Saturday, July 31, 2010

American guys have it EASY.

We've learned a lot from my cousins about dating in Egypt. Lots of things that you know are the norms in other cultures, but that are fascinating to learn about firsthand with your other-side-of-the-globe counterparts.

For one, it is absolutely unheard of for a guy to approach a girl he does not know. Proper suitors are either friends of friends/family, or school/work-mates. You see a cute girl across the cafe you want to get to know? Too bad, sir. My cousin's friend once had a perfect stranger give her flowers and a note. He was rewarded with a bouquet of flowers in the face. Whether she had any interest or not, that is the only proper way for a real lady to respond to such a gesture.

Also, it is not usually allowed for young women to have a "boyfriend". If a man is interested in a woman, he should let her parents know he wishes to marry her, and then they get to know one another during their engagement. My 22 year old cousin is one of the exceptions, as her boyfriend is still in school and does not yet have a home/etc. Her parents approved of him and his family, so they allowed him to be her boyfriend. For now.

Before the couple can marry, then man must buy a home and a car, and deposit a sum of money into the woman's account (which she usually uses to furnish their new home). As you can imagine, a woman would never consider a man from a lower economic background or with less education than herself.

Once married, the woman usually does not work of course. However, she is perfectly free to have a job if she chooses. The man is still expected to provide for all of the family's needs, while her income is hers alone to spend and she pleases.

I'm thinking maybe it's high time to move to Egypt!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Alexandria, Egypt

Sunsets, sheesha, and a really cool library.

For photos of Alexandria, click HERE.
(You may have to be my facebook friend to view this album.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

We're practically fluent

We've had the opportunity to practice alot of Arabic so far, and are very excited to show off what we've learned.

We can say hello, yes, no, and thank you. We know the words for all of our favorite sheesha flavors. And we can order water, Turkish coffee, and chocolate milkshakes.



Yup. Looks like we are pretty much set.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010



S is feeling warm and fuzzy about R's public declaration of affection.

R, on the other hand, wants to know who the hell this M character is.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I win!

Reece and I have become absolutely hooked on Backgammon. Or, shall I say, Toula. We play it at home. We play it in cafes. We play it at sheesha bars.

In fact, now that I think about it, our routine in Egypt pretty much consists of eating, smoking sheasha, and playing Toula.

Anyhow, I have gotten quite good at it. Reece, well, he's working at it. So, being the sweet and loving girlfriend that I am, I have created a piece of artwork in his honor.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I'm huge in Egypt.

My cousins warned us. The people in Alexandria are a bit, well, different than they are in Cairo. At this time of year, the city is completely taken over by tourists from the "countryside". Small-town, closed-minded folks who don't get out much. From what I gather, the difference in culture we'd notice arriving from the capital is comparable to leaving New York City for, say, a rural town in Alabama. Not the most metropolitan of destinations.

We quickly learned what they meant. It is truly as if the people here have never seen a white person in their life. Or maybe they assume all Americans are movie stars. The way people stare at us as we walk down the street is both amusing and unsettling. Jaws drop. Heads turn. Tracks are stopped in. They feel no need to be discreet in their fascination. Some look intrigued. Some look disgusted. Some look frightened. But they all want to get a better look.

The especially bold folks approach timidly and ask to have a photo taken with one of us. And the moment we oblige for one person, we become completely bombarded with smiling faces and flashing cameras. We are outrageoulsy curious what they'll tell their friends about who we are and why we are posing. Maybe they just want to show off Reece's ponytail.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Alexandria:

Former Capital and Commercial Center of Egypt.
Current City That Never Ever Ever Ever Sleeps.

You may have thought Vegas held that title. Au contraire. Vegas stomps down the hall in his bathrobe, bangs on Alexandria's door, and tells him to keep down that racket for Pete's sake.

