Rainy Ramblings

18 Oct

It rained in Cairo on Tuesday. Yeah, you heard me, rain. I was puttering around the house and noticed that the light had gotten kind of gray and weird. I looked out at the sky and figured it was just pollution or some weird pollution-related phenomenon and went on about my business. Then the thunder started, distant and rumbling. But there are so many strange and loud noises in this city, I didn’t think much of that either. It didn’t rain in Cairo, did it? There was just no way. Then Patrick got home and said one of the guys on the bus said rain was predicted for Thursday, so it was possible. A few minutes later, we heard pings on our picture windows and Patrick yelled at me that it was raining! I ran to the window, delighted, then ran to the front door, slipped on my sandals and ran outside to join the celebrating masses who would be dancing in the rain.

But there were no celebrating masses.

So I just stood on the balcony of our building and watched the rain fall for a few minutes, then turned and went back inside. The people passing by on the street looked nonplussed, there were no children bursting out their doors to play, no nothing. It was a little disappointing. I mean, the city gets an average of less than an inch per year. We’re in the desert people! And here is a genuine rainstorm and nobody seemed excited.

That night it hit hard. There was rolling, booming, apartment-shaking thunder and sharp cuts of lightening that felt like they were hitting across the street. The rain poured down and by morning the streets were full of water. And I understood why Cairenes might not welcome the rain so much.

There are no street drainage systems- none. And the dust of the desert doesn’t absorb water so it just stands there in a muddy stew until it evaporates. People walk in the streets here, as sidewalks tend to be erratic and in most cases non-existent. So not only did I get completely muddy walking to the market yesterday, everytime a car would speed by, I’d get splashed with more mud.

Tuesday morning before the storm I went with a group down to the fabric market downtown, known as the Tentmakers’ Bazaar. It’s a series of mazelike alleys in which all the fabric merchants display their wares and try to entice you with compliments and tea to buy their fabrics. And there are some amazing fabrics for ridiculously cheap prices. Luxurious silks and taffetas, good quality cottons and linens for the same prices, intricately embroidered panels and lush Indian-like prints to make curtains and bedspreads out of. Egyptians tend to lean towards the gaudy and ostentatious, so many of the fabrics would fit in well on the set of Moulin Rouge. Still, it was amazing to see what was on offer and made me wish I had a sewing machine here.

I strolled along the dusty alley, ignoring the “welcome madams” of eager businessmen. Here and there, stalls specialized in fabrics for children, and upon seeing my tummy, the merchants’ eyes would light up and they would ask “boy or girl?” in Arabic and entreat me to browse their fabrics. I talked to a few of them and when I told them boy, they would praise God and say boys were good and then pull out some tacky fabric with plaid puppies or teddy bears that looked like they were being tortured. Despite the fact that my nesting instinct has started kicking in and I’m ready to decorate, I couldn’t bring myself to frighten my child by decorating his room in one of these nightmarish fabrics. So I just smiled and moved on.

Finally as we were exiting the last street of the market, my eyes fell on the perfect fabric and I just couldn’t resist it. It was a bright yellow with crude drawings of smiley sharks and octopus with red glasses. It was perfect! They had it in a thicker fabric that would be good for pillows as well as in long sheer panels for curtains. I just got a small panel of it since I didn’t know what I would use it for.
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As we were leaving the bazaar, one of the women I was with commented that it was a good thing it didn’t rain in Cairo (the sky was totally blue and clear at this time) because it would be impossible for these merchants to make a living. Getting all those fabrics inside and undercover would itself take hours. Plus the alley would become flooded within just a few minutes of a storm. I remembered her comment later on, when I was snug in bed listening to the thunder, and hoped that they hadn’t looked at the fading sky and distant rumblings and been as skeptical as I had been.

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2 Responses to “Rainy Ramblings”

  1. Miranda October 20, 2007 at 4:48 am #

    Melissa, Your weather musings reminded me of my own today. After living in South Bend so long, rain and pervasive grey skies became so normal. I have been surprised how sunny it is in Provo. About once a week a storm will blow through and shroud the mountains with clouds and snow, but most days I find myself blinking in the brightness on my way to my noon class. I don’t have many memories of a sunny Provo as an undergraduate, but maybe my perspective was a bit skewed then from my California childhood.

    Your shark and octopus fabric is great. The idea of pastoral Beatrix Potter animals or Winnie the Pooh in Egypt is as ludicrous as the tortured teddies some of the merchants were trying to sell you. Can you purchase a sewing machine in Cairo?

  2. Stacy October 20, 2007 at 4:30 pm #

    Love the octopus with the red glasses. Hmmm…what does that remind me of? Amazing how we take a drainage system for granted. Thursday night we had a huge storm blow through (tornado warnings and sirens going everywhere) South Bend. I’m thinking that’s another thing I need to be thankful for – drainage systems. Who would have thought?

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