About My Blog

I Spent six weeks in Egypt before spending a year in Germany. This blog covers the best summer of my life. If you are looking for my posts while I was in Germany ask me, and I'll be happy to share them but I have been asked not to share them publicly. Feel free to visit my brothers blog of his year in Germany or my new blog

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Egyptian watermellon

Egyptian watermelon is so good that it deserves it's own post. It's
no just the flavor either. There could not be a better fruit it is
so red, juicy, sweet, and seedfilled. The seeds seem like they would
be a bad thing because there are hundreds more than in any other
watermellon I have seen but I'm a seed person so they only made it
better. We bought t hoping that we could brainstorm a way to cut it
(we don't have a kitchen) and when our best idea was to smash it on a
clean table we decided to ask one of the workers at the school where
we are staying for a knife. He got a knife and platter for us but as I
began to cut the mellon in half (that's how you do it right? He took
the knife from me and began carving away the rind in a spiral leaving
behind one continuous piece of watermelon rind and after twn minutes a
perfectly round red ball of delicious watermellon. He spent another 5
minutes carving away extra pieces of white rind left on the melon and
then cut it in half and then into smaller halves. We decided that in
return for his artwork we would offer him some but he politely refused
and left us with our beautiful fruit which we all thoroughly enjoyed,
and if not for having to make someone cut it for us, we would surely
eat another melon tommorow and the next day and the next. The price
of it only made the fruit better, for the equivalent of a dollar
twenty we had a two kilo watermellon and a perfect lunch.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 30

I have a lot of thoughts today and typically when I do my writing
becames a jumbled mess but I'll try to avoid that. I've been thinking
alot about Egyptian culture and Egypt in general. Let me start by
saying that I am absolutely in love with this culture, that's not to
say I agree with everything that happens in this culture but I do
think there are many things that American culture and other cultures
could use. Obviously there is a huge wealth divide between the lowest
and richest people in Egypt but the divide is almost bigger between
men and women. To put that in perspective, we are staying in what
would be an American working class neighborhood and the people earn
the equivalent of 50,000 - 150,000 a year. The Egyptian middle class
is typically people with between 4 and 6 million dollars a year, and
the richest of the rich are billionaires and oil tycoons. Our
neighborhood is not poor, there are stores everywhere, some cars (not
quite one per family), and well dressed people, but I still feel like
we ae living in a poorhouse neighboorhood. The reasons for this are
pollution control, garbage collection, and the buildings. We are
staying on a campus with a gate and a wall so we are unaffected by
this in our little oasis, but when you step outside the gates trash
begins to cover the roads and sidewalks. I wish one day the Egyptian
government would call everyone off work and have a massive one day
cleaning initiative just to see what thus city would look like with a
minimum of litter control. It is borderline revolting in some
neighborhoods but if you look closely you can see the beauty of what
is mostly French and European architecture and cute stores that
disappear into the walls of buildings. We haven't been to a "rich"
neighborhood yet and I want to see the difference that we have been
told about. I must say that I forget what I expected the place in
society of women to be so I can't tell if I feel better or worse now
that I'm here and I can see it firsthand. I'm not a European or
American girl ao I may not pick up on the stares and glances as much
as them but it seems that so far glances and looks have been the
extent of the "abuse" that people are warned about. I do not find this
intimidating in the slightest because I k ow we do the same to large
tourist groups from Asia, Africa. Europe or anywhere back in the USA.
On the other hand there are the Egyptian women. Our neighboorhood
seems largely Christian which is almost a shame because they only
represent 20% of the population here but in this neighborhood it is
probably closer to 75%. The women here do not wear headcoceri gs or
have difficulty walking next to or behind their husbands and many walk
around alone (I feel horrible that I have to write it this way as if
that is not the norm). When we leave our neighborhood though many
more women wear the full Muslim headwear if not from head to toe. A
perfect example of the culture divide is taxis, Yalda wasn't feeling
well while on one of our excursions and wanted to go back. She was
about to go alone and she looked back right before leaving with a
slightly worried look so I offered to go with her. She would have
been fine alone but when we talked later she said she did not want to
be looked at like the other women who ride alone in taxis in Egypt. In
Egypt If you are a man and riding alone you sit in the front, if you
are a woman and riding alone you sit in the back opposite the driver
and you attract the attention of everyone in the street. The cab
driver was really sweet but we still have difficulty communicating
more than single words or simple phrases so it would have been a very
quiet, lonely, and embarassing taxi ride for Yalda.

