Ten students (American, Canadian and Norwegian ), our Iraqi teacher Azhar, a couple Iraqi friends and myself, are squeezed into St. Andrew’s modest kitchen. Some students jot notes, while others cut onions or mix a concoction containing surprising amounts of garlic, spices and oil.
It’s RLAP’s second Iraqi cooking class, a fundraiser to support out work providing legal, psychosocial and cultural advising, as well as English classes to refugees in Egypt.While working as a legal advisor can become completely consuming, we’ve got to escape our endless interviews and piles of testimonies once in a while. Cooking delicious food and earning money to sustain our work seemed like the perfect break from the routine.
One of the best perks of my work Resettlement Legal Aid Project (RLAP) is the constant flow of sumptuous and inspiring Iraqi food. From frequent parties on weekends–whether a birthday, holiday or a resettlement case won–to homemade lunches sent to work, there always seems to be something to celebrate and a willing Iraqi ready to prepare the goods.When the topic of fundraisers arose it seemed natural to share our wealth of food knowledge with the wider Cairo community.
Some highlights of our first two classes are: 19 students (and me!) with hints about Iraqi cooking and newfound lust for Iraqi food, expats buying meat, (there’s a stereotype here that many expats never learn how to cook and buy meat in Egypt) hilarious translation bloopers (the first teacher who taught only speaks Arabic), new friends and connections(everyone seemed to leave the class with someone’s contact info).
And what caught me by surprise?
Cooking was only one of two draws to the class. More than one student loitered outside the kitchen, questioning our Iraqi friends about their lives rather than the culinary traditions. Working and socializing with Iraqis on a daily basis, it seems I’ve lost all sense of what thoughts about Iraqis and Iraq conjure for many other Americans. Will I get a reality shock back in the States in a few weeks?
Classes and menus are arranged on a weekly basis. Let me know if you’re in town and want to reserve a spot.
Otherwise, you better hope I feel like showing off my newly acquired skills the next time we meet =)
“Nice car Karim,” I said sliding into the back seat with two other American friends. Before I was fully seated I caught my error. “Whoops, I forgot we’re not supposed to compliment people’s possessions.”
Despite one past trip to Cairo on my record, living in Cairo often feels like learning an entirely new system of human interaction. The other day on our way to Abdu and Hayam’s (good friends of Professor Sullivans) house, Carlene warned us not to compliment people things. They’ll think you covert it,” she warned. Complimenting houses and children are especially treacherous errors, believed to bring bad luck.
These episodes pop up all the time.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure them out at all. Did the chef at the shawrma stand Baraka tell us too many students come here to learn Arabic? What did he mean by that?
Last night a group Northeastern students and I ate dinner and enjoyed (some less than others) some funky music at the Cairo Jazz Club–a restaurant, lounge and bar primarily aimed at a western crowd. I was eager for my new American friends to meet my favorite Egyptians from last year and vice-versa.
At one point I popped my gum. Is that rude? I yelled through the music to my Egyptian friend sitting next to me. He told me to stop worrying about things like that. I tried to explain it’s not a questioned of “worried” rather wanting to be in tune with the culture.
After a while the girlfriends I came with grabbed cabs to our hotel Flamenco–blogging and beds called. The rest of us left for a quieter location where are jumble of “Arablish” had a chance of making sense.
”There aren’t any woman here,” I pointed out before taking a seat at the outdoor cafe we chose. The guys didn’t see a problem with it. While I don’t inherently, I want to experience the culture here–not live like I was in the United States.
Walking home at 2 a.m. with one American guy I was aware how taboo this would be if I were an Egyptian women.