I’m sitting in my hostel in Cairo, having been woken early by the relentlessness of the Egyptian sun streaming through the window over my bed.
It’s been a rough last 24 hours. After bidding a bittersweet goodbye to everyone at the TAFL center (thanking my professors, Dr. Iman and Ustaadh Alaa, was particularly difficult) my friend Matt and I headed back to the hotel to finish packing and get ready to go to the train station. This was around 1:00. After about an hour of packing, frequently interrupted by people coming in to my room to say goodbye (Sahara and Aziza, the two incredibly sweet women who make us breakfast in the mornings and clean our rooms, came back for hugs twice) we piled our luggage into a cab for the train station.Where we proceeded to sit for the next four hours. Granted, we had gotten there about an hour earlier, wary of playing games with the Alexandria traffic that can make a 15 minute car ride take triple the time. But at around 3:30 (the train was suposed to leave at 4:11), an announcement came over the loudspeaker in garbled Arabic, and a woman standing near us told us that our train would be delayed by an hour. Matt and I looked at one another, exasperated, but we sat down with our books and tried to bide our time until 5:15. Well, 5:15 came and went, and still no train. A girl sitting next to us who spoke English tried to explain what was going on, but I don’t think anyone in that station, Egyptian or tourist, knew exactly what was happening. First the train was supposed to come in 15 minutes, then half an hour, then not at all. And no reason was given as to why it hadn’t shown up at 4. Eventually, at around 7 p.m., a Cairo-bound train pulled into the station and we shoved our way onto it, heedless of whether or not it was the one we were supposed to be on. Turns out it wasn’t, because no sooner had we taken our seats then an Egyptian man marched over to us and demanded that we give them up. We did, aware that it was going to be a very long train ride if we had to stand for the whole three hours. But about 30 minutes into the ride, a woman — or a saint — in a blue flowered jump suit (I kid you not) told us to take her seat while she made a phone call. Matt and I split time on the chair, one of us sitting in the seat while the other perched on the armrest, alternating places every hour or so. The woman came back to the car, but wouldn’t let us give her the seat back. Instead, the entire train car seemed to play a huge game of musical chairs to make sure we could keep sitting — every time someone got up, another person would sit down in their seat, and that person would cheerfully stand or sit on the edge of someone else’s seat until a new seat opened up for them. You have to hand it to them — the Egyptian bureaucracy deserves a good kick in the ribs, but the Egyptian people are as generous as anyone can be.
Getting from Ramses Station to our hostel was another ordeal. It was difficult to find a metered cab, so we wound up having to negotiate with a cab driver who wouldn’t take less than 25 pounds (that’s a lot, FYI). Exhausted and starving, since by now it was 10:30 and we hadn’t eaten, we reluctantly accepted. Cairo traffic made sure we got our money’s worth, however. A trip that took me about 20 minutes when I left Sarah’s apartment in June took an hour and a half last night, and then when we got out of the cab the driver wanted 45 pounds because of the izdihaam (traffic). That fight took about five minutes, and I was sufficiently frustrated with Egypt by the time we stepped into the elevator that the welcome we got from the owners of the hostel was a pleasant shock. Mohamed met us at the landing, took my bag and greeted me like an old friend, even though I had only exchanged emails with him twice in order to work out a problem with my booking. After washing my face, checking my email, and then going out for a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant called Felfela, I was ready to love Egypt again.
I’m staying here with four other guys from our program, so I think the plan for this morning is to explore Islamic Cairo. I’m meeting a friend of one of my favorite high school teachers for lunch, and then we all want to return to Khan al Khalili to buy as many touristy souvenires as we can.
It’s hard to believe that my stay in Egypt is almost over. Part of me isn’t ready to leave — I still have so much Arabic to learn, and there’s still so much I haven’t done. But I’m also excited to return to the US, to drink tap water and run outside in shorts, to spend time with my family and then get back to school and the newspaper.
I’ve had a really wonderful time here, though. The past two weeks have been especially great. We’ve been back to the beach at the North Coast,
shopped in Manshiya at least half a dozen times, visited the palace and gardens at Montaza,
This is how dates grow — in palm trees. One of the many things I didn’t know before coming on this trip.
From Left: Beth, Avanti and Amy, three of my good friends.
had a farewell dinner and graduation ceremony at one of Alex’s fanciest hotels,
The view out the window of the restaurant.
sang karaoke at Bamboo and signed Suzie’s wall,
drank copious amounts of juice (mango, coconut, strawberry, pomegranate, etc.), visited a Coptic Church just for the fun of it,
and done a thousand and one other things, big and small, that were absolutely wonderful. If there was any question about whether I would ever return to Egypt before these past two weeks, it is now an absoute certainty: I want to come back here within the next three or four year, to find my friends in Alex and impress them with my improved Arabic skills, to navigate Cairo without feeling like I’m running a gauntlet and to always remember to say “arooh” instead of “adhaab” (to go).
Alright. My friend should be waking up soon, so I’d better start getting ready for the day. Last 24 hours in Egypt — here I come!