28 March, 2010

A Sight I'll Never Forget

A little over a week ago, I was recovering from a weekend that will be etched into my memory for as long as I am able to remember my stories. I spent the weekend of March 18-20, 2010 in the Black and White Desert out in the Bahariya Oasis

We left on Thursday after the others finished classes around 12:30pm. The bus was much smaller than the normal bus that we took, but it allowed for us to be relatively comfy. 

I spent much of the ride to the Oasis watching REPO!the Genetic Opera on my iPod and once I finished watching, I quickly pulled out my book, put on some music and continued to occupy myself. This has nothing to do with the fact that I was trying to be anti-social. It does, however, have everything to do with the fact that Sean, Moose and Will had decided to read Dune aloud to everyone on the bus. This wouldn't have been a problem, except for the fact that they started half way through the book and were just very annoying about it. 

We made two major stops along the way. One to the On the Run convenience store and once for a bathroom break at a little cafe in the middle of the desert. I once again got to have the experience of using a squat toilet. I do have to say though, after you get the hang of the first time, it becomes much easier.  

After 5-6 hours on a bus, we finally arrived at the hotel. The hotel itself was fine, though I would have liked to have taken a shower while I was there, but sadly I did not. Mainly because when I turned the water on in the shower, it came out orange and I was automatically put off by that. I once again shared a room with Shruti, who I really enjoy talking to about random stuff. 

We weren't at the hotel long before we were taken off to dinner in 4X4 jeeps...one of which was named "Nightmare". Dinner was at a little place called "Rashed". It was decent food, but nothing too special. Salad, "bird tongue soup", rice, meat and potatoes in a tomato sauce, and bread. Pretty standard Bedouin food. 

After dinner, we were invited to go to a get together that the Bedouin's were holding. So, we went. There was music and dancing and tea. Oh, tea. It's always delicious and a big stable here in Egyptian culture. Also, the Bedouin men who were dancing around thought it would be a good idea to pull up some of the girls to dance with them. I caught this on video and eventually I got pulled myself...at which point, Shruti caught it on video. 
Shruti pours us some tea for the evening. 
 The Bedouin man dances to the music.
We left the get together and went back to the hotel where I hung out with Shruti, Will, Tyler, Samir and Sean for a bit. There was also a swing, and so the five year old in me came out and I had to swing on the swing. I'd say it was a pretty good end to a really long day. 
Breakfast was sometime around 8 or 9am and consisted of falafel, fuul, bread and an absolutely delicious fried egg.

We left for the desert at 10am. We made a quick stop in town for a bathroom break and some snacks before heading out into the desert. The ride was pretty awesome. It was a combination of driving on the road and driving through the sand dunes like we did in Siwa. I can't really explain the feeling of traveling in the SUV with everyone. It was comfortable and family-like. It was an absolute wonderful feeling. 
 Our expedition team. Two SUVs ready for an adventure.
Our first stop was in the Black Desert, where we climbed up one of the dune mountains and saw what they call "the British House". It gave us a wonderful overlook of the desert. We then reloaded the cars and drove further into the desert. 
 The formations in the the Black Desert.
After seeing the Black Desert, we stopped at a little area so that our guides could have prayer on Friday. Once they finished with prayer, we were back on the road again, traveling deeper into the Black Desert.

 The Black Desert. Not exactly what I was expecting,but pretty cool nonetheles
We eventually stopped for lunch at a little cafe where we had lunch under a Bedouin tent. It was a much needed break from traveling and everything. After lunch, we made our way to the Crystal mountain...which was actually made out of quartz crystal surprisingly. I climbed to the top and it felt like a huge accomplishment. 

With a few other stops along the way, we finally made it to our final destination in the White Desert. The Valley of the Mushrooms. We watched the sunset behind the mushroom and chicken rock before setting up camp nearby. 
 The sunset behind the mushroom and chicken formations.

 The White Desert. Beautiful.
The nice things about traveling with guides is that they do just about everything for you. They set-up camp, with a little bit of help from Sean, they built the fire we sat around to keep warm and then they made us the most delicious food I have ever had. Chicken grilled on the open fire, rice and a potato curry dish. It was spectacular. 
Sean helps one of our guides unload the SUV.
After dinner we all sat around the fire for a little bit before deciding it was too cold and that sleep was coming fast. We all grabbed sleeping bags and laid down...even though it was only 10:30pm.

Oh, yeah. But, before I forget to mention it. The stars we saw once all the light was gone was amazing. I've never seen so many stars. We tried to point out constellations and kept getting lost in the cosmic sea of stars. 

Morning came earlier than I wanted. 6:30am to be exact. I saw the sun rise over the White Desert and then I couldn't fall back to sleep, so I retrieved my book from the SUV and read for a little bit. About 2 hours later, our guides finally awoke and gave us breakfast before repacking camp and beginning our journey back to town. 
Early morning in camp. Some people have woken, others still lay about in their sleeping bags.
We had a slight mishap on the way back where one of our SUVs had a flat tire, which required us to stop and change it. We also made various other stops to sight see in the desert some more. Our last stop before hitting town was to a mountain in the black desert. We were originally supposed to climb said mountain, but after taking a vote, the majority decided to not climb it. 
The mountain we were supposed to climb, but didn't.
We arrived back in town and quickly switched our gear from the SUVs back into the bus and had lunch at "Rashed" once again. Sadly, it was the same meal we had had for dinner Thursday night. We ate and then began our journey home. 
Me in the early morning desert. Scarves are wonderful to prevent sand from getting in your ears and hair. Sunglasses prevent it from getting in your eyes. Hence, my appearance.
It was a tiring weekend, but one I will never be able to forget. I slept outside, under the stars in the desert and survived. Writing this experience can't describe the rush and thrill of the adventure. It was something you just have to experience. It actually felt like real adventure. 

