Thursday, May 31, 2012

Divine Intervention

I was walking down Road 87 absentmindedly kicking bits of trash and grumbling under my breath about infrastructure when I saw him. He was about my height, maybe a little taller if you include his ears.

"¿Que onda guero?" He asked in a distinctly chilango accent.
"Pues, nada perro." I replied. I must admit that it felt good to be addressed in Spanish. Although my Spanish is not, and never was, very good - I enjoy Spanish and tend to feel better when people are speaking it. He had been leaning against a wall in a nonchalant manner. He shifted, stood taller, and walked beside me down the road.

I have been in a bit of a funk lately, spending too much time asking difficult (virtually rhetorical) questions and failing to notice, failing to engage in the marvels of daily life. Now, taking a stroll with a man who was wearing nothing but sandals and a linen mini-skirt, I had a feeling that things were taking a turn in an interesting direction. The curious thing is that despite the street being very crowded, as is typical in Cairo, if anybody noticed us - a chubby American in a guayabera and a nearly naked young man with the head of a jackal-  nobody said anything or even looked at us askance.

And so we walked. "¿Como ves?" He asked, his arm making a wide gesture as if referring to all of Egypt, perhaps the world.
"That's a big question, brother. You have time for a cup of tea?"
We were approaching Rd 9, main street if you will. There is a brilliant little outdoor tea house at the corner where the old men play endless rounds of dominoes and backgammon while drinking tea and smoking sheesha. It seemed like a good place to unload with my new friend. I don't really like smoking sheesha. It is smelly, numbs my tongue, and makes my head swim. But I figured, if I was going to spend the afternoon with the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, what harm would a little smoke do? It turned out that as well as being virtually unbeatable at backgammon, Anubis is a pretty good listener. He patiently followed along as I griped about Cairo, about traffic and garbage. After a while a thought crossed my mind. "So, this is a bit of an awkward question... um, am I dead?" I was after all, having tea with Anubis. He laughed and shook his head slightly. "Just checking."

At some point there was a lull in the conversation. That is to say that I quit yammering on self indulgently long enough for Anubis to get in a word. He cocked his head slightly in that curious way that dogs (and jackals, I suppose) do, paused a moment, and asked, "Que quieres, guero? ¿Porque viniste?"

 I don't know.

Reasons change. Plans change. Sometimes perhaps our motivations are hidden from us and reveal themselves later in our actions. Sometimes there are signs. Sometimes it is a jackal headed god or a pick pocket by a pyramid that guides us. Sometimes when I see a kingfisher hovering above the river, watching something just below the surface that I can't quite see, it makes sense for a moment. And I have seen these birds from the bank of the San Marcos River, as well as from feluccas in the Nile.

I don't know how long I sat there. When I did finally answer him, my reply sounded sort of vapid, silly really, "I came to see the pyramids." Again he chuckled in a curiously dog like way. I wanted to tell him that I meant more than that. That I wanted to experience the ancient world and feel thousands of years of history, that I was drawn by the Nile, by the mysterious carvings of mythical creatures on temple walls and the mountains of sand that shifted, concealing and revealing. I wanted to see a real jackal in the desert and to talk with a god with the head of a jackal too. It occurred to me that this impossible moment was exactly why I came, this meeting on the road, this cup of tea and crushing backgammon defeat. I suddenly felt like things were looking up.

Then he told me to go visit the Red Pyramid. He said that things would be better there, that I could reconnect with my dream. It felt funny having the god of the dead giving me tips on how to live. But maybe that is not so strange. It seems like everyone in Cairo has advice on where to go. Probably his cousin owns a gift shop there where he would give me 'very good, Egyptian price - not tourist.' But I knew that really it was more than that, that Anubis was alright, a good guy.

"Gracias. Thanks." I said. "I'll go. I'll bring the kids. I think we all need a good dose of ancient Egypt.

"¿Necesitas una guia?" He asked. You see. There's always the sales pitch in this town.

"Ya tengo una, gracias."

Friday, May 4, 2012


It is possible that I can be accused of being a little heavy handed lately with negative descriptions of my host country and the goings on in my daily life. Apparently it is a normal stage in the adjustment process to hate anything and everything around about the fourth month mark. And here I am at four months, frothing with contempt, eager to share all of the discomfort.

A couple of months ago, when I didn't like Egypt the first time, I remember my older sister saying something to the affect of, "I hope you get happy, because when Paul's not happy... nobody is happy in the house." I hope that is not exactly true, but it probably is, at least a little.

A funny thing I've noticed in my travels, and this might come as a surprise to some of you Texans out there - everybody doesn't love Texas as much as you do. Most folks just don't get it. In fact, many become annoyed when Texans speak in loving terms about their home state.
And so, in the interest of levity and education, it is time to elucidate the foreigners and skeptics by describing some little known facts about Texas......

In Texas there is a mobile taco stand about every quarter of a mile. All of the tortillas are homemade and the the tacos, beyond being delicious, are actually rather slimming.

In Texas all people are always friendly. There are never fights, conflict, or even harsh words exchanged. All interactions start with a nod and a smile, and end with a firm handshake.

In Texas gas is dirt cheap and there is no traffic. You can drive for hours through rolling green pastures, past pecan groves and over clear, cool rivers. When you happen upon other drivers, they are courteous and safe.

If you have the good fortune of swimming in a Texas spring fed river, you will instantly add several healthy years to your life. Worries abate and most common communicable diseases are instantly cured.

While it is often hot in Texas, sweat is oddly clean and free from off putting odors. Plus it dries instantly, never leaving you feeling uncomfortable or damp.

Dogs are happy in Texas. Their tails barely stop wagging. Those prone to grinning, do so with aplomb.

People with tails also wag them more often in Texas.

Though there are four types of venomous snakes and at least two potentially deadly species of spiders in Texas, they are all quite sweet and can be tamed quickly with harmonica music or barbeque sauce.

Tex Mex food is from Texas.

It is said that if you fall into the San Antonio River you will live forever.

In Austin, everybody with a guitar instantly becomes a rock star.

Though it is not actually true that everything is bigger in Texas, everything is in fact grander.

Despite attempts to approximate Texas accents in movies, people in Texas do not speak with a discernible accent. They speak English perfectly with the correct intonations and pace that it should have.

Many people come to Texas. Few leave. Those who do mostly cry themselves to sleep at night until their return.

Most people do not ride horses in Texas or wear cowboy hats.

Steaks cook themselves in Texas, perfectly.

Mexican and southwestern cultures blend smoothly in Texas with two languages melding together into beautiful music.

Not in Cairo
Watermelons have seeds in Texas. The seeds can be spit out, but give great physical and mental strength to those who consume them.

Everything makes sense in Texas. Confusion is virtually nonexistent and common sense prevails.

Perhaps I have been away too long. The constant noise and hazy air can be befuddling here. It is conceivable that my  memories have been altered through time. But these above stated facts do keep me grounded and remind me that in this crazy world there are places where it is possible to understand what on Earth is  going on around me.