As I mentioned, Cairo is kind of gap-y. There are moments when you feel like you could be in downtown San Francisco or DC, others where it’s pure Chinatown, all sanitized culture and commercialism, and others where it’s ripped from the headlines or the glossy covers of a certain kind of NGO’s fundraising materials. Often all within the same street.
As a tourist whose trying to fit in as much as is polite to do so, this meant I’ve been engaging in a wide mix of cultural behaviors. Here are 3 developed world things I did today:
- Got blisters because I wore pretty shoes to fit in. Everyone here dresses in what is business casual in the states–nice jeans or more often slacks, good jewelry, layered shirts, vests, and scarves. I tried to fit in. In the U.S. I default to Dr Who shirts and jeans with the heals kicked out or anything I can climb a tree in. When I dress up, it’s either in full Opera ball-gowns or a full suit. Thus, in trying to fit in, I wore my ballet flats. Pain. Tomorrow I’ll wear hiking boots and give up on matching my surroundings’ fashionability.
- Ate pad thai. I had lunch at a nice Thai place in Zamalek because I saw it and was tired and wanted to sit down and it was airconditioned. It was expensive, meaning the entire meal cost half of what it would in the U.S. rather than 10%, but the waiter got off his shift and showed me the way to the church I was looking for. Worth it.
- Saw a cupcake shop. I know I mentioned this before, but it literally looked like the ideal of a cupcake shop. For my meeting tomorrow, I think I will try to con my colleague into going there.
Here are 3 developing world things I did today:
- Boiled my drinking water. Whether the water in Cairo is safe to drink for stomaches which matured with nothing more exciting than floride in the water is debatable, but with only a week I don’t have time to make a relationship with the porcelain in my hostel. So I boiled a pot of tap water, let it cool, and put it into my reusable water bottle.
- Courted death crossing the road. I wrote an entire post about this but it is not unique to Cairo. According to the WHO, traffic is among the top ten causes of death in middle and low-income countries.
- Bartered for fruit. While bartering is still possible in most developed countries, it is not the default form of commercial interaction. I found bartering almost effortless, I think in large part because I now think of it as engaging in a gift-economy rather than being exclusive to other cultures.
I did a lot of other between-world things today like use wireless to Skype with my husband, listen to music while writing this blog post, and writing this blog post. There are other which are common across all Muslim-majority nations, like waking up before dawn to the sound of the call-to-prayer, or common to Arabic-speaking countries, like handing things with my right-hand-only, or even common to equatorial(ish) countries like doing my shopping after dark because it’s cooler.
“The art of living does not consist in preserving and clinging to a particular mode of happiness, but in allowing happiness to change its form without being disappointed by the change; happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.”–Charles L. Morgan