Saturday, October 27, 2007

Short Hiatus

I'll be in Western Uganda until Thursday. Since I'm unsure of what the Internet availability will be like, I'm not planning any entries until I return.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Africa: Where Clothes Come to Die

These are the buckets in which Joan washes our clothes:

This is the clothesline on which our clothes dry:

After eight months in Uganda, we have holes in everything (the discoloration is a mystery to me as Joan does not use any bleaching products when she washes; notice also the distortion in the neckline, many of my crewnecks have become V-necks):

Shoes are no exception, though obviously the holes in our shoes have nothing to do with the buckets and the clotheslines. But we did quickly learn never to leave canvas shoes outside. Don't ask me what eats the canvas, but something does:

These were so beat up, J left them in Egypt:

On the bright side, it seems that our bags will be significantly lighter when we return from Uganda. More room for salad tongs and animals made of wire and beads!

Eulogy for Pants

In late 2001, when I was preparing to leave Boston and move to New York, for the first time in my life I paid over $100 for a pair of jeans. They were a pair of Sevens, when Sevens were still new and the fact that a pair of jeans could make someone’s ass look that good was a phenomenon.

I had my friend B. with me. B. is the person you want with you when you are buying a pair of jeans, or any article of clothing really. B. was born with fashion magic embedded in her little stubby fingertips. When you try something on in the store, she can tell if it’s something you’ll want to wear every day for the rest of your life or if you’ll wear if once and then regret ever buying it. It’s one of her many gifts.

B. sent me into the dressing room with a stack of jeans and when I came out in the black Sevens, I cried, “They’re too tight!” and B. said, “They’ll stretch!” and I said, “I think I need a bigger size,” and B. said, “Don’t do it.” And because I trust B. with my fashion life, I took her advice. She was right. (She’s always right.) They were the perfect pair of jeans for three years.

Then they stretched a little too much and they became Sunday jeans. Soft and comfortable, they were more soothing than a VitaWater and bagel sandwich when I had a hangover on a Sunday morning.

A few months before leaving New York to move here, small holes developed in the crotch. It seems the pants wanted only to live in New York. I sewed the holes shut and continued to wear them. After each washing here, the holes slowly grew larger, burst their amateur darning, and morphed into a monster shredding (recently patched):

It was the spring of 2002, a few months after I arrived in New York, and I took my measly publishing paycheck to a consignment store called Tokyo 7 in the East Village, which sold only lightly worn designer clothing. There I bought my first pair of Marc Jacobs pants for $50. They fit like a dream, had a nice texture to the fabric, were just a little bit short in the leg, which I liked. They looked amazing with flats.

There were no hints of rebellion. One day the crotch simply opened up. I search for a way to fix them, but the tear was not a simple rip along the seam, but had started there and exploded into a complete disintegration of crotch:

So, is it me? Is it my crotch?

Or is it Africa with its lack of washing machines?

Or is it the pants companies, purposefully distressing the fabric in the crotch so it wears out in two to three years, forcing customers to return to them over and over?

Who do I blame, third world Africa or corporate America? I suppose that’s going to depend on my mood.

Or am I just asking too much of my pants?

Monday, October 22, 2007


Last week I met a friend at Efendy’s for dinner. Efendy’s is a Turkish restaurant located in Centenary Park, an area devoted to five or six restaurants across an expanse of greenery. As I pulled into the drive, I was stopped, for the first time, by a guard.

Me: Is everything okay?
Guard: Everything is okay, maybe.
Me: Okay.
Guard: Where are you going?
Me: Efendy’s.
Guard: Are you carrying any firearms?
Me: (laughter, then realizing he is being serious) Oh, no firearms.
Guard: Now everything is okay.

The system does not exactly seem foolproof, does it?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Egypt - Day 5

MTV Europe is mesmerizing. They play videos! All the time! When you’ve had little exposure to American pop culture or television in general for six months, this truly seems like a worthwhile way to spend your time on a Monday morning when you’re in a comfy Sheraton bed in Luxor, Egypt. Eventually we roused ourselves to the pool.

