02 June, 2010

Ending a Chapter: The End of the Adventure

A sigh of relief. A breath of fresh air. It's been about six days since I stepped off of the plane in New York City...and it's been good to be home. Things have been much easier to coordinate from Baltimore than they were from Cairo. And since my life just doesn't stop for a moment, I'm glad I came home when I did. There is a lot to do. Graduations, weddings, film festivals, jobs, etc., etc.

Leaving Cairo was both an easy and challenging step to take. As I waited for my cab Friday morning, sleep deprived and yet somehow alert, I was sad. I didn't want to leave everyone I had met or some of the experiences I had had. Explaining to my bowabs that I needed to return to America was probably one of the hardest things I had to do before I left. They didn't want to believe that I needed to come home. 

The more I think about it, my time in Egypt felt like a dream. There was no way that it could have been real. But, it was and I was sad to see it go. And yet, there are still things that make me realize why I needed to come home when I think back on my time in Egypt. The people were beginning to get to me, and the heat was getting bad. But, the memories I made in Egypt were fun and an experience that I needed to have. 

As I left for the airport last Friday, I sat back and watched Cairo pass by. It looked wonderful in the morning sun. I wasn't in the best of moods as the taxi driver was late which made me worry about not making my plane on time. When I got to the airport, I made my way inside and moved quickly through the initial security clearance, and then quickly through the ticket counter. While waiting to board the plane I talked to a really nice lady from Texas who had been in Egypt on vacation. She really loved her trip and also recommended seeing Petra in Jordan to me. I may do that one day. 

We began the boarding process a bit late, but got through in reasonable time. Although they did pull me aside to look through my bag...they couldn't figure out what my external hard drive was, but I expected that. Finally, I was able to get on the plane. I was sitting next to a really nice guy who had just finished up his time in the Peace Corp. He was stationed in Hungary, but then traveled through the Middle East before coming home. We chatted for a bit, and then made an agreement to wake each other up when the food came through. This was particularly helpful as he was sleeping for the first time and I was sleeping for the second. 

The flight itself was fine. I don't remember much of it because I was sleeping for a lot of it. But, that was probably a good thing. Getting through customs in the States though proved to be great fun. As I went through the line, the officer asked me where I was coming from and I told him "Egypt". He asked how long I'd been there and I said, "five months".  He then asked, "Why would anyone want to be in Egypt for five months?" I told him for study. He asked what I studied in Egypt and I told him Egyptology...and he didn't believe me. He had to google it to make sure it was a real subject. And he also googled my program to make sure it existed. Wow...longest interrogation at customs ever. Baggage claim was also horrible, but that was just because it took forever to get my luggage. It was wonderful to see Geoff and my parents at the airport though. 

Traffic was horrible on the way home, but nothing compared to Cairo. We made it to the Poncabird, my favorite pub, without stopping home first. I got a burger and a beer and it was good. Everyone...or just about everyone...was there to see me and it was like a makeshift 21st birthday party. Wonderful. 

So, the last few days have been me lounging around the house, eating the foods I've missed and visiting with everyone that I haven't seen since either January or September. Mom took me to the grocery store the other day and needless to say, I was overwhelmed. It may take a little bit to get used to such a big place to buy food. Last night was the Plenary for Rudes and we planned out the season and today I get to see some more people and start a job. Everything is in place for this summer to be phenomenal. I'm excited. 

And that's it! My adventure is over...for now. I'm in the States with at least one more year of college to go and no plans to really travel outside of the States for a bit. So, sadly this blog must now come to an end. I'm sad to see it go and I will definitely miss writing down all of my adventures in foreign lands in it. 

As for my experiences, they will forever be a part of who I am, shaping me in everything I see and do. I don't think I'll talk about anything else for a while. My program managers, Kim and Matthew, were both amazing people to work with and they supported us with everything. I couldn't have asked for better people to help shape my experience. I'm not going to reflect much on things I did, or places I traveled to because...well, that's what I've been doing all semester. 

I have to thank everyone who has come along on this journey with me. Mom, Dad, Gram, Geoff, Manya, Emma, Steph L, Shayna, Grandpa, the class from Mississippi (that I was told was reading my blog), and anyone I've forgotten or who is reading my blog and I just don't know it. You've all been great and I hope you've enjoyed the adventure as much as I did. 

