Dorm Life

Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
Trip End Jun 02, 2006

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dorm Life

Zamalek is a dorm like no other, it houses all the Arab students who aren't from Cairo as well as the one hundred some study abroads who show up each semester from the States and Europe. The upper floors of the building are apartments for visiting professors and occasionally I'll see an entire American family come in from the street. All these people are thrown together into a high-security, six-floor building with rooms twice the size of a Pitt dorm.

My floor, level five the female side, is one of the most mixed levels with about half Arabs and half Americans. And even though all of us Americans came here to bridge cultural gaps and make the world a better place, Arab-American relations on floor five have for the most part failed miserably. There are constant conflicts primarily over noise levels. The Arab girls are freshmen, excited to be away from home and eager to stay up all night smoking in the lounge. The Americans are high-strung Ivy Leaguers with grades transferring and future jobs in the White House hanging on their Arabic language skills. You can imagine the interactions during midterms when someone is blaring Amr Diab, or far worse Celine Dion, in the wee hours of the morning.

But even greater than the segregation of cultures is the segregations of the sexes. At Pitt I lived on mixed floors for two years, so this adjustment came as a bit of a shock. There are two entrances to the building, one for women and one for men. There are security guards at every stairwell ensuring that no one accidentally stumbles into the wrong area and any time a repairman has to come to floor five there is a woman who shouts "man on floor! Man on floor!" so that we can all flee to our respective bedrooms.

The drab routine of daily life is punctuated by gossip and weekly mishaps. Currently floor five is in crisis over a faa, or a small mouse. He first showed up in my room, my roommate casually informed me that he had been there for five days and had eaten some of her food. But we're busy people and neither of us is particularly afraid of rodents, so the mouse could have continued to exist peacefully in room 526 but instead he decided to move next door.

It was three in the morning when they discovered him. The first thing I heard was the screams and then a dozen phone calls as my neighbors panicked in the hallway. Still, I managed to drift in and out of sleep through all this until they called up some men to deal with the situation.

"Man on floor! Man on floor!" The woman belted out. And then, when a few curious heads peaked out of their rooms she reiterated, "there is a man! There is a man!" in broken but emphatic English.

They did not succeed in finding the mouse and the next day the hallway was filled with the whole room's furniture. This was a cause of great concern for me because I had recently developed another case of Cairo stomach problems, the Ramses Runs as I like to call it, and I already live in the farthest room from the bathroom. Now the trek had become an obstacle course, and I found myself scaling mattresses and dodging desks just to get through.

Awhile later the furniture was all replaced and I asked Mona, one of my friends who also happens to be a maid of sorts, what had happened. She speaks no English so our interactions are always interesting and very often ended with awkward smiles when we hit a linguistic impasse.

"Mona, the morning is bright!" I said in greeting.

"The morning is a flower! How are you? What are you up to?" She answered, pausing from her job of emptying the trash.

"I'm fine, God be praised. What has happened with the problem next door?"

"Oh...arabic...something else in Arabic....mouse...." was about all I could catch of her

"Mouse finished?" I asked. This was followed by a long string of Arabic. I gathered something about bad food being set out for the mouse and the phrase, "faa moot" or "mouse dead."

"Mouse dead in future or in past?" I asked not catching the tense of her verb.

"No, no, mouse dead if God wills it," she answered. I thanked her but hoped God wouldn't will the death of the mouse, a dead mouse means a stinky mouse. In the midst of the whole crisis I was surprised that no one had thought to go grab one of the hundreds of street cats in Cairo and let them find the rodent.
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