I am sorry that it has been so long since I posted anything on here. I keep meaning to and then each time I try to write something I am drawing a blank. Egypt no longer feels new, and surprises no longer await me around every corner. I have settled into what it means to live here. Don’t get me wrong, I am still definitely a foreigner, but I have gotten quite used to even what that means here and how it affects the way people react to me when I pass. I am not by any means bored, I am just feeling more comfortable and accustomed to my surroundings, despite how different they are from what I am accustomed to at home or at school. It is no longer surprising when I turn the corner at the Medina, and see the men from the welding shop welding things without any sort of goggles or masks, sparks flying, in the middle of the sidewalk during the morning rush hour, nor is it surprising to see donkey carts outpacing cars on the major streets of Alexandria, nor am I shocked when I see a wheelbarrow full of bricks being hoisted up the side of an under construction building by a rope. I still notice these things, but they have become a part of the fabric of my daily life. I guess that is what study abroad is about: going somewhere and settling long enough to get over the initial awe you feel at the differences you see so you can arrive at a greater understanding of the similarities all people share no matter where they are from. That is the difference in my intentions here that gives me the right to insist that no, I am not a tourist. A tourist comes to marvel, a student comes to understand. I have done my fair share of marveling, how can you not when you are in the country of one of the world’s oldest civilizations? But I am doing a lot more than simply gawking at the pyramids or gazing in awe at the architectural beauty of Cairo’s mosques. I am settling in, and trying my very best to understand what it means to be Egyptian, even though I can never wholly blend in here.
I have been making a point of getting out more in Alex as it is becoming clear that my time here is winding down, and I want to make sure I get everything I can out of my last month and half here. For example, I finally went with a group of friends to Fort Qaitbey–a beautiful 15th century fort that looms over Western Alexandria–last week on a day with stunningly perfect weather. I have also been going to quite a few concerts, which hopefully I can talk about in a post soon. Thursday night I went to a particularly enjoyable one, a band called Karakeeb that put on a really great show at the library.
But anyway, since what my overwhelming feeling right now is is just how used to my Egyptian routine I am, I figured I should let you in on just what that routine is. So here goes…a (week)day in the life of Jen in Alexandria…
Unless it is Wednesday, when I don’t have a class until 11 am, consequently making Wednesday my favorite day of the week, I always have class at 9 am at the TAFL Center. I intend to get up around 8 and get ready in a leisurely fashion, arriving at the TAFL Center nice and early enough to get a morning coffee from Aam Ahmed. However, quite frequently, it is a less than leisurely hop up at 8:30, dress as quickly as possible, and power walk to TAFL. I have two or three classes any given day, and just to remind you, yes, they are 100% in Arabic…I love my professors and my classes. Because our program is so small, and because our professors tend to hang around TAFL most of the day, we have very close relationships with our professors here. In particular, the two Fusha (standard Arabic) professors on our program are two of the most engaging and genuinely enthusiastic professors I have had in any subject–which is lucky because if I didn’t love my Fusha professors here I would be quite tempted to ignore it entirely in favor of working harder to be able to communicate in Egyptian dialect, which though not necessarily more important in the long run, certainly feels like a more pressing need on a daily basis for me.
I almost always have a long enough lunch break that I walk to my aforementioned sandwich table (which I finally got a picture of! See below!) or to a little shop where falafel sandwiches (Falafel!) are 1 guinea! (That is cheap even by Egypt standards–a falafel sandwich is more frequently 6 guinea or so–also this place has the BEST falafel). Then I head back for afternoon classes, which are always over by just after 3 in the afternoon.
Because the weather has still been so nice, and because I am still not over the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea even after months of living about two blocks from it, I quite often stroll down the Corniche after classes, sometimes pausing for a while to just sit at my favorite perch, see the picture below. Sometimes I read here, but quite often I spend the whole time just looking out at the sea and how beautiful it is. And then, once the sun has set, begins my nightly quest for sufficient internet.
Internet in Egypt…is definitely spotty. Especially since one of the weirdest news stories I have ever seen reported, when divers off the coast of Alexandria apparently cut a very important internet-related wire (http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/internet-saboteur-caught-says-telecom-egypt-ceo). I can’t claim to understand the story, but I will say internet has been more challenging since this incident. The apartment generally works though recently it has been quite slow which means that if I need to do anything like watch a video or download something, it is often a better idea to go to one of the cafe’s we frequent. On weekdays, I tend to stay either in the apartment or at these cafes until my homework is done. Then I return to the Medina and either go to bed or stay up quite late talking to the other girls.
One of the best parts of my routine though, is that I have standard three day weekends. I definitely catch up on sleep during the weekend, but they are also a great chance to hang out with friends and see more of Alexandria. Especially since spring break when we got to know the Egyptian guys from the boys’ dorm better, we have been meeting up for dinners, movies, and outings most weekends with them, which has been a lot of fun every time. It is nice that we do tend to have time to relax and get out of the dorms. I wouldn’t call the workload light, but I definitely have more free time than I do at Bowdoin. I also am able to justify going out in Alexandria to myself academically by reminding myself that anytime I am talking to Egyptians it is, in some way, academically beneficial as well. I think this attitude has contributed a lot to how much I am enjoying this semester.
I hope this post wasn’t too dull! And if it was hopefully I can make up for it soon–I have upcoming trips to both Siwa Oasis and Greece, so I will be sure to fill you in on what that is like! I miss you all, and look forward to sharing my stories and thoughts in person once I am back in America!