Sunday, December 27, 2009

Update over Christmas Break

Okay, so I know I haven't been the worlds best blogger. I will really try to update more regularly to keep all of you up to date on my life/experiences/views of my life.

Anyways, it is now Christmas break and I am home in beautiful Jupiter, FL for about 5 more weeks for the Holidays. The Christmas Eve service at my church was spectacular, as always and year after year makes me feel genuinely blessed.

I'll be visiting Gainesville to see all my friends before I leave again for Israel on January 30th. Keep you updated as things develop.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turkey Part 2

It was a Halloween party waiting to happen. Anyways we walked around, saw all the fish swimming around the barely full water levels around the cisterns, water dripped on our heads- we finally made it to the back of the cistern and saw the Medusa’s heads- one on its side, one upside down. Scientists claim it was supposed to be like this- placed intentionally there in these positions.
Afterwards, we decided to go to the spice bazaar and indulge in a mini-Thanksgiving feast. As we walked through the spice market, we were overwhelmed with the fragrant tea’s and spices like cinnamon, cumin and black pepper mixed with the scent of the famous aphrodisiac from Istanbul, supposedly once used by the king. Fruit stands, juice sellers, sandwich makers (who walk around with a holding table, fresh bread, cheese and hard boiled eggs), cheese sellers, all letting you taste all the amazing highlights of their booth, and on a larger note, of Turkish cuisine. We sampled fruits and fresh cheese while walking by the lines literally filing out the door of the butchers shops; all the people waiting in line for their lamb. (it was the afternoon before the morning of the sacrifice for Eid Al Adha). There was lots of pushing and prodding through this district…Oh and their were Turks being interviewed about Swine Flu, wearing swine flu masks of course. {There are people all of Turkey, everywhere really, still wearing Swine flu masks. I find it quite humorous.} After we cruised out of the edge of the market where we met this guy working at a café. He recommended this Donor Kebab place so we went to find it- got donors and this yoghurt drink which was kind of chunky and gross. We returned to the café with the guy we met and ordered fresh juice. That was my thanksgiving dinner lol. Slightly sub-standard considered American expectations, but th rest of the amazing day more than made up for it. Besides, our wallets would’ve been hurting had we splurged. We ended up strolling through the side alleys of the market and saw gun shops, which effectively freaked me out, stores selling weird Christmas things, key stores, fountain stores, etc. It was basically like an outdoors, balady Home Depot. We continued along the main road to the Galata bridge, which we crossed but not without taking in an excellent amount of people watching. Vendors everywhere, fisherman stringing their poles, couples walking hand in hand, people bustling home from work and elderly men shuffling across, seemingly just trying to make it to the other side. We walked through the side streets of Galata, we really like doing that by the way, and took photos, observed daily life and admired the absolutely beautiful architecture. We made it up the massive hill to Galata Tower. I thought we were going to have to walk upstairs in this old school castle/tower thingy but much to our surprise it was seriously posh. A jewelry shop at the bottom, men who are paid only to push the elevator buttons, elevators with information videos in them and a gorgeous restaurant and night club when you reach the top, with of course, the viewing area outside. We stayed outside for probably an 1 ½ watching the sun slowly set over Istanbul. From the tower we could see all of Istanbul, both the European and Asian continents- if I didn’t already say it, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. All the minarets, palaces, the Bosphorous…we were blessed with this breathtaking view of the city, of two continents, on Thanksgiving. We waited until the sun set, talking to random people from all over the world, snapping photos and making jokes. We walked around Galata for a bit, indulged in some local sweets like this donut thing quadruple fried and dipped in honey and sugar. We came back over the bridge and saw the restaurants on the bottom of the bridge- super touristy but the fish looked so yummy! We grabbed the tram back because we had to get back to the hostel to catch our bus to Cappadocia. Got packed up and went to the bus station. Normally all bus stations are gross, but I officially hate Turkish bathrooms. It was one of the few things in this beautiful country. It is literally a hole in the floor with a bucket of water to wash away the urine. So basically you are just standing in urine water. So gross.
We boarded the twelve hour bus to Cappadoccia/Kapadokya in Turkish. It was long, difficult and seriously uncomfortable, but well worth it. The bus companies here serve snacks, coffee, tea and water thoughout the entire trip. They actually have an employee on the bus specifically to serve people food. We stopped at all these little towns throughout the trip, randomly picking up people and dropping them off. Oh and on the way to Urgup we had to transfer buses. Men and women who aren’t married aren’t allowed to sit together on Turkish buses. So Maggie and I sat together and Wills sat with this random guy. We finally arrived and it was absolutey freezing. Our hotel, the Dedeli Konak picked us up where we ewer given out toasty little cave room. Literally our hotel was carved out of the cave, very cool. I passed out for an hour before the tour started ad devoured the Turkish breakfast before we had to pile in the van. Turkish breakfasts consist of lots of mezze with toast and Turkish tea and coffee.
Our tour started at 9:30am ad boy was it packed with tons of stuff to do. We started off at a panorama view of this beautiful valley called the Deverent Valley and fantasized the entire time about climbing all these volcanically shaped rocks, called different names all over the region depending on the shape they take. I kept asking the guide when do we have free time to climb?!? He got a bit annoyed. We got back in the van and went down to the lower level or the valley known as Monks Valley where there were all these cool rock formations, shaped by lava 8-10 million years ago. Wills and I decided we had to climb one, so he scooted up this huge rock like a dang monkey. And, of course, I think if he can do it, so can I so I follow him up. It was a beautiful view and tons of fun until I decided to get down because all of the rocks were extremely dusty and crumbly, hence no footholds. There was a group of Eastern Orthodox Christian Armenians who started to pray for me, and my safe descent, treacherous as it was. I slid down halfway, the easy way. Then my new Eastern Orthodox friend decided to step in and help me so I wouldn’t seriously injure myself; which was good because I totally would’ve eaten it. I completely fell into him and made it down with minor scratches and bruises. Everyone started clapping and of course, I was mortified.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving in Turkey Part 1