The Sheraton has had the most brilliant idea of putting an ice cream stand right next to the pool at their hotel. Ice cream in waffle cones, blazing heat, vacation—brilliant. (Please note that ice cream in Uganda can taste like shredded pieces of newspaper on all but the most rare occasions.)

In the afternoon we hired our most crazy cab driver of the whole trip and had him take us to Karnak. He spoke quite fast and unintelligibly and turned out to be oddly persuasive. (After coming out of Karnak, J said, “Do you remember what our cab driver looks like?” and I said, “Just look for the crazy man,” and we had no trouble finding him.)

Karnak is vast. Over a 1300-year period, successive pharaohs, in order to make their marks, added to and changed the temple, which began as the Temple of Amun, dedicated to the king of the gods.

Colossus of Ramses II:

Great Hypostyle Hall (it has 134 columns):

From the backside:

J, taking a break:

From there, we had the crazy man drop us at Luxor Temple, and then we had to pay him off to get rid of him.

And the avenue of sphinxes, which once stretched almost 2 kilometers, all the way to Karnak.

We walked back to the hotel as the sun set, ordered room service, watched a movie, and called it a vacation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Third Type of Vacation

A friend recently reminded me that in addition to the beach and ski vacations, there is also the eating and drinking vacation. An excellent point, especially as we are going to Paris in December, which has neither beach nor mountains, and I am very excited about it. Though of course we’ll be seeing the sites and I’m looking forward to just wandering around in that beautiful city again, what I’m really looking forward to is the eating and drinking. Likewise, J and will be in New York for a weekend in November, which will also be an eating vacation. We have already mapped out our restaurants.

One more entry on Egypt coming shortly…

Monday, October 15, 2007

Egypt - Day 4

Luxor. We did it up and stayed at the Sheraton. Even thought there is absolutely too much to see in Luxor, we made time for the pool because we were dying for some actual “vacation” time.

The train got us into town around 6:00 AM. We checked in at the Sheraton and decided to get right to business in order to beat the heat. We hired a cab for the morning and headed to the West bank of the Nile. Our guide book was last revised in 2005 so we kept waiting for the driver to pull over at one of the ferry landings so we could take a ferry across the river. As far as we knew it was the only was across. But apparently sometime between 2005 and now, a bridge was built and so, no ferry for us.

First stop: Valley of the Kings. Think middle of the desert, think hot, think lots of red-faced tourists wandering about.

There are 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and only a select few are open at any one time. The ticket you buy to get into the area allows you access to three tombs. I suppose more diligent tourists would have read up on each of the tombs before going, come up with a list of their top ten preferences, and then, you know, have seen which of those were open, etc. J and I opened our guide book once inside the park and said, this one looks cool.

The Tomb of Tuthmosis III (No. 34, for all you near-future visitors) was built 98 feet above ground and is reached by a long metal staircase.

Once inside, you then have to climb down a narrow, dark, rickety wooden staircase into the tomb. The tomb has two levels. The first is empty, save for the hieroglyphics lining the walls. Down another claustrophobic staircase—not to mention it is quite warm in there with little air circulation—the second level has more hieroglyphics plus a red granite sarcophagus. We climbed back up the stairs behind a fantastically out-of-shape tourist who moved in slow motion so when we came back out into the fresh air we were breathing easily. We sat down to check our book for the next tomb of choice and we were right outside the entrance to the tomb, after you come up the decently long flight of stairs out of the tomb but before you go down the metal staircase 100 feet to level ground. People are out of shape! Most people came out of the tomb sweating, red, and bent over at the knees trying to catch their breath. There’s a thing at the gym called the Stairmaster—if you want to visit the Tomb of Tuthmosis III, hop on.

Next up was No. 14, the Tomb of Queen Twasert/Sethnakht. Originally intended for Queen Twasert, the wife of Seti II, it was appropriated instead by the pharaoh Sethnakht because he was having problems with his own tomb. Photography was not allowed in any of the tombs, but open entering No. 14, J and I found ourselves all alone. We were right by the entrance where the light was still decent and the hieroglyphics on the walls were just spectacular. We might never be allowed back in Egypt for admitting to this, but we took a couple of pictures. And oh man was it worth it. Check this baby out:

Do you just feel like you’re so there?

