Some Days Are Just Perfect…

Possibly the best kind of day is a day that is inexplicably great for some undefinable reason. The day when I saw the pyramids, for example, was amazing and unforgettable and all of the above of course, but there was a very clear reason for it. Last Wednesday was perhaps an equally perfect day, though I did nothing quite so remarkable as seeing the Pyramids. My residual good mood from Wednesday has kept me in very high spirits even as the academic load here has decidedly picked up in the past week or so.

It started off great anyway, as I only had one class which didn’t start until 11, so I finally got a decent night of sleep. As I leisurely rolled out of bed and strolled to class around 10:45, I was delighted at the 70 something degrees of perfect weather with the slight breeze that makes Alexandria such a pleasant place to be at this time of year. My class was with one of the most thoroughly entertaining professors I have ever had, and I consistently laugh straight through his class while somehow still managing to learn a lot of Fusha (standard Arabic). When class ended two other girls and I were done for the day at 1 pm, and we decided we needed to take advantage of our oddly light workload and the perfect weather. We went to my regular sandwich table where I eat at least three times a week (two bean sandwiches for 2 guinea/~30 cents…if you branch out from beans it costs only marginally more). We ate them on a balcony at the Medina, then dropped our school bags in our rooms and headed out for some wandering.

We wandered along the Corniche by the sea for a few blocks first. We came across a group of 24 street cats casually lounging around a bag that it appeared had once contained fish–I have since concluded this weirdly large gathering of cats was almost definitely the Aristocats, though sadly they did not sing and dance while we were there. We stood for a while cooing over the cats, and particularly two adorable kittens among them, and a man about our age came up next to us to welcome us to Egypt. We surprised him by responding in Arabic, and proceeded to have a lovely conversation which ended with the discovery that he was also a student at Kuliat al-Adab (the Department of Literature) where the TAFL Center is located, so perhaps we will cross paths again.

One of my friends has been in need of sunglasses for the entire month since we arrived in Egypt, so she decided this was the time to finally find some. We walked to Ibrahimmiya, which is a neighborhood with a lot of semi-outdoor shopping. On our way there, we were distracted by a jewelry store window. As we were inspecting the rings, a girl of about 7 approached us to introduce herself. We got past names easily, but after that the combined effect of her very soft voice, and the fact that she was somewhere between 3 and 4 feet tall made it quite difficult for us to understand her. We finally realized that she was asking if we were married as a group of three shabab (as we sometimes fondly and sometimes slightly less fondly refer to young Egyptian boys or men) wandered over presumably to help translate. The timing of this exchange meant that as they arrived we were assuring Rahama (the girl) that we were not in fact married, which prompted her to pick one of the three shabab for each of us and somewhat insist that we marry them. Luckily for us, these particular shabab seemed a lot more friendly than creepy, and did not jump in on the marriage joke as others might have. We were particularly grateful for this given that they appeared to be about 15. Thoroughly disappointed that she would not be witnessing a triple wedding in the street, Rahama ran off, and we were left to once again surprise Egyptians that we speak Arabic. We chatted for a bit with the shabab, telling them that we were studying Arabic here and where we were from. They asked why we would bother to study Arabic when so many Egyptians already speak English, we laughed that off, and joked about how surprised we were that we met three guys none of whom were named either Mohamed or Ahmed. They did compliment our Arabic, and for the most part seemed to understand it, which is by far the biggest boost of confidence I can get in Egypt.

We got to Ibrahimmiya, my friend purchased two pairs of sunglasses, and we continued to stroll through the outdoor markets. We turned down a side street that sold mostly meat–which in Egypt means it is filled with live animals including bunnies, chickens and various other birds, and even a giant sea turtle. We talked to the man with the giant sea turtle for a while (also understood and complimented our Arabic–10 points for Gryffindor!). He told us that sea turtle meat is delicious (I don’t plan on learning first hand) and it costs 90 guinea a kilo (~$13.37). He also asked about where and what we were studying, and once again the conversation was very uplifting.

