Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nothing It As Seems

You can feel your face turn red as you sweat and struggle to clutch your belongings. All your current possessions rest in three bags. Your shoulder feels as though it is about to rip off and you have just realized you are going the wrong way. You grin at the idea of pulling out your compass-brush, but you know exactly where you went wrong. A flat cement surface beckons you to take a rest. You know what will happen next:

“Hello? Can I help you?”

You let out an internal sigh as you turn to the man and say,“Talat Harab Street?”
What do you plural think happened? The man,
a) tells you how to cut through the streets to get there.
b) asks you if you speak English, which leads you to give up.
c) invites you into his shop.

Eventually, you find the place and slam your bags on the bed. You take a quick drink of water and then leave for your meeting with Osama, the representative of the school for which you came to work. You are to meet him outside of “Groppi”, a famous (meaning over-priced) bakery.

When Osama arrives, what happens?
a) He picks you up and takes you to the Center in Nasr City.
b) He arrives half an hour later.
c) He decides, instead of taking you to the Center, you can have a meeting in “Groppi”.

The English Center sounds exactly like what you expected it to be, except for a few minor details. If you are late- you pay money. If you are absent- you pay money. If you decide that this job is not for you, or make a last minute decision to go somewhere else (without two months notice) - you pay money. If you violate the contract in any way- you pay money- a lot of money. To top it off, you are asked to teach in a place called Sohag. You later find out that, according to Egyptians, this place is known for its dangerous microbus drivers and village killings. You aren’t sure if this is the best place to go.

What do you do?
a) Make plans to visit the Center in a few days.
b) Grab your Pepsi and run.
c) Point your finger and say, “F-you, man,” and walk out- Pepsi in hand.

Upon returning back to your new hotel, you are greeted by a man who works there. He asks how the meeting went. You continue to speak with him for a few hours, sipping hot tea, and attempting to adjust to this new community, which appears to be Japanese.

You are currently living in a dorm-room with three other Japanese people. In the bathroom, you can shit, shower, and wash your socks all at the same time. You can’t complain, though, because this place is costing about $2.50 a day- just over a quarter the price of the place you were staying in before. Everywhere you look there are Japanese travelers. You conclude they are like an ant colony- one finds the cheapest, best place to stay and returns back to the colony to tell the others. Your life’s goal is currently unclear. What do you think happens?

To be continued…

Multiple choice answers with explanations:
1. B The man couldn’t understand you, and it is just about impossible to ask for any specific location in Cairo, unless it is close to a major landmark. So, you gave up trying and just walked away.

2. C You were a little weary of the situation to begin with. Shortly after you contacted the school to inform them you had arrived in their country, they asked you to call to schedule an interview. The meeting at “Groppi” was more like an interview.

3. A You agreed to come to the Center in a few days to get an idea of what it is like and to meet some representatives from the Center in Sohag. The consequences of the contract and the assignment’s location didn’t quite settle in until later. You slept on it, and decided not to go through with it.

I feel I need to give credit for the idea of this multiple choice quiz to Rhiis Dinin Lopez, a.k.a. Y.T.

Friday, March 14, 2008


You wake up at 11pm. You have been sleeping for 14 hours, but you feel like you want to sleep more. You decide, however, to take a break from your exhaustion by getting up- just for a little while. You perform some essential night-time rituals and then pull out your journal to add a final entry to the day. How did you get here? And, why are you referring to yourself in the second person singular? If you, as a second person plural, are curious to find out these answers, then please continue reading.

The day has finally arrived for you to leave for Cairo, Egypt. You have planned for months, said farewells, and you wait in one line after another (one herding after another) until you end up on the airplane. You wonder when that gut-wrenching feeling of “Oh (insert interjection)! What am I doing?” will sink in, but it doesn’t. Instead, it is a different feeling- one quite refreshing. It is a feeling of peacefulness and content. You think, “This is it. I am a world traveler, and today it continues.” And so, the fasten safety-belt sign is lit up, the flight attendants take a seat, and we are ready for take off.

Useful things to know:
*Lufthansa sells used aircraft seats! Email
juergen@dlh.de for more information.
**Alcohol is free on any plane outside of the U.S., so drink up! They are even so kind as to serve an after dinner cognac!
***At McDonald’s in the Frankfurt Airport, you must pay an extra .25 EURO for ketchup.
“ich liebe es”

You have arrived at the Frankfurt Airport. The local time is 9am, but for you, it feels like 3am and you have not slept. Since there was no survival kit with toothpaste on the plane and they won’t allow you to carry-on your own toothpaste, you are in desperate need for it. In the restroom, you see a small vending machine that has little toothbrushes in it for 1 EURO. So, your next task is to somehow get a EURO coin. You decide to buy a mocha at McCafe- yes, you are not mistaken, that is a coffee shop owned by McDonald’s. You drink your mocha and brush your teeth. One hour down, 12 to go.

The rest of the time is a blur. The only comfortable chairs are inside the gates, and the only gates that are open will board in less than 2 hours. You try to sleep, but they kick you out when they board each flight. You fill the time trying to sleep in 1-2 hours intervals, filling up your water bottle, using the restroom, playing solitaire, and riding around on the terminal train. The outside world looks so far, and you haven’t breathed natural air in over 24 hours.

Finally, you arrive in Cairo. You impress yourself with your memory of the arrival procedure at the Cairo Airport and your ability to say “NO!” numerous times to relentless taxi drivers. You hop on the terminal bus, because that is the only option from here, and exit at the car park. You know there should be a bus into town, but you don’t see where it is, and there are some men watching you and asking where you are going. You decide to sit and think. The men do not go away, but they do not continue to bother you. You decide to, probably incorrectly, ask for help: “Ana aiza bus fi Tahrir, mish taxi” (I want a bus to Tahrir, not a taxi). One man chuckles because you waited so long to ask, and you come to an understanding that the bus will not start again for another hour and a half, seeing as it is 4:30am in Cairo.

As you are waiting for the bus, you realize it has been about 31 hours of flying, waiting, and travel time, in total. A shower sounds really good; so does a bed- a nice, comfy one. Ha. You wish. You arrive in familiar territory, and as you are walking the street you suddenly feel as though you were here yesterday. In some way, it feels like home, but in another way, it doesn’t at all. You are in Cairo. You finally arrived. After settling in, taking a shower, and sending out an “I survived the trip to Cairo” e-mail, you fall asleep. It is 9am. You wake up at 11pm and continue to sleep on until 6 the next morning. To be continued…