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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Early reflections and thank yous

For the first time since Writing my old posts I wen through and read
them again. I find do this for any particular reason other than
wanting to see what we did the first day. This brought me to a few
thoughts that I now feel like sharing. First I'm really glad that I
have been keeping this blog. It's a way for me to have the memories
that I don't actually remember at a moments notice. Part of being
glad about keeping this blog is not only my dedication but all of
yours. Never in my life did I think I could or would ever want to
write this much and I think it says even more that I'm writing on an
iPod touch. I never know how much I'm writing and I don't organize my
blog before posting. What you have been readin and what you are
reading now and will hopefully read tommorow is all stream of
conscience. I wouldn't have cared if nobody had read my blog or
commented it or nobody "followed" it because it's ultimately for
myself but I'm glad to share it with all of you. The point I am
getting at is that despite my inexperienced writing, lack of Internet
recognition, and my random posts you all still read my blog. As of
today my blog had more than 1100 hits in a month. More han half have
been from germany (thanks Raethers!) but alot have been from the
united states (thanks friends and blackman family!). All in all my
blog has been read in 11 countries and in at least 5 of those I don't
think I know anyone. I know that people stumble across websites but
I'm thankful to everyone who stumbled across it and actually read a
post. And thankful for the people who read occasionally and especially
thankful for the people who read it everyday.

I know I went of track with that but I'll get back on now. While
rereading my old posts I noticed how differently I see Cairo and the
middle east now than I did then. I've been thinking alot about what I
though in the days leading up to the trip and it's fascinating. Cairo
feels so natural to me now, I cross streets blindly, talk to people at
restaurants in Arabic, read signs in what look like heiroglyphics to
most, and eat unusual food like it's nothing. Before I came here I
expected a city not unlike new York or Berlin but now I can't picture
anything but this city. The first few days were shockingto say the
leat and there are still days when I am shocked but they are much more
sporadic. My point is that even my first posts after arriving in Egypt
now seem bogus. The impressions I got driving into this city on the
first day told me nothing about what I have seen sense. This means
alot when I look back and see how shocked I was then and how relaxed I
am now. This whole trip gives me great peace of mind that I can live
anywhere. I know I'm an adaptable person and I do not let change or
differences effect me. Every city is it's own river with it's own
twists, turns, rapids, and obstacles but the water still flows and you
just have to ride it out and adapt. Cairo has bumped me around, honked
at me, stared at me, grabbed me, confused me, gotten me lost, and much
more but I have not let it get the best of me and I know that I will
be able to say the same for any other city I visit or live in. Cairo
and Egypt are far from the worst places to live in this world but the
aspects of it can surely prepare anyone for those places.

I still have a week here and I'm not sure why I'm writing a semi
conclusive post now but it's been on my mind and needed to be
written. This isn't the last post or the next to last post Tom Egypt
or anything like that it's just a memo to myself and to all of you
that yes this place was shocking at first and that yes it got more
shocking as time went on and there are things that I will never forget
but also things I will never remember. Don't just read my blog because
my experiences are within and as much as I enjoy writing I can't write
everything I want to. I don't mind explaining to you on facebook or
via email but again I won't be as descriptive in my writing. If you
call me or talk to me in person I'll share with you as many stories as
I can. But it you want to know what I experienced and what fourteen
other Americans experienced for a month, you have to make the trip
yourself and see everything. I know it's not within everyones means
and so I share my experiences, but if it is, and you do come here,
please, do not expect a vacation. This isn't Hawaii or Florida or New
York or London, as the Egyptians would say "this is....EGYPT!!!!"
where soccer players pray on the field before games, donkeys share the
road with cars, everything is cheap, sandwhiches are sold by the
homeless, and people with brooms give new meaning to "street

Sunday, July 25, 2010

*insert title here*

I just got back from an Egyptian soccer game. Supposedly the game was
for some sort of championship. The first team (and the team I
supported), Ahly, play in one league and the other team, whose name I
forget, plays in another league. The game is to decide the overall
champion between the two teams. Ahly is widely supported here and
everyone has Abootrika jerseys in honor of their favorite player on
the team. The other team was supposedly a team made up of policeman
but that wasn't clear. Before i go into the details of my night let
me go into the details of the weekend up until the game.

After seeing inception and staying up until 3 i finally fell asleep
only to be woken up by my six thirty alarm clock, which was telling to
get up, shower, and eat before going to Alexandria. We cancelled the
trip to Luxor butthe trip to Alexandria is easier to we decided to go
up for the day. Nolan, Jamie, Kayla, and I left the school at 7 30. I
had slept the least but I was the most prepared to go. We didn't get
tickets in advance but knew trains left every half hour or hour so we
aimed for the eight o'clock train. We got there on time and found the
platform but we could not find a ticket booth, sometimes I hate this
country. Everyone on the platform was telling us something different
"go there", "come here", "pay on the train", "there's a train at 8 15"
and more outrageous things. Before I go on I'll pause and say that
Cairo is a city of 22 million people with one major train station, and
it's smaller than the one in Pittsburgh. Still, in this city of 22
million people, as we are walking away from the train to hopefully
find a ticket booth we see a sweet little old lady. "wait, we know
her, that's mrs. Magda who lectured us the other day".

7:56 we say hello and find out she is also going to Alexandria

7:57 she tells us what we already have heard but says we can sit in
the buffet car

7:58 we are running behind this little old lady to the buffet car

7:59 we are on the train, the buffet is full, looks like we are

8:00 the train starts moving (and they say Egyptians are never on time)

8:20 we way overpay for the train, 41 pounds. A first class seat is
30. We are standing between two cars of the train.

10:15 we are in Alexandria!

I'll stop with the rundown of times here but the day was just getting
started. We met up with Sara and yalda who drove ip with ayman and
aheb. We got lunch and then decided to go to their apartment and take
a nap because we hadn't slept on the train and weren't feeling well.
After "napping" we did a few of the things we had done the last time
in Alexandria but also walked along the beach for a while. I still
really like Alexandria but it still feels too European and doesn't
have it's own Egyptian identity really. We had a great fish and
shrimp dinner, the best I had ever had and the others agreed it was
among the best they had had as well. For 9 people it was supposed to
be 800 pounds but we wanted to treat the Egyptians. Having Egyptian
friends in Egypt has it's perks because nothing, unless it's in a
department store or supermarket is a fixed price. Every price is
negotiable and they negotiated the price down to 700. Elhamdulilah!
We then left at 10 30 to head back to Cairo in time for our 2 30
curfew, or not in time as it ended up being. It's usually a three hour
drive but traffic in Alexandria and on the highway held us up. They
could tell we were nervous abou getting back late so they drove faster
which made us more nervous. We explained that we would rather arrive
late, and safely, than try to go as fast as possible and be unsafe. We
ended up thirty minutes late which wasn't a big issue. We apologized
to rayda, the gatekeeper and then rolled into bed

This would have all been fine except that today was Visa renewal day.
We had to get up at 7 30 and go to the mogamma and get our visas
renewed. I would like to point out that at the time we got back from
Alexandria I had slept 3 of the previous 24 hours. When I woke up at
7 30 I had slept 4 of the previous twentyfour hours. I was tired. The
mogamma, renowned for it's complexity and long lines went smoothly.
Elhamdulilah! We got there at 8 30 and were back at our dorms at 9
30. We had dropped of our passports, photos, stamps, and applications
and needed to go back two hours later to pick them up. Two hours
Egyptian time is three hours standard time so we went back to sleep
until noon and they rode back to the mogamma once again. We were
still tired. Two hours of sleep only does so much. Luckily for us
Egypt must be on holiday, the mogamma was once again smooth and only
took fifteen minutes to grab our passports/visa and leave. In less
than an hour we had gone to the mogamma for a second time and returned
back to our dorms. Still tired, we fell asleep again.