While we were on the trip, Will was reading an old travel log of an explorer from the 1800s or sometime around then, who was traveling through the desert in Egypt. The explorer made mention of how he believed the art of adventure would soon be lost as the train was a new invention and he feared it would cut through the desert and ruin the adventure. I have to say that he was only half right. While we no longer travel across the desert on camels, we still hold onto the thrill of the adventure of traveling in the desert.

One more interesting thing to note about this trip has to be the fact that at every checkpoint when the driver was stopped and asked about the passengers in the car, he would say,">مصريين اثنين واربعة استراليين" (Misryeen it-nain wa arba australeen), which literally translates to "two Egyptians and four Australians". I later asked why that was and found out that we were Australian because it saves a lot of paperwork and trouble. You see the American government likes to take care of its citizens abroad, which is fine, but it also means that had we been traveling as Americans we would have had to have a guard with us at all times...and that would have been a pain. So, instead we were Australian. Hey, whatever mate. 

And that my dear readers, is the sight I'll never forget. I'm glad I made the decision to go as it was one of the adventures I'd been looking for.

22 March, 2010

Chills Ran Down My Spine

I closed my eyes for a moment and reopened them slowly, staring out over the balcony at the performance going on in front of me. As I watched, my body slowly rocking along to the beat, the lead singer looked up and our eyes made contact for a moment. It was less than a second, but in that second I felt like she could see through me, that she knew everything about me. But, as soon as her eyes moved away, the feeling vanished. 

The main women stands center and belts her voice. 
Last night, I saw an East African music concert based on the traditional concept of Zār. Going to see this performance, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, as we had been given very little information about the performance until we actually got there. 

The set up for the performance space was rather interesting. There were chairs set-up up to a point and then there were cushions on the floor for people to sit on. And then there was the balcony,where chairs were set-up to overlook the performance space. I sat in a chair on the ground floor for the first half of the performance and then moved to the balcony for the second half due to the annoying woman sitting next to me.

 One of the band members sitting center plays the 6-string lyre known in Zar.
The performance itself was spectacular. Watching the group, Mazaher, perform brought to mind the image of the South in the States from a while back. The tribal like chanting and drum beating remind me of the images I've seen of VooDoo. And well, that makes complete sense as Zār is a healing ritual which is often mistaken for an exorcism ritual. The women also play a huge role in Zār, which is very rare to see here in Egyptian culture...at least in public its rare to see. Most women here are seen to be quiet and submissive to their male counterparts, even if they may be the dominant figure when in the house, they still maintain a different appearance outside of the house. But, here they certainly do not. 

The main woman belted her voice and it echoed throughout the entire theater. At some point it gave me chills and I understood why this was a healing ritual. It was beautiful. I'm so glad I went. 

It's Thursday here already. 7:16pm to be exact, and nearly one week ago exactly I left for an adventure to the Black and White Desert. And while I'm excited to tell about that adventure, I want to give everyone the full experience. So, sadly, you will all have to wait until I get a firewire over the weekend. But, this week was not devoid of fun, as seen by the concert above. 

Sunday was Haley's birthday and after I got home from class, we went out for sushi. Sushi here is still a new concept for many Egyptians, as seen by the fact that the restaurant was almost entirely empty. I got the all you can eat sushi deal, which was a pretty good idea as I'm pretty sure I saved myself some money and everyone helped out in eating what I couldn't. 

After sushi, we rented a felucca and took a cruise down the Nile until midnight. We danced, sang, talked and the captain even let Tyler and Haley drive the felucca. It was a great time and I think she had a wonderful birthday.

Garrett and Ann dance around on the felucca. 
 Tyler, Rebecca and Ann talk about something or other while on the felucca.
On Tuesday we had our AMIDEAST movie night, where we watched an American movie to show the Egyptians something about American culture. The movie was Freedom Writers, and the basic story was that of a high school in California suffering the effects of a new integration law and trouble between gangs, and a teacher who wants to fix it all. In my opinion, it was a good movie overall, but it definitely went to reinforce the stereotypes that were already in place in their minds about the American culture. We spent a lot of the time after the movie ensuring them that the United States was not like this everywhere, even though the movie was based on a true story. 

I also taught my class yesterday for the Access Program. The topic...sports. Which I know next to nothing about. So, thanks to the wonders of the internet,I was able to find the rules to American football and baseball and explain them to the best of my ability. While I do like teaching these kids, it drives me a little nuts that none of them want to speak. My job is to get them to use their English skills and learn the culture. But, none of them want to speak. I don't understand. I guess it has to do with the different learning style where the teacher just teaches and students just listen. Which is not really how I was taught growing up at all. I guess I just need to figure out a better way to make them talk. 

Oh yeah, one more thing. Tuesday, Will and I made a quick trip to the Egyptian Museum to pick out our objects for project we have to do. But, the two of us are extremely impressed with ourselves as we can actually really read the hieroglyphs on the coffins and statues. I'm learning so much in that class. I love it!

Well, that's all for now. My adventure on the Black and White Desert will be coming shortly. I promise. Probably sometime this weekend as there isn't anything planned at the moment, which is quite odd. Well, I'm sure I'll figure out something to do.

17 March, 2010

"Remember What the Dormouse Said..."

Ah today! It's been a really good day. Too bad that today I've decided to be a bad American and get lunch from the Hardee's. I usually try to stay away from American chains when I'm abroad, but today I really wanted a milkshake. Oh, well. Guess, I'll just be a touristy American today. 