Reece and I racked our brains to see if we could think of any place in the world we have been that is more crowded or more noisy. Couldn't do it. At every single hour of the day and night, thousands of people pack the sidewalks, the streets, the cafes, the shops, the beaches. You'd think people may get tired of swimming in the sea at 8pm? Midnight? 4am?? Nope. Packed. I honestly couldn't tell each morning who was still up from the night before and who had risen at dawn for the experience.

And we're not just talking about rowdy young folks here. Grandparents, children, mothers with babies. Fighting the crowds, weaving through traffic, lined up on the boardwalk in droves. Smoking sheesha. Eating shawarma. Shopping, shouting, people watching. I've never seen anything like it.

Speaking of traffic. The main thoroughfare (outside of our apartment) resembles what would happen if the 405 and the 10 freeways joined forces and merged onto a 2-lane road during rush hour. A standstill for miles like you couldn't imagine. Dozens of ambulances screech by every hour, and with nowhere to go, the cars do not move out of their way. Sirens blaring, horns honking, people yelling, music blasting. Six floors up, Reece and I often had to shout to hear one another.

Lonely Planet describes Alexandria as having a "faded charm that few travelers can resist." Consider us two of the few.

View from our balcony, 9:00pm


View from our balcony, 1:00am


View from our balcony, 5:00am

Monday, July 19, 2010

"For you, I kill my wife!"

Maybe the wedding ring is working. Maybe Reece is always by my side. Or maybe the men here just get a bad rap.

So far, I have not had any issues with any sort of harrasment. In fact, I'd say it's better here than in some other places we've been. Sure, I'll get the occassional comment. Our personal favorite, above. But it's all in good fun. It is always said with laughter. We're consistently greeted with kind eyes and a warm, welcoming presence. I have not yet felt in any way threatened or insulted.

Maybe it's cause they can see I have a little Egyptian in me. Or maybe they want to know if I'd like some. Ba-dum Cha!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cairo is a strange bird. Commercially, it is more Americanized than any place we have been on this trip. Culturally, it is by far the most different from home.

They've got your GAP and your Aldo. Your TGI Fridays and your Cinnabon. The mall here is absolutely outrageous. At 10pm on a Wednesday night, there must have been 5,000 people there.



Seven floors of retail mahem, which you may enjoy after being inspected by bomb-sniffing dogs and screened by a metal detector.

We had our first cinematic experience here since leaving home - Toy Story III. 3D fun was had by all!



We also perused the selection at Virgin Megastore, tried on the latest fashions at H&M, and ate a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kushari

Yum! Probably my favorite regional cuisine so far. A simple concoction of rice, pasta and lentils. Deliciously seasoned, garnished with chickpeas and fried onions, and served with garlic vinegar and a spicy chili sauce. This local favorite is super cheap (about a buck) and super filling. And I can't get enough of it.



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Touristastic

Day two in Cairo...

A visit to the absolutely jam-packed Cairo Musuem. King Tut's tomb and some serious-ass mummies.



A leisurely stroll across da Nile. It's not just a river in Egypt.



Some good old fashioned American Chain Restaurant Greasiness. Don't judge me, it's been seven months!!



A view from the top of the Cairo Tower (the tallest building in Egypt). Photos for miles.



An afternoon iced coffee and strawberry mint sheesha in the shady gardens.



Cairo, you and I are getting along just fine.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cabin crew, please prepare for landing...

I'm not gonna lie. It was intimidating arriving in Cairo. I wasn't expecting that. I mean, we've been to a fair number of countries by now that some may consider slightly, well, uncomfortable destinations. And the Egyptians are, after all, my people. It had always been a given in my mind that I'd visit here one day. I had no idea the experience could be unnerving.

Approaching our destination at 9:00am (on zero hours of sleep) was a surreal experience. Nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, rolling wind swept hills of it. It was immediately clear we were in an environment unlike any we'd ever experienced. Even the clusters of civilization were camouflaged amongst dusty sand colored buildings, giving the appearance of giant cardboard models. Very strange.