So after our two hour delay because of the fog hovering over Istanbul. We landed and had our hostel pick us up from the airport. The city is a thousand times cleaner than Cairo, and the aura completely different. Much more relaxed, quiet, even peaceful. This is the low point for the tourist season- but even disregarding the lack of honking, the pateience and genuine hosptiality was so refreshing! The minute we got to our hosetl, we were welcomed by name. We decided to take it easy the first day, since it was already late afternoon, so we walked around Sultanhamet. We ate donor kebabs after strolling through the Bazaar- the oldest Bazaar in the world! There are so many street vendors, selling fresh chestnuts, helping us ring in the Christmas season, and fresh corn coming out of steaming vats of water. Prices aren't bad at all, but I have been spoiled with the cheapness of Cairo and am now officially a price snob. (2 dollars for a soda:?!? In Cairo I pay 40 cents! haha- see what I mean?) We talked to lots of people, all of whom were extremely helpful, and such a huge contrast to the lack of social awareness so prevalent in Cairo. Here, smiling at people is not an invitation for a butt grab, nor is making eye contact a sign of flirtation. Don't get me wrong, I love the vibe of Cairo, the constant bustling, honking, calls to prayer, and the unique interactions I get to experience on a daily basis, but having a break is nice too.

After our stroll through quiet neighborhoods and side street markets we sat at this nice restaurant, smoked a sheesha and had this great apple tea for two hours. We sat with some of the waiters who told us where to go, their favorite places, really cool guys. We went to bed pretty early that night to get in a full day of sightseeing.

Today was Thanksgiving. I was so tickled at the prospect of spending Turkey day in Istanbul, Turkey- once in a lifetime, definitely! Well our makeshift Thanksgiving was quite spectacular. We decided to treat ourselves to the ever over-priced Starbucks, something nonexistent in Cairo. I had a peppermint soy hot chocolate with a shot of espresso- pure heaven. We wanted to see the major sights that day but not without a bite to eat. We strolled along the streets of Istanbul, slowly waking up with our coffee. I found this great pastry shop, wo we indulged in these flaky freshly baked pastries lightly filled with cheese or potatoes and meat with fresh onions. As we devoured our tasty breakfast treats we walked to the Sultanhamet center: the plaza where the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are located. Basically all the tourist sites are generally located in this area, which by the way is quite aesthetically pleasing. Green, crisp lawns centered between the two monuments, a huge fountain and undeniably inspiring architecture.

We first visited the tomb of the guy who built the Blue Mosque. It was very interesting. We obviously removed our shoes to enter the tomb, and entered this building like a chapel- there were all these tombs in huge coffins each covered with one big draped sheet. I remember thinking about the decorations in the building- my Mom would’ve loved it! Gorgeous tiling in different shades of blues and tans, just like our house. We went to the Blue Mosque next and were cordially directed to the visitors entrance, because only Muslims are allowed in the main entrance. The Mosque itself was beautiful with high domed ceilings, stain glass windows and lush green carpets. Men and women were separated for prayers. It was beautiful, but for some spiritual reason I wasn’t, you know, moved. I appreciated the significance, historically and religiously- but I just wasn’t spiritually moved. Anyways, we were fortunate enough to get some amazing photos, we actually took so many pictures this trip, at times it was a bit embarrassing. We met an American family outside of the Mosque and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving ☺ It was pretty darn cute. So we were out in the courtyard next to the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, a vast expanse of greenery and gorgeous Panorama views, and the vultures came. “Are you Australian?”, “do you want to buy a hat” “do you need a map?” Actually, it felt a bit like home, Cairo home, that is.

We entered the courtyard of the Hagia Sophia, an entrance fee of 20 Turkish Lira, but worth every lira. Even with the dome being under construction, little could take away from the brilliance in every corner of this magnificent building. The archways, doors, tiered levels, paintings, mosaics, and even circular nickel shaped tributes to Allah could bring an person to gape at the majesty before them. Once a church, converted to a Mosque, its splendor is truly the epitome of Turkey/Istanbul- the city where the east meets the west. The fusion is evident throughout the city, both culturally and religiously. We took so many pictures; I even got on Wills’ shoulders to get a great shot of the Blue Mosque from this view. (Wills has officially become a huge photo whore. We turned him to the dark side- now obsessed with angles, and doors, and great lighting, it made the trip so much more fun!) There was this little fresco mosaic in the preserved upper level of the church. My first thought was that my Dad would’ve LOVED this. Because the Muslims painted over the Christian paintings, many remained preserved under the paint for hundreds of years. It was Christ along with other saints- but in these Mosaic’s there were the tiniest pieces of painted stone, brilliant golds and blues. The history in this region boggles my mind. So many important peoples, cultures and discoveries were all made here, in this region: Ephesus, Noah’s Ark, and all 7 churches of Revelation, to name a few. Long story short, the Hagia Sophia was amazing, beautiful and well worth its title as a Wonder of the World. Oh and at the end, there’s this place where you put your finger in where a saint supposedly cured an illness- you twist your thumb all the way around and if you feel water, you are supposed to be cured. I couldn’t twist my finger that far. ☹ WE left and walked to this little café right beside it, drank the famous apple tea and discussed our plans for the rest of the day. We took photos, again, shocking, I know. I did a backbend on this wall and all these guys started taking photos. It was awkward. We decided to do the Cisterns next, so we walked over, followed the signs and somehow stupidly missed the entrance and got lost- ended up running into this cool Asian couple who were interested in going to Cairo, so naturally we got all excited and gave them advice on where to go. They pointed us in the direction of the Cisterns and we descended into this dimly lit cavernous area.

