18.2.13

Crash Team Racers

Since coming to Egypt, I intended to visit many students' homes and meet with their families. Now, that is a good thought, but finding the time, energy, or matching schedules with students to do so has proven a challenge for me. In Alexandria two months ago, we visited many of our students' homes. I had also been to some Egyptian staff homes here in Cairo, but none of my Cairo students' homes.
This week, that changed.
Last Saturday night, we went to a birthday celebration for an alumni who both Sara and Bethany taught in previous years, and this most recent Saturday we went to a current junior's house for his birthday celebration. 
Ahh man. Mixed feelings. haha.
It is always such an honor to be taken into these peoples' homes and treated with such hospitality. They truly go out of their way to make you feel special. It can also be difficult because of cultural differences though, and things can get a little uncomfortable.
There are a few cultural rules I have been taught by Sara and some of the other staff who have been here a bit longer. When visiting an Egyptian home, be sure to do the following:
1) Shake the hands of every person in the room
2) Stand when the father first enters the room and shake hands with him
3) When you greet the mother, kiss her on both cheeks. Sometimes, two, sometimes four, and sometimes eight times... I never know how many to do when haha, so I just let the mother lead out.
4) Don't sit with your legs crossed, and don't slouch too much.
5) When served drinks or food, always leave a little bit of your drink in the cup and a little bit of your food on the plate. Otherwise they think you are not satisfied with the amount you have been given, and are asking for more.
6) Compliment profusely
So, these are the rules that I am aware of. Well, turns out there are some party rules that I wasn't cognizant of. I am now, haha.
The first of the parties we went to, last saturday, we were at for four hours. Our hostess, the birthday girl, didn't even show up till an hour after the party started...she was getting her hair done. 
Now, typically we would think that totally inconsiderate and rude. Turns out its pretty normal. The "start" time for the party was not accurate; most of the guests didn't show up till almost an hour after that time, with no explanation. It's just normal to show up more than a bit fashionably late. 
Also, totally normal to make your guests sit around for three hours before you do anything. 
Seriously. We just sat there for three hours... waiting. No sign of if anything was going to happen, no explanation as to what we were waiting for. Just.. waiting. We were so bored. 
Then they started the dance music.
Things got awkward real quick, haha.
The rest of the party consisted of blaring Egyptian dance music, and girls awkwardly belly dancing less than two feet away from all of us. 
We were happy to head home after our first birthday party experience, haha.
Round two!
So, last Saturday we tried the whole birthday party thing again at a different student's house. 
This one was significantly more enjoyable, but also got to be uncomfortable for different reasons. 
So, it started out well. The family made conversation with us, we didn't feel awkward sitting around, there seemed to be an agenda of sorts of things we would be doing. It was all good. 
Then they served us dinner.
Holy cow. I don't think I've ever seen so much food before.
One small problem: it was almost all meat.
Everyone in our group is vegetarian...
That was awkward. haha
Common Egyptian practice: force feeding.
Our host was literally piling food on our plates for us, and with the exception of myself, nobody was able to eat almost any of it. They didn't seem to understand that though, and were just offended that we wouldn't eat any. Our student literally said he would make us eat till we were "fat."
In order to stop the oncoming plight of food, I had to show my swollen belly stuffed with food as evidence of my fullness. I've never been so full.
The food was very good for sure though. We were served mashi (stuffed cabbage rolls), a beef pasta dish, a type of roasted beef with onions, chicken breasts and legs, melaghoya (a type of lettuce-esq slimy dip for bread) with pita, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and zucchini. 
Then dessert. Massive (seriously, like the size of three pieces combined by American standards) slices of cake and puff-pastry esq sugar filled turnover things. And tea. And soda.
So. Full.
I don't think I've ever been so full. and not the comfortable Thanksgiving kind of full, the kind of full where you just want to curl up in a ball and sleep it all off, haha.
So, after all of this, our student's brother showed up to drive us home. We had taken the metro to get to his house originally, but since it was late at night they decided to give us a ride home. There were eleven of us total.
His brother showed up in a tiny eight-seat SUV-esq  car.
So, we all piled in; sitting on each others' laps and incredibly cramped, and headed out.
Now, I know I've talked about Cairo travel before, but I will reiterate that there are not really any safety regulations or driving rules that I have encountered.
Most terrifying car ride of my life.
I've never felt so close to death.
You know when you play racing video games, how you can kind of do whatever you want, and drive incredibly close to other cars and make hairpin turns high over the legal speed limit, and essentially drive like a maniac with no repurcussions?
Yeah, that happened to us. But only in real life.
We seriously drove (FOR AN HOUR) at over 100mph, coming within CENTIMETERS of other cars, slamming on the breaks and pulling u-turns in the middle of the freeway.
Terrifying.
My hands were glued to the seatbacks in front of me. If I weren't so fair, I would say that my knuckles were white with the strain. There probably isn't much of a color difference to the naked eye though, haha.
So yeah. That happened. Crazy. Won't do it again, haha. Not that I had much of a choice from the getgo - we didn't exactly know what we were getting into. Live and learn, I guess.

I am solidifying plans for my upcoming Spring vacation, and looking forward to it quite a bit. It looks like I will be spending several nights sleeping under the stars on a White Desert tour in Western Egypt, and then staying at a beautiful mansion on the Mediterranean in a tiny little village on white sand beaches about 20kl West of Alexandria for a few more days. Definitely something to look forward to!
Even better though.
My mom and brother will be here a month from tomorrow! Best thing ever! I'm stoked. So, even if I have no immediate plans to look forward to, my future seems pretty bright :)
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