Anyway, it's been an interesting couple of days here in Cairo if I do say so myself. Not that classes and my internship are anything out of the ordinary, but the field trips and other stuff I have been up to are what make these last few days rather interesting. 

But, before I get ahead of myself. Here are some of the pictures I promised to post before. Sadly, the ones taken on Sylvia will not be posted until I can get a firewire...which will hopefully be soon. But, in the meantime, Benjamin did a great job on his first time out.
Yasmina and Lindley work on making the Besboosa for desert during cooking. 
 The dinner table all set and ready for people to eat. 
So, let's begin with Monday I guess, as Sunday wasn't anything unusual at all. Monday, however, felt like one of the longest days ever. It started with my colloquial Arabic class, where out of the seven of us that normally attend, only four actually showed up. I don't know where the others were, but they weren't there and it kind of made class somewhat nice because we were able speak without too much confusion. We were also a small enough class that Engie was able to take us out of the classroom to practice our Arabic on the street. 

We walked around and described the people that we saw, mainly what they were wearing as that was the new vocabulary we had just learned. We were also going to go to the supermarket to discuss the names of different foods, however, once again we had gotten such a late start on the field trip that I never actually made it to the supermarket. I had class and thus had to turn around shortly after we started making the trek. 

After my Introduction to Ancient Egypt class, where we have finally made it to Dynasty 12 and are starting the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, we packed our things and headed on our field trip to Cairo University. We had been invited by the administration to come and see the campus. So, we did just that. We piled into three taxis and headed on over. 

The sight of the university surprised me when we first got there. It's not that I hadn't seen Cairo University before because I have in passing and it looks pretty similar to an American university anyway. No, what surprised me was the riot police that had circled themselves around a group of students who were chanting, holding signs, singing and very obviously protesting something. We later found out that they were protesting for Palestinian freedom, a big issue in the Middle East. 

Cairo University looked like any other American style university that I've seen. And being on the tour with the administration brought me back to my days of college searching. You take a lot of pictures and observe the student body in their most natural habitats. 

We started the tour with a look at the main theater where President Obama gave his speech when he came to the Middle East. You'd be very surprised by the positive attention I receive when I say that I'm American due to President Obama. They just love him here. It's surprising especially because I really thought I'd receive a lot more negative attention as an American than I have. 

So, after we left the theater, which was absolutely gorgeous. We went out and saw the international cultural festival that was happening. It was interesting to see. The only "western" country to be represented was Germany. All of the other countries were from the Middle East, or Asia and some from Africa. But, nothing representing the Americas or Europe. We (AMIDEAST, that is) hopes to fix this next year by having them represent the United States. 

After leaving the festival, we went into the library to take a look at the really nice museum of Cairo University and then up to the culturama, which was nine projectors hooked together and projecting simultaneously. It was rather awesome. One of the kids in my program, Will, decided that he needed to know how the mouse/controller worked and so that librarian let him play with it during the presentation...I took pictures of this as it was hysterical. 
 The "famous" dome at Cairo University. 
The cultural festival taking place at Cairo University. 
Will playing with the culturama at the Cairo University library. 
And that was pretty much the end of the field trip. We returned to AMIDEAST, where Will and I were a tad bit late for class. Oh well, it turned out to be a double session anyway. 

Luckily, Dr. Nicole let us out a little early and I was able to grab some food with Moose and Tyler at Le Tabasco, a little restaurant we found down the street, before my last class at 6. 

IR was interesting to say the least. I mean, Monday's lecture discussed the nuclear race going on in Iran and Israel as well as Weapons of Mass Destruction in general. This is a topic I didn't know a whole lot about, but basically the idea of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) is just one that makes everyone pretty uncomfortable and is extremely, so I won't bore you all with getting into the politics behind it all. 

When I got home from class, I pretty much just crashed. I worked on applying for some summer internships for when I get back to DC and I talked with Manya online for a bit. 

Tuesday rolled around and I went to my internship in the morning and then I headed to class in the evening. After class, Dr. Magda had decided last week that she was taking Will and myself out for tea and cake. So, after class we hopped into her car and we were off to a really fancy cake shop that she wanted to take us to. When we arrived, she insisted that we get anything we wanted and that we weren't allowed to pay for any of it. She's so nice! I ended up getting a piece of black forest cake with white hot chocolate. I was on such a sugar overload. It was amazing though. 

After the cake, we walked along the avenue and looked at the shop windows as we were in Mohandessin, which is an area I'd never been to before. It's a really nice area and I definitely think I will be going back there at some point. 

She took us home after a while and on my way home I stopped for some koshary, so that I could actually eat something that wasn't sugar and pure chocolate. But, I didn't even get a chance to eat it before Moose called me and asked if I wanted to see Alice in Wonderland. Of course I couldn't refuse this, so I packed my koshary up in a bag and went out to City Stars with Claudine, Sean, Moose and on our Egyptian friends (I can't remember his name though. I think it's Islam...but, I could be wrong...). 

The movie experience was just that an experience. Similar to the Czech movie experience, they assign you a seat when you buy your ticket, which just makes getting into the theater that much easier later. The snacks are also relatively inexpensive, as opposed to those in the American movie theater. The one really weird part of the experience was that as the movie made a turn into Act II, they randomly shut the movie off for a five minute intermission. It wasn't even a planned interval, just a random moment. 

Overall, I think the movie Alice in Wonderland was really good. It wasn't earth shattering, but it was good and I am satisfied that the adaptation didn't royally screw up one of my all time favorite stories. I recommend going to see it, though it isn't one that I'd be telling you to drop everything to go see. 

