23 December 2010

In which we write a Christmas letter

Dear Friends (Meegan says this aloud, with a lisp.  “Please put a ‘z’ on the end of that,” says Emily.  “No,” Sarah says, unamused.  “How about f-r-e-n-z?”  Emily begs…):

While Emily’s packing to take the train to Greece, we thought it would be a good time to sit down and write you a Christmas letter from Istanbul.  Starting, however, is harder than we thought it would be; we are three people, see, with three different brains, and distinctly different personalities.  Sarah, a Bryn Mawr linguistics major from Colorado Springs who spent the semester in Cairo, is the museum-pusher.  She and Meegan, also a Mawrtyr who spent the semester in Granada (not the Caribbean island spelled with an “e”!), Spain, had planned to meet for two weeks of adventure before going home.  Emily, from the University of Minnesota, was in Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya for four months, has made her way north to Turkey and will continue on as she heads to Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Austria and the Czech Republic before flying back to Minneapolis.  We met in a four-bed room in the Stray Cat Hostel four days ago in Istanbul, instantly “clicked”, and have been exploring this city of two million people and having a great time.

Highlights on the sites front have included the absolutely stunning Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Ottoman Palaces and Harem, also stunning and which contained supposed holy relics including Moses’ rod, John the Baptist’s forearm, hand and skull, Muhammad’s beard, Joseph’s turban and Abraham’s saucepan.  We did some shopping at the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar and the bazaar that locals actually use and which is much more exciting, and then headed to Galata Tower, from which we had some amazing views of the city.  The enormous Underground Cistern, built somewhat like a giant, wet, underground Roman temple and sort of with that atmosphere, too, was fun because we (read: Sarah) got to try and identify the different kinds of columns represented.  As it turns out, Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic styles all made an appearance.  Our favorite museums thus far include the Turkish Train museum at the train station, the Istanbul Modern and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.

We have also been to Taksim Square near our hostel and up and down the very European-looking thoroughfare that is Istiklal, then carried on over the Galata Bridge – which is lined with fishermen who somehow manage to catch fish within their own square meter of space without getting their lines tangled up with any of their neighbors’ – and to the nearby fish market.  We also made our way to many parks, in which Sarah and Emily relieved their green-starved eyes, and into the so-called New Mosque, which looked very similar in style to the Blue Mosque but was more frequently used as an actual prayer space by locals.  While entering the latter, we witnessed a group of older women outright prevent a pair of younger women (who we think were Turkish) from entering the mosque in their short skirts (bad taste, in our opinion, no matter where you are in the world) and without head coverings while the men supposedly in charge of ensuring proper dress in the tourist population looked on and seemed not to care – we were struck by the scene and were interested in the fact that it was not men but women who were policing female modesty in the mosque.

Our range of other experiences has included a lot of walking, eating and bathing Turkish-style.  There are a lot of hills in Istanbul, and though we’ve figured out the wonderful tram system pretty well, in order to really see a city it’s good to walk, especially if you’re a penny-skimping student like we are.  So we’ve been a little sore, and always are completely exhausted by around 7 pm – we’re a bit tired as we write this, actually.  The other day, we opted for a Turkish bath (called a hammam) experience in the evening after a long day of walking and were incredibly pleased with the results.  The bath was incredibly inexpensive and included spending an hour in a steamy marble room, in which we bathed ourselves with warm water (and yes, engaged in a few water fights) and then got scrubbed, massaged and soaped down ‘til we were literally squeaky-clean by a lovely woman who hummed Turkish tunes under her breath.  It was one of the most relaxing experiences that we (collectively) have ever had – except when Meegan erupted in uncontrollable giggles upon having to undergo massage where she is most ticklish.  As for our culinary experiences, we’ve eaten just about every kind of cheap street food we’ve seen: roasted chestnuts, fresh fish sandwiches (with quite a bit too much raw onion), bagel-like breads, lasagna-like pizza, pizza-like sandwiches, rice with chickpeas, the best pomegranate ever grown, sweet tea, Turkish delight and baklava, dried fruits and nuts from the bazaars, and kebabs galore…  It has all been delicious, and none of us has gotten even the slightest bit sick, which is a plus.  Unfortunately, we seem to do quite a bit worse when it comes to trying to prepare our own food in our hostel: we’ve discovered that powdered soups made with not-quite boiling water are not really a great idea (our “tomato soup” yesterday turned out to be a neon-pink color), and most of our dinners have consisted of bread and cheese with unhealthy amounts of sweetened yogurt and cheap ice cream from the small grocery store across the street.

