Saturday, August 1, 2009

Liz is Awesome

I am leaving for Israel today. I get to the Alex train station around 3:30, get on my train at 4, get to Cairo by 7, end up hanging out at Ramses II Station for a couple hours, then get on a bus (InchAllah/Bezrat Hashem) to Taba. Once I cross the border (probably at around 5 or 6am) which will cost me about 5LE on the way out of Egypt and 80 shek on the way into Israel, I will find my way to the central bus station upon which time I will board a bus for Jerusalem. I think the earliest is at 7. Those are my plans. And without further ado, a guest blog from my dear, dear friend, Liz with whom I desperately hope to keep in touch:

I am honored to have my guest-blogging potential requested. Since the end of our program looms and an over-eager language partner has schemed something that will take place a half hour from now, I will briefly comment on three notable phenomena I have observed in the last two months in Egypt.

First: Having studied several years ago in this general geographic area, I was a little trepidatious about the logistics of certain extremely personal activities that I’ve run into before. In Greece, this particular restriction was country-wide, utterly necessary except in the utmost of modern buildings like the Athens airport.

The day we landed in Egypt (and began a furtive continental search for our luggage), I was on the lookout for signs declaring the existence of this particular restriction. In the airport, no such sign was to be found. In the Cairo hotel, and upon our arrival in Alexandria, still no such sign.

It wasn’t until we reached our language school, with two bathroom stalls to serve the at-times 40 people crowded into its rooms, that this sign faced me, admonishing that which I had so feared.

There, in bold-print on a humidity-shriveled sign behind the toilet, read “PLEASE DO NOT FLUSH YOUR TOILET PAPER.” A simple garbage can sat innocently beside the toilet, in no way assuaging my worries. As in, I could not imagine the feat I would be required to perform time and time again this summer and assume that this meager can could hide the nast that would result. Maybe a chute would have been more appropriate – a chute resulting in instant incineration and the ability to recover from witnessing that which I had just scraped off of myself.

For those of you in similar situations, I highly recommend this utterly serious resource:


Second: Shevsky and I are two of three vegetarians on this trip. Admittedly, Shev’s dietary restrictions have gone far beyond passé vegetarianism, but I’m going to write this from the perspective of one who does not eat meat, by which I mean any food substance that used to belong to a creature that once had eyeballs. (This is to clarify my definition of “vegetarian,” and to distinguish myself and ourselves from those who believe they are vegetarians and still, say, eat fish. Or chicken. Or beef, but you know, only when (a) or (b). As well as people who “aren’t a vegetarian today, but will be again tomorrow.”)

Repeatedly I’ve questioned my communication abilities and/or sanity because of misunderstandings that have arisen over this subject. The word for “vegetarian,” I was taught by several Arabic teachers, is “nabatee.” Or, for a woman, “nabateeya.” It can also mean “a food that is vegetarian, or does not contain meat.” However, on several occasions I’ve had conversations that go like this:

Me: Does this food have meat in it?

Waiter: No, no, MA FEESH, no meat.

Me: Wonderful! So it is NABATEE?

Waiter: Oh no no no. Not nabatee. Here, here’s some bread.

To which I crumple under the crushing weight of a hearty WTF??!


Finally: Shev introduced me to a fantastic, ongoing joke between her and the cynical, cool people on the trip I always secretly wished I could be cynical and clever enough to join. They will compose letters to each other, often while sitting next to each other or while on the phone to each other in the same building.

For example:

“Dear Zack: Please pass the challah. I mean, hummous. Love, Shev.”


“Dear Shev: It has been a long and illustrious trip through The Orient. My research proceeds satisfactorily, but I daresay I have experienced the occasional longing for a hearty helping of bangers and mash. These silly sentiments aside, I write you today with a request: I beseech you, if you have both the time and the means, to send along with the next air mail from America your iPod headphone splitter. Most deeply and sincerely yours, Andrew.” (This, from across the aisle of the bus.)

Well. Now it’s my turn.

Dear Shev:

Here we go. Our last day in Egypt, and I’m ferklempt.

Your presence on this trip has been one of, at the very least, comfort and good vibes. At the very best, spice and adventure. You are interesting without effort, adventurous but not cliché, and true to a fault to your beliefs. You uphold your interests and dedications without making those less driven feel dissatisfied with their meager accomplishments. (Me: “I memorized five new words today!” Shev: “Wow, that’s great! I caught up on five chapters of this book, and have made friends with an antique coin dealer who can also read minds. But that’s AWESOME that you were able to memorize five new words AND update your blog!”)

You always have a plan. When you’re not studying, you’re off to the gym. When you’re not cracking your creaky knees on a treadmill under the extra-close supervision of our gym attendant ‘Amr, you’re exploring a corner of the city that promises intriguing nooks and awkward, rich situations. And when you’re not “smiling and nodding and sweating” with an Egyptian shop owner, you’re studying.

I am truly, deeply, forever honored to have had the chance to get to know you, however chaotic the last eight weeks have been. I know that you are off to encounter even more marvelous enterprises. It will be difficult to keep in touch. No, seriously. I mean, we’re both going to be in school, you’re going to be in another North African country learning ANOTHER dialect, and I’m going to be doing whatever thing it is I’m going to be doing. YA3NI, Gchat can only quench my thirst for a cool Shevsky so much. After that, it’s just daydreaming about houseboats in Lake Union, and the creamiest, most unexpected baba ganouj at a roadside rest stop in Cairo with a fellow NABATEEYA.

My friend, I must end this letter, for the air mail is costly these days. Remember your verb forms, and try putting your candles in the sink.

Love, toil and baba ganouj,


In fairness, I read this post as I was putting into Blogger. I had no idea it would be so, umm, well, flattering. Dear Liz, a thousand thanks -- alf a-shurk -- and I hope to the good Lord, Allah, that I will, in fact, see you in the future. To everyone else, your song of the day is by Kansas, and its a song we've been attached to on this trip for some reason, and I feel it is only appropriate at this juncture:

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