Anyway, big, awesome, beautiful tomb.

For our last tomb, if I’m remembering correctly, we went next door to Tomb No. 15, which is not listed in the guide book because it’s not important enough. The guy at the entrance said, you guys know this is your last tomb, right? And we were like, yeah, we’re cool with that, and he looked kind of skeptical that we knew what we were doing, but let us in anyway. Way to sell your tomb, dude.

I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of the tombs. I was just as impressed with poor, neglected No. 15 as I was with any of the others. I mean, Tuthmosis III seems to get a lot of props just for being built so high up (fat lot of good that did from keeping the robbers out), but I would say his tomb was much less spectacular than No. 14 or 15.

Our three tombs were up and it was off to Hatshepsut Temple. Right this second, try to pronounce that. Say it aloud. Come on. I dare you. J and I couldn’t the word to save our lives. At first our driver looked at us like we were insane. Where did we want him to take us? But once he figured it out, he found us hilarious. He sounded it out for us. We repeated after him. But we could just not get it. It was beyond us.

Are you still thinking: hot? Because it was hot, people. Look how hot we are:

The temple was built for Queen Hatshepsut in the 18th Dynasty. It’s built into the mountain and looks out over the desert. It’s stunning.

After this we headed back to the hotel for lunchtime, pooltime, naptime, in that order. We had the best of intentions of heading back to the West bank and the Valley of the Queens, etc, but we just never made it.

In the late afternoon we walked into town to check out Luxor Temple, but once we got there we realized we had forgotten the camera and everyone knows if you don’t take pictures it’s like it never happened. So we decided to go back the next day and had a nice leisurely walk along the river and then back to the hotel.

Day 4 in Egypt also happened to be our one-year anniversary. That night we got all gussied up and had dinner at the Italian restaurant at the hotel. We sat outside by a fountain long abandoned to algae and ate mediocre food and it was just lovely. Truly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Egypt - Day 3

Saturday, our last full day in Cairo. Another quiet morning around town. We hired a cab for the morning and went out to Giza to see the pyramids. We wandered around by ourselves for an hour. We sat on one of the pyramids for a few minutes; it was the only place to find a little shade. You used to be able to climb the pyramids, but too many people died and they don’t allow it anymore.

Our driver then took us down to Memphis, about an hour away. If I had done a little bit more reading before leaving, I might have suggested skipping Memphis altogether. Though it was once the capital of ancient Egypt, there’s pretty much nothing left there except an open-air museum housing a few relics, the coolest being this guy, a massive limestone statue of Ramses II:

Next it was on to Saqqara, the royal burial grounds for Old Kingdom Memphis. The most exciting thing in Saqqara is the step pyramid, which was the precursor to the pyramids in Giza.

In the distance on the left you can see the Bent Pyramid in Dahshur, which we didn’t visit, but is supposedly Egypt’s first proper pyramid—i.e. not a step pyramid.

There were lots of other things to see, tombs and such, but it was super hot and we were hungry, so we went back to our driver who took us to a pretty horrible restaurant, but which seemed to be our only choice.

We arrived back out hotel in Cairo mid-afternoon. The hotel gave us a room to clean up in, as we had already officially checked out, and we left our bags there for another few hours while we went down to the gardens at the Marriott hotel. We had a few hours to kill before our overnight train to Luxor, so we relaxed a little by playing cribbage and having a few drinks and then an early dinner.

We picked up our bags at the hotel and caught a cab out to Giza train section. Being our typical selves, we arrived an hour early. The crossword puzzle in my $9 People magazine was not such the time-waster I had hoped for—it took all of five minutes to complete. Which left 55 minutes of listening to the loud American students next to us talk about how awesome they are.

Our overnight train experience was pretty uneventful. We actually slept.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Happy Independence Day, Uganda

If I were a less lazy blogger, I would have walked down the hill to the airstrip to take pictures of all the festivities going on. Instead I sat at my desk and tried to write while listening to marching band music. All. Day. Long. They've been practicing since we returned from Egypt on Wednesday and I am so sick of what I assume is the national anthem.

