There are always a few animals visible in my neighborhood–donkeys, stray goats etc, however tonight, walking home from an Egypt-style Thanksgiving, an unusual amount of cows, sheep and goats stood tied in the streets.
Tonight is the eve of Eid-al Adha or “Festival of Sacrifice, a Muslim holiday commemorating biblical Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Many families who can afford to, will kill animals around 7:00 or 8:00 a.m (after the Eid prayer) and not eat more than 20 percent of the meat themselves. According to Islam, the rest is divvied up between the poor–i.e. the sacrifice.
As I began snapping pictures my Egyptian friend began getting defensive about the tradition. My purpose, my curiosity is in no way to criticize Islam or the practice. For me it’s not about religion at all, but rather about making the connection between what we eat and where it comes from. Though for months I’ve walked past hanging animal carcasses nonchalantly, I have not seen animals killed or the whole carcasses butchered. Though in the States I often look for cage free and organic labels, like many I am happy to eat meat without much thinking about where it comes from or how live beings turned into yummy dinners.I have never looked into the eyes of an animal that would later end up on my dinner plate.
Here’s some of the animals I saw walking home tonight. They’ll be killed, prepared and and feasted on tomorrow. (PS This post was Mostafa’s idea).
Diagonally across the street from my office there is a juice stand headed by “Captain Jack.”
It took me months to start going here because there is another, bigger, juice-stand next store. But after going the first time, with the preference of a coworker, I never went next-store again. (Though I still wave “hi!”)
Also interesting, we’ve discovered Captain Jack and crew are coptic Christians while the guys next store are Muslims. Nothing to do with the deliciousness of their juices of our preference, but I wonder if it contributes to competitiveness, rivalry or other customers’ choices in any way.
Autumn in Egypt. Pshhh.
When September came and went with my airconditioner humming–no change in the weather, foods or styles, I buried my thoughts of cool fall breezes, fresh apples, sweaters and cozy boots, and embraced Cairo’s seemingly eternal summer.
After all, I can only miss macouns, pumpkins and bright leaves so much when guavas and dates are abundant and the sun never misses a beat. (OK sometimes it’s thwarted by pollution).
Yet a couple weeks ago I noticed all was not as static as I supposed.
The first thing I noticed were carts with men who roasted sweet potatoes. I wondered if they were the same men who cut and sold passion fruit all summer long.
Then, walking to work one morning, I thought the air smelled different.
Maybe it was in my head, but I caught a whiff of a scent, which in the States, I would swear without hesitation, was distinctly Autumn. I thought of piles of brightly colored leaves and children heading to primary school.
As I walked through the market, I had to admit, things has changed while I have been busy at work.
Apples, bananas, pomegranates, oranges, guavas and bright orange persimmons were everywhere and decreasing in price. Mangoes, pears, fresh dates, peaches and plums were no more. And Nadia (an RLAP coworker and friend) and I discovered measly remnants were all that remained of our beloved figs, which we had indulged in since June.
(Moze (banana) season in Cairo!)
And the markets are not the only businesses changing up their stocks.
Over the last month, store mannequins have finally adjusted to resemble the appearance of the majority of women on the street–silhouettes hidden in bright layers.
Though I initially brushed the polo-style sweaters off as a silly fashion gimmick, time has already proved me wrong.
A couple weeks ago, Mufas(an Egyptian friend) showed up with a sweater tied around around his neck, superprep style. Days later, he wore the sweater over another shirt as we waited for friends outside Cairo Jazz Club.
(My Mom visited!)
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked, glancing at my bare arms. “Do you want to wear my sweater?”
“No!” I said, stoically refusing to wear such a garment when it was at least 70 degrees.
Yet a couple days later, I found myself stuffing another layer into my bag as I rushed to work and adding another sheet to my bed because I was chilly.
So a couple months later than I expected, at degrees which I’d rush for shorts and Tees at any other point in my life, I find myself excitedly donning sweaters and eyeing boots in store windows.
I only wonder how my body will feel about sub-zero Boston and NY in a few weeks….
*Fashion pictures coming*
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 =)
Though true to the hype, Egypt is mostly desert–only 3 percent of land is arable–when you open your eyes to it, Cairo has a pretty hopping fruit and veggie scene going back to ancient times.
“Egypt is the gift of the Nile,” is a phrase you might remember from history class, a tour book or even thrown in conversation. Historically, agriculture was Egypt’s greatest economic commodity. In 2000 agriculture accounted for approximately 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP and over 1/3 of the population was employed in agriculture.
The majority of produce is grown in the Delta, an area north of Cairo bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The rest is grown along the Nile, between Cairo and Aswan, just south of the High Dam, which controls the once annual Nile floods and ensures reliable water distribution throughout the year.
Living here temporarily, eating at cafes, restaurants and street vendors, it’s easy to believe the country is largely devoid of all produce except oil drenched eggplants, taamiya (falafel but with fava beans) salad and plentiful fresh juices. Adding to the desert theme, population locations i.e. the pyramids, temples, ruins, desert oases and beaches on the north coast and in Sinai are naturally sand-prone
Since settling down in an apartment with a kitchen and spending more time with Egyptians and Iraqis who cook, I have discovered an inspiring world of fruits and veggies throughout the megalopolis.
A market behind Sayidda Zeinab mosque and one surrounding the Saad Zagloul metro stop, both within a five minute walk of my flat, are where I usually shop.
I never had a fresh fig until a couple months ago a coworker bought a bag while taking a walk from work. Sweet, with a unique texture, they have quickly become one of my favorite fruits.
Guavas are another I never had fresh until living here. Though I drank the juice previously, I had pictured Guavas as papayas and thought the guavas on the streets were pares. When Syonara served me a plate of sliced guavas I learned they were something entirely different. Now I cannot quite imagine my life, let alone breakfasts, without them.
I first spied a couple lonely pomegranates at a small fruit stand across my street about a month ago. Being one of my all-time favorites, and an apparent anomaly in Egypt, I snatched them up. Though completely unripe, they were a promise of what has come. Since, sweet, juicy, pink pomegranates have matriculated to many fruits stands, living up to pomegranate lovers desires and costing around $1 USD a kilo.
Though I haven’t found dates as good as Mahmoud’s to date, I’ve been entranced by the many varieties. The traditional way to break fast for Ramadan, dates –dried, fresh, unripe, overripe, yellow, red and purple are profuse.
The other day I dashed home from work at 2:00 p.m. to grab a forgotten computer cord. I was shocked to see my neighborhood market more bustling than ever. Not only was it the hottest part of the day, but most Egyptians are fasting for Ramadan. The hours shift slightly each day with the sunrise and set–no food, water, cigarettes, sex etc, from approximately 4:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
It seems shopping for food might be one way the fasters distract themselves until the moment of consumption.