More to come...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Faith, In A Place Where It Defines You

I have a friend Mo, who is Egyptian and German but speaks Arabic and is culturally Egyptian, but from Boston. Him and I talk about religion together. He’s a Muslim and I’m well, I’m not sure yet. He, and so many others here are open to sharing things with me about Islam, about their faith, and why they believe what they believe. Islam is I think the religion that is most actively practiced in daily life. The dedication to 5 daily prayers, the attempts to devote so much of your day to what you believe, to your God I find to be incredibly admirable. I don’t believe in Mohammed’s divinity but I find many of the principles of Islam interesting. I have language partner Emey, we meet every week to discuss different topics (1/2 in English and 1/2 in Arabic). She shares her perspective on religion with me, why she believes what she does- and I just find her honesty and openness so refreshing. People here talk about their faith so openly (but only if you are Muslim or Christian) and instead of being an inhibitor of converstaion, is something respected, and actually quite common. Whereas in the states its a topic to stay away from, here even the taxi drivers curiously ask you about your religion. (More to come on this topic)

It’s funny how similar all the three major religions are- even the principles of morality shared by nearly all religions lie along the same lines- all preach principles of love, truth, patience, kindness and grace. The world would be so much simpler if we could just recognize our shared principles and agree to disagree on the details. Unfortunately, so much of the political sphere of religion is shaped by responding to the fanatics (from every religion) who ruin it for the rest of us.

It is ironic that those who consider themselves the most religious ad most devoted are the ones who feel their religiosity some how excludes them from following the simplest of commandments- love your neighbor, treat others the way you would like to be treated(though not officially a religious principle...still, arguably commonly applied in most religious texts).

That is why I think I consider myself to be a kind of universalistic in regards to religion. Humans are so prone to fault- to become absorbed in the hierarchy, the politics, and the power struggles. There are pieces from each religion that I admire, believe and also criticize. I do believe in one God, at least I’ve gotten that much down. I don’t really know where I stand on the details about life after death, messiahs, rules etc. but I believe in acts of kindness, a supreme being, a kind heart and the moral values propagated by the major religions. I figure when I know, I’ll know. But I want to experience and explore every religion before I can have any kind of full understanding of what I do believe, and why.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Answer

I actually have only seen someone get hit by a car. It was the saddest thing I have ever witnessed. As you have probably read in my posts, Egyptian drivers are freaking nuts. Seriously, the worst I've ever seen- including Italy. NUTS! So I was in Alexandria and this 20-something guy was crossing the street- a taxi just literallly took him out. He buckled over and had to get help standing up. Thank god I don't think he was really seriously injured but it was definitely lucky. All the others things on my list have yet to

and now- again my university is talking about shutting down for 10 days because of swine flu. Seriously, I have had the weirdest semester of my life, in a good way.

Post again soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Ignorance That Persists...

If you are wondering how I live here, what I perceive- the answers are varied. I am a Jewish Studies/Arabic/Political Science Student. That is what I study. When I come to university, I expect the same degree of openmindedness. I believe agreeing to disagree is sometimes the best solution- but at least freaking open your closed mind to an idea besides your own.

I would like to quote for you all the view of Jews from the Arab side. I am NOT saying this perception does not exist on the other side, for I know it does. Some of my Israeli friends think Arabs are inferior/have no place in Israel. I am not taking a stance here- for this is not the place, at least not now. But please think about the following statements, taken directly from our Universities newspaper at the American University in Cairo. Educate yourself, see the world how I live it here.

The article attemps to paint a picture of cooperation to some extent, but fails on all accounts. "Although AUC is a community constucted of diverse cultures and people of different backgrounds, the anti-Jewish propoganda of Arab countries often has its influence on students..." Okay...setting up the article. A Business studnet here said "La, wala respect them wala zeft, dol nas zebala." Which translates into No, there is no respect for them, they are a filty people. They go onto say "We{Arabs} have a wrong stereotupe that Jewish people are betrayers and care too much about money." Admitting wrongs is lovely, but this is the best attempt the article gives at expressing how not all Jewish people are awful people.

Quite frankly, this mindset is the most upsetting thing I have encountered. This is why I want to do what I want to do- work, even a little to lessen this crappy stereotype. I have several Jewish friends who attend school with me in Egypt, are equally appalled. However, they choose to not take action, for good reason. Keeping your religious preference quiet (if you're Jewish) is oft times a matter of safety then a point of pride.

So now we continue with the article...(sorry if I'm ranting..) A professor talks about how he holds a class every semester on modern Zionism and Judaism and how the class is always full of kids curious, trying to break the stereoype, etc. This is obviously a good thing- but clearly the minority viewpoint. The professor says "the stereotypes believed often resemble conspiracies of Jews in running American, killing innocent Palestinian children, causing all of the world's sorrows and the list goes on. It is always "the Jews" as though a confederacy of evildoers operates under the Star of David." (pause for reaction...)

Alot of kids here have never even met a Jew, or if they did, they wouldn't know it. The article says, "Jewish students and faculty members are often mistaken for Christians, and because of the current political and cultural tensions in Egypt regarding Jews, most of them are not too keen on correcting others on their religion." Again, note the secrecy factor- a matter of safety more or less.

Okay get ready to be pissed, because I was. So the article goes on about the willingness of students to know the other side. NOW GET A LOAD OF THIS!!! "An example he {the professor} gave was of when he had a conversation with 2 Egyptian students, and one mentioned that Hitler's Mein Kampf was the only autobiography she had read. What ensued was a talk about Egyptains who idolize Hitler for his victimization of six million Jews. At some point, the girl said she wants to meet Jewish people." ARE YOU serious!!??!?! That is their idea of openmindedness? That literally made me sick. I don't care where you come from- idolizing the a sick man who murdered millions of people. not Jews. PEOPLE. is absolutely disgusting.

As I contemplated throwing the paper away, I thought I would share this with all of you. Oh, one more fun thing. The article further notes, "There have been other displays of anti-semitic propoganda on campus. According to an anonymous Jewish student, an Egyptian walked around the university with a pair of jeans with a swastika drawn on it. "Some of my Egyptian friends tried to explain to me that here in Egypt, the swastika is seen as an anti-Israel symbol and do not associate it with the Holocaut," he said. "Yet pleading ignorance wouldn't save me if I wore a shirt with the Prophet depicted on it.""

Which is exactly the point I make. Meh! The Egyptian government, and many other Arab governments, and Arabs in general are allowed to hate a people so fervetly, to wish for its destuction- yet have no seperation of even acknowledgement of the difference between the Zionist political ideology and Judaism the religion.

The thing that really bothers me is that there is zero distinction made between Jews as a whole, Israeli's, Settlers, Zionists, etc. Though some do overlap, not all do. Not all of my Jewish friends fit into 1, or even all of these categories. People are people are people. That is it.

