Winter Weather in Cairo

It’s 55 degrees Fahrenheit and I’m cold. For someone that survived two winters in Mongolia, one of them a zud, this is absolutely ridiculous. But there’s nothing I can do to change how I feel, and I feel cold.

My Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) once said “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” and I did not bring the right clothing for this ‘winter’ weather. I remember when I was packing in my mother’s house, clothing strewn all over the floor and bed, saying “Everything I own is black! I’m moving to the desert in August! What am I going to do?” Before I left Beijing I gave away a lot of clothes I had accumulated: turtlenecks, long sweater-dresses, ear muffs, and other woolen items. I sure wish I had some of those warmer clothes now. Luckily, my mother is coming to visit me in less than two weeks and she’s bringing me some of the warmer things I left behind in the States.

I can’t believe I feel cold. It’s ridiculous! 55 degrees isn’t cold, it shouldn’t feel cold…but it does. Some days, it’s warmer outside that it is inside my apartment or the school. All these buildings are built to keep cool air in in the summer, not stay warm in the winter. When my mother comes, she’ll be in shorts, and I’ll be sitting around in a parka. What a strange life it is.

Cairo’s weather has been in the news lately: it seems that we received the first snowfall in more than 100 years. The pictures on twitter are particularly funny. My favorite is this one of the camel in the snow:

I can’t say that I saw any snow, but I did experience some freezing rain on Friday December 13. I went out to buy some vegetables with the help of the guard, Hasaneen. As we trudged back to the villa the drizzling rain got colder and harder solidifying to sleet. I was very glad to get back inside to a hot cup of tea.

To keep warm I found a recipe for Roasted Garlic Soup to try; anything to keep the oven on. As the roasting came to an end, the power went out. Too many people running heaters for the electricity grid to handle, I suppose. Even now my overhead lights dim to almost nothing with annoying regularity. I decided to wait out the power outage and sat down to grade papers for a while. After an hour and a half of shivering I realized that the power wasn’t coming on anytime soon, so I packed up my papers, put on my warmest clothes, and headed out the door. I took a cab to Festival City, the new shopping mall in New Cairo, and spent a few hours wandering around IKEA, Carrefour, and the mostly empty mall.

I had a quick meal at IKEA then wandered through the displays, people-watching. I love to see all of the displays showing how you can use their cheap furniture to maximize a small space. Egyptians seemed to love it too, as the space was packed despite the lousy weather. My favorite moment came as I walked past the bathroom displays, I saw a woman in a niqab (the ninja-suit looking outfit where only a woman’s eyes show) standing in front of a bathroom mirror primping. There’s really no other word for it. As I glanced around, as unobtrusively as possible, the woman used the mirror to adjust the hood of her niqab to be more comfortable and pleasing to the eye. I was fascinated but worried I’d be caught staring, like the rude American I am. But it’s such a human thing to do, to check your reflection in the mirror. I’d never really thought about how a woman in niqab may want to look good.  I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective and opinion.

I later heard from my neighbors that the power had returned and I trudged out to find a taxi. Cabs are scarce at Festival City, and the ones that are there charge obscene amounts to go to and from there. I’m not really sure why, but at 7 PM in the freezing rain, I was willing to pay a little more. I argued the cab driver down from 100 Egyptian Pounds (LE) to his original price of 35 LE, still twice what the meter rate should have been.

My lights were all on and the tv was blaring when I arrived home, but I was glad to turn on the heater and make a hot cup of tea. Being without power for a few hours sure helps me appreciate it when it’s back!

Turns out that a few hours of cold were the least of the problems in the villa. My neighbor on the top floor has two balconies, both of which flooded. The doors are not flush to the floor, so poor K spent the whole day squeegee-ing water into the bathroom drain. Eventually she had to leave, and her whole apartment now smells like a wet dog because her floor rug got soaked. Other neighbors, a married couple, had similar issues with their balcony. They filled an entire bucket with the rainwater that seeped under the door. Now their whole apartment smells like mildew. Fun.

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