I don't think this is really the end of me traveling. It's just the end of this blog. Perhaps I'll reopen it one day, but at this point I'm unsure. If you want to keep in touch, you can follow my blog/portfolio. And there it is. I'm out of things to say, except thank you and so long for now. 

Best wishes, Becky

28 May, 2010

Traffic has been aweful. I'm still not even home yet. There is a burger calling my name.
Well, I'm back in the states. On the way back home finally. Customs took forever... More about that later though.

27 May, 2010

A Sigh of Sadness and a Breath of Excitement

"Save tonight, fight the break of dawn. 
Come tomorrow, tomorrow I'll be gone." 

Well, here it is. The last substantial post I will make from Egypt. I'm currently sitting in the "Man Cave" next to Sean who is watching a show on Haley's computer, while Ann checks her e-mail on the other couch. The others staying in the "Man Cave" are out on the balcony smoking and talking. It's rather odd to be here instead of in my own apartment. 

It's also really odd as the group is continuing to break apart and shatter. Rebecca's gone, Will's gone, Ryan's gone, Lindley's gone and Ann will be on her way to the airport in two hours. I'm torn about leaving Egypt right now. It's going to be a bittersweet goodbye in the morning. I just know it. This post is going to be an overall reflection post, so more apologies from me for being ridiculously long. Here goes nothing.

Egypt for me has been a road of ups and downs. There were so many good times and bad times as well. I think the good times outweigh the bad, but Egypt was still a much different experience that I ever would have imagined it to be. 

I came to Egypt expecting it to be the Egypt of 20 years ago. "Paris on the Nile." I'm not exactly sure why I expected this, but that's what I wanted. A society in the desert that was sophisticated and yet somehow adventurous. Egypt wasn't what I expected at all. I landed in Cairo in what looked to be LAX or somewhere in California. Palm trees lined the road of a modern looking city.

As we entered into the main part of the city, I found what looked like parts of the Middle East you see in pictures. Unfinished buildings made of brick, covered in sand with palm trees lining the road. The more I got to know Cairo, the more I realized that it was in fact a rollercoaster, as they told me in orientation. Some experiences were great, like the trip to Luxor and Aswan and the trip to the Children's Museum and being able to communicate entirely in Arabic at Khan Al-Khalili. While others were horrible, like the days I had to write papers, and sometimes the walk to and from school. Egypt was in fact everything. Good, bad, amazing, and disastrous. I truly do believe that I will always have a love-hate relationship with Cairo and Egypt in general. 

This semester was completely different from the last one I spent in Prague. From the city to the group of people on the program. I felt I had a certain connection with the kids in my Prague program. We were the FAMU kids. We were a family. Here was not the same dynamic. I felt that I didn't get to know everyone as well here. Though I did make some great friends. Shruti was absolutely awesome and so much fun. Mustafa helped me survive this semester. I found I have more in common with him than I thought I originally would. Will proved to be a rather delightful person to be around. Surprisingly, Sean became a rather close friend, which I wouldn't have pictured at the beginning of this whole adventure. And Tyler became someone I could talk to about random things. Sadly I didn't get to know the other girls as well as I knew the guys and Shruti. But, then again I felt that there was a slight cliche between them all and I was once again the outsider. Around the end of the semester this seemed to disappear, but the fact still remained that I didn't really know them. But, they were a lot of fun when we did hang out. 

Ok, so with all the good of a semester, there comes the bad. And before I get so engrossed in the awesomeness that was this semester, I'm going to first talk about my problems this semester. There actually aren't that many, but they are enough to warrant a bit of a rant.
So, here it goes. Egypt itself would be a much better place if the people, particularly the men, in the society would understand the concept of being a woman. Being a woman does not mean you have the right to call me names, hiss at me as I pass, and just overall harass me. If there is one thing I will not miss about Egypt it's the fact that I can blend in and not have to feel angry when I walk down the street all the time. 

Egypt would also be a much better place if they could understand the concept of the environment. Let's be honest. The place is absolutely filthy. I had the worst time trying to adjust to the fact that I had to walk around trash to get to school and that trashcans were incredibly hard to find. Also, the fact that everyone seems to own a car. Why on earth would you need to own a car in this city? There are taxis everywhere! I'll never understand. 

And while I'm on the subject of taxis, just because I'm walking down the street does not mean I need a taxi to get wherever it is I am going. I do like to walk.

