Saturday, September 26, 2009

First Hash Experience

We decided to join our friends from school on our first Hash House Harrier experience. The event was described to us as “runners with a drinking problem” or “drinkers with a running problem.”  It is an international social/drinking/running organization with no rules, only traditions, as each chapter (kennel) is bound only by title.

El Hashers

The HHH in Alex meets once a week at the Portuguese Club (an expat bar tucked away on a narrow side street off a major avenue). It is literally one of those places where you have to go with somebody who knows where it is as there are no markings. In our first time going there, we were lead down a dark street to a metal gate. The leader of the group knocked on the door and we are let into a waiting chamber of sorts where the doorman checked for member ids and issued visitor passes to us non-members for a couple of bucks. After the initial check-in, you are asked to sign-in their log stating your name and county of origin. Once this formality is completed you may venture past the second set of doors into what feels like a temporary trip out of Egypt.

The P.C. is fitted with the basic amenities of what you might find in a typical pub; there is pool table, darts, food, music, sheesha (hookah), and drinks. The beer selection is meager (Stella, Sakara, and Heineken); there is only one brand of wine offered and maybe a couple bottles of spirits...the bare essentials. 

The Hashers (runners) gather at the P.C. between 3:30-4:00 pm every Friday (our version of Saturday) for pre-running socializing, then at 4 pm we are ushered out to a van or taxis that will take us to the run location. For this event we took a couple of taxis out past the city limits into a small farming community. The trails are already pre-marked with clumps of shredded paper, as to distinguish real trails from the fake ones. The objective is to locate the “real” trail and to make it back in time. In total the run is approx. 5K. 

Our marker for the run


There were five of us that opted to walk, which was lead by Zach from Ohio. Zach has been living in a hotel at a mall for the last six-months, his company had sent him here for what was originally going to be a two-week gig. The walk was pleasant and most of the locals wondered what the hell foreigners in shorts were doing running around their fields dodging, sheep, goats, and oxen. We waved and said hello to them and they welcomed us. It is amazing what a smile and a wave can do.

 Egyptian Pee-Wee Bike


More Friends

At the end of the run we gathered around one of the hashers SUV, which carried the table, water, beer, and of course the ceremonial cups. The tradition is that each person is recognized for something and they have to stand in the middle of a circle and chug beer from the cup and toss the remainder over their head while the group sings a song. In our case, Ana and I were recognized for being newbie’s. Click on the video below for the song. 

New Kids on the Block

Only one of the taxi drivers returned so it was a tight squeeze getting everyone back to the Portuguese Club. From the get go the ride was already an adventure. The driver thought he’d save some time and drive backwards on the highway for a short distance so he wouldn’t have to drive an extra 2K to make a u-turn. Hey, where there’s a will there’s a way. I did manage to get a few seconds on video.

Duct Tape magic

Back at the P.C. we ended the evening with dinner, drinks, and darts. Ana and I opted to walk home since we were penniless or I should say pound less. The 45-minute walk took us through some new lively areas we haven’t been to. The key was to follow the tram tracks back home.   

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Small Eid versus The Pepsi Drinking Copts or Jesus and the Swimming Nannies

For the record, Ana and I had willingly spent our Eid holiday trip deep in “the blue company” (aka Pepsi) territory. If my brother still worked for Coke, I suppose he’d be calling me Judas.

Eid ul-Fitr is a three-day Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan; to us foreign hire teachers this translates to “five-day vacation.” Traditionally, most of the staff seizes this opportunity to escape Alex and explore the amazing sights around Egypt. In my case, if it hadn’t been for the mighty Craigslist, a good chunk of us might have been stranded inside our compound.

Saint Malcolm

The consensus among the group (5 couples and Saint Malcolm) was we all wanted “quiet” and “beach.” I did a little research and found a lady who was renting a villa on the Red Sea, an hour outside of Cairo in an area called Ain Sukhna (lit. hot springs). Ain Sukhna isn’t really a town per say, it is several independent weekend home/resort/condo developments centered around a KFC and Pizza Hut on the way to the Suez Canal. The complex we stayed in was called Wadi Degla and most of us agreed that it was a Coptic community. The Muslims were definitely the minority…as to say we saw hair and bikinis.