I came back from the movie and pretty much crashed until this morning. Today was rather interesting. Classes were normal, but I had my first opportunity to "teach" my Egyptian students today. You see, while I'm here in Egypt in addition to my classes and the internship that I'm working at, I'm also volunteering an hour a week to the Access Program sponsored by AMIDEAST, where I am working to teach Egyptian students, who hope to one day study abroad in the United States, about American culture. They are such a great group and I actually really enjoy teaching them. Which is odd as I usually don't enjoy teaching, but I guess that's because most students I have taught never really wanted to learn. 

After my teaching class, we had a dialogue session with the Egyptian students where we discussed politics in the Middle East and the US foreign policy toward the Middle East. I'm honestly not a fan of this conversation topic as I don't really like bringing politics up. I did realize though, when one of the girls in my dialogue group began discussing her views on women's rights that I may in-fact be a "feminist". I really hate that term, but after hearing what she had to say, I was rather angry at some of the things she was saying. It was frustrating. But, this is a story for another day. 

And that, my readers, is this week. Today was my last day of classes for the week and tomorrow afternoon, I will be packing myself into a bus and will be off to the Black and White desert for some camping. We were originally going to Fayouim, but the cultural festival was canceled and so instead we are off to the desert. It should be lots of fun! So, keep watching for the fun there.

13 March, 2010

فين الأتوبيس؟

[Translation: Where's the bus?]

At the moment I am sitting here in my nice cool apartment, sipping on my mango colada juice, and realizing that I am completely exhausted from today and everything else this week. I'm also realizing just how many times I've tried to write this post and have failed. Oh well. 

I know I explained a little on Monday about the week, so I'll just do a quick recap and then I'll move onto the more recent stuff. But, it's been an exhausting week. 

Alrighty, so let's take this post back a little bit. Let's go back to the "Egyptian Wedding", which I found out wasn't actually a wedding, but the party for the groom's side of the family. It was still a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot. 

The following Thursday night consisted of me staying in and sleeping, something my body was telling me that I desperately needed...especially as I was falling asleep on the couch. 

Friday morning I woke up and received a phone call from a friend of my professor's, who she had been trying to put me in touch with for a while. We set up a time to meet and soon I was on my way to Shubra with the other kids in my program who didn't go to Alexandria for the weekend. We were going to visit some of the churches there as well as some other fun things, like the summer palace of Mohamed Ali Pasha. Well, when we got out to Shubra, we did visit the summer palace, but the churches were a no-go. Instead, we took a ferry across the river to a small island to look for a coffee shop. 

On the island, we found a lot of goats, a lack of cars, some odd looks from the locals and a rather sketchy looking "coffee shop". Needless to say, we ventured about halfway onto the island before promptly turning around and catching the next ferry back to the main land. I guess if nothing else, it was adventurous of us to even wander onto the island. 

Once safely back on land, we caught a taxi and headed into Zamalek for lunch before heading back home. Later in the evening, we (Lindley, Shruti, Will, Sean, Claudine and a few Egyptian friends) met up and then a went to rooftop party with Tamer, which was at an artsy type gallery. It was quite fun and I enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday rolled around a lot faster than I expected and I met with my professor's friend, Nigel, downtown. He was extremely nice and after hearing what his business did, I was super excited to hopefully have an internship with him. (Let's face it, I was super excited before I met him. The idea of working in docs [documentaries] or anything film/tv related even in the least makes me excited.) The "interview", I guess it could be called that, went really well and I was offered an internship that began the next morning. 

I returned to my apartment to work on my Customs and Habits paper and then hang out with Emy. We were supposed to go and see Avatar, but sadly the theater was sold out so instead we wandered around Khan Al-Khalili for a while. She taught me some new Arabic phrases, but I found it extremely difficult to learn them. Especially, when walking down the crowded streets of Cairo. I still feel very inadequate when it comes to trying to speaking the language. But, this too shall pass. 

I had to cut our time together short so that I could finish my Customs and Habits paper, and get to bed at a reasonable hour so I could be up for my internship in the morning. 

Alrighty, now for a quick interlude about my internship. I'm extremely excited. I'm working in Public Relations, which is something that has a major appeal to me because it deals with social media and promoting stuff. I'm super excited about having the hands on experience that this internship is allowing me to have and I've only been there a week. I also really enjoy my time in the office, which is always a good thing. Ok...interlude over. 

So, Sunday consisted of internship in the morning, Customs and Habits in the afternoon, then the dance performance, which I already covered in my last post, and of course the Oscars. As I have already discussed these items, I will omit them from this post and move on.

After IR, everyone thought it would be a great idea to gather for a "family dinner" night, which was awesome...at the time anyway. We had burrito night with homemade guacamole and it was just absolutely delicious. I crashed so hard after coming home from this, but the next morning was crappy. I don't know what it was, but something decided that it was not going to agree with me and I was majorly sick. 

I got up not feeling well, went to work feeling better and had a day of ups and downs. I pretty much decided after work that I was headed home to bed and not going to class. I let the proper channels know and headed home and crashed for a good eight hours. Sadly, I missed movie night at AMIDEAST, but I don't think I could have made it through. 

Wednesday was a much better day. I was able to sit through class and not be sick. After classes we had a lecture on Islamic Feminism by Dr. Riham Bahi who is going to be the new academic coordinator at AMIDEAST. It was a really good lecture and I enjoyed hearing about the issue, even though I'm unsure how I feel on the matter. Afterward, Matthew invited us to his apartment to have pizza and watch a documentary called Why Democracy?, and I highly recommend watching it. It takes on one of the issues that I actually advocate for...freedom of speech. And this looks at freedom of speech in Egypt. I don't want to talk about it too much as I don't want to give away what the doc is about. All I'm going to say is google it, I'm sure you'll find it and definitely watch it. 

