who was in Egypt before the Muslims and the Arabs, and he said with a smile, “the Ancient Egyptians,” and I added “and the Copts (who are still here and who have had some issues, to say the least, with the Muslim population. A movie called “Hassan and Marqos starring two of the most famous Egyptian actors, Omar Shariff and Adel Imam, talks about Christian-Muslim tensions in Egypt). After that, he turned around and said “who started this discussion anyway?” and walked away, which I thought was funny. Actually, he said literally in Arabic “who opened this topic?”

So there is me engaging with Egyptians on salient political issues.