Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (email@example.com)
final days of Cairo
By Kate Swearengen '04
I took the subway again today, and I'm going to take it to Islamic
Cairo tomorrow afternoon. Last time I was in Islamic Cairo I ran
into a group of little boys playing soccer. They kicked the ball
at me and I kicked it into a side of a car so it went up in the
air, then bounced it off my head. They squealed "Helwa! Helwa!"
(Sweet! Sweet!) and danced around. So I'm going to seek out more
soccer action tomorrow.
I took a cab back from downtown. I climbed in a few minutes before
five, and the driver started unwrapping a date bar (Muslims break
the fast with dates). He had the radio on, and the second the Imam
began the maghrib prayer, he bit into that bar. Then he gave me
a box of apple juice and half an orange, because if you share food
with people during break-the-fast you get big Ramadan points. There
are people on the street who run around with boxes of dates, frantically
offering them to people just before the maghrib prayer. When the
taxi dropped me off at the hostel, the front desk clerk was just
finishing off his break-the-fast date. The second thing he put in
his mouth was a cigarette.
Every night I go to Harris Cafe, which is about three blocks from
the hostel. Harris Cafe is lame and Starbucks-esque, but it's open
24 hours a day and has decent iced mochas. I am a pizza and beer
kind of girl, and I despise people who talk about frothy caffeinated
beverages, but I'll take what I can get. Anyway, Harris Cafe is
a great place to work because every night at about 2:30 AM the musaharti
walks by, beating with a spoon on a metal pan and shouting in a
sing-song "La illah wa allah. La illah wa allah. Al-suhoor
ahsan min al-noum." (There is no god but God. There is no god
but God. Suhoor [the last meal before sun-up] is better than sleep."
He walks all over the neighborhood shouting this, and when he passes
the house of someone he knows, he varies his chant: "Ahmed!
Ahmed! Get up! Eat suhoor! Get out of bed, Ahmed!"
I just got back from the ISSO field trip to Kerdasa, a small village
and tourist trap on the outskirts of Cairo. I bought two 4-foot
long strings of tassels, made from thick blue, red, and green wool.
They're so cool. Ideally I would like a carpet made from them, but
I think that is more an Afghan thing than an Egyptian thing. Tomader,
the head of the office for international student affairs, wanted
to know what I'm going to use them for. She said: "Do you have
a camel?" I said: "No, but they're cool. I'm going to
hang them up in my dorm room. Wouldn't you hang these up in your
house?" Tomader: "No." Anyway, I'm going to e-mail
the Princeton housing director about them and tell him how great
they'll look on the walls of my SINGLE DORM ROOM. I already promised
him that I'd bring him back a camel if he assigned me to a single
in the spring. No dice. He said he'd only do it if I bring him back
a piece of the Sphinx.
I got back from Ain el-Sokhna at 1:00, went to Heliopolis with
Zizi (Hany's mom), Cristal, and Iman (the maid) to hang out at their
apartment until after iftaar. The traffic was too bad for them to
drive me back to the hostel. I told them I'd take a cab back, but
they think cabs are dangerous. The family doesn't let Cristal take
a cab, or walk anywhere alone. I'm sure glad I'm big and ugly and
not engaged to an Egyptian.
Ain el-Sokhna was beautiful. It's on the Red Sea, about a two-hour
drive from Hany's parents' apartment, and most of the drive is through
barren desert. The Egyptian military was having training out there,
so there were a lot of tanks and some tents lined up. Also, there
is a camel crossing sign, which I thought was pretty cool. The desert
area becomes increasingly industrialized as you approach Ain el-Sokhna.
The largest ceramics factory in the Middle East is headquartered
out there. It looks like a giant refinery, with a big flame out
Cristal and I went to the beach and swam (I waded as deep as I
could with the cast). We found a live sand dollar, lots of crabs,
fish. There were huge oil tankers about a mile out from where we
were in the water, and we could see the Galala Mountains of the
Eastern Desert from the beach. The water was blue and extremely
salty, and Cristal got Mick Jagger lips after swimming in it for
On Thursday night the whole family drove about 30 minutes to the
beach house of Hany's dad's friend and his wife. We stayed there
for three hours. Cristal and I sat on the couch with the hostess,
her baby, and Hany's mom. We watched a videotape of a Carlos Santana
concert on their giant flatscreen television. Hany's dad's friend
also had a videotape of "The Eagles: Greatest Hits." He
was so proud of it. Egyptians have modernized in the worst way possible.
And it's our fault for exporting such crummy music.
Hany and his dad went to the beach with us on Friday, then they
drove home in the evening. Iman (the maid) and Zizi and Cristal
and I watched Egyptian television in the mornings and evenings.
The funny thing about music in Egypt is that all the modern Arab
singers are just as popular with young people as they are with adults;
Zizi and Iman knew all the lyrics. Zizi is a real character. She
went out on the balcony of the beach house every night to smoke
sheeshaIman put a lemon in the water to make it smootherand
shouted questions at me through the screen door:
Zizi: Kate, you make diet?
Zizi: First time I saw you, you were fat.
Zizi: Yes. FAT.
The party at Hany's cousin's house was great. It was in a beautiful
apartment, and there were about 25 people there. The food was wonderful:
chicken, pasta dishes, little fried triangles filled with beef and
onions, desserts from a local bakery that came in white cardboard
boxes tied up with ribbon. Hany's family is wonderful; when I ran
out of conversation topics, I asked one of the cousins how she was
related to Hany, and that set up a good 20-minute explanation of
the family tree. I commented on how big the family was, but everyone
assured me it was very small by Egyptian standards. After dinner
one of the uncles proposed to me. I told him I already had three
husbands. Everyone thought that was funny. The party was rounded
out by the ubiquitous 100-year-old grandmother and the ubiquitous
11-year-old maid who scrubbed dishes in the kitchen the entire time.
And Hany's dad fell asleep in one of the bedrooms, and I had to
look at about 2,000 wedding pictures from the cousins' weddings.
This is the last you'll hear from me until I get back from Beirut.
Don't worry I'll come back with lots of great stories and
You can reach Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org