Thursday came around rather fast this week and I found myself on another tour of Islamic Cairo, this time specifically Khan Al-Khalili. This day proved to be more eventful than ever intended. We visited on of the most famous mosques in the area, the Al-Hakim Mosque, and were even allowed to climb up and walk on the walls, which normally you aren't allowed to do. I got some pretty awesome pictures, but unfortunately, you will all have to wait to see them as they were taken on Sylvia and I left the firewire cable home. Oops. It reminded me a lot of the castles that I saw in Europe. The design was similar and another interesting aspect was the fact that some Pharaonic stones were used in the construction of the mosque. So, you could find stones with hieroglyphs in them randomly on the walls. We visited another mosque, which had a school attached to it, and it reminded me a lot of one we had seen in our previous tour. I think this one was the Aqmar Mosque, but I don't quite remember. 

Anyway, here the part of the story where things get rather odd. After the tour was ending, we started to head back to the bus. Sort of. Something had happened, and I was left out of the loop. It wasn't a problem that I was left out of the loop, but it was a problem that no one had bothered to tell our Arabic teachers, the two who were left to take us back to the bus, where the bus could be found. "فين الأتوبيس؟ ", "Feen el-autobees?" (translation: Where's the bus?) became one of the most common phrases we uttered to one another while trying to figure out what was going on and trying to find the bus. The one good thing that came out of this had to be the sugar cane juice that I got while we tried to figure everything out.

Even now, I'm still unsure of what actually happened, but according to everyone I've talked to everything got sorted out. We did find the bus and headed back home. 

Later that evening a very large group of us headed out to Muqattam Hill to hang out. There were a few wedding parties on the Hill and the city was all lit up. It looked beautiful. I stayed until about 1:30am when my stomach started to act up and I decided that going home was a good thing. 

I promise, I'm almost done summing up everything and then you can all go back to your regularly scheduled lives. On Friday morning, Sean and I myself made the trip out to Heliopolis to go on a tour with Tamer. There were supposed to be others, but we were the only two who came. The morning started with getting some of the best ice cream I ever had! I got creme brulee and Swiss vanilla cake roll ice cream covered in caramel sauce in a waffle cone. Oh man, it was amazing! 

We saw a Coptic Christian church and sat through about fifteen minutes of the church service before deciding that we should move on. We tried to visit another church, but found that it was only a night church and so we had to forgo the visit until a further trip. After this we made a stop at Cilantro, one of the local coffee shops around here, and we had juice and smoothies. Oh how I love the mango juice in this country!

Once we finished relaxing a bit, we traveled to Baron Palace which was a palace built by the guy who originally built Heliopolis for him to live in. It looks kind of out of place within the rest of Heliopolis, but is very pretty to look at as it consists of European style architecture with Indian decoration. I would have loved to have gone inside, but sadly the guards would not let us. They said it was subject to renovation at the moment. 

With this as pretty much the last stop on the tour, we hopped in a taxi and Tamer, Sean and I headed over to City Stars, the giant mall in Heliopolis. Sean was looking for some pants, which sadly we could not find any that he liked. While, I did find the set of earrings that I was looking for as well as a new camera, which I have so lovingly named Benjamin VII. It's nothing against Sylvia, but it is rather hard to take still photos with her and with Camille waiting on repair, Benjamin VII was rather necessary. So, soon I will be able to post more pictures! Yay! 

We had a lovely time shopping around the mall, and then we returned home before once again heading out. Some friends of Tamer's were having a party on the house boat that they lived on and he invited us along. It was a good time. I dance and met a lot of new interesting people. 

And that pretty much brings us to today. Saturday. The last day of my weekend here in Cairo. And I definitely made the most of it as a weekend, seeing as how I slept until noon today. When I finally did wake up, I got myself ready for another day of Egyptian cooking lessons. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the food we make, but it's always so chaotic to make. I don't even remember what we actually made today, but I do know that it was delicious and as soon as I get Benjamin connected to the computer, I will post those pictures. Overall, today was a good day. 

...Wow. That's it. As of this moment, everything in my life is pretty much caught up. I apologize for the length of this post and the lack of pictures, but things have been out of sorts this week as you can tell. I'm going to try and update more frequently...but, I'm pretty sure I've said this before and I have yet to follow up on that. Well, I'm going to try and do it this time. 

Also, this week coming up should be rather interesting. I don't have a whole lot of stuff going on, but I am heading to Faiyum this weekend as an excursion with my program and for the cultural festival. It should be loads of fun. Stay tuned, who knows what adventures this week will hold. After all, this is Egypt!

08 March, 2010

Why the Hell Am I Still Awake?

As I sit here typing this, I can't seem to comprehend how I'm awake or how I possibly made it through the day either. I know that as soon as my head hits the pillows, I will in fact be out cold for the next six or seven hours. But, the sleep deprivation I suffered today was so worth it!

I had been planning it for weeks now. I did all of my research and finally the day came. The day of the Academy Awards! I knew exactly what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to come home from class, have some dinner and pretty much go straight to bed...only to wake up at 3am to watch the Oscars live from the States. Once they had concluded I would go back to sleep until I needed to leave for class. 

But, as with all things you plan out, nothing ever goes as planned. I woke up Sunday morning super early so that  I could finish writing my paper for my Customs and Habits class (I now have to pick a topic to do a presentation on, good times), and then I went off to my first day of my new internship. (More on that later.) I then headed to class where I turned in my paper and then after class headed home.

