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Touchdown

Hey guys!  Welcome to all of you checking in here for the first time and thanks for coming again to all of you are back!  Below are a few words about my trip today and some of the things I’ve been noticing since I touched down.

I said my goodbyes to Nellie and my family from Dulles airport at 3:30 yesterday.  As today marks the beginning of a long time time away from them, that was fairly tough, but they were all great about it, rescheduling their days and driving me to the airport to see me off; I definitely appreciated that.  After 8 hours from Dulles to Munich, and another 4 from Munich to Cairo, I landed in Egypt about six hours ago to discover, or rediscover, a few things.

First of all, my Arabic has gone completely to hell, a fact which everyone here has already been intent on taking advantage of.  I’ve said it before to other people, and read it on numerous occasions, but this really is a country where you can get taken for a ride if you don’t speak the language.  Granted, that possibility exists anywhere, and would probably occur in most places.  However, in an emerging tourist economy such as this, where most imagine the average foreigner to be incredibly rich and influential, people are strongly induced to take advantage of foreigners’ naivety, particularly if they can’t hold their own in a conversation.

For example, the cab driver I hired to get me to my hotel in Zamalek attempted to charge me double what I paid two years ago for the same trip.  Obviously, I refused.  Last time, however, when my Arabic was comfortable and sharp, my refusal and quick response in Arabic immediately brought the price down to the right level.  Today, as I tried to portray my own self-confidence and knowledge of the area through a median I realize I have little confidence in anymore, that was definitely not the case.  I ended up breaking it down by 25% in the end, but by the time I got in the cab the driver had all the surrounding cabbies telling me that none of them would go any lower.  I was definitively out haggled, something which wouldn’t have happened if I could still hang linguistically.  Oh well.  I’d say the next month or so will be a baptism by fire when it comes to language, but I think that was what my time in Jordan was two years ago.  Instead, let’s call the upcoming month a confirmation by fire, since living on my own its going to be more challenging and serious than living in student dorms in Yarmouk.  End of story here though, mind the language gap if you’re coming to the country, particularly when utilizing small services like taxis, tour guides or tips.

Second observation of the day, and I’m not sure that I have all the implications of this as of yet, but, as far as I can tell, nothing at all has changed here in the past two years.  The same concierge checked me in today as did 2 years ago, using the same nice tone and attitude but also the same indifferent and slightly arrogant mannerisms that annoyed me back in 2008.  Similarly, across the street from the hotel, the same middle-aged guy and his dad sit in front of the same family owned souvenir shop in their same white plastic patio chairs drinking the same sweet tea (شاي) and enticing tourists inside with the exact same lines and offers.  It’s one thing to walk into your dentist’s office after missing an appointment or two to see things exactly as they were as you remembered them the last time you were there a year ago.  It’s an entirely other thing to see this when “things exactly as they were” entails nothing more than sitting in a plastic chair, drinking tea, and talking to people.  Pretty sweet job, though admittedly probably very difficult (frustratingly so) to get out of or expand in.

Very interesting to see and think about.  If I make up my mind on the implications of this degree of stability, I’ll write more soon.   I’m thinking about the rigidity of social structure and and national attitude of acceptance here, but I’m also falling asleep as I type.

– T

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Richard
    August 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Hey good to hear you landed safely and are already stiffing cabbies. I’m in Washington right now. You’ve inspired me to set up a blog too. I’ll give you a link when i get my act together. send me an email with your address so we can send fun stuff back and forth.

    -Best
    R.

    • August 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      You know it’s my nature. Can’t wait to read yours; I’m sure it will be extremely witty and full of interesting stories of your time as the a public defender. Looking forward to it man, I’ll send you my address as soon as I have one.

  2. Nellie
    August 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Sounds like I remember it! I would not have felt nearly as comfortable there if you hadn’t been able to speak the language. When you would start speaking Arabic it seemed like everyone suddenly thought you were family. I’m sure it will all come back to you as time goes on though!

    Glad you’re safe, good luck finding an apartment today!

    Nellie

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