Our next adventures take us in vastly different directions (Emily to Eastern Europe; Sarah and Meegan to Jordan and Israel) but we’re thrilled to have happened to end up in the same place for such fun adventures.  We’re all in the process of transitioning from “Study Abroad” mode to “home,” and Istanbul has been a great place for that.  We hope that wherever you are on this Christmas Eve (eve), that it’s a pleasant one and that you’re having adventures (small or large!) of your own.

Much love and best wishes,
Emily, Meegan, and Sarah

20 December 2010

In which I leave Africa and there is a small reunion

Although I have been dispicably inadequate in my blog posting, I thought I ought to take a moment to let you know how life across the ocean is going.  The semester at AUC had its final classes last Thursday, and on Sunday, I left Cairo for Istanbul, where I met my friend Meegan (from Bryn Mawr).  We had been planning this adventure (or variations on the itenerary) since last spring, so I'm very impressed that the whole two days we have experienced thus far have worked out so well.  We'll be here for the next week, playing our touring by ear, before we head to Jordan after Christmas.

Briefly, the end of my time in Cairo was busy, filled with finished classes up, visiting the bazaar to get some shopping done, and saying goodbye to the people I felt I had met just a few weeks before.  One of the great things about the hostel where we're staying in Istanbul is that there's very good wi-fi, and people have a tendency to hang out in the common room on the computer, which means that you can expect some actual updates for a while - maybe I'll even get through some of the backlogged stories I have to share with you about the past two months.

As for Istanbul, I arrived in the afternoon, and took a bus to Taksim Square, where I wandered about in the rain for a little while, before dropping off my bag at the hostel where we had decided to stay.  Thanks to Facebook's NewsFeed feature, I happened to run across a high school friend's blog sometime in November, and leanred that she was studying in Istanbul (see link here for some great observations about life in Istanbul), and it worked out that we were able to meet up for dinner.  She took me to a great local place where I had lentil soup and lamb.  By the time I got back to the hostel, Meegan had arrived, and we were able to do a little planning for the beginning of our time here, and then got to sleep for a very decent length of time.

Today (Monday) we went to Topakı Palace, which was built and improved by various sultans over the course of about five hundred years (yes, you're getting the very condensed explaination), and which currently houses several different exhibits (the highlights of which include Moses' Rod, the Prophet's Beard, Abraham's Saucepan, and John the Baptist's Arm and Skull) in various parts of the palace.  The architecture, internal decorations, and grounds are all fantastic in and of themselves, though I was struck at the difference between this and the temples and other places of opulence I have visited in Egypt.  There is no way that anything so ornate would have survived so long in Cairo.  We also saw the underground Cistern, built by Justinian (well, by order of Justinian) in 532, and repaired and opened to the public in 1987.  It is a beautifully lit underground cavern, with all sorts of columns, which I enjoyed trying to identify as Ionic, Doric or Corinthian.  Fun fact: there are actually all three styles represented.  I have no idea why this is.  Bonus points to anyone who finds out.  We'll continue the tourist adventures tomorrow - I'll try to keep you updated on what we get to see, and where we're going when.

**brief awkward sappy note, which you should feel free to skip**

Just a note, in light of recent events in Colorado Springs, and the various anniversaries which have passed or are fast approaching.  I am working hard to not be fatalistic, or too glib about these deaths.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I'm greatful that I am able to visit all of these exciting places, spend time with people who are important to me, and see so many different cultures.  I feel a little bit uncomfortable posting this paragraph, but I feel as though I need to say something.  So in memory of those we've lost (a list growing far too quickly for my junior year of college) I'm here to live.  I still don't regret choosing to spend Christmas away from my family, but I do look forward to seeing them again in January.  Please, find someone important to you and hold them close for a moment during the next couple of weeks, when family and friends are particularly in our thoughts.

11 October 2010

In which some people care too much

*warning*  This post contains a surfeit of parenthetical phrases and statements, for which I apologize.

I often find myself having to remember that in addition to living in Cairo, jetting off to Lebanon (!!posts coming soon!!), and speaking Arabic to people in the street, I happen to be attending school.  Today was not one of those days.