I have two thoughts left bit I'll be brief and then go in depth later
in the week. The first thought continues the idea of pollution, there
is no thought to controlling auto fumes so cars spew black soot from
their exhausts and buildings dump their pollutants right into the
water and air. A thick smog has built up which is only made worse by
the hot still air of Egypt. We have all had constant headaches since
arriving and our only escape is the air conditioned rooms of our
housing. The second thought is how fast I am learning Arabic already.
I'm learning many independent words from our Egyptian friends, pair
this with the basic phrases we have learned in two days of class, and
I can speak almost enough to entertain the Egyptian kids playing
soccer in the courtyard of the school. The class is great, the teacher
is great, the lessons are great, I actually enjoy the homework, but
the americans in our class must go. For the first time in my life
have I been in the presence of individual Americans while abroad and
actually been significantly embarassed. To make things worse, the
embarassing Americans are not from our group of college students aaged
18-22 but rather two older men who have that whale sized American ego.
I would try to put it into words but all that comes to mind is
"aarghhhhhhh" because I am ao grossly disgusted by them, their
actions, and their egos.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cats and car crashes

THE GODS HAVE FALLEN! Car crash! We saw our first car crash today
when a public bus (a VW bus more or less) crashed into the side of
another smaller taxi. Everyone was fine but a large crowd convened in
the middle of the intersection to figure it all out. This was before
the afternoon sleeping period which I opted out if so that I could
talk to Yalda Kayla and Sara about everything we had experienced so
far. While siting there street cats would walk between the tables of
the outside patio amd stare longingly for food Kayla is terrified of
the cats, which to be honest are no like American household cats in
the slightest, and threatened to punt one if it came close. I was a
bit scared of them too because they are so bony and lanky with huge
eyes that they are almost alien like.

I did get an hour or so of sleep before visiting the al azhr gardens,
from which you have a 360 view of all of Cairo. It's truly one of the
most beautiful places I have seen a sunset. The sun went down and
left a fantastic glow over all of Cairo. We stayed in he gardens and
played games with our newly found Egyptian friends and then sat to eat
dinner until nearly midnight when it was finally time to return home.
The late evenings are justifiable when the afternoon naps are adhered
to, but not when you only had four hours of sleep the night before.
Thankfully I got to sleep almost a full seven hours before wakin up
for breakfast, a cross city car ride to school, and my first ever
Arabic lesson. It was great and he teacher is so sweet and willing to
move slow, although she did say we went through more material in one
day than she had ever expected. There are 12 of us in our class
including three women and two men who do not belong to our group but
are also visiting Cairo to study Arabic. One of the men is from
montana and is probably in his fifties, we didn't Get a chance to ask
him why he is studying Arabic but his American accent is very obvious
when he speaks arabic.

After class some of us went back to our dorms while the rest stayed
behind to use the Internet. We tried to look for notebooks for class
but the only stationery store we could find sold huge sheets of
paper. We need to buy textbooks for our class and they are about 120
pounds which is almost 20 US dollars. After the failed stationery
shopping we went to find an Internet cafe and we found one which,
although it had no airconditioning making it unbearably hot, cost us
only a pound for half an hour which is the equivalent of 20 cents in
the US. Georges, our group leader, said that a good rule of thumb is
that the American dollar and the Egyptian pound have the same buying
power. A loaf of bread in the united states is 3 dollars here it is 3
pounds so by default everything here is five times cheaper than in the
US because one US dollar buys a bit more than five Egyptian pounds.
We don't know why the costs are so cheap, because we don't see much of
the production, but we have several theories. Theory A is the
government controlled production of foods, the Egyptian government
tells large groups of farms what to grow so there is a huge surplus.
Theory B is the cost of fuel, again the buying power of an Egyptian
pound is equal to the buying power of the American dollar and gas in
America cost three dollars a gallon so here it costs three pounds per
gallon or a little less than a dollar per gallon. With reduced fuel
costs the cost of transportation drops and the cost of food drops as