If we all just focused on each other as people, the world would be such an amazing place. Fat chance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

REVEALING of the Quiz Answer at the End of the Week :)


Over Sheesha and Tea the other night- my friends and I were discussing the role of women in Egyptian/Middle Eastern society in relation to the women of the West.

In analytical terms, noting the major influences of cultural differences, it's at least something to
think about-

Women in the states are primarily looked at as sex objects - something to be conquered, sexually at least. We see this in music videos, on television, magazines, and even walking down the street. I know where I live (Jupiter/Palm Beach) I sometimes feel like the mothers with plastic surgery, highlights and high heels bringing their kids to school make me wonder how intrinsative looks have really become in Western society. When did being sexy become something fake? In all honesty, looks matter. I just wish it was a deeper beauty; something not as easily changed as an injection and thousands of dollars of plastic surgery.

And while unfortunate, it is simply untrue that intial judgements are made by looks. It doesn't mean it has to matter in the life decisions you make, but it is not a dismissable factor, at least accroding to those unwritten societial standards. Dress to impress, buisness causal, etc. were all created to give off a physical view of yourself that projects what YOU want to project to the world. So in the mediums most internationally projected (tv, movies, magazines, photos) the rest of the world steroetypes American's by what they see- which is sex icons. Really really pretty women who are willing to be really open, in all standards but Western, American/European girls (generalizing, of course!) are easier than the rest. The point is this: our society is one obsessed with sex. BUT the focus is 100% different. The men, who are raised idolizing this "sexiness" just want what they want.

Women in Egypt are an entirely different story. At least from the male perspective (and usually) the female perspective (excluding the wealtheir/ "Westernized" Egyptians) as well the goal is to obtain the object- the object being the woman. The main difference here is the woman is something to possess. As in a possesion, an object.

That is why it is difficult to break through the barrier here. Women are generally regarded as submissive, obviously. I'm not exactly the submissive type. I'm not a feminist, I personally just could not deal with that mindset. Well anyways, this isn't about women's rights- it was just an obversvation that turned into me avoiding my homework. Which I am going to go study

All my biggest hugs from Egypt! (p.s. everyone here thinks it is totally weird how much I hug :) physical touch here is definitely not big.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

How Many Camels??

The next night was interesting, we hung out on the pool deck and attempted to start a dance party. It was dreadful music. I mean really dreadful. 90’s no name music. I had
Been deprived of good music and dancing so attempted to get everyone on board. Before that I looked at the stars- luminescent over the Nile. We went through a lock and watched the boat rise to the level of the lower Nile- kinda cool I guess but overeeggerated, though. When we were stopped at the lock guys on rowboats rowed up to the cruise and sold random things to the tourists. I bought a shirt for 80 pounds but the experience of haggling through the windows of the cruise boat. They would throw you a shirt or pashmina, try and it, on through the money back to them. Anyways since I have been here, I have a new obsession/appreciated for nature and the stars. So anyways, the dance party was a bit ridiculous- very 7th grade with people dancing in a circle. We changed the music and got everyone to dance for a while- overall a good story, bad experience lol. But at AUC in general, the university is kind of like a high school. The kids here seem very young- some are 17, and almost all of them still live at home. People at the university sit in clicks on the stairs in clusters very segregated by the clicks. We affectionately refer to place the really rich kids who all sit together in one place- Gucci Corner.

Today was our arrival in Edfu, there is absolutely nothing in this town but the temple of Edfu, although it sheds some light on how people here really live- minus all the touristy stuff: although it truly sheds light on how people really live here. Edfu temple is the most preserved/completed Egyptian monument. Its gates are huge- looming and quite new(ish) looking- blocking much of the view behind. When we entered the temple we got a chance to view the best preserved hieroglyphics. Our tour guides who came with us absolutely suck. I’m sorry, but there is no other way to describe them. This has been proved by the last two days- so on day 3 of our cruise, we decided to do a self guided tour with a combo of my Lonely Planet and Carter’s Rough Guide. Carter, Maggie and I learned about the different rooms- the library, laundry room, storage room and laboratory- which was the coolest because it had all the ingredients for the different medicines and concoctions on the wall separated in columns by recipe. There were pictures of people mixing the ingredients. We got to see the story of Seth and Horus which depicted Seth as a hippo, being hunted and then caught, chopped up and eaten as cake- which we found mildly comical.

When we got back we layed out at the pool today, had our free afternoon tea around 4 and then disembarked to see the Temple of Kom Ombo which is located in the town of Kom Ombo. {Side note: foreigners aren’t allowed to stay in Kom Ombo overnight- seriously not hotels or anything!} Mostly still standing, it towers over the Nile where we arrived just before sunset. We got to see the temple that was dedicated to the Crocodile God- all the crocs used to bathe here in ancient times. All our pictures of the hypostyle halls were breathtaking, once again. We saw the sun set over the Nile and the town of Kom Ombo. After the fire red sun set, we walked through all the shops, basically a mini sook (market) set up for tourists- which are oh so convientenly stationed right beside all the cruise boats so you have to walk through them to get back to your boat. The men there (woman sellers are absent) yell things at you like “look, only look, no haggle!” “just look, no buy!”. Some even rad your arms to try and pull you into their shops. They’re always impressed when I speak Arabic, though minimally- and then they lower the price. One guy tonight told me my eyes were so beautiful so he gave me a discount- such b.s. haha. And as I walked down the dimly lit promenade with men thrusting scarves and galabayas in my face, I was tickled by the men asking me- “How many camels??” Apparently, in southern Egypt (more so in ancient times) your worth is measured in the amount of camels a husband would pay for your dowry. I got several offers, one of fifty million! And much, I’m sure to my parents dismay, I resisted the temptation of the man of my dreams on the streets of Kom Ombo.

Right now, as I write, I am on the place from Aswan to Cairo. I am looking out the window to an aesthetically shocking picture. We are cruising at a comfortable 12,000 feet over the infamous Sahara desert above the least inhabited area in all of Egypt. To our right is the Nile, the life source of Egypt, surrounded by development and lush greenery. The Nile from an aerial view literally looks like a giant green snake lazily slithering through the endless yellow dunes.

