Afterwards the film festival was concluded with an reggae-esque band. The saxophonist, a Frenchman, played very sexily.
I got my first whiff of how friendly Egyptians can be. As I was standing next to Ana (room mate # 2) a child ran up to me and grabbed my hand, saying "dance with me!" I was in a pretty good mood so I ran over to where a crowd of 10 or so were spinning and twirling and joined in the fray. Very good time. The kids and I enjoyed mimicking each others dance moves - now a new generation of hip Egyptians knows how to dance like a gangly white guy!
That was the best time I had in Cairo so far. It was a gathering of laid back, happy people... many of them spoke English and wanted to chat. A reminder that good people can be found all over the world.
Today I decided to wear shorts and a tee-shirt and see if my method of dodging the heat made me more visible as a foreigner. I learned a few lessons.
First I rode the subway back to Mogamma (receiving many more glances on the train than yesterday.) The halls in the building, which were teeming yesterday morning, were empty. I soon found out why - business hours were closed for the document I wanted, despite the fact that it had already been processed and there were people sitting next to the pile where it lay. Cairo. I had the chance to test out my french, though... one of the people behind the window spoke french and I surprised myself by carrying on a decent conversation with him for a minute or two. I should get back into that language - I dedicated 6 years of my life to it, it would be a waste not to become fluent. Perhaps the foreign service will put me in France or Beirut or Morocco for a term.
Being defeated on that end (but making the acquaintance of three Americans who were in a similar circumstance to myself) I left and tried to find a vodaphone office.
I'm not really proud of what happened next. I asked a man for directions and he took me to his local store, where he preceded to sell me a phone from behind the display. The phone itself wasn't terribly expensive - I expected to pay around 300 LE - but in order to pay for it I went through a number of unwanted hoops. I told him that I would need to go to a bank to get the money I needed. He offered to show me a bank, but on the way he made a quick detour into his perfume shop. I wanted to go to the bank, but to be polite (since he had shown me the way to the phone shop) and I went inside. A warning flag went up as he sat me down and started to go into a sales pitch about how cheap his perfume was. Too late, he sucked me into a swirling barrage of discount offers, praises for his perfumes (which "sell for thousands" in Europe) and sweet tea. Somehow I found myself holding an 80 LE ($9) bottle of lotus perfume in one hand and my cell phone in the other.
It wasn't the worst deal I could have had, and it certainly will make a nice gift, but I don't like being taken advantage of or targeted as a foreigner. This man was friendly, but he was friendly to make a sale, and I only discovered the difference once it was too late. It was a cautionary tale; I know now that if you don't want something, say so firmly and stick to it. That's a good rule both for Cairo and anywhere else in the world.
The rest of the day was better. I went to the nearby Egyptian Museum and explored that for an hour or so. Then I ran into an Egyptian who, recognizing me as American, started testing his English with me. I started exchanging his Arabic for my English, and as he whipped out a notebook covered in English phrases I realized that he came to the Museum expressly for a chance to practice with a foreigner. I convinced him to take me to a Falafel restaurant that Alison had recommended, and gave him my card. He said he wanted to meet up again to talk some more... but with classes starting on Thursday I doubt I will have the time. I will write to him, though. I promised that much.
So, lessons learned: 1) Egyptians are very kind and helpful people, and more than a little forward compared to others I have met. 2) Wearing shorts and a tee shirt singles you out and announces your status as an American. People treat you differently, if not necessarily badly, when you dress distinctly from the locals. I think I may end up sucking it up and wearing pants and a collared shirt from now on according to the local custom. Although I had a good experience today, I prefer not to be considered an oddity and an opportunity in this country.