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm going to try to write something every day for two reasons, we
have "naptime" every afternoon after our classes which will give me
time to organize my thoughts if not to actually write them down. The
second reason is that I just can't stop writing. I finish writing and
then other thoughts pop into my mind. I won't be able to post all of
my entries the day I write hem because of wireless, so if I'm a day
behind just expect two or three posts a few days later, but don't hold
me to that. I know that I cannot put all of my experiences here into
words and I won't try to gie a running commentary of my stay here
because I want to enjoy I and no think as I'm doing it "how will I
describe this to everyone back home?".

Now onto what has actually happened since arriving at our housing.
Last night after getting settled into our rooms, organizing our
things, and getting our cell phones we went to see the US - Ghana
soccer match. We had to walk pretty far, but Mina said that in the
future we would take taxis he just wanted to show us the
neighborhood. The first place we found had horrible quality so we
left and found a cafe with several screens. The cafe was perfect for
watching the game if you didn't mind the overwhelming hookah smoke
which provided us Americans with such horrible headaches that we
didn't even want to stay for overtime so I don't actually know the
final score except that Ghana did score in overtime, but whether the
US came back I have no idea. If only the US side could put two solid
halves together they would have looked even better at this tournament.

On the way back we crammed into taxis and experienced the
rollercoaster that is Egyptian traffic in the comfort of a taxi. We
got a bite to eat and paid less than four American dollars for a
burger, shish tawook (grilled chicken?), and "macaroni". I had the
macaroni which was pasta covered with a cheesey cream which had the
consistency of mashed potatoes, and it was fantastic!

When I think back to my trip to South Korea last year I don't can't
remember what was so amazing. It was a great trip and the greatest
experience of my life but I can't remember why I was so thrilled.
Compared to the United States, South Korea could have been it's twin
(except the food of course) but now this is a different planet. I can
completely see why there is so much misunderstanding between the
United States and the Middle East, nothing is remotely similar.
Nothing remotely similar to Egypt can be found in the United States.
I fully enjoy and welcome these differences and I look forward to
adapting and becoming accustomed with the oddities that surround me.
I think a good place to start is the roads, I was in New York last
week and everyone there drives like a maniac but those people look
pedestrian compared to the gods of the road cleverly disguised as
Egyptians. Cars swerve and weave through traffic so as to accomodate
4 cars side by side by side by side in an already narrow 2 lane road.
It's like NASCAR meets bumper cars meets highschool track. While the
drivers are ridiculous it is also impressive to see the cars being
driven, I don't think anywhere but here there could be a brand new BMV
bumper to bumper with a knockoff d-car.

Aside from the brown, red, and sand colored scenery there are patches
of green lawns which look groomed as if for home and garden. I hav
never been to Los Angeles but I assume that this must be what it looks
like, the green grass seems just as out of place as we do. To
reinforce how much we don't fit in we get looks from everyone standing
on the street despite being in a semi-discreet bus. Guards,
policeman, or soldiers stand on the streets just like normal citizens
with one defining characteristic which sets them apart, their
automatic rifles hanging from their necks. I don't get unnerved
easily but I must say that I hope I never find out why they all must
have automatic rifles. In the US standard police weaponry is a
pistol, here it's an AK-47.

I don't want to be judgemental because al I have seen was what has
occured betwen the airport and our residence, but even as I sit here
and type I hear through megaphones what I'm sure terrifies many
American tourists, prayer (I'm assuming that is what is going on
anyway). And while that is so unlike anything in the United States it
is in a way peaceful and calming.