We woke up at 4 15 to catch cabs to the stadium at 4 30. We already
had tickets to the the game but they don't have assigned seats so you
have to go early enough to get good seats for the game which starts at
8 30. We got to the stadium at 5 but our Egyptian friend who bought
the tickets only showed up at seven. We finally entered, sweaty, hot,
and restless from standing for two hours waiting, but also excited.
The stadium was huge, I imagine 80 or 90 thousand people max, but it
was far from full. One side was completely full l, the el Ahly side
and the other side was about half full. There were probably more
police than fans and more riot police than police. I now understand
why the average government salary here is 600 pounds, they are all
policeman many of who don't even carry weapons. I guess it's a way of
creating jobs but also a way of bankrupting a country. The other
team, supposedly a police team had the most colorful supporters I had
ever seen, they all wore tracksuits, and it seemed that each person
had another color. The el ahly fans were rowdier but still subdued
compared to St. Pauli or HSV fans. Not to mention British fans. It was
still a good atmosphere with lots of noise and excitement but I had
expected worse. The game went well and el Ahly won on an Abu Tereika
goal which sent everyone into a frenzy. It's lucky for us that el Ahly
won because apparently Egyptians fans are subdued until their teams
lose which is the reason for the riot police I suppose. Having el
Ahly win was in the best interest of all involved, which makes rigging
of the match impossible to rule out. We left 5 minutes early to avoid
traffic and the mob and we ended up back at the dorms and hour before
the others in the group who stayed the extra five minutes. It was a
good weekend but an exhausting one and now my pillow is calling me...
Goodnight dear reader


Ironically the night after writing abou my dreams hear I went and saw
inception. And for those of you who don't know it's all about dreams.
That's not the topic of my writing today. Like I said earlier we
didn't get to go to luxor this weekend because one of our friends was
sick. She felt well enough inthe afternoon that she Jamie, Nolan and I
were able to go to Coptic Cairo.

Egypt is a very islamic country but it does have it's christians. The
christians here are Coptic and not roman catholic so they have
seperate priests etc. I haven't seen a roman catholic church but the
Coptic churches are prevalent and the school where we are staying is
connected to a Coptic church. The Coptic churches in Coptic Cairo are
much older and much more beautiful than this one. The museums seem to
be in a complex of 5 or six churches, a synagogue, and a museum. We
went to the museum and looked at the artifacts we weren't in a rush
but there were so many placards that we couldn't read everything.
Still, we managed to come out with more knowlede than we did going
in. Before this we had seen churches, visited churches, and talked to
Copts but we didn't know the signifigance. The art was beautiful and
their designs were very obviusly derived from many other regions like
Italy, Greece etc. We went to look at some of the churches but only
managed to get inside one because many closed at 4, just as we were
leaving the Coptic museum. We missed the church where Mary and baby
Jesus supposedly stayed for a while as well as the synagogue.

After exhausting ourselves with walking we decidedto catch the metro
back to tahrir square where we now have a favorite restaurant, Kazzaz.
It seems like the equivalent of Egyptian eat n' park. The food is
quick and relatively cheap and it is especially delicious. I had the
lentil soup which looked disgusting but tasted amazing. Jamie had
planned to meetfriwnds in zamalek and I wanted to meet my sister so we
grabbed a cab and split up once in zamalek. Alex, Lev, two friends of
theirs, and I went to Jo sushi which was good except I had just eaten
so my appetitte was small. We talked about various things and alex
and i joked about speaking german in front of the other three so that
they wouldn't understand. All together I saw alex three times while
in Cairo together which was less than I expected I would see her but I
guess it shows how well I adjusted and how much I enjoy the people I
am with on the trip. I had to lead dinner early so that I could meet
up with Jamie again, and take a cab back downtown where we were
meeting some other friends to go see inception which was AMAZING! We
all came out of the theater with different explanations though but it
tarted a conversation that lasted well into the night about dreams,
space, aliens, and more. It geeky I know but I think having my brain
violated by a movie is a justifiable cause to be geeky

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The dream sequence

I lied. We aren't going to Luxor this weekend. One of our friends got
sick and we all agreed it wasn't in her best interest to travel and we
didn't want to go see everything without her especially since she was
most interested in going. This however leaves me with no experiences
to write about. I'm sure there will still be experiences this weekend
like our trip to the mogamma, a mosque, a soccer game, and maybe
Alexandria again. For now though, I'll write what I feel that I have
left out of my descriptions. These are minute details about Egypt and
Cairo that aren't vital but definitely interesting and worth writing
about and reading if you have the time to do that.

I'll start with a recent subject amongst our friends here, dreams.
This may seem weird and it is but alot of times one person will
mention something randomly unusual and everyone else stops, turns, and
says "oh my god! You're right!". Recently this something has been
dreams. As some background information, I never dream in the united
states and if I do, I never remember them the next morning. Here on
the other hand, I do dream. I have dreamt at other points in life, so
dreams are not completely foreign to me but these dreams are. Not
only do I dream but I dream vividly. I rememembe minute details, I
feel as if I can actually reach out and do things, I can hear and see
and I am definitely myself in these dreams and I can control what I
do. At first this was interesting to see the different dreams I would
have and the new dream experiences I would have. Recently though the
dreams have been sequential, for the past three periods of sleep (2
naps and 1 night time sleep) my dreams have been a continuous story.
This is wierd because I have had recurring dreams and dreams with
stories but never my own tv show that plays on my eyelids as I sleep.
I brought this up with some other students and they agreed that
something about the dreams here was different. We have several
hypotheses like new chemicals in the food, the bottled water, the
pollution, the horns, the language, etc. It's one of the more
quizzical things about this place that I will probably never find out
but it has been nice. And I kind of look forward to sleeping to see
how my story continues and maybe changing it. Jamie, one of the other
students, says that the last time her dreams were this vivid was when
she was hyped up on pain killers after surgery but that they were so
vivid that the idea of sleeping was scary. I'm glad my dreams are not
at that point but also dissapointed to know that after a few days back
in the US my dreams will once again dissapear. This is a cometely
random post but something that has been on my mind all day. I'll
continue this miniseries of Egyptian oddities this weekend but now my
dreams await.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What a day!

Today was one of the best days since getting here. No one part of my
day stuck out but as a whole it was just great. Every part of my day
was perfect including right now as I write in my airconditioned room
at midnight.

My ili class went really well and I really like what we are learning
now because it's really practical and simplifies life a thousand
times. Just in the last few days I feel that my Arabic has progressed
much much more. I talked to a cab driver today and he understood the
questions I asked and the statements I made. I think the real sign of
progress is that I can now pick out words of other peoples
conversations, the news, music, movies, etc. I still have difficulty
reading but every morning I practice as we drive to school. I think
that kids just learning to read in English whether they are American,
British, or foreigners should have to be driven around and read every
sign they can to the best of their ability. Traffic here is slow
enough that I can pick apart each letter and than say it aloud or in
my head as we roll by in the car. There are also enough signs here
that my morning reading sessions don't bore me and the words rarely
repeat. It doesn't help my vocabulary because many of the words are
streets, neighborhoods, companies, names and so on.

After ili I got my nap and I managed to get two and a half hours
before waking up to a text from georges our director. He asked us to
come downstairs for our afternoon class a bit early because Mina had
met some Iraqi refugees and invited them to speak with us. Mina has
an uncanny ability to meet people. I dint know how he does it but it
seems that every day he is talkling to someone new. I got firsthand
experience today watching Mina work hi magic on the cab drivers later
in the day. He not only got us three cabs in three minutes, he had
the cab drivers working together, and most importantly they were
calling him "Mina" within minutes. If anybody has trouble meeting
people them they really need to meet Mina and take lessons.

We came downstairs to the patio of the school at 3 30 and met with six
women (later a man joined the group). I would never have guessed that
they were Iraqi and not Egyptian but apparently it is very apparent to
Egyptians. The six women came from three families, a mother and
daughter, and two sets of sisters. The mother was a very strong woman
but she spoke kindly and softly. She was amazingly smart and well
spoken and obviously very caring but it was also very easy to see the
pain in her past as well as the five girls. Two of the girls were
among the prettiest girls I have ever seen and they all ranged from 14
to 18 and then the mother was probably in her fourties. The mother
said that they fled five years ago after the civil war broke out
between Sunnis and Shiites so the girls all had different experiences
and different memories. The mother spike the most and a few of the
girls spoke quite a bit and the rest were silent almost the entire
time. They spoke some English but georges and Mina still translated
our questions and their answers. At first we asked them questions
like how they felt about America, whether they would return, how life
was in Egypt, and how they felt before the US invasion. The responses
were emotional but eyeopening and surprising. It's hard to listen as
people talk calmly about leaving their homes for school and work and
seeing corpses on your sidewalk. Or how their father was kidnapped and
beaten by Shiites and even how one of the girls had a bag thrown over
her head and then was saved because of her screaming. They spoke
calmly about these obviously damaging events but afterwards some of us
agreed that we might have cried had we been in another setting. Some
of the most interesting comments were that they don hate americans,
and they don't blame americans for what is going on in their country
now. They say they rely on the united states to maintain the situation
and keep it from getting worse. This made me think about the US plans
to pull the troops out. I know that the war has gone on too long and
it's time for it to end but righ now the Iraqi people still at least
have respect for us and out military. If we pull out and leave them
without fulfilling their needs we help noone. To me it seems that the
people who are radically supportive of immediate withdrawal are just
just as detrimental as those who say we have to stay there until all
the WMDs are found and destroyed. Our relationship with the Iraqi
people is hanging on a thread but it's still possible to save it.
According to the women with whom we spoke Iran is the main threat and
main cause of violence in Iraq now. Someone asked if they were Sunni
or Shiite and she said "we don't know, we were always just Muslim, we
married Sunnis and Shiites and had Sunni and Shiite neighboors. Then
the influence of the Irani Shiite leaders reached Iraq and the civil
war began". This was surprising to hear but even more surprising to
hear was that they were threatened by both Sunnis and Shiites because
nobody knows who is who. This is obviously problematic and
detrimental to the well being of Iraq. The fact that Iraq has not had
a fully functioning government for four years is a huge issue, if the
US army leaves without a) sealing the borders and b) establishing a
government then it will easily fall under he control of Iran. The man
added at this point that they need a government and a leader not a
democracy. He explained that people must feel that they want a
democracy. Under saddam Hussein life was good, people followed rules
and Iraq was prosperous, everyone had enough money. He was a dictator
and he did torture people but he tortured guilty people and only
people with enough power to harm him. Now however people are tortured
everyday either by the US military, sunnis, Shiites, the "government"
etc. and these people don't even need to be guilty or even suspected,
just associated or have potential information. Towards the end they
all said that until the people demanded democracy they needed another
saddam Hussein. Someone who was strong and could make the sunnis and
Shiites stop fighting, who was respected by all the people and could
restore electricity and water.