The sun was still shining, and we had a bit of time left before we had to be back for dinner at the Medina, so we returned to the Corniche and stopped in Cafe Venezia, which we frequent for its Wi-Fi. We all ordered “Ice Mocha” which turned out to be a heavenly and rather unexpected coffee-chocolate milkshake, so that was a plus. After Medina dinner, the whole program and several of the Egyptian roommates went bowling, and we had a good time relaxing and getting to know some of the Egyptian guys from the men’s dorms a bit better. All in all it was one of the best days I have had in a while, though I did not do anything particularly out of the ordinary. The perfect weather and wandering with friends combined with the much appreciated lack of harassment to put me in a very relaxed and contented mood. Street harassment is normally a problem here–particularly for three obviously non-Egyptian women walking alone–I will address this on the blog at a point when I have had some more time to consider my own thoughts on the matter. However days like last Wednesday always serve to remind me that the men who think it is okay to shout “Hey beautiful/sweet/honey/etcetera” to us as we pass are a minority, and if you get the chance to talk to most Egyptians here they are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could hope to encounter.

I keep feeling like my blog sounds like the chronicles of an oddly cheerful person, and I promise you I am not trying to make Egypt sound sunnier or more wonderful than it is. There are certainly problems in Egypt, and anyone who follows the news will know that. A lot of the problems are internal political issues that have minimal effect on my life here, though for Egypt’s sake I hope they are resolved in the near future. Some other problems do affect me, and in particular Egyptian expectations of women which can often be a bit of a hassle for us. I will discuss these issues here at some point, but I want to ensure I have a better and deeper understanding of the situation before I make a public comment on my issues in Egypt. On top of that, these issues are primarily marginal to my daily life, and they are not impeding me from having a truly wonderful experience abroad. I cannot remember being happier than I have been here in Egypt so far, and so my blog reflects that. I am sorry if my cheerfulness gets dull! I am also sorry for my lack of pictures–often when I am walking around I am doing everything I can to convince Egyptians that I am not in fact a tourist, and constant picture snapping doesn’t tend to help. I will try to get more in the future, but it does not always feel like a good idea. Until next time!

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Lost and Gained

Like I said in my last post, I have not had as much trouble adjusting to Egypt as I expected to originally. I haven’t had any long, intense bouts of homesickness yet, but there have been brief moments, for example, when the Wi-Fi at the Medina entered its fourth straight week of simply not being present, when I have briefly thought of things I miss about everyday life in America. This morning was one of those moments, due to my actual need for Internet that simply didn’t exist, but since I found this lovely cafe with a very friendly staff and a view of the sea I am feeling much better now (don’t worry!). Since I have a deep attachment (obviously and inevitably) to my life in America, but am also learning to appreciate the differences of my daily life in Egypt, I choose to look at this as a list of things I have lost and the corresponding thing I have gained. Of course, what should be first on this list is something I discussed at length in my last post, so I have not included it here, but it would read: Lost: The assumption that things will generally work as intended or events will begin on time, Gained: A more carefree and calmer approach to daily life. That is still probably the thing I appreciate most about my life in Egypt. However, there are plenty of others, and here are just a few.

1. Lost: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Gained: Bassem Youssef

So far, this is one of the things I miss most (not totally sure what that says about me). I do love my political satire, and I have very rarely missed an episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report since starting college. Between the language pledge and the very, very crappy and unpredictable Internet, I have not gotten to watch them at all since arriving in Egypt. To make matters worse, Jon Stewart is going to be in Durham in March, and my whole family will be going without his biggest fan! Lucky for me though, there is a counterpart here in Egypt, and slowly but surely I am beginning to understand him. His name is Bassem Youssef, and if you are a religious devotee of The Daily Show like I am, you will have seen him interviewed last summer. He really is extremely funny, and he consciously structured his show after the Daily Show, so it is quite a fitting substitute. I found a few YouTube channels online that subtitle full episodes in English, but it takes them quite a while so I was stuck with episodes from November and December, and quite recently they broke into January. Now that I have gotten a bit more used to his voice, as long as he sticks to political topics where my vocabulary is a bit more extensive (thanks Al Kitaab!), I can normally understand the main idea the first time around without subtitles. I am now watching more recent episodes once they get posted on the show’s official YouTube channel (and once I find a decent Internet connection) and I tend to watch them about three times in a row. It is still a struggle but it is definitely much easier than it was a month ago. Certainly, in a post (or possibly ongoing) revolutionary state, there is room for political satire, and he very freely expresses his opinion. If you want to see an example, this is a brief clip of his show from December 21, 2012 (be sure to turn on captions in the bottom right hand corner to see what he is saying in English!). This particular clip is serious rather than funny, but I think it shows the strength of the program’s writing and his willingness to tackle any subject.