Friday, June 25, 2010

We left Pittsburgh today and now we are sitting on the plane waiting to take off. I spent the morning rushing around making sure I had everything I needed and wanted for the trip. When I go to the airport I realized that several of the other students (I don't really know what we are) had already checked in and that their carry on luggage was larger than my single checked bag. My carry on is also only the size of a school backpack so I can't even imagine what the other people in the group packed. We talked and met at the ticket counter and then went through security which was the longest line I have ever seen at an airport. The TSA agent was chatty and obviously bored as he barely glanced at our passports (funny but worrysome). Once we got to the gate we bonded and had mini conversations across the seats in our large group. The flight to New York was an hour shorter than planned, which always seems to happen so they must schedule in the landing pattern when there is slot of air traffic.

We left Pittsburgh today and now we are sitting on the plane waiting
to take off. I spent the morning rushing around making sure I had
everything I needed and wanted for the trip. When I go to the airport
I realized that several of the other students (I don't really know
what we are) had already checked in and that their carry on luggage
was larger than my single checked bag. My carry on is also only the
size of a school backpack so I can't even imagine what the other
people in the group packed. We talked and met at the ticket counter
and then went through security which was the longest line I have ever
seen at an airport. The TSA agent was chatty and obviously bored as
he barely glanced at our passports (funny but worrysome). Once we got
to the gate we bonded and had mini conversations across the seats in
our large group. The flight to New York was an hour shorter than
planned, which always seems to happen so they must schedule in the
landing pattern when there is slot of air traffic.

We had three hours to waste in JFK which isn't the worst place to
spend three hours but it really is a money pit. I paid almost ten
dollars for dinner and also bought a book which hopefully will occupy
me during the almost twelve hour flight. I also have Arabic to study
but I was relieved to find out that almost no nobody has read their
books or even learned the alphabet which is definitely comforting that
I will be at or above the level of the other students when we get
there. Nolan, from Johnstown, and I have already planned to find a
restaurant, cafe, or some place where we can watchthe USA v. Ghana
soccer match. We are both hoping that because Ghana is the last
remaining African team there will be several places to choose from
where we can watch. It's to bad we weren't here for the USA v.
Algeria game because then the Egyptians would surely be cheering with

So far I like everyone on the trip and I can definitely see myself
enjoying this trip just because of the people but I'm sure the other
expriences will make this trip even better. Now if only the plane
would take off and we would be on our way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Tomorrow I leave for Cairo, Egypt. This will be my first time on the African continent and I could not be more excited. I was given this opportunity by the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute as a scholarship to study in Cairo at the International Language Institute with fourteen other students. We will be living in Cairo for five weeks or about 40 days. While there we will be studying Arabic, Egyptian history, Middle Eastern Literature, while also travelling and seeing several sites.

Before learning about this program I had never even thought about studying Arabic and I still cannot believe that I will be learning a new language with a completely foreign alphabet and to an extent pronunciation. The Arabic alphabet has been tedious to learn but I am managing to identify all of the characters in all of their forms with their names, and I'm working on their sounds. This experience is almost surreal because I feel as though I've gone back to kindergarten and I'm learning the alphabet again but this time I'm old enough to understand that my attempts at writing the letter "9ayn", while they look perfect to me, would be ridiculed by an Egyptian first grader, just as my "w" would have been ridiculed by first graders when I first learned the English alphabet. I hope to advance quickly though and it is my hope that by the time I come back from Egypt to feel equal to those seemingly mighty Egyptian first graders.

Other than feeling belittled by the immensity of the new language, I have had very few worries about this trip. I'm used to the long flights (this one will be 12 hours), meeting new people, trying foreign food, being in a place where I understand nothing, and being somewhere where nobody understands me. The largest of my worries? Sunburn. Those of you who know me well enough know that my albino white skin does not tan but rather it burns. I have three shades: White, Freckled, and Tomato. Hopefully Egypt, SPF 50 sunblock, limited time in the sun, and some awareness of my skin will help me find that nice freckled shade or maybe even a new "tan" shade. But we'll have to wait on that one. The other factor of the sun and heat is water, which is easy enough to come by but will be harder to remember that I actually have to drink more than I feel that I have to. Well I'm leaving my "hot and humid" 85 degree room in Pittsburgh for the "hot but dry" room in Cairo and I can honestly say that I'm nervous to see how I react to consistent 110 degree days.