This was so intriguing because in the US we are told that the people
hated saddam Hussein and that the people were miserable under him,
these were refugees, the outcasts of their country saying that they
needed him and wanted another leader like him. I understood everything
they said and when they talked about the people needing to want
democracy it struck me that our nation, the symbol of democracy,
became a democratic nation because the people wanted it, not because
someone came and said "you need a democracy". I've thought abou that
since then and I still can't think of nation, still existing where
democracy was established and maintained without the will o the
people. Ultimately it was one of the best discussions I had ever had
and I wish that all Americans had to do what we did today and talk to
the people of Iraq and understand what they want not why we want.

After asking our questions we invited them to ask us questions because
we felt bad bombarding them with question after question. It was
mostly the mother who asked questions and her questions were difficult
to answer. Our group is obviously educated and open enough to other
cultures that our answers did not reflect the answers the majority of
americans would give. We explained this time after time and they
seemed to understand. She asked questions about the hijab and how we
felt abou women wearing, how we feel about the Iraqi people, or
Muslims, and also about terrorism and torture. It was the second time
this week that someone mentioned America as terrorists and torturers
and I think that's something we don't realize. Operation Iraqi freedom
is an act of terrorism in their eyes, they combat us just as we would
combat terrorists on American soil. This doesn't mean that we have to
hit them harder because they hate us, it means we must respect them as
their own people and as a sovereign nation and they will not bother
us. It seems weird that she said she loved the united states but also
that she thought we were a terrorist nation. I think this respect is
something we as Americans don't have, we think all Muslims are
terrorists so we hate them or we hate them so we stereotype them all
as terrosists, one way or another this is wrong. As long as this
mindset remains in the US, the two sides can never reconcile. The
last thing I would lime to point out was her comment about Barack
Obama. She said that he is better than Bush but that he cared to much
about his military and not The situation in Iraq. With all of the
support for withdrawal, the focus of US efforts has been on the
military, and not on the Iraqi people, there are still conflicts in
the streets and homes without water and those should be the priorities
of out army not our own miltary. I do support a withdrawal of the
troops but after today I realize more the importance of staying there.

As my perfect day went on, Mina, 9 students, and myself visited a
church carved into the mountain near the citadel. The church was
amazing and a feat of architectural genius despite being naturally
formed. The pews were carved into the mountain just as the altars,
sculptures, and other statues were. The full church must have held
more than 5 000 people just in seats and I imagine many more stand. It
was empty when we were there but this did not detract from it's
magnifigance. I enjoyed the church but the highlight for me was the
neighboorhood it was situated in and the view from one of the
buildings in the complex. The neighboorhood is all Christian and among
the poorest in Cairo. The community is made up of garbage collectors
who sweep up, bag, pile, transport, sort, recycle, and burn all of
cairos trash. Trucks are seen with massive loads of trash tied down
and men are seen sweeping highways but until today I had no idea where
the trash went until I was on the roof ofthe building. Looking out of
Cairo starting at your toes and then lifting your head slowly you must
pass over a mile ove garbage before a trace of Cairo is seen through
the smog. This is not a sight seen by many tourists but it was
beautiful and disgusting. We looke over the community we had driven
through to get to the church and we realized that we hadn't driven
through a neighboorhood, ghetto, or slum, but an actuall garbage heap
which happened to have buildings on it. Garbage was on roofs, hanging
out of windows, being eaten by pigs and goats, sorted by children,
stacked, slept on, burned and just about anything else you could think
to do with trash. One roof had thirty goats on it and a pile of
natural waste which I suppose was their food. This wasn't a small
building either, it was at least 5 stories high and the lower levels
were also littered with trash. When I realized which community this
was I remembered something I had heard last fall about Egypt. When the
swine flu rolled around Egypt had the smart idea to kill all of it's
pigs, i thought at the time about how a seemingly educated country
could be so dumb as to think that the pigs were actually spreading the
disease. Turns out this country is smarter than I thought, as a 80%
Islamic country they have a Christian problem, one of the largest
communities of Christians in Egypt is this garbage community and guess
what their main source of income is. That's right, pigs. Last year
the roofs we saw now covered with goats would have been covered in
pigs. Mina explained that there is some speculation that the swine flu
and killing of the pigs was an act of terrorism agains the christians.
I remember PETA being angry at the slaughter but now I realize that
the US, UN, and every christian group should have been outraged as
well. I don't say that that is the exact truth but the reasoning
behind it makes complete sense.

This was my great day of discussion, sights, and reflection and it's
one of the best days of my life and I don't know how it could get
better. As I look at my clock now I see that I've been writing for
over and hour and twenty minutes and I just hope you all read more
quickly than I write. I'm going to Alexandria and Luxor this weekend
so I won't have Internet for a few days I don't think so this is my
last post until Monday. But I will try to have several posts about my
weekend. Until then dear reader....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jan reflects on the day, religious thoughts ensue, blog post become incomprehensible to everyone, including himself. Oh well.

Today I decided that I want to study the middle east if I really go
into international relations. We had another lecture with sheikh
hamdallah today and it was really educational and thought provoking.
It was the same translator and he was again superb but I wish that I
could speak directly with sheikh hamdallah because I feel that
somethings are lost in translation. He lectured about prayer and the
steps of prayer which was interesting but the question and answer
session was by far the best.

We got into a discussion about Islam as a religion of peace as well as
it's role in politics. Hamdallah said that Islam can and should effect
politics. Not as a religion like christiantity in the united states
but as a lifestyle. He said that islam is morethan religion it's a way
of life and that is why they know when to pray, which way to face
during prayer, and what to do in the prayer because it is natural. He
said that he does not want Egypt or other nations to be ruled by Islam
but rather by secular governments which share the ideals of Islam.
This isn't hard because many of the guidelines of Islam are like the
guidelines in Christianity or Judaism. He didn't speak about
religions outside of the people of the book but I imagine that if they
were involved in the government he would disagree.

I realized today how similar most religions are and that the
differences lie in the way we worship. The conflict lies in the
lifestyle and the extremist radicals of each religion who feel that no
religion but their own should exist. Hamdallah explained that in Islam
as a rule, humans were created to serve humans and all other things on
the earth were created to serve us. I disagree with this but as far as
all humans serving one another I agree. He said that Muslims cannot do
what benefits themselves if it harms other people so I asked if Muslim
terrorists would be called Muslim by other Muslims. He gave me a
roundabout answer asking which terrorists I meant to which I responded
well what about 9/11. I felt bad as soon as it came out of my mouth
and wanted to give a general example about any Muslim who would
hypothetically strap a bomb to himself in a market. He asked why we
focus so much on muslim terrorists and not Jewish terrorists in gaza
or American terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. I didn't like that he
didn't answer my question but I loved that he asked me about the other
acts of terrorism by groups outside of Islam. I answered that I had no
idea why we don't pay attention to that and elaborated saying that I
am pro Palestine and against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I
ask myself the same question every day. We are the terrorists in the
middle east, all violence stems from us. I know that that is a
generalization but for the most part I think it's true.

