Her father had fathered five children out of wedlock all around Serbia. He had three legitimate children later on, and his wife made him recognize all of his children after the war. Thus, he finally admitted Mira Marković-Miletić (her mother’s maiden name, that she carried until then, after her mother Vera), as his daughter when she was 13. It was then that Slobodan Milosević became interested in her. She wore a flower in her hair in memory of her mother.
Her nickname was “Baca” at the time, that her grandparents gave her. It is because she was dropped (“baciti” means “to drop” in Serbian) by her father into the brook, when their grandparents, who lost all their children, were hiding her from Chetniks in the local mill. When they called him and gave Mira to him, he dropped her shouting “Ne treba mi pasce od kuje!”. (“I don’t need a hound from the bitch”). She was left scarred at the forehead and this is why she always wore bangs, to hide the scar.
–the Wikipedia page of Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic
Fulfilling daily caloric requirements is another one of Egypt’s little challenges. The country’s two signature dishes, a fava bean stew called fuul and a mixture of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas and tomato sauce called koshary, disagree with my palette (put diplomatically). So it’s come to this: Many, many meals consisting of a heaping spoonful of 42-LE-per-jar ($7) Peter Pan whipped peanut butter on “Rich Bake” brown bread (or sometimes hamburger buns that are, somewhat disconcertingly, hamburger scented). For further nutritional satisfaction I turn to my old standby: Candy. Particularly, Mentos. The freshmaker is very popular in Egypt and comes in a near-rainbow of flavors; the classics like orange, strawberry and mint are present, as well as a delectable cherry varietal. My favorite, though, is the ever-fascinating “fresh cola” flavor. The taste of these often-stale brown dragees is indescribable — are they candy? Soda? Pepsi or Coke? Diet or regular? Both? Neither? Is that actual carbonation I detect? — and it has gotten to the point in which a [peanut butter and Rich Bake] meal is not a [peanut butter and Rich Bake] meal unless capped with a pack of them. There is also “Cool Cola” gum, but that is a whole other post. Stay tuned.
Train travel in Egypt is very special. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness a motley crew of men laying new train tracks using a rope and brute force at Ramses Station. The men will be wearing sandals. Once you get on the train, you may notice that it looks like a living room in upstate New York circa 1979. A steward will make you Nescafe that he foams with a tiny tool, served in a clear glass marked “Ernst.” It will somehow be delicious. The ticket man at Ramses will have told you that your return train is a super-fast train and that is why it costs 30 LE more than your trip there, but in reality the return train takes just as long, maybe longer.
Things Seen On An Egyptian Highway*
1. Open-air truck full of cows
2. Open-air truck full of foam
3. Open-air truck full of Pepsi
5. Open-air truck full of cloth
6. Open-air truck full of straws
7. Stacks of tires
8. Date farms (as seen from)
9. Donkey (on a pedestrian bridge)
10. Pyramids of Giza (in the distance)
*An anecdote: As mentioned, Egyptian taxis are super cheap and thus must be taken everywhere. Taxi drivers always have the most wonderful quirks, from insistence on taking the “fast route” that goes three miles out of your way to adorning their dashboards with faux fur and other in-car accoutrement (vehicle air fresheners are the snowflakes of Cairo: no two are alike). Anyway, the other night my unofficial host and I were zipping along the highway to a cafe in Downtown Cairo when our well-muscled driver missed the appropriate exit. So what does he do? Turn around and start over? Nah. He slows down, moves to the far-right lane and starts driving in reverse. For a half-mile. On a busy highway. At night. (Almost) full-speed. Still, the ride was less than $3! Value, people, value.
(Photo taken from a camel)
Because the world is small I ended up renting a room on a houseboat on the Nile under the apartment of a man who used to live a mile away from me in Brooklyn. The houseboat is not actually a boat but really just a house that happens to be floating on the Nile. It happens! So the house-floating-on-the-Nile (HFOTN) is split into four apartments. I share the bottom left one with a French nursery school teacher and her dog (breed unidentifiable), a living situation not dissimilar to that of the summer of 2007, when I lived with a French antiques dealer, her poodle and the ghost of her dead husband.
A note about the Nile. I was forewarned by many that it would smell. It’s really not that bad, though. If I close my eyes and clench my fists the scent can be reminiscent of Cape Cod. It is difficult, however, to describe the river’s color. Brown comes to mind, but that really doesn’t do it justice. Maybe it’s burnished khaki. Muddled sepia. Acidic butterscotch? Ok, it’s brown.
When boats pass by the HFOTN, it gently rocks back and forth and puts me to sleep/makes me fall over. Everything on the HFOTN slants slightly to the west (towards Libya!). (The Nile is a great directional tool. You see how the Egyptians got a head start in the world). And yes, there is running water and plumbing. Somehow. Gods, I think.
Houseboat dwellers are a tightly knit clique and they are some of the only ones in Cairo who have the unique luxury of a yard. Our yard looks like Puerto Rico. But it’s Egypt. It’s pretty awesome. I will never think of aquatic life the same way again.
The (approximate) view from my window
The best things about Cairo so far: An abridged and subjective list
1. My new tiny cellphone, the alarm of which bleats “it’s time to wake up” in a British voice
2. Potted plants in the middle of the street
3. 85-cent cab rides
4. Rubber trees
5. Eucalyptus trees
6. Nile life (post tk)
7. Coke light
8. Military presence (actually could go either way on this one)
9. Surprising lack of camel paraphernalia
10. Working in a literal war room (this is actually No. 1)
Today I went to get my Egyptian press accreditation. The Egyptian Press Center office is in a circular building located not far from Tahrir Square and cordoned off by a barbed-wire topped fence. To even enter the area that surrounds it you must go through a security checkpoint, with pat-downs performed by gender. The office itself is dank, with 20 or so green and black desks of various heights in parallel rows facing the front door. Six people sat at desks throughout the room and one soldier stood by the window, his elbow resting on the butt of a tripod-mounted machine gun pointed outside toward the Nile. An old Panasonic phone was shared by the workers, passed between desks depending on who was using it. The man in charge — who said his name meant “heart” in Arabic, so we’ll call him Qalb — examined my passport, resume, employer letter and additional passport photos for my pass. After the information was sent to a back room for processing, Qalb pulled a bottle of Kirkland-brand aspirin from his desk. “Do you know about this?” he asked me. “Side effects?”
An aside — Sam, my unofficial host, took me to a photo studio this morning to get my passport photos taken for the pass. When we went to pick them up, I was presented not only with 12 masterfully Photoshopped thumbnails, but a framed, full-size print of my face. The entire thing cost 25 LE, or $3. Later, the security guard who searched my bag at the Press Center was somewhat confused as to why it contained a full-size, framed print of my face, and made me remove it from my bag to show him. Alas.
An hour later, press pass in hand, the kind messenger who escorted me on the mission and I left the Press Center. We were walking in the middle of an uncrowded street, as Caireans tend to do, when an older woman in a forest-green niqab was hit by a small bus. A crowd surrounded her as her face contorted with anguish, helping her to rest on the median. Further down the road, we waited 20 minutes in the middle of a jammed street for a taxi. The one we finally hailed blasted Egyptian club music as we barreled back to work.
English Muffin + Coke Light = $17 breakfast