Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fasting and Feasting

Arriving in Alexandria during Ramadan has added an interesting twist to culture shock. Many of the people I encounter (including the guy I sat next to on the plane from Frankfurt to Cairo) are fasting. They put the Catholics during Lent to food, no drink...not even water. Which, here in Egypt, is a feat in and of itself as the days are hot, sunny and dry. The students and many of the teachers are following the no food/drink policy and, while generally cheerful, are on low ebb. That is, until around 8pm when they start to party like rock stars..ok, without the alcohol, but with food, evening prayer chanting and sporting events that go well into the wee hours of the morning. My apartment is within megaphone distance of at least two, maybe three mosques with competing, reverberating prayers. And, I think that there must be a special place in heaven for those who die during Ramadan as the services are even louder than the nightly prayer call. It's louder and more enthusiastic than an Irish wake. It does make a rather surreal accompaniment to my nightly laps in the pool.

Contrast the fasting to the continual feasting of the new teachers here at Schutz. I am provided with three squares a day, with lots of chicken, beef, some seafood and vegetables (no pork products, however, although I am told that there is a pork butcher somewhere in town where you can furtively buy bacon, chops and ham!) And desserts.....a totally decadent batch of marble sized, Egyptian doughnuts glazed with dripping honey sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream is so far my favorite. I am swearing off the desserts, unless that one shows up again.

Yet, whether feasting or fasting, everyone here is getting along well and my first impressions of Egypt, Alexandria, and my new school are very favorable. Now, if I can only learn some Egyptian Arabic, I can ask the cooks for those doughnuts again!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ramadan, Laser Lights and Survival Arabic

So, I have arrived...not exactly as planned, but at least with all my luggage, both cats, and my sense of humor intact. I am not really a superstitious person, but traveling on Friday the 13th is something I will think twice about in the future. From the moment I arrived at the Continental cargo hold where I was told that the health certificates for my cats had expired, to the airport in Newark where the intake folks took so long to clear the cats that I missed my flight to Cairo and had to spend the night at the Newark Airport Sheraton, it looked to be a disaster in the making. Add to the mix the fact that I had to pay for both my extra/overweight bags AND the cats twice, it also became one of the most expensive trips imaginable. After all was said and done, however, we made it here to Alexandria and are now ensconced in a one bedroom furnished apartment on the campus of Schutz American School.

We have arrived, of course, in the middle of Ramadan, which is a season of fasting, praying and doing charitable deeds. In Egypt, this means that many of my colleagues here at school are not eating with us in the cafeteria yet, and apparently many of the students who will join us on Tuesday will be tired, sluggish and probably cranky. At least that's how I would be. In the meantime, both the new and returning teachers at Schutz spent the past few days in Cairo for a staff retreat, which included seeing a laser light show that illuminated both the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The voice narrating the show was a Brit who sounded oddly like a UK Vincent Price and at times the laser images looked a lot like Pacman racing across the base of the Sphinx was a surreal experience and not one I would repeat. But the retreat gave me reassurance that my choice in coming to Alexandria was the right one. I have yet to see much of the city, but from what I have been able to see, I am looking forward to exploring. Hopefully, I will be able to learn something useful from my survival Arabic class. Inshallah.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Land of Inbetween

I understand that the Catholic church has eliminated the concept of Limbo from it's dogma. Good move. It was always a troubling concept for me anyway, the idea that a baby whose parents had not gotten their baptismal act together soon enough could somehow get parked in "no-man's land" and have to wait and wait in some mind-numbingly boring location for Judgment Day. No toys, no ice cream, no cartoons. Seemed downright cruel and not in keeping with the just and loving God that my Catholic upbringing was espousing. It always left me with the ...hmmm, that don't make sense...kind of feeling.

On a secular level, however, I do understand is where I am right now, waiting to make this major move to Alexandria. I have two weeks left here in Costa Rica, and certainly things I can do, but many of the major issues have been resolved (I hope). The movers don't arrive until August 11, so here I sit...waiting. How many games of Spider Solitaire can the human mind take? Reruns of Two and A Half Men? Facebook stalking? (Actually, I am off that since I stumbled on the news of the death of a very good friend from High School...not the kind of news you want to "discover" on the internet). I guess I could use this time to get some exercise, catch up with friends, read War and Peace, but I don't have the energy or the mental stamina. I think I need mind-numbing boring in order to wrap my head around the next adventure. Maybe that was what Limbo was really all about. And, I know that my "Judgment Day" will be here sooner than I expect.