As I did in Dhaka, Bogota, Lima, and Rome, I will write a couple of articles about the good and not so good things about living in the Washington, DC, area. First, some of the good things.
Free drinking water. You can drink the tap water.
High speed internet.
International cuisine. I will write more about this later, but in the DC area, one can get good Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Japanese… you get the idea.
International people. Many embassies are located here.
Public transportation. Between the train, bus, and light rail, you can get many places for 3-10 dollars.
Availability of things – Amazon is sometimes delivered the next day or faster, and some shops are open 24-7.
Free museums, free concerts, free meetings, and free libraries. The Smithsonian is a collection of 21 museums and almost all (I think only the one in New York charges an entrance fee) are free to enter.
National Airport (DCA). Having an airport on a metro line and within a mile of DC is gold. Dulles is also on the metro but 25 miles away.
People like dogs. Oh, wait, that’s not just here. But I still think it’s a good thing about being here.
I went to Egypt to see the treasured outpost of the Roman Empire. But, I also went because I wanted to see the traffic. Is that weird? Yes, and thank you. I had heard people say that the traffic in Cairo is the worst in the world. I have been in LA, Dhaka, Lima, Bogota, New Delhi, and NY traffic. Of all those places, I still vote that Dhaka has the worst traffic. Could Cairo take the crown?
Yes, it can. The reason is that the traffic in Cairo is lethal. Cairo is much bigger than Dhaka and there are many roads where one can gain a great amount of speed, thus making traffic accidents more likely to be lethal.
So, I would have to agree that Cairo has the worst traffic, but Dhaka has possibly the most interesting? In Dhaka one saw all kinds of things in traffic, from half a million rickshaws to elephants.
With those words, Augustus (as Octavian was known from 27 BCE) declared the Roman Empire’s conquest of Egypt. As I was considering the end of my Roman adventure, I felt like I needed to go to Egypt so see that important part of the Roman world. Although Rome is modern, it seems to live on as the Rome of 2,000 years ago. Back then, Alexandria was the Roman capital of Egypt. I hear that modern day Alexandria is a very mediterranean city. I did not go there. I went to Cairo.
Cairo reminded me a lot of Dhaka. But a scarier, more aggressive Dhaka. In Cairo, I could see how as a single woman, one would feel danger. I didn’t feel scared but I was also never alone. When my friend and I were in the souk, she wouldn’t let us go into the long narrow stalls because it was too dangerous. She made the vendors bring things out to the street for us to look at. Maybe I was more oblivious back then, but in Dhaka, I never felt that the men were too aggressive. They tended to want to take photos and stare but I was not too worried about getting mugged or molested. Maybe it’s my memory changing the reality or maybe I was more naive. I was also almost never alone in Dhaka.
The first day, my friend took me to the souk, the Khan el-Khalili market, as that was my wish. It was hot so that trip was fast. I got my postcards and we left. We ate lunch at a place in the souk. It is a very touristy place and my friend had to insist on some of the local dishes rather than the grilled meat platters being pushed on all the other tourists. I had the falafel which in Egypt is made with fava/broad bean rather than chickpea/garbanzo, and I had the baba ganoush, and the other dips. I liked the stretchy flat bread. There was always too much food and I could see that the Egyptians are extremely hospitable. The next day, we went to a cosmopolitan bakery in the Maadi and that was also nice. That neighborhood had the same dusty streets and dusty buildings of Dhaka.
The next day, the sun was out and the sky was a pale blue color. Sort of. Another Egyptian friend, Mohamed, a former colleague who had worked with me in Dhaka, and a colleague from that time picked me up with a driver for a day out. When my friend picked me up, he had to come in and have a bit of fruit and coffee. Hospitality is king. The day turned out to be like one of those days in Dhaka which went from 9 am to 11 pm. The driver was filled with facts and his English was good. I told him that he should be a guide. He said that he was! My friends had hired him for the day. We went to the Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo). On this street, there is a famous ruin from Roman occupation times, 2,000 years ago (30 BCE when Augustus conquered Egypt). The fort was built in Babylon and years later, the Hanging Church is built on top of the Roman fortress.
Finally, I had to see the pyramids. They recommended the ring road. The pyramids looked quite nice from the distance and from an air conditioned car. I remarked so. At one point, the guide slowed down so that I could get the ultimate photo of a lush green field, a camel and donkey under two palm trees, and in the distance, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, the pyramids. For breakfast, around noon, we went to a place that my Egyptian friend chose. It was a place where they make “Egyptian pizza” or “fatayer” which is thin layers of dough with filling. One was with honey and others were savory. We had one with mozzarella, bell peppers, and thin slices of dried meat. Then we had another with smoked sausage. All beef. This dish is my favorite Egyptian food so far. The dough is fried in clarified butter and the pastry takes on the sheen of golden stain glass windows. Yummy.