Here's to 45 years of an independent Uganda, marching bands and all.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Egypt - Day 2

Friday morning we hopped in a cab and went straight to the Citadel. The streets and sidewalks were completely empty, making the ride to the other side of town non-life-threatening and quick. Passing through Islamic Cairo was like entering a whole different country. Suddenly the encroaching desert became more apparent, the buildings older and more ornate, darker and yet brighter at the same time. The colors in Islamic Cairo are neutrals on either end of the spectrum; downtown Cairo has a slightly richer, wider palette.

The Citadel is massive. The most popular site inside of it seems to be the Mohammed Ali Mosque, a “newcomer” to Cairo, having only been built in the mid-19th century..

Because I was wearing short-sleeves and shorts, I had to wear a funny green cape to cover my arms and legs before entering the mosque, of which J had no end of fun taking pictures.

This is out in the courtyard of the mosque (I haven’t grown a humpback since moving to Africa; I’m also wearing a backpack under the cape.)

The clock tower was a gift from King Louis-Philippe of France in exchange for the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde in Paris and was damaged upon delivery and has never been fixed. Inside, the vast prayer hall:

From the Citadel’s walls, there are some amazing views over Cairo. In this picture, the pyramids are barely visible in the distance (though I’m not sure you’ll be able to see them in the reproduction).

We checked out the military museum, had a Coke at the café, and then called it a day for the Citadel. We walked back down to the street and found a cab and asked the driver to take us to the Khan, but since it was still only mid-morning, the driver told us the Khan would still be dead with everyone at services. So he took us to Coptic Cairo instead.

Coptic Cairo is the oldest part of the city, a compound lying within the walls of the 3rd-century AD Roman fortress of Babylon. Our guidebook dubs the Hanging Church the most beautiful of all Cairo’s churches. It is called a “hanging” church because it was built on top of the Water Gate of Babylon, possibly as early as the 4th century, though the original structure was destroyed in rebuilt in the 11th century.

For some reason, I was somewhat more enamored with the Convent of St. George, reached via an underground passageway, dating to the 15th-century.

We also visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Egypt, and the Church of St. Barbara, both of which were sort of pushed upon us by a guard eager for a tip even though we were ready for lunch.

Our cab driver had waited for us outside the walled confines of the compound and now took us to Khan al-Khalili in heavy traffic (which he was not happy about). After getting directions from fifteen different people, we finally found the Naguib Mahfouz Café, named after the dude who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Khan al-Khalili is a massive bazaar selling everything imaginable. It’s difficult to capture what the Khan is really like in a photo—narrow passageways, hordes of people, constant haggling…

We planned on getting lost in the maze of the bazaar but didn’t last long before extracting ourselves from the fray and catching a cab back to the hotel. The cab driver we found didn’t speak English very well. We told the guy we’d give him 30 pounds. He didn’t understand. He asked for 20. We told him it was a deal.

Back at the hotel, we watched Quantum Leap on television and started an episode of Nash Bridges when the power went out. We sat in the dark for a few minutes—this had happened once before and the power had immediately come back on—but nothing happened. We became homesick for Uganda. J called down to the front desk.

This is what I heard:
“We were just wondering if the power was coming back on any time soon…The electricity? Is it coming back on?...We have no electricity in our room.”

Apparently they had no idea. We sat in the dark for another ten minutes and J called down again. The front desk told him someone was on the way. We sat in the dark for another five minutes, wondering desperately how Nash Bridges was going to catch that darn stalker and now we surely would never know. Just as J went out in the hallway to investigate, the power came back on.

We dressed for dinner and went out front to ask the doorman for a cab to La Bodega, what turned out to be a trendy restaurant in an old mansion. He told us it was close enough to walk and gave us directions. His directions involved getting to a certain street and then asking someone whether to go left or right. We got to the street and couldn’t find a single person who spoke English. Already the restaurant was turning out to be not five minutes away, as we were told, but a good solid twenty minutes on foot. We were tired even before we started walking and now late for our reservations. We chose right, which was of course the wrong way. We stopped at a little bodega on the side of the street (sadly not La Bodega) and again no one spoke English. Exasperated, J turned to me and exclaimed, “Why now of all times can we not find anyone who speaks English?” And a man passing by turned and said in an American accent, “I speak English.” Oh.