We are killing civillians in both Iraq and afganistan. Why? Freedom.
But he said, and I agree, that killing people does not bring them
freedom. The Taliban may be gone, but other groups will arise and we
will be "forced" to expell them as well but at what cost? Again the
answer is lives and ultimately the cost of freedom. In answering
another unrelated question he gave answers to many other questions.
The answer he gave to a question stated that there needs to be someone
who has no prophet who can bridge Islam to christiansity to Judaism
who has no idols and does not want to be idolized. Who is fair but
understanding of everyones needs. While he said this I was thinking
that he would eventually say that we only need to wait for this person
to come along but then he suggested that this person is Allah. I had a
tough time with this because I know the negative impact of that word
in the west. Allah ultimately is the word for god but the different
spelling and pronunciation throws many people off. As long as the
mediator between east and west goes by the name of Allah I doubt there
will ever be legitimate negotiations and settlements. I hope that
someday someone can be respected enough by both the Muslim world and
the western world. This will be nearly impossible but we are about
1200 years overdue for a holy figure who will unite the people.
Someday, if religions are true; there must be another prophet right?
God can't have given his people all the answers in the bible, qur'an
etc. This brings me to one thing which I love about Islam and find
dissapointing in christaianity, and that is additions to the holy
text. In islam ishtihad is the process of adding more to the Quran, I
have never heard of anything similar to this in the bible. To be fair
however, it is nearly impossible to add to the quran but there is a

I doubt religion and have trouble with faith in any religion that has
not been updated in hundreds of years. We have trouble in the US with
the language in our constitution because it is 300 years old how can
we say that we have the exact right interpretation of the bible or
Quran when the texts were written way before the constitution was even
considered. Especially since nothing has been added to either book
since their inception. I also find it hard to believe that in a span
of a few thousand years there were hundreds of people who were
important enough to be mentioned in the bible, bu in the last thousand
tears there have been none, if there is a god did he give up on us? Or
why have there been no more people worthy of addition to the bible.

I'm getting off track here but that's what happens when I think about
religion. It confuses me and I have thought about it everyday of my
life so i have a tough time with people who have such a strong faith
in their religion. Having faith in a religion is hard but trying
everyday to have faith in religion and failing to find any way to have
faith is much harder. I don't loom for reasons to not have faith in
religion or god, rather i look for a way to have faith in religion or
god but so far nobody has convinced me, I haven't convinced myself,
and god surely hasn't convinced me that he exists or that I should
have faith in his teachings. I have nothing against religious people
or any person of faith so please don't be offended, these are merely
questions I'm asking you and anyone else aloud and expressing my own
concerns. If you have any advice or anything you want to share please
feel free and I'll gladly share more of what I believe and the
thoughts I have about religion.

Anyway, I want to study the Issues in the middle east regarding
religious conflict. I know I'm not the mediator hamdallah was talking
about but without people trying to solve the issues now a mediator
will never be found and the strained relationships will only continue
to exist. If I can't do my part to help directly maybe I can help
find, educate, and inform the next generations who may be able to
bring about resolution. According to sheikh hamdallah all religions
must adapt to modernization just as nations and people must adapt as
well and I think that with the massive amounts of information around
the world that can be shared so easily today education and educating
people about the positives of Islam, the middle east, judaism, Israel,
Christianity, the united states, and every other religion and region
of the world is the best thing we can do to understand one another. So
if I don't make it as a big time person in foreign diplomacy Ill go
back to school as a teacher and recycle my knowledge and hopefully
someone I teach or share my knowledge with can do what needs to be done.

Middle Pyramid


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The weekend

Any weekend where you have at least two firsts in your life should be
a good weekend. When you start to have three or more firsts in a
weekend it should be classified as great. Well I had at least tour
firsts but still this weekend was only good. Not because both days
were bad but rather one was fantastic and the other miserable. On
saturday Kayla and I got up at 9 and went to the pyramids at 10.
Originally yalda and Sara were going to join us but as we like to call
it here in Egypt they were they were being schlob-kebabs and stayed in
bed. We hailed a cab and were off to the pyramids. We got a metered
cab but about five minutes in he wanted to make his own price. He
asked how much and when we said thirty pounds the car screeched to a
halt and he said in his Arab accent "you crazy!!! 100 pounds
Egyptian!" we promtly got out and walked back in the direction we came
from so he couldn't follow us. But what do you know, the little devil
came at us in reverse. "okay okay 75 and we have deal" he said this
time. "la'a" Kayla and I said in unison and again walked away. I guess
he was adamant and he stopped us again and we negotiated him down to
fifty pounds. I was against accepting fifty because my experience with
taxis and the stories I have heard basically say that if you get out
of a cab because of disagreement DONT GET BACK IN!!! Why? Because
they will find ways to annoy you more or pay more. The fourth minute
cab ride was tense but calm. Kayla thought maybe he would take us to
the wrong place and then make us pay more when we finally got to the
pyramids. I told her that if he tried any more bullshit on us we would
get out and refuse to pay. He took us to the pyramids which we knew
even before we arrived. Starting a mile away people stop the taxi,
talk to the driver and then tell you "you must get out here my friend,
taxis cannot go any further you must ride a horse" and each time we
gave a one word answer "la'a". Soon enough our taxi driver realized we
were not idiots and didn't stop to talk to any more liars, smart man.
He did stop a bit before the gate, but for this we forgave him and
were almost thankful because it would have taken twenty minutes to
move the 100 yards through the horse ride hagglers. We got out and
paid fifty without any argument but the next hundred meters were
horrible. People yell at you from either side and say "no where you
going? Zee entrance here, must take horse". We knew these were lies
but still they are very convincing and I know lots of European, Asian,
and American tourists get ripped off and scammed everyday.

We finally got through the hordes with all of our money and no horse
rides. We bought tickets to enter the area (this was legit no worries)
and then began taking pictures of the last standing wonder of the
ancient world. It was HUGE. The middle pyramid was the only one to
give a hint to their grandeur of old. They are all still standing
perfectly but the great pyramid and small pyramid have become a sort
of step pyramid with jagged slopes. The middle pyramid is also like
this except the very top where the smooth sides are still visible I
hadn't realized that they weren't all still smooth but this didn't
dissapoint me. We took a ton of pictures and even got some with a
camel in background and us wearing turbans. We didn't mean for this
to happen but like most things in Egypt it happened too fast for us to
stop it. It cost us twenty pounds after we argued with he man that
fourth was too much. All of this while the tourist police stood by and
listened and did nothing. Because he didn't intervene he was probably
paid a commision (bakhshiish anyone?!). On the way out we haggled for
a cab to take us to the metro and got one for fifteen after jitneys
offered us rides for thirty and fourty pounds. The cabbie was sweet
and in his fifties but his taxi was older than him and much less
welcoming. We hoped on the metro and were back home by 1 30. We had
spent 20 dollars to see the pyramids, get there, and back all in less
than four hours. Plus no sunburn!

That night we went back to the movies and luckily didn't have any
bakhshiish problems. Instead we had four egyptians who laughed at us
the whole time. I wish I understood more arabicfor this movie because
the way the Egyptians were laughing at some scenes you wold think it
was the greatest comedy of all time. To us it sucked and was a boring
American plotline, so we left early and went back home.

This morning we woke up at 7 and were to be on the bus by 7 30. We
didn't leave until 7 45. Today was supposed to be a surprise trip
Buber had figured it out in advance and it turns out the only surprise
was that it took 4 hours to get there when originally we were told it
would take 2. We found out or were reaffirmed that we would be
visiting an oasis. Let me tell you one thing, oases are not like they
are shown in Tintin! But before that, the trip to the oasis. We got
stuck in Cairo traffic for a good hour and then less than an hour
beyond the traffic we are pulled over by a blue Toyota with three
armed soldiers in the back. We stopped for half an hour while three of
our egyptian friends talked to the men in the truck. Apparently they
were worried for our safety as tourists and would not let us go on
without them (I smell bakhshiish). They began driving ahead of us
leading our bus through back country roads rather than the highway.
His was pretty and much more scenic but also prolonged the bus ride by
an hour. Basically from the time we left Cairo until the oasis we
were surrounded by sand, sand, and more sand. It was amazing to see
the oasis suddenly like we did, in the middle of dunes. I don't know
how big most oases are but this one seemed rather large with a lake at
least the size of lake Arthur. There weren't many trees but the
desert was greener around the edges of the lake. We got to go swimming
and to my dismay it was saltwater. I thought oases were freshwater!
My only explanation forthis was that the sand from the desert makes
the water salty. The sahara isn't like the saltflats of western USA
but it is also a dried ocean bed and definitely has large quantities
of salt. It wasn't saltly like the medditeranean but the found was
disgusting, cover with knee deep muck. Once you got past this it was
fine and you could swim but then there was issue two, the water. I'm
spoiled by pool water, lake erie water, and Mediterranean water and
this was none of those. This was like pond water, I wasn't going to
let this ruin my one chance to swim in an oases and so I did my best
to keep my head above water.

