Archive for January, 2007

More on Arabic studies

Posted by sue on 31st January 2007

Tomorrow I’m already at the end of my first (short) term of Arabic study, though the next term starts right in on Monday of next week. The only way it’s obvious that it’s a new term is that I have to pay again! (The terms are four weeks long, though this time I jumped in the beginning of week two.)

It’s been good so far, a very different approach than I’ve had in previous classes, which built vocabulary relatively slowly and methodically while focusing on the teaching of grammar. In my class now, we do some work on grammar, but mainly it’s been a rapid fire exposure to new texts in class every single day, with loads of new vocabulary almost every day. It’s nuts just how many new words I’ve learned (or at least was introduced to) this term—it’s more than I can absorb.

However, I think there is a method to this madness that is appropriate to where I am with Arabic learning. When new words are flying at you at a rate too fast to memorize them all, you just do the best you can, and some will sink in. And if the next day you do the same thing, a few more will sink in, particularly if a few of yesterday’s words come up again in today’s reading. Just last night I was watching the news on an Egyptian cable news station, and heard a couple of words that I had just learned about 10 minutes earlier in an article I was reading, so I remember them. I’m hopeful that a few months in Cairo studying at Kalimat is the kick in the pants that I needed to actually get somewhere with this language.

Posted in Arabic, Egypt | 5 Comments »

A Woman in Egypt, initial impressions

Posted by sue on 26th January 2007

I have noticed a couple of things about women and gender relations in Egypt so far than seem worthy of comment.

First, as Len mentioned, there are more women and girls wearing headscarves (hijab) here than in Morocco, or wearing a garment that covers the head and the whole upper body with one piece of flowing fabric, worn over a long dress or long skirt. Long A-line skirts that reach to the ground are popular here. Also more common here than in Morocco, though still not all that common, is the niqab, a veil across the face that leaves only the eyes visible– women that determined to cover up often wear black gloves, too, so that none of their skin sees the light of day except for a little around the eyes. (A little spooky, yes.)

In general, veiling is popular for various religious and cultural reasons, and is even fashionable, but it is controversial even in Egypt because the government is nervous about conservative religious movements, and there are many different interpretations of the Quran about how women should dress. I certainly haven’t felt any need to wear a headscarf because A) I’m not a Muslim, and B) there are still plenty of Egyptian women and foreign women in Cairo who don’t wear them.

A side effect of all the covered hair is that there aren’t many hair salons around (though there’s a men’s barber shop on practically every block)—I could really use a haircut!

A more general observation about gender relations in Egypt is that the division between women and men feels a bit stronger here than in Morocco. In Morocco, men we met, who were friends of Len’s or our landlord or whoever, when greeting us, always shook my hand and said hello to me and to Len whenever we saw them. But in Egypt, men will shake Len’s hand but not mine, usually. A subtle difference, to be sure. In general, things feel pretty similar to Morocco—most cafes are filled with men only, drinking coffee or tea and smoking, but there are other cafes, often more upscale ones, with both women and men. When I walk alone, men occasionally yell “Hello, what is your name” (all the English they know, I presume) and other things in Arabic that I don’t understand, but not in a threatening way—more like I’m a curiosity to them. It was the same way in Fez.

Posted in Egypt | 17 Comments »

Cairo Photos You Don’t Want to See

Posted by len on 25th January 2007

Hello loyal readers. After a request or two to see some photos of our every day existence we have created our first Cairo Walkabout (R) photo page! This set of poorly composed photos follows Sue on her walk from Zamalek (the Manhattan Island of Cairo), over the Nile river, and into western Cairo where her Arabic language training classes are held. It’s about a 40 minute walk through residentials streets and freeways! It also happens to take you very near our new apartment! Yes, after 2 weeks of living out of a hotel we finally rented an apartment! Just blocks from the Nile in a pleasant residential area. Lots of room for visitors (hint, hint). 3 bedrooms. One will become an office. The other has two beds. Ever want to visit Egypt with a travel buddy? Now’s your chance! The photo you see here is from the ground looking up at our building. We move in today at 2pm.