The restaurant was urban and modern and made us miss New York, but the food was really only average. Afterwards we stepped outside and decided we could swing the walk back to the hotel, now that we knew what we were in for. But we didn’t know what we were in for. We got lost. Zamalek is a lovely neighborhood to get lost in. There are a mess of embassies and other beautiful mansions, but after thirty minutes we were exhausted. It was the first time in my life I thought I might actually be able to fall asleep while walking. After two sets of bad directions we hopped in a cab. When we got back to the hotel, the same episode of Quantum Leap was being repeated on television.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Egypt - Day 1

We woke up Thursday morning freaked out about money. We tried another ATM close to the hotel, but again: no money. We went to Citibank in Garden City, a lovely little neighborhood—leafy, narrow streets easy to get lost in—because I had a U.S. Citibank account and we also had a Citibank credit card we figured we could take money out against if everything else failed. Our trip happened to coincide with Ramadan, which was sort of unfortunate, but we figured it would be easy enough to work around it. The bank was supposed to open at 8:30, but because of the holiday opened an hour later than normal, so we killed an hour walking around. Then one of the tellers told it was both impossible to access my U.S. account and to take an advance out against our credit card. She advised getting the PIN number to our credit card over the phone, which I was pretty sure was impossible to do, but she assured us to the contrary.

Ignoring our financial woes, we exchanged what little U.S. currency we had left (Citibank couldn’t even do that for us – they sent us around the corner to another bank) and went to the Egyptian Museum, nearly killing ourselves crossing six lanes of traffic instead of taking the underground tunnel. But before going inside we needed to find some water. It was nearly 10:30 and we’d been walking since 8:30 and only now had the currency to buy a bottle of water. Except between Garden City and the Egyptian Museum there are NO places to buy a bottle of water. We took a side street near the museum looking desperately for some sort of convenience store. Nothing. We were accosted by an older man who wanted to know where we were from (what turned out to be the most common question ever uttered in all of Egypt). Friendly dude, sure, and he continued to follow us down the street talking to us. Finally we asked him for help finding a bottle of water, completely unsure what he really wanted from us. He brought us down another street to a blessed oasis in the dessert of downtown Cairo. I was so thirsty at that point I would have married the old man, but instead all he wanted us to do was buy some perfume.

We felt obliged to go into his store (classy place, as you can see) and let him smear oil up and down our arms—he got as far as gardenia and lotus, at which point I offered to buy the smallest amount possible. This turned out to be too small an amount for him, thankfully, and he let us go. Lesson learned: never talk to strangers unless you’re really, super desperate.

Finally, the Egyptian Museum. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but here it is from the outside, that pink building in the distance there...

The museum feels more like a storeroom for newly excavated treasures, with all the pieces waiting to be labeled and properly displayed. It’s just a mass of old shit, basically. Really cool, old shit. There is an imposter Rosetta Stone as soon as you walk in the front door—the original is in London—but everything else is the real deal. Outside the museum a bevy of freelance guides attack all visitors who are not obviously traveling with a tour group and offer their services. Even though I imagine a guide can come in handy since little in the museum is labeled, J and I were not interested.

This might be a good opportunity to describe the type of tourists J and I are. We fortunately fall into the same category, otherwise I doubt we would ever take another vacation together again. J and I do not like tours. We do not like to stand around and listen to someone drone on for long periods of time. We do not like to rough it. We like to wander around at our own pace. We like to take it easy. We like to look at a thing and move on. If we really like it, we’ll read about it later. I suppose you could call us lazy tourists. I like to think of us more as laid back. To me, there are two types of vacations: beach vacations and ski vacations. The separate occasions J and I backpacked around Europe we do not consider vacations. That was work. Egypt was not really a vacation either. It was down and dirty business. Do you know how much there is to see in that freaking country? This is one reason I might recommend the tour group package for all but the most laid back tourist, if you’re really concerned about seeing everything. J and I had resigned ourselves to the impossibility of seeing everything and had decided to be content with whatever fit into our laid back schedule. The other reason I would suggest this option is the harassment. You will get harassed for everything in Egypt: museum tours, sure, but also taxi rides, boat rides, camel rides, horse-drawn carriage rides, bathroom attendant tips, to buy postcards, laser-printed papyrus, small sandstone pyramids, kaftans, statues …whatever. And these dudes don’t take no for an answer. Not ever. It gets really, really tiring, especially when you’re just trying to take a leisurely stroll along the river at sunset. I imagine if you’re in a tour group you get harassed less for taxi rides and more to buy souvenirs, but safety in numbers might help even that.