Being there was the weirdest feeling, my body until my neck was cool
and refreshed and my head, untouched by water, was sweating. Being
that this was a lake in the sahara the sun was right above us and it
was hot. I put on sunscreen and left on my shirt and was oy in the
water for half an hour before showering and returning to the bus. We
didn't stay long but none of us wanted to, it was nice to be refreshed
by the water but I can't imagine spending the whe day there. I used
three layers of sunscreen on my face and was only in the sun for
thirty minutes but I still managed to get a sunburn. We headed back to
Cairo but stopped to eat lunch/dinner, see a show, and ride a camel.
Meanwhile the soldiers are still leading us around in their truck. The
system is very corrupt and even the Egyptians we were with couldn't
explain it entirely. Either way we bought them drinks everywhere we
stopped and offered them meals when we at as well. They did come in
handy because we had our own section if the beach where they prevented
other Egyptians from coming. Still the women had to wear shirts and
shorts but at least we didn't feel like we were being watched except
by the police.

After dinner we drive back and managed to ditch the police. How much
or if we paid bakshiish I'm not sure but it was a very interesting
experience not unlike the DMZ in Korea where soldiers also lead us
around. The drive back was four hours but this time we spent two hours
in Cairo traffic which was so slow that some people got off our bus
and walked along side just so they could stretch their legs. I know
today didn't sound horrible and the things we did were all exciting
but siting on a bus in the sahara with no AC sucks. The only thing to
male I worse? Moving slow enough that now air blows in through the
windows. The only thing worse? Having no empty seats and a girl fall
asleep on your shoulder. Malish, it was still a good weekend I guess
and now that I have had time to wind down from the stressful bus ride
and write this I can enjoy it much more. I will have stories to tell
about the soldiers and camel but I'll save those for later or for when
I'm back home. But for now Im going to lay down and put an end to a
good, okay a great weekend...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Using the system

As a visitor in Egypt I naturally become part of the system and the
machine that is society here. So far I have gone along with the
system, paying bakhshiish when it is due, getting ripped off when I'm
not paying attention, and frustrating taxi drivers with my poor
Arabic. Today was the firt time I feel that I actually used the system
to my advantage and I even feel that I may have abused it.

The day started off normal for a Friday. We don't have class on
Friday, Saturday, or Sunday so I slept in and finally got lunch around
12. Originally we planned on going to the pyramids today. We wanted
to go at 3 to avoid the mid day heat and stay for the light show. We
postponed our departure until 4 but realized at 3 45 that the pyramids
close at 5. I guess sleeping in was our loss but I think we will go
tommorow instead. When our plans were foiled we decided to go back to
the sookh from almost two weeks ago. We went and got there by 5. Last
time we were easily lured into stores and convinced to buy things we
didn't want to. This time we were much better, we ignored "helpful"
people who are really only looking for some bakhshiish in return for
guidance to your destination. To understand this you must understand
Egypt. 1 us dollar is the equivalent of 5.60 Egyptian pounds. The
buying power of 1 pound is approximately the same as the buying power
of 1 dollar. The average Egyptian makes 500 pounds a month. Egyptians
with "good" jobs like teachers, earn 1000 pounds a month. These
people work one or two jobs. To supplement your income you do things
that will earn you bakhshiish. These things include wiping down cars,
helping someone park, helping someone pull out, helping someone across
the street, leading someone to their destination, and any other number
of services. Bakhshiish is usually paid in the range of half a pound
to three pounds, do this a few times a day and you can substantially
increase your income. This is all great until you don't actually
require the service, at the sookh we knew where we were going so we
shooed off every Egyptian who tried to help us. Sometimes you can't
annoy or ignore them enough and they walk with you anyhow with the
hopes of something in return. We managed to get through our shopping
without paying bakhshiish but the next part of the day would end our
string of luck.

We planned to go see a movie after shopping and dinner so we caught a
cab downtown, ate at an "expensive" tourist cafe (4 dollars for half a
chicken), and headed to the theatre. We wanted to see norii iney,
which yalda and Sara had already seen so they decided to go home and
rest instead. Jamie, Kayla, and I didn't know where the theatre was so
we asked women along the way as we got closer (women typically do not
ask for bakhshiish). We got to the cinema and then all he'll broke
loose. Apparently each window sells tickets to another movie. We asked
for the norii iney window and were guided to it, we bought three
tickets together for 60 pounds (4 dollars a ticket) and then got in
line to be let in. Instead of allowing you to go to your seats
whenever, the cinema lines it's guests up outside until half an hour
before show time and then opens the floodgates. We stood in the back
until about 9 20 (the floodgates open at 9 30) when the three of us
were pulled to the front. We got inside the doors and stood there with
a large group of women and the police officers who guard the door. The
police officers rambled on about something, and the people behind us
yelled that we cut the line. Jamie explained later that we were pulled
inside and that the police were asking for 5 pounds bakhshiish from
each of us for protecting us. We pretended not to understand and spent
ten minutes in a much less crowded area and were the first into the
cinema when the doors opened.

We walked to the norii iney theatre and I saw that the number on our
tickets was different from the theatre we entered and I began to think
"uh-uh we are seeing the wrong movie". The ticket clerk pointed out
what I had already realized and took us to the English speaking
manager who changed our tickets. He was extremely kind and we should
have payed bakhshiish but were in such a rush to get to our seats that
we forgot. We took our seats in the back right of the theatre. The
tickets are all the same except for handwritten numbers on the back.
We had three seats together and a great view of the screen. Kayla and
jamie went to get popcorn and I guarded the seats. Your probably
asking yourself when this night went bad and your answer comes now. A
cinema employee comes up to me with a group of five people behind him,
he saw me alone and asks for my ticket. I show him my ticket, A12, he
shows me the other groups tickets, A12, he asks me to get up and sit
somewhere else. I explain that I'm not alone and that Jamie, Kayla,
and I are sitting as a group of three. My broken Arabic apparently
didn't make this clear. Luckily Jamie, who has lived in Cairo before,
came back at that instant and flips out saying we were there first and
that those are our seats. It being our unlucky day, the man who has
the same seats as us is an older gentleman and has more authority over
this employee than we do. Luckily for us, this is Egypt where there is
a system and the system benefits those with money. Luckily for us we
have more money in our pockets than half the people in the theatre
earn in a month. Luckily for us Jamie knows this and says to me
"bakhshiish NOW!" as if it was a spell. I hand the employee twenty
pounds and like a spell he whips around, yells at five guests to get
up and find other seats, like a spell, they listen. They clamber out
of the row which unfortunately has a parapalegic at one end and a boy
with cerebral palsy at the other. The boy struggles to stand as the
five guests exit the row and struggles even more as we enter to take
three of the five open seats. This is when I realize how messed up
this system is and I immediately feel horrible. It doesn't help that
the employee laughs as the boy tries to stand, or that we are the only
people in the theatre with an empty seat beside us, and the clincher:
because the theatre was full, they brought in five chairs for the five
guests that my twenty pounds had displaced. Suddenly we went from
regular viewers to those Americans who bought the best seats in the
house with 4 extra dollars. 16 dollars I to our adventure we had the 5
best seats in the theatre, nobody sitting beside us, guilty
conciences, and a great movie experience. All I can think of now is
"only in Egypt"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Still surprised

There are many oddities about Egypt that I can't quite wrap my head
around. They are considered a develloping country and have the social,
economic, and health statistics of a third world countries but the
people here either don't know it or don't care. Also it's hard for a
tourist to see unless you travel to the obscure parts of Cairo. The
buildings here all seem to be from just about the same time period and
they are all beautiful beneath their crumbling walls, peeling paint,
and black stains from pollution. This makes me wonder what Cairo or
Egypt was like in the 1900s. We visited a museum in Alexandria which
said that the king and queen were much like King Louis and Marie
Antoinette in that they ignored their people and live lavishly
themselves (the museum was a collection of their jewelry). The time
frame for King Farouk is a bit earlier but it still coincides with my
question. It seems from a viewers perspective today that Cairo was
once magnificent. With new, clean, European buildings that would
remind most people of Italy or France but at the same time all we have
learned is that Egypt has always struggled, this would make sense
because it is develloping. I have never heard of a country regressing
so much that it becomes a third world country in need of devellopment
but if there was a place it seems like this was it. In my defense I
haven't studied modern Egypt at all and we haven't covered it yet in
class here.

