The Bearded Ninja and Other Stories


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Africa » Egypt » Mediterranean » Alexandria
October 21st 2011
Published: October 23rd 2011
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Eating a pigeonEating a pigeonEating a pigeon

Tasty delicious and nothing after a guinea pig!
Ok so i have massively neglected this blog recently. I apologise, however, despite a decent amount of time trying to stay in touch with all my uni people via skype or facebook, emma and i have been trying to live it up in Alex (and Cairo one weekend). What this effectively means is that i have had little to no time to write when i haven't just felt like falling asleep.

Excuses over, i shall now progress with the meat of the last 3 weeks. Most importantly, up until now i have neglected to tell you all about Dick. (I realise this sounds amusing but that's exactly how he would want it and therefore i refuse to change it.)

Dick aka Richard Turnbull is an Arabist at Leeds but up to now has only done a year and therefore studies at a different centre from Emma and I - the so-called "advanced" students. We met him at the accommodation we stayed in initially here during our flat hunting expeditions but now Dick is basically our flatmate. Technically there are doors which separate his living space from Emma's and mine. But this in reality has become irrelevant. Our flats are the only 2 which can be found on the top floor of our apartment building and so because we don't have to fear any egyptians passing by us to reach their own homes, the front doors are nearly always open. Think Friends but instead of Joey/Chandler/Ross substitute a bearded 26 year old Geordie whose prolonged periods of travelling have thankfully meant that his accent is mildly diminished and therefore 90% translatable. He often refers to himself as "the bearded ninja" and literally seems to have lived everywhere: India, Kenya, Peru, Spain, Australia, Italy. Basically his life makes me jealous, as do his stories; he always has the most fantastic stories.

"Have you ever asphyxiated a rabbit?" was one of the first questions he ever put to me. And then proceeded to regale me with tales of suffocating guinea pigs and the various trials and tribulations of building greenhouses during his stint working in the Peruvian mountains. He apparently had a dog which he took high wiring through the Amazon forest and he definitely has a fiery italian girlfriend (we hear her on skype) who yells at him regularly in Kenyan english (Kenya being where she works and they both met) and who has recently started dropping hints about babies.

He provides a constant source of bemusement as he has the tendency to wear huge swathes of material as skirts or dresses. Maybe this is something he can pull off because he has lived in India and Africa, i don't know, but somehow he always appears on the appropriate side of ridiculous. Which is most definitely a skill, as is his astounding ability to warble like a tribal warrior when making coffee in the morning.

In fact i just asked Emma to describe him and her response i now quote word for word "A strange, hairy, lanky, monkey man who swings in and out of our apartment and likes to dance as if he is praising Ancient Gods of the Sun."

Despite, or maybe because of all of the above, he is absolutely fantastic as a flatmate/big brother figure; often cooking for us (he is actually in the process of producing a huge roast for about 8 people as i write this) and he is handily placed to undertake chaperoning duties when necessary for late night taxi journeys. Formerly a chav from Newcastle who once tried to bite off a guy's nose during a fight he then transformed into a communist/hippy; remnants of which are especially obvious when he has had a drink and alerts us to the Crisis - which is apparently coming because we aren't planet friendly enough and continue to propogate war.

Now he can't be classed as either, just an enigma that we are very glad to live next to as it's impossible to not be entertained when around him. The most recent facet of his character to astound us all anew became apparent upon entering an expensive Cairo restaurant last weekend. He refused point blank to drink anything less than the premium wine and then promptly sent back the first bottle presented to him as he "positively loathes" Merlot. Apparently is he also a wine connoisseur, and once spent a large portion of his savings on nice wine. Something we should have guessed really as contrary to most frequent travellers he is incapable of haggling and loves to spend money - his latest expense being £9 for a yorkshire pudding tray.

Em and I are thanking our lucky stars that he turned out to be such a good guy instead
Who is that?Who is that?Who is that?

I know... the Gangster Afro.
of a complete wierdo as we had only known him 2 days when we all moved in together!

We have done so many things since i last wrote that i barely know where to start. We discovered a restaurant named Samakmak which serves by far the best fish i have ever tasted. If ever visiting Alex, make sure you go, it isn't far from the citadel, and order seabass. It truly is a taste sensation! We are now very much in the habit of foul and falafel for lunch and the fresh fruit juices here really do hit the spot when you are parched. We are used to the horrendous driving now and grumble if we get a driver who rumbles along under 70 and we no longer even haggle - handing the driver some small sum, as much as you think the journey was worth and then promptly exiting the car is much more egyptian!