As for the program itself, I have very few gripes about the program. I would have liked a little more structure within some of the classes and sometimes I wished my professors were a bit more interactive. But, then again I don't know a way to teach Egyptology other than lecturing with pauses to answer questions. I also think that the workload was a bit much near the end of the semester. But, I've written all of this on my evaluation forms, so hopefully these things will be taken into consideration for programs in the future. 

Overall, I think program and my experience in Egypt was one I'll never forget. I've made some amazing friends, seen some incredible places and done some unforgettable things. You can't leave Egypt saying that you didn't take something away. I definitely did. I learned a lot about myself and I definitely saw a way of living that I would never have seen otherwise.

To finish this post up I've moved outside on the balcony where it's much cooler. As the wind blows and the smell of some of the empty alcohol bottle blows along with the wind, I can't help but already miss everyone. We may not have been a close family like the FAMU kids were, but we were definitely something. A group of friends embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.

I'm dreading the end of this post because it means the end of an adventure. The end of a chapter in my life that I had been planning since I was a freshman in college. When I end this post, I will leave Egypt and return to the States as a Senior at American University. The words are rather terrifying. They symbolize another big moment of my life coming to an end, but I'm not going to think about that just yet. 

As with my last post from Prague, I'm going to give some advice to those who wish to study abroad. My words of wisdom are this, go into an experience with no expectations. You never know where you may end up and what memories you will make. Let your feet do all the traveling. Live your life with little reservations.

I can't say that I won't miss Egypt. I know I will, something at home will remind me of Egypt and call me to remember the dirty city of Cairo. Even with all the times I wanted to leave and felt uncomfortable, I know that Cairo has a special place in my heart. 

I need to thank Matthew, our program manager, for being extremely awesome and so easy to talk to. I'm extremely excited to keep in touch with him about the thesis project I'm going to take on next year. Thank you to Tamer, our awesome housing specialist, who took care of any problem we ever had. And for giving me my Arabic name, Bakinam. Nadia, our former academic adviser, for all her courage and support with girl's nights. And Dr. Riham, our current academic adviser, for listening to us gripe about all of our classes and workload and for truly understanding what we were going through. Without you all, this semester would have been a mess. I know it just would have been. To everyone on the program, Ann, Ryan, Shruti, Garrett, Tyler, Will, Moose, Sean, Lindley, and Haley, you've made this experience one to never forget. Know that you've been great inspiration for some of my characters in scripts.

So, here it comes. The end of the adventure in Egypt. It seems like it just started and at the same time as if I've been in Cairo for years. And with a deep breath, I'm bringing this post to an end. I'm just about out of things to say. No one is stepping out from behind the curtain this semester, I'm all alone on this one. But, it's been a blast. 

So long Cairo, I will miss you. Perhaps we shall meet again. I hope we do. 

The End is Near

The end is very near. At this point I've packed all of my things away into a suitcase, a backpack and a carry-on and I'm sitting in my living room waiting until 12pm. I will then relocate to the "Mancave" or Moose and Tyler's apartment until my flight tomorrow morning. Approximately 24 hours from the time of this post, I will be on my back to the States. It feels a little surreal. 

As I packed my things up yesterday evening I thought about it. The journey that I've been planning since my freshman year of college is finally coming to an end. It's another chapter of my life closing and tomorrow will begin a new one. 

Ok, I'm going to stop being sappy for the moment. That will definitely come later. Yesterday night was my last final, so I was completely relieved to be entirely done with the semester. It was a long and hard road to get to this point, but I learned a lot and had fun along the way. We also had our final dinner last night. We went to LaBodega and I got some shrimp curry, black lentil soup, and crème brulée. I also split an appetizer of duck with Moose. It was overall a pretty good night. But, as with all programs, our small group began to shatter and splinter. Rebecca left for Australia before the final dinner and not long after dinner finished, Ryan left to go and prepare for his flight home. 

After dinner we went to the bookstore that was down the street for a little bit of time, and once we had finished shopping, we split up into two groups and I came back to my apartment to try and pack up my things, which I had been dreading since I took my final. How does one pack up five months of a life into only two suitcase and a carry-on? I managed it somehow, but it was very sad to pack everything up. 