The oddities of Egypt go beyond their development and status. Today
as we went to a bowling alley (I'll come back to this) Andrew, an
Egyptian studnt and friend of ours, pointed ou a palace and explained
how the whole palace rotates on it's axis because of a huge turbine at
it's base. It spins slowly but none of us Americans could understand
this concept because as far as I know spinning buildings have yet to
hit the US. This was odd to me that Egypt was develloped enough to
have fancy buildings that are also masterpieces of engineering but not
enough to refurbish old buildings. I thought about this and decided
that they could care less about their people because they will always
live here but they need to impress tourists and the way to do that is
by showing them their advanced technology, fancy buildings, and modern
architecture. I don't mean to say that Egyptians are ignored by their
government but they are kept happy enough that they won't leave.
Egypt is a country of service, the transport system is cheap, food may
as well be free, and homes are simple but liveable. There is nothing
complex about life here and as long as you are middle class you don't
have to worry about putting food on the table but you also can't think
about leaving for vacation. The huge gap in wealth is fascinating but
it still seems that most people are middle class where a car is not
uncommon but two cars is too many. Alexandria and the beaches there
confused me though, the beaches and resorts were extremely classy and
surely pricey beyond the budget of many Egyptians but there were so
many condos and new ones being built all along the beachfront. So who
lives here and vacations there. Not middle class Egyptians, not
Europeans (we didn't see any), and there were to many to be for only
the wealthy Egyptians. But then again this is a country where there
are 15 stores selling faucets, sinks, bathtubs, tiles, and pipes in a
five block area.

Again there is more. This morning in the car ride to school the
driverook his seat belt (with no buckle at the end) and wrapped the
strap aroundthem hand brake. It kept slipping off the handle even when
braking the slightest bit so I can only imagine what would happen in a
serious wreck. Closer inspection of his seat revealed a screw driver
stuck in the shoulder strap of his belt where it the belt disappears
into the car. I don't ever feel unsafe in these cars because these are
the gods of the road but I have seen accidents here and I tell you
that they must be praying to the right god because safety features
alone are not keeping these Egyptians alive.

Now for the bowling, a truly American experience in the middle of
Cairo. The name was funny and there was a seating section behind the
lanes that could seat 250 members of an audience. It's not everyday in
the united states that women in floor length clothing and hair
coverings are seen rolling strikes and spares at bowling alleys in the
US, but here it's malish, whatever, it's the norm. I don't want to say
I'm still culture shocked because I'm not and I adjusted quickly and I
feel comfortable here but still I must say that I still step back and
think sometimes "did she just bowl a spare with a hijab on?" or "did
he really just serve me the same glass someone else just used?" and my
favorite "is that really a screw driver wobbling around in his seat

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Monday and tuesday

Last Monday our teacher could not male it to class because she had a
death in the family. At that point her loss was our gain, I had barely
slept the night before and I was able to go home and sleep until the
late afternoon. However she told us the next day that we would have
to male up the class on the weekend or have a double class on another
day. We went to Alexandria this weekend so a weekend class was
impossible. Our class usually starts at 8 30 and ends at 11 and then
there is a class inthe afternoon from 11 30 until 2 30 which she also
teaches. We are only registered for one class (our other class is
taught by Georges in the same building where we are staying) so we
usually go home at 11 in the taxis that we have convinced to drive us
to and from school everyday for a reduced price. Well we scheduled
our makeup class for after the afternoon class, so that it would begin
at 3 and go until 5 30. We hoped that Georges would ask the drivers to
still pick us up at 11 and then bring us back to school in time for
the 3 o'clock class. No such luck. Instead I wasted four hours in the
Internet room at the school. 11 here is 4 am eatern time so of course
there was nobody to talk to and no emails that I hadn't already seen
or responded to. Four hours on my computer at home seems to fly by, I
have music, movies, and friends that are online at similar times as me
but again, no such luck. The makeup class was fun but tiring because
of the four wasted hours and no nap. After class I just wanted to get
food and take a nap but, you guessed it, no such luck. Instead we had
an evening class on Islam with sheikh hamdallah, a twenty minute walk
and a two hour lecture/class just about did me in. The lecture was
interesting and I learned alot but I still left with more questions
than answers. We have another lecture with him next week and I will be
sure to bring a notebook and pen so that I can write down and ask my

The sheikh was one of the most educated and non confrontational. He
talked about the pillars of Islam, the four levels of life, the parts
of a person, and the method of prayer. He spoke through a translator
and while I could only pick apart the most basic of words he was using
I was transfixed by his words. The translator was one of the best I
have ever come across and he spoke eloquently and with a purpose,
eliminating extraneous parts of questions and answers. I asked
questions about converting to islam (no worries, just curiosity
because he said that they can make up for missed prayers so I wanted
to know if a convert would need to make up all of those prayers as
well). He said that it's as simple as taking a shower and stating that
your are Muslim and that there is no god but allah. He said that the
most important part of it is the sincerity and that afterwards your
life post-conversion is all that matters. Once you have converted to
become a new person and all past actions in your life are erased,
missed prayers need not be mad up as long as you continue to pray
after converting. My second question was why there are five prayers a
day and not four or six or a hundred. I could not understand the
Arabic he spoke but I could tell that there was a smart tone. This
smart response was verified when the narrator simply told me "it is
what is natural". He elaborated by saying that you pray at dawn, and
dusk. As well as noon and two other points in the day but I cannot
remember the importance of those points. The dawn, noon, and dusk
prayers seem natural to me as well but I don't understand the other
two, but I'm sure that I will at the next lecture.

After a triple class with no nap I decided to sleep in this morning so
I missed my morning class, I woke up around noonish, grabbed lunch and
decided to upload more photos to facebook. I left at three and met up
with yalda and sara and we went to our favorite restaurant, a little
kooshary "hut". It's a tiny place and there are two people working
there, a cook and a cashier. We eat there every day and they see as as
we walk down the street towards them and only need to ask how much we
are spending. They sell take away in three sizes which are named after
the amount of money each costs: taleeta, arba, and Hamza. I usually
get taleeta and it's more than enough for one person. Taleeta gineea
or three pounds is the equivalent of 60 cents in the US. Their price
worthiness is embarassing to American food and to add insult to injury
they just about make fast food restaurants like mcdonalds look like
full service restaurants. Our interactions from the time we arrive
until the time we leave with food and have chatted with the two men
last a total of thirty seconds. I repeat THIRTY SECONDS! Plus it's
just about the best food I have ever had. This is hilarious I'm sure
to the men who work their and any onlookers because it is typically
the poor mans meal in Egypt. I suppose the poor eat well here. I
think I may start a kooshary restaurant somewhere and charge fifty
cents a bowl, not only as a service to the poor, the hurried, and the
hungry but also as a reminder to american fast food restaurants that
they have to work to maintain their reputation as "fast".

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back to Cairo

Cairo is our next stop. We are leaving European paradise for the
craziest city in the world. I feel like my admiration for Alexandria
mitigates my love for Cairo which isn't true. I've been in Alexandria
since Friday morning and while its the most beautiful place I have
ever visited I feel that I could go anywhere in Europe and have a very
comparable experience. I like Cairo and was excited to come to Egypt
because it was going to be so new. Many of the other students are
obsessed with Alexandria but none of them have spent as much time in
Europe as I have. After the beach last night we went to a cemetery for
Italian soldiers who died fighting on the shores. After leaving and
driving for twenty minutes we stop on the highway and turn off into
the desert, there are no markers symbolizing a road or even a path
just a toyota pickup truck from the 80s leading us. We roll over a few
dunes and over a railroad track and finally we see a group of bedouins
and a large tent. We talked to them, played with the kids, looked at
the desert, saw a seemingly ancient train pass, and finally stepped
into the tent and ate dinner. We all knew that we would be eating
with the bedouins but we expected a large tent that was replica
Bedouin food but this was the real deal. Boys were herding sheep and
goats, the women were not to be seen, and they all wore the
traditional galabiyya. Mina took the time to explain to us that this
never happens, the bedouins will enter other societies to make a
living but they are very reserved and do not ever allow visitorsto
visit them. This goes to show how well respected Mina is and how
highly he thinks of us to risk his contacts so that we could have a
genuine experience. Of course we were on our most perfect behavior
and they were so happy that they even invited us to watch the Germany-
Uruguay game which was hard to pass up but with a two hour ride home
it was the right thing to leave when we did.