Posted in Egypt | 6 Comments »

More on Morocco

Posted by len on 22nd January 2007

Before we shift entirely to blogging about our new home in Cairo I wanted to get a few final comments in about Morocco.
For one, during our last week there I had the opportunity to shoot a music video for a Moroccan rap group called Fez City Clan. They’re a nice bunch of guys that you can see pictured here.

I met their manager Nabil (not pictured) on the train returning from Meknes, a city not far from Fez.
The shoot lasted about a week. Two nights we met at midnight at a local cafe/club to shoot. Other days we shot in the medina of Fez and around other parts of town.
Now I have a hard drive full of footage of these guys dancing and rapping that’s waiting for me to edit it and add some special effects (like graffiti sprouting all around the city). We had one shop light as our ‘lighting kit’ and two mini-dv cameras. But we did the best we could! I need to get it done by late May since there’s a big concert and competition happening for rap music in Morocco in June.

Here is also a photo of a REAL MOROCCAN FAMILY. This was taken during New Years eve. Nabil invited Sue and me over for dinner and celebrations. This is (part of) his family in Fez. New Years eve coincides with what Muslims call Aid Kabir, which is their biggest holiday of the year. They served us much great food including pastilla, my favorite Moroccan dish which is chicken (or pigeon) baked into a pastry with cinnamon, sugar, nuts, and other exotic spices.


Posted in Fez | 9 Comments »

Arabic Studies Resumed

Posted by sue on 17th January 2007

I found a language institute that looks very promising, and I was able to jump into classes right away. It’s called Kalimat Language and Cultural Center, in Mohandessin, a rather fashionable area of Cairo, pretty centrally located. The vibe of the class is much more dynamic and fast-paced than my classes at ALIF, and they use their own materials rather than the Al Kitaab textbook series that I could definitely use a break from, all for about half the price of ALIF classes. So far, so good!

We have an appointment tomorrow with a real estate agent to look at apartments for rent, and I am really anxious to get settled. I think we made a good decision in leaving Morocco and coming here, both for the Arabic learning environment and the fun of a big city like Cairo, where everything is open late and there’s lots to do, but it’s been strange and even a bit upsetting to move again so soon. But we’re figuring things out, finding our way around (the GPS has been very helpful!), finding where to get our laundry done and good places to eat, and finding things that didn’t seem to exist in Fez, like art supplies and books in English. And now it’s time again to study, study, study!

Posted in Arabic, Egypt | 3 Comments »

A Bridge Over the River Nile

Posted by len on 15th January 2007


Here’s a shot from the “Bridge October 6th”, one of three bridges that span the Nile river from our little “Manhattan of Cairo” called Zamalek to the mainland.
Don’t strain your eyes looking for pyramids. They’re not visible in this particular photo. In fact, they’re not that easy to spot given the size of the city itself. I did spot them way off in the distance a few days ago from the car. Here’s a cruddy photo of just that!

Posted in Egypt | 9 Comments »

Kickin’ it in Cairo

Posted by sue on 15th January 2007

We’re in a strange limbo period right now, staying in a modest hotel in Zamalek, which is probably the nicest and most European-feeling part of central Cairo, just walking around and studying in cafes. Today we begin in earnest the search for language programs and neighborhoods we feel that we could be happy living in, which is a rather daunting prospect, because Cairo is a VERY big city, and the various language institutes are all over the place.

So far it strikes us that Egyptians are more gregariously friendly than Moroccans, which takes us aback a little, because in Morocco you generally ignored people who came up to you, speaking English, asking you where you’re from, because they were invariably hustlers of some kind. In Egypt, such people might just being friendly, so you want to be friendly back, though still a bit on guard against “touts,” people being nice just to get you to come to their perfume shop or sell you a tour or something. (None of which is dangerous, of course, just a bit annoying.)