Later in the day, Mohamed asked if we were ready for dinner. My other friend recommended “Hagooga” a local place. Very local. So new and local that even Mohamed had never been. We went around 6 pm and it was not to busy but most of the 40 tables inside were filled with families and others. Only Egyptians. We sat indoors. This restaurant was so local that even the locals ignored us, the only foreigners.
I got to try the famous “whisky” which is the salad dressing water from making the salad. We got the grilled meats, and other dips or “mezze” – not sure what it’s called in Egypt. I still preferred the breakfast pizza. At one point, Mohamed told me not to fill up on bread because we still had dessert. When were stepped outside, the courtyard was light with string lights and every table was filled with diners. There were twenty people waiting for tables. Another entertaining thing about Hagooga’s is that everything is branded with her smiling face and name. Even the brass lamps had her name stamped out.
Most of the local women I saw in Cairo had their hair covered. I asked if this was law and although it is not, they cover their hair. It is windy, sunny, and dusty in Cairo, so I could see why it would make sense to keep one’s head covered. My friend also told me that most of them go and have their hair washed once per week, so maybe that is another reason.
For dessert, we went into Rehab City, a gated city. It was like entering Miami. We went to an outdoor mall/market and Mohamed got us platters of sweets. I recognized baklava but I don’t know the names of the others. I teased Mohamed that this, the eating of dessert, was the most serious I had seen him all day. The weather was quite pleasant at this point and I can see why the Egyptians are night people. I also saw a chicken shawarma that was at least 200 pounds. After the sweets, Mohamed said that it was time for gelato. We protested but then he mentioned that they have mastic/mistica. I had to try it. I first tried mistica 20 years ago in Greece. In Greece, the mistica, a white honey like textured resin from a mediterranean bush, is served on a teaspoon in a glass of water. One licks a bit of the mistica off and sips a bit of water, each sweetening the other. This gelato was not like that.
Finally, the fun day out was over. Just like my tour of the ancient Roman empire, and Rome.
As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, we are all content creators now. I started the M’s Adventures blog/website when I moved to Bangladesh in 2011 (you can read one of my early blog postings here), and since then, I’ve created a book for each country I’ve lived in. As I will soon depart Peru, I was looking through photos to put together my book. The previous books have been published on Lulu.
But, this time, as I’m learning how to make movies on iMovie, I thought I’d make a “videobook” or moving picture book, a love letter to Peru. I may also make a paper book, but I’ll see how I feel when I’ve edited 8,000 photos and taught myself more iMovie. For now, here’s a film trailer so you can see what how it’s going. Don’t worry, the content of the body of the show will be less dramatic (film production really teaches one how much music changes the mood of a piece).
Here is the video trailer for “M’s Adventures in Peru: A Love Letter”
Or if you prefer to watch it on my YouTube channel, here is the link.
Having now lived in Lima past the honeymoon phase, I thought I’d write about some of the “realities” of life here as a foreigner (as I did about Dhaka and Bogota. An aside: I continue my search for the perfect “chaleco”.). Most of the daily annoyances that I go through are due to my own personal peeves, but, as the song says, I yam what I jam.
Indirect communication: that is the modus operandi here. As a direct person, I sometimes get tired of the indirect route. I like to ask upfront and not have to guess what is being asked. To the locals, being up front is rude. The twain shall never meet.
Formality: The Limenos are formal people. They like things to be formal. It ties in with being “respectful” which I think might be more important to them than being “nice.” They like to dress formally. They like formal. Have I made it clear? If you can add more gold and more formality, the better.
Class: Yes, they have classes here. Yes, there’s racism. This is not unique to Lima. I still find it annoying to watch people treating others differently simply based on where they live, or their accent, or what job they have. (Let me get off my soapbox… aaaaagh…)
Time: There is the standard comment that people are “late” for everything. If the invitation says 8 p.m., then people will show up at 9:30. But, time, in another sense that I find culturally different, is that Peruvians are night owls. Therefore many things are not open until 10 a.m. and some businesses aren’t even open for lunch on Sundays until 2 p.m.! Also, many restaurants close for a few hours in the middle of the day. Sometimes I like to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m., and there are very few dinner restaurants open at that time.
Paying upfront/business deadlines: I recently had a reminder of this cultural lesson. I like to pay for things upfront so when I had something custom made at a tailor shop, I paid upfront. This was wrong because it meant that the shop no longer had any incentive to get the job done or get it done in a timely manner. To top if off, when I got the item, it was not done properly.
Making a scene: Peruvians, due to their preference for indirect communication, do not like it when people make a scene. I told the tailor (see above) that I thought he had terrible service, that I did not want to hear his excuses, and that I would not recommend him to others. This was a scene. But, the tricky part here is… that they were embarrassed for me that I lost my cool. Not embarrassed for themselves for their sucky service. So it’s a no-win situation. One has to simply use the “withhold payment” method (see above) to ensure that you get what you paid for (or will pay for.).
Calling: Peruvians love to use the telephone. They call to double check that the email went through, they call to make sure that what one ordered online is actually what one wants, they call to tell one that things are not going to be ready on time, they call to tell one that things are ready on time, they call, call, call, call… and call. Eventually, you will too.
The weather: In winter, there is no sun. I’m not sure one gets used to it. One gets through it. This may be one of the things that is unique about Lima (maybe also San Francisco, Seattle…)
The air pollution and food poisoning: The air is bad. It’s clammy and almost everyone gets colds related to the clammy air or suffers from other lung related issues. It’s worse closer to the coast. Food poisoning or “intestinal” issues are sort of surprising considering the reputation of the Lima as a foodie city. But, it happens, and it’s not special to Lima. And it happens to the locals too.
Security: Yes, it’s a big city of nine million. (The photo is actually from a place south of Lima, but I like the security measure for one’s purse. Or is it for the chair?) What I miss most is being able to wear a backpack in peace. If you wear a backpack on your back, and you walk in a crowd, you will most likely find that the outermost pockets have been picked. That’s just the way it is. It might not happen. But it might. Also, when paying by credit card, don’t let the card leave your sight. Most restaurants will bring the machine to you, but once in a while, you will need to go to the machine (usually at the bar or cashier).
Traffic: Every city seems to want to win the “worst traffic” award. Lima too. Yes, the traffic is bad. It is what it is. I still think that the traffic in Dhaka wins for badness. It is rare in Lima that you will sit in one place for 90 minutes, swarmed by 500,000 bicycle rickshaws, all while being eaten by mosquitoes. In Lima, as the locals say, “se mueve” or “it moves” — which is true. The traffic is bad in Lima, but it does actually move, even if it’s only at five miles per hour. Glad that I could end this on a positive note.
Another time, I’ll write about the best things about living in Lima.
Tempt Montezuma? Or the belly of Delhi? When I tried 100 restaurants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, people would ask me how I avoided getting “Delhi belly” or “Montezuma’s revenge” — I have some basic policies. First, I follow my gut (ha! Had to be said!). If it smells like death on a plate, then I don’t eat it (gym socks, sure. Death, no.). I drank lots of water. And to that end… Frank, it it wants OUT… I let it out…
Back to the food cart here in my barrio… I am not willing to try every street food cart in the world, but, when I see a crowd lined up waiting, I have to go over and see what they are eating. As you can see, this vendor doesn’t even need to move the cart out to the street. It just stays in her driveway.
The other evening, I saw a crowd, again. So I went over to take photos. As you can see, they sell hotdogs, wings, breast, and mussels? Now, I just need to find someone who’s willing to try it…
I’ve heard lots of people tell me that Lima has the worst traffic… but then, Cairo, Dhaka, Bangkok, Delhi, LA, Santo Domingo, and a few others all claim that title. Even in Port of Spain, they claim to have the worst. I was inclined to say that Dhaka still holds the title. But, there are certain elements to Lima traffic that make it a contender — fear and boredom. In almost all cities with bad traffic, the “me first” aggression is the only way to get ahead, and in Lima, this is readily visible every time you step outside. During rush hour, the sheer numbers of cars all trying to go left from a right lane, or right from a left lane, or through red lights, is normal. There are many traffic cops and they will often override the traffic lights with their light sabers and whistles. The chances of getting in a traffic accident are high.
Then there’s the boredom. The hours spent in traffic (the painting above shows a day with light traffic). It can take an hour to go five miles. Apparently, Lima has grown as a city (9.5 million and counting) with commercial growth in the urban areas instead of expanding outwards. There is a business area to the south of the city but that seems to be it. Everyone else is commuting in to the city. When I say that it’s boring, I mean only if you get carsick from using your smart phone. Otherwise, if you keep your phone out of sight, and keep your wits about you, then…also, the traffic sights are not as interesting here. No camels, colorful rickshaws, overloaded carts, cattle, beggars, and so on. Just cars ad libitum. Ha.