And Now I’m Back in Cairo- where to begin.
Well Tuesday night was relaxing. I did all my menial tasks, laundry, cleaning, a bit of homework, eat- then attempted to do homework- failed, and went to bed. Wednesday we hung out, planned our trip while catching up on our lives via the internet at Goal, our favorite faux Italian restaurant. I always eat a tomato and mozzarella salad in an attempt to recreate my beautiful summer experience. The mozzarella here is much chewier and is a different texture but is still good. We went out for drinks to this hotel which had a bar on top- smoked sheesha and enjoyed a chilled Stella overlooking the city of Cairo. Then we headed back to the dorms.
In other news, we spent the day (Sept 25) in Alexandria. I had to wake up at 7am after staying up until 4- I was not super awake to say the least. We hopped on a train to Alexandria at around 8:30 am after buying our tickets in Arabic. We bought second-class tickets that were shockingly quite comfortable and air conditioned!! IT was about two hours- it had reclining seats, interesting smells, and was full of families, businessmen, and a few Asian tourists- a fantastic combination for people watching if I hadn’t passed out so quickly. We arrived and our Egyptian friends, Mahmoud and Ahmed picked up at the station. We walked through the streets of Alexandria enjoying the breezy weather and decided to grab some of the fresh juice Alexandria is famous for. I got strawberry banana, Vic got watermelon, Richie got a Boreo Shake (their version of Oreo’s!)- and we got these for 2 Egyptian Pounds each, which is the equivalent of 35 cents. Not that we paid for them because Egyptians absolutely refuse to let you pay for things when you are in their city. We took a cab over to the downtown area, drank some tea on the boardwalk, haggled with some carpet sellers for fun and basked in the beautiful sunshine. Afterwards we went to the famous Alexandrian library- which was the oldest in the world until it burned down. It was closed for prayers so we decided to go to a souk (open-air market) we actually found some really amazing stuff- hand made chess/backgammon boards with pearl engravings, beautiful fabrics and some really interesting furniture. We also found and bought Disney DVD’s in Arabic and decided it would be really good practice- we got the Little Mermaid and Aladdin. We retuned to the museum after prayer. I was actually kind of surprised. It is a strange shape- like a circle- almost, but slowly rising in height from the bottom up. The windows are huge- which makes the museum feel open and light but the inside is tiered making it looks smaller than it actually is. There were tons of books in every language and even a whole section for UN documents and critiques. We couldn’t get to the old/rare book collection area-, which was a bit disappointing. But dinner definitely made up for it. We went to this restaurant with a fantastic view of the water and the fort- which was made of Pharos (which is made up of the remains of the 7th Wonder of the World) The restaurant was called the fish King of Alexandria- best food EVER! We had 6 plates of fresh fish we literally picked out shrimp, tons of different fish calamari with the usual sides. We headed to this shessha on the coast. The place was full of old men playing chess, tawola (tables) which is basically backgammon while watching soccer. Yelling at TV’s, smoking while playing and intense conversations is the norm here, a relaxation haven away from the more pressing concerns of the world. We got the best Kunefa ever- from Ahmed’s mom who made us a whole freaking plateful. I was in heaven. We caught our train back to Cairo and packed for the rest of our Swine ’09 Break.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Out in Luxor

Last night we went out with some Egyptian students who were super sweet- Romani, Malani and Mahmoud. We got off the boat and stood around for a while waiting for Romani’s friends from Luxor. Malani’s private driver picked us up and took us to the Susana Hotel. (All the rich Egyptian kids, which = all the kids who attend AUC, have drivers) We went up to the roof and we were the only people there. Egyptians, I have learned, love to be extremely generous and pay for absolutely everything. It makes me feel bad. We got a bottle and snacks and enjoyed our time. Egyptian alcohol is, well Egyptian. While this may sound silly, the majority of Egyptians are Muslims which means a good majority of the country does not indulge in alcoholic products. A lot of the young kids do, but just as many don’t. Anyways, the point is- the alcohol is basically pure ethanol. It wasn’t all bad- we had amazing company and a really good time. Afterwards we went and got a felucca (sail boats that cruise down the Nile) and hung out there, sat on the top of the felucca for a while. Maggie and I leaned over and touched the Nile. We were a bit freaked out about all the diseases so we used anti-bacterial hand wipes immediately afterwards. We watched the reeds glide by, dark houses, ducks and we were able to see a beautiful night sky. Then we pulled up to this random marshy bank and the felucca captain/boat driver whipped out a plank thing to disembark. We walked through the marsh to this locals sheesha bar. Surprise, surprise it was all men. In addition, there was a stable right next to this bar/restaurant thing so horses and donkeys were just chilling in the stables next to us. There were puppies too that were absolutely adorable and so scared of people.

Side note- Egyptians absolutely love cats. All Egyptians have cats and the streets are filled with them. Only the ex-pats have dogs and walk them in Cairo. So seeing puppies was definitely a treat.

We had apple sheesha- which is the general flavor – and talked about Moses floating down the Nile, tried to explain fraternities and sororities which did not go over very well. There is so much bromance here there is no need for a organization to celebrate it. It is completely different here than in the states. Homosexuality is something very under the radar, not spoken about. However, it is the cultural norm for men to walk down the street holding hands, having hands in each other’s back pockets and walk arm in arm. There is no stigma of sexuality about these customs; it’s just the norm. Women on the other hand, definitely do not do that. We taught them all kinds of American slang- because they of course wanted to be up to date with all the cool phrases.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let the Cruise Begin

After we went on a tour of the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut’s temple- we were dead tired- after literally not sleeping all night we hadn’t eaten, no water- but it was still really amazing. The tombs we visited were Ramses II, VII, IX. I think you walk into these really hot caves with markings everywhere- some more pronounced than others. The way the etchings are carved was beautiful- each telling its own story and lesson. At some places- peoples names were carved into the rocks- just sad. No respect! The key of life was present in so many of the picture, a very cool concept to celebrate life everyday AND ring it with them to the afterlife. The actual grave/tomb was huge and apparently filled with lots of items to bring with them to the afterlife. The tombs were much larger than I imaged they would be. A historic aura was definitely felt by all the visitors. An overarching, nameless “thing” if you will, was felt and mutually understood by the onlookers. When you stand in a part of history like that, there are no words.