One of the teachers summed-up the pains of our daily routine by professing, “we got up, ate breakfast, went to the pool, ate lunch, went to the beach, took a nap, ate dinner, went to the pool, had a beer, and went to bed.” That’s all folks. In other words, no efforts were made to better ourselves or humanity.

View from our villa

I would like to note that while kicking sand around with my feet Jesus appeared…sort of. It was an image of Christ on a tile from a broken bracelet buried in the sand at the Red Sea, coincidence? The water was turquoise, clear, and extra salty in addition to being home to tiny crabs suffering from a serious case of Napoleon Complex as most went out of their way to spar with all available toes. A member of our group found a sand dollar the size of personal pan pizza (see…I told you that were locked in a Pepsi controlled community) and his wife discovered a KFC bag in her underwater expedition near the boating dock.

Pool that had a sign banning nannies from swimming

The fun in the sun ended when we piled in van back to Alex. On the drive back home we encountered a toy pistol totin' walad (little boy) and his younger brother situated in the back of a pick-up truck with the family goats. The boys first smiled and waved then pretended to shoot at us while dad and the three amigos puffed away on cigarettes in the cab. It was a Kodak moment. We arrived home a little more cooked on the outside. When all was said and done, we figured our adventure set us back about the cost of taking a family of four out to the ballgame including parking, hotdogs, and Cokes…maybe not that expensive.

bang, bang, bang, gotcha with my 9

just chillin' with the goats

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank Heaven for...

...Egyptian style

Surfing in EG

I have officially branched out in regards to making a friend outside my circle of co-workers. I discovered a handful of surfing videos in Alexandria on YouTube, so I took the initiative to drop the guy an e-mail. Mohamed and I exchanged correspondence for almost two weeks until we finally met this weekend for a jam session. It just happens that he is a metal drummer so we went over to his friend’s studio space and rented an hour for about $5 (the fee included drums and amps).

Last Wednesday a swell rolled into town and Mohamed sent me a text letting me know which beach I should go surf. When the final bell at school sounded, I was halfway up the fire escape changing clothes (a bad decision-just in case you are wondering). By the time I reached the balcony all that was missing were my board shorts. I grabbed my board, scrawled Ana a note, and made my way towards the gate. Once outside the compound, hailing a cab proved to be challenging. Most drivers looked at me then at my board and kept driving. One of my students yelled at me from across the road asking where I was going. I told her “Shidi Basher” (the neighborhood where the beach is). She told me that's where she lives and offered to have her driver take me there since it was on the way. I politely refused and she told me how she can't stand to see people wait for a cab and insisted that I go with her and her friend. How could I say no? I practiced my Arabic with the driver while the girls chatted in the back trying to figure out their evening and college plans. I was dropped off and that was when, metaphorically speaking, the spaceship landed.

When I emerged from the car, a) I was wearing shorts (look everyone, I'm a foreigner) and b)I was in possession of a puffy silver bag. If you have been reading my blog you might have already gathered that Egyptians are a curious people. If something is out of the ordinary, expect to have every eye in the joint checking you out. I over estimated my drop-off point by a mile, which meant towing a huge bulky bag along the busy, hot, and humid Corniche. I made the mistake by pausing to check out the waves along the way, this attracted swarms of salesmen who tried to persuade me to come to their beach.

The deal about the beaches here are that some are public while other are private and since I don’t read Arabic, I am unable to distinguish between the two, but it quickly becomes clear when someone wants your business. Once you pay the general entrance fee you can upgrade by adding a towel, inner tube, table, chairs, umbrella, snacks, drinks, etc. to your tab. Going to the beach is a family and social event and most customers spare no expense.