When I arrived home I was greeted with quite a surprise, the cleaning lady. She was all over the place in our living room, so I quietly tip-toed up to my room to have a quick skype call with Geoff...that was until I was shooed out of my room by the cleaning lady so she could clean it. Anyway, in the meantime one of my Egyptian friends, Mahmoud, was having a dance performance and really wanted us to come. From what I had heard only a few planned on going, and so I went because a) I was interested and b)I know how it feels to have no one show up for a performance. 

Turns out that there was more than just me going. We weren't a large group, but it was decent in size. And I'm glad I decided to go. It was a really awesome show entitled "And It Isn't Even Tuesday". My only complaint was that the spoken parts were in Arabic and they spoke so fast I couldn't pick up on anything. But, I was able to figure out what was going on rather well by the body language between the characters. 

After the performances, we all went out to dinner and then had some tea. I left to come back home around 11:30pm and I managed to get to bed at 12:30am. I guess it was better than nothing. 

So, then my alarm went off at 3am and I was up and ready to watch the Oscars until 7am. This simply means that after they were over I only got another hour of sleep...thus not a lot of sleep...and today was a long day consisting of Colloquial Arabic, a meeting with the head of AMIDEAST director of study abroad affairs, then a tour of the Egyptian Museum and then IR class until 9pm. 

It was a super long day, but it was so worth it to get up and see the Oscars as they were being broadcast throughout the States. There were a lot of surprises with the winning movies, and I was excited to see a woman win for Best Director! It made me so happy!

Well, I want to elaborate on somethings in this post. But, I wait as I keep dosing off everytime I stop writing. So, that's all for now. Keep it real!

04 March, 2010

Egyptian "Wedding Crashing"

Another post! So soon? I know it's hard to believe that I'm updating again after just updating yesterday about Siwa. Well, that's what happens when stuff goes on and you happen to be there. 

So, here's the newest event in my life. After a week of catching up on life in general, last night's dialogue discussion with the Egyptians was "Family, Friends and Dating". Well, this turned into some very interesting discussion about how things work in America and how things work in Egypt and whether we thought one was better than the other. You get the idea. Matthew was quite amused with the conversation my group was having as the ideas floating around ranged from "My parents were __ age when they met...and here's that story..." to "So, who is the one person in the world you could marry if ever given the chance?" and sometimes even more outrageous. 

Well, after the dialogue discussion we all (and by all I mean a few of the kids from my program and some of the Egyptian friends we have made, and the Egyptian handball team (as we seem to have made friends with them too? I don't know...) ) gathered at the boys apartment called the Man Cave, go figure right?, and sat around for a little bit. It turns out though, that one of our friends, Mahmoud, had a friend who was getting married and Mahmoud wanted to bring us along to the celebration. 

We himmed and hauled a bit on the subject, but eventually decided to go. And I'm kind of glad we did. I've never experienced culture like that before. 

Mahmoud took us to an area that was relatively close to where we lived, but it had a completely different feel than the area that we live in. We arrived and were greeted by everyone, who seemed remarkably happy to see us as I'm pretty sure we were not formally invited. But, everyone was so nice. 

We started off dancing in the street with everyone and soon we were moved upstairs to an apartment. The boys danced while the girls sat for a bit, but soon the boys were taken back downstairs to the streets and the girls were taken by the other women of the family to dance. 

I think Shruti put it pretty well when we got back to the boys apartment later. She said something akin to the idea that you never really expect to see a smile underneath all the veils that the women here wear, but why shouldn't you expect it? And she definitely hit the nail on the head. I see these women and I think, they must be so unhappy, but they really aren't. They are the same as me and we definitely found this out at the wedding. 

As soon as the boys left, a lot of the younger girls took off their veils and were dancing on the couches. While the older women didn't remove their veils, they did dance and they tried to teach us to belly dance. I danced with the mother of the groom, and the sister of the groom and a lot of other wonderful people. They were so very nice and so excited to dance with us. We took a lot of pictures with them. And the children who came into the room were also so excited to see us. They asked us all sorts of questions which I was completely able to understand because they spoke slowly and simply. We also have a lot of pictures with them. The sister of the groom was also really funny because she kept taking my sunglasses and wearing them. I wasn't sure I was going to actually have them when I left.

I also wasn't sure if were actually going to be able to leave the party. Every time we would try, they would grab us again for more dancing or more pictures. Mahmoud eventually had to come up and get us in order to leave. 

I'm glad I went, even though I wasn't sure about it at first. It was a lot of fun and a once in a lifetime experience that I'll never forget. And I do hope there are many more. Pictures will come soon as Shruti posts them and I am able to take some.


03 March, 2010

Lessons from the Desert

Finally, a break to sit and write. I keep trying to sit down and write this post, but I always find a more pressing matter that must be dealt with right away, or I fall asleep, as was the case last night when trying to write. The last five/six days have been non-stop. Also, most of them have been without internet, computer, or many of the technological conveniences that I normally carry around with me in my everyday life that keep me connected to the world. In a way it was wonderful to just be out in the middle of nowhere, with very little connection to the outside world. On the other, I kept dreading the amount of e-mails and facebook messages and tweets I was going to come back to and have to catch up on when I returned...which were a lot. 

Overall, I have to say that the trip to Siwa was extremely relaxing, enjoyable, full of some adventure, and a trip I will never forget. If I have ever sounded like coming to Egypt was a mistake, which come on now...it's Egypt, how can it be a mistake to live here for 5 months?, this trip made up for the hard times I've had and has paved the way for more good times to occur. At least I hope...

