Saturday, September 12, 2009

3 Months In

My, my school has been keeping me busy! I know I can be a slacker about updating, but this takes the cake, doesn't it? My camera is on the fritz, so stay tuned for photos in the next couple days.

AUC Stuff
This last week was the first week of classes, but also the week when I got to do lots of fun activities like running around trying to get my email activated, my ID card to scan properly, my pin # for the online portal reset, a class dropped, and so on. Let me just say that AUC has a lot to learn about organization. Here are two examples:

Exhibit A: I ended up not thinking my Literature and Gender class was right for me, so I wanted to drop it and replace it with a seminar on Palestinian/Israeli issues. Easy, right? Wrong! I first had to find the office to make an appointment to do so. Luckily I ran into another international student who had to do something similar, and HER friend luckily knew where we needed to go to make an appointment to go to another location to make the actual schedule change. So we trooped off to the office, made our appointments for a few days later, and I showed up at the appointed time at the computer lab to see my adviser and get my schedule switched.

The room was chaos. Literally 20 students running around the lab, looking at schedules on computers, sitting and waiting in a clearly backed up and disorganized non-line for their appointment, or just sitting reading something. I finally got to my adviser, who told me that the class I wanted to switch into was full and there was no waiting list, so I should look at the course catalog and come back tomorrow to make the schedule change as they were closing in 15 minutes. I said okay, and came back the next day.

I came in and the guy manning the door asked me if I had an appointment..."uh, well I had one for yesterday, and she said to come back today as it's the last day to add/drop." I was told to wait in the hall with a few other people, so sure, whatever. I waited an hour before I finally got to my adviser again, to tell her that I couldn't find a replacement course and I just wanted to do the drop and take 12 credits instead. What did she say? "Oh, sure no problem, I already dropped you."

Exhibit B: I couldn't log onto the student portal, which you are supposed to do using your ID # and your birthday. Mine should have therefore been 1213** but it wouldn't work at all, so I headed to the registrar's office to get it reset. The first time I went a harassed-looking lady said, "Okay you need to go see your adviser, in the CORE building." Umm...what? I sort of nodded and wandered off, figuring I would try again the next day when there was someone else working.

Sure enough there was, and she said, "Come on back, you want [so-and-so]'s office just over there." Great! I then noticed there were about ten people hanging out in the waiting area outside so-and-so's office...and one person waiting inside the office where the lady we wanted wasn't even present. Not good, but I had time before my next class to wait, so I just took a seat.

After one hour again of waiting I was informed that, "Yeah it's just your birthday, which is 1212**, right?"

More on AUC classes and student culture to come! By the by, looks like I'm joining the Dabke team and/or the Egyptian Folkloric group!

If you start dating an Egyptian boy and tell him you don't really cook, he may begin to cry--or at least look like he's about to. Therefore out of love, curiosity, hunger, and embarrassment over my lack of ability to feed myself, I attended a cooking class a few days ago that ended up being a blast! I found about it through Cairo Scholars, where a girl was advertising the class for special Egyptian food, taught by an Egyptian lady, and we'd have Iftar after at her home. For 150LE that sounded great!

We learned to cook a few different dishes, including: Shorbet Lisan ‘Asfour (Orzo soup in homemade chicken broth), Khoshaf bel Laban (Milk with dried fruit & nuts), Ma7shi Felfel we Kosa (Stuffed Peppers & Zucchini), Reyash Dani (Egyptian style lamb chops), Makarona Bechamel bel La7ma el Mafrooma (Oven-baked pasta with Bechamel and Ground Beef), 2amar el Din (Apricot drink), Karkaday (Hibisucus drink).

Everything was delicious, but what I found really fascinating was the style of Egyptian cooking and how people acquire their ingredients here/prepare them for cooking. This is still a country where you CAN get things fresh from the animals or fresh from the farm so to speak, and so it seems like many cooks that live here prefer not to shop the grocery stores like we foreign girls have been doing, but hit up the suuq for your veggies and milk and the butcher directly for the freshest stuff. Tipping the guy who sells you bags of fresh milk or the one who cuts your beef for you ensures that you get the best products too, especially once you develop a regular-customer sort of relationship.

Also of note is that there can be extra steps that us Westerners aren't used to dealing with when you prepare ingredients. For example, when you buy milk here (not at the grocery store) it literally is from the cow, so you have to boil it and remove the heavy cream yourself. This means that you get high quality milk, but in addition once you scrape off the cream and refrigerate it you get the most delicious heavy cream ever to use in your Makarona Bechamel! By the way, that is a baked pasta dish to die for--actually literally because we all stared in awe at how much cream and fats went into it. It was out of this world tasty though!

As a result of this class I theoretically could make these dishes, but at the moment I'm content with just keeping a bottle of 3mr El Din in the fridge because it's delicious and easy! During Ramadan you'll see in stores these packages with pictures of apricots on them wrapped in orange plastic wrap. When you open them up there's something like a big apricot fruit leather inside that you rip into little pieces and soak in water overnight before blending (if you have a blender--we don't have a working one!) and adding sugar to taste. Egyptians and Westerners do tend to disagree on how much sugar to add though, so you can also just have people add their own!

In Maadi the road the metro runs parallel to, and has stops on, is called "Road 9." Long story--basically the streets in Maadi DO have numbers...but they make no logical sense. Recently the girls have decided that Shari3 Tissa is pretty much the place to go hang out and shop around, and I have to agree. It's got all these cute little Khan Al Khalili-esque stores hiding beneath upscale cafes, that probably are a little more expensive than the Khan itself, but without the crazy hawking, crowds, and general insanity! I picked up some gorgeous scarves (15LE each) and a swath of the kind of tent fabric that I am craaazy about!

I also picked up a tray of awesome Egyptian desserts from a store next to an equally awesome silver store, with windows packed with boards of trinkets and pendants. So, we basically have been eating little mini-backlava style things of different varieties for the last day. Some come with pistachios, some in squares, or rolls and all are ridiculously decadent!

Ok, since people have been asking it IS indeed Ramadan! I would love to write loads about it, but I am doing an article for The Gilded Serpent on Ramadan in Cairo and don't want to repeat myself, so stay tuned! I'm getting some nice photos, and trust me it is a very festive, fun time of year unless you're hungry or need something between 5:30 and 8pm!

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