Still in Egypt

We’re still here. That’s not really news, but it will be news for some of you that we will continue to still be in Egypt for one more year. Seriously, Bethany’s blog about Greece was way more fun, but I suppose it’s only fair that I have to write this one. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be one of those cool, picture-y blogs that you’re used to, but for the few of you who like to keep up with what’s happening in our lives, it might be worth a read.

In short, we’ll be here for one more year because we were unable to find Bethany a good job outside of Egypt. We looked, believe me, but almost entirely unsuccessfully. Okay, there, now you can go back to whatever you were doing before if you’d like. Or you can read the significantly longer explanation below: Continue reading

Borg El Arab

So, this is the airport that I had considered to the be worst airport I’ve ever been to. It’s the airport we flew into when we first moved here, and we hadn’t been back since. It’s old, dirty, unorganized (not to mention that they lost our luggage.) But since Bethany’s school purchased our tickets to Greece, we didn’t really have any say in the matter, and Borg el Arab (HBE) was it.

Usually, when we leave the country, we have to pay a fine because our one-month tourist visas have expired, usually 150LE. A month or two ago, Bethany actually got her work visa after 18 months living here illegally (hooray!!) That meant she wouldn’t need to pay a fee.

The rumor was the fee had increased to several thousand pounds. So many thousands of pounds that it would have made it more expensive to leave Egypt that it cost to fly to Athens!

By some weird miracle, passport control at HBE decided not to fine me! Of course, they tried to make us sweat a little bit (even Bethany, who has a legitimate visa), but we made it out of the airport and on the plane for free! The best possible news we could have gotten.

So basically, HBE isn’t really that bad. Customs sucked, though.

Home

It may not be news to most of you–but surely some–that we will be coming home this summer for a wedding. It’s very exciting. I’d be more excited if I hadn’t spent the last 9-ish months resigning myself to not seeing home until next summer. Now that the tickets have been bought, though, I can’t stop thinking about one thing.

It’s not all the family and friends we’ll finally get to see, even though that will be pretty fantastic. It’s certainly not the weather, which will likely be just as bad in the Tri-Cities as in Egypt. And it’s definitely not the wedding (Sorry, Bekah.)

No, it’s not any of those things. It’s wine tasting and Irish Death. It’s Atomic’s potato soup and Mexican food that doesn’t suck. It’s whatever Ethos is serving. It’s barbecue. It’s not a short list. Hell, there’s even a spot on it for Arby’s and Taco Bell.

How many meals can we fit into two weeks?

Romeo & Juliet

A short blog to pass the time while I wait for the third performance. It really is time for Bethany to write something, and I’m not sure why she hasn’t.

You already know that I’m in Cairo, playing principal oboe for the Cairo Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet. You likely also know that it hasn’t been going very well. Very few of you know that this has been one of the most embarrassing – if not the single most embarrassing – experiences of my entire life. No hyperbole, really.

For the most part, the musicians around me are fairly nice. The vast majority of the orchestra, beyond the four or five closest to me, I’m too humiliated to even make eye-contact with. It’s especially sad because before the first rehearsal, I was really looking forward to meeting more Cairo musicians; now I just need to make it to Tuesday, after which I can go back to Alexandria and pray that they completely forget I was ever here.

The conductor is a mixed bag. People seem to respect him more than they respect the conductor in Alexandria, which is interesting to me. I struggle not to take anything he says too personally, because I know he’s only doing his job, but it’s quite difficult at times. For instance, after the Friday performance, he interrupted his bravos towards the other musicians to turn to me and announce (loud enough for all to hear), “Oboa, intonation and play louder.”, before moving on to congratulate others. I know I didn’t deserve any congratulations, but it seemed unnecessary for him to do that. It stung, and I can only hope that it’s the low point of my time here. I fear it may not be.

I’m more aware than anyone that I’m failing. I know I should never have agreed to come in the first place. (As an aside, I only agreed because I assumed that I was a last resort, what I now know wasn’t the case.) The damage this has done to my confidence (if I had any) really outweighs whatever benefits I had to gain from coming.

I don’t think musicians read our blog, but just in case: I’m really sorry. I’m also sorry to all my wonderful friends who had to endure my unwavering negativity and self-deprecation while I’ve been here. I really should have just kept my thoughts to myself, but I’ve been having such a terrible time that I couldn’t even manage that.

And thanks to Bethany for coming to Cairo to console me and spend my day off with me. Tonight’s performance, then two more, and then I’m back in Alex on Wednesday, before coming back to Cairo on Friday to fly to Rome for a week. It will all be over soon, but not soon enough.

An Explanation

Friends, it appears I haven’t made any friends with some of the comments I’ve made on Facebook, so I have something to confess:

A short time after we moved here, I realized that almost all of our Facebook posts, photos, and blogs were positive, or even too positive. We were – intentionally or unintentionally – filtering out the bad and only showing the good. This may not seem like a problem to many, to I knew that if that continued, it would create a very distorted image of Egypt in the minds of our friends at home. I didn’t want them thinking that we had moved to some perfect, exotic place (or thinking that we wanted them to be jealous about it.) Besides that, our media had already done a fantastic job of portraying Egypt as one of the worst places in the world, and I felt obligated to “fix” that. I knew I was wrong, so I changed my approach. Now I try to make sure I post the bad along with the good.

