16 March, 2010

Quick Cuts

Meetings going well. Invited by the director of a human rights organization to visit a village near Cairo they work with on Thursday. A good bit of prep work required on my part to pull my limited Ama together. Two women from one of the partner villages were at the office when I arrived and we cobbled together a very funny conversation between their dialect and my fusha. Meeting with an international migration organization and some academics tomorrow. Keep trying to make it to the AUC's social research library, but their hours are right when people want to meet. Definitely realizing the need for much more language study, at least more vocabulary in addition to the dialect. I can get by alright, but you certainly can't work with people that way, as patient as they may be.

Visited the synagogue across from my hotel today, a bold, neo-Pharonic structure subtly named The Gates of Heaven. The front is lined with these striking art deco palm trees in relief. Unfortunately, security is extremely tight after an incendiary device was thrown at it not long ago. Had to show my passport, register twice and answer several questions. Worse, no photography allowed, which is truly a shame because the interior features some lovely art nouveau touches since it was completed in 1905. Worth it, though, because it's a lovely building and an interesting bit of history. Supposedly the Jewish community here numbers about 100 and the synagogue is only used for high holy days. Trying to visit the Coptic quarter after morning meetings tomorrow and hope to weasel my way into the recently restored Maimonides synagogue. Due to the closures imposed on Palestinians by the Israelis this week, the Antiquities Department canceled a scheduled opening ceremony.

Had a very good talk with the staff at Fair Trade Egypt, the only such organization in the country. Might be working with them informally when I (hopefully) return this summer. They work with about 40 communities around the country and their small HQ in Zamalek features really a nice shop that's nowhere near as expensive as the rest of Zamalek. Be ware of any neighborhood where the restaurants charge a cover.

Most amazingly, I had my first cab driver have and offer to use a meter! The price ended up half the price I was told I should bargain for. I had to ask him about three times, much to his amusement. And he turned up the football match so I could listen in.

Sorry, Egypt, but I'm not digging your version of felafel. But though I never previously would have considered broad beans to be sandwich filling, I'm a bit besotted with ful & egg sandwiches. And aish merahrah is a close rival in my heart to the hearty bled(country) bread I loved in Morocco. Could have stayed and had mint tea after mint tea with the bookbinders all afternoon.

Just when I think I've got the city center figured out, I try to take an ever so slightly different way and end up all turned around, but not too far off the trail. I suppose everyplace is like this to an extent - Istanbul certainly is - but I feel you could live here all your life and still find something new, surprising, whatever, each day. I do feel a bit more a part of the flow, as much as one can in just two weeks.

Have to get some work time in for tomorrow's meetings and those in Istanbul. Looking forward to seeing friends. Can be a bit lonely at times on the road...Hard to think about going back the the U.S. again, though.

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