Prior to dinner though, we all met at Matthew's apartment for presentations. Matthew gave out the Qishta awards, which were pretty amusing. There was an award for all of us. I got "Future director of Will's History Channel Program" as I'm sure  you guessed Will got "Future Professor and Host on the History Channel". It was pretty nifty and he gave us Ancient Egyptian statues to commemorate the awards. Then Lindley made a slideshow that was set to the song "Save Tonight", which made me tear up a good bit. I realized that it was true once again. The group of friends I had made in this country was fragmenting apart. 

Backtracking now. Sadly Tuesday was not as spectacular as it was supposed to be. I spent the morning pretty much just hanging around the apartment working on things that needed to be finished. I did have dinner in the evening with Virgina, the girl I worked with at Past Preservers, at Felfela. It was pretty good and it was great catching up with her. She seems to be doing fine and she told me to look her up if I was ever in the UK. 

After dinner I went back to the apartment and then out on a felucca with everyone as our last gathering as a giant complete group. It was wonderful and lots of fun. I then went with Shruit, Ryan and Ann to Koshary Al-Tahrir to get some food (I only got water as I wasn't hungry). We had a nice conversation and then we headed home where I slept really well for the first time in a while. 

And well, that's about it. Things are wrapping up. I'm probably going to go and get the last minute things that I need for back home after I've moved my stuff to the Mancave and then I'm going to stop over to see Matthew to ask about my Senior Thesis next year. Wow....I don't believe it, I'm officially a Senior in college. Time is just flying. 

So, stay tuned. We not done just yet. One more post from Egypt to come!

Countdown: 1 day left in Cairo. 

24 May, 2010

The Final Countdown

This is it really. The last time that I'll be counting down whether to leave the United States or return to it. At least for a while that is. 

This last week has made it really real. I've only got these last few days in Egypt and then I'll be on my way home. I had two of my finals today, which I think went really well and then I wandered with Rebecca, Lindley, Ann and Tyler to Khan Al-Khalili where I got some more last minute gifts for friends and family back home. 

Yesterday was Rebecca's birthday and we celebrated it by heading out to City Stars (the mall), doing some shopping and then having dinner at a really nice Thai restaurant in Zamalek. We also surprised her with a cake, which was rather nice. It was a good get together for everyone and I enjoyed seeing us all as a big group. Also, while we were at the mall, we had lunch at this little Mexican restaurant called "El Chico". It was the most delicious Mexican food I've ever had. This is also probably because I've been deprived of Mexican food since I got to Cairo. So, it was a well welcomed change. 

Also, Saturday night was a day spent pretty much doing nothing. In the evening we went to a house party, but I didn't stay long. Rebecca and I caught a cab home after about an hour as neither of us was really feeling the party. I did get some delicious tomato soup and an Oreo shake from this little cafe near the party though. 

Everything is really ending and in a way I'm having trouble believing it. I've been here for five months. Five months! It feels like I've been here a lifetime. I have a certain route that I walk on my way to school, certain people that I talk to on my way out the door in the morning, a scarf guy in Khan Al-Khalili, and an in with the little restaurant across from where I go to school. How has it only been five months? I'm not entirely sure, but it has been and it's finally coming to a close.

So, here's to the next few days in Egypt. May they be filled with adventure, as I know they will. The summer's calling my name and I'm almost at the point where I can respond. 

Countdown: 5 days left in Cairo

21 May, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Everything about my journey in coming back around full circle from where my journey began. It feels almost like a déjà vu. I've seen it all before, I've done it all before, but in some way there is a variation, a difference, that makes me remember what I had done in the past and I can see how I've grown. 

My journey began at the end of January and it of course began on a dinner cruise down the Nile with my soon to be Arabic teacher, the AMIDEAST staff and my program mates, who I had only just met. That first weekend I was here, I explored Khan Al-Khalili with Shruti and Ann. It was an overwhelming experience and I can remember thinking, 'how am I possibly going to be able to survive within this country?' Within that first month of being here, I also went to a French Party at the French Cultural Center. It was a lot of fun. We went with our newly met Egyptian friends and we met more Egyptian friends while we were there that would accompany all of us on our journey in Egypt for the next four months. 

And now, here I sit, with one week left in this country. Both sad and excited to leave. I have come full circle. Yesterday morning, I got up and decided that souvenir shopping needed to be done and thus hopped a taxi all by myself and headed down to Khan Al-Khalili. The conversation with the driver was a little awkward and leaded to me telling him I was married, so that I wouldn't get another marriage proposal (this is something rather common in Egypt actually). 