For those who don’t know, in America, there is a very large portion of our two-party political system with the idea that if you don’t like America, you’re free to leave. “Love it or leave it!”, they say. I’m not one of those people. I find those people to be ridiculous and blind to reality. You cannot remove a countries’ problems by simply not acknowledging them, or by forcing someone else not to acknowledge them because of their history. Let’s not delude ourselves, both our countries have their own enormous, although different, problems.

If you are one of the people who feel that I only say negative things about your country, I would invite you to take a look at my previous posts. I have no doubt that you will find almost as many positive statuses as you will negative ones; however, I also trust that you will find that most of them will be somewhere in the middle.

So to my old American friends: Please know Egypt isn’t all bad, despite what your news tells you. I choose not to sugar-coat my posts for you. You know the U.S. isn’t all rainbows and unicorns either, right?

To my new Egyptian friends: I realize and admire that you love your country like you do, but it’s okay to acknowledge its failings. It’s also okay for a foreigner to do the same, and he or she doesn’t need to be shown the door for not having the same feelings as you.

Egyptian Culture: Food

Ah, what to say about Egyptians and their food.

First, just to get the diplomacy out of the way: Egyptians have food. There is indeed food here in Egypt that people do eat. Some of it is even delicious, and some of it would actually make you want to slice the taste buds off your tongue one by one.

What could be that bad, you ask? I’m prepared to tell you. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with “Egyptian cuisine”.

One important rule we have learned in our short time here – one that applies not just to food, but also to our new life in general – is that one must never have any expectations. That’s because, with expectations, even if someone hasn’t just served you pizza made with ketchup or a Caesar salad dressed with mayonnaise with extra mayo on the side, you’re still likely to be disappointed in the end.

The second important rule we’ve learned is that one should never trust a restaurant that makes any claims about the ethnicity of its food. Yes, the Syrian restaurant on the Corniche is believably Syrian, and I’ll trust you if you purport to be an Egyptian restaurant. But if you have the words “AMERICAN CAFÉ” in big letters on the front of your building, why then would you serve burgers made of kofta? If you’re an Italian place, why does my spaghetti Bolognese have BBQ sauce in it? No thanks, I’ll pass.

So, as you can tell, we don’t get on well with most of the restaurants around us. There are at least two in our neighborhood alone that we’ve sworn off completely, and we try to stay away from anything that calls itself a “cafe”. Most of our worst experiences (the ones you read about in the previous two paragraphs) were had in “cafes”. (I have to admit that I was in rehearsal while Bethany was having the “worst meal [she’s] ever had in Egypt”, so I can’t really describe it. Maybe she can.)

It isn’t all bad though; there are some restaurants we’ve actually enjoyed. Since we live on the Mediterranean, we have had some luck with seafood restaurants. And there’s China House, which just barely compensates for its mediocre Chinese food by having the best views in Alexandria.

IMG_3062I definitely wouldn’t want to sound like I’m whining, so there are a few Egyptian foods that we do like. Egypt has taken shawerma from the Syrians, and because we come from a small town about as far away from the Middle East as you can get, it’s new to us. Personally, I could eat shawerma until I explode, and then I would get some more. Bethany isn’t quite as hooked on it, but she likes it enough to have found a favorite (Gad, ubiquitous until you’re actually looking for one.)

They have this thing called feteer, a dish I was introduced to when the flutist in the orchestra ordered one for me during one of our breaks. I’m afraid I will never be able to recreate this, as it involved speaking to someone over the phone. (Seriously, why can’t I just know Arabic already?). It’s basically phyllo dough filled with stuff, so imagine a puff pastry calzone. So good.

IMG_3541

Feteer.

And there’s fattah. We’re not entirely sure what goes in this one. There’s rice, and plain yogurt, and sometimes meat. And maybe some kind of cracker thing on the bottom? It’s bowl food, served in a bowl.

Then there’s the Egyptian foods you eat not necessarily because you like them, but because they’re just..there. Kofta (little ground beef wieners), felafel, . Foul (pronounced “fool”) is just beans. Special beans, I’ll grant, but they go crazy over it here. I don’t see its appeal. I haven’t tried koshary yet, but some people like it. From what I understand, it’s essentially chili served over macaroni and maybe other noodles and maybe other stuff. Like I said, I haven’t had it yet.

What else do Egyptians like? One word: Sugar. Excuse me, I mean “SUGAR!!!” They have a serious thing for dessert here. Not necessarily good dessert, but as long as it’s made of sugar, I don’t think they really care. It’s incomprehensible how much sugar they eat. I’m struggling to describe it accurately, so I just won’t.

We’re looking forward to a couple upcoming trips out of Egypt, mainly for the food. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.

I’ll leave you with this image of a crab bathing in some soup.

IMG_3306

Music: A Supplement

Rule #1 for living in Egypt: “Expect nothing”.

That is, everyone else’s expectations can be sky-high, but you must resist the urge to form any expectations of your own.

(This is a continuation of the main Music post, so if you’ve happened to land on this one first, go read that.)

Now, before I start, let me say that we’ve met and befriended a large number of Egyptians recently, so I really don’t mean to offend anybody, but these are some of our experiences of being musicians in Egypt.

I consider myself very lucky to have found an orchestra to play with at all, so any complaints I have, I will continue to swallow and move on. But things can be very frustrating here. In an effort to not complain too much on Facebook, we’ve kept a lot of stuff to ourselves. You’ll have to forgive the negativity, and the disjointedness of this rant, which is basically a hastily compiled and un-bulleted list.

Continue reading