In the pristine airport, we began receiving instructions in Arabic as to where to go, what forms to fill out, what visas to pay for. And these guys mean business. I immediately felt very, very far from home. I was certain I would get arrested when I didn't know my family's address (where we'd be staying). After scrutizing me intently, the immigration officer advised, "Next time, know your address Aziza."

After collecting our bags, we were greeted warmly by my grandmother (my dad's mom), two uncles and my cousin, Yasmin, who I was meeting for the very first time. Then began our journey into the city.

Wow. This place is unbelievable. They tell you how bad the traffic is, how crazy the drivers are. They talk about the heat and the smog. What they don't talk about much is how beautifully captivating it is. So much, from the mosques to the Arabic writing that surrounds you, is just stunning. And the culture feels so unlike anything we know. I begin to reflect on all of the drastically different places we been in the past several months. The people and the landscapes and the customs, truly worlds apart. The urge to soak it all in is overwhelming.

After napping the day away, we spent our first evening out with Yasmin and her husband and son. A delicious dinner of 20 (I counted!) small flavorful plates. A walk through the dazzling street markets. A visit to a lantern-lit mosque. A table of mint tea and apple shisha under the warm night sky. There is no doubt in my mind we are going to love it here.









Sunday, July 11, 2010

We did it!



That's right. The event you have all been waiting for...

WE MADE IT TO EGYPT!!

We had been repeatedly warned. As harrasment goes, Egypt's reputation is high on the list. Single western women especially may expect to be the target of agressive, unwanted attention. Much advice circulates around how to avoid such advances, the top two of which are to dress conservatively and wear a wedding ring. So, consider me scarved and banded.

Another tip Lonely Planet offers is to learn a few discouraging Arabic phrases. My favorite, which I plan to use often: Ihtirim nafsak. "Behave yourself!"

Nairobi, Kenya

As you know, we led two very different, simultaneous lives in Nairobi...

For photos of our volunteering experience with the Children of Africa Hope Mission, click HERE.



For photos or our country clubbing, pet sitting, brownie making, beer ponging experience, click HERE.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sorry Preachers

The Hawkers share your pain.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Good Eats

It dawned on me that I have been sorely neglecting my FOOD posts. Lord knows, the things we are eating around the world are just as (if not more) important than what we are seeing and doing. Here is a rundown of the edible items that stand out in the past few countries.

Kenya

Ugali
Aka: African Cake.



Any place you may expect to find a side of fries at home, you will be served a heaping mound of Ugali here. Roughly the consistency of very dry/stiff mashed potatoes and completely lacking in any flavor to speak of, it is an incredibly filling and versatile carbohydrate.

Prepared by vigorously stirring maize (corn) flour into boiling water, it is usually eaten by hand - a small chunk torn off and rolled into a ball and dipped in any number of nutritious accompaniments (most often beans or lentils or sakuma wiki). The latter is my personal favorite - the meaning of which is "to push the week", it's an inexpesive dish of thinly sliced sauteed greens similar to kale.

I find ugali suprisingly edible. Reece, a fan of all things bland, is totally into it.




Tanzania

CHAPATI



Like an Indian roti meets a Mexican tortilla. Dip it in soup. Shovel up a spicy curry. Stuff it with meat and veggies and roll it up like a burrito. However you consume it, chapatis are delish.


Mozambique

Peri-Peri Chicken



Chicken & Chips, Chicken & Chips. Everywhere you go, there's chicken and chips. They do it alot, and all that practice has made them damn good at it. The spicy marinade is made from the peri-peri pepper, aka the Africa bird's-eye chile. And through some kind of Mozambique magic, they're able to get that flavor soaked all the way to the bone. Finger licken good.


South Africa

Pies

South Africa is a pretty metropolitan type of place where you can find just about any kind of cuisine. The one snack that I've found unique to the country is the golden, flaky and delicious pie.



No friends, not the banana cream or strawberry rhubard variety. But the savory, meat-filled pocket of goodness. Choose from several varieties such as salami and cheese, steak and kidney (nope, not the bean) and my personal favorite, chicken and mushroom (in cream sauce). Who wouldn't love a quick, handheld chicken pot pie?