In Middle Eastern countries it’s hard to be the kind of traveler I am, one who likes to read maps and guidebooks and then find my way around on my own, seeing what there is to see without having too strict of an itinerary, because it seems like every time I stop and look at something, or stop to consider which way to turn next, someone invariably asks what I’m looking for or if I need help. It’s charming at first, but after a while I just want to snap at people to give me a minute, already! I don’t, though—I’m getting used to it, and once we’re settled and I have classes to go to I’ll develop that “I have a purpose” look in my eye to replace the “clueless tourist” look.

Posted in Egypt | 3 Comments »

Hello From Cairo

Posted by len on 10th January 2007

Hello to all our loyal readers!  We just wanted to drop a quick blog (ew!) that we safely arrived in Cairo, Egypt last night!  Our contact, Ali, was waiting at the airport with his friend Lobna to pick us up.  We’re now staying in Lobna’s nice home, eating home-cooked Egyptian food (like kofta and taamiya).  In a day or two we’re going to find a hotel near the center of town and start researching language training and apartment procurement.  It’s great to have so many friends you’ve never met waiting for you in the home town you’ve never been to.  We even met an Egyptian on the plane who turns out to be a ballet dancer in the Cairo opera and said he’d hook us up with tickets to Scherazade when it opens in 3 weeks.

More to come…don’t miss the upcoming Egypt Action on the Squid!

Posted in Egypt | 7 Comments »

Things I like about Morocco, having spent time in Spain

Posted by sue on 7th January 2007

We left Fez this morning, and we’re in Casablanca for the next day and a half, preparing for our flight to Cairo on Tuesday. I’ve been sick for over a week (a succession of colds/flus, I think, because just when I think I might get better, I get worse again), so I’m ready to get the heck out of this country. Still, there are some warm and fuzzy thoughts about Morocco:

•Cheap taxis. We found that in Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Tangier, you have to argue with cab drivers to get them not to overcharge you too much, but even their “gouging” prices end up less than the metered pricing in Spanish cities. In Fez we’re particularly fortunate in that the cab drivers almost always just use their meters and charge you what the meter says, so most cab rides cost under $1.

•Non-alcoholic beverages. I’ve come to love Moroccan mint tea, which is a blend of green tea, fresh mint and a lot of sugar. We drink it in cafes in Fez all the time. (I didn’t have any really good mint tea in Marrakesh, though—there’s something else to appreciate about Fez.) Another cafe favorite is the orange juice, which is usually fresh-squeezed from really fresh mandarin oranges, which Morocco grows tons of. And I really like Morocco’s sparkling mineral water, called “Oulmes,” better than European fizzy waters—I’m not sure why, except maybe it’s that Oulmes is more lightly carbonated, or just has a mineral taste that I happen to like.

•Some Moroccan food. We’ve ragged a bit on Moroccan food in the past because we’ve had a good deal of uninspired Moroccan restaurant food. But we also had our share of uninspired, or just plain bad, Spanish food. So I appreciate the good meals I’ve had in Morocco more, like a lamb, onion and raisin couscous I had a couple of weeks ago, or some really excellent veal kebobs, or homemade tagines we’ve been fortunate enough to partake in a few times. Did I learn to cook Moroccan food? No. It was hard to get excited about cooking anything in our sparsely-equipped apartment kitchen, and much traditional Moroccan food is pretty time-consuming to prepare. Maybe someday when I have a better kitchen again.

Posted in Fez | 5 Comments »

Funny things about Spain

Posted by sue on 1st January 2007

“Tortilla” is offered on many menus, but it is a potato frittata (potato and egg), not a corn- or flour-based flatbread which forms the basis of all Mexican food. Weird.

“Gracias” (thank you) is pronounced “grathias” and “once” (eleven) is pronounced “on-thay,” etc. Spanish in Spain sounds positively lispy compared to the Mexican Spanish we’re used to hearing.

Spanish food goes a little heavy on ham. My classmate at ALIF, Cat, is Jewish but nevertheless loves ham (and loves Spain)—she says that when the Christian Spaniards threw out all the Jews and Muslims back in 1492 they wanted to make sure they didn’t come back, so they started putting ham in all their food. Even their potato chips were ham-flavored.

Posted in Spain | 4 Comments »