2. Lost: Snow, Gained: A Mediterranean coastline

Now I know snow is supposed to be a pain for New Englanders (yes, I sometimes call myself a New Englander/Mainer after just two years there…), but I have to say that all the blizzard pictures up on Facebook and the Bowdoin website made me pretty jealous of the ability to go build an igloo outside. I love playing in the snow, and sometimes there is nothing like a good old blizzard to make you feel like a five year old again. I did genuinely miss having an actual winter as I looked through the pictures of Bowdoin as a winter wonderland. But I have to say that the weather here is pretty incredible, and whenever I miss the snow too much I can always walk the two blocks down to the Corniche and stare out at the Mediterranean for a while. Different, to be sure, but it makes a decent replacement.

3. Lost: The ability to casually cross the street, Gained: Adventure every time I cross the Street

Now Brunswick is by far the easiest place in the world to cross the street. I remember visiting Bowdoin for the first time, and standing on a corner with my mother in downtown Brunswick debating whether or not we were going to cross the street, and noticing that a car was waiting calmly and patiently for us to make our decision before he drove past us. That is not the way Egyptian driving works. Egyptian driving is one of the least comprehensible phenomena I have ever witnessed. There clearly seem to be rules of conduct, as Egyptians all seem to be driving in the same manner, but I have yet to figure out exactly what they are. I have decided that it definitely seems to be a competition, and if you let a pedestrian cross in front of you or let another vehicle in front of you for any reason whatsoever, you have lost. On top of that mentality, they have dispensed with any idea of lanes. Cars tend to drive in a zigzag pattern in order to win whatever race they are currently engaged in, and I have commonly seen five or six cars across the width of what ought to be a three lane road from an American perspective. When we were walking through Cairo we came across a few gridlock situations where I legitimately could not conceive of the intended traffic pattern as cars seemed scattered about randomly, facing in all sorts of directions, and no one could move. Every morning on my walk to class, I have to cross a pretty large intersection, and it is always an adventure. The whole first week I would basically hold my breath and run across when I thought I saw a gap, which of course is not quite the Egyptian way (though this was by no means the only thing giving me away as a foreigner, so I wasn’t overly concerned about it). I have gotten fairly used to this now, and have discovered that fortunately the cars here do in fact seem averse to the idea of actually running a pedestrian over. Nonetheless, it is a great way to be sure you are nice and awake before your first class of the day.

4. Lost: All my Thorne and Moulton favorites (Looking at you, Chicken Tortilla Soup), Gained: Koshary

We polar bears are pretty fond of our dining. I doubt many college students studying abroad commonly note missing their cafeteria food, but to be honest Thorne and Moulton are pretty lovely. Fortunately, Egypt has its very own comfort food, and unfortunately I am quite addicted to it. Koshary is a dish very specific to Egypt that essentially mixes all the carbs you can throw into a bowl together and adds some spices and garlic sauce–basically a dish custom designed for me. Though different restaurants differ in sauces and a few ingredients, usually Koshary consists of macaroni, lentils, chick peas, fried onions, sometimes some rice, sometimes a second kind of pasta, and then a spicy red sauce and a delicious garlicy sauce. It fills you up in no time flat, and makes sure your breath smells absolutely terrible, but oh my goodness is it delicious comfort food sometimes. Also, there is a nearish place where you can get a bowl of this deliciousness for 4 guinea, or about 60 cents, yes please! (Note: I am planning to do a longer food post soon, so Koshary will probably show up there too, but it had to go in this list as well).