You can find these gems just about everywhere in South Africa, from grocery stores to gas stations to the successful King Pie chain. That's what I call a light snack on the go.


Argentina

Miga Sandwiches

Every now and then in Argentina, you have to squeeze in a meal that does not consists of rare beef and red wine. Like, maybe once a week. That's where miga sandwiches come in.



Spongy white bread sliced impossibly thin and layered with dainty slivers of ham and cheese (or other options like tomatoes that really aren't worth mentioning), they are sold on just about every block and cost maybe a buck. Grab a short stack of these and you are good to go. Highly addicting.


Brazil

Juice (and Pastry!) Bars

On every single street croner in Rio (LITERALLY - I don't know how all of these places stay in business) you are greeted by this:



Juice bars with about 65 varieties to choose from. The combination of the Portuguese language and the foreign fruits meant that I was only familiar with about five of those tropical options. Each morning it was an exciting guess as to what frozen delight I'd receive.

As if that wasn't enough of a treat, most of these establishments also serve a variety of savory pastries of sorts. Soft, doughy bread. Baked or fried. Stuffed, filled or rolled. With ham or cheese or chicken or bacon or any combination of the above. Nothing like a coconut smoothie and warm bread stuffed with cheese to start your day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Guitar Heroes

Before we left on our trip, my mom bought us a few musical T-shirts. After installing batteries, the wearer of said shirts can bust out some drum or guitar tunes with the flick of a finger. While maybe not the most practical item to carry around the world, I was certain there would be a time when these would provide endless entertainment. At the Children of Africa Hope Mission was just that time!



The kids, as expected, went NUTS. Any attempt to arrange some sort of civilized turns in which to play with the shirt went straight to hell. They had never witnessed anything quite so delightful.





When the festivities were moved to the playground, we gave the teachers a chance to sport the shirts. That was probably a wise decision...

Stampede!!!

video

Thanks Mom! I think they were a hit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

ABCD!

The ABC's have got way more soul in Kenya.

X, Y, Zeddy Zeddy. X, Y, Zeddy Zeddy!

video
What they don't tell you when you begin volunteering, is that white folks have the letters 'ATM' tattoed on their forehead. While we love the work we are doing, it's difficult not to get a bit disenchanted when you're constantly being asked to buy things. For everybody.

I mean, I get it. I know it's not very often that an American couple with a small handful of bank accounts comes waltzing through their doors. In fact, we are the very first volunteers at the school this YEAR. They are truly in need of everything imaginable, and are only trying to seize each rare opportunity to get it.

It's still a bummer though when it begins to feel like they only see us for the cash in our pockets.

You want me to see your home town? That's great!! Oh, if I pay you to take me there.

You want my email address? Cool, let's keep in touch! Ah, you just want to send me some reasons why you need money.

The requests are starting to sound suspiciously like demands...

"We need sugar."

"You bring the kids biscuits on Sunday, they will be so happy!"

What just about put us over the edge was a 7am text from the Pastor alerting us that the landlord was demanding rent by the following day, please help them to pray, we are truly ambassadors for them and oh yeah and the amount is 14,000 shillings.

14,000 shillings is about $20. An amount we could surely afford for a good cause. On the other hand, we were beginning to feel dangerously close to being taken advantage of.

I am by no means saying that these people are swindlers, trying to take us for all we're worth to buy a new flatscreens for their houses. (We have seen the homes of the directors as well as some of the staff. And they are very, very modest.) I also hope to not discourage anybody who may wish to donate to the school. It is a fantastic cause and there is no doubt that these kids are in need. But if you do donate, don't be surprised (or offended) when the 'thank you' is overshadowed by a request for more.

I bet you are wondering if we paid their rent. The answer is, no. Instead, we bought 14,000 more shillings worth of rice, beans and ugali for the kids. I think we made the right choice.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday America

In honor of the 4th of July, I thought I'd spread a little patriotic cheer.

