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Alexandria- Day One

This post is part of a series of posts documenting my trip to Egypt. To read from the beginning, go to the first post and follow the links at the bottom of each page.

Friday, 18 September 2009 A night of broken sleep: wide awake at 1 AM; asleep again until 4 when, over a loudspeaker, the local mosque (a literal stone’s throw away) issues the call to begin the day of fasting; a couple of aspirin for a headache and then awakened at 7 by the alarm. I get my bearings and stumble out to look at the new day. My apartment faces west and the big living room window has a balcony outside it. I open the thick thermal curtain and see that the sun is up and the sky is hazy. I open the balcony door and step out. The air is not very cool, but there is a soft morning breeze and I decide to throw both the heavy curtain and the lighter ones back, open both doors and let some fresh air in. I don’t know how long this apartment has stood vacant, but since the last Fulbrighter to inhabit it left last June (I’m guessing), the air is a bit stale. It’s apparent that the apartment has undergone some remodeling recently and I begin to take a closer look. The wooden floor is new and pretty rough in places, even through the finish. In the kitchen, the cabinets look new, too, but the dishes in them are covered with dust, as are the counters… The cabinets still have empty boxes that contained the tableware, glasses and cooking utensils. I find a package of garbage bags and start packing up stuff to be discarded. I make myself a cup of Nescafe (the only kind Ibrahim bought yesterday; at least it’s hot and tastes sort of like coffee) and continue poking around and assessing my situation. I realize suddenly that it’s awfully quiet outside. There’s no traffic noise. I realize that Friday is the beginning of the Egyptian weekend. A quick survey of the street below reveals that the steel doors over the shop fronts are down: no shopping today. Okay, I’ll just putter around for now and wander out later when it’s cooler. Still don’t have internet connection; one of the tasks Ibrahim had yesterday was to contact the internet service provider—Etisalat—and get the DSL line straightened out. He had told me that it might be a day or two yet and that obviously didn’t include today. My machine is getting the wireless signal from the router, but the signal apparently isn’t getting back to the company. Being out of touch is beginning to be a concern because I don’t know what’s in my e-mail inbox. The TV is also out; it’s a satellite system and I’m clueless as to which box is supposed to control the whole thing. Thankfully, I brought my shortwave set and can get FM Egyptian broadcasts as well as BBC and some German and French stuff, so I feel connected in some way. I wander around the apartment not wanting to go outside into the heat and with no purpose in mind. I finally get the TV working. With a limited number of buttons and possible combinations, it was only a matter of time. Lots of Koran reading today; lots of Jimmy Swaggarts and Oral Roberts types in Arab garb and speaking Arabic, but working toward a similar end. There being no towels to be found, I finally decide that air drying is an acceptable alternative, so into the shower (nice pressure; lots of hot water). With an air conditioning unit on, it doesn’t take too long for the water to evaporate and I get dressed to make my first foray into the city. Ibrahim had told me that a major shopping center (I never thought I’d be glad to hear there’s a mall nearby!) was just a few blocks away and I wanted to see just how far. I walked east on my street until it angled into a larger thoroughfare. There were a few people out and a few lighted shops, but the way was inhabited mostly by stray cats and an orchestra of offensive odors: garbage, oil, unburned gasoline, sweat and all sorts of other gook. A large puddle shimmered in Technicolor under the dim street lights. There was a streetcar line running down the center of this street, bounded on each side by a low masonry wall. When there was a break in the wall at an intersection, I turned back and walked alongside the tracks until I reached an intersection that took me past my street again. Kept on walking northeast, toward the Corniche, and on the lookout for a decent restaurant. I had Dr. al-Wostawy’s warning about bad restaurants in mind, but after a mile or so, I decided that I had tried hard enough. Fortunately, I spied a hotel and restaurant—the San Giovanni—that Ibrahim had mentioned, so I strolled in. A dark-haired young woman in an elegant pants suit ushered me up a short flight of stairs to a seating area containing tables covered with checkerboard cloths. An Egyptian of African descent guided me to a table next to a glass wall looking out over a small cove with waves splashing against a jetty below. I ordered a Stella, an appetizer and a chicken and macaroni dish. I spent a pleasant hour eating and watching people and their children breaking their fasts along the sea and then walked back to the apartment. I sat down to write up the day’s events when, to my surprise, the computer told me that I had an internet link. What joy! I quickly logged on, cleaned out my inbox and managed to post two blog entries before the link went down. I should have my own link in a day or two, but now, even if that doesn’t get seen to, I know I’ll at least have SOME SORT of contact. I probably won’t be able to Skype or do elaborate stuff—I keep getting disconnected at inconvenient times—but at least I have a window of sorts. Now, if only the stores are open tomorrow…

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