Friday, March 27, 2009

A Model Citizen

A couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to submit my application for an Egyptian student visa. 
The last time I had sat for a passport photo, a frenzied Chinese lady in a tiny shop in New York City had pushed me up against a grimy wall and snapped a shot of me with her polaroid camera. Another woman in the back room had quickly processed the picture with her blow dryer. I was expecting my experience in Cairo to be similar, but I was mistaken.

I entered the store, and the photographer, a short man in glasses, ushered me up the stairs to the studio.
I was suddenly surrounded by giant teddy bears, magnificent armchairs with gilt wooden trimmings, corners of medieval parapets and lush patches of plastic vegetation. 
"Sit down here," the photographer ordered, gesturing to a stool. 
He scurried away. The next thing I knew, the lights had been turned off and two spotlights were illuminating my face. All around, white screens and umbrella-shaped appliances were either reflecting or producing light. (I clearly know nothing about photography). He positioned his tripod and camera at a 45 degree angle from my face and spent the next five minutes explaining to me how to tilt my head. 
The camera flashed, and he dashed to the back of the room to fiddle with the backdrop. He finally picked a dark brown velvet curtain and said, "One more!"
"No," I said, unable to stop laughing. "No thank you. I just need the one."
"One more!" He insisted. "It's free."
He replaced the stool with a strange contraption, which I assumed I was intended to straddle. When I proceeded to do so, he shook his head violently and told me to rest one foot on the bottom bar and rest my crossed arms on the top bar. 
I realized that I was posing for a glamour shot, and could not contain my laughter any longer.

When I was finally done with my photo shoot, he spent another fifteen minutes editing my visa photo with Photoshop, printed out 20 copies (I needed one) and one of my glamour shot, which he proceeded to frame. The brown background blends with my dark hair, so the picture shows nothing but my face, framed by darkness. But at least I'm smiling.

Brief update

Forgive me, dear readers, for having dropped off the face of the earth for a while. What with being forced to move, finding a new apartment, moving all my worldly possessions to our new home in hundreds of plastic supermarket bags and escaping to a beautiful desert oasis for a few days, only to return with horrible food poisoning and cockroaches in our new kitchen, I have been rather busy. Oh, and I also have midterms.

But all in all, I'm quite happy lately. Cairo is finally warming up, and I have discovered that I have been tanning slightly through my clothing. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Difference is in the Details

The other morning on my way to the bus, I passed three boys who were probably around twelve years old.
When they caught sight of me, they began laughing and pointing.
"Sabah al-kheir, gamal!" or "Good morning, camel!" they shouted. I realized that they were mocking me for my overstuffed backpack that was causing me to bend forward slightly and must indeed have looked like a hump.

Egyptians don't wear backpacks to school, but carry their books under one arm. Older girls and women usually put them in their purses. I felt more embarrassed than I probably should have, but it is these small cultural differences that can make one stand out as a foreigner and make one horribly self-conscious.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


"Does a contract mean nothing to you people?" I screamed. "You signed! We signed! We gave you a deposit!" 
"Anna, please. Calm down," Caitlin said. "You're foaming at the mouth."

Ok, so that didn't really happen, but it could have. 

A couple of days ago, a real estate agent brought by a small group of people to see the apartment. I was puzzled when he handed me his business card with a flourish and said, "If you need an apartment anytime soon." 
I really should have known.

Yesterday our landlord called me to ask when he could pop by to "talk about the apartment." He waltzed in just after nine in the evening, wearing a snappy tweed suit. He declined the cup of peppermint tea I offered him. 

"This will only take two minutes," he said, sitting down. He tugged at his pants to lift them just above his ankles.
"Listen, Anna, I need a lot of money for my business soon, so I need to sell the apartment by the end of the month."

He promised to find us a new place and was gone in a flash.

Good bye Nile views. Good bye Metro Market. Good bye Yassin. Good bye big windows. Good bye king sized bed. Good bye friendly neighbors. Good bye internet connection. Good bye embroidered pastoral scenes.