Thursday, March 24, 2005

Signs of Spring

RemoteControl.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I've been carrying my camera for months to catch this photo, but the weather has been too chilly until recently to encourage this quintessential countryside means of travel. Now that the afternoons are warmer, I see the farmers on their way home from the markets sleeping on their carts while their faithful donkeys take them home on remote control.

It seems a bit odd to speak of seasons in a country that has sunshine most of the year, especially as I correspond with friends in North America who have been truly socked with evil winter weather this year. But we do have seasons and spring is well and truly underway. Night are still chilly enough to warrant a sweater or jacket, but the days are warm enough to make you appreciate a very cold beer. The mulberry trees are covered with new leaves and the tiny flowers that herald May's mulberry crop. Already we are estimating when we will be able to go out for our incrementally slow but satisfying mulberry rides in the countryside, when we park our horses under each tree to pick the berries that are just out of our reach on foot. The horses like the leaves and have learned that if they are cooperative they are likely to get some of the berries as a reward.

Many visitors to Egypt get the idea that people here have no sense of urgency, punctuality or time. My donkey cart sleeper probably exemplifies this stereotype. His donkey plods him homeward as he sleeps oblivious to the passing traffic. Being on the upward swing after a nasty bout with an intestinal bug, I have a rather different view. Most of the poorer people in this country deal with the exhaustion caused by parasites and infections on a daily basis. They need to sleep whenever they can just to go on, and despite the weariness that aches in bones and muscles, they still get the fields hoed, weeded and harvested. My hat goes off to them. It isn't easy.

The other thing that influences this stereotype of the time-blind Egyptian is an interesting paradox that my yoga teacher (an American environmental lawyer who changed careers years ago) commented on during a class recently. She was working us through some stretches and noted that one of the most frustrating things about living in Egypt is the way that when you plan to do A,B, and C some morning, W, K, and Y occur spontaneously and demand immediate attention. This, of course, blows your carefully crafted North American schedule right out the window. You are behind in completion of A, B, and C even if you've managed to handle both W and Y. When I considered the fact that this being true for ex-pats signals the fact that it is even more true for locals, the domino effect of too many events in too small a time span is considerable. Chaos reigns supreme and adaptability is the order of the day.

Just last week a friend of mine in Portugal sent me an email with some of Einstein's best quotes. One of them was: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Think about how many times people mention the timelessness of the Egyptian countryside, the pyramids, Egypt itself. See? There's our problem. Egypt is timeless, so there is nothing at all to stop everything from happening at once and all too often it does.


Anonymous said...

Leila at Dove's Eye View here.

Your yoga teacher said one of the most frustrating things about living in Egypt is the way that when you plan to do A,B, and C some morning, W, K, and Y occur spontaneously and demand immediate attention.

Max Rodenbeck said the same thing to me 22 years ago, when I was a newcomer to Cairo. He was explaining it all to me, as was his wont. How young we both were. And how authoritative he was, even then, in his father's hand-me-down tweed jacket! Good thing he grew up to be a writer...

rowena said...

MaryAnne, it's always nice to pop in here every now and then to read what's going on in your neck of the woods. Reading about the mulberry trees got me thinking about silkworms and well... just took me off on another tangent on how things are so delightedly different outside of the mainland US.

Loved the quote! Ahh..the issue with time--the lack thereof or the impossibility to manage it at your will!