In the Land of Insha’Allah
Ciao Barcelona! Ciao drinking from the tap. Ciao ensaladas frescas. Ciao gelato. Ciao tank tops and shorts. Ciao espanol. I spent about half of my plane ride from Barcelona to Cairo translating English/Arabic customs forms for all the Spanish who couldn’t read English. Once I had helped one person, word spread up and down the aisles, and before you know it, they had a makeshift stewardess working the runway. Ah, but I loved every minute…twas my last chance to speak a language fluently before returning “home.”
Speaking Spanish really did feel like a breath of fresh air. It gave me the confidence to plunge into new places and conversations, and it allowed me to make so many friends that I might not otherwise have made. There was Cristiano, my wonderful Brazilian friend with whom I shared three days in Barcelona, marveling at Gaudí, riding a ferris wheel on top of the world, and speaking a comical mezcla of Spanish and English. Then there was Elena, the Columbian from the train to Montserrat who told me all about her life in Columbia as a child and her cultural journey of moving to the U.S. and starting a life there. Then there was Tony, the Italian New Yorker on a Catholic pilgrimage to the Montserrat monastery who told me the tales of his wild life as an 18-year old immigrant in Nueva York, dancing in salsa clubs and beings seduced by stunning 55-year old women. There was Hayley (who I love dearly even after only knowing her for 2 days) from Zimbabwe, but now living in Australia and traveling on a round-the-world ticket for her gap year; we shared much discourse on African politics and global perceptions of Africa, as well as swapped stories of travels and friends made along the way. Most recently were Roman and Franck, the two French party planners who spoke almost no English, and with whom I understood virtually nothing, but shared some rather entertaining moments in the Hostel Kabul.
Traveling like this, alone and free, made me feel capable of anything. The other day the vending machine gave me two water bottles when I only paid for one. Two! Can you imagine? It felt like the perfect metaphor for my life at this very moment. Inhaling la boheme di Barcelona, brought to tears by La Sagrada Familia, squinting confusedly at Salvador Dalí’s schizophrenic works at his museum in Figueres,
listening to the wind and watching the sunset over the monastery of Montserrat, perched high up in the mountains of Spain, meeting friends of which I know I will meet again, all of it was like being handed more than I’d ever hoped for. Sitting in solitude on a mountain trail in Montserrat, I thought a lot about where I was, what I was doing, who I was meeting and why.
Why did I get two water bottles instead of one?
What does this mean for my life, for my future. I know I’m being called to something, and I think I know what it is. But as I continue to drink down all of what life is handing me, I start becoming more certain and more uncertain at the same time.
Pues, halas (that’s it). Ahalan Wa-Sahalan ala Al-Cahira. Welcome to Egypt. As I step out of the airport, I take a deep breath. The sweet smell of pollution greets my nostrils. Ahh, I am home. Jimmy and I head straight from the airport to the Cairo Stadium to watch Egypt play Italy in the under-20 FIFA World Cup. The game was incredible, the drive not so much.
I don’t think I took the opportunity in my last post to describe the roads of Cairo, which is perhaps the most indescribable part (ironically) of the city. Imagine a freeway in the U.S., which has four, maybe five lanes for traffic, most people use their blinkers to change lanes, people wear seatbelts. Back to Cairo:
4 lanes of traffic
7-8 rows of cars wedged in together
Cars cross maybe 3 lanes at a time, swerving here and there when they feel like it
Horns beep like mad – there is apparently a horn code: one for “F you” another for “excuse me please,” another for “I’m right next to you so don’t hit me.” Comical, really.
Literally whenever I am in a car in Egypt, I fear for my life. The speeds people go on surface streets — if you were to get in an accident (which is probable) going that fast, it would be over. Halas. Of course I always wear my seatbelt, that is non-negotiable. And I always make my friends wear their seatbelts, since they are under the impression that if you’re in the backseat, you don’t need to wear one.
So anyway, back in Egypt, back on the road, it was a white-knuckle adventure to the stadium. We parked and walked with the other frantic fans to try to make it in time for the national anthem. I was wearing pants, a tank top, and a cardigan over it to cover my shoulders. As we walked quickly past the rows of police officers stationed alongside the road, I heard the whispers begin, and the stares penetrate right through my shirt. I quickly stopped to button up my cardigan, having completely forgotten two of my rules: First, don’t give them anything to look at. Second, avert all eye contact.
However, for all the slimy looks I get on the street, an Egyptian would almost never try anything. When I walk at night in Egypt, alone or with girls, I have never once felt threatened in any way. Yes, it’s annoying to be looked at like a piece of meat, but these men would never act on it. And if anyone ever did, there would be at least 50 other Egyptians coming out of the woodwork to come to my aid. In Spain, when I walked with a group of girls to a club one night, I felt that my life was in real danger. The way men approached us and the comments they directed at us made me feel like at any moment I could be grabbed. In L.A. it is the same way…I would never walk alone at night because I know I probably would be raped. In Egypt, this would not happen, not likely. Also, in Spain I was robbed twice. In a Western country where people have a lot of money, have job security, and do not experience extreme poverty, I as robbed twice. In Egypt, I would never have to worry about being pickpocketed, unless perhaps I was in a very very poor area or a very very crowded place. Egyptians are a very proud people, and a very religious one. The chances of being robbed in the way I was in Spain are almost zero.
After the game, which Egypt won 4-2, we headed back to Zamalek, stopping for falafel and chicken shwarma…not quite tapas, but just as good. Boys with a death wish were hanging out of car windows, waving Egyptian flags, beeping the celebratory victory horn.
I returned to my apartment to find that we had no water and no Internet. Water apparently was down for the whole island of Zamelek. Today we still do not have water, so I am on Day 3 of no shower, and I can’t check my emails. And we all really have to use the bathroom. But don’t worry, I washed my jeans at the hostel in Spain, so life is good. When we asked the landlord about the water, he told us insha’allah by 5pm. Insha’allah may be the perfect way to describe Egypt in one word. It’s meaning? God willing. Everything in Egypt is God willing. We will have water by 5pm? Insha’allah. I will see you tonight. Insha’allah. The plane is leaving at 10. Insha’allah. May I please order dinner? Insha’allah. Well, Insha’allah I will post this blog and you will enjoy it.
Welcome back to Egypt.