Monday, July 26, 2010

Attitude Check

My stomach was in knots when the sun first hit my window, waking me long before my alarm was set to go off. It was a day I had dreaded, but knew had to come...it was visa day. The problem with getting a visa in Egypt isn't the application process itself, it's all the logistics of getting the right papers, stamps, copies, etc into the right hands, in the right order, while fighting crowds, intense aromas, and confused foreigners, all waiting on one single computer to process everyone's paperwork. This massive building is rows of windows, cranky workers and piles of folders held together by shoelaces "separating files" of different papers. It's enough to make you wonder how anything gets done "officially" in this country. There is simply no order.

I was nervous this morning in particular because it was going to be the first time I attempted this mad process alone. Leave it to me to make a complete fool of myself tripping down stairs, dropping coins in a crowd, papers flying out of my hands and getting kicked out of where I was sitting. I was embarrassed on multiple occasions today, but after 9 months of this country, you learn to shake it off quickly and just press on. I was one of the first to arrive this morning, hoping it would speed up the processing of my visa. There I stood in "line" as the woman at the window responsible for my paperwork fixed her fan, cleaned her desk, organized her things...took her sweet time. The rest of us stood in a crowded room, fanning our faces of the sweat already pouring. It was only 8:30am...and HOT. I was told to return 2 hrs later to retrieve my visa. Outside, I found a "comfy" place on the ground to kill 2 hrs. I watched people from all over the world walk inside to get their visas. Two hours of people watching is nothing for me, I enjoyed the relaxation. However, I was a bit cranky when a man told me to move so he could sit where I was sitting. For once, I chose not to fight him. Returning to the window to see if your visa is indeed ready is always interesting. Of course, mine was not ready and they did not know when it would be. Flustered, but not rightly so, I left. I knew I could return tomorrow, but shouldn't have to. The thought of reliving my morning was not appealing. Let me explain further:

I decided to pay the 20 cent metro ride instead of a taxi this morning. Coffee in hand and a fully charged i-pod, I headed down the street trying to be smiling and positive to begin my day at the visa office. But the metro was not the relaxing atmosphere I had hoped for. There we all stood, crammed in the women only car of the metro. It has been a long time since I feared being able to breathe, but this morning , I was actually nervous for my safety. Tons of bodies all close together, breathing was not easy. But a moment of thankfulness for my circumstances set in when I noticed some women near me dressed in all black had even their faces veiled...I don't have any idea how they were breathing. I knew breathing for them in that moment was even more difficult than for it was for me. Not only was there no where to move when someone needed through, but if you fell, you could get trampled, and it was hot. I tried to not be " a spoiled american" about it, but it was hard. Shoving, whining, cranky women all had somewhere to be...but there was NO WHERE for me to move to let them through. But that did not stop them from taking it out on the foreign girl. I was worried I wouldn't get to the door in time for my stop. I watched as the doors quickly opened and closed and even smashed a woman at one point...she was clearly in pain...I hated that for her, but there was nothing I could do...it shouldn't be this hard. A rainbow of colorful scarves filled the metro...but was not a happy place to be this morning.

So the thought of returning tomorrow to retrieve my visa sent shivers down my spine. I would have to get geared up to face the metro, the women, and the visa office. In the heat of my anger today, I saw some women who seemed to be hurting. Their expressions said it all, life was heavy on their hearts. I watched their friends reach out to them and try to calm whatever their fears and anxieties were. Seeing these tender moments of these women was all i needed to whip me back into the reality of loving others no matter what. Deep down, we all are needy, no matter our tough exteriors portrayed. Humbled? knocked on my face is more like it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Temper Tantrums and Balconies

It's hot. I arrived back in Cairo to a new flat with non working AC, internet, or washing machine. Trying to adjust to a new part of the city is challenging enough, without adding the heat factor into the equation, but I was reminded of how "new" the luxury all three of those services are, I had to stop and remind myself that I would be fine...and surviving I am. :)

It didn't take long for Cairo to remind me why its spunk keeps my constant attention. I had ordered some pictures to be framed by a young carpenter in the market area not far from my new place. It was the cheaper option and I wanted to see if I could accomplish this big task on my own. It ended up being a bigger battle than I had anticipated. I had chosen 12 of my best shots traveling Peru, Egypt, Kenya and Ethiopia and together we picked out the right shades of wood for each photo. I was beyond thrilled to see my pictures on display. He originally told me the project would take 3 days, but I knew better. This is Egypt, so I gave him 8 days. I returned still not surprised that they were not ready. I proceeded to show him on the calendar my day of return to Egypt. I will need them on July 14th. He agreed, my gut still knew not to set my hopes too high. As promised, I returned what was now 30 days later that the original 3 days promised by him. As I approached his shop he smiled nervously, and I knew. But I was willing to fight, and I did. "I need until tomorrow," he stated. I have lived in Egypt 8 months now, I know how this works. "NO", I replied. "I want them now". He argued that it was impossible for that to occur, and I told him I would sit in the chair and watch him do the work promised. There I remained for 4 hours straight as he meticulously designed each frame. The first hour was awkward, we were both angry, me for his manipulation, and he at me, for my demands requiring hard work in hot, summer sun. But we broke the ice and ended up having a lot of fun chatting. As the sun went down, his pace did not slow down...he was focused and I was pleasantly surprised. He finished with a smile, and I got my pictures. Sometimes, ya just gotta throw a little bit of tantrum. :)

While enjoying a quiet morning breeze on my balcony, I heard someone trying to get my attention. I looked above me to see a kind older woman smiling down from her balcony above. I have always stated that balconies are one of my favorite aspects of Egyptian architecture and I was about to experience them on a new level. As the sun peaked I twisted my head backwards to try to make eye contact and answer her questions in Arabic. My eyes watered as the sun got brighter, and she kept chatting away! :) Moments later, she was lowering a basket by a rope asking me to borrow my nail polish. I was in disbelief, but took off running to locate it. How had she noticed my nails from up there? As she raised the rope back to her balcony, I found myself smiling at the captivating quirks of this culture. I was reminded how charming this place can be despite its difficulties. I can't imagine how baskets on ropes would work in suburbia in states, but this country uses them quite frequently. My new friend and I now have matching nails...and I want a basket of my own.