After, we journeyed to Hapshetsut’s temple, mind-blowing to say the least. The view is stunning- an entire temple pops out of the mountainside- a rock cliff with varying colors and textures sets the backdrop of the temple of one of the only female pharaohs Egypt ever saw. Today, we visited the Temple ok Karnak. Hands down one of the most beautiful architectural creations in the world. Walking through rows of columns carved with hieroglyphics: sphinxes, obelisks, pools of water, magnificent creations surrounding you on every side. Trying to imagine life there thousands of years ago: sneaking through back corners, side doors and going god knows what behind the shadows. You can stand at the top of this hill beyond the last temple and view the entire site- stunning. (Everywhere here reminds me how crazy lucky/awesome my life experiences have been thus far!) The beauty exuded in the columns and rows of pillars, heads with different forms, it could definitely be categorized as a Wonder of the Ancient World, in my opinion. The pillars reach higher than is comprehendible- especially considering the technology thousands of years ago. Oh, as you walk out of Karnak, you view Hatshepsuts temple directoly across the Nile from you. Like thousands before me, I am entranced by the majesty created by people who’s means were far less than my own.

Today, with skyscrapers and steel buildings as far as the eye can see, I wonder just how we forgot the beauty in architecture and the glorification of beauty and nature. The Wonders of the World are magnificent in all their glory- at least the 4 I have seen (Petra, The Great Pyramids, Colloseum, the Statue of Liberty) With periods like the Renaissance and all the knowledge we have gained from our brothers mistakes over thousands of years, how is it that we have lost the appreciate, or is it merely the will to create true beauty again. It would be lovely to live in an era where people created to inspire others, ones that strive to be a part of history, rather than calls for attention (Hollywood) and big steel structures.

And now, as I am laying on the top deck of our cruise- poolside- staring out into the Nile Valley- a contrast of shockingly deep blue water beside villages exploding with lush, green palms, kids playing soccer on the islands of the Nile, cows grazing the plentiful grass and the never ending desert mountain range behind. A mountain of tans and beiges- cliffs falling and curbing in the most eye-catching ways. We pass towns with yellow exteriors, teal windows and doors with an almost urban feel to mud brick huts with kids and goats playing out front. We even see the ultra-luxurious- the homes that remind me of the Palm Beach intracoastal. The mountains look like they were carved with a butter knife with a smidge of finer painting for the finishing touches. They look like so much fun to climb! On the other side of the Nile there is more marshland with some mysterious looking smoking substance rising out of the delta. This was not how I pictured the lower Nile- all of it more or less reminds me of the Moses story- floating down the Nile in a basket with reeds covering the sides of the great river.

On the cruise we have a little baby pool in the shape of an arrowhead about a foot deep- perfect for sunbathing and a deeper rectangle connected for a refreshing dip (though it is only about four feet deep) This European guy decided to do laps. Keep in mind that the pool is filled with people relaxing on the edges, and only about 8 to10 feet wide. It was a bit ridiculous. Although, I admit quite entertaining. Every time a boat goes by, our captain gives a loud jingle/honk that is greeted by an equally ridiculous tooting of a horn by the other cruise boats. I still cannot believe that I am cruising down the flipping Nile right this very moment. Our resteraunt is at the bottom of the boat so when we eat we get to watch the waves splash at the top of the ewidnows and see the random things floating in the River Nile. For example, people on little boats and empty tv boxes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sorry for the Delay (I was traveling)/Swine 09

As I sit under the Saharan sun on campus, sipping an espresso (So American!), it is easy to reflect on my time here. Choosing to study here has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Already the people here have shattered stereotypes I held, introduced me to a new culture, shown me a new dedication to religion that is more or less absent in American and opened my heart to the poverty which is the rule- not the exception. I love the way I live here- ready every day for a new adventure.

A now, a side note on the beautiful irony of being a woman in Egypt:
As a woman, particularly a foreign, blond, blue eyed American, I walk down the street, completely covered and I attract an amazing amount of unwanted attention. Stares, whistles, , etc. All this attention amounts to nothing more than annoyance. However, when I sit down at a restaurant or stand in line somewhere to get something I am COMPLETELY ignored. Quite lovely, really…it drives me flippin nuts.


My school decided, randomly apparently, to cancel two weeks of school. Awesome right?!? Well, until you have to make it up and go to your teachers house for makeup classes on a Saturday. Anyways, the point is- school was canceled for another week and a half on top of the Eid Break which was 4 days. So in a matter of 2 days, people made travel plans for Turkey, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Kenya for Mt. Kilimanjaro and all over Egypt.

We really wanted to go to Kenya. I planned a trip and had a flight ready to book. When we went to get our vaccinations- guess which one they didn’t have? The only one we needed, yellow fever. Very typically Egypt. We went all the way to Mohandiseen with Romani, our Resident Director who is super cool, got tere with all the crying babies, refrigerators with labeled test tubes and fluorescent lights. We talk to this woman to register to receive the shots, who looks like she was as bored as is humanly possible- literally staring straight ahead while answering our questions in Arabic, head in hands, ready to either fall asleep or say something monotone. Afterwards, we walked, rather dejectedly, to the best Kunafa place in Zamalek. Now, if you don’t know what Kunafa is, I am truly sorry for you. You are missing out on the most amazing unhealthy deliciously satisfying Ramadan dessert. Check this out before continuing reading…

Okay well, imagine the deliciousness that was. Appreciate it. Take it in. Okay now we continue, so it (Kunafa) is my ultimate vice- if you have not already guessed. Thank god Ramadan is over otherwise I would gain 400 pounds strictly from Kunafa.