You may remember that among the courses I'm taking is a graduate-level Introduction to Middle Eastern Studies (if not, you can read about it here).  Today we arrived at Orientalism, a school of thought concerning the relationship between the West and the Orient (as it was called at the time).  Among the articles we read today was Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations? which is widely considered to be one of the most referenced works within the doctrine.  (If you're interested in the actual text, let me know, and I can send it to you.)  Huntington's basic arguments is that civilizations (he puts forth seven/eight) rather than nation-states will be responsible for conflicts in the future.  The most problematic part of his argument has to do with the way he divides people, and assertion that all Orthodox people, for example, are essentially the same, will fight for the same things, and will band together against the same peoples.

Over the course of our discussion, the question of identity came up.  Can you define yourself without creating problematic categories?  Do we define ourselves based solely on what we have been raised to know?  What is the importance of identity anyway?  Our professor mentioned research that shows that fifty years ago, if you had asked how people living in Cairo defined themselves in a few nouns/adjectives (there is no lexical distinction between the two in Arabic, the difference is only gleaned from context), the first word likely to come up was Egyptian or Arab.  Ask the same question today, and the answer is more likely to start with Muslim or Christian.  And so, I began to think.  How would I define myself?  What three words or phrases would I choose?  So I put the question to you, friends, relatives, lurkers, how do you define yourself?  Don't think about it too hard, and don't sign your name if you don't want to, but thinking about what you feel defines you can give an interesting perspective on how you see the world, and how you interact with it.  At least, that's my view.

When there are at least three responses up, I'll post my answer.  To be honest, I still don't know what it will be.  Coming in the next week will be a series of posts about my (almost) week in Lebanon.  I'm thinking to do a general narrative of places, plus supplements about the people and the food.  What do you think?  After all, I write for you...

25 September 2010

In which I missed the cake

This week is Bryn Mawr College's 125th Birthday.  And I am abroad.  This seems like poor planning.  I blame M Carey Thomas, and her sense of the traditional school year.  Too bad college couldn't have started in February, right?

Anyway, there are various events happening on campus all year, including the Heritage and Hope Conference this weekend, and a cake celebration on Merion Green yesterday.  It was well attended, though I would like to know whether the confectionary recreation of Thomas Great Hall was actually edible, or just impressive.  Photos, video, and a short article about the event can be found here.

The last piece of Bryn Mawr news is a recent interview with President McAuliffe posted on a New York Times blog called "The Choice" about the college application and decision process.  The piece, and the comments, raise good questions about the goals we should embody.  I agree that international perspectives and outreach are vital to the future of the College, and the continuing value of our educations.  I also believe that an elite women's college ought to reach out within our own region to bring opportunities to those who might not have them.

One of the things about being in Cairo is that I have had to return to defending my choice of a women's institution, something I (mostly) haven't had to to since my senior year of high school.  I think the value of an education at Bryn Mawr is immeasurably high, but thanks to pieces like these, I can try and explain to my peers just what it is that I see within the castles there.

Studying in Cairo is exactly what I want to be doing right now, but can you blame me for missing Bryn Mawr, at least a little bit?

24 September 2010

In which we wave to Turkey and Crete

First of all, I apologize for being so stingy in my posts. I'll refrain from harping on my promise to be inconsistent, and simply state that I have been busy.  Doing my homework.  My grandfather should be proud.  Highlights from the past two weeks include some lovely food (Lebanese and Indian were the best in Cairo), an interesting article from Talal Asad on law and civilization, an evening of Mad Men and dancing, a debate (in Arabic) about Egyptian presidential politics, and my first Arabic quiz.  On that last item, thank you Middlebury, for keeping my test-taking skills up to par this summer.

Anyway, to return to the title, and therefore meat, of this post, at the end of Ramadan (yes, it was two weeks ago) a few friends and I went to Alexandria for the weekend.  We took a very pleasant two-and-a-half hour train ride down to the coastal city, known as one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world.

At the end of Ramadan, there is a huge celebration called Eid Al-Futur.  It's the conclusion to a month of fasting and penitence in the Muslim faith, and the party is three days long to make up for lost time.  Lots of people go out of town, or out of the country, so Alexandria was a very popular place to be.  We were able to rent a beautifully furnished apartment one block from the Mediterranean Sea (at a very reasonable rate), complete with kitchen.

