I flew to Egypt in August of 2010 in order to study at the American University in Cairo. Upon arriving, I couldn’t speak a word of Arabic, had little knowledge of societal norms, and even less time to receive this vital information from my friend whose family’s flat I would be staying in, as his flight back to Iowa left the following day. The following is a recounting of my first genuine interactions with Cairenes, about 5 days in:
Written on August 23, 2010
This evening, after returning from the supermarket with some water, tp, paper towels, and a candy bar, I am completely drenched with sweat. The walk back was longer than I’d thought and the case of water was proving heavier with every step. Then, instead of taking the stairs like normal, I decide to take the elevator since I bought twelve 1.5 liter bottles of water and had already lugged them quite a ways. I get to my floor, which is only the third, and I can’t get the elevator door to open. You see, the door to the elevator is old school, meaning that the actual elevator doesn’t have it’s own door you simply open the door at each level in order to get off. Then, before I know it, the elevator is going up and I’m still on the damned thing. The folks who called for it, a Mother and a daughter, are confused as to why I’m on the elevator. So I get out of their way and begin walking towards the stairs to head back down and they start asking me questions, in Arabic of course, and so I tell them what I know how to say at this point. Ana essef, ana talib men amreeka, which means, I’m sorry, I’m a student from America. Haha. Next, I think they ask me what floor I needed and so I show them three fingers and at this point the younger girl tells me to speak English. What a relief! I tell her that I couldn’t get the door to open at my floor and that I can just walk back down. But they were not having any of that as they see me standing there holding my case of twelve 1.5 liter bottles of water and two bags. They insist that I get back on the elevator and head to my floor with my things. The younger girl offers to help me since my box had been collecting sweat from my sopping clothes and was clearly about to be in tatters. We arrive back to floor 3 and she opens the door without a single problem and can’t help but laugh. Until the box breaks as I step off. So here we are collecting all these scattered bottles of water off the floor just outside my door and setting them inside.
All the while, I’m scared to talk to her or even really look at her because she is clearly Muslim (she was wearing a hijab) and I know there are strict rules concerning women in Islam, of which I’m unaware of the specifics at this time. However, she just keeps talking and talking and even steps inside the front door while helping me get things inside. Soon everything is inside and we have introduced ourselves. I proceed to thank her over and over, which is shukran, and tell her masalaama (goodbye) as she is leaving.
(to be continued here–>) Meeting Some of the Neighbors (Part II)