Continued from my first ever post Meeting Some of the Neighbors with the same introduction:
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
She goes and my door is still open. I notice some garbage on the floor outside my door. It looks like some food scraps that I didn’t eat. I go out and pick them up and see my neighbor using the box that my fan had come in for garbage. So I figure what the hell, it was my box originally, and go to put the ends of two peppers into the garbage at the same time he is placing a small bag inside.
As I approach the man he begins to seem uneasy. I show him the two ends and demonstrate throwing them in the box and ask, “Aywa?”(Yes?) At this point, he retreats fast as lightning back into his doorway and is pulling the door in front of him so as to protect himself from me. He has the terrified look of a rabbit that has just been cornered.
I start apologizing profusely in Arabic since I don’t have much else to fall back on. He comes back out once he can tell that I’m not going to attack him, but still obviously doesn’t trust me one lick. I try to communicate to him that I only wanted to throw these two pepper ends away, but to no avail. I’m pretty sure he is asking me where I live and so I point to my door, which is just down from his. I apologize once more and retreat to my flat without throwing the scraps away.
Soon thereafter I hear him hollering down the stairs over and over, the same thing for probably 5 minutes. By now I’ve put my water in the fridge and was getting ready to study some more Arabic, as my encounters had clearly encouraged, when my doorbell, of sorts, starts ringing. I look out of the peephole and what do I see? My neighbor is standing there with a man, whom I assume is the landlord, waiting. I open the door and greet them in Arabic. I tell the landlord that I am student from America and apologize to my neighbor once more. My neighbor says something about eskandereyya (Alexandria in Arabic), so I assume that he is aware that Ahmed’s family, the people who own the flat in which I’m staying, is from Alexandria and that he may know them. But I really have no clue what he was saying or how to reply. So, after a few moments of awkward silence the landlord makes the motion with his hand of a key opening a lock. I grab my key out of my pocket and show it to them and demonstrate that it is the one for my door. The landlord gives a little chuckle and my neighbor tells me shukran as they head back whence they came.