Monday, October 15, 2012

Officers Ahmed and the case of the missing wallet

Osman the taxi driver restored my faith in humanity this weekend. (Not that it was necessarily in need of restoring or anything, but still.)

I hailed his cab on a bridge Friday after playing squash, and all seemed well until I got out five minutes later at the square near my house and immediately realized my wallet wasn't in my pocket. I turned around but he had pulled away; I briefly considered taking up another taxi driver's offer to chase him down, but I had no idea where he went -- or what his name or license-plate number were.

But then, from Ashraf the traffic cop who said he'd call if someone brought my wallet back, to a man on the street who offered to give me change, Egyptian after Egyptian I met that afternoon went out of their way to help me.

I filed the report at the nearby police station, a dirty, converted old villa. I saw zero computers the entire time, and my police report consisted of Officer Ahmed handwriting a statement on a blank piece of paper. Some guys arrested for stealing sat in a metal cage across the room from me.

At one point, we had to wait a few minutes for Officer Ahmed #2 to return with a key to a safe behind the desk. I peered over to see what valuable treasure was housed inside, and lo and behold, the policeman carefully raised a rubber stamp -- and ink! -- for all to see.

I think this stamp was actually the most valuable thing in the station, since its mark turned some handwritten scribbles into a full-fledged police report.

In the end, the decency of a good Samaritan prevailed. I woke up Saturday morning to a call from a man named Osman asking when he could bring my wallet to me. An hour later, the cab driver from the day before showed up at my building, wallet in hand -- complete with credit cards, money, and my business card, which is how Osman reached me. It had fallen between the seat and the door. Stupid gym shorts.

I've heard from friends that wallets and phones often make it back to those who lose them in the taxis of Egypt, I think more so than they might at home in the U.S.

In conclusion, ilhamdulillah.

This post was updated Oct. 15, 2012, at 10:13 p.m.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jumpo the elebhant

Jumbo's storied tale made its way to the streets of Cairo this week.

Driving alongside the Nile the other night, I passed a truck with "Jumpo" written on its backside. Classic Arabic-speaker mistake. There's no P sound in Arabic, so when saying or writing foreign words people often use B instead. This means Egybtians often find themselves leaving their cars in barking lots. And so on.

Here, the Arabic speaker who wrote "Jumpo" had overcompensated, and hilarity ensued. At least for me. I snapped some quick, blurry photos on my phone, and my taxi driver asked what was up.

And thus the legend of Jumbo the elephant, Tufts University's celebrated mascot, came pouring out, from P.T. Barnum and his traveling circus to the fateful day in 1975 when a fire at Barnum Hall burned up Jumbo's stuffed carcass. This also involved explaining the whole concept of college mascots, which don't exist here.

"It's nice that in America you have such folktales," said the driver, agreeing that this folktale was a bit weird.

In other news, I've been working hard getting myself set up here in Cairo for Egypt Round Two. I had some mixed emotions coming back; I regretted leaving my family and friends in America, and I was a bit overwhelmed by, for the first time in my life, having no formal schedule for the indefinite future. Also, it's hot here, and I wasn't able to fully move into my room until this past weekend.

But I found a comfortable library with fast Internet in which to ply my trade, joined a country club (actually), and have found some work. I'm even going to finish unpacking today!

Here's some of what I've been up to since I've returned: