The following is a guest post by Maria Alexandra Laborde of the blog LatinAbroad | Nomadic Translator.
Living and studying in the Arab world for 16 months allowed me to delve into the culture. Particularly, I learned how to live like one of them. Below, I describe my favorite Egyptian hobbies while living in Cairo. You should give them a try during your visit!
Smoke shisha at an ahwa
Right after Arabic class, I would head to a local ahwa (coffee shop). There, I would spend hours studying and enjoying a peach-flavored shisha (water pipe/hookah) for only 10-20 cents. Some days though, I would join the party and watch an exciting football game with friends. Yes, much better than my local sports bar!
Long meals and communal eating
Like in most Arab countries, communal eating is an essential part of Egyptians’ lives. Meals are not just about consuming food — it is time to cherish friends and family. I loved the fact that lunches and dinners would “drag” for hours, everyone talking about their day and issues that concern them. It is a time of bonding.
Typically, all mezzes (appetizers) as well as meat plates are placed in the middle of the table for everyone to eat. Also, eating with your hands is common. Oddly to some, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Eating with your hands allows you to use another sense to eat. Somehow, by feeling the texture of my food, I found it to be more enjoyable.
Lefties beware, though — your left hand is used to, umm, “clean” yourself, so it is deemed unclean. Never use it to eat or greet someone!
Bargain at the markets
This was, hands down, the most effective exercise to practice my colloquial Egyptian Arabic. I would head to Khan el-Khalili every week and buy little souvenirs — by bargaining in Arabic. All you need to do is learn your numbers and a few key phrases/gestures and you’re set! Deciphering their body language and listening to Arabic so often trained my ears.
Also, remember that honing your bargaining skills is an important life skill. Every success I’ve had negotiating salaries and purchases back in the states I allude to my training in the streets of Islamic Cairo!
Drink sobia and qasab while chatting by a juice stand
I don’t like fruits (haram!), but I do have an insatiable sweet tooth. In my hunt for dessert one day, my Egyptian friend recommended I try sobia and qasab from a juice stand. I was delighted!
While it is the most popular drink among Egyptian Muslims during Ramadan, sobia is also available throughout the year. It is an extremely sweet drink made of coconut and milk. On the other hand, qasab is sugarcane juice, freshly squeezed right at the stand. Egyptians (and I) love them!
Play a backgammon game
At one point, I’m sure this was popular in America — but not anymore! As a Puerto Rican, I had never played the game before I came to Egypt. The Egyptians love to play a good game of backgammon while waiting for a meal at a restaurant. In fact, many establishments carry backgammon boards. Challenge a local during your visit!
Have you spent time in Cairo – or are you curious to try any of these fun hobbies?
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About the author
Maria Alexandra Laborde is deeply in love with travel, languages, and Middle Eastern food. She blogs about her solo hitchhiking, couch surfing, and language-learning adventures in the Arab world at Travel the Middle East
. But because her stories span across more than 20 countries in 4 different continents, she also blogs at LatinAbroad | Nomadic Translator
, where she talks about her world travels and journey to become a full-time digital nomad. Follow her on Twitter
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