I guess I should start at the beginning. Since that's the most logical place to begin a story and unless I feel like trying to put it in order later, this is just safer. I'm going to say I'm sorry now as the post may get a bit lengthy...and by may I mean will...You can't write a short post on a weekend where you ventured into the desert and took nearly 300 photos. It just can't happen. So, here goes nothing. 

The trip to Siwa began bright and early on Thursday morning. Classes had been canceled and we were to meet at the normal meeting place, Cinema El-Tahrir, at 8:00am for the bus to depart. Unfortunately, we didn't depart on time as rain had hit the city of Cairo, a rare and mysterious concept for those who live in a very dry climate...it's kind of like when DC and Baltimore get hit with snow...no one knows what to do...so, the traffic was absolutely horrible and we ended up having to pick up one of our adventurers from the side of the road where his taxi left him. But, we did eventually begin the trip around 8:30am...which is still pretty good considering we are all college kids who normally don't move until after 10am on a good day. 

I don't remember much of the beginning of the trip as I had put on my iPod and pretty much passed out until we hit the first rest stop. We had been informed to use the facilities everytime we came to a rest stop as they are far and few on the highways in Cairo. So, I did just that. And then I bought myself a tea at the coffee/tea shop at the rest stop just so that I became somewhat functional. It was a good choice. I was then able to be awake for some of the trip and read some of The Lottery and other short stories. I made a good dent into it and of course, I skipped around and read The Lottery so that I could discuss it with the others on the bus who had read it. 

I have to say, the bus ride there was super long. 12 hours to be exact and we definitely got lost a few times along the way. From the few times I woke up (I slept a lot on the way there), I can remember the bus driver asking for directions and stopping at a lot of places only to find we had missed a turn or something like that and had to turn around. Good times. 

We did, however, stop at El Alamein on the way to Siwa. For those who don't know it's a huge graveyard where many soldiers from WWII are buried. It was peaceful and I could have spent a lot more time there than we did. We then went into the museum and saw the exhibit on the battle, but due to our tight schedule I didn't see as much as I wanted. Also, the English translation was definitely not good...more like a direct translation from Arabic with no changes at all when put into English. 
  The entrance gate into the cemetery.
The El Alamein War Cemetery.
One of my favorite pictures that I took while at the cemetery. 
After our stop, we boarded the bus again and had lunch, which was packed by Tyler, Moose, and Matthew and was quite delicious. I really do enjoy the fact that whenever AMIDEAST takes us someplace, they come prepared with sandwiches, chips, fruit and drinks. It's kind of like being back in elementary school, but it's awesome. 

With some more road stops and a few more turn arounds, we finally made it to Siwa...at 8:30pm. We quickly checked into our rooms and headed for dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, which was pretty good and consisted of rice, chicken, there was some pasta, desert, tomato soup, and other things that were delicious. After dinner, a good bit of us sat outside, chatted, and had some tea before heading to bed. I crashed pretty early this night and I'm not quite sure why as I slept a lot on the bus. Oh well. The real adventure started on Friday morning. 

Friday morning came at around 7:30am for me. Breakfast was at 8am and so, I wanted to make sure I was somewhat functional before I left. I also made sure that I had everything I was going to need for the day before I left the room. Here's the part where I thank Geoff a lot for buying me the backpack he insisted I have before going to Prague last semester. The detachable part made caring everything in one succinct area so much easier...so thanks Geoff! 

The city of Siwa. A mix of old and new. 
Once everyone had finished breakfast, we loaded the bus and began on the historical aspect of our trip. Our first stop was an area in Siwa used for tribal rituals though for the life of me I can't remember what it was called. After that we headed to see the Old City of Shali, which were in ruins but very awesome to look at and climb through, we saw the old mosque briefly and then went to the House of Siwa, which was opened specifically for us. The House of Siwa was a museum that pretty much documented the culture of Siwians that is slowly dying out. It houses a lot of the old jewelry and clothes and the museum itself is actually built like a house is built. 

 The ruins of the Old Shali city.
 After the lunch, we departed for Geb el-Mawta, which were Pharaohnic tombs if I'm not mistaken and I believe the Roman tombs. Either way, we saw some tombs and William and myself once again found ourselves trying to read the hieroglyphs on the walls, and on any other piece of rock we found. I really think I'm going to just start bringing my hieroglyphs book with me on trips so we can translate things.
 The Pharaohnic tombs were buried inside the "mountain". We climbed all the way to the top! 
We then stopped for lunch at a small restaurant in town where I had some delicious chicken curry and mango juice. Couldn't have asked for anything else. 

Then we finally got to the real reason Siwa is "famous". We got to see the Temple of the Oracle. This is the same temple that Alexander traveled to and received his great news. We got to see the sanctuary where the oracle would have been and it was very cool. We also stopped by the Temple of Amun, which was pretty destroyed due to a gentleman taking it apart for use in his house...but, nonetheless, Will and I proceeded to try and read the hieroglyphs. We also stopped by Cleopatra's bath briefly and considered coming back to swim, but unfortunately did not. 

The Temple of the Oracle ruins. 
Me standing outside where the oracle would have been kept. 
Rebecca "saving" Will from one of the last walls of the Temple of Amun...he's trying to read the hieroglyphs.
Instead of swimming at Cleopatra's bath, we settled for the hot spring-like pool that was at the resort. Although, I must say it was rather gross feeling on the bottom. My guess is that because it's not tourist season yet, they didn't clean the pools and such just yet. But, it was rather nice and enjoyable to float around in.

Once we finished swimming, I quickly returned to my room for a shower and then met everyone at the bus for a trip to see the sunset on Siwa lake. 