This morning we visited two palaces which were so artistic that they
outdid the art that they were housing. The second palace was the home
of the Egyptian "summer" government under king Farouk. The building
was expansive but the grounds were endless, they now house a beach,
fishing piers, parks, and now sadly a mcdonalds. After this we joined
Mina and his mother for lunch in the same house where he grew up. The
lunch was great which isn't surprising until you hear that it was
whole fish and freshly cooked shrimp. I turned to my friend and said
"if I was anywhere but Egypt I would no eat a fish whole" to which she
responded "I feel the exact same way". When I say whole fish I mean
whole fish, for the hamburgers, Fischmarkt whole, for pittsburghers,
Wholeys whole, for anyone else, skin eyes and tiny bones whole. It was
delicios and I ate everything except the head. It was a great end to
a great trip to Alexandria and now I get to look forward to a three
hour drive back "home", hopefully I'll get some sleep before going out
tonight for the world cup final. Oranje bovven!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I have been swimming in pools, ponds, lakes, seas, and oceans around
the world. If you have been swimming with me you know I'm the pickiest
person aside from my opa, about the water I swim in. Today I had zero
problems with the water despite it being salty, rocky, and seaweedy.
This may have been the fastest I ever entered the water ANYWHERE. Why.
The water was turquoise. I kid you not it was postcard material. The
water was cold and you couldn't stay in long because the salt burned
any open wounds and also eyes and mouth. The waves were between 5 and
10 feet and the undertow was strong but that didn't discourage us from
jumping over,under, through, and riding waves. I would not have let
little kids into the water and the lifeguards at our beach had the
same idea especially after a kid drowned two beaches away from ours
early in the day. Hearing about the death of the child put a major
damper on the day but by the end of the day it was out of our minds.

Although the waves, undertow, current, and deep water was dangerous I
knew that as a good swimmer swimming with other good swimmers that the
biggest danger to us was the sun. We swam responsibly and everyone
was fine except for a few body surfing cuts. Not all of us ce out of
the sun in as good condition. We arrived at 10 found a spot on the
beach, pitched umbrellas, laid out towels and lathered up with
sunscreen. We stayed until 5 30 so of course we got plenty of sun. I
have been burnt too many times and I wasn't about to let the
Mediterranean conquer me too so I spent limited time in the sun,
reapplied sunscreen, and covered up. It goes to show how white I am
that I still got burned but that's the Arabian sun for you. The good
thing about the sun for me? My hair changes color and people whowho
don't even know I'm a Ginger in hiding pointed out that my hair was
getting more red so hopefully that stays for a while.

We are driving along the coast now and it's a great drive because on
my right is the turquoise sea and on my left is the most barren desert
I have ever seen, the contrast is amazing. The only downside to this
is that it is so touristy. I understand the attraction to smooth white
beaches and blue water but resorts, hotels, cottages, condos, and RVs
pollute the shoreline. If you come to Egypt it's worth it to see the
medditeranean from it's beaches, just bring sunscreen....

Friday, July 9, 2010

The road to Alexandria

Arrived in Alexandria and I'm in love. A European city in Africa on
the Mediterranean where the people don't drive like crazy and there is
no pollution. After Cairo there isn't much more you can ask for. Don't
get me wrong, I love Cairo and I love Alexandria but comparing the two
is like comparing apples and oranges. They are so epically different
that it barely feels like Africa until of course the donkey carts roll
by, a pidgeon market, or a rabbit meat store where you pick the live
rabbit that you want for dinner that night.

We left Cairo at 8 30 and after a drive through the desert, a stop at
mcdonalds, and a bout of nausea we arrived in Alexandria. Driving
through it was amazing because as you get closer more and more
artifacts change and the smell of sea salt grows stronger. It seems
that every corner, square, roundabout, building has a random statue
commemorating something from some period of time. I saw a waterclock,
DNA model, Ramses, cleopatra, Alexander the great, boats, sphinx, and
other random people or places in statuette form. We got to our
housing, another monastery/church/school/who even knows and it's
really nice. We stayed long enough to drop off half of our stuff
before setting out for a twelve hour afternoon. We planned to arrive
at 11, see the catacombs at 12 eat at 1 30, go to the museum at 3,
library of Alexandria at 5, ice cream at 6, dinner at 8, and a show at
10 30 before being in bed at 1 30 am. Instead we arrived at 12 and
everything was pushedback, rescheduled, or shortened but it was still
perfect. The catacombs were awesome but sadly it's like David when
being compared to the Goliath that is the library of Alexandria or the
national museum. I lovedthe museum (for once the American foreign
service made a good decision and sold their beautiful consulate to the
Egyptians for half price so that a museum could be installed there.).
It was cool to see a modern museum with preserved artifacts compared
to the playground/war zone at the Egypt museum. The library was
beautiful! I had seen and heard about it from a documentary (thanks
Katja!) but it was even more impressive and gorgeous in person. It is
huge and just like a library should be. I'm glad that they did not try
to physically recreate the old library but they definitely recreated
what I imagine the spirit of the old museum must have been like.

When it comes to cameras I am the most unlucky person. It seems that
everytime I go on the most special part of an already special trip, my
camera dies. It happened last year at the homestay and DMZ in Korea
and this year in Alexandria. Luckily I got the pictures I wanted most
and some of us may come back for a day trip later in the trip. As it
turns out not having the camera was not at all a bad thing, most
places we couldn't take pictures and I enjoyed looking at the city
with my eyes and not through a lens. The architecture is beautiful,
the coast is breathtaking, the Mediterranean is.....salty. We sat on
the coast and looked down the shoreline and it as perfect, now if only
I had a functioning camera.

We went to a folk dancing show at 10 30 and it was good to finally sit
down but it was almost too good as some of us began to fall asleep. It
reminded me of the nutcracker with all of it's different dance numbers
except here there was no continuous story. It was hard to stay awake
through it but I'm glad I made myself because it was the perfect end
to a great night, day, and morning. It's now 2 15 am and in less than
4 hours I will be awake again and in less than 6 hours I'll be
swimming in the Mediterranean and for the first time in two weeks
breathing clean air, and making the most of my 20/20 vision before it
is rendered useless again by the smog of Cairo.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The mogamma, Egyptian ministry of just about everything

Old Cairo street vendor


This week

This week has been much more relaxed than last week in one sense but
also more stressful than last week. We haven't had a planned outing
since last week but we have a lot more work and studying to do for our
class. We have an Egyptology test today which will hopefully go as
well as the last test but I'm not sure. We also have to learn, study,
and memorize almost 300 words of vocabulary which should at least
double my vocabulary but alot of it is impractical. I like our morning
class because it is practical Arabic, we do alot of speaking and role
playing. Our afternoon class has been informational but much less
practical because we are learning about history. It's much harder to
learn history when we don't understand the language so we got the
vocabulary list but we haven't been learning them in class.

Tuesday night a few friends, Egyptians and Americans both, and myself
hired a boat (like the ones that go into the speicherstadt) and went
on a ride down the Nile for two hours. The boat had music so we pushed
the middle table off to the side and then used the middle as a
dancefloor. It was a great night and Cairo is even more beautiful at
night, it doesn't have the lights of new York or the skyline of
hamburg but the thing about night time in Cairo is that you can't see
the trash which is everywhere and especially in the Nile.

Tommorow morning we leave for Alexandria where we are being given our
first practical Arabic test, ordering completely in Arabic exactly
what we want on the menu at each plae we eat. So far we have ordered
lots of things at small restaurants, street vendors, and bakeries but
they understand hand signals such as pointing to what we want. I don't
think it will be a problem and if it is I will just go hungry I guess.
I'm excited for Alexandria for a couple of reasons but mostly because
I'm ready to go swimming and it's a huge plus that it's in the
medditeranean. We have a full schedule in Alexandria apparently bit
we have been told that it's all a surprise. Mina, our Egyptian
"chaperone" is planning the trip because it's his some city and I have
complete faith that he will male the trip fantastic. We get back
Sunday night and will have a double class at ILI on Monday because our
teacher was sick this past Monday. I like their policy of making up
classes when teachers are absent because I feel like we are getting
what we paid for (or had paid for us).

Last night we went to a cafe right at the end of the Germany-Spain
soccer game just in time for the Spanish goal which put a damper on an
otherwise good night of studying, talking, and just hanging out. I'm
proud of Germany, what other team can say they were in a position to
be in the top 3 at the world cup for 3 straight tournaments. Germany
wasn't expected to be this good and it's too bad that they were the
"favorite" last night. Spain is far and away the best team inthe
tournament, Germany has just outplayed everyone so far but that streak
was doomed to end at some point. Spain looked good last night and it
should be a great game with the Netherlands but I think that the
Netherlands will take the title and as some of you may remember they
were always one of my favorite teams. I have never been a fan of Spain
except maybe cassillas. Hopefully I'll be able to watch all or some
of the final but I'm not sure how realistic that is if we are in
Alexandria or on our way back. I guess we will wait and see...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The heat

So everyone I have talked to back home says that I haven't mentioned
the heat here yet so I'll do it now. IT'S HOT! It's been over 100
degrees farenheit everyday I have been here. At night it gets cooler
and the people actually go out into the streets. Georges was telling
us that because of this time is counted in nights rather than days.
Anyway it's extremely hot here but usually I avoid it by waking up at
7, going to class at 8 30, coming back home at 11 30, falling asleep
at 12 and then waking up at 4 58 in time for class at 5. This 4 hour
and 58 minute nap runs right through the hottest part of the day so
we don't feel the extreme heat unless we have an afternoon activity.
There have been a few days where we have gone out into the heat at
noon and it has not been good. I don't suggest taking naps away from
15 young adults so that they forced march through a museum in
blistering 115 degree AND humid heat. Fifteen whiny college students
is not something you see every day in the US but it goes to show what
the heat does to us here. I have gotten some sone but have avoided
being burned at all which I'm extremely proud of especially since I
haven't used sunscreen. My luck can't last though and I know that but
I'll leave it at that because I have my 8 30 morning class now.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Definitely progress!

