I’m listening to the call to prayer coming in through our apartment window as evening sets in while eating spoonfuls of fresh mango we bought from an old lady on the street. It’s the second day of two years we will be living in Kafr Abdoul, Alexandria, Egypt.
We finally set foot in Egypt during the wee hours of yesterday morning having successfully navigated the Istanbul Airport (lots of walking), acquired tourist visas (25 USD per person from a kiosk at the airport after queuing whilst carrying a sleeping child) and navigated passport control (another queue).
By 4am a group of us were being driven to our hotel in a bus. In the dark, all I could see out the window was a few feet of desert on either side of the road. The air smelled of flowers and herbs and occasionally manure. After about half an hour we came to the sign for the Panacea hotel and travelled up a sandy road edged by crumbling walls. I exchanged looks with one our bus mates, both of us a bit dubious, and mentally prepared myself to spend the night in "rustic" condition. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop the smile that came to my face. If nothing else, it was an adventure. I may have been ever so slightly disappointed when we were ushered into a modern, high-end hotel lobby. We had a view of the pool and gardens from our room, but alas, we were to be picked up at 11am that morning.
The next morning the bus drivers were about an hour late to pick us up but I’d read about “Egyptian time” so I kind of expected everything to be bit late. I glanced out the bus window to see a cow wandering nonchalantly down the street. Once we got moving we passed a large expanse of desert occupied by rich-looking dwellings and ruins, often side-by-side. Traffic consisted of cars, trucks and donkeys. I saw a man shucking corn beside an outdoor oven while another sold roasted cobs to people stuck in traffic. The city itself was quite busy and if the is a rhyme or reason to the rules of traffic (both cars and horses), it is beyond me.
When we reached the British School where Richard will be teaching, our host Manal gave us a tour of the area. The streets of Kafr Abdoul are dusty and busy and there is a nice supermarket and several clean and cool cafes and restaurants with good food and coffee. Oscar started pointing out every piece of litter he saw, but eventually gave up.
When we got to our apartment I have to admit I had a period of adjustment. The kitchen is extremely small and the door didn’t open all the way before it hit the stove. Our view is of another apartment so close that I could probably hop to opposite balcony if I had the inclination. I couldn't help thinking about our beautiful house in Whitehorse with the huge kitchen and back deck, mountain views and miles of trails out the backyard. Hot and tired, I indulged in about an hour of lying on the bed staring at the ceiling thinking “What have I done?!?!”
This morning, having finally had a good night’s sleep, everything looked brighter. I realized I would have to be quite the acrobat to actually "hop" to the facing balcony. Mina, from the British School, came to our rescue and had the door removed from the kitchen which is an improvement (although he was an hour late). In fact, the main area of the apartment is quite big and everything was very clean. There was even fresh milk, eggs and bread in the fridge, tea, coffee, biscuits, new pots and towels. Also a plus, no cockroaches or ants! At one point I did think we had birds due to an incessant chirping noise. It turns out the chirping is our doorbell and a man was at the door offering to take out our garbage.
This afternoon, just as I'd decided that "Egyptian time" meant about an hour late and was mentally chastising the rest of the group for being late to our outing, the few of us that were "on time" discovered that our iPhones had automatically set to the wrong time and we'd been an hour early for everything. Apparently Apple disagrees with the rest of Egypt about the current time of day. In hindsight, everyone so far has been remarkably on time.
We did some more exploring today. Wandering the streets is an experience in itself. Today I saw saw a group of men smoking shisha in a large open doorway, an old women selling produce on the street using an old fashioned scale and weight system and posh people sipping cappuccino in fancy cafe patios. I've found overall the people are very friendly but we haven't encountered any of the harassment I've been warned about. The food is very international in this area. Weve eaten at a European-style cafe, a Spanish tapas restaurant and the Indonesian restaurant just outside our apartment building.
Tomorrow the mission is to find the beach and the outdoor market.