The fantastic thing about sunset and Ramadan, though, is once that sun dips below the horizon: freedom. Everyone goes off to eat and J and I were left in peace. Bliss.

So anyway, we fought off the museum tour guide offers and made our way inside. To avoid the crowds we went upstairs and checked out the animal mummies, various sarcophagi, jewelry, scrolls of hieroglyphics, what-have-you. I believe we’ve discussed my issues with really crowded spaces, plus the museum was hot, so I had a little sit-down to calm the nerves and contemplate the truly tragic wardrobes of most Europeans while J sussed out the duds from the must-sees. The must-sees included the colossus of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, about 30 feet tall, the Amarna Room, which showed the new style of art that developed under Akhenaten’s 15-year rule with figures with elongated faces, and the Tutankhamun galleries—1,700 items from the boy king’s reign.

We left the museum shortly before noon and stepped out into the blinding heat with the intention of walking a short distance to a restaurant S. had recommended. S., who you will recall was in Uganda for the summer working with J and N., once lived in Cairo and had emailed us a list of places to eat and things to see. (Very kind of him and very handy.) On the way we passed an Egypt Air office so we stopped in to book a flight back from Luxor (we took the overnight train there). By the time we left it was approaching 1:00 PM and we were beginning to feel the early gnawing of hunger. We found the restaurant, but only the take-away section was open. The sit-down part appeared to be closed, the cause of which we took to be Ramadan. No biggie: we were in downtown Cairo; there was bound to be at least ONE restaurant open despite the holiday.

Okay, so there might actually only have been ONE restaurant open for lunch in downtown Cairo. It took us another hour and a half to find it. I was saved only by the apples we stole from the breakfast buffet at the hotel that morning. We were really, super desperate, so we talked to another stranger. We asked him if he knew a restaurant that would be open and he pointed us down the street. In exchange he asked us to come into his perfume shop. We told him we’d come back after lunch. We never went back; we are such assholes. But we were hungry assholes.

We ate at a French restaurant with a lot of other white people. Afterwards we hopped in a cab to go back to the hotel and call various banks/credit card companies to try and figure out our money situation. On the way we stopped at the train station and picked up our train tickets to Luxor. Though we weren’t seeing much that day, at least we were taking care of business.

This is about how we felt upon arriving at the train station:

And we only had to wait an hour or so to get the tickets…

Back at the hotel, J called Citibank, who of course said they couldn’t give out PIN numbers over the phone and who also said the bank should have been able to give us an advance against our credit card. Awesome—because banks are closed on Fridays and Saturdays in Egypt and were already closed for the day because of Ramadan, so fat lot of good that did us. Our only hope lay with Bank of America.

Never put all your hope in Bank of America.

J talked to a woman in Customer Service who said a block had been put on our debit card as soon as we tried to use it in Egypt. J asked if she had any record of us being in Africa; she didn’t, even though J called back in January to alert the bank that we would be traveling around the continent. He asked if they had any clue we had been using the card in Uganda for the past eight months and that maybe this would indicate that we were in this part of the world and therefore less suspicious that we were using the card in Egypt. They had no clue. But she said she would take the block off and the card should work immediately at an ATM.

J went to the ATM. The card didn’t work.

J called BoA again. He talked to someone, explained the problem, and was then connected to a recorded message asking him to verify certain aspects of his account. He verified them, the recording thanked him, and then hung up. This happened twice more. On the fourth call, J told the person if he connected J to the recording again basically he would hunt the man down and pull out all his fingernails. The guy stayed on the line, listened to the problem, checked the account, and informed J that the woman he had originally talked to had “messed up” taking the block off the account. So they went through the whole rigmarole again. He seemed to ask a lot more questions than the original woman, including verification of recent purchases on the card.