The next day, Carter and Maggie and I went to Tahrir Square and talked to this really nice guy who is an Arabic professor for little kids in Cairo. He showed us this great shop where we got papyrus and perfume that smells exactly like Chanel Chance- we got to see how Papyrus was made with soaking it in water, pressing it, hammering it, etc. Then the owner walked us through all the different hieroglyphics meanings and pictorial depictions. It was pretty interesting, but the best part was having Carter try the man perfume, which by the way smelled like cleaning fluid. We went to meet Richie’s mom and brother across the bridge at my favorite restaurant in Cairo- though I have no idea what the name is, but it has pik trimming and its in the Cotton Market- we waited because there was the Ramadan ruh. We had the usual- fresh tomoates, cilantro and cucumbers with Arab bread, tehina and Bird’s Tongue soup (!!) so good) with rice and chicken. All this for 6 people it was unde 100 ounds- equivalent $20.

We had to get home pretty quickly to pack for the Nile Cruise- so we set back off to pack. Since we finished early, we though we would go out for Stell’s to lessen the 8 hours of travling about to ensue. Beer was probably a bad idea- we had to get on the bus at 1:30am drive to new campus, go to the airport, which we didn’t get to until around 4. The security at the aitport was a joke. The security was exactly this: walk through a metal detector. Note the a. Meaning 1 metal detector. That’s it. No ID, you can baksheesh (tip) the guys if you want to bring your water on the plane. We ad to wait until 6 am tio get on our flight. Meanwhile I am dozing for 10 minute periods just about everywhere- the buses, the luggage age, the terminal, etc. I was so tired.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Pyramids & Ramadan

okay sooo updates!

I went to the pyramids which was so amazing and breathtaking and fabulous and hot! but i climbed a pyramid- and got yelled at lol, saw the sphynx, rode camels throughout the desert and ate awesome Bedouin food.We got to climb up inside the pyramid to the Pharoh's chamber- which was by far one of the coolest things. You have to crouch down low and climb straight up a 50% slope from the bottom to the exact middle of the pyramid, which I guarentee you is no easy task. The inside of the pyramid was dark and beautifully sculpted. You climb up a set of stairs (they installed handrails) with no AC (to be expected) inside of a big block. Kind of crazy, but worth it when you get to the chamber with the coffin. It is mindblowing to think I was standing where a King was buried thousands of years ago, not to mention I was inside one of the Wonders of the World.

This week I started all my Arabic classes. 12 credit hours of all arabic plus a calligraphy class and language partners outside of class. plus trips and then you know a little fun on the side ;) just kidding...really everything here is fun.

I fasted for Ramadan for three days. Basically you cannot eat or drink anything (including water, gum, medicine, etc) from sunup till sundown everyday. It was/is a really cool culture/social/ body awareness experience.

Last weekend we went to the Desert Oasis, you know like those crazy springs in the middle of the desert - then the Black and White Desert and a bunch of mummies and stuff. super super fun!

I eat on the streets of Cairo almost everynight -- really good food like kofta (beef kabab things) rice with liver and tehina. soo good. cause when i fast- i am like super thirsty, your stomach shrinks but you are still sooo thirsty.

This weekend we went hiking in the Sahara desert- seriously crazy I know. We visited the Bahiriya Oasis and the White and Black Deserts and all these cool natural monuments. I cklimbed a mountain with some friends in the black desert(my rpfile pic is ffrom that). We actually had a guide which was nice-otherwise we wouldve died lol. Oh we also got to see to desert springs- "oasises" which are basically pools of water that you can "swim" in. lol but not really. I will post pictures soon. We got caught in a sandstorm at the end of our day- seriously like the movies, crazy crazy lol. You couldn't see anything in front of you. We ate Bedouin food and drank this amazing mint tea- played mafia and were just silly under the stars. After the storm died down, we played in the White Desert- climbing everything. The stars/galaxy was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I have never seen the sky that way. You could see the Milky Way perfectly, all the constellations, some planets and the moon. It was so gorgeous- dwords cannot describe. I hung out with all my friends and stayed up till like 3 in the omrning, got up right after sunrise, at breakfast which consisted of fuul (beans, with onions and tomatoes) with khubz arabee (arab bread) and arab coffee all cooked over an open fire. soo cool...then we journeyed the long 7 hours home. It was an amazing weekend!

Really Ignorant.

Ok so I saw a t-shirt and I was basically the most upset I have ever been over a t-shirt in my life.: it was on campus and it made me sick- i was just plain disgusted. It is with people like this I know I judge-but I don't really feel bad about this. I just wonder how much I hate has to be within someone to think this way. The shirt had a Nike logo saying just do it. But...the sign thing was an airplane flying into the twin towers. How can anyone find peace in something harms other innocent peace? Differences in politics, culture, religions, and social values- but hate is another- though wrong it may be. But iolence towards anyone or anything for that matter is just disheartening and crappy. This is the kind of stuff that makes me so sad for the world. What experiences could this person have had to instill this kind of hatred?

Most of the students at AUC are nice but 98% super rich, so a lot of them are a bit standoffish/extremely stylish. They're all high fasion, rich Cairo kids. I'm so glad I live in Zamalek and not out on New Campus so I get to experience the real Cairo. Living in the dorms out on the other campus is just no for me....I definitely did not come to Egypt to experience America and a lot of the stuff on campus is American- McDonalds, Cinnabun, etc. lol. Zamalek is the nice part of Egypt- and you're a cab or metro ride away from Heliopolis, Giza, Khan al Khalili, literally wherever. And we're right on the Nile which is just indisputably cool. ....

And as I sit under the Saharan on campus, sipping an espresso (so American :) ) it's easy to reflect on my time here. Choosing to study here has been one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. Already the people have shattered steretypes I held, introduced me to a new culture, shown me a new dedicatio to religion that is more or less absent in America and opened my heart to the povery which is the rule- not the exception. I love the way I live here- ready everyday for a new adventure.

Every night, a group of us go out todinner at a different place. Some nights we eat $2 dinners which are so good at foodstands on the side of the road. We're also gone to nice places like Mezzaluna - a mock Italian resteraunt. I got crepes with mushrooms and salmon- very unEgyptian.

More later.