 On the first day, we decided to cook our own dinner, and after several adventures to find a grocery store, we put together the ingredients for chicken curry with rice, chocolate cake, and omelets for breakfast the next morning.  The grocery ordeal took several hours, and after cooking and eating, we had intended to go out onto the Corniche (the boardwalk along the sea) but ended up conversing until early morning.

On Saturday, we were able to meet up with some friends of my family's from Middlebury, in Alexandria for the fall on a Fulbright.  They lived about half an hour away by tram, in another beautiful apartment.  Amy and Larry have since come to Cairo, and I was able to see them again.  Hopefully we'll meet again; it's really nice to know other ex-pats.  And just to prove I actually went along with my camera, here are the three Bryn Mawr girls on their balcony, which looks out on the large garden which accompanies the home of an international political exile (I wish I knew more of the story, but he's apparently quite the mystery).

Amy and Larry fed us brunch, including some Ramadan treats homemade by a friend of theirs, and lent us some fantastic walking tour maps, which we put to good use that afternoon.  The only problem with visiting Alexandria during Eid is that everything is closed.  Actually, this only really applies to the museums and other tourist attractions, but we were able to walk a lot, which was great fun, even though not having a man with us led to more attention than we probably wanted.

Our first stop was the new Library of Alexandria.  The ancient version was destroyed long ago, but a recently constructed complex (unfortunately closed) holds office, books, art exhibits, and several thousand more books.  And, of course, there is a bust of Alexander the Great on the plaza.  He does, after all, share a name with the city.

Behind him, you can see the stage for a concert being set up.  We aren't sure what kind of concert it was, but a crowd was already gathering when we were there.  The actual library building is fantastically modern, with a shallow pool in the front, and walls carved all around with letters from every known alphabet.

Our next stop was the Roman Amphitheater, which was fun to walk around, though not well signed, so I lack almost any explanation for what it actually was.  It appeared to be an active excavation site, so only part of it was open to the public.  I was briefly reminded of exploring old castles with my siblings in Scotland, but these ruins were much sandier, much sunnier, and much drier.

We decided to give up on tourist attractions for the rest of the day, and instead took a self-guided walking tour of the Turkish Quarter, which up on the northwest side of the Corniche.  It is one of the oldest parts of the city, and today, one of the poorest.  It was amazing to see the difference between the Corniche, where you can walk down to beach, or stop in a cafe, or stay in a swanky hotel, and one block inland, where the streets are narrow, and crowded with people, and children ride flatbed donkey carts, and fish and fruit vendors set up in every intersection.

We were waved at and called to by men of all ages, but I'm getting better at reading when situations are dangerous and when they're merely unwanted.  We saw some beautiful mosque exteriors, and felt as though we had finally made it out of the sheltered neighborhoods we frequent in Cairo.

Saturday evening held dinner at a local seafood restaurant, because you can't go to Alexandria and not eat fresh-caught fish.  I had delicious shrimp, and tasted some of the best calamari I've ever had.  We took a cab to the restaurant, only about six kilometers down the Corniche, from our apartment, but it took an hour and a half, because of all the traffic on the road.  Have I mentioned that Egyptian traffic is a nightmare?  Anyway, we decided to walk back along the sea, and stopped a few times in various cafes along the way.  This is a very Egyptian tradition, for everyone, including small children.  As we were making our way home, around three in the morning, I was amazed to see three-year-olds with at least six times as much energy as I had.  I strongly suspect serious naps and sugar infusions are to blame.

Sunday morning we rose and after some pictures and a brief neighborhood walk, we headed to Misr Station to catch the train back to Cairo.  The end of any vacation, however brief, and however close to the beginning of school, is always somewhat depressing, but really, can you blame us for being sad to leave this?

Real classes began on Monday, and they are the reason it has taken me so long to update.  I'm looking forward to going back to Alex at some point, but our next break (two weeks from now) needs planning first.  When I know my plans, I'll share them.  I know travel stories are the most fun, but what else would you like to hear about?  I've been here for a month (as of tomorrow!) and so I think I'm forgetting the little things I've had to adjust to.  Please let me know what topics you'd like me to discuss, or if you have any questions I can try and answer.  Logistical as well as philosophical themes are encouraged.