My first bowl of Koshary (back during orientation)

My first bowl of Koshary (back during orientation)

5. Lost: Feeling like a moderately intelligent person when I speak to anyone, Gained: The feeling of Extreme Triumph when A New Person Understands What I am Saying in Arabic

Arabic is hard, honestly. There is simply no way around that. I do feel like I am improving quite quickly in terms of being able to understand what is being said to me, but my ability to appropriately and quickly respond in dialect is still lagging a bit. Earlier today my friend and I arrived at a cafe and had the hardest time trying to ask the waiter what their hours were (though since it turned out this cafe is 24-hour, perhaps the question simply confused him). I have a few conversations like that almost every day, where someone hears something completely different than what I am actually trying to say, and when they start speaking to me in competent English it makes me feel like such an idiot sometimes. However, most days, I do get at least one conversation in where I both understand what I am being told and asked, and the other person understands what I am trying to say. My ability to hold a conversation with Salah (the cheery shopkeeper from an earlier post who is one of my favorite people in Egypt) is one of the easiest ways to turn a difficult day around. Fortunately he is around the corner from my dorm, so if I need to lift my spirits I can almost always make an excuse to go purchase a water bottle from him. It is even better whenever I am talking to someone from the first time if they respond with “Oh, you speak Arabic?” with a mixture of shock and delight. I quickly temper their expectations by saying “A little,” but that doesn’t lessen my joy at being understood by someone new for the first time. There is something about being in a completely new environment that opens you up to appreciating the little things, and that is honestly a really pleasant outlook to have on life.

Till next time!

The Insha’Allah Attitude and One Month Down!

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! In case you are wondering, Valentine’s Day is a thing in Egypt, and seems generally to be a much bigger deal than in America. Most people are wearing red, there are sweets everywhere, and I even saw Valentine’s themed graffiti as I was walking near the university, though unfortunately I did not have my camera with me at the time. Maybe if it is still there next time I pass I can post it here. This is more of a general blog post rather than any specific event. These are just a few of the cultural aspects of life in Egypt that have made my first month here (oh my goodness, how has it already been a month?) so thoroughly delightful!

One of the first things you learn when you arrive in Egypt is everything will work the way it is supposed to, when you need it, insha’Allah (roughly translates to God willing, but is used with much more frequency than we use that phrase in English). It does not take too long to figure out that God will not always will the washing machine, the Wi-Fi or the electricity to work at all times. Nor will he always will that the trains depart within an hour of their scheduled departure time. If these things happened with this kind of frequency in America, there would be very pushy Americans on the phone to their landlords or yelling at the train conductors demanding the problem be rectified, but the attitude here is a lot more relaxed, and people seem to take things in stride.

This sounds like something that would pose a real challenge to my usual neurotic self, but I must have braced for it well before I got here, because in my first month here very few of these sorts of setbacks have truly bothered me. My first two nights in the Medina, (my dorm, though that word actually means the city), I didn’t realize that one of the two showers on our floor worked much better than the other one. My first two showers were cold and approximated the water pressure of a watering can. I assumed that was just the way it was, until I heard a few of the other girls talking about how great the water pressure was, and realized the second shower was the way to go. During orientation, we had a bus tour scheduled of part of the city on the second day, and the bus decided it was going to show up an hour later than it was booked for, which did not work with our orientation schedule. We took taxis and just arrived at our dinner early, and crammed in a bit of a tour the next day. For the first week of the program, there was Wi-Fi in the Medina, which is supposed to be the case, however it broke three weeks ago and though there are continually university employees assuring our coordinator that it is coming soon, we still have no Internet in the Medina three weeks later. There is Wi-Fi in the TAFL Center, though that periodically stops working for an hour or two. Our washing machine in the Medina sometimes works as expected, and other times finishes the cycle without draining the water so our clothes take about three days to dry (which is always fun given my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to laundry). When we took the train to Cairo last weekend, our first train arrived an hour and a half after it was scheduled to arrive (which by the way I don’t believe was announced, unless it was one of the garbled Arabic announcements I did not understand), and our train back arrived on time, but we sat in the station for an hour and a half before leaving. This sounds, on the surface, like a long list of complaints about Egypt, but my point here is that none of this has really phased me. At most, it has amused me, as we giggle and mutter under our breath “Welcome to Egypt.” I don’t think taking on the Insha’Allah attitude is something an American accustomed to seeking accountability if things are not working can will themselves to adopt, but I am extremely grateful that for whatever reason I have managed to adopt it. It definitely makes life in Egypt a lot more bearable than it otherwise might be, and often downright entertaining.