I love the place where we are staying. Each day new groups arrive and
the school becomes more and more international. The school, college
de la salle, is a highschool where they teach in Arabic and French and
students can do the bac francais if they want. I spoke with the
headmaster and a few of the other guests in French and I really feel
confident with my French in settings like this where it is most likely
the second best language for me to use after Arabic which I am much
much much less comprehendable in. The conversations are simple but
entertaining. Other than the language the sheer size of the campus is
amazing, it reminds me alot of the school where I spent half a year in
Germany. The students are currently out for the summer but the
teachers and staff still occasionally wander around. Because nobody
walks around patrolling the grounds we have near infinite freedom to
explore the grounds. We have found several decks and verandas as well
as a few rooftop perches from which there is a beautifull but smoggy
view. They are great for conversations that run into the early hours
of the morning which has become almost a nightly activity for me. The
one downer is the curfew. The curfew is not when we have to be in bed,
only inside the gates of the school but it's a downer to come back
from a club, late walk, or sooq to an angry Rayzaa, the doorman who
wakes up droopy eyed and yelling while pointing at his watch. He calms
down as soon as you flash a twenty pound bill but it's still too bad
that his rules do not coincide with the "rules" of Cairo. It's like
asking New York city to sleep, it just won't happen. The money is
called bakhshiish which means tip or bribe apparently this makes me
feel terrible but also very Egyptian.

The other night we got back before curfew and he was not mad which was
a good thing because we already paid bakhshiish to a ghetto tourguide.
It was a very Cairo thing to do and was completely worth it but
totally a scam. The man introduced himself and walked with us making
conversation with nolan who was with Kayla, Sara, Jamie, and myself.
It was only a conversation between the two of them until he yelled to
us all "turn here!" we should have kept walking but Nolan convinced us
to go. We ended up walking for an hour in the back streets of old
Cairo which was beautiful but it became so touristy as he would stop
and talk about different structures. It was too rehearsed to be a
random friendly Egyptian. The tour was great and Nolan got away with
paying fifteen pounds but looking back it seems like everyone in the
backstreet must have been laughing at us thinking "another group of
dumb tourists" which is totally embarassing We were never in danger
and never thought that there was anything dangerous because we were
all in a group and there is no such thing as violent crime in Egypt.
Which sounds too good to be true but is more or less accurate.

After the crazy tour we went to another sooq which was much more
touristy but also much more pushy. On the way back we hailed a cab and
said "daher" which is the neighborhood where we stay the driver said
okay but proceeded to take us to tahrir and then asked where we wanted
to go in tahrir Jamie, a tiny little girl but also the most fluent in
Arabic began yelling at the driver and explainig to him that we said
"daher" and not tahrir the driver stopped in the middle of an
intersection as cars zoomed passed us and we were all afraid he would
make us get out in the middle of the street. Luckily he didn't and
took us to daher after some more praise to Allah. We paid him a little
extra because of the confusion which we felt bad about but we agreed
it was better to avoid conflict by paying extra than to figt over a
pond or two.

I also had my first trip to the Mogamma which is where Egyptians go
for everything from visas to passports to taxes to tickets to child
services. It is a dirty, old, loud, smelly building which reminds me
constantly of an overflowing hospital except patients are replaced
with regular people and doctors are replaced with policemen. I went
with Kayla and it was our first experience with a cab on our own. She
speaks more Arabic than I so she did the talking and I was proud of
how well she handelled everything. We ate at what is now our favorite
restaurant and had kooshry (again). The kooshry is amazing and
amazingly cheap as well. In the afternoon we had class and then I met
up with my sister. Nolan and Josh tagged along to see zamalek which is
one of the nicest neighborhoods in Cairo. It is filled with embassies
and foreigners which was too bad but also the main reason that the
neighborhood was so beautiful. I was happy that I saw alex but I was
mire happy that I had given the cab driver proper comprehensible
directions in Arabic on what was the 7 day anniverary of our first
full day in Egypt. Alex met us and as we stepped out of he cab she
asked how much we paid and when we said 12 pounds she yelled at the
driver and called him a thief which to us was unnecessary but she said
it wasn't him or us, just the principle that they think they can rip
off young tourists. We saw her apartment which was amazing and has a
great view and then went to mee Lev for dinner which was shortlived by
fun. Now I know where Alex lives and studies which is a good thing for
future reference in Cairo.

And I feel like I can brag a bit more here and say that I got a 27/50
on my first Arabic test in georges class and he said that he was very
happy for any first year Arabic student who got between 12-18. I'm
glad I surpassed expectations by almost ten points and got more than
fifty percent! The objective of the test was to read the
transliteration of a qur'anic verse and write it in the Arabic
alphabet with proper connection of letters.


The past few days have been ridiculous. We are finally discovering how
to move around and have become much more confident with everything
from hailing a cab, ordering food, talking to people on trains, and
haggling prices at markets. It helps that we have befriended jamie who
lived here for half a year in the fall. She knows everything about
Egypt and Cairo and has no reservations about speaking with the people
here unless it is culturally inappropriate (more on that later). On
Thursday yalda Jamie Sara Ayman and I went to the Cairo jazz club
where there was life music and also by chance a relatively famous
movie star. We didn't stay long but this club was much better than the
disco the night before where the Egyptians would dance in front of the
mirror to see their hips move. In Egypt women rarely dance but it
seems that the men more than make up for it by dancin in front of
mirrors. Ayman loved kaylas scarf and would tie it around his waist
and shake his hips like a belly dancer. The disco was empty compared
to the jazz club because we made fools of ourselves as the only ones
on the disco dance floor but barely fit into the club. More
impressive than the club or disco was the mosque or mezget as it's
called here. It's the oldest one in cairo and was more expansive than
even the largest churches in the US. The architecture was simple but
beautiful and because of the open roof I was able to get the most
amazing picture of the sunlight as it streamed across the marble
pillars. We picked up the qur'an and georges read several of the
soorahs. I found it hard to focus on the soorahs and the lecture about
ancient historythat followed because thoughts were racing through my
mind. Although the qur'an was the same version for each of us much
like a hymnal in church I was obsessed with it's beauty. Everything
from the decorations on the front, the "backwards" flipping of pages,
the written language and the designs on the borders of each page was
somehow really deep to me. Maybe it was sheer boredom that drove me
to atypical thoughts but they seemed completely rational at the time.
I remember saying to myself "the way this feels right now, I think I
was meant to be Muslim". I don't really want to convert but watching
the people pray, hearing the call to prayer each morning, seeing the
defining "scar" on the foreheads of Muslim men (from resting their
head on the ground during prayer), and witnessing on tv as many
Muslims watch the prayer at Mecca. Ever since this moment at the
mosque ibhave been obsessed with finding a pretty qur'an. Whil I would
be satisfied with one similar to those at the mosque I want it to be
more specaial and therefore even more beautiful. We spent Friday
afternoon with 60 orphan girls aged 3-17 who all live under one roof
with one caretaker, sister Mary. The girls were amazing and had a
great time but i was possibly more happy than they were beause I lost
all shyness around them. I get embarassed easily but I decided that no
matter how embarassed I would get I would still have my own new
clothes and a full meal every day and some of these girls would not.
My embarassment was their enjoyment which was all I could ask for. I
learned so many new words, games, and even songs while with them as
they grabbed at us hoping we wouldn't let go or leave. The girls were
obsessed with all of our cameras and took pictures of us when what we
really wanted were pictures of them. The girls made us promise to come
back and as we walked out of the door below their third story
apartment they all ran to a window to wave godbye and we all knew at
that point that we would be back.

I know I said I would continue the Jamie story later bu I'm too tired
now and I still have a whole day and a half that I would have to write
about. Instead I will end here take this time to rest and sleep in and
then write more tommorow. But for now Ill sit here as it hits me over
and over again that I'm not only in Cairo but Egypt, Africa, the
middle east, the second largest city in the world, and a place that I
become increasingly more attached to each day.