07 September 2010

In which I remember why I have come to Egypt

As much fun as I've had wandering about Cairo and napping in air-conditioned rooms, the reason I'm here is to, well, study abroad.  In light of that, I am taking five classes at the American University in Cairo, on various topics only vaguely related to my major of Linguistics.  Luckily I have an understanding adviser and a flexible course schedule for the rest of my tenure at Bryn Mawr, so I was free to choose whatever courses I wanted for this semester, within reason, that is.

The expected classes would be some Arabic and some Linguistics, and I'm happy to report that both of those make appearances.  I think the easiest thing to do is give a basic rundown of each course (I've had one meeting of each one, with the exception of Arabic, which meets four days each week, and thus has met twice).  And so, without further ado, I give you, as they say, the dirt:

Society and State in the Middle East, 1906-Present is a history course looking to be discussion-based in a class of thirty students.  The teacher is hugely enthusiastic, and seems interested in pushing us.  We will have several articles to prepare for each session, and throughout the semester we will be working on the culminating project - an annotated bibliography of the sources we explore.  There will be some other assignments, but no major essays, so the preparation and discussion in this class will be the brunt of the work.  The professor is a recent (2007) graduate of an NYU doctoral program, where she specialized in Palestine, so we'll get to concentrate on that region - particularly timely, given the peace talks slated for the end of next week.  I'm excited about the other topics we're discussing as well, and though the majority of students are American, there are enough local/international students to bring other thoughts to the table.

I was expecting Arabic in the News Media to be a linguistic analysis of journalistic jargon, even though it is listed in the Arabic Language department.  As it turns out, I think we'll mostly be reading articles and listening to broadcasts and discussing out understanding of them, in Arabic.  This is great, because I am excited to see Arabic in a productive, real form, instead of in Al-Kitaab, everyone's favorite language instruction manual.  The class is small, and has only one native speaker (though formal Arabic is not his first language), so we should get a lot of practice and individual attention.  I find slight amusement in that the professor has previously taught at the Middlebury Summer School (though not this past year) and another girl who I met this summer (from Norway, studying at St. Andrews in Scotland) and I are both in the class.

Intermediate Arabic 202 is exactly what it sounds like, and thus far, about as interesting.  I don't know exactly how the course will be structured, though we seem to do a lot of worksheets in class.  The lack of knowledge likely stems from the fact that the teacher was late (45 minutes late) to our first class.  This is because we are on a special schedule for Ramadan, so all the classes are moved up incrementally, and then pushed back, after a certain time, so as not to conflict with iftar, the meal which breaks the daily muslim fast.  Anyway, the professor has been flustered about that, and I think after we come back from break this weekend, she'll have found her footing, and we'll get going.

The Linguistics class that was my justification for studying here, Principles and Practices of Teaching English is the only class where I am the lone American, and the lone non-degree student.  The course has a reputation of being easy, and it's a simple way for students to fill elective requirements, so I think that's why most of the other students are there.  The other component to the class is community based teaching, so I will teach staff (janitors, security guards, library workers) for at least eight hours in the coming semester.  It looks like the class will be more about the theories of language acquisition from an educational, rather than linguistic perspective, but hopefully I'll have plenty of opportunities to find inspiration for my thesis.

My last class was going to be several things, some of which I didn't have the proper pre-requisites for, some of which didn't fit, and some of which were canceled, but I have settled on a masters-level class called A Critical Introduction to Middle Eastern Studies, and it's required for all entry-level MA students in the Middle Eastern Studies department.  This is nice, because it means that almost all of the MA students are as new to AUC as I am, and we're starting with very little assumed previous knowledge.  It will be a reading/writing intensive course, with a major research paper at the end, but will complement my history class well, and give me another set of perspectives on world events I've only followed with recreational intentions.  Academia always lends a new view, and the small class should be a comfortable place to challenge what I think I know, which, really, is very little.

Overall, I think the semester is going to be very engaging, and somewhat challenging, and certainly different from anything I could find at Bryn Mawr.  I'm grateful that my Middlebury experience this summer allowed me to take two Arabic language classes, and we'll see how much of my historical writing skills I've retained from the likes of Ms. Lindau and Mr. Kennington's high school lessons.

Just a quick rundown of the logistics, two classes meet Sundays and Wednesdays, one meets Mondays and Thursdays, the graduate class meets only on Mondays (for two and a half hours), and Arabic meets Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday.  The weekends are Friday and Saturday, and Tuesdays are usually used for field trips, etc. which I don't have.  Therefore, Tuesdays will be my reading days, I think.