In short we are trying desperately to be at home in this country, but as a female it is so difficult here. We can't just approach men and chat to them without being expected to follow a simple conversation with either sex
Spirit LadySpirit LadySpirit Lady

I only put this in because it looks like i'm being invaded by native indian spirits. Entertaining thought!
or marriage. And women don't want to know. The depressing reality is that while the boy's communication skills are improving dramatically, my language level feels hardly any different from when i first arrived here. A fact that will be highly embarrassing for me when my grandparents arrive next week and expect me to be able to converse with egyptians. I acknowledge that i am not always as diligent with work as maybe i could be, but the real problem is that I speak too much english, so my arabic isn't improving. However i have very, very few opportunities to do otherwise and I maintain that for females in the Middle East, immersion in the language is almost an impossibility and therefore so unfortunately is dramatic improvement!

However we are making some attempts nonetheless, our waxing appointment being one of my favourites. Madame Koka - a really large, ginger egyptian woman arrived at our apartment only 15minutes late (which for Egypt is good going) and true to what we had been told - spoke absolutely zero english. We haltingly practiced our arabic while she proceeded to pummel us with what was basically molasses, pushing it aggressively into our skin, then yanking over and over again until we were as smooth as a baby's bum. What we learnt from this experience: do not let an oversized ginger woman carrying illtreated sugar into your house and then provide her with a bowl of boiling water unless you enjoy torture. Although i would like to add here that i was nowhere near as bad as Emma - who apparently has absolutely no tolerance for pain and who grimaced and flinched the whole way through the ordeal. Her facial expressions and the mute opening and closing of her mouth throughout leave me convinced that she would have only had one leg done and run away if she only could have explained in arabic the necessity of such an abrupt departure.

As it was, our lack of knowledge meant that we persevered. Emma was branded a "mitwaga" - a kind egyptian synonym for pathetic and i was patted on the back and told i was a good egyptian woman. Conclusions which comforted neither of us overly much as they seemed to suggest that emma was doomed to be forever hairy and that my own fate lay in producing various children and watching my bottom
This is more like it!This is more like it!This is more like it!

Top Floor, 8 English Church St. Bring it.
exceed the width of my armspan as is the case here for most older women!

My other embarrassing attempt to speak arabic took place in a pharmacy and involved me trying to explain allergies by pointing at my eyes, sweeping up some dust from the floor, blinking a lot and when the woman still looked vacant, forcing myself to cry. Initially she stared at me like i had gone insane, then she looked indignant which i can only assume is because i appeared to be criticizing the establishment's cleanliness waving my now dusty fingers in her face and then the "tears" came. The poor woman obviously thought something dreadful had happened - like pregnancy out of wedlock (i have no idea why)- and tried to hand me various contraceptives (would have been a bit late anyway if that was the case) and then dashed to find the Doctor. I realised as soon as she exited the room that instead of the rigmarole i has just enacted i should have just pretended to sneeze but the situation was eventually resolved by a chuckling doctor about 5 minutes later. I have eye drops - yay!

The rest of that week encompassed a 60's,70's,80's party in an old colonial home. This building did actually possess a secret disco accessed by a secret door and this mysterious room in the basement comprised a marble bar, funky lights and some weird wall paintings. Despite an eclectic array of guests we had an excellent night and drank, danced and took some classic shots of us all wearing afro's. Emma and I also managed to leave there with the understanding that the most famous Persian poet and wine-maker 'Omar Khayam' had painted the walls of the secret disco. This of course being pure codswallop we were laughed at many times over by various people in the coming weeks. Turns out he was in the paintings - not their creator - easy mistake right?

We had a fantastic day at the beachhouse of our course co-ordianator to follow that experience. This is the only time i have managed to get in the sea here so far- so warm in comparison to the Atlantic around Bordeaux - and it is also the only time in my life i have had my legs hosed down of sand by an elderly egyptian man wearing tropically decorated trunks. An amusing but mildly disturbing experience which need not be repeated.

I have so much else to tell but this is already atrociously long and so i will put up another about our escapades in Cairo and this past week in the next few days.

Sending lots of love Englandbound (and to Aus)

xxxxxxxx

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