I don’t want this post to make it sound like the sole cultural difference between Egypt and America is that things don’t always work in Egypt and no one seems to care. That would be grossly unfair to this country I am falling in love with. There are a great many cultural differences that I love, and know I will miss once I get back to America. And like I said, this general sense of acceptance when there are setbacks is actually one of them, I like being calm the way I am here. But there are countless others too.

For example, I recently realized that Aam Ahmed, the man who runs our in house coffee and snack bar as well as taking care of the TAFL Center in many other ways, has a counterpart in every building on campus. For my one-on-one class (which is Egyptology by the way–Yes!) I go to my professor’s office, which is in a separate building, and his first question is invariably “What do you want to drink?” Once I decide, he goes and orders that for me as well as a tea for himself from that building’s Aam Ahmed (whose name I unfortunately do not know). I have learned that the ginger tea in that particular building is one of the world’s most delicious drinks, so I will probably be going for that from now on, I can’t really imagine getting tired of it. By the way, at least in our program, it is by no means a rarity for professors to order drinks for all of their students. I imagine that this is specific to the TAFL Center, as our classes are extremely small (there are five people in my largest class compared to the enormous classes in the normal university setting). However, in a day with three classes it is not uncommon that all three of my professors will insist that I order either a coffee or a tea on their tab. Why is this not a thing in America? Let’s get on that.

There are also some delightfully creative forms of address here. There is a phrase that more directly translates to “Sir” or “Ma’am,” but most often I hear the more creative versions. I am not totally comfortable using most of them yet myself, as I think many of them make a particular comment on the age or social class of the person you are speaking to, and that makes me a bit nervous that I could offend someone with no intention at all of doing so. Some of these terms include president, captain, uncle, and my personal favorite, “not engineer,” which I will admit complete ignorance on in terms of when it is appropriate to use. I’m working on figuring these out, but so far I feel a lot more comfortable sticking to sir and ma’am.

Another lovely linguistic thing is the heavy presence of call and response in Arabic. These are a bit of a pain to learn, because if someone says the first line to you, you need to both recognize what it is, and respond with the appropriate and set response. Some of them are almost poetic though, and I am quite fond of them when they don’t lead to me struggling to remember the correct answer that I know I have learned. For example, the standard call and response for good morning roughly translates to “morning of goodness,” to which you respond “morning of light.” There are also lots of variants with slightly different connotations. This has occasionally tripped me up if I have started to say good morning at precisely the same time as someone else, and have midway been confused as to whether I should go with the first or the second. I can’t imagine it is terribly important in that case, but being my usual awkward self I normally end up garbling a mixture of the two words in my confusion (clearly, that is the best response to this situation: fill in the blank with your choice of nonsense word!). If you sneeze, people will say “May God have mercy on you,” to which you are meant to respond “May he have mercy on us and may he have mercy on you” (This sounds a lot better in Arabic, but that is the most direct translation). I have no idea how many of these there are, but there really seem to be quite a lot. Like I said, they are a bit of a pain to learn, but they are a nice flourish in everyday conversation.

Those are just a few of the things I love about my first month living in Egypt. Unless it is still to come, I have to say I think I have avoided anything I would refer to as “culture shock.” In talking to a few of my friends who have studied abroad before they said they struggled more with re-entry shock, because they had mentally prepared to be surprised by their time abroad, but they didn’t expect American culture to surprise them. Maybe that will be the case for me. It worked out well in my case, as I have truly just been able to enjoy my first month here in Egypt, and insha’Allah I will enjoy it even more as my Arabic gets better. Love from Egypt and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Camels and Pyramids: Now You Know For Sure I’m in Egypt!

This weekend several of us went to Cairo, which for me was my first time in the city (aside from quite a few hours sitting in the airport on arrival day). Because of continuing political tension, we were asked to stay out of downtown, but fortunately for us, Cairo is an absolutely enormous city, and there are plenty of things to do and see outside of the downtown area. After just one weekend there, I would absolutely not say “I have seen Cairo.” It is a city that will require at least a few return visits.

First on the agenda, unsurprisingly, were the Pyramids. Since I was about 8 the pyramids have maintained their position firmly atop my to-see list, so I was completely overwhelmed with excitement, so much so that I woke up in time for our hotel breakfast despite getting in around 4:00 am the night before from a cafe. I squealed from the backseat of the taxi when I caught my first glimpse of the pyramids looming from afar, and my excitement only increased as we approached. The pyramids are truly incredible. I hate using superlatives on here all the time, but let’s be honest: it’s the pyramids. They are among the seven wonders of the world for good reason. The fact that they have been standing in the same place for over four and a half millenia is incredible on its own, not to mention the feat of engineering before all of the technological advances we have now.