I apologize for the amount of text without pictures, but I didn't record all of my classrooms, and besides, as it turns out, classrooms look pretty much the same in every expensive institution of higher education built in the last few years.

06 September 2010

In which without meaning to, we seem to have gotten nowhere

First of all, I apologize for the post-drought recently, but I will remind you that I never promised to be consistent, or prolific.  Second, thank you for the birthday wishes - I spent a lovely day relaxing, going to the local Episcopal Church (a little conservative for my tastes, but we'll see how walking distance competes with potentially more stomachable ideology at another congregation in Maadi), getting lost, and eating Chinese food.  That last part wasn't what we originally intended, but on Fridays, basically everything local is closed down, especially during Ramadan.

Anyway, now on to the reason I have such a huge group of readers (seven followers - I'm touched): the thrilling content.

Last week, the Residential Life office organized several trips to keep students occupied in the evenings, and to make up for the very painful process of registration/orientation, which I will relate when I talk about my first impressions of class.  I ended up going on three of these adventures, with varying degrees of satisfaction and success.

On Monday night, I went on a Nile Cruise, which was by far my favorite of the three.  We arrived at the floating restaurant, and we were sent up to the top deck to watch the sun set.

This was ostensibly because Iftar (the meal breaking the Ramadan fast) can not begin until after sundown, but also, I imagine, because the views across the Nile are surprisingly beautiful, given that what you're looking at is a skyline dominated by billboards and chunky buildings, some of which are in serious disrepair, and a sun dyed red because of the massive pollution over the city.

These pictures doesn't do the beauty or the color justice, but they give you a sense of what we were seeing.  Anyway, I sat with another Bryn Mawr girl, her roommate, and several other students from Zamalek.  Our group was by far the largest, but there were also several families who joined us downstairs for dinner and another set of people who appeared to just be along for the ride on the top deck.

We had chicken (a quarter chicken each - huge!), cinnamon-laced rice, kuba (a sausage), and various condiments.  We also had some pretty delicious desserts, all of which were soaked in syrup or honey, just to make them extra-sugary.

On Tuesday, we went 'horseback riding near the Pyramids' which was a fairly accurate description, in all the disappointing senses.  Now, to say that the trip was a total failure would be quite an exaggeration, but it was far less exciting than I hoped it would be.  We were several kilometers from the pyramids, and we were loaded on horses, dragged by small children through a village and up a very steep, very sandy hill, and given a few minutes to look at three pyramids in the distance, lit by colored lights, and generally impressive against the night sky.  It was so dark, though, that no pictures were salvageable, but I suppose the upshot of this trip is that I've learned two things.  First, the pyramids are a fifteen minute cab ride from my room, and second, those things which are overly touristy are best done in small groups.

On Wednesday, because I hadn't been out enough in the last few days, we went to what was advertised as a 'Bedouin Night with Sohour' which I think most people took to mean 'hanging out with some Bedouins who do a vaguely touristy thing on a regular basis and eating some new food late at night' but actually meant 'listen to late ninties pop and techno music while eating rice and chicken, then watch people dressed in carnival-like costumes frolic.'

Of course, there were other elements to the show, including a 'dancing horse' which was the most scared/abused looking animal I have ever seen, and some traditional dancers on stilts, and a whole slew of Sufi dancers often called dervishes, all of whom were moving too quickly to get reasonable pictures, so I promise to borrow some from other people in the near future to show you.

In the next few days, I have classes, and then Eid break from the ninth through the twelfth of September.  It looks like we'll be going to Alexandria, but I promise to let you know where/when I'll be as soon as I know, so that you can worry about me.

I know this has been a long, somewhat vague post, so leave any questions/follow up that you might have in the comments.

29 August 2010

In which we sweat and sail

I spent most of my day on Wednesday looking at things like this.

Or the backs of airplane seats.  So actually getting to Egypt was quite exciting, and not just because it broke the monotony.

After landing in Cairo, getting to the terminal (planes land on the tarmac and buses take passengers to customs/baggage areas), collecting bags (they came in waves), and breezing through customs, we (me and about 35 other AUC students) got in minibuses and headed into the city.  Cairo traffic is as bad as I was warned it would be, but I've learned that if I look out the window and not out the windshield, it isn't as worrying.  In the next few weeks, I'll tell you all about the driving/traffic customs I've experienced, both as passenger and pedestrian.