I decided on a beach and entered with one of the solicitors and was immediately greeted by his sales team who guided me to my spot on the sand. They were ready sell me all the upgrades and quickly became dumbfounded that all I wanted was an area to lay my bag and towel on. A discussion ensued amongst them, if I had to guess, it had to do with what they were going to charge me. The spokesman of the bunch, meaning the one who knew how to say “20 pounds” in English was in charge of collecting my fee. I replied “lac!” (no!) and showed them that I only had a 5 pound bill on me. Disappointed, they huddled around and discussed their options further. Now all the beachgoers were starting to get involved. At this point, I was ready to leave as I gathered my things and started to walk away. The guy gently pulled me back and took my 5 pound note and definitively stated “no umbrella” and “no chair.” And just like that the situation was resolved as the group dissipated back towards the entrance.

6:30 am view of the road and beach

Since I still had everyone’s undivided attention, it was time to change into my rash guard which meant taking off my shirt. For those of you who have seen me without my shirt you understand why I’m nicknamed “Chewbobca” and why there is usually a team of researchers trying to throw a net on me when I emerge from the water. As far as tattoos are concerned, they are a rarity in this part of the world; you could say that I was “exotic” that afternoon. Next, I put on my socks and fins and for the less-than-eventful grand finale I unzipped my bag producing a lime green body board. After attaching the board’s leash to my bicep I walked a couple of meters into the warm waters of the Med.

While I was attempting to catch waves and collecting jelly fish stings, I started to hear the sounds of someone blowing a whistle getting closer. I eventually turned around  and saw what looked like a lifeguard pointing at me yelling “heneck” (go over there lit. over there). Of course, a blowing whistle, a foreigner with strange looking objects never attracts any attention right? No nets this time when I came out of the water, but still plenty of eyes. I packed up my items and walked about another mile down the beach meeting and talking to several kids along the way who wanted to practice and show off their English.

On the cab ride home, I managed to dump plenty of sand on the back seat in addition to having a small conversation in Arabic with the driver. At one point while waiting in traffic he asked if I was a Christian while he showed me his Coptic cross tattoo. I responded “Catholic.” Somehow it was fitting that I ended up in his cab.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Porking Up with The Swine Flu

So what is the school going to do? In order to meet contact days two options were considered; extend the year or transform into an on-line institution for the next two weeks. We have a meeting later this morning to figure out the logistics of how to implement the on-line curriculum. When the announcement was made yesterday, the students were elated as most thought the next two weeks was going to be an extended vacation. Sorry kids.

From the beginning I have been a little suspect about the school shutting down. I’m going to play conspiracy theorist for a minute. Fact, several parents and students were unhappy that the school year started before Ramadan, other schools in the city don’t start until the end of September or early October. The previous week an attempt was made to disrupt school through an anonymous letter threatening to bomb the campus (after hours). As a result several government agencies got involved in what turned out to be a hoax. However, the third time is a charm, the H1N1 virus sealed the deal. It has been reported that the source of outbreak occurred at the Sporting Club (think: Country Club). Many if not most of my student’s families belong to the club and socialize there, membership is a pretty big deal. When we arrived in Alex we thought there was some sort of mayoral election with all the campaign posters and bumper sticker. Nope, just the Sporting Club presidential election. By the way, it is a volunteer position. Despite the Club reporting 20 or so confirmed cases of the virus, their doors remain open. I’ll leave it at that.

The host and the hostess

The good news is that if Ana and I were turkeys we should be nice and plump by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. We can thank all the iftars and outings we have been attending, there has been no shortage of social life since we arrived a month ago. Last night, the resident staff all went to an iftar hosted by my mentor. She was quite the hostess! Her family, home, and the spread were all amazing and as a bonus there was karaoke.

Outside their Home
Tex and Massimo belting out "White Wedding"
Lianne, Joseph, and Mike avoiding the karaoke
Pudding that rules!!!

3 of 15 dishes served

Tonight will be attending another iftar with the school board members then we’re off to the Portuguese Club (bar) with Tom Palmer (a visiting author from the UK that the school is hosting). Unfortunately his trip was cut short due to H1N1.   

(Update: It seems that the Sports Club closed its' doors as of 09/09/09-now we know this swine flu business is serious)