Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
|Illustration by Henry Martin 48
October 9, 2002:
a small world in Egypt
music and distant relatives are common currency
Egypt is marvelous, and I want to run away from New Jersey and
stay here forever. As it is, I'll be studying at the American University
in Cairo until January. What follows are my exploits thus far, excerpts
from e-mails I've sent to my parents.
I am getting a lot of mileage out of my Arabic. For instance,
when my passport got confiscated at the Cairo airport and I spent
an hour and 15 minutes in a small room being questioned by the police.
This is due to the fact that the airline employee at the gate in
Chicago insisted upon signing my Egyptian visa, even though he had
no business doing that. There was a girl from Berkeley on my flight
who's also studying at AUC. As I was being dragged off, I yelled
at her to take a cab to the dormitory and call AUC. Naturally, when
they had finished detaining me, she was still in the airport, sitting
next to her baggage and sniffling because SHE WAS AFRAID TO GO OUTSIDE
ALONE AND HAIL A CAB. This is no good; I need friends who will hold
up well while I am being tortured.
My big project for today was to walk to Old Cairo. A long walk
from where I live, but possible. Unfortunately, I went the WRONG
WAY over the 26th July Bridge, and I didn't realize it until three
hours later. I walked through Aguza, Mohandiseen, and Giza. Aguza
is very industrial, and Mohandiseen is a very crowded residential
district. There's a good hospital there. I kept walking and walking,
thinking I was getting closer to Old Cairo. Buses kept passing me,
and men hanging out of the doorways kept shouting at me. I finally
figured out that they were shouting "Giza." This was my
first indication that something was wrong. The second indication
was when I translated a road sign and realized it said "Desert
Road to Alexandria." The buses that had passed me were going
to the pyramids, and I had walked into the Giza district, near the
outskirts of Cairo. How about that?
We learned at the dormitory orientation tonight that EGYPTIAN
HARD LIQUOR CAN MAKE YOU BLIND. But the beer is safe.
Funny story: I passed a dry cleaners today, and I saw a shirt
hanging up that was based on the Dolce & Gabbana label. It said
D&G (their trademark), in big letters on the front, and underneath
were the words "drinking and gambling." Ha ha ha ha. Do
you think it belonged to an Arab or to an American? The Amerikanski
had a rough time at the Hard Rock Cafe last night. The bar was full
of rich Saudis, and the waiters were inattentive to the American
students because they were trying to get big tips from the Gulf
I walked to Imbaba againI was trying to get to AUC, but
I once again went the wrong way over the bridge. There was an old
man wearing a galabaya and carrying a basket on his head, singing
about his "sweet mangoes" in Arabic. I stopped him, inspected
the mangoes, and bought one. He didn't understand much of my FusHa,
and I barely understood a thing he said. He overcharged me about
400%, even after a lengthy bargaining session, and I don't really
like mangoes all that much, but I thought he was pretty cool. One
of his eyes was cloudy, like he had a cataract in it, and he was
wearing a dirty white turban on his head.
The Cairo Museum was full of Germans in tube tops and short-shorts
(women) and in short-shorts and black leather boots (men). They
evidently arrived at the museum by way of a space ship, and thus
were able to avoid street harassment. The museum has made some renovations,
and most of the King Tut stuff is now grouped in an air-conditioned
chamber with glass walls and dramatic lighting. It's nice
sort of a tomb away from the tomb.
Kate (to deskman at the dormitory): "Good morning. I'd like
Desk: "Very nice. I will put your name on the list."
Kate: "I put my name on the list last week."
Desk: "Yes, but there is a new list now."
I passed out asleep after my adventures in Bulaq today. I feared
that I would get lost in its tangle of mud streets and be eaten
by a goat, of which there were many. There was also a flock of bold
geese that rounded the corner at one point and almost knocked me
over. I ran into an 8-year-old boy on the way out of Bulaq
young boys here like me because I leap over road barricades and
yell back at them in Arabic when they shout HALLO at me. They clap
their hands and cheer. Cute! and I had a pretty decent Arabic
conversation with him. I finally asked him where the American University
was, and he said: "Al Gamiyya Al Amrikiyya? Masha'allah."
(The American University? Whatever God wills.) He knew I was a long
way away from it and felt sorry for me.
Kate: "Ey al-akhbar?" (What's the news?)
Desk: "Your refrigerator will be here tomorrow morning insha'allah."
Kate: "I won't be here tomorrow. Can you sign for it and
keep it for me?"
Desk: "Insha'allah. Your refrigerator will arrive tomorrow
Kate: "I don't understand. Insha'allah my refrigerator will
arrive tomorrow morning, or insha'allah you will sign for it and
keep it behind the desk?"
The AUC fieldtrip to the Sinai takes six hours. I think we're
leaving at night so we don't die in the desert if the bus breaks
The trip to the Sinai was great. It was six hours to our first
destination, St. Catherine's. St. Catherine's is a very small settlement
(more like a monastery and a hotel) in the middle of the desert.
We toured the monastery without the benefit of a tour guide
nice going, AUC then climbed Jebal Moussa (a.k.a. Mt. Sinai)
at 2:00 am. I led the charge up the mountain, arriving at the summit
at 4:15 am. It was freezing cold at the top, Everyone rented blankets
and bought hot chocolate from the enterprising Bedouin who had set
up shop there. Then we sat around and watched the sunrise, which
was amazing. The accommodations at St. Catherine's weren't so hot.
Bedbugs in all the rooms. I'm covered with bites. Joe found a scorpion
behind the curtain in his room and had to kill it with his shoe.
Here's the rundown of school stuff:
Library at AUC Inefficient. If you want to read a book
on the reserve list for the course, you have to check it out and
sit in a certain area. Not so much a "studying library."
More like a "let me horse around in a carrel with another student
I don't plan to marry" library.
Medieval Islamic Civilization Scary. Professor says things
like: "Suleiman invited all the chieftains of the satrapy to
come to him and submit to his authority...of course, he was later
tortured to death by the Mamluks." And then laughs hysterically.
Egyptian Students at AUC Well-dressed. Lots of blondes.
Smoke like chimneys. All went to school in Switzerland, U.S., Britain,
Germany. Some of them can't read any Arabic at all, and are in beginning-level
courses because AUC mandates a year of Arabic study in order to
graduate. I've met a large number of sixth-year students. They attribute
this to the inefficiency of AUC and the difficulty of getting in
courses they need. Eventually they let on that they are only taking
10 hours a semester.
I've been buying lunch every day at a cook shop near AUC. The
people there are very nice, and I invariably end up talking about
Egyptian music with them. They are doing a good business, because
I eat a lot of koshari. They like me so much that they don't want
me to be from America.
Man: "Where are you from, my sister? Canada? Germany?"
Kate: "I'm American."
Kate: "No, American."
Man (in English): "Oh, I want to say that America is very,
very good country.
Man: (to woman behind the cash register) "[incomprehensible]
American government...Iraq...Deeeeeeeck Cheney."
Kate: "Yes, there are problems in the government. I did not
vote for President Bush. I voted for a former basketball player."
Man: "My brother lives in Hyde Park. You know Hyde Park?
You can reach Kate at email@example.com