I was assigned a room in the Zamalek residence about halfway up its 10 story square.  Two wings are assigned to women, two to men.  The window of my room looks out onto the courtyard in the middle of the building, which is a very pleasant view.  My roommate (whose stuff was present, though she was not, when I arrived) is a Journalism major at IU (which my father has forgiven, as the IU Journalism program is fantastic) and will be studying here for a year.  The room is quite large, as you can see, with tile floors and an air conditioner, my new best friend.

Our sheets and towels are provided, and we are required to use the complimentary cleaning service twice a week, for sanitary purposes.  Once we use it, I'll let you know how it goes.

The other first day (night) activities included walking around the neighborhood to get cell phones (I'm using a new SIM card in my old international phone from my trip to Europe four years ago), change money, and make a grocery run.  I think one of the best things to do in a new city is to visit a grocery store.  This one was of the omni-mart variety, so in three floors it had not only food, but kitchenware, dishes, toys, electronics and all sorts of other things.  American imports are more expensive - cereal, Jif peanut butter, Nutella, shampoo - but most things have local equivalents.  We were warned, though, to spring the extra dollar for the fancy peanut butter.  I'm used to boxed milk, which is occasionally available here, but the huge stacks of eggs sitting out are a little disconcerting.  I'm not sure how they manage that, but it must be okay, because I've since seen it in other stores.

These are the faluccas we rode on the Nile
I've now made this post longer than I intended for it to be, but upcoming posts include geography, first impressions of AUC, and stories of the Falucca (small boat) ride two nights ago, and the Nile cruise we're taking tomorrow.  Let me know how I'm doing on the level of detail, and what else you'd like to hear about.

25 August 2010

In which we shall get there some day

If I keep repeating this to myself, perhaps someday I'll get to Africa.  Actually, by the time most people read this, I'm sure I will have made it there.  At the moment, though, I've spent almost twenty-four hours in transit, and I'm still stuck in the country.  On the bright side, I've figured out how to hack (being a relative term) the JFK internet, and I've made serious progress on a book Grandma lent me.  All of this makes it more likely that I'll sleep on the plane, which is also a good plan.

I've had many opportunities to people watch today, and the most interesting moment was when several phones went off at once, with variations on the Muslim call to prayer.  The whole gate area quieted, and I could see men praying under their breath, in their chairs.  Not everyone on my flight appears to be an Egyptian native, but the respect (or curiosity, on the part of some, probably) was very impressive.  I'm sure by the end of my semester, there will be nothing intriguing about a call to prayer.

Of the four Bryn Mawr students on this flight, I think we're finally all here, though Halima didn't get here until about 9:15, and Sana and Akilah arrived around 10:00.  Really, I'm all for that... no one NEEDS ten hours in the JFK airport.

After the BMC girls arrived, we went and found the other twenty or so AUC students on our flight - we've spent a little time bonding, and it sounds like most of us are living in Zamalek, so that should be fun.  Sounds like it's going to be a good group of people, but again, I'll have more to say when we've had some time on the ground.

I apologize, as I clearly haven't gotten much better at interesting blog posts, but hopefully once I get to Egypt I'll have more fun things to say.

Until then,
-some clever sign off.  Suggestions, anyone?

20 August 2010

In which much is gathered

As Wednesday the 25th draws ever closer, the reality of heading to Cairo, Egypt is beginning to set in.  It would be an understatement to say that I'm excited, but there's a certain level of trepidation in my thoughts as well.  Not only am I a little low on information, but I'm trying to commit to keeping a blog.  Please don't expect much from me, though I will try to keep up as much as I can.  The best way to do that, as far as I'm concerned, is going to be if people ask questions or have things to which I can respond.     

I am beginning to actively pack all of my clothes, books, and other travel supplies, given that I'm getting on a plane in less than a week.  There are still several people to see here in the the Springs, and at least a day's worth of errands to run.  So I'll be working on that, and trying to decide exactly how many suitcases to take.  Yes, my preparations are thrilling.  Soon I'll have more interesting things to relate, I hope.

In other news, I'm soliciting book recommendations to fulfill my need to read anything interesting in response to my recent deprivation of English this summer.  Leave any ideas in the comments.