The sunset over the lake was the most relaxing thing I've ever seen. I sat and talked with people and just lounged in chair. I took a lot of pictures of when the sun went down and enjoyed it. 
Saw this sign on the way to watch the sunset. I thought it was pretty funny...it's about swimming in one of the springs nearby.
The sunset over the Oasis. So pretty!
We then returned to the hotel for dinner, and then hanging out under the Bedouin tent playing cards and games. I learned quite a bit of card games and I sort of learned to play tawla aka backgammon...sort of anyway before I returned to my room for the evening. 

Saturday morning came around at about the same time as Friday, though it didn't have to. I got up for breakfast and then caught the bus with a few others and went into town to do some shopping. I started off with everyone, but soon drifted off on my own to do my own thing. I bought some gifts for the people back home, plus a few things for me, which is rare as I never buy things for me. 

We returned to the hotel at 11:30am, had lunch at the hotel and then met out front of the resort where we boarded three SUVs and began on the "desert excursion". I didn't realize how close our resort was to the Sahara desert. We literally drove two minutes and then we were in the desert where we began jumping dunes and driving. It was so much fun. I want to do it again! 
SUVs in the desert. Taken from the window of the SUV I was in.
We drove for a little bit and then stopped once it seemed we were nowhere near civilization. There was a huge dune which we all proceeded to climb up. It was here, unfortunately that Camille, my camera, became a victim of the sand gods. (I'm currently looking for a place to fix the lens problem as that's all that's wrong with the camera.) It kind of killed my mood for a bit of the trip...which meant the stop at the warm spring wasn't exactly fun as I really wanted pictures, but couldn't take them. Oh well. By the time we hit the huge dune for "sandboarding" I was fine again. I didn't get to "sandboard" per say, but I did get to "sandsled". Unfortunately, I only got about halfway down the dune before my board began to cover in sand. I quickly got up and started back up the hill and realized how hard it was to climb in sand when you can't see. I decided not to try again as the hill was so difficult to climb. 
The boys heading for the top of the dune.
 Everyone falling in the sand. You can can sort of see how windy it was.
Once everyone had had their fun with the sandboards, we packed the SUVs again and drove down the massive dune and made a rest at the lake. Some of us went swimming, I opted to only dip my feet in the water as it was really cold. The drivers also brought some tea and cake with them, so we sat under a canopy in the desert and sipped on tea and ate cakes. These are things that you really only get to do once. 

After a nice long rest, we loaded the SUVs again and drove to the Great Sand Sea, where we were shown fossils of fish and sand dollars. I'd say I'm now pretty convinced there was once a sea where the sand now sits. It was pretty cool, I have to say. 

We returned back to the SUVs, did some more awesome riding around in the desert and then headed back for the resort where I watched the sunset over the desert from the wall of the resort that bordered the desert. Luckily, Sylvia, my video camera, was there to take some pretty pictures of the sunset. 

Dinner was again at 8pm, and it was soon followed by more hanging out under the Bedouin tent with people. This time I actually played a few card games instead of just watching and learning. I really enjoyed playing with the guys and Yasmina. It was fun and I stayed up much later than I have in the past just hanging out and such. It was a great day...the only problem had to be getting the sand out of my hair and off of me once we returned from the desert. 

Sunday morning marked the end of our expedition to the desert. I packed my things the night before and proceeded to put them on the bus around 7:45am or so. I then had breakfast and everyone met on the bus at 8:30am. We were trying to make the trip shorter on the way home, so we planned on cutting out a stop at a restaurant for lunch and instead just stopping at a fast food place...too bad this didn't work out. 

We had been on the road for approximately three hours or so, when all of a sudden the bus began to slow down. We had run out of gas...in the middle of the desert. I'm sure you can see how this would be a very bad thing. I think our driver was worried about this so, he had asked the police to follow us in case it did...and well, it did. Luckily for us that about three minutes later, a tankard carrying petroleum came cruising down the road. We flagged the tankard down and were able to secure some more gas rather quickly and soon we were on the road to Mersa Matruh, the port town we weren't supposed to go to. We stopped there for lunch at a very nice restaurant and then took a quick stop over to see the Mediterranean Sea, which was beautiful, blue and cold. I did dip my toes in. 

The rest of the bus ride home was pretty uneventful. I did all of my International Relations reading, sat and talked about things with Dr. Randa, my Egyptology professor, and read some more. I was awake for most of the ride home. 

We arrived back in Cairo at approximately 9:00pm, which left us all pretty exhausted and unexcited to have classes the next morning. So, we offloaded our things from the bus, and headed back for the apartment where I then proceeded to crash. 

The trip itself was wonderful. A bit tiring and full of adventure. So, by this point I'm sure you are all wondering about the title of the entry. Well, while in the desert I learned a lot of new things. So, without further ado, here's the list of lessons I learned in the desert. 

1. The proper use of a scarf is to tie it around your head, so that sand doesn't get in your hair and it can also be used to cover your face. Sunglasses also help you see when the wind picks up. (I will post a picture of this as soon as I can find one of me...)
2. Cameras do not appreciate when you fall in the sand. 
3. The desert was at one point a sea. 
4. Burial tombs are fun places to try and read ancient writing on the wall. 
5. Running out of gas in the middle of the desert is not necessarily a bad thing. 
6. Using squat toilets are quite interesting and let you know that there are muscles you've never used before. 
7. Being on a bus for 12 hours is quite exhausting. 
8. Before tourist season, swimming pools are rather gross. 

And that's about it. I'm pretty sure there are more than that, but I don't remember much more. It was awesome. End of story. 

So, keep looking for more adventures like this one. They are sure to be appearing more frequently now that the semester is definitely kicked into full gear. I can't believe I've been here over a month already. Time is flying, and the posts are too. Keep watching!