Here in Santo Domingo, the traffic is hellish. That seems to be the collective consensus. I still think Dhaka wins. It’s true that there are many cars on the road here and traffic lights and lanes are mere suggestions, but, the sewers are underground here…
Back to the subject of the taxi. The sedan cars that look like a beat up taxi are actually not a taxi. Even if it has the little trapezoid perched on top with the word, “taxi” written on it. It’s a bus of sorts. It will drive a fixed route, usually up and down a straight stretch of road, picking up and disgorging as many people as can mush themselves into the car — like those clown cars from the circus.
The taxis here are fairly invisible like Uber or Lyft in the U.S. They have Uber here and that seems to be the most popular. They even have Uber Moto here… Another popular taxi service is Apolo taxi. Every ride seems to only cost between 180-300 pesos (3.8-6 bucks) which is much cheaper than many other chauffeur services. Apolo taxi has an app but when I ordered via phone, they even understand MY Spanish. The dispatcher will tell you how many minutes before the ride arrives, the color, make, and a four digit driver number (not the license plate number). I also ask how much it will cost.
The drivers usually only speak Spanish and I even had a semi-intelligent conversation with one, even though he called me a “pendeja” which I pretended not to understand since I assume he meant it in a nice way…
It’s M’s Adventures (madventures to many) fifth anniversary. This map shows just one random day of visitors to my blog…
As seen on the map, the readership of my blog seems very dependent on subject. That subject is Bangladesh. Despite the facet that Bangladesh has a small landmass, it has a large population, and in the social media universe, an interesting statistic. If one looked solely at who is reading M’s Adventures and what topics they like, then it would seem that Bangladesh was the center of the world. But, I’m sure that Google could tell you that that Bangladesh is not the most searched term in their engine. I think that the spike in numbers on M’s Adventures is because there simply aren’t that many blogs written in English about Bangladesh.
As I watch my readership numbers dip, I wonder if I should stop writing this blog. Or when it’s just me and my friend’s cat reading the blog.
But, I’m still amazed each day to see how many hundreds have read my little blog. So for now, I keep blogging! After all, if I didn’t blog about it, did it happen?
Although I lived in Bangladesh for two years, both of those years, the monsoons were not so bad (okay, one night it was awful, walking in the dark potholed street with flooded open sewers) but as Dhaka is located up the river, I didn’t get to experience the risks of coastal living. When I lived in Dhaka, the power went out on a frequent basis, but not for weather related reasons. In the U.S., I’ve experienced more power outages and flooding caused by weather and it looks like I will, again. Welcome to Florida in hurricane season.
I paid attention to the experts. I moved inland. Two days ahead. Then I bought food for ten days (I’m not quite sure why I thought chips and dip were essential foods, but maybe it counts as an activity as well?). Then I turned on the local news to watch the show.
This morning, I went out to check on the shopping frenzy at the local grocery store. It wasn’t a frenzy. Everyone was calm and shopping. Like any day at 11 a.m. (a note about price gouging: call the watchdog phone number if you see price gouging. It’s illegal to profiteer off of a situation like a hurricane. Sheesh.), just with hurricane shutters going up.
Now, I hope we don’t lose electricity. I have blogging to do!
I’ve been writing this blog for four years. In terms of subjects, my informal assessment is that the social media world is most interested in Bangladesh… Or rather, my blog is one of the few about expat life in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I check the statistics, I’m amazed that my blog has more than 3,000 readers every month.
Having this blog has changed the way I travel, sort of. Mostly, my friends are now quite accustomed to waiting to eat so that I can take a close up photo of their food. Thank you.
Denim jeans are very popular here in Colombia. And the tighter; the better (which makes me imagine that “jeggings” or “pajama jeans” must be popular here?)
Every time I see jeans, in all their glorious stone-washed, faded, painted, ripped, be-jeweled, and stretchiness, I think about when I visited a jeans factory in Bangladesh. There, I saw jeans in the thousands being processed for the textile market. There were work stations where sand paper was used on designated “worn” locations, other rooms with rows upon rows of workers spray painting jeans, or gluing bedazzle applique in rhinestone designs. In other rooms, razors were used to rip slashes, and stretch jeans were pre-stretched on balloon machines. In one room, jeans were wrinkled and pegged before traveling on a clothes line through a curing oven.
All for export. Because, denim, and stretch, was fairly uncommon on the local market in Bangladesh. Maybe it was all headed to Bogota?
As I explore Bogota, I’ve noticed an incredible number of “camiseta” shops. Oddly, I don’t notice an equal number of “pantalones” shops. I guess, if one has a clean new shirt, then one can conquer the world?