I expected my visit to the pyramids to consist of that sort of awe. I was a bit surprised, however, to find that a visit to the pyramids also provides many lessons in modern Egyptian culture. We kept asking our coordinator whether we would have a tour at the pyramids or just wander on our own, and her seeming lack of concern on this matter confused us. Once we got to the complex, it made a lot more sense. Egyptian tourism has suffered a lot from the revolution and its aftershocks (or continuation depending on whom you ask), so there are quite a lot of very gregarious and insistent tour guides at the pyramids. I am not entirely sure how we ended up with Ramadan, but essentially he found us and began whisking us around the complex with no promise on our part to pay him at all. The ultimate goal for him, which he ended up fulfilling, was to get us on his camels and horses when we eventually decided to ride around the pyramids. Four of the students with us paid to go inside the Great Pyramid, but claustrophobia got the better of me and I remained outside with one of the girls who had been to the pyramids before. We walked around taking pictures, and were approached every other second by someone offering us camel rides, postcards, or souvenirs. Some of these people were quite insistent, and would follow us for a while after our refusal.

Once the others emerged from the Great Pyramid, we decided it was time for the obligatory camel ride. There were six of us, and Ramadan recommended that we take three horses and three camels, and switch halfway as many people find the camel ride  uncomfortable. I started out on a horse. We had all gotten settled on camels and horses and had just started to leave for our ride when a group of apparently quite angry men came running after Ramadan and screaming. I still have no idea what this argument was about, but it got rather violent and spooked the camels, which in turn spooked the students on the camels. The eventual resolution was that those of us on horses switched to different horses and then set off. I am not completely sure how long our ride took, but I think it was close to two hours. We took hundreds of pictures of all conceivable angles of the pyramids, and of course ourselves on camels–the required profile picture for anyone studying abroad in Egypt. It struck us how differently the Pyramids would be run if they were an American attraction. For one thing, our guides would certainly not continually be encouraging the camels and horses to go running faster with completely inexperienced riders on their backs. Secondly, they wouldn’t have allowed us on horses without leads. I personally don’t imagine you would be able to approach and touch the actual pyramids if they were American (okay, yes, technically I saw a sign that said no climbing, but no one was adhering to it and I witnessed no attempts to enforce it). You go to the Pyramids to recall the splendor of Ancient Egypt, but that doesn’t mean the experience is without a dash of modern Egypt as well.

My horse ride around the Pyramids...

My horse ride around the Pyramids…

Standing on the Great Pyramid...I guess technically not allowed? But trust me we were not alone. Rules in Egypt tend to be more like guidelines...

Standing on the Great Pyramid…I guess technically not allowed? But trust me we were not alone. Rules in Egypt tend to be more like guidelines…

I was pretty excited...I think I ended up acting like a small child the whole day...

I was pretty excited…I think I ended up acting like a small child the whole day…

What Middle Eastern blog is complete without a camel?

What Middle Eastern blog is complete without a camel?

Here is the group with our illustrious guide Ramadan. Not sure how this photo failed to capture our tired, sweaty state. I promise we looked less nice than this photo implies.

Here is the group with our illustrious guide Ramadan at the end of a long day at the Pyramids. Not sure how this photo failed to capture our tired, sweaty state. I promise we looked less nice than this photo implies.

On Saturday we toured City of the Dead in Cairo with an extremely knowledgeable tour guide. I knew basically nothing about it before hand, so I was not sure what to expect. It is essentially an oddly quiet neighborhood in Cairo that is filled with lots of mausoleums, but where people also live in order to take care of the dead. The tour lasted from 9 am until 2 pm, and being the dork that I am I loved every minute.

A man in City of the Dead spinning silk.

A man in City of the Dead spinning silk.