We have found on this trip, for the first time ever in our many travels, that we can proudly say we are American. No longer do we have to admit it apologetically. No more pretending we're Canadian, ay.

Now when we tell folks where we are from, the most common response across the globe has been an enthusiastic shout - "OBAMA!!"

Thank you, Mr. President, for making the rest of the world actually respect our country again.









Friday, July 2, 2010

The most rewarding thirty bucks we've ever spent









There's no question the learning conditions here are rough. It's dark. It's crowded. It's dirty. Saying that it's a difficult environment in which to concentrate would be a broad understatement. So the big question walking in here is, what kind of education are these students actually getting?

Well, I'll tell you, these kids are SMART. Really smart. From the age of three, they are reciting their ABC's and counting and even reading two-letter words. THREE! I don't know much about the curriculum in the US, but I don't think they're whipping that stuff out in pre-school.

Not only are they bright, but they are eager and excited to learn. I think it's pretty clear that going to school here is a privelage (regardless of the state of it), and these kids are leaping out of their seats for a chance to show off what they know. During quiet time while coloring a picture of an apple, several of them happily chant "A is for apple!" Really kid? How did you know that??

Now, while I wish my report was all sunshine and flowers, I suppose no system is perfect. There is a teacher or two who I feel may be failing their students a bit, and it drives me absolutely nuts. A teacher or two who may spend an entire class copying a paragraph from the book to the chalkboard, and expect the students to do the same. No explanations. No questioning whether they understand the concept of what they are furiously scribbling down. And I'll tell ya, they don't.

I look over (literally, a few feet away) at the class of little ones waving their hands in the air and screaming out (correct) answers to every question. And it breaks my heart to think of what will happen when they move into the next term. Luckily of course, most of the staff does not fit this description. In fact, the following term these same kids can expect an enthusiastic and passionate teacher to get them back up to speed.

I'm sure problems like this are not limited to the borders of this country. I can imagine all of my teacher friends back home shouting similar frustrations at their computer screens. I guess it's just the first time I've really seen it in action. While I'd love to rip the chalk out of a teacher's hand and demand that the class actually ENGAGE, I know it's not my place. We aren't here long enough to shake things up and insult they way they do things.

In fact, we have been here a very short time. Maybe I just caught them on a dull lesson plan. Plus I've never taught anything in my life... So hell, who am I to judge? Now is probably a good time to show you how cute it is when they practice their numbers.

video

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I know we aren't supposed to have favorites and whatnot, but...




I hope they don't tell me she's an orphan, cause I can't promise that we won't pull a Brad & Angelina.
It would be impossible for me to ignore the unsettling contrast between where we are staying and where we are working. I wouldn't be human if a twinge of guilt didn't hit me every time we strolled out of the gritty slums and into what must be one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Kenya. A mere 20-minute bus ride connects these two ends of the earth that we visit on a daily basis, which absolutely blows my mind.

Our modest lunch of beans and rice in a tin bowl on our lap is followed by a gourmet dinner (with linen napkins on our lap). We may have our laundry done anytime we wish, while many of our students' clothes have clearly not been washed in weeks. The price of the bottle of wine we buy after an exhausting day in class could purchase a new notebook for every child at the school.

How does one possibly balance these opposing realities? You may be expecting me to have some insightful answer to that, but I do not. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.

The first obvious thing that came to us, was in fact to purchase new notebooks for each child in the school. Pencils, crayons, some food. We've decided it's only fair that a portion of what we're saving by staying here is designated to various small donations. Less than $50 buys enough food to provide lunch for 100 kids for an entire week. That's right, about 10 cents per meal for all you non-math majors out there. (Not to get all Sally Struthers on you, but if you like what we're doing over here and would like to contribute, check out their website.)

I'm well aware that everything happens for a reason. It's no mistake that while Reece and I are doing the small things we can for a group of African children in need, an incredibly gracious couple is doing something very kind for a few scruffy American kids. I just hope we can pay forward half as much as we have been blessed with.