"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Markets, The City, The Crazy

I am learning so much about myself here- I absolutely can be a good listener but it is definitely I have to work on daily. Today I went to a lecture on Ramadan- To understand Ramadan- obviously lol because I fasted for a while. I learned the reason for the abstaining from food, water, alcohol and sex. It is an extremely sensible reason, admirable. From my understanding, the rejection of "fleshy" things helps you to focus more on spirituality- instead of spending your time eating, drinking, etc. Fasting helps you to focus solely on being a better person, being calm, peaceful and concentrating on listening to your soul. ie, your soul controls your body as opposed to your body controlling your soul.

I learned self control is a huge part of Islam- something not as clearly emphasized, in my humble opinion of course, on the Protestant end of Christianity. Muslims pray five times a day- making God an everyday part of life, whereas I feel that most Christians lead a Sunday-Christian lifestyle. (With many exceptions, obviously. But, the most admirable being my parents: who devote themselves so fully to others and what they are truly passionate about. I have never met people who give as selflessly as my parents- and are so devoted and continually happy in what they devoted their lives to. I hope to be like that oneday :) )

Anyways, I have now had several classes- and I absolutely love immersing myself back in the Arabic language. My teachers are awesome and the people in my classes are pretty cool. eccentric, but cool. As for Egypt, I lvoe this little big city full of pollution, crazy taxi drivers, cats, great Arab bread, and a million other intricacies only a city like Cairo can produce.

The Other day (saturday night 9/5/09) we went to the cotton market- which reminded me of an explosion of a giant Goodwill. We walked around for hours. We were the only foreigners there- which was really cool. It was my first experience with poeple coming up to us and being nice- saying welcome and asking where we were from, if we were students etc. Even though my Arabic is currently atrocious, it was so nice to communicate, even if only minimally with people. We had Ifhtar (breaking of the fast) at this awesome resteraunt! We ate so much food it was ridiculous. The sad part was in this part of the city, we saw such rampant poverty-like much of Cairo. There were so many adorbale children just standing there smiling at me. They would run up and shake my hand and then run away or just plain stare, but in a curious- who is this blonde girl kind of way; which happened to be the case with most adults as well.

A Few nights ago I went out to dinner on this stand on the 26th of July street- I had kofta and rice and liver with tehia- it was actually very good. Not a huge fan of liver, but I'd eat it. We hung out and talked about random things families, marriage, love which ended up really freaking me out. I am only 20 years old and here we are having a conversation with the realization in all likelihood in the next 10 years I will be married or engaged or something. So incomprehensible right now. lol. (Dont worry mom and dad- I don't want to get married for a long time :) !! haha).

Oh- and today I found out my school is cancelled until October 4th. It is currently the 16th. Why, you may ask? What else but the freaking Swine Flu. Seriously?!? So we are planning trips to take up that beautiful time and see some amazing things.

Off for the night tonight.
Love from Cairo,


"Happiness is the journey, not the destination."

En Route to the Middle East

Hope you all enjoy this :)
All my big love and kisses to everyone back home.

Leaving my family and closest friends was one of the harest things I've experienced the way of goodbyes. Probably because I had been gone all summer soaking up the beauty of Europe. I was still pretty excited for the adventure though. On my flight (there were actually 3) to NYC I met a really cool guy who was a teachwer in Cali going to a wedding. We talked about his job, great American classics, literature, his family, etc. I was getting a bit nervous in NYC. Well not nervous, but more it just hit me that I was actually going to live in Cairo. Even two years ago, I would've never probably imagined that. On My flight to Cairo I was totally spastic- loosing things, anxious, a bit annoying probably- but again, I sat next to a cool young guy (with a tatoo from Alien all the way up his leg) who was on his way to a backpacking tour of Egypt. The diversity on my flight was awesome. And I understood a bit (and i mean a bit) of the Arabic they kept announcing over the loudspeakers.

The landing was jaw-dropping. There were mounds of yellowy dirt balls popping out of the earth..forever. I remember getting off the plane and the first thing I noticed was definitely the smell. a bit off. Anyways, I was surprised to see that the airtraffic control people were women in Burkas out in the heat directing the plane to park here and there. They directed us to buses.

P.S. Hygiene is defintiely not the #1 Concern in Egypt. I went to the restroom and this woman handed me a papertowel. I said thank you and she asked for money. I should've seen it coming...but I was so tired after 24 hours of traveling. I couldn't have even gone over to get it myself. This vulture woman was hovering over the papertowels like a protective mama.

After, when my university did not show up to take me back from the airport (thank you AUC) I took a cab home. Oh, I almost forgot to mention at the airport, all the attendents taking our information/passports and everything were wearing masks and looking for people with symptoms of H1N1. Crazy...So back to the cab. I paid way too much. But again, I blame tiredness and pure shock for that. The drivers here are seriously nuts. I think it is their little burst of 'look i am a man- i like fast things-watch what i can do' kind of thing. Horns are used quite liberally to say the least. They get within literally 3 inches of each other. Most taxi's don't have AC here but the city of Cairo is so beautiful! I bit dirty, and definitely polluted....but, like Rome, there is a distinct aura of walking/driving though world history.

My campus housing actually is in Zamalek, an island in Cairo. It houses the upper middle classes/rich classes/ ex-pats/diplomats in Cairo. Lots of shopping, eateries, sheesha joints and an amazing view of the Nile. I was super nervous at first about meeting everyone. I tried to be alittle more relaxed/not as intense as usual. and the best thing... I'm not stressed here even with a complete disregard for organization/timeliness/immense amounts of traffic. I just try to find the joy in the present. So (when I wrote this) I am about 4 days in and now really starting to enjoy it. I am stoked to start Arabic here and everyone is feeling really bad for me because I am taking the intesnes program which apparently means I have no life. Cool. But I guess we'll see.

Oh, my room is super fabulous with a blessfully functional AC and a huge desk, closet, and bed space. I've met some relaly cool friends. Most people are really open minded. Food=delicious. But lacking in the fruits/veggies/nutrition department. And strangely enough I am never really hungry during the day which is kind of weird because I am definitely a person who lives to eat- not an eat to live-r.

Ok well thats it for now. I am about ready to go to my Modern Standard Arabic classes.
All my love from Cairo.


"There is more to life than increasing its speed." -Gandhi

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