Anyway, I got down there and I ended up looking around through some of the shops, when one of the shop keepers stopped me to ask if I spoke English. He spoke English rather decently himself, but as he explained, he could speak but he couldn't write it and he wanted to send an e-mail to a friend of his in South Africa that had proper spelling and grammar. So, seeing that I was in a good mood, I sat down and worded the e-mail out for him. Turns out, he had just had a baby, (normally, I wouldn't have believe him, but his mother was sitting close by and I spoke with was overjoyed for a grandchild, so I assumed it to be true), and he wanted to let his really close friend know that she had just been born. Her name was Nadia. 

To thank me for writing the letter, he offered me some very good Egyptian tea. I sat and talked with him for a bit and I did end up buying something from him, a beautiful box that was actually really well made. He wanted 400 Egyptian Pounds for it, but that was way more than I had, and I ended up getting it for 100. I still probably overpaid for it, but it is something that I've been looking for and I got the experience of sitting with this man and talking. So, in the long run it's worth it. 

I shopped until about 2pm at the market and I did quite a bit of bargaining while I was there. And I almost finished all of my souvenir shopping. Almost. I still have some more to, but I'll do it later today. 

I returned home for a bit of downtime before heading out with everyone to our end of the year Yacht Party. AMIDEAST was nice enough to rent out a Yacht for all of us and everyone we've ever met during our time in Egypt. We went on a two hour tour of the Nile, which was pretty awesome. There was pizza and soda and good company. I enjoyed it so much. It made me both love Egypt and at the same time long to be back home on the Chesapeake in a little crabbing boat with my camera. Oh, yeah. That's the other thing. Guess what I forgot to bring...my camera. So, no pictures of mine sadly. 

We returned from the Yacht Party and said our goodbyes to everyone. Sadly, this was probably the last time I saw Emy before she comes to the States in October (hopefully). I wished her well and then Shruit, Sean and myself went on an adventure downtown. We pretty much just went and looked at every possible store we could have. The streets were packed with people and the night itself wasn't as hot as others had been. 

After a quick beer at a bar downtown, we then traveled to Max's place where we gathered everyone and left for the French Party. It was a good bit of fun. I ended up dancing with an Egyptian dude, who was a little creepy, mainly because I felt bad for him. A friend of his, who was even creepier than he was, tried to cut in and I pretty much scowled evilly at him until he left me alone. Eventually, Moose came over looking for beer...and I told him I'd buy him one, so he grabbed me away from the creepy dude and as promised, I bought him a beer as well as a drink and a crepe for myself. Best. Crepe. Ever! Mmmmmmm Chocolate.....It reminded me of Europe, which just made me miss Prague. Sad. 

The French Party ended and we wandered over to an after party at a nearby apartment. I didn't stay long however, as it was rather lame. It wasn't really what I wanted to do for the evening after the French Party. So, Sean and myself caught a taxi home. I pretty much played online for a bit after that, talked to Geoff and then crashed. 

I got to sleep in this morning, which was just wonderful and I'll probably do a bit of shopping later today. 

So, you see, I've come full circle. I started my trip to Egypt with a Nile Cruise, a trip to Khan Al-Khalili and a French Party and I'll finish my trip with the same. The experiences both times though, have been quite different. I can see my growth when I look back on them. My most recent trip to Khan Al-Khalili did not have me panicking and unsure, but confident and bargaining in a language that I was certain I could never remember. The Nile Cruise went from an introduction to Egypt to commemorating my time in Egypt with everyone I've met. And the French Party served as my connector from Prague to Egypt and Egypt to Prague...a connection to my memories of last semester and new ones that I made this semester. 

The semester isn't over yet, but as its drawing to a close I'm realizing just how much I've grown and accomplished here in Egypt. And I'm amazed. Who knew that I could survive this? I definitely didn't think I could and here I am. Life has a funny way of working these things out. 

Well, I have to run now. More shopping needs to be done before I leave. But, I'm not done blogging yet. Keep an eye for more updates in the next week. Who knows what may happen. 

Countdown: 8 days left in Cairo

P.S.- I found out yesterday that my language skills jumped two levels. I started at Novice High in terms of proficiency and now I'm at Intermediate Medium. That's super impressive. Yesterday was a good day!