More on Egypt
I just got back yesteday from another trip to Egypt. It was probably the most horrendous return itinerary ever - the two options were either leaving Cairo at 1:30am and landing at CDG at 5:30am or leaving at 4:30am and getting here at 9am. I ended up going with the 1:30am flight because I figured that even if I took the 4:30 flight, I would have to leave the hotel at 1:30 or 2am anyways to head to the airport, so might as just leave earlier and not spend the extra $$ on a hotel. What would you have done?
Besides that, my trip was great. Things are going well with our first customer there, and I (and my waistline lol) benefited from their extremely generous hospitality. Friday is the 'jour de repos' in Egypt (and sometimes Saturday too), so Thursday night, many families gather together for a large meal. And last night was no exception for my customer and his family, just with a random American in tow.
I can't remember if I mentioned in my post about my last trip, but they appear to only really eat two meals - breakfast and then 'Lunch' around 5:30pm. So one can start getting pretty hangry by the time late afternoon rolls around. But having already experienced one of their family feasts, I knew it was worth it to hold out, and I was not disappointed. We showed up to gigantic table full of slow-cooked beef, duck, chicken, hamburger-stuffed pitas, rice pilaf, stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, fried cauliflower, stuffed grape leaves, tomato salad, straight off the grill puff breads, and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Anytime any room was made on my plate, it was immediately replaced by a few more spoonfuls of beef or rice or whatever, accompanied by gentle admonishments of "Eat, eat".
Then we moved upstairs to the family room for dessert. There was chocolate, wafers, a million different types of honey-soaked desserts, oranges and bananas from their own groves, nuts and tea. Around 20 of us, from ages 1 to 70, sat on the biggest sofa I have ever seen and watched TV and chatted. The patriarch of the family wanted to watch an old sitcom from the 70's, and it was really fascinating to see how the women were dressed - very modern, no headscarf, short skirts, etc - similar to if you've ever seen pictures of Iranian women at that same time. It made for an interesting contrast to what you see today - women dressed in a modern but still mostly conservative way, with about 50% of them wearing the headscarf in the cities, and 100% of women wearing them in the countryside. It just made me wonder if women watching those shows today are cogniscent of the difference or if they don't even think about it and it's just like watching an old episode of Three's Company or something like that.
At a certain point, all the men moved into one room to smoke shisha, and the ladies who were wearing headscarves took them off, and we turned on some music. The youngest daughter had been learning how to belly dance off of YouTube, so all of us - from the little girls to the grandma - lined up in a row while she tried to teach us some moves. It was hilarious and touching and one of those really surreal, but extremely human, moments that are a big part of the 'Why' I keep doing what I'm doing.
Afterwards, the (Indonesian) nannies put the kids to bed, and us ladies sat around drinking tea and talking. They asked all kinds of questions about life as a woman in France and the US - do most women work? At what age do they get married? What is childcare like? Do the kids go to private schools? What happens after you get married? How do you furnish your home? Do the men help out?
I should explain too that these women are all college-educated, at Western Universities, typically the American or British University of Cairo. They have degrees in interior design, pharmaceuticals, history, and marketing. They speak excellent English and are well-traveled. All of them got married while they were in University. Most of them have never worked though because they got pregnant immediately after marriage and are stay-at-home moms. The entire family lives in the same guarded, fancy compound, in brand-new and astonishingly beautiful homes that are cared for by maids (who also help out with a lot of the cooking). They drive shiny new BMWs and SUVs, and have drivers for when they don't feel like driving. It's certainly a life far-removed from your average Egyptian, but my little peak into their world has been fascinating.
(More tomorrow on my continued discussions with these ladies)