A Slice of Life

22 Aug

Today we find ourselves trying out the routine that we forsee living once we settle in here. Patrick got up this morning and after a bowl of bland Egyptian cornflakes, picked up his leather Indiana Jones professor bag and set off down the dusty street to catch the Metro and go in to the University. I watch him from our huge bay window, still in my pajamas with a glass of apple juice in my hand. The flat was suddenly quiet and I find myself wondering what to do next. I stay at the window and look around the street. The skinny dogs with crazy eyes that wander freely are fighting for napping spots underneath cars. Across the street, a pristine sand colored mosque rises in front of the distant apartment buildings. I’ve never seen anyone go in or out, but yesterday there were a few little girls playing in front of it. There are boys riding up and down the streets on their bikes, blowing air horns and laughing as people walking by jump.

While it’s still cool (ha!) I decide to head down to the market street and pick up fresh fruit and a few things for the house. It’s about a 15 minute walk there, but I learned quickly that dehydration only takes minutes here, so I’m carrying a bottle of water and trying to stay in the shade. Still, I’m slightly dizzy by the time I reach my destination. I wander down the street and pop into a small bookshop. It’s like a little oasis with its air-conditioning and rows of used books. After seeing only Arabic writing everywhere else and running out of my own reading material days ago, I really feel like I’ve found a little paradise. I greet the Egyptian owner like an old friend and he shows me around the shop. Like everything else, the books here are ridiculously cheap. I pick up a few things and head across the street feeling pretty proud and comfortable. At this point I feel a tug and hear a huge RIIIIIIP. My pants have gotten caught on a car’s license plate and have ripped from the knee to the hip. I am completely mortified.

I abandon the rest of my plans and head straight for home. At this point the heat is really getting to me as I’m trying to walk as quickly as possible, covering my bare leg with my bag of books. I’m dizzy and terrified of letting the men sitting around the sidewalks see me. After an eternity, I reach the flat and fling myself on the couch with a liter of water. I’m going to have to recharge before trying this again.

An hour later, I’ve caught a cab back to the market and continue on my way. With new pants on, I stride down the street and pop into shops here and there, admiring the local crafts. With my few Arabic phrases that I’ve written on notecards before hand, I manage to buy seedless grapes and other fresh treats as well as some groceries. A friendly man greets me and tells me he has the #1 shrimp in Egypt. They do look quite good and fresh sitting on blocks of ice in straw baskets on the sidewalk. I ask him to clean a half kilo for me while I go to the bakery. I’m not sure how much a half kilo is, but it was the only measurement I could remember.

Jorge pointed to an alley of corrugated metal on our tour Monday and said the best bakery was hidden in there. So I wander in past rows of men playing cards and selling nuts, wondering if I’m in the wrong place. The alley opens up and I’m hit by the aroma of baking bread. In front of me one boy is deftly rolling tiny crossiants while another is pulling a batch out of an oven. With a shy smile, he hands me one to taste. Warm and flaky, it may be the best street food I’ve ever had. I buy the fresh batch from him and have a brief conversation before heading back to pick up my shrimp. It turns out a half kilo is a LOT of shrimp. The man smiles and says he’ll see me tomorrow, when I come back to tell him it’s the best shrimp in Egypt. I laugh and hail a cab back to the apartment. While steering with one hand, the driver pours a cup of flower tea for me with the other. I thank him and sip a little(it’s a million degrees outside, why is everyone drinking hot things?!) and stare out the window.

Back in my flat I kick back and wait for Patrick to come home so we can go find a dryer. The afternoon prayers have just begun floating over the city so I open the window and sit back with the computer to read messages from friends.

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9 Responses to “A Slice of Life”

  1. tracy m August 22, 2007 at 2:26 pm #

    Melissa, this is fabulous! I’m so excited for your adventures (and for me to be able to read them!)- the is the best use of blogging I can imagine.

    Thanks for sharing- can’t wait for the next post.

  2. Mickey August 22, 2007 at 11:12 pm #

    I’m reading this thinking when will the Movie come out so I can actually see the men playing cards in the alley. Good stuff!

  3. mom & dad August 23, 2007 at 2:10 am #

    Mel, I could actually see, hear, & smell your adventure! How exciting! I can’t wait til the next installment. How’s the shark taking it? love you lots.

  4. Javi August 23, 2007 at 2:26 am #

    Wow, that was well written.

  5. Stacy August 23, 2007 at 3:19 pm #

    My first blogging experience ever and I did it wrong! Oh well! See my comments on “We have arrived.” How’s the milk? 🙂

  6. Emily August 24, 2007 at 3:46 pm #

    This is such a treat. What fun to read and imagine your adventures. I will have images in my head for the rest of the day of lovely Melissa bravely navigating the streets and shops of her new neighborhood. I think it will make my South Bend Indiana mom day feel a bit more exotic- a bit more Egyptian if you will! I think that when we get book group started up again we’ll have to read your posts for entertainment!

  7. becca August 24, 2007 at 9:07 pm #

    oh another well written entry!! sounds like every day will surely be an adventure! Lets see, sorry about your pants! Enjoy your books and shrimp, and hope you find a dryer! Looking forward to the next entry!! (I will be sure to share these stories with the girls too)

  8. Melissa August 24, 2007 at 9:23 pm #

    Stacy, welcome to the blogosphere! Milk? What milk? They don’t have milk here. 🙂

    I think baby shark is adjusting well. Probably glad I’ve been avoiding all the yucky looking Egyptian cuisine thus far.

    Becca, tell the girls I said hi. I miss them!

  9. Silus Grok September 5, 2007 at 5:34 pm #

    Wow… almost as good as Naguib Mahfouz — and 1/1000000 as long.

    : )

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