“Do you know what a charge for $122 would be for?” J asked me.
“Amazon,” I said. “The day before we left.”
“You bought that many books?” he asked.
I planned on having books sent to my parent’s house to pick up when we are visiting in November. I should have just said yes and let him believe that (I certainly would have no problem spending that much on books), but instead I told the truth: “Your anniversary present.”

And now J knew exactly what I had bought him for our anniversary, still three days away. The Red Sox 2004 World Series DVD Collector’s Edition (plus a book or two for myself for consolidation in shipping purposes). Surprise officially ruined. We spent $50 on six phone calls to Bank of America. But the block finally came off and the ATM finally dispensed Egyptian pounds into our grubby mitts.

Awesome day in Cairo! Never fear, all was not lost. S. came through for us with his recommendation to eat at Abu Al-Sid in Zamalek, the same neighborhood as our hotel. A huge, unmarked door on a quiet side street led into a dimly lit, elegant/bohemian smoking den with low Victorian-style couches, thick wooden tables, and darkly painted walls seen through a haze of shisha smoke. We ate delicious Egyptian food—hummus and lamb kofta and a yoghurt salad—plus we tried Koushary, made of lentils, rice, pasta, and tomato sauce, which I can’t say I was all that into but was happy to try.

Once the meal was over, I was so exhausted from the day’s walking/non-eating/non-drinking/non-money-having, I nearly fell asleep sitting up. In our desperation to get back to the hotel and blessed sleep, we nearly sprinted out of the restaurant and into a cab. But we didn’t have to tell the cab driver to step on it because cab drivers in Cairo are crazy people and drive faster than one would think possible through openings one would think not big enough to fit the old Renault through and they dodge and weave better and faster, but no less nerve-wrackingly, than Christine Taylor in Dodgeball.

Not to worry, more (and better) pictures on the way. The rest of our trip we actually saw stuff…

Lessons learned in this blog post: When traveling to Egypt, call your bank before leaving not once, not twice, but perhaps three times to confirm that they have all info down pat; think about tour groups and whether you are that kind of person; when someone asks you where you are from, keep your head down and pretend you are deaf/don’t speak English/Spanish/Italian/French/German, but if you must talk to someone, perfume dealers are surprisingly helpful; carry lots and lots of snacks; close your eyes while traveling in taxis; remember that U.S. dollars are still magic, despite their declining value; upgrade your hotel—the more comfortable bed will be so worth it when you come home at the end of the day exhausted and dirty.

Return from Egypt

Sorry for the delay in posting. Our flight got in Wednesday morning and I spent the day napping and finishing my book. I didn’t want to like Special Topics in Calamity Physics – what with its young, pretty, intelligent author, but it’s just too good. The only grudge I can hold against Marisha Pessl is having her narrator announce that Hannah is a name for troll babies. If that’s true, I was the freaking cutest troll baby ever. Yesterday I had hints of a migraine, freaked out, and stayed home watching One Tree Hill Season 2 instead of heading to Kabira to use the Internet.

J and I left for Egypt last Wednesday afternoon. We changed planes in Nairobi (perhaps my least favorite airport I’ve ever passed through) and paid $9 each for copies of US Weekly and People magazines. That’s how desperate I am. takes way too long to load in this country. Our next flight stopped in Sudan, though we didn’t have to get off the plane. It was dark when we landed so I couldn’t see much. A shocking number of people got off in Sudan, though, and a shocking number of people got on. The woman next to me who got off was studying some numbers labeled something along the lines of “Exit Strategy for Refugee Camps,” and I can only imagine everyone else getting off and on also was also some sort of aid worker. It’s not exactly a vacation destination, right?

We arrived in Cairo late that night and stopped to use the ATM in the airport. We tried three and none of them worked. We used U.S. dollars to take a cab to the hotel. We were tired and we figured we would deal with it in the morning. Maybe there was just something wrong with the airport ATMs…