A glass workshop in City of the Dead (yes I made a purchase)

A glass workshop in City of the Dead (yes I made a purchase)

That does not get to everything I did in Cairo this weekend. Honestly some of my favorite parts were when we were just wandering through streets packed with vendors. I am not sure how common this is but in our wandering we witnessed two fairly intense fights breaking out. The first started near the Attaba metro station. From what we could tell, it began between two women, but quickly a crowd joined in and it escalated rather violently. In about a minute flat one of the original women had upended a huge area of the market, and the ground was covered in sweaters, shoes and assorted other wares. Later on, not too far away, a fight broke out between some men by a fruit vendor, and one had the brilliant idea to break a coconut over his adversary’s head. We amused ourselves on the hour long wait before the train left Ramses Station in Cairo by creating the back story of these two (in our version) connected fights, and I am fairly sure it may be the outline of the next great literary gem.

I feel like this post is getting quite long, and I don’t want to bore you. On another note, please let me know if you have any questions for me about my experience so far in Egypt. There are so many aspects of life here that differ from my life in America, and sometimes it is hard for me to determine which of them would make for interesting blog posts, so if there is anything you are particularly curious about please ask! Until next time!

Here and There (Photo Journaling for Bowdoin)

First, some very exciting news: I received my first letter in Egypt this past Thursday! And it appropriately displayed an adorable polar bear family! Thanks Grandma and Grandpa, it will hang by my bed for the next few months!

A lovely polar bear family from my grandparents!

A lovely polar bear family from my grandparents!

The body of this post is actually serving two purposes for me. There is a student creating an exhibition back at Bowdoin from various abroad students’ responses to photo essay prompts. Since I haven’t posted on here in a while, I figured this brief “photo essay” could serve double duty for me.

The first prompt was called “Here and There” and asked us to find something in our new environment that reminded us of Bowdoin. I’ll be honest, this one took me a while. The combined effect of living in a city of 4 million where January temperatures range from 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit and cars absolutely never stop when you are crossing the street made it difficult for me to find anything that particularly reminded me of Bowdoin. I do think of my North Carolina home whenever I spot one of Pippin’s many Egyptian cousins, like the one seen below.

Not a great photo, as these Egyptian street cats are both human shy and quite fast! I dare say Pippin's life is a bit easier and more luxurious than that of an Egyptian street cat...

Not a great photo, as these Egyptian street cats are both human shy and quite fast! I dare say Pippin’s life is a bit easier and more luxurious than that of an Egyptian street cat…

The view out my window in Maine on February 2, 2011.

The view out my window in Maine on February 2, 2011.

The rather different view out my window exactly two years later, February 2, 2013.

The rather different view out my window exactly two years later, February 2, 2013.

One obvious similarity is that Bowdoin and Alexandria are both coastal towns. I live even closer to the sea here than at Bowdoin (I am looking out on the Mediterranean as I type this), and the coastline here is generally beachier than Maine’s famously rocky coastline, but I did find one spot that instantly took me back to my first time poking around the Coastal Studies Center with my mom as a pre-frosh.

To the East of where I live, and past what tends to be some pretty horrendous traffic, there is a beautiful park called Montazah, and a group of us have gone there to watch the sunset twice so far. This is the one spot I have found so far where the rocks of the Alexandrian coastline recall the Maine coast, and watching my new friends climb out onto the rocks, I could not help but remember falling in love with Maine for the very first time, climbing out onto the rocks of the coastal studies center and feeling rather like Pocahontas.

Climbing the rocks at Montazah--sadly, I did not trust the bridge enough to go out there myself!

Climbing the rocks at Montazah–sadly, I did not trust the bridge enough to go out there myself!

As a side note, I thought you should know that feeling like Pocahontas is a longstanding tradition for me...

As a side note, I thought you should know that feeling like Pocahontas is a longstanding tradition for me…

As the sun set over Alexandria, I remembered watching some of my first Maine sunsets on my Chewonki kayaking pre-orientation trip. Both views were breathtaking as the sun set over the clear blue water. In Maine, the opposite coastlines offered little evidence of civilization, just endless pine trees, whereas at Montazah, the coastline was lined with Egypt’s second largest city, which has been standing here in one form or another since the days of Alexander the Great.

Sunset in Chewonki, August 2010...

Sunset in over the Atlantic at Chewonki, August 2010…

Sunset at Montazah, January 2013...